EP 223 – RAISE YOUR EBENEZER
Hey there Bootcampers! We hope you had a great Christmas. We’re taking some time to reflect on the past year and the year to come and wanted to encourage you to engage in the same. Here are some thoughts related to a blog Jimbo read over at Practical Shepherding.
12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.” 13 So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel. And the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. – 1 Samuel 7:12-13
As you close the door on 2023, think through your year in ministry. But be sure to factor in the most important part of ministry and Christ-following in general: faithfulness. Below are some questions to get you started:
- Did I seek the Lord in His Word and in prayer regularly? Did God faithfully teach me from His Word and faithfully listen to me in prayer?
- Did I respond to God’s love for me by loving others? Did God faithfully love me even when I didn’t?
- Did I worry about ministry, finances, and church relationships? Was God faithful to carry me through my fears?
- Did I pray for my church regularly? Did God faithfully soften my heart towards others and protect me from bitterness as I prayed?
- Did I speak the gospel to both believers and unbelievers? Did God faithfully strengthen and uphold my own faith in the gospel?
- Did my church express care for me and my family? Did God faithfully care for me and my family even if the church failed to do so?
- Did I serve as unto the Lord, knowing that God faithfully sees what others don’t?
God will never stop being faithful to you, no matter how things are going in ministry and in life. It’s His very nature to be faithful to you. And you can lean on His faithfulness. It’s what upholds your own faithfulness. Paul encourages us this way, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).
Because our ministry is done ultimately for, through, with, by, and to Christ, it can never be in vain. It’s never wasted, even if the metrics don’t look great through earthly eyes. Press on. Walk into this new year of labor knowing that God will faithfully walk with you every moment, every step. He is always faithful to you.
Think less about goals and more about your rhythms in ministry. Check out Andy Addis’ book by the same name.
Get your year started off in the right way by getting our good friends over at One Eighty Digital on your website and branding. They have the know-how and expertise to make this year a great one for you on the interwebs.
JimBo Stewart: [00:00:00] Here we are back at it again, back at the boot camp. Bob, I hope you’re ready for the next episode. We’re recording a little bit ahead of time here. I’m in your former state, the state of Missouri, in the great city of Kansas City. KC, MCI airport, and enjoying a little bit chillier weather, but it was not, it’s not bone chilling cold, which I’m grateful for.
Bob Bickford: Well, Jimbo, we know that you don’t operate very well in the bone chilling cold. And, I’m glad that you have a bit of a pre now it got down to 20. I want to say here in Nashville, it was, you know, low twenties. And when I popped open the app this morning, it said it felt like negative six and, sunshine came out and, uh, it was in the high forties and I had on my big Patagonia sweater and, it was all good.
And I actually got warm today. There, there you go. So I think I’ve acclimated to the Nashville winter, which is supposed to be a little bit milder than St. Louis. And, you are up there. If you’re staying up there by the airport, then, uh, it’s going to get windy and cold[00:01:00] tonight perhaps because there’s not much that stops the wind coming over from Kansas or down from Iowa there in North Kansas city.
JimBo Stewart: Yeah, you know, we’ll see how I do over the next day or two up here meeting with, Clifton and Blake and, Jonathan Slade, new replanter at Spring Valley, and some other things going on, while I’m up here. But hey, believe it or not, Bob, I saw some snow in Florida.
Bob Bickford: What, how, how Jimbo?
JimBo Stewart: Well, my kids are in the play, uh, Christmas Carol.
Bob Bickford: Oh yeah. All right,
JimBo Stewart: And so, in one of the final scenes, they did, I think it was soap suds, snow on the stage. It was, beautiful. It was a great production. The kids did a great job, in their play. They put a lot of work into this over the last several months. It all came to fruition.
Audrea successfully quarantined me enough to get the kids through the play without creating any issues. and so they were able to make it happen.
Bob Bickford: man. That’s good. Jimbo. Was there singing and dancing in this play?
JimBo Stewart: There was a lot of singing and dancing.
Bob Bickford: And, were there costumes in the [00:02:00] play?
JimBo Stewart: Oh man, big time. Really cool. I mean like they did a great job This is a pretty high level production
Bob Bickford: now is, and I’m, I’m not as familiar with plays Jimbo. Cause I’m not as refined as you are. Are there, are there refreshments available, before or after, or you just, you’ve got to pre eat and maybe take a snack in your bag. Kind of a thing.
JimBo Stewart: No, yeah, there’s no refreshments there there’s no intermission, I mean it’s about an hour and a half long
Bob Bickford: Okay. That’s
JimBo Stewart: But it’s a it was a great show. It was very well done. The kids did a great job.
Bob Bickford: Jimbo. I’ve been to some summer productions, at the Muni, the municipal, theater, I guess in St. Louis. And the first one I went to. was Mary Poppins and can I just say there were three different acts in Mary Mary Poppins and the last one we were so exhausted and so tired that my youngest is leaned over and started crying on her mama.
She just wanted to go home. So, that’s one of the first things I’m [00:03:00] going to ask you is how long is this play going to
JimBo Stewart: Yes.
Bob Bickford: that’s what I want to know.
JimBo Stewart: Yeah, fortunately this one was only an hour and a half. So, it was, it was just, you know, long enough to be pretty substantial, but short enough to not require an intermission.
Bob Bickford: Well, that’s good, man. That’s good. Well, congratulations on the family achievement, the actors, carrying on in the Stewart stead. And, someday, you know, they may have their own sitcoms or, maybe their own TV shows, or maybe there’ll be on Broadway. Who knows?
JimBo Stewart: Yeah, Maggie is asked to start a podcast with me. So, who knows?
Bob Bickford: All right. Well, what’s the podcast. Do you
JimBo Stewart: I have no idea if it’s even going to happen, but pray for me.
Bob Bickford: Yeah,
JimBo Stewart: Hey, look, as I was watching the show, here’s some things that I thought about, and I used a little bit of this in a sermon illustration, and I think it helps us as we come towards the end of a year.
and typically on the boot camp, when we come towards the end of a year, which is still wild to me, we’ve been doing [00:04:00] this for years, this podcast and typically when we come to the end of a calendar year, we talk about, evaluation, from some. angle or another and perspective in, as I was watching Christmas Carol for the third time in a row, I was thinking about, you know, if you’re not familiar, surely you are, with the classic story of Ebenezer Scrooge, right?
And Ebenezer Scrooge is this miserly, misanthropic, miserable man. That, is mean to everybody, and, He’s had a lot of bad life circumstances, and he’s also made some choices that have led him to be this isolated, lonely, miserable person. And then on Christmas Eve, he is visited by four ghosts, four apparitions.
First is his former partner, Marley, and, who lets him know. Why this is happening and that there will be three ghosts coming to him. The ghost of Christmas past, the ghost of Christmas present, and the ghost of Christmas yet to be. And, [00:05:00] they help Ebeneezer Scrooge gain some better perspective and do some evaluation on life.
And then Bob, he dramatically changes. Like literally overnight, he goes from being this miserable, mean man who wouldn’t do anything for anybody ever to the most jovial and generous person that you’ve ever encountered. All overnight, because he’s been visited by these three ghosts.
Bob Bickford: Jimbo there. I remember as a kid seeing the black and white version of this on television and for those who are not familiar with what black and white television is. It’s television that has no color. so imagine a coloring book with no color. That’s pretty much black and white television.
JimBo Stewart: Did you know this, did you know that research has shown that before color TV, a pretty significant percentage of Americans dreamed in black and white? And then when color TV came, that percentage decreased and people started to dream in [00:06:00] color more.
Bob Bickford: that’s an interesting fact. And I didn’t know that. I, I don’t know if I have had black and white dreams. That, that I can recall, but nonetheless, when I was a kid and saw the black and white Scrooge when I was a little kid, Jimbo, I’m gonna have to be honest. It was a little scary to me when the, when the ghosts of Christmas past and, et cetera came.
I mean, it was, mean, it wasn’t special effects like, like we see today, but it was enough to make me scared back in the day.
JimBo Stewart: it might scare you straight, but here’s what I realized is, the call that, that they give Ebenezer is first, they just yell at him, change. Like, just change. Just, just be different, right? And then, they, one of the things they say is, look to yourself. one of the things they say is, look to the stars and see the compassion of man.
and a lot of this is obviously looking the wrong direction. And so it made me think about, I remembered that, Ebenezer, the name Ebenezer, was not original to Charles Dickens in this story, that it actually came from scripture. But I couldn’t, I [00:07:00] couldn’t recall specifically what the story was. I knew it had something to do with a stone.
And so, I looked it up, and I don’t know if you remember this, Bob, but where the name Ebenezer comes from is from 1 Samuel chapter 7. So historically, we’re in this moment of time with the Israelites, where they’re coming out of the era of judges, where everyone did what was right in their own eyes. And we went in this constant cycle of kind of turning things around when we got a new judge and then falling back into the old ways.
pretty quickly, and just this constant repetitive cycle. But so Samuel as a prophet comes along, and he calls the people to collective repentance, and he calls them to fasting, and to crying out to God, and to, asking God to bring them back in line with who he’s called them to be. And so I think as we look at evaluating we’ve done in 2023, I think that’s a good posture to take that Samuel takes, but where does the name Ebenezer come from?
Well,[00:08:00] so they’re doing this, they’re fasting, they’re collectively repenting. And the Philistines here and decide to take advantage of this opportunity and decide to attack. Now they’re not, they’re ready for battle. So it’s pretty scary thing for the Israelites who’ve been fasting. And so they cry out to God and God, confounds and confuses the Philistines with this loud noise and the Israelites are able to kind of gather up and drive them away and then 1st Samuel chapter 7 verses 12 and 13 It says this and then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer, which means stone of help.
For he said, till now the Lord has helped us. And so the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel. And the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. So it’s interesting, the reason I bring all that up, it’s interesting to me that in this story that Charles Dickens writes of [00:09:00] Ebenezer Scrooge, the call is to look to look to yourself to find within you the ability to change just through greater self awareness.
And I know listeners, you know, on this podcast, we love self awareness. We talk about it often and the importance of it. but that’s not where we look for our hope. we look to the Lord. We look to our stone of help, our rock of ages, of Jesus Christ. And I like the way that Samuel says it. He goes, till now the Lord has helped us.
And so as he looks back, he looks back and points the Israelites through this stone of help, this Ebenezer, to, the Lord’s faithfulness.
Bob Bickford: Yeah. so so I remember the Crowder song, that has that word in it. And, you know, I remember seeing the hymn. is a kid here. I raised my Ebenezer, right? Yeah. and I think some people started putting footnotes in the Crowder version of that. So people who hadn’t, hadn’t had the history or the experience with church or corporate singing and the [00:10:00] Christian faith to understand what that means.
and so it’s good to remember what Ebenezer means and it’s calling us to have some kind of device or some kind of activity that reminds us of God’s faithfulness and he is our hope. So I think too many times we have, um, you know, been hesitant to, embrace tradition or. You know, a firm tradition in some ways, particularly in renewal work.
And so I think replanters, renewal pastors, it’s really important that, that you do remember and do have opportunities to do some reflection about the goodness of God, particularly some of you may find yourself in a really tough season here at the end of 2023. So I think this is a really good, a good time and a good subject for us to spend some time unpacking.
JimBo Stewart: One of the first things I want to point out is as you think through, looking forward and even evaluating. What you’ve done in 2023. I think it’s natural if you set [00:11:00] goals for 2023 to look back and evaluate those goals And I think you should do that. And I think if you look towards 2040 2024 You should think through what goals you’re setting but in this episode That’s not as much what I want to talk about as much.
I want to I want to think less about our goals specifically and more about God’s faithfulness in our lives and the rhythms of our lives that keep us. pursuing faithfulness in our own lives. It’s just a small little plug out there. Check out Andy Addis’s book by the same name, Rhythms, that he has.
It’s a really helpful short little book. You can find, uh, and we can link in the show notes. He spoke at the Replant Summit, about Rhythms and, did a great job talking about it there at the Replant Summit. You can watch that video. and just a short little book that, man, I’ve heard from so many people that that has helped them, Think through healthy rhythms in their life to make sure that they are being faithful, to what God has called them to do.
Because goals are great, but if we’re not careful, we can lean more into our ambition. [00:12:00] then into our faithfulness. And so in this episode, I want to focus on faithfulness. And then I came across an article when I was researching for this episode, read, written by Galena Marshall for Practical Shepherding.
and there’s just some great questions in here that I thought would be good for us to think through a little bit, Bob, and frame some of this, for you to think through, faithfulness in your life. And in the article, she said, as you close the door on this year, it might be helpful to think through your year in ministry, but be sure to factor in the most important part of ministry and Christ following in general.
Faithfulness. Below are some questions to get you started. and so I just want to read, one of these questions at a time, and then let’s comment a little bit, on, on ways to think through it. The first question she lists is, did I seek the Lord in His Word and in prayer regularly? Did God faithfully teach me from His Word faithfully, and listen to me in prayer?
Bob Bickford: Mm hmm. Very good question. I, I think, as you were reading that and as I was thinking through, the experiences over a [00:13:00] year’s time in your life. you may not have an every week major insight in, you know, your devotional time or reading God’s word or hearing the word taught and prayed, but there are going to be throughout the year, a handful of times.
When God speaks powerfully through his word, either devotionally or in, a sermon. And so what I would say is, why don’t you adjust your expectation to several times a year, not every day of the year. Right. and I think that might be helpful. And then I think resting in the fact that. You know, that God hears us in, and when we pray and the spirit groans for us with, with words, when we don’t even have the words, the spirit prays for us.
Right. And so I think, um, I think those are some good thoughts as I, as you were reading that, I was just processing that in my mind, and those are a couple of things that came to my, my thoughts.
JimBo Stewart: Yeah, I think about when we’ve talked about here on the podcast the importance of, like, how do you start your mornings? And, starting, you’re starting your morning in, the word and in prayer before you ever look at your phone. [00:14:00] and the priorities of pursuing first, not just sequentially, but also sequentially, the, the word and one of the, just the best way to do that is just meditating on his word.
And that’s where I think if, if this is something that you struggle with, one. A couple things I would say is one, don’t, don’t beat yourself up too bad just because that doesn’t get you anywhere, and two, don’t set too high of, like, an ambitious plan, like, don’t try to read the Bible in 90 days if, you know, Reading the Bible every day is something you struggle with, and I know, you know, largely our audience on this is pastors, and so it’s hard for us to even admit sometimes as pastors when we’re struggling to read God’s Word.
And so there’s this guilt and the shame in there. If you, if you are consistently in the Word every day, but you’re trying to think through ways to go a little bit further, Trevin Wax has these great little books, two books. One is more recent, Jesus [00:15:00] And the Gospels in one month, and then he has one that’s, uh.
the psalms, all the psalms in a month. And you read three times a day, and it has catechism type stuff in it, and confessions and creeds and those sorts of things as well. And there are three times in the day that you utilize it, and so that’d be a great way to increase that emphasis as well. The second question that this article has is, did I respond to God’s love for me by loving others?
And did God faithfully love me, even when I didn’t? As you look back on 2023, how did you respond to God’s love by loving others? And have you faithfully, have you seen that God has faithfully loved you, even when you didn’t do that?
Bob Bickford: Yeah. you know, I think when, when we talk about the word love, it’s always important to break it down and bring it back to the scripture that defines love. Love is right. And so first Corinthians 13 most often read when you’re dating someone and you’re trying to [00:16:00] discern, discern, do I want to marry them or it’s read at a wedding or, you know, all that kind of stuff, which have nothing to do why Paul wrote it.
Paul wrote it with And the context of the church, right. And what love means in the church. And, and so there’s, there are actions that are indicative of love. Right. And so I think if, if you’re thinking about how you related to others inside your church, as a leader, as a pastor, or as a group member, or as a friend, looking at that through the lens of first Corinthians 13, and just simply evaluating the way you responded.
to people around you and not just the people that you enjoy being around, but, people that, that are challenging to you. So I, you know, Jimbo, one of the things I love about the church we’re attending is there’s a few folks that are, quirky at our church, right? It’s not a, you know, you think Nashville, like everybody looks like Keith Urban or Nicole Kidman or Carrie Underwood, or, you know, something like that.
and there’s some churches, man, where you got some really handsome and pretty people and they got the [00:17:00] right, you know, the hair is swooped the right way and the jeans are, you know, however the jeans are supposed to be these days. but our church is kind of full of some folks that are just a little bit like, they’re just different.
They’re quirky, right? And so one things I love about our church is. There’s the opportunity to engage and be kind and loving and patient and, supportive and inquisitive for people who, we might, uh, people who are kinds of folks that you, you would say that, why on earth would I end up being in a relationship with that person and talk with that person?
Well, the reason is because they’re they bear the image of God and you share the unity of Christ and they’re loved by God. And so you should be loved by you. Right? And so I think what better place. to express this and, and live this out. Then the church that’s full of all kinds of people who are really different and, unique in certain ways.
And it gives us the opportunity to live in a community with people and love people and ask yourself, am I being patient with them? And I’m just going through the, you know, love is patient. Love is kind, all those, you know, [00:18:00] do I, is that the way people perceive me and receive me? In the local congregation.
That’s a good question. And so when I, when I think about that passage, I think about this challenge. So those are some things that go through my mind.
JimBo Stewart: that’s a great measure to evaluate your ministry off of. How much do you see the love described in 1 Corinthians 13 being played out in the way that you, lead and interact with others? Next question is, did I worry about ministry, finances, and church relationships? And was God faithful to carry me through my fears?
so, when you look back, how much of your time did you spend worrying? and trying to take control of something that is not fully even in your hands.
Bob Bickford: Yeah, I think the, the way she structured the questions here in this blog, that, you know, the first is the, where, where, how we’re challenged. Right. and then the second answer is that God is always faithful. Right. And so, [00:19:00] did I worry about ministry finances and church relationships? Here’s the answer.
Was God faithful to
carry me through?
JimBo Stewart: in ministry, you probably
Bob Bickford: Yes. Not just more than once, but multiple times. And was God faithful to carry me through my fears? Yes. But it took a while for me to feel like he was carrying me right for me to even realize I was being carried. and so I think that what, what I would, what I just encourage our, our friends out there in the bootcamp land, is, you know what, don’t be down on yourself because you experienced these things and you worried and you were stressed and all those things.
I mean, just, you know, just realize that. If you, if you’re always, if that’s always your first response and you never can get to the place to realizing that God carried you by reflecting through and back upon all those instances, that then get with a mentor, get with a counselor and, and man, talk through that.
Right. And I think the first response that we have sometimes is to freak out a little bit as we go on [00:20:00] through our year, through our season and hopefully in our maturity, hopefully we don’t freak out as much. And hopefully we get to the point to where when a challenge comes, we simply say, well, it’s going to be interesting to see how God sustains me through this one.
Right? So, I mean, Jimbo recently, we were, we were kind of chatting about this before, we started recording. You recently went through like a spate of car repairs that were like, just unreal. I mean, Every week, every card was breaking down and it wasn’t like a 200 fix. It was like a crazy, like break the bank kind of fix.
JimBo Stewart: Yes.
Bob Bickford: and so, man, I was, I’ve been there and man, that is just that you just are like, really is, is this, what’s gonna, is this where we’re going?
JimBo Stewart: Oh, my wife called me today with some light that came up on the van. I’m out of town,
so I’m just waiting to see, you know, am I about to be out another A dollar amount with a comma in it and uh,
you know, it’s hard. It’s [00:21:00] hard not to worry when those kind of things happen
Bob Bickford: I know get one of those Amazon code readers that you can hook up
to your phone and, and, uh, clear the codes. If it’s nothing dangerous, research it on all the boards, you know, and all that kind of stuff. And a lot of times it’s a sensor. Maybe the gas cap wasn’t on so tight, but, but I mean, here, here’s the good question.
What’s your first response when something
JimBo Stewart: yeah
Bob Bickford: something challenging happens. And if you can get to the place where it’s less emotional and less stress, and you get to the place where it’s just simply saying, well, Lord, I know you have me and I’m not sure how you’re going to fix all this or, or work this out or provide these resources.
So, it’s going to be interesting to watch how you handle it.
JimBo Stewart: yeah. Yeah. All right. We got time for maybe one or two more of the questions here. one of them is did I I like this one? Did I just the next one on the list is did I pray for my church regularly? Did god faithfully soften my heart towards others and protect me from bitterness as I prayed? this one’s so important.
Uh, one on a practical note, I believe we have talked about this on the [00:22:00] podcast before with Croft, kind of his way that he talks about praying for every member of your church every month and, you know, setting them out on your, on a calendar so that you can go through the entire list of your church membership every month and pray for them, pray for them regularly.
But a part of that, is one that’s just. Part of the responsibility of being a pastor. And then part of that is, I love the way that this is worded in the blog is, did God faithfully soften my heart? this is part of how God softens your heart and keeps you from bitterness. Um, sometimes bitterness is hard to avoid in ministry when you get burned a lot. regularly praying for people, I think can help soften your heart towards them. Mm-Hmm.
Bob Bickford: Yeah, and I would encourage those who are who have been hurt in the in the recent season of ministry and you can define listener whatever recent means for you.
healing and working through it and forgiving and getting rid of bitterness. It all takes time, right? It takes a lot of time. Jimbo, speaking of Christmas, one, [00:23:00] one Christmas I got a moped.
You know what a moped is, Jimbo?
so I got a moped and, uh, I was goofing around on that moped and, uh, I took a pretty good tumble
JimBo Stewart: Mm
Bob Bickford: and, uh, spill and I had this really weird scar on my elbow. And, you can kind of see it now, but it’s just minimized. Like you, you know, you can see it, but Jimbo used to be like a, about the size of a nickel or maybe even larger.
And it used to just to stick out. And it was hard. It was like a big scar tissue because basically just like big gash out of my elbow
JimBo Stewart: mm-Hmm.
Bob Bickford: and Jimbo over time. Here I am, you know, some 40 plus years later, that scar is, has faded and it’s, it’s not prominent and it doesn’t hurt. Well, it took a long time for that to happen.
And so when we get wounded internally by something significant, it creates a scar in our heart that are in our emotions or in our relationships that may not go away immediately. Right. [00:24:00] But it may take us some time. And so what I would say is, is I know we’ve run across some renewal pastors whose wives have been hurt.
His kids have been hurt and subsequently, when a, when a renewal pastor’s wife or kids are hurt, man, it hurts them and it affects them in a really significant way. And so what I would say is, is the scars and the wounds and the bitterness that comes from all that diminishing over time,
JimBo Stewart: Yeah.
Bob Bickford: not as it gone, but it diminishing over time.
And if you can answer yes, then let the Lord keep doing his work and, let your heart be continually healed from, from the hurt that you’ve experienced.
JimBo Stewart: The article that we’ve been referencing closes out with this. God will never stop being faithful to you, no matter how things are going in ministry and in life. It’s his very nature to be faithful to you, and you can lean on his faithfulness. It’s what upholds your own faithfulness. Paul encourages us this way.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, Be [00:25:00] steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15, 58. Because our ministry is done ultimately for, through, with, by, and to Christ. It can never be in vain. It’s never wasted. Even if the metrics don’t look great through earthly eyes.
Press on. Walk into this new year of labor knowing that God will faithfully walk with you every moment, every step. He is always faithful to you. Or as Samuel said it, till now, the Lord has helped us. And so let’s raise our Ebenezer.