Nehemiah, Ch. 1, tells us that when he received word from his brother that the walls of the city of Jerusalem still lay in ruins after almost 150 years, it knocked him off his feet and left him in tears. 1:4, When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. That deep, heartfelt pain that Nehemiah experienced, his “holy discontent,” would become what one commentator describes as “the labor pains from a movement of God was born.” The Book of Nehemiah is his personal journal of how that movement happened. Along the way he gives us an inside look at the keys to his great success as a leader; the first being that godly leaders deeply care about the same things that God cares about. God then takes that holy discontent- that powerful spiritual congruence of God’s deep concerns with our own- and infuses it with the power of His Holy Spirit. The result is an unstoppable force! In Nehemiah’s case, it was a movement of God that ultimately resulted in rebuilding the walls of the entire city of Jerusalem in just 52 days!

Is there any kind of “holy discontent” that is stirring in your heart? Especially with regard to your city or town? I live in Tulsa, OK, which has been in the national news in recent days regarding the shooting by police of an unarmed black man; raising all kinds of emotions and reactions from the part of the city in which he lived. It’s very easy to live a sort of shrink-wrapped life in the part of the city where I live, essentially insulated from the needs of the rest of the city. And when we see such emotions and reactions we often just don’t understand and we wonder where they’re coming from and why. And THAT stirs up our emotions. And before we know it, if we are not very careful, we can find ourselves being quick to judge and end up living with deep seeded divisions and hostility.

That kind of division and hostility has one source… and that’s the Devil himself. Satan specializes in hostile disunity and divisiveness. In other words, it’s not just a social issue, it’s a spiritual issue… it’s spiritual warfare. But, as Christ-followers, we are not left defenseless or weaponless in this spiritual warfare in which we are engaged! Ephesians 6: 10-18; Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation… (Notice, it’s all been defensive armor so far, but now he speaks to the two offensive weapons we have in Christ.) …and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Our primary weapons of spiritual warfare are what? The Word of God- the Bible- and… prayer! This is a second key to Nehemiah’s success as a leader; he was a man of prayer. And, in Chapter 1:5-11, Nehemiah demonstrates what powerful warfare prayer involves. We will look at those elements next posting.


When Sr. Pastor Hess Hester asked me to contribute a blog this week for CPR, I first thought about a devotional type of writing, but then it dawned on me the topic of Sr. Pastor Support. I am an Associate Pastor and Pastor of Celebrate Recovery at Southern Hills Baptist Church Tulsa under the leadership of our Sr. Pastor Hess Hester.

One of the seven keys of Celebrate Recovery is Senior Pastor Support, and our Sr. Pastor exemplifies what that means. He has participated in and led CR twelve step studies, has given his CR testimony, attends our Celebrate Recovery frequently, arranges for CR testimonies on Sunday mornings, allows our CR to have a kiosk out in our lobby every Sunday morning plus promotion in our church publications and talked about from the pulpit. His recognition of his own need for recovery has communicated to our church body that it is “ok and acceptable” to be in recovery. I don’t know how many times I have heard him say that “Recovery” is just another word for “sanctification” or “spiritual growth” and that CR is one of the best discipleship tools in the church today. There is something else though that I think makes Sr. Pastor Support help Celebrate Recovery thrive in a church.

Recently, the pastoral staff went on a retreat to dream about the future of our church and discuss upcoming plans. It’s was so neat to hear our Children’s pastor, Youth pastor, Worship pastor, and Executive pastor all recognize the life-change and God’s blessing on our Celebrate Recovery. Our Sr. Pastor’s support has made it “ok and acceptable” for our staff to also support this ministry. Our Celebration Place is part of our church’s children’s ministry. Our Landing is part of our church’s student ministry. Our CR worship team is helped and supported by our church’s worship pastor. Our Executive Pastor this year came, and did leadership training just for our CR leaders. When a CR is supported like that – by not only the Sr. Pastor, but the rest of the pastoral staff – then the sky is the limit.

I used to be a State Rep for Celebrate Recovery, and had the privilege of attending many CRs in our state. Unfortunately, there often seemed to be distance between CR and the Church that supported it. Now, I am not saying that’s on the Sr. Pastor or staff. Many CR’s would be wise to ask “How can we better support our Sr. Pastor, staff, and church?” rather than asking “How come we are not getting more support by them?” All I know is that Sr. Pastor Support is crucial for CR to thrive, and that support is way more than on the Sr. Pastor. CR works better when all of the pastoral staff is aligned, united, and working together as a team so that CR is truly “ok and acceptable” for everyone and more people can be reached by this life-changing ministry.

Would you say that your CR is an integral part of the life of your church? Are there walls being built-up between the different ministries of your church or are the walls being destroyed and bridges built instead? How can you be a part of bringing more alignment between CR and the other signature ministries of your church? What does participating in CR look like for you and how can your actions communicate to your staff and congregants that CR is one of the greatest spiritual growth tools in the church?

Celebrating Recovery,

Josh Lawrence, Celebrate Recovery Pastor

Southern Hills Baptist Church




It’s a question that seems harder and harder to answer these days. It’s the question, why do people do what they do? Bringing it closer to home, why do you do what you do?

In his book by the same title, Bill Hybels talks about the concept of “holy discontent.” When the priorities that are stirring in your heart are in agreement with the priorities that are stirring in God’s heart, that powerful spiritual congruence forms would Hybels calls, you’re holy discontent.

The holy discontent in the heart of Moses led to the exodus of God’s people from 400 years of slavery in Egypt. The holy discontent in the heart of Nehemiah led to rebuilding the walls of the city of Jerusalem in just 52 days!

When I think of our church here in Tulsa, virtually every ministry we have is the result of a holy discontent that stirred in the hearts of one or more individuals . Is there a holy discontent stirring in your heart? When God infuses that holy discontent with the power of his Spirit it becomes an unstoppable force pushing back the darkness in some way shape or form in our society and shining the healing light of Jesus Christ in its place.

Is there a holy discontent stirring in your heart? May God bless you as you continue to let his light shine through you as you become more and more the leader you are meant to be!


In previous posts about Jacob’s story of transformation, we’ve been talking about how God, the Master Sculptor, was at work chiseling away in his life. One of the most mysterious encounters in the Bible is when Jacob wrestled with the strange “man” (God)! Genesis 32:24ff… Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”28 He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.

Israel- because you have striven/fought with God and men and have… wait a minute… did he say, “prevailed?” Totally exhausted, crippled, in great pain, and Esau and his army of 400 is still out there waiting… Never could winning have felt more like losing! So how was this a win for Jacob??? The “win” for Jacob was in finally arriving at the point of completely surrendering his life to God’s purpose! Jacob gets a new identity because He finally submitted to God’s chisel, He finally let the Master Sculptor- sculpt Him into a new person!

Interestingly enough, the name, Israel, can also mean, “God struggles.” God… struggles? What does God struggle with? It’s not what, it’s WHO! He struggles with you and with me. God struggles much more with us than we do with Him! Because, there is so much in us that He wants to chisel away so that He can bless US, too! But, unlike a stone that passively allows the sculptor to chip away wherever the sculptor desires, we stubbornly resist! So God has to struggle with us. He struggles to get us to be willing to humbly submit to every change He wants to make in our lives to make us more like Christ! The bigger story of Jacob’s life was not HIS struggle, but God’s struggle with HIM!

Can you find yourself in Jacob’s story? I suspect you know where God has been wrestling with you in your life! Are you ready to win by surrendering? Are you ready to stop resisting and submit to Him?

As the story concludes we are left with this one, final, amazing scene in Gen. 32: 30-31, Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” 31 The sun was rising as Jacob left Peniel, and he was limping because of the injury to his hip. What a poignant picture. The sun is rising in Jacob’s life. And, in the dawn’s early light, you can see his silhouette on the horizon as he limps away to his meeting with Esau.

Why do you think the Bible makes specific mention of the limp? The thigh muscle is the strongest muscle in the human body. By touching Jacob there, God was saying, “you’re not going to rely on your own strength any more, you’re going to rely on ME and MY power!” In other words, Jacob is emerging from this experience both weaker and stronger. Weaker physically, but he was much, much stronger spiritually!

The people that God has used the most in this life have always walked with a limp- maybe a physical limp, an emotional limp, a relational limp… some kind of limp. A limp that is always there as a reminder to allow his transforming work to continue… to set aside my self- sufficiency and my own devices and my own pride… and lean instead upon God.

Tired and Broken

“I’m tired! I’m not ok. I’m broken!” These are just some of the words spoken recently by a nationally known pastor this week. I’m sure that many of you can relate. I know that I’ve felt this way in my life when the stress of ministry seemed too much. It seemed overwhelming. It seemed as though the calling that God had placed on my life was in many ways more of a burden than a blessing. Let’s face it being a pastor is hard, and dealing with the problems that pastors face on a daily basis doesn’t get easier. We often get the question “why a special step study for pastors?”. What makes pastors so special that they deserve the their own step studies devoted to those who are in ministry, and closed to the congregation. In response to his announcement of retirement I heard another pastor recently say this “ I can tell you from over four decades in the ministry that the role of the pastor is unique. Supernatural evil takes particular joy in attacking pastors. If pastors fall, their churches are devastated and the world sneers. They often face special temptations because they are who they are, doing what they do. Because ministers do much of their work within the framework of the church, they are overexposed to problems, disappointments, and criticism.” Most pastors know that they are inadequate, incapable of accomplishing what many expect of them in the church, so Celebrate Pastors Recovery provides a safe place where pastors can reveal their hurts, habits and hang ups. Yes your pastor no matter how well known or influential has all three. Celebrate Pastors Recovery allows those who lead our churches the same opportunity to set aside their masks, and get real with God and with other pastors. CPR provides a place of healing, accountability and comradery that is missing for most pastors. God’s plan for all of us including pastors is that we do life together, not on our own in isolation. If you’d like more information about CPR groups and how to form one, email hess If you know of another leader in ministry who would benefit from a safe place to experience the grace and truth of Jesus Christ in the context of authentic community, please pass this site along to them. It might just be the ministry life line they need.


Jesse W. Graver

Associate Pastor of Worship and Creative Arts

Southern Hills Baptist Church, Tulsa OK



As seen in Pt.3, Jacob wrestled all night with God. And, just as the “man” (God) is about to break away and leave him, Jacob cries out, v.26b, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” But, instead of a blessing, it was a question that next came from the mouth of this stranger… v. 27, “What is your name?” the man asked. He replied, “Jacob.”

The man/God, of course, knew his name. And, what’s in a name? In this case, everything! As Jacob said his name out loud he must have seen his entire life flashing before his eyes… JACOB… HEEL-GRABBER… DECEIVER… Saying his name was like, well, like giving a confession. Just think what it would be like to be named after your biggest character flaw? What would your name be? “God, I confess, my name is _________________.”

This was the next step in Jacob’s transformation/recovery as it is with our own: to openly examine and confess my faults to myself, to God, and to someone I trust. Not easy to do but this is where tremendous breakthrough takes place.

(Stay tuned. There will be two guest postings next week and then I’ll conclude Jacob’s story of transformation.)