Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Difficult Decisions

“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,” (1 Timothy 2:1, NASB95)

“you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.” (2 Corinthians 1:11, NASB95)

“Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.” (1 Timothy 2:8, NASB95)

There are lots of employers out there who have been put in the place of reducing their staff due to the economy or other related factors. This is also true for churches, and in their case it often comes with internal struggles. Whether it is due to economic shortcomings, health, or differences in approach and direction, staff reductions in the church most often mean severing relationships that run very deep and impacting ministries that people had come to rely on. Today I spoke with a leader from a church who is struggling with making such a decision concerning someone they deeply love but who is becoming more and more unable to fulfill his responsibilities due to health issues. What do you do when business and bonds, function and faith, reality and relationship clash? What do you do when you are members of one another, yet something needs to change? These are the hard questions that many churches face today, and as I have continued in my own search I have come face to face with one such story after another. Some have ended well, while others have come with much hurt, hardship, and division. Yet, as I have spoken with these churches I have also consistently been impressed with the core who remains and who continue to place their trust in our God who does not disappoint and who have continued to seek His leading, asking Him to keep them from mistakes and trusting Him to honor their decisions made in faith.

There is no easy 1-2-3 answer for situations like this, and there is often a lot of pressure to do something. There is pressure from the congregation when a decision is made that is not met with agreement by all, and there is pressure once the decision is made to make appropriate accommodations in response. There is pressure on search committees to make the “right” recommendation of the person who is believed best suited for the church, and there is pressure on the congregation to gather together in the waiting and even in the bringing. All of these pressures can weigh heavy on churches, and many times the churches face declining numbers and even splits.

Having said all of this, and from our human perspective knowing it to be true, there is an overwhelming truth that more than counterbalances all of it—God is God and He is good! God may not give us the clear answer we want. He may not do things in the timing that is most convenient or even desired by us. He may even allow us to go through things that don’t make sense. This is true for each of us as followers of Christ just as it is true for those who are leaders in our churches.

There is much written on how to make biblical or godly decisions, and I don’t wish to get into an exhaustive consideration of this. Rather, I want to focus on continuing to get to know our God better and better, spending more time in His Word and before Him in prayer, and laying everything before Him knowing that we might not always make the best decision and that He might even redirect us in our decision process. And as we are doing this making sure to take the time to consider the needs of everyone involved and how God would be best honored by the decisions we make and in the way we make them. The bottom line is that we may get it wrong at times and we may not always do it the best way, but this is not our goal. Our goal is to please Him in all that we do, knowing that God is most pleased when we place our trust fully in Him.

I don’t fully understand what happened between the apostle Paul and John also known as Mark (Acts 12:12), but something happen on a missionary journey and John Mark left them as we read in Acts 13:13, “Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; but John left them and returned to Jerusalem.” And Paul was not pleased with Mark. After returning to Antioch and teaching and preaching for a while, Paul went to Barnabas and said its time to hit the road again. Barnabas was willing to go, but he was intending to take along his cousin Mark. Paul did not find this agreeable.

“After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” (Acts 15:36–41, NASB95)

Clearly here was a ministry point where the parties involved were not in agreement and a strong difference led to them taking separate directions. As we continue to read through Scripture, God used this dissension in order to multiply His work, and also as we know from Scripture, God brought Paul around in his relationship with Barnabas and later he saw value in Mark and even called for him (2 Timothy 4:11). This clearly is not a text book model of how to handle ministry differences, not telling us who was right or wrong or some of both. But as we read the writings of Paul, we also know that he greatly treasured those who labored with him in ministry, and he encouraged, commended, and even pleaded us to pray for them.

James tells us that we will have trials, and through them we will be grown by God in chapter 1, verses 2-4. And immediately following this he tells us where to go in those problems and what to do.

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:5–6, NASB95) From this we might want to assume that we God will give us clear direction with every question, which is often not the case. But what we do get is the wisdom to make those decisions before God and then to move forward with Him, trusting Him to direct our steps in the process or even redirect them as needed. What He also cautions us against, is sitting there and waffling in worry because of uncertainty. Clearly not every decision we make is right, nor are they always made in the right way. What we are challenged to do is to keep looking to God for both the wisdom for the decision and relying on His Word and His Spirit for the direction of our steps, and when we head down that path and we don’t see where next to put our foot we don’t let it shake our confidence in Him.

It is for that reason that we need to be people of prayer and that we need to be people who pray for one another and particularly those in leadership and those who God has called as our overseers and shepherds.

“Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving;” (Colossians 4:2, NASB95)

“Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:7–8, NASB95)

“The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:7–8, NASB95)

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things.” (Hebrews 13:17–18, NASB95)

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass. Brethren, pray for us.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23–25, NASB95)

“Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20–21, NASB95)

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (12/10)

Make Me the focal point of your search for security. In your private thoughts, you are still trying to order your world so that it is predictable and feels safe. Not only is this an impossible goal, but it is also counterproductive to spiritual growth. When your private world feels unsteady and you grip My hand for support, you are living in conscious dependence on Me.

Instead of yearning for a problem-free life, rejoice that trouble can highlight your awareness of My Presence. In the darkness of adversity, you are able to see more clearly the radiance of My Face. Accept the value of problems in this life, considering them pure joy. Remember that you have an eternity of trouble-free living awaiting you in heaven.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB95)

“Even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me.” (Psalm 139:10, NASB95)

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,” (James 1:2, NASB95)

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