Category Archives: Miscellaneous

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What’s Your Exit Strategy?

Few people, if any, plan on dying tomorrow. I have never heard any mentally and emotionally stable person say and mean, “I plan on dying tomorrow.” Rather they plan on living and plan on doing it for a long time. Innately woven within the fabric of our being is desire to live and live forever. Just as we hunger for food because we need food to live, so also this desire to live and live without end because we were made for eternal life. Unfortunately immortal life is not an option on this broken planet, in this mortal body. It is statistical certainty everyone will breathe a last breath.

We need an exit strategy.We need a plan to get ready to leave this earth.

Yes, we need to give our lives to the “I Am the Resurrection and the Life.” That’s the utmost priority and the rest of life should be sourced in Christ.

But will we plan to die well? Will we prepare ourselves mentally and emotionally so as to show that we are going to meet Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Or will we cling to this life with great fear as though our eternal destination is not as certain as we claim to believe? By clinging to this life and hating death will we show that this life is more desirable than Jesus Christ?

I’m not saying we should treat this life like anything less than the precious gift that it is, but I am saying that when death comes for us, if we cling to this life like this is the only life there is, then we will be saying something about Christ and it won’t be: “to be with Christ is very much better.” (Philippians 1:21-23) Is Christ gain or isn’t He?

We all want to go on living, and I think that desire is an indication that we were made for life eternal that won’t be realized on this earth in these dying bodies. God has put eternity in our being, but for some people it won’t be a pleasant eternity because they have made this broken life their heaven; their best life now. My hope for those of us who are in Christ, is that we will live like Christ has made the way for us to enjoy eternal life with Christ. God works all things for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose; even death (Romans 8:28). I hope we all will live and speak like that is true.

My Obituary

I am not planning on dying soon, few healthy people do. Funerals though have a unique way of making people stop, pause and consider the seriousness of life and what’s really important. For a pastor this is especially true.

I wonder what Paul’s obituary would have said? Perhaps the local newspaper would have said something like this: “Paul’s departure came on February 17th, 64 A.D. He fought the good fight, he finished the course, he kept the faith; now his is the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, has awarded to him; and not only to Paul, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” 2 Tim. 4:6-8

It made me wonder what I will really want to say and what I will really want people to remember about me and most importantly, to know about Christ Jesus my Lord.

Here are the beginnings of what I thought I might want my obituary to say:

God mercifully took Brent Prentice (Luke 12:4) from this broken world so that He could be with Christ, which is “very much better” (Philippians 1:21-24). Because of Christ his mediator, he is now worshiping before the throne of God above where God wipes away every tear; where there is no more death; there is no longer any mourning, or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4). Be comforted in this and rejoice for Brent, and if you are not in Christ run now to the mercy seat of Christ and be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20) by calling on the name of the crucified and risen Lord (Romans 10:9-13).

This is a start, and of course I would want to say that I loved my wife and my sons and the people I pastor, along with all the standard things that are said in an obituary.

But what would you write? What would be the last thing that you would want people to know about you, and could you say it with integrity?

Life is short. Death is inevitable. Christ is everything.

Whether in life or in death, that we would proclaim Jesus Christ, the only name under heaven by which men must be saved (Acts 4:12).

Who Pastors the Pastor?

Recently I had a very busy week as a pastor. I had some sort of pastoral meeting for five straight nights from Sunday through Thursday, and though they all were helpful and rewarding meetings, I was mentally and emotionally tired from the work of shepherding. George Whitefield, who was perhaps the best-known preacher in Britain and America in the 18th century, expressed how I was feeling when he said, “Lord Jesus, I am weary in your work, but not of your work.”

I count it great joy to shepherd the people that Jesus bought with His own blood and I know I am called to teach, preach and pastor, but the calling and privilege of pastoring will include pastoral and spiritual fatigue. But this begs the question, “When the pastor is worn out from pastoring, who Pastors the Pastor?” Or to ask the question another way, “Who does the pastor meet with or what does he do when he needs to be fed and encouraged in the work of the gospel?”

Here are five ways that pastors and churches can work together to care for the pastor.

The pastor must let Jesus shepherd his soul. It would serve all pastors well to remember that they are not the pastor, but a pastor. Jesus is the pastor. Every true church is His church and Jesus is the Chief Shepherd of all the sheep that He bought with His blood. That includes me and every other pastor. I am an undershepherd who answers to Jesus (Hebrews 13:17), but I am also one of his sheep. If I am to be of any good to those I lead then I must let Jesus protect, nurture and lead my life. I must abide in Christ and His word if I am to bear any fruit in ministry (John 15:5). How many pastors shrivel up and abandon pastoral ministry (The average tenure for pastors is two to three years) because they did not abide the Vine and listen to the voice of the Chief Shepherd. How can anyone be a shepherd to others if they won’t first be shepherded by the perfect Shepherd? This of course seems rather rudimentary, but as sheep we must abide, and listen, and obey if they are to be the pastor God has called them to be.

The pastor must take the initiative to plan intentional times of enrichment for his soul. There are many ways that a pastor might take the initiative to combat pastoral fatigue and it doesn’t mean that the pastor isn’t working. A pastor might take a day or two and schedule personal retreat away from the office and home so that he can pray, read and dream as a leader. A pastor might set a goal to attend two or three conferences a year so that he can learn from and be edified by others as he hears the word of God preached. A pastor might ask for someone to fill in for him on a Sunday so that he can take a week to do an in-depth study. Whatever the case may be, the pastor must not be afraid to take the time and initiative to shepherd his own soul with strategic breaks from the grind and routine of being a pastor. But the responsibility to make time for enrichment should not fall completely to the pastor. Someone who is  a leader in the church and benefits from the ministry of the pastor should also be willing to go to bat for the pastor.

The pastor needs to build friendships with other pastors. A leader of a ministry once said to me that there are certain aspects and challenges of leading a ministry that some people, even assistant ministers, will never understand. At the time I thought the assertion was the result of either self-pity or hubris. After gaining  first-hand experience I see and feel his point. There are just some things that people don’t understand about being a pastor and leader. James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, Illinois has made the statement, “Ministry is really, really lonely. Get with people who know what it is like to carry what you carry.” In a Lifeway Research study from 2008, 53 percent of pastors said they sometimes feel lonely in the ministry, which shouldn’t surprise us since Jesus and the Apostle Paul also experienced this (See 2 Timothy4:9-15).  Even though it takes effort to stay connected, a pastor must cultivate relationships with like-minded pastors in similar situations. I have a few men in our church that I trust and share with, but I also regularly visit with several men who are lead pastors in other churches who can listen, ask good questions and exhort when needed and I try to reciprocate as I am able.  In some cases a pastor might have a reliable Director of Mission that he speaks to frequently. All pastors need an inner circle of peers that they can speak with when they need encouragement and that won’t happen by accident. It must be a priority in the life of a pastor.

The pastor should find a couple of dead pastors who can mentor him. One of my favorite biographies is, John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace by Jonathan Aitken. Newton is best known for having written the hymn, Amazing Grace, but he was also a very influential pastor who teaches me something every time I read about the successes God gave and the struggles God brought him through. Read more: “John Newton; How This Dead Guy Has Helped Me.” Find a dead hero who inspires you and let them teach you from their successes and failures.

The flock must shepherd the pastor. I feel very cared for and appreciated in the church I pastor. I am not deprived of kind words, encouragement and support, and while my aim is to do all things as one working for the Lord and not for men (Colossians 3:23), it is a wonderful thing to have someone in the church give pointed and specific words of affirmation about how God is using the work of pastoring to change them into the likeness of Christ. A “good job” and pat on the back after a sermon is nice, but a heart-felt explanation of why it was a good job is the best kind of edification. Paul says that elders who lead, preach and teach well are worthy of double honor (1 Timothy 5:17). Additionally, all of the church-wide commands in the epistles must also be exercised toward those who lead. Speaking a word of edification for the need of the moment is just as much intended for leaders as it is for the rest of the church (Ephesians 4:29). We should never assume that any person has all the encouragement they need, and this is certainly true for those who shepherd the flock of God in Christ. The body must work at shepherding their pastor with intentional acts and words of kindness.

It was a Thursday Night and I was on my way home from my fifth meeting in five nights when I first wondered the question, “Who pastors the pastor?” Friday night I ended up in the emergency room with an angry appendix. In addition to my faithful and loving wife, one of our elders came and sat with me for almost two hours on Friday Night. Saturday Morning just before I had surgery, several of the elders came in and prayed with me. In addition to being ministered to, our elders and staff were able to step in and oversee one of the most important meetings in the life of our church since I had become the lead pastor. Without the pastor the meeting was a great success.

Who pastors this pastor? God used a trip to the emergency room after a busy week to help me see the answer to my question. Every pastor needs to be pastored because every pastor will become weary in the work, even if they are not weary of the work.

The Lasting Legacy of Consistency

“The signature of mediocrity is not the inability to change, it is chronic inconsistency.” Jim Collins

People who make a lasting impact  are those who seem to always do or say at least one thing consistently.Therefore the signature of a lasting legacy is intentional consistency.

Thomas Edison for instance, famously attempted for 14 months to invent the light bulb and during that time he made 1,400 individual attempts before he finally was successful. Where would we be without the Edison’s intentional consistency?

My middle school basketball coach would consistently say to our team, “If you do it right, you will do it light. If you do it wrong, you will do it long.” There’s a reason I remember that phrase.

My childhood pastor used to say at the conclusion of every sermon, “The invitation (response) time is the most important time of this service.” I don’t remember a lot of what he said over the course of hundreds of sermons, but there is a reason I remember that consistent phrase.

Jesus Christ, the greatest teacher in the history of Planet Earth said over and over again that He came in flesh to die to ransom the souls of many.

But this raises a question, if not the most important question: “How does a person choose what they should consistently do and say?”

The truth of the matter is that all people do a thing or things consistently. Some people watch TV consistently. Some people exercise consistently. Some people are consistently inconsistent. And therein lies the answer to “the question.” We do consistently, whether intentionally or not, what we value. If you spend quality time with your family, then it stands to reason that it is your family that you value since you intentionally give them the best of your time. If you consistently spend most of your time with your 50 inch LCD, then you can identify what you value.

It seems to me that the key to consistently doing and saying things that will truly impact others is to intentionally decide what you value and then making a plan to maximize the consistent communication of that value. We might say that this is what discipline is. Discipline is doing with diligent and painstaking effort that which would normally not be done.

Let me illustrate from my own life an effort to try to be more intentional and consistent based on what I value..

When I seriously assess my life there are two predominant values that drive me. I value and make constant effort to try to value Jesus Christ and His whole person with all of my actions and words. I also value and make constant effort to try to value my wife and my two boys with my actions and words. In the last year I have been consistently trying to weave these two big ideas into the fabric of our family. They are summarized in two purposes that are constantly spoken:

  1. My partnership with my wife, and my job as a dad is to do everything that I can to teach and model for my boys the absolute worth of obeying Jesus in everything. Jesus is to be championed as supreme in everything we do and say. My summary statement to the boys is this: “Daddy’s most important job is to help you love Jesus.”
  2. My partnership with my wife, and my job as a man is to do everything that I can to teach and model for my boys what it means to be a man. There is a difference between being a male and being a man. Being a man means being tough, yet sensitive. It means keeping your word and treating others the way you would want to be treated. Being a man means taking initiative and being a leader. Being a man is being like Jesus. My summary statement to my boys is this: “Daddy’s second most important job is to help you become a man.”

Occasionally I will ask one or both of my sons, “What are the two things?” They answer: “Loving Jesus and becoming a man.”

I’m not perfectly consistent at these things and I fail often along the way, but one thing is for sure, I won’t accomplish either of these things with my boys  if I don’t discipline myself to be intentionally consistent at teaching them.

You and I may not be destined for the history books, but we can deeply impact and shape the lives of people and perhaps generations of people for eternal causes. But we must be clear about what is worth valuing and we must have a plan to consistently communicate and reinforce those values.

So what do you value and how are you communicating it? Few people get to the end of their life and are glad they left a meaningless legacy. A lasting legacy that matters in eternity won’t happen by accident. May God give us everyday the strength to fight mediocrity with the weapon of consistency.

Eclipse; What I Saw

Luke (our six-year-old) wanted to make sure that he witnessed the lunar eclipse he had been hearing about. So I set my alarm for 2:15 a.m. CST, believing the reports that this would likely be an optimal time to view this rare astronomical event. My alarm went off as it was purposed to do and I promptly arose to wake my son so that he could view the sight with his mother and I. After a small amount of urging he stumbled into the living room where I picked him up to take him outside. The three of us walked out the back door at the same time and we looked toward the east and then we looked toward the west and the we looked directly above to see the red-tinted moon. Luke, who was still a bit dazed, looked up for about one second and said something to the effect of, “Okay, can we go back in now?”  I don’t know what I expected him to say or do, but he had seen enough. There was no “wow” moment, just an: There it is. Back to bed and nighty night.

How could my son, the son who couldn’t wait to see this lunar eclipse, have such a lackadaisical response?

Maybe it was my fault he didn’t have the perspective and knowledge to fully appreciate the uniqueness of what he just observed.

Maybe I didn’t help him to understand that not everyone could see this particular lunar eclipse, which took place on a perfectly clear winter’s night. There was no obstruction by cloud, fog or smoke. On this night this event was begging to be seen – at least from where we were standing.

Maybe I didn’t educate him about why this particular lunar eclipse was so unique. Besides the fact that lunar eclipses don’t occur every day, this particular eclipse was special for other reasons. This eclipse took place on the Winter Solstice of 2010, meaning on this day that the sun is at the southernmost point relative to the earth, which also means in the Northern Hemisphere that this is the shortest day of the year – approximately 9 hours and 46 minutes long. The last time all of these factors coincided was in 1638 and they don’t come together again until 2094. Whether 372 years or 84 years between events, this is a merely rare event compared to the span of human life. If my son lives to be 90, he might see two of these events in one lifetime, which would be doubly rare.

At any rate, I can probably dismiss his lack of interest to the fact that he is just a boy and his perspective is very limited at the age of six.

But as I lay back down in my bed and pondered his reaction I was both amused and concerned. Amused because when it came down to it, his bed was warm and more important than taking in a rare moment that was completely outside of his control. Concerned because I fear that his response and my part in it may foreshadow his relationship with Jesus Christ.

Jesus is by far more rare and wonderful and amazing than a moon being shadowed by the planet that I live on. Jesus created the planet that sometimes temporarily blocks the sun from shining on the moon that orbits the planet I live on. Jesus is magnificent beyond all telling and yet the Bible tells the story that the creator became a part of the creation to redeem it from brokenness and to ransom the souls of many, including the soul of my son.

What will my part be in my sons response to the creator of the moon and the orchestrator of the once in a lifetime lunar eclipse? Will he zealously desire to gaze at Jesus only for a moment and then to retreat back to whatever brings him comfort in the next and fleeting moment? Will I nurture his perspective about Jesus and give him the knowledge he needs to see how wonderful and unique Jesus really is, or will I communicate that Jesus is just another event in a big universe?

I pondered these things for quite some time last night as I tried to go back to sleep. What I do know is that the eclipse I saw last night and the opportunity I have with my son have one thing in common. I only have one chance to do all I can to persuade my son that Jesus is worth marveling at and obeying for the rest of eternity. That’s what I learned from an eclipse on December 21, 2010 in the early hours of the morning and I hope I don’t too soon forget it.

Blogging Hiatus

Since June 16, 2009 I have written at least 116 blogs of various lengths about various topics.

If you have seen Forrest Gump, remember when Forrest goes “runnin” and crosses the U.S. a few times, and then in the middle of nowhere he just stops and turns to his followers and says, “I’m tired, I think I’ll go home now.” I feel a little bit like that about blogging. I like blogging and writing in general, but it is hard work. It requires a lot of thinking and wordsmithing and time.

Where Forrest Stopped Runnin

I need a blogging break, which is made plain by the fact that I haven’t done it in two weeks. I’m not without ideas, I’m just short of time and motivation.

I don’t anticipate it lasting long, but for now I need to pull back and concentrate on other things that are a part of what I do as a pastor.

So anyway, I am taking a blogging hiatus. When will I come back to it? I don’t know, but I’ll be back – Lord willing.

So I am blogging to say that for now, I am not blogging.

Trouble and Holiness

I just finished up a little book titled, Humility; The Journey Toward Holiness, by Andrew Murray. In the book Murray argues that true humility before God is the beginning of all virtue and that without humility there can be no holiness. He also argues that humility will manifest itself in everyday life, especially with people and the circumstances that come from dealing with people. To say it another way, how we respond to difficulty with people and circumstances may reveal our humility or lack thereof.

This is troublesome, because almost all the trouble I experience in life has its genesis in dealing with people, or their dealing with me. As an example, is there anything as frustrating as calling an insurance company to get a mailing address changed only to find out a few weeks later that they didn’t change it after 30 minutes was spent going through various prompts and listening to various recordings to finally be able to talk to a human who apparently didn’t do what I asked? Of course there are experiences that are more frustrating and irritating, but it is hard to keep a balanced perspective when you are a human.

But ask yourself, are these little, or big,  irritating experiences just trouble or is there something good that might come from them? Murray says that the humble person sees them as a gift from God to refine us and teach us holiness.

Do you see the trouble of your life, that almost always involves others in one way or another, as a gift? If trouble and irritations are for our good and holiness, then many of us are missing out on the very things that God wants to use to change us to be like Christ, and ignorantly we are resisting a gift from God by seeing it as an undesirable end rather than the means to holiness that God intends. But this requires a proper perspective and a great amount of humility. Murray helped me to see the need for both. He writes:

Place yourself before God in your helplessness; consent to the fact that you are powerless to slay yourself; give yourself in patient and trustful surrender to God. Accept every humiliation; look upon every person who tries or troubles you as a means of grace to humble you. God will see such acceptance as proof that your whole heart desires it. This is how you humble yourself so that God can put to death self.

Let us learn the lesson that the greatest holiness comes in the deepest humility. Let us look at our lives in the light of this experience and see whether we gladly glory in weakness, and whether we take pleasure in injuries, in necessities, in distresses. Yes, let us ask whether we have learned to regard a reproof, just or unjust, a reproach from a friend or an enemy, an injury, or trouble, or difficulty as an opportunity for proving that Jesus is all to us. It is indeed the deepest happiness of heaven to be so free from self that whatever is said of us or done to us is swallowed up in the thought that Jesus is all and we are nothing.

Take every opportunity to humble yourself before God and man. In the faith of the grace that is already working in you; in the assurance of the grace for the victory that is yet to be; stand persistently under the unchanging command: humble yourself. Accept with gratitude everything that God allows from within or without, from friend or enemy, in nature or in grace, to remind you of your need for humbling and to help you in it.

So when someone or something else goes wrong, instead of complaining and seeing whatever has happened only as a distraction or irritation, let us each ask God to give us the strength to be teachable enough to see that God uses the trouble and pain caused by people (including ourselves) to humble us so that we might be like Christ. It won’t be easy, but if we see trouble as a means to Christ-likeness, we might make better use of it because we would see it as the means of grace that it really is.

Authentic Relationships Need Truth and Authority

This is an excellent three minutes by Randy Alcorn in which he calls for the need of deep rootedness in truth (Ps. 1) to sustain and define “authentic relationships”. He also talks about the need for the authority of the local church to help people have an enduring obedience in the same direction.

Fascinated but not Surprised

Christianity Today tweeted a link to this article, “Undercover Among the Evangelicals”, that summarizes and critiques the story and conclusions of an unbeliever who posed as a Christian for a year at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. In the Land of Believers tells the story of Gina Welch who began her investigation of evangelicals in 2005 by being baptized, and she even led someone in “the sinner’s prayer” on a mission trip to Alaska.

I was fascinated and intrigued having read the article about Welch’s discoveries, but after a moment of contemplation I decided that I was not surprised. Welch thinks that evangelicals are nice but don’t know how to think. I am not surprised at all that she would think that. To begin with, I don’t expect an unbelieving person who is without the Holy Spirit to understand the necessity or the power of the cross of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:10-16). However, she is probably right that most evangelicals don’t know how to think, and unfortunately they don’t know how to think about life through the lens of the Bible as the Spirit guides them-if they are in fact sealed by the Spirit at all, since they care so little to think about and understand the message of Jesus.

Besides telling an intriguing story by which we as Christians can see the sense in some of her conclusions, we must also realize  that she clearly doesn’t understand all of which she writes about, and maybe this in itself is a helpful take away. Christians  have some serious flaws that create stigmas and barriers to the gospel (Read the article to see what I mean), but we can’t expect the world to help us understand why we seem so backward when the fact is that we are always looking back 2000 years to a piece of wood on which the Son of God bore our sins in His body. We have to look back to the cross before we can look forward to the hope of heaven. Francis Chan is right, “Something is wrong when our lives make sense to unbelievers.” And after all, why would I expect my thinking and life to make sense to an unbeliever when an unbelievers life makes no sense to me. As a Christian I wonder, “How can they not see their wretched sin against a holy God and their need for the mediator, Jesus Christ?”

So read the article and learn what you can about the way unbelievers see true Christians. Surely there are some ways that all  of us individually can contextualize our thinking and lives without adjusting the gospel, but you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that that no matter what we do as those who believe in Christ, unbelievers will still say that we don’t know how to think.

Helping the Helpless

Ryan A Smith (Minister of Worship, Media, Social Justice, etc.) and I went to a benevolence meeting for pastors and staff to talk about how we could work together to meet the needs of people in Stillwater. Mindy (our office manager) fields weekly calls from people who need help with food, gas, diapers, electric bills, etc. To give some perspective on how great the need is in Stillwater, it was estimated from a conglomerate of churches and agencies (Salvation Army, etc.) that 600 hours weekly was given to addressing benevolence requests.

Unfortunately many of the people who seek help have legitimate needs. After all, it is a tough time right now with the economy not doing well. And when jobs are down, needs go up.

It is unfortunate as well that there are many people who have needs but choose to have needs and want help but don’t want to help themselves. Here is where the tension lies in trying to meet the legitimate needs of people in Stillwater; how do you meet real needs without being taken advantage of by people who choose to be needy?

Thanks to the leadership of Quinn Schipper and Terry Carpenter, many churches and agencies in Stillwater have come together to try to legitimately meet the needs of people and help them get out of the trouble.

Of course we want to help all people and extend the love of Christ to all people, but we are not helping people by enabling them to consume resources when they have no intention of helping themselves so they can in turn help others. Here are a few quotes from some of the speakers at the lunch that help summarize what I have already mentioned.

  • “I am not going to work harder than you are willing to work.” If a person wants to be helped for the long term rather than just getting a hand-out, they will be willing to do what they need to do to help themselves with the help of others. But if they person who is helping them is working harder than they are, it is likely the person who is in a crunch has no intentions of changing.
  • “If we do for others what they can do for themselves, we are telling them they can’t do it.” The application for this statement goes way beyond benevolence. This could apply to parenting and it can also apply to ministry. If we do everything for people they will never learn to be independent of our help and we will have to baby them. Not good.
  • “For most of us as Christians, we want to do the fastest things so we can walk away.” This may be why we have so many baby Christians, and this is one of the reasons there are so few disciples making disciples. People, including you and me, are hard work. People are messy and require persistent effort and nurturing. The quick-fix mentality that so many possess is antithetical to everything that discipleship requires. I am convinced that it is this mentality along with some bad theology that has left our churches full of anemic baby Christians. Some or a lot may not be Christians at all. And it is probably why we see so few people come to Christ. The whole gospel takes time to sink into the mind and heart (Acts 20:25-35).

What Eagle Heights Does

Eagle Heights is striving to be a loving church family. We have a benevolence fund that our deacons utilize to meet needs in our church. I have never known our church to deny a need that was made known to us and legitimate. We are also working with these others churches and agencies to help people physically, so they can be changed through a relationship with Jesus. In both ways we hope that by loving each other as brothers and sisters in Christ we can demonstrate to the world that we are disciples of Christ for God’s glory (John 13:34-35). This is the end for which we strive to help the helpless in Stillwater.