Wednesday, November 22, 2006


It's funny---sometimes---how being forced to slow down and wait can make you observe things that you probably would have missed otherwise. Such is the source of my writing this morning...

After dropping my youngest child off at school one morning this past week, I found myself in a line of cars all waiting to exit the parking lot. Directly in front of me was a smallish vehicle, a newer model built by Ford Motor Co. On the upper-left corner of the trunk was the model name: FOCUS. Directly opposite, on the upper-right corner, someone had placed a simple bumper sticker with one word: JESUS. The correlation of these two words screamed a message at me that could not be ignored.

Where is my focus? What is my focus? Am I focused at all?

It is so easy to get caught up in the daily grind, so easy to get swept away with the political and societal issues of the day, those within the sanctity of the church, as well as those outside. Even within the supposed sanctuary of the religious organization of which I am part, there lies the potential to get caught up in the issues, the hot topics, the political firestorms, that we tend to lose our focus on what really matters.

We point fingers at those we disagree with, and we slap backs & high-five those who think, act, preach and teach like we do. We get caught up in the debates about who's doing what, why they're doing it, who's going to be the greatest in the kingdom, etc, and never realize that we're in danger of missing what we should be focused on.


It's still all about Him. It's still His Kingdom, and He will continue to do what He has planned from the beginning of time. If I choose to be a part of it, then I have to readjust my focus, and tune back in to Jesus, to what He wants, to what He expects of me. The mundane things of day-to-day life will take care of themselves. Jesus even told His disciples at one point "You've got enough trouble for one day; don't worry about what's around the corner." (That's a paraphrase, but I'm sure it will suffice.)

Not coincidentally, just before He spoke these very words, Jesus had just taught His disciples, along with the multitude on the mountain, about "focus". In Matt. 6 we find a portion of the "Sermon on the Mount", and Jesus had just wrapped up by telling His listeners to "seek ye first the Kingdom of God..."

I don't believe God wants us to live in a shell, secluded or ostracized from the rest of society. I don't believe, as some do, that God expects us to live a life of poverty or total sacrifice; as a matter of interest, John tells us "Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers." 3 John 2-3 (NKJV) I believe, however, that the secret behind this is in maintaining the proper focus. We are to seek first the Kingdom; we are to focus on God, and on what is right and best for His Kingdom. It's a matter of where our focus is.


I am legally blind, by my optometrist's professional opinion. I have worn glasses since first grade, and have gotten progressively worse through the years. At age 43, the rate is accelerating, and I can no longer do some of the things I used to do. For instance, I have enjoyed success as a welder in the past, but due to the need to focus on precision welds, I have failed more welding tests, and lost more potential job opportunities, because my eyes can no longer focus.

It's not only a frustrating thing; it's also a tiny bit scary when your eyes will no longer bring things into focus. Reading an atlas (something every preacher does, I think, from time to time; it's fantasy escapism at its best) has become next-to-impossible because of the fine print. Even reading a bible isn't easy anymore. I told my wife just yesterday that the next atlas I buy will have to be one of those "large-print editions" for senior travellers. And I'm only 43. I can't stomach the thought of walking to a platform with a giant-print bible...

New glasses might fix the problem; I've even considered the new surgical methods of vision correction. Thousands of dollars, yes...but to restore my ability to better believe it's worth it.


Where is my focus? It should be on Jesus, first and foremost. I must remember that I am the servant, and He is the Master. I am the disciple; He is the Teacher. I am the clay, but He is the Potter and Maker of this vessel. It is imperative that I keep these aspects of relationship in the proper perspective, lest I become familiar with Him, and lose my focus.

What is the object of my focus? It should be the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness first of all. Let all these things be added as He sees fit, not as I demand them. Even the disciples managed to lose their focus, though they walked with Him daily. They debated amongst themselves as to who would be the greatest, while strangely losing sight of the Greatest among all. God manifest in human form walked with them, yet after only a few years of being His disciples, it suddenly became all about them and their role. How much easier is it for me to forget the object of my focus?

Am I still able to focus? Believe me when I tell you that this declining vision has opened my eyes to the more important things of life: Can I still focus on the things that truly matter? Is my spiritual vision waning along with my natural vision? Have I lost the ability to focus on the Master? Has He, like the tiny print of my atlas, or the miniscule lines in my bible, become blurred in my sight? Do I find myself being forced to squint to make out what He wants me to see?

Two words have served to clear up some of the blur in my heart's vision; I only pray that my sight will not fail me in the future.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Prodigal of Time

a. Rashly or wastefully extravagant: prodigal expenditures on unneeded weaponry; a prodigal life.b. Giving or given in abundance; lavish or profuse: prodigal praise.
(noun)One who is given to wasteful luxury or extravagance.
Am I guilty of being a "prodigal son"?

The thought came to my heart today in prayer, and I confess that I was immediately smitten, convicted in my heart.

How much could I accomplish for the Kingdom in the time that I have been given? What could I do in the hours that I have each day? How could I have "paced" myself differently to accomplish more for God than what I have accomplished?

I confess that I am not good at time-management. Although my choleric-melancholy nature drives me to be extremely organized in many facets of my daily life, the truth is that Time somehow still slips through my fingers, and I find myself at the close of each day, each week, each month, and yes, each year wishing. Wishing I'd done something different; wishing I'd spent more time (or any time) in the Word; wishing I'd written the words of my heart into a blog, or a newspaper article, or a forum; wishing I'd actually started on that book that I've wanted to write for so long... I would've felt better if I'd just written that article I've thought about writing for so long.

But I didn't.

Somehow, another 24 hours has slipped through my fingers like sand...nay, like water. You see, it's possible to grasp just a tiny portion of sand as it slips through your fingers, because of the natural abrasive nature of sand. Water seeks the path of least resistance, however, and because of its fluid nature, is impossible to clutch or hold onto.

Another week has passed, and still I have not prayed 30 minutes a day like I promised myself during Sunday night's sermon that I would start doing; I have gone another week without fasting an entire day.

(There is a difference between "fasting" and merely postponing a meal, but that is another story, for another posting.)

Another month has dribbled away, and still I have not written the title page to that book that has been burning in my heart for at least two years now. Even worse, the article I told that publisher I wanted to share...he has yet to get that simple little 500-word column from me.

The end of the year is fast closing, and I look back at 2006 and the bewildered expression that is all too familiar comes again to my face, as I wonder what happened to the year.

I'm not a pastor; not a full-time evangelist; not a full-time staff member. I don't even hold a secular job, and haven't for over two years. So what have I done all day, every day? I try to tell folks "I'm a stay-at-home dad." When prospective employers call with telephone interviews, the question rings loud in my ears, "What have you been doing in this two-year gap on your resume?" I can envision the narrowed eyes, the suspicion on their face as they wonder what a healthy 43-year old guy---with a background in computer repair, welding, banking, customer support, you name it---has been doing. Did this guy win the lottery? Is he disabled? Is he leeching off of Workman's Comp? Is he just a slacker? They don't have to say it...but I know the question is there.

The sad thing is, in my prayer closet today, I "came to myself", just as the prodigal son of Luke 15 did. I realized that, yes...I have been a "slacker".

a. negligent; careless; remiss
b. not busy; inactive

I have been "slack" in the time I could have given myself to the things of God. I have been slack in my personal growth and development, slack in things I could have done from this chair, this computer, to add to the Kingdom; slack in a variety of ways I could have, and should have, given my time and efforts to this business of "ministry".

Yet, like so many others, I fell prey to the mindset that, unless I was full-time, full-fledged, full-blown preaching---either as a pastor, or as an evangelist---that I wasn't really in "ministry".

Is writing really a ministry? How can you define "blogging" as a ministry? How can you justify writing stuff on WordShare or Pastor's Helper as ministry? Who would read your book if you ever did write it, anyway? That can't possibly be ministry. And people---especially other pastors---look at musician/singers as "entertainers", not ministers, so who are you trying to fool with that?

These are the things I struggled with in my mind, when I thought about Time and how much I should be giving to ministry.

Please don't crucify me.

It's a mindset that affects many, if not most. We're so given to setting "marks" for ourself, measures of achievement, standards of completion, and "ministry" has become synonymous with "preaching".

I know, and you know, that many can preach without ministering, and many more can minister without ever preaching.

So today, I purposed in my heart to "return home", to go back to my Calling, to give myself back to the Master's service. My calling is not merely to preach, although that is a fractional part; more especially, my call is to minister. I should be fulfilling that call in a variety of ways, even if it does not presently involve a pulpit.

Luke 12:48 ...unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required:

Like the prodigal of Luke 15, I find that I have "wasted [my] substance". The difference is that his substance was financial gain through an early inheritance; mine has been the hours, the days, the weeks, and even the years that God has given me.

Thus far, I realize I have been the prodigal of Time.

By the Grace of our Lord Jesus, that shall cease to be.

Reviving the faint. Restoring the fallen. Refreshing the weary.

Steve Shubert

Friday, November 03, 2006

Conviction? or Guilt?

Escape The Familiar

It's not quite as easy as one would think. For one thing, "familiar" can often be synonymous with "comfortable". We are most comfortable with the things we are most familiar with. In the wonderful world of Pentecost, and more specifically the United Pentecostal Church, the religious organization of which I am a licensed minister, we tend to be most comfortable when we know the lines that are drawn. This applies to preacher and parishoner alike.

On another forum centered around that very organization, someone posed the question "Why do we preach 'convictions' that we cannot back up with scripture?" There were several responses, the most common being that "God tells us to." But does he always?

I believe what I have been feeling in my spirit---which is how I based my response to the question---is a call to Escape The Familiar surroundings of "standards" and "holiness" issues that we have lived in for so long.

This is not to say that those things are wrong, nor is it meant to convey that I have some sort of new "revelation" that others aren't getting. It is merely to say that I believe God is wanting to call His people out of the land we have been dwelling in for so long. I truly believe that God wants a people who serve Him out of genuine love, not from a rulebook, nor in the "arranged marriage" way that many of us are familiar with. (You get introduced to the Bridegroom at salvation, then the Pastor hands you a manual telling you how you're supposed to act, dress, look, walk, and talk to keep your new-found love happy.)

The question originally posed was "Why do we, as pastors, often try to enforce a conviction that is not supported biblically?"

Someone stated that they thought it might be due to peer pressure. I disagree, however.

My response is as follows:

I don't think it's as much peer pressure as it is a deep-seated need and desire for authority. We have become quite parochial in our pastoral leadership; we enjoy having followers who rely on us, and it becomes a challenge to release them from our authority.

Why don't we teach the doctrine of Grace? Because Grace involves self-control. Grace involves self-discipline. Grace teaches us to walk in the Spirit, to be pleasing to the One who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light...instead of merely to the Pastor, the platform policy, or the District Board.

Pentecostals are afraid of the doctrine of Grace because it involves self-discipline; it involves "save yourselves from this untoward generation" and "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling". It's much easier to let Pastor save us from this untoward generation, or let the District Board work out our salvation with a hefty manual. This takes the burden of self-discipline off of our shoulders, both saint and preacher. If we align ourselves to what Bro. Pastor (or Bro. Superintendent) teaches, then we feel we're doing alright.

What the Word teaches us is to "walk in the Spirit".

(If you're still reading this, and not already angrily typing your response, just stay with me.)

If we teach our people to walk in the Spirit, to lean on God for direction and guidance, then we have to relinquish a bit (even a teeny-tiny bit) of pastoral authority. We don't get to counsel people when they're struggling with issues because we've taught them to go to God in prayer with their struggles. Hence, we don't get to be "the Answer Man", the messiah who solved all their problems.

Hey, I'm not slamming anyone. I've been a pastor, and Lord willing, will be again, someday. It's much like parenting. We teach our children to "grow up", to "take responsibility", but when they start doing so, we get nervous, we start micro-managing every little thing they do.


Because we don't think they can do it as good as we can do it for them.

It's tough to relinquish authority. It's like the politician who promises they're going to "put themselves out of a job", but how often has that actually happened? Something always comes up, some reason that they feel the need to stay around.

If we, as pastors, teach our people the way that Jesus taught His disciples, we wouldn't have nearly as big a burden of responsibility weighing on us, and we would be able to give ourselves to prayer and the Word, as the apostles did.

But that requires turning loose and trusting our "underlings" to do the right thing in their own walk with Christ.

Can we do that? Can we allow Grace to teach them, to lead them, to nurture them and cause them to mature? Or will we continue the struggle of trying to do everything ourselves because we've become convinced that "if you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself"?

Is the reason I won't let Bro. SlimJim in my pulpit based on something I've felt in my spirit, or is it simply because I've worked too hard to get the church going in the right direction to let him mess it all up with one of his rambling disasters?

What is my motivation for keeping my people where they are spiritually?

Make no mistake: I firmly believe that the "watchman on the wall" is still responsible for the safety and well-being of the people. I still believe there are some lines that have to be drawn because the man of God feels the urgency in his spirit to protect the flock. I still believe that God uses a chain-of-command, that He speaks to the undershepherd concerning the direction the church is going. But I also believe that we have been guilty of establishing some "fences" simply because we don't trust our people to care for themselves.

No greater compliment can be given to a saint than to have their pastor trust them to walk in the Spirit on their own merit, rather than expecting a bunch of clones of himself.

So the question is, Am I guilty of setting boundaries, drawing lines, erecting fences because I don't trust my people, because I don't think they can handle the "liberty of the Holy Ghost"? or have I set these boundaries because the Spirit has prompted me to?

Am I teaching my people to be Pentecostal? or to be a Christian?

It deserves an answer. And an honest one.