Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Actions of a Few

Mark 10:45 says: "For even the son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many."

This verse is a reminder to us that Jesus came and lowered himself to the lowest point possible, a sacrifice for others' sins. In the wake of more civil disobedience and unrest you may be tempted to take sides. As I watched the news break last night, I was tempted to take both sides. I found myself angry at the protesters and looters who were violent and not assembling peacefully, and then I found myself hurting for the families of those who lost loved ones.

This verse out of Mark reminds us that as Christians we are to be servants at all costs. What this means for us today is that instead of taking sides and pointing fingers, today can be the day that we show others we will not be divided by the Enemy, but instead we will rise up in the midst of turmoil and love each other the way God has instructed us to.

This morning my 11 year old and I were watching the news and they played a clip of a black man yelling that "all white people are the devil." Andrew got upset at this and I muted the TV and told him that was the opinion of one angry black person, not every black person and that we can't judge an entire race on the actions of a few. In his innocent eyes, I could tell he was trying to understand, but all he really knew was a black man called him the devil and it hurt him deeply.

So you've been hurt by racism....believe it or not, so have I. I remember it happening more than once as a kid and then again as a young adult. That's still no excuse for me to lump the actions of a few into the group of many. Instead, I am to emulate the love of Jesus, who died for everyone.
If your attempts to show love to others aren't received, don't fret. Your motivation isn't their receptiveness, it is your love for the Father that motivates you. Share a smile, open a door, offer a compliment and do it with the love of Christ flowing from your inner soul.

Be encouraged, by being a servant to the King!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Pastor's Book Club - Pastor's Pick September 2016

In my first blog post edition of "Pastor's Pick" I am sharing a book that I have had on my Kindle for nearly two months.  I picked it up while doing a study with our men from the series 33 Authentic Manhood.  In this study (Volume 1) it encouraged us as men, to invest not into just one area or role of our life, but those that are most important.  As a husband (and father) I wanted to seriously invest in my marriage. I would not suggest that Heather and I have a bad marriage, but rather quite the contrary, however, I know that there is always room for improvement (on her part!.....Just kidding!) 

As a man chasing after God and my wife, I began searching for a book that would speak to men like men speak to each other.  As a youth pastor, 10 years ago, I read The Purpose Driven Youth Group and have since passed it on as a recommendation to others.   When I came across this book, it was the name recognition of Doug Fields that led me (and of course the Holy Spirit) to download the sample. Within minutes I was hooked and downloaded the book so I could read it.

Since then, our church has purchased ten that are available for members/visitors/interested parties to easily purchase themselves. Whether you get this book because you are going to be a husband or because you want to be a better husband, get it with the intention of simply putting these truths into practice. I love to read, and I really loved reading this. I hope you will consider getting this, and that's my Pastor's Pick for the month of September!


Sunday, September 4, 2016

A Thorn in the Flesh

As I write today's blog post, I am sitting in my recliner with a heating pad on my neck and back.  I have not kept it a secret that I hurt most of the time. Usually I can function without being hindered by the pain, but when I am hindered, it is serious. I realize that there are many people who have it way worse than I.  I don't pretend otherwise, but with that being said, this is my story.

In 2009 I was diagnosed with Advanced Spinal Stenosis and Advanced Degenerative Disc Disease.  Since then I have had two major back surgeries to correct damage in my L4/L5 and L5/S1 discs. The symptoms include;

Numbness in my left leg and foot
Pain in the left leg
Pain radiating in my left hip and down my left leg
Inability to walk/weakness in left leg
Constant pain
Growing weakness in left arm, hands and in extreme cases the entire left side of my body.

After my second surgery, and about 5 months of terrible leg/nerve pain it began to ease up.  At the end of last year, I began to experience neck pain. Just like before, we started out with the X-Ray (insurance requirement, even though it never shows anything)  followed by the MRI to find out that yet another disc was herniated, this one in my neck (C3/C4).  Although the pain was intense at times, the disc was yet to impinge on the spinal column and thus physical therapy was prescribed.  For the most part, PT helped to ease the pain, by creating more pain. I know, it sounds crazy, but even that was short lived. After about 10 weeks of therapy, the pain had only decreased slightly and was never fully gone.

Someone suggested the acupuncturist, to which I was ready to try anything.  I was surprised when after 3 sessions/weeks, the pain was all but gone.  I could live with it and at times I didn't even notice it.  It was a tremendous  blessing and I was able to put off surgery for six months.

However, here we are in September and it has returned angrier than ever.  Another two sessions, with a third on the way and the best relief I can hope for is 6 days.  Additionally, I have noticed a spot in my T-Spine that hurts as if someone has hit me with a hammer.  It burns and runs down into my lower back, causing the original symptoms, pre-surgeries 1 and 2, to return.

Just this morning I had to handle making sure someone (more than one) could cover at church. I really don't like missing church and when I don't get to preach, I feel down.  Coupled with the chronic pain and discomfort that seems to stay like an unwelcome guest, I grow weary of the condition that I feel is stealing my life away.

Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (NIV)

Although verses like Micah 6:8 and Ephesians 2:8-9 have been my life verses, over the last few years, 2 Cor 12:9 has become a verse I live out each day.  

Before you ask, we have run the first round of X-Rays and more than likely will be headed down the road of regular routine with the final destination being the operating table.  At 34 years old, I can't do the things that many others can, without ending up on my back or in a chair for days on end. In extreme cases, I have been in a wheelchair and heavily medicated.  There is no telling how much of my life I can't remember or was in a medicated stupor for.  Tens of thousands of dollars have piled up in medical bills and it seems as if tens of thousands more will do the same.

As I continue to walk down this road, I will remember two things:

1) My troubles, though my own, are not as bad as many other's
2) His Grace is and always will be sufficient

You probably have a thorn in your flesh as well.  It is in our weaknesses we can boast about the strength and power of our Lord.  I offer my pain as a sacrifice and look forward to the day when I will suffer no more.  Until then, I will move slowly and work hard for there is much harvesting to be done.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Are We Really Going to Bet it All?

"If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.”   John 15:10

         In the world of Texas-Holdem Poker and other such card games, there is a term “all in”.  This term simply means that no matter what the cards reveal, the player is willing to bet all of their money (chips) that they will win. It is one of the most dangerous moves a player can decide to make because it comes with the greatest risk. However, if it pays off for the player and they win, it will yield a great reward.

         Being a Disciple of Christ is slightly different, in that, you are guaranteed to win.  However, even being a Disciple of Christ comes with a risk.  You are betting everything on Jesus and believe that He will keep His word.  You might be wondering, but if there is a guarantee, how can there be a risk? What is there to lose? The risk is that you may lose your “friends,” you may lose your job and you may even lose your life.  While those risks aren’t guaranteed, what is guaranteed is that you will lose who you were and become who Jesus wants you to be.

         It seems that modern day Christians (and this isn’t really that far off from biblical Christians) struggle with being “all in”.  We want to bet a chip here and there, unsure of whether or not the hand that we hold is going to pay off.  We want assurances that the life we are going to live will be easy.  We want to know that when things get tough, someone else will jump in and take care of it for us.   We want to play, but we aren’t all in.

        Maturity as a Christian comes from betting it all. Put all your chips on the table. All your eggs in His basket.  Devote your life to following Jesus’ example and don’t fold your hand at the first sign of difficulty. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

4 Ways Christians are not Disicples

                     And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the  
                                             breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42

In the pages of the New Testament Jesus is quoted as saying, "follow me" to various people.  Sometimes He is speaking for them to follow him at that moment and other times He is speaking to them eternally. Ultimately all of his directives have eternal ramifications and from this, we can surmise that Jesus is calling us to follow his actions, character, and way of life. To follow Jesus truly, means we are acting like Him, copying his attitude, actions and lifestyle.  Another word for this is, "disciple".  We have been called to be his disciples, but the more time I spend in the ministry, the less disciples and disciple-makers I seem to find.

Here are a few ways that believers in Christ are not living as true disciples:

1) Devotion to Teaching
                 Although a person may attend church, even regularly (twice or more a month) being devoted to teaching is not just sitting in the sanctuary and listening to the preacher.  Nor is it just sitting in the Sunday School or Small Group room and following along in a study guide. I have found that many people, especially millennials, are devoted to attendance (and even that can be sporadic at times) but being devoted to the teaching means studying it during the week. Whether it is preparation for the class, a review of material covered, or both, there needs to be more devotion to the Word of God to truly be a disciple.

2) Devotion to Fellowship
               Some would argue that fellowship is not an issue in the church.  I would suggest that biblical fellowship is missing and this is what it looks like. Gathering with the saints of all ages, races, backgrounds, etc, not just "us four and no more."  It is easy to attend church with a desire to see your friends and there is nothing wrong with this, unless the only fellowship you do is with the people in your inner circle.  The church is the family of God and we must begin to act like it.Oh! And no gossiping allowed.

3) Actively Participating in Ministry 
               This is a tough one for me to address, simply because it is one of the single most frustrating things I have seen in my short nine years of ministry.  However, it is glaring at us from across the denominational spectrum.  For many, simply going to church should be enough.  I mean, how dare the pastor expect us to be active and use our God given gifts and talents for the ministry. It's not like the pastor is supposed to equip us for ministry, why would he dare suggest such nonsense. /sarcasm off.  We need a lot more doers of the Word and a lot less talkers about what they are going to do.

4) Making Other Disciples
               I am starting to understand why it seems there are so few workers for the harvest. It must be because the actual number of disciples is relatively small to begin with or at least in comparison to the number of self-proclaimed Christians. There must be follow up and action, a desire to see the lost come to know the Lord as savior. Yet, sadly enough, I recently heard a statistic that stated about 92% of people who considered themselves Evangelical Christians either had no plan or definitively were not going to share the Gospel with someone in the next year. A sad statistic, indeed.

You might wonder why "prayer" didn't make the list. The simple answer is, I don't know who is praying or who isn't.  At least, not as easily as these four. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Top 3 Reasons for Cancelling Services During the Summer

While on vacation this week, I have enjoyed time with my family, the beach, amusement parks, and most importantly, the Lord.  Leaning towards my pessimistic side however, I have started counting down the days until the vacation is over.  We returned home on Tuesday and Wednesday morning Heather (my lovely wife) had things for me to do around the house. She didn't push, because we went on a 10 mile bike ride on Monday that nearly killed me and I'm as sore now as I have been in a long time, if ever!  Nevertheless, I did help out a little and found myself focusing on the few days left instead of the rest of my vacation.  In fact, one of our church leaders texted me this morning asking a question about church and then quickly followed up with "you're on vacation, never mind."  I tried to answer his question anyway, and he simply said, "I said you're on vacation." I smiled and texted "thanks."  As I sat here thinking about the upcoming weekend, services, music, sermons, the leadership training that starts in a few weeks, and Vacation Bible School this thought occurred to me...."We should cancel services for the summertime since people will be on vacations anyway."  Hence, here are my top 3 reasons to cancel services this summer.

3) People Will Be on Vacation 
                     I already said this in the long-winded introduction, but it stills holds true. It's summer and the kids are out of school.  It's hot and people need to hang out by the beach, pool or in their air-conditioned rooms. They don't need to be bothered with singing songs of praise and worship, getting up on a Sunday and going to church, volunteering in VBS or sharing the Gospel with the lost. I mean sure, those things are important for the Christian life and yes, they are expected of us, but really, what harm can 8 weeks off do?  Okay, okay, that's not the best reason to cancel services, but the next one is perfect!

2) People Will Read and Study on Their Own
                   Christians are commanded to read and study outside of their regular church attendance, right?  I mean, we know that it is up to us to make sure we are getting the "meat" of the Word, learning and growing, away from the church!  So it makes sense that we can expect people to do this during the summer on their own. What could go wrong?  I mean, many have trouble doing this during the year, so surely the time off will allow people to find more time to spend in God's Word and in prayer, right?  No? Ok, number 1 will convince you.

1) Numbers Will be Low
                   This may sound a little like number 3, but I assure you it is completely different. It is simple and right to the point.  The "Summer Slump" is inevitable. It begins around Memorial Day and doesn't go away until usually sometime in mid-August.  Since people won't be coming anyway, let's cancel services. Just think of what we could save on electricity and cleaning crews.  Of course, don't cut the salaries of the staff, they are still on call!  What's that? What about the faithful few or those who show up during the summer looking for Jesus?  Well, okay, I didn't think about that.  Forget this, it was too much like number 3 anyway!

Well, I tried, but try as I might I can't come up with any good reasons for letting our faithfulness and attendance wean during the summer.  I guess it comes down to priorities, so take your vacations and enjoy the beach, rivers and lakes. Just don't let those wonderful gifts that God has allowed us to have, become our Summer Idols.

Monday, May 23, 2016

5 Reasons Why Some Pastors May Seem to Not Care (and what you can do!)

      In my heart of hearts, I am saddened that places like Google and FaceBook treat their employees better than churches treat their pastors. Perhaps today, I can share with you how some pastors might reach this point in their ministry. 
First, it is important to acknowledge that there are some pastors who don't care anymore.  It may seem hard to understand, but for a variety of possible reasons (some not their own fault) they don't care. 

5) Spiritual Dryness (give your pastor time)
                       Many church members fail to remember that the pastor is human too. The pastor falls under the same need for forgiveness of sins, through the redemptive relationship with Jesus Christ.  The pastor is not any different in this area, but instead what may separate them is the high calling to lead God's sheep. This does not make them better than a church member, but instead it makes the target on their back much bigger. This is why it is important for your pastor to be in the Word and in prayer, much more than the average Christian.  It's not that your private time with God is less important, but in the ministry, the attacks are constant and come from all directions. If your pastor isn't prepared every day, how can they hold your hand and guide you when you're attacked?

4) Unnecessary and Continued Criticism  
                                                   (only take to your pastor, the spiritually important issues)

                     While this definitely applies to all forms of leadership, I have never been in a position quite like being a pastor, when it comes to criticism, let me explain.  The same people who smile to your pastor's face, invite him out to eat and love to show him off to friends as "My Pastor" when they run into him in town, are often the same people who will make life harder and call for him to be fired, or gossip and spread lies, when they don't get their way. In some cases, members of the church will get angry at their pastor for preaching the Gospel. Along with this are the people who bring every single little issue to the pastor. If your pastor has been called to this position, it will be natural for him to take your concern to heart and want to help you.  If you take every single little issue to him, however, you will overload him and burn him out faster than you can imagine. Also consider this, your pastor is probably his own biggest critic. So when you bring unnecessary criticism, it tears him down, even if he doesn't show it. When you have to bring necessary criticism to him, do it with gentleness, the way you would want him to come to you.

3) Lack of Support  (Think outside the box and do something special)
                      If your pastor is still in love with the ministry, then he may be throwing everything he can at it.  Unfortunately, some churches have come to expect that of the pastor. After all, they "pay him" to be there and do that. While your pastor needs encouragement from time to time, he may also need your help.  Before you call your pastor and say, "hey, anything I can do?" you should realize that he will probably say "no."  That isn't because he doesn't want your help, it's because he is so used to doing everything, he may not know how to delegate. Instead, pay attention to what it is he is doing and try to take the pressure off.  For example, offer to come and answer the phones so he can concentrate. Offer to pay for and deliver lunch by on a day that he will be in the office working.  Go pick up his vehicle and take it to the car wash, put some gas in it, and return it to him while he continues to study and work.  Make sure he takes vacations, observes the Sabbath and doesn't feel guilty for taking time away from the church/ministry. If you are thinking "we pay him, why should I do that?"I want to encourage you to try being different than the world.

2) Unrealistic Expectations (don't expect your pastor to do more than you)
                  Prep for 2 (sometimes 3 sermons), prep for a Sunday School class, lead a staff or volunteers, be prepared for any spiritual emergency that may come up, be involved in discipleship and evangelism, visit the sick and shut-in, respond to emergencies, be a husband/parent, disciple his wife and children, study (be ready in and out of season), plan for the direction of the church, implement that direction plan, train leaders, answer when you call, listen when you gripe, encourage you when you cry, perform weddings, funerals, counseling and attend every birthday, family reunion, and important event in the lives of the members.

                 All of these are reasonable in the life of a pastor. What many fail to realize is that no one person can do all of them.  It can't be done without sacrificing something and usually what ends up being sacrificed is the most important in the pastor's life.  His prayer life won't complain and gossip, his family usually takes a hit without making him miserable, and his rest and sleep can be reduced if need be.  These are the most important things that God has given your pastor, but he usually will sacrifice it first, because he knows that God loves him and will forgive him if he doesn't pray or read his Bible today.  His family loves him and they will understand if he can't be there tonight, for the fourth night in a row.  He loves himself and can sacrifice his extra rest, in order to do what needs to be done. What he might be more afraid of than letting those things suffer, is the barrage of attacks that will come from his church, if he fails to stroke their egos.  When this happens, the pastor may not only lose his church, he may also lose his joy, his family and sometimes even his life.

1) Apathetic Members (return to your First love)
                 If a church is made up of people who truly love God and will do whatever He has commanded of them, then they will despise apathy, from themselves and from other members.  Sometimes, the pastor finds himself in a situation where he is blamed for the apathy of the members.  I was going to say that perhaps it is sometimes his fault, but honestly, that's baloney. Now, the pastor can be a part of it, but it is up to the individual to obey Christ. If a member is apathetic, it is because they have forgotten the transforming love of Jesus Christ. Their own spiritual journey has suffered for, some reason, and tradition and temporal things are more important.  Some pastors are excellent at leading a church back to the Throne, but it can be a very exhausting and daunting task and with so many pastors quitting each year, it seems it is easier to give up and let God deal with them than be their leader into the "promised land". If Christians would find their First Love and get serious about their relationship with God, the struggle of the pastor would not be so hard.

These are just a few reasons that pastors might seem not to care anymore. What do you think?