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The Lion Roars

Chris Hay —  July 2, 2013 — Leave a comment

I love the Minor Prophets. And I hate the designation ‘minor.’ There is nothing minor about these 12 fairly short books that park at the end of the Old Testament. They were given that unfortunate moniker because they are shorter than the ‘major’ prophets. But these short books pack a punch that is far greater than their designation as ‘minor’ might indicate. The unfortunate thing is that since they are considered ‘minor,’ and since they are so short, and since they are often considered hard to understand and confusing, we have largely ignored them. I mean when was the last time you had a delightful time with God basking in the text of Nahum?

I believe that it is imperative we get to know God as best we can. Learn all we can about him, his character, the way he works in the world and with mankind, and turn that knowledge into a personal relationship. After all, we cannot have a very good relationship with a person we do not know very well.

I further believe that all scripture is God-breathed, and all scripture is necessary to know God as best we can. So it stands to reason that if there are significant sections of scripture we neglect, such as the Minor Prophets, our view of God will be skewed. And I would argue, our view of God is too small, too soft, too uninvolved, too uncaring, too focused on his love and grace as opposed to his wrath and justice. The view that God is soft and gushy is too prevalent.

Amos is one of the Minor Prophets who packs a major punch. Amos was a farmer in Israel about 760 B.C. His agricultural expertise included sheep that were known for a high quality wool, and producing sycamore figs. He was not seminary or Bible college trained. His father was not a prophet. He was common, ordinary farmer. But God called him to a task, and he obeyed and went.

At this point in history Israel was in control of the major trade routes. Money was pouring into their cities. A rich, hedonistic upper class was emerging. Expensive homes were built with rare and expensive materials. These indulgent Israelites felt entitled to their snobbish, self-serving lifestyle. Homes and families were disintegrating. Sounds a bit like America, maybe?

roaring-lionAmos stepped into this pit of opulent wealth and called it for what it was. He was sarcastic. He was blunt. He was bold. He called the rich women ‘fat cows.’ He painted a terrifying picture of God as a roaring lion. In fact, the opening words of his sermon are “The LORD roars from Zion…” He tells us that when this Lion roars, the mountains wither, the pastures mourn, the earth melts.

And as we might expect, his message was rejected. The local priest told him to go preach somewhere else. But Israel was on the fast track to destruction and God called Amos to warn them. History tells us that about 35 years after Amos ministered, the Assyrians would invade Israel. They would murder, rape, and pillage. Any survivors would be chained and marched across 600 miles of desert, where many more would die. The opulent lifestyle would come crashing down. The Lion roared, and bodies fell. Not very soft and gushy.

Amos gives us a picture of God that may not be very comfortable, or popular. But under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, completely accurate. A necessary part of the whole counsel of God. Part of ‘all scripture’ that we dare not neglect.

So, yea. Lets have some great quality time with God in Amos. And Nahum. And Obadiah. Read these books in a Study Bible or with some Bible study helps so you do understand the context and background, because they can be confusing. But read them. Study them. Expand your understanding of our great God.

The Lion has roared.

A recent editorial piece in Christianity Today written by Mark Galli titled “Higher Ed at a Crossroad” caught our collective attention at Eternity Bible College. The article presents the case of a particular seminary to exemplify ways Christian Colleges may provide a high quality, low cost education with an emphasis on the importance of the local church.

Money TrapWe strongly believe in making quality biblical education affordable and accessible to the local church, and have actually already implemented many of the suggestions Galli makes. We believe that we exist to serve the local church. Therefore, we work hard to keep our costs low so students can graduate debt-free, and be available for whatever assignment God may have for them without the ball-and-chain of debt. Tuition at Eternity is $175 per credit hour. The total cost of tuition for a 4-year bachelor’s degree at Eternity is $22,400. The average tuition per year at private non-profit colleges is $35,000. That means students can earn a 4-year degree at Eternity for about 65% of the cost of attending most other colleges for only one year!

We are assuming demand, since most of our faculty are full time ministry practitioners serving in local churches, and they know the needs of the local church. We have our entire degree program online, so that students can stay in their local church and still get a high caliber Bible education. We even offer our Introduction to Discipleship Counseling class for-credit at no cost.

We have also taken material from our college-level courses, focused on the key points, and presented them simply and attractively through our Silo Project.These self-paced mini-courses work well for those who want to learn about the Bible, theology, and ministry but don’t want to mess around with college credit. They can also be easily incorporated into Small Groups or Adult Fellowships.

All of our students are required to be actively serving in a local church. We see our mission as equipping men and women to serve in the local church, and recognize that they need to be doing it as they are getting their education, not after they get it. We work hard to avoid the artificial ‘Bible College Bubble’ by having a very small and efficient campus, no dorms (students have to live in the ‘real world’), and even encourage students to live near their church and commute to classes. While serving in their local churches, every student is required to have mentor. Through these mentor relationships we are able to assess the spiritual growth of students and learn how they are applying their knowledge in real life service to the world, through the church.

We are finding that many churches are excited about why we do what we do, and how we do it. If you are part of a church who wants to join in this shift in Biblical Higher Education, we have many ways you can partner with us.

We are thankful that Mark Galli and others are calling our attention to a growing and immense problem in biblical higher education. And we are pleased to let you know that at least one school in the U.S. is doing something about it as well!

From the PulpitI sat in my pastor’s office sharing my feelings of being pretty worthless, of feeling abandoned by my peers. I felt like I had sold my soul to the devil, or something worse. After 18 years of steady ministry as solo pastor, senior pastor, or associate pastor, I had reached the point where I just couldn’t keep doing it, and resigned. I was now working in the construction industry as a project manager—running a budget and schedule for major commercial remodeling projects—a long ways from preparing sermons, doing hospital visitation, and discipling men.

My pastor shared a piece of wisdom with me that I will never forget: ‘Chris, there are only two honorable ways to leave the pastorate: retire or die.’ He meant that the vast majority of the ministry world views it that way. Well, I had done neither. I was way too young to retire, and I was pretty sure I was still alive (although on bad days I wondered….). So that meant that I had left the pastorate in a dishonorable way. Or so it seemed.

In the days and weeks that followed, I wrestled with many questions, not the least of which was ‘Can I still pray?’ I wondered if God answered prayer about things that were not ministry related. Was it spiritual to ask God to intervene in a remodeling job I had going? Did God care that I couldn’t find a subcontractor to do the tile work? For nearly 20 years my prayer life had been built around being a pastor and spiritual leader; so now what?

I also wondered what the purpose of Bible reading was now. Of course I had wrestled with the tension of not just reading my Bible for sermon prep, and thought I had struck a pretty good balance. Apparently not.

And then there was the question of calling. God had called me to be a pastor. So now what? Was that call invalidated? Had He never really called me? Is a call revocable?

Probably my biggest question, which took a long time to fully surface, was this: Who am I? I finally realized that my identity had been ‘pastor’ and that was wrong. Completely wrong. And since I was no longer a ‘pastor,’ I had no identity.

Over the next five years I wrestled with each of these questions, and God graciously gave me answers. The answers came slowly in some cases. In fact, over seven years later I am still trying to assess the reasons, the causes, the issues, where I failed and sinned, and where life simply happened. I expect I won’t get the full story till I can sit down with Jesus someday, and ask Him all about it. Maybe then it won’t matter, or I won’t care. But in the meantime, I process. Let me share a few of my ongoing thoughts.

I pretty quickly realized that of course I can pray and read my Bible. And I do those things to maintain a relationship with Jesus, not to achieve a ministry goal, but to get to know the one, true God in a more personal way.

I also determined that yes, I was indeed called to the pastorate. And that I was called out of the pastorate. God’s ultimate call is to salvation and Christlikeness, and I was still on that path. Can’t God call us to different things at different times in our lives? He called Luke to be a physician, then called him to travel with Paul. He called Amos to tend figs, then called him to preach to Israel. He called me to be a pastor, then out of that into construction, then out of that to serve at a Bible college. He could call me to something else someday. What does not change is the call to pursue a passionate, sold out relationship with Christ alone.

And I have slowly learned that my identity is not ‘pastor’ or ‘contractor’ or ‘college professor,’ it is ‘Child of the King.’ I had believed a lie that the pastorate was the ‘highest calling’ and so I placed a very sinful, and fleshly emphasis on my identity as being of the highest calling. O the pride wrapped up in that!

I finally came to grips with the fact that whatever God has called me to—that was the highest calling. When I was a contractor, that was God’s highest calling for me, and not my identity. As Director of Church Relations—that is God’s highest calling for me, and not my identity. My ‘calling’ may change many more times before I die, but my identity never will. I am a Child of the King. Period.

These have not been easy years. This process has been painful, and I have lost friends and colleagues along the way. Probably lost some respect and reputation, too. Right after I resigned, one pastor friend emailed me and told me there obviously was some crisis in my life, or some major problem in the church.

But that is not my concern. I answer to One Person, and only One. I know that I have not always heard His voice clearly. I know that I have not always followed Him perfectly. I know I have had missteps along the way. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

I recently posted a blog on Elijah, burnout, and how important it is for us to spend extended time alone with God. If he needed to slow down and spend some long, extended time in the desert alone with God, how much more do we need to do the same in the 21st century!

But as I meditate on the story of Elijah, I see there is more to this ubiquitous issue of burnout than just spending time alone with God. Believe me, I have spent many hours and now many years searching my own heart and evaluating what went wrong in my life that caused me to hit the wall like I did. I am often asked questions like ‘what caused you to burnout?’ and ‘ what can we do to prevent burnout?’

Dangerous CallingI had a breakthrough insight recently. It has to do with ‘identity.’ I see it in Elijah, but my eyes were really opened to this idea through Paul David Tripp’s book Dangerous Calling. This recent book is an important and essential read for all pastors, people in ministry, and followers of Christ. I was convicted page after page, and had so many ‘aha’ moments I lost count.

Tripp is talking about the numerous and often burdensome responsibilities of the pastor when he makes this statement:

All of these concerns can become seductive pastoral idolatries, and when they do, you may think that you are serving God, but your heart is ruled by something to which you have attached your pastoral identity and inner sense of well-being….you do ministry in the hopes of getting horizontally what you have already been given vertically. In ways in which you are unaware, you are asking ministry acclaim, success, reputation, etc., to be your own personal messiah. (p202)

Ouch. Nailed. Yep, that’s me. My identity and significance in life was completely wrapped up in the concept of ‘pastor’ but I didn’t realize it until I finally resigned the pastorate, and lost my identity. I honestly (although I did know better theologically) wondered what in the world I would pray about now. Can I even pray as a non-pastor? Why would I read my Bible now? As these questions coursed through my soul, I was brought painfully face-to-face with the reality that I was guilty of ministry idolatry.

Tripp goes on:

So you will never find in your ministry the rest of heart that every human being seeks. And when you look there, it only ends in anxiety, frustration, hurt, disappointment, anger, and bitterness and may ultimately lead you to question the goodness of God. I am convinced that what we often call “ministry burnout” (a term I don’t think is particularly helpful) is often the result of pastors’ seeking in their ministry what cannot be found there, and because it can’t be found there they end up weary and discouraged. (p203)

Wow. Guilty. There it is. Perhaps not the final answer to my quest of why I burned out, but a huge step closer. He nails it here: I was seeking for identity, reputation, significance, etc. in the pastorate. But that was idolatry, and it could never truly give me rest. So after 18 years of trying, and not succeeding, the weariness and discouragement got the best of me, and I had to regroup. Of course I know that my identity is found in Christ alone, as a child of His, and not in any role or task or ministry that I do. But it is still a struggle to assimilate that truth deeply into my soul and make it part of my daily sense of identity.

Back to Elijah. In 1 Kings 19, God questions Elijah. Part of Elijah’s answer is in verse 10:

“I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left…”

In other words, nobody has it together in ministry quite like I do. I am the prophet to end all prophets. I am the only one left who loves you and serves you. My identity is wrapped up in being a prophet. A few verses earlier, Elijah was basically suicidal over this state of affairs. Classic ministry burnout based on the faulty notion that his identity was in ministry, not in Christ alone.

We must get our eyes back on Jesus. We will never find rest and identity and satisfaction in anything but Him. Not in ministry, not in the pastorate, not in our jobs, not in our family, not in our success…nothing but Christ alone. To do so is to invite weariness, discouragement, burnout. Search your heart to see if the seeds of this error are planted and starting to sprout. Study Elijah. Read the book Dangerous Calling. Save yourself from ministry burnout.

I am a recovering burned out pastor. Doing fine, thank you. But I hit the wall several years back and had to resign a great ministry. The church I was pastoring was excited about the future and eager to reach out. We did some good things, and the future was bright. But I was done. I would wake up on Sunday mornings with this dark heaviness that consumed me. It was oppressive and exhausting. I would pray through it, seek God’s intervention, and make it through Sunday morning. But then I was utterly exhausted the rest of the day. Every pastor is tired on Sunday afternoon, but I was beyond tired.

During this time I found great encouragement in reading the story of Elijah. He was a great friend and mentor. 1 Kings 17-19 contain some really great truths that helped me back then, still help me, and are food for anyone feeling a bit of burnout.

Elijah was God’s mouthpiece to tell King Ahab that there was about to be a 3-year drought, which pretty much meant a serious economic downturn. I imagine Ahab could see the approval ratings of his kingship dropping like the proverbial rock. And he took it out on Elijah. Ahhh, ministry. We proclaim God’s Word, and people blame us!!

But note that God orchestrated this drought. He designed it, He ordained it, He sent it. Then he tells Elijah to get out of town and head for the wilderness. Elijah would suffer in this drought as every other Israelite would. It was hard times, through and through. I can’t help thinking about the various ‘droughts’ in my life, times when I felt empty or thirsty. And nothing seemed to help. We all have these times, and the great prophet Elijah was no exception.

brookGod’s plan was to send Elijah to a distant brook called Cherith to hide out. As far as we know, the Brook Cherith was in a pretty remote area east of the Jordan River. It has been described as a wild ravine and a good place for various outcasts to hide out. The brook would provide water, and God would command ravens to bring food for Elijah each day. So God orchestrated the drought in Elijah’s life, but then he designed the solution. Granted, it was a strange solution. Ravens are scavengers so I can only imagine the kind of food they brought to Elijah! It would appear he was eating road kill for a few years!

But the point is this: God took care of Elijah. It was hard times, for sure. But God sent Elijah off to a remote quiet place, and He personally directed his care and feeding. How long was he there? Hard to say. The drought lasted some 3 years, and Elijah lived in only 2 places during that time: Brook Cherith and Zarephath. So, many months at least. Maybe a year or more. What did he do while sitting out in the wilderness? Again, we aren’t told, but I would assume he rested, prayed, and studied the Torah (assuming he took his copy along). Basically, he spent extended time alone with God.

And I would suggest to you that this is the point: the solution to burnout or drought or emptiness is extended time alone with God. Our lives are crazy busy. There aren’t near enough hours in the day, or days in the week, or weeks in the month, to get everything done that we think we need to get done. And so we run out of fuel. Our tanks are empty. We burn out. The drought has begun. If you are there, then let me encourage you that God has a remote brook for you, full of refreshing water. He has some ravens all ready to bring you some nourishing food. But you have to slow down long enough to eat and drink from His never-ending supply. Like Elijah did.
Oh and it gets better. Elijah hasn’t even hit the serious burnout wall yet. He is so much like us. I am so thankful that God chose to reveal some of this great prophet’s secrets. I’ll explore this more in a future blog post. In the meantime, slow down. Take a breath. Spend some time with God. Some serious, extended time, alone in the presence of Almighty God. Just you and Jesus.

Coram Deo!