5 Keys to Being Healthy During a Crisis

Last week I struggled emotionally with the situation and outlook caused by the Covid-19 epidemic. This crisis is unprecedented in our lifetime and we’re all trying to respond well. Pastors face a unique challenge trying to minister to their congregation when they cannot meet in person. Since challenges are a normal part of life, how can we stay grounded and healthy during a crisis?

5 Keys to Being Healthy During a Crisis

1.  Love God. Regardless of what is happening in life, nothing will substitute for loving God. According to Jesus, this is the highest commandment on which all the other commandments stand (Matthew 22:37). Just like in marriage, loving God requires discipline and focus. Practicing spiritual disciplines like Bible intake and prayer help to fan the flame in our relationship with God. We will have ups and downs during a crisis, but we should work hard to keep our relationship with the Lord fresh and strong.

2.  Love your family. God created the family before He created the church. Pastors and spiritual leaders often neglect their family in order to serve the church, but that does not please the Lord. I’ve certainly been guilty of this. It’s challenging at times to have the proper balance in this area, but it’s vital that we do. Covid-19 social distancing requirements have temporarily changed the way we gather as a church, but the priority God places on family remains the same.

3.  Love people. No, they’re not perfect. Yes, they will disappoint you. Yes, you will disappoint them! But, make your mind up to love the people that the Lord places in your life. Pray that you will love them like Jesus. Love those who agree with you and those who don’t. Love those you enjoy being around and those you do not like. God will bless a person who loves others as we are instructed (Matthew 22:39).

4.  Love the Bible. Many of us say we have a “high view of Scripture,” but we do not give the Scriptures a high priority in our lives. We don’t read the Bible regularly and we don’t communicate the Bible accurately. We should make this one of the marks of our ministry. When people look back on my ministry, I want them to say “he always preached God’s Word with passion and accuracy! He was committed to the Word of God!”

5.  Love yourself. I’m not suggesting that we become weak in the knees when we look at ourselves in the mirror. I’m simply suggesting that we take care of ourselves spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Not only should we practice spiritual disciplines, we should practice physical and emotional disciplines as well. Follow the Covid-19 guidelines that are recommended. Eat right, exercise, sleep, rest, recharge, etc. It’s so easy to neglect this area of life when we’re under pressure, but we will not be fully effective in the other areas if we do. Truthfully, we may inadvertently shorten our life as a result which also shortens the years we have to serve the Lord here on this earth! That would be a tragedy because it would mean that we were bad stewards of the life God gave us.

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4 Life Lessons from Hiking

The last few years, Laura and I have become interested in hiking. We don’t plan to thru-hike the Appalachian or the Pacific Crest trail anytime soon–we mainly focus on day hiking. As a result, we enjoy the trail with very little planning and minimal cost. I’ve noticed that there are a lot of similarities between hiking and everyday life.

4 Hiking Lessons

  1. Good equipment helps. Good hiking shoes, trekking poles, and backpacks make hiking more enjoyable and hikers more proficient. Likewise equipping ourselves as pastors, disciples, church members, and/or parents makes all the difference. We don’t know what we don’t know, so it helps to be equipped with new knowledge and abilities.
  2. Sometimes you hike uphill. We love trails that have lots of climbing. We seek them out when we plan. It’s great exercise to make your way up a long, challenging climb. It’s so rewarding when you reach the top. Life often seems like a long, challenging climb. Christians are not exempt from difficulty. Those difficult life moments often shape us into better people and mold us into more dedicated Christians.
  3. Sometimes you hike downhill. Trails that go up eventually come down. Going downhill is easier, but not without challenge. You can easily lose your footing because you are moving faster and with little resistance. Going downhill can lead to a lack of concentration and focus which usually ends poorly. Life is a lot like going downhill. When things are going well and success seems easy we often make quick and uninformed decisions that cause us to fall. “Downhill” makes us feel invincible which leads to decisions laced with arrogance. Solomon warned us that “Pride comes before destruction and an arrogant spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18, HCSB).
  4. You can do more than you think. Now that we are hikers, we’ve climbed hills we never imagined that we could. Slowly, steadily, step after step–eventually we reach the top! I’ve watched several YouTube channels of men and women who thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. When they finished the 2,181-mile trek, they were amazed they covered the entire distance on foot. One guy said, “It blows my mind to think that I just walked from Georgia to Maine!” We should dream big and shoot high in life and in Christ! Through Him and over time we can do more than we could ever imagine (Phil 4:13).
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The Practice of “Slowing”

One of the great books on spiritual disciplines is John Ortberg’s book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted:  Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People.  You can read my review of the book by clicking here.

One of the spiritual disciplines he talks about in the book is the practice of “slowing.”  Have you ever thought about “slowing” as a spiritual practice?  One of his mentors told him that if he wanted to grow spiritually that he must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from his life.  Listen to a great quote from his book:

Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day.  Hurry can destroy our souls.  Hurry can keep us from living well….Again and again, as we pursue spiritual life, we must do battle with hurry.  For many of us the great danger is not that we renounce our faith.  It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it.  We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.

Most of us battle the hurry sickness, but how can we treat it–how can we cure it?  There are two main practices that can help us swim against our culture’s current of hurry.

1.  Slowing.  Slowing involves cultivating patience by deliberately choosing to place ourselves in positions where we simply have to wait.  Slowing will seem like such a “waste of time,” but it is invaluable.  Here are some examples.  Deliberately drive in the slow lane.  Chew your food slowly.  Get in the longest check-out line at the grocery store.  Go through an entire week without wearing a watch.  Read each sentence slowly–then read it again even more slowly.

2.  Solitude.  Solitude is a more traditional spiritual practice.  I’m not saying that we should take it to the extreme and join a monastery.  I’m just saying that solitude is the one place where we can gain freedom from the forces of society that will otherwise relentlessly mold us.  When we’re “alone” with God–He molds us!

We need some small measures of solitude every day.  A walk, a short drive, working in the yard, sitting in the car before going into the office, a quiet time–all these serve as moments of solitude.  On occasion, we need longer periods of solitude.  Take an afternoon to yourself or even an entire day.  Go to a place where you will be uninterrupted and alone.  Spend the day relaxing, reading, walking, napping, etc.

Both of these practices have been vital to my spiritual growth and to my ability to hear from God.  By the way, if you haven’t read John Ortberg’s book on spiritual disciplines, you must do so.  Here’s a link to Amazon where you can purchase the book and get started.  I wish I had read this book as a new Christian and learned about the practice of “slowing” and many of the other spiritual disciplines that have helped me to grow in recent years.

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5 Reasons to Seek Help with Conflict

In their book Redeeming Church Conflicts: Turning Crisis into Compassion and Care, Tara Klena Barthel and David V. Edling discuss some of the reasons that it may be wise to involve others during a church conflict. We should never be ashamed to ask for help from an outside person or a third party.

5 Reasons to Seek Help with Conflict

1. We have blind spots. We all have blind spots during conflict, but others can frequently see what we cannot see because they are not emotionally invested. The outside person can hear several perspectives and are not committed towards one perspective being right.

2. We forget the truth. When our hearts are weighed down with crushing burdens, it can be hard to remember the truth of the situation and to focus on the things that are lovely, excellent, admirable, or praiseworthy (see Phil. 4:8).

3. Our fear is powerful. Fear is one of the most powerful emotions that we face. When we’re afraid that we may be losing control of a situation or about to lose something of great value to us, our judgment can become skewed.

4. Our tempers can be held in-check. The presence of an impartial third party can help hold tempers under control and help conflicted people agree on fundamental rules of fairness.

5. We need encouragement. A neutral third party can encourage us when all seems hopeless and lost. He or she can remind us of the sure foundation and hope that we have in Christ.

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Re-post – “Father & Son”

In honor of our military, I am re-posting an entry I wrote on October 23, 2008 while my oldest son, Matthew, was in basic training.  He is currently serving in the Air Guard in Louisville, Kentucky.

Father and Son (Written 10.23.08)

Please forgive me for being a little more personal than usual tonight.  Three weeks ago my son left for basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.  As expected, I did not hear from him at all during the last three weeks.  At times, the desire to hear his voice has been overwhelming.  I can only imagine what some of my co-workers and some of you face with family members serving in areas of conflict or living as missionaries for long periods of time.

Today, we received a letter and a brief call from our son. As many of you know from experience, basic training is difficult and I can tell he is struggling.  Every father fiber in me wants to jump on the next plane and go fix the situation.  Tonight, my heart aches for my son.  When he hurts, I hurt.  All I know to do is to wait and to pray!  Again I’ve prayed, “Father, take care of my boy. Strengthen Him through your Holy Spirit. Support Him.  Sustain Him.  Hold Him.  Let Him know You are there!”

Can you imagine the pain our Heavenly Father felt while His Son was suffering on the cross?  Can we even begin to understand how God the Father’s heart ached when Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”  Surely every Father fiber in Him wanted to come down here and rescue His Son!  But, His love for us, kept Him from bailing out.  His love compelled Him to hold back.  His love saw past the cross to our forgiveness.

Tonight, I am reminded of similar moments of pain on my journey of following Jesus.  As I’ve walked with Christ, I’ve discovered two things that I cling to tonight: God is faithful and God is love.  In no way, does that mean that things will be easy or that things will work out the way I desire, but He is always faithful and He always loves.

Before I turn in tonight, I think I’ll be encouraged by listening to Mac Powell from Third Day as he sets the following verses to music:

“Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep. O Lord, you preserve both man and beast. How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings.” Psalm 36:5-7 (NIV)

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Influence and Impact

Leaders want to have influence and make an impact!

Almost everyone wants their life to count! It is Scriptural to want to have influence and make an impact for the Lord! The Apostle Peter understood that, so he wrote about it in his letter to the believers in northern Asia Minor.  Some of them were present in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost and heard Peter preach, but now they were suffering greatly from intense persecution.  In his letter, he encourages them to continue impacting others for the Lord during days of great difficulty.

3 Ways to Have Influence and Make An Impact

1.  Start serving.  To the elders among you, I [Peter] appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:  Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be….” (1 Peter 5:1-2a).  Peter saw Jesus serve others through suffering.  When we take our eyes off our own struggles and focus on others, we imitate Jesus and we make an impact.

2.  Be humble.  “Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble'”  (1 Peter 5:5).  Surely Peter had the Upper Room towel and basin scene in mind as he wrote these words.  God uses those with a humble heart and He gives them grace.  I have noticed that all my “heroes” in the faith are men and women marked by humility.  Most Christians admire and respect those who have a humble spirit.

…all my “heroes” in the faith are men and women marked by humility.

3.  Trust God.  “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).  God is in control.  Even when we cannot see or sense Him, He is there.  Not only is He there, He CARES!  HE is the key!  Knowing He is in control during difficult moments should free us to focus on others and to continue to faithfully serve Him.

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Lessons from Mammoth Cave

A few years ago our family went to visit the Mammoth Cave National Park.  On our visit, we took a tour through the cave led by a young, female guide.  She made many observations throughout our descent and pointed out nuances the untrained eye would have surely missed.

She asked us to be seated on some wooden benches when we reached the lowest point of the cave.  She instructed us to secure our children and then suddenly, she flipped the switch on the lights.  At that point, she proceeded to describe to us what people experience when they are lost in a cave.

Here’s what I didn’t do next! I didn’t say, “now little missy!  You’ve obviously gotten us lost several hundred feet below the surface of the ground, so step aside and I’ll take over.”  I didn’t recite the Mighty Mouse cry of:  “Here I come to save the day!  I thumbed through a couple of books in the gift shop before the tour began, so I’m now an expert on the cave system!”

…now little missy!….step aside and I’ll take over!

Nothing could have been more ridiculous than this type of reaction on my part!  I have learned the hard way that the same is true in my Christian walk through this dark world.  I should not try to “find my way” on my own while my all-knowing God desires to skillfully guide me.  Our daily prayer should echo the words of the Dorothy A. Thrupp hymn:  “Savior, like a shepherd lead us.”

Prayer – Lord, you are the Great Shepherd and You know all things. I surrender fully to your will and your way even when I cannot see the path. You are trustworthy and You are to be praised! Help me to follow you without hesitation. Amen!

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