Weekend Reading

Here are some of the best articles and posts I have read over the past few weeks. Enjoy

Putting the Basket in the Water: Trusting God in the Next Phase of Your Child’s Life

Four Words that Describe Today’s Pre-Teen Girls

3 Reasons Why We Need Godly Men Serving in Children’s Ministry

Why You Should Try Assigning Seats at a Fellowship Meal

5 Common Mental Errors That Sway You From Making Good Decisions – I found this fascinating.

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Real Love

Today is February 14 or better known as Valentines Day. It is a day here in America when we celebrate love, particularly the love between a man and a woman.

When I sat down to write a post for this day I thought, “I should write something about love.” Several thoughts went through my head from personal stories of love to poetic writing to inspire. Finally, I decided to write something about what real love looks like for people to understand it. Then I realized that has already been written. You have probably heard it read at a wedding, but here it is from The Message paraphrase:

Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end. Love never dies. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (The Message)

Happy Valentines Day

One or Two Bad Apples

You are probably familiar with the saying, “One bad apple spoils the whole bunch.” I would even guess that you have used the expression a time or two. It is the idea that one bad person affects everyone they are close to through their rotten behavior. I would say that this is a concept of which you need to be keenly aware in Christian circles.

I was reminded of this truth today as I went on the internet. A few months ago, I became a part of a small Church pastors’ group on Facebook. The rules of the group are very clear. It exists to support people, answer questions and not debate theology. For me, the group has been helpful with questions about benevolence and canceling Church because of the weather. It has been useful to know other Churches policies and procedures. All total those who have joined number over 3400 pastors from across the country and the world. Every day I am blessed by at least one post to this forum.

Two types of people consistently try to ruin it. The first is the righteous zealot. They make it a personal aim to break the rules and argue theology. They are right, and they know they are right, so they decide to debate and argue with everyone. A few minutes of reading these posts and comments make me want to quit the group for such mean statements from another pastor.

The second group that makes communication complex with the community is the self-absorbed. They continually post pictures of their Church work, their sermons, their blogs, and everything they are doing. They do not ask for other people’s advice because they are there to give instruction, not receive it. These people seem to be clueless as to the needs of others and turn every discussion toward their holy behavior.

As I read through the posts, I recognize three things:

1. Every Christian group has these one or two bad apples. Wherever Christians gather there will be someone who wants to argue and someone who is self-absorbed. I really wish this were not true, but experience tells me otherwise.

2. One spiritual gift could be self-awareness. I believe it would do us all some good to go before God and ask him to reveal our weaknesses, including our failures in dealing with people. One area of faith is dealing with our sin against God, and another is learning to deal with other people in a Christlike way. We need to be honest about our behavior and ask God to make us self-aware. Don’t be that bad apple.

3. Know that it is only one or two. My group is 3400 people, and only a handful are the issue. The Church I lead has about 250 people involved, and all problems come from a handful of people. Be careful about labeling any group based on the actions of one or two.

I know this information is nothing new to you any more than it is new to me. Yet, I need to remind myself of these things every day. Today I almost gave up on a bunch of well-intentioned pastors because two guys have issues. I will not let their behavior define me or my actions.

Understanding One Fundamental Dynamic of Church

After twenty-five years, it still stands as some of the best leadership instruction I have ever received. It came as I was talking to a pastor at another Church about some of the struggles I was having with the people I lead. After listening to me for several minutes, he responded by saying, “Remember, what you win them with, is what you win them to.”

I understood what he was saying, and the conversation went on to other topics, but his comment lodged in my brain, and I have thought about it repeatedly since that day. What he was expressing was a profound truth about how people connect to a Church.

If people attend a Church because they like the preacher, then they will always want a preacher that they like the same way.

If people attend the Church because they like the music, then they will always want the same style of music.

If people attend a Church because they like the visits and care of someone, then they will always want that same level of care.

If people attend a Church because of relationships, then they will always want to have the same type of close relationships.

What you win them with, is what you win them to.

The essential part of this truth is that as a pastor I want you to connect most to Jesus. I want you to come to this Church because Jesus is proclaimed, taught and glorified at that place. Any other answer is a little skewed.

Then comes the problematic side that I had experienced when I had my original conversation years ago. When the Church changes anything from the pastor to the music to the design of the building, there will be a group of people leave.

Let me ask you a pointed question: When you think about the Church you attend, what is the primary thing you like about it? If that aspect were to change would your feelings change too?

The way you answer this question will let me know whether you are connected here for the long-term or just for a season.

Trusting God in Everything

A life of faith is about trusting God in everything. I keep saying that word, “everything,” over and over in my head. It seems natural to trust God in big things. I believe God will handle my sin, my eternity and any issue bigger than my control. My prayers reflect my trust in God during seasons that involve words like cancer, heart attack, stroke, and disease. The continue plea for his healing is ever on my lips. There are dark nights that come with these issues, but my faith leans into God when everything is beyond my control anyway.

I am finding faith to be more challenging to maintain in the daily details of life. I am not sure I trust God when I know I would have handled everything differently. Take yesterday for example. It was a Sunday morning, and God should have wanted his people to be gathered into community to worship him. God should have wanted his followers to worship, serve and listen to his word explained. God should have wanted our Church to meet yesterday.

Instead, I woke up yesterday to more ice. This is the third or fourth round of ice and freezing rain we have received lately. School has been canceled for several days and getting out of the house has been difficult. Sunday morning was greeted more ice, and I spent the morning calling the Church staff and texting with my leadership before we decided to cancel our worship program.

I will be honest with you; if I were running the world, it never would have happened. The ice would have melted on Saturday and the next day would have been beautiful with a large group of people gathered in worship. For me, a Sunday off is greeted with mixed emotions. Preaching is not only what I get paid to do, but it is also something I enjoy doing each week. I love explaining God’s word and making spiritual connections. I hate not meeting to share what God is lying on my heart. Then comes the planning issues. I spend hours and days planning the future for our group. Now I must go back and rethink everything. This one morning off throws a monkey wrench in all my plans.

At moments like this, I set in my office frustrated on Monday morning. What gets cut? What gets moved? What gets changed? One day off will take a week to clean up. Why would God do this not only to me but every other Church in our area? I don’t get what God is doing.

Then I bow my head and remind myself that God is greater than I am. He has a plan. He wants to see his word communicated more than I do. He is doing things that I may never understand on this side of heaven. I am reminded today that faith is not just about the cross and heaven, it is also about the little things. Faith is trusting God daily in everything. It believes he will accomplish his will in me and through me even when it doesn’t go like I design.

I really have no idea what the ice yesterday will do to my ministry, but I know God will use it for his good. Whatever headaches we as believers encounter is usually God’s way of doing something bigger than us. I am glad to serve a God who is present in the details even when they are beyond my immediate understanding.

Forced to Rest

You might not know it by looking at me, but my days are usually full of activity from morning till night. I am not busy rushing through life with no purpose or direction. Rather I fill my time with things that bring me joy when I am not working. I love to fish, hunt, metal detect, coin collect, look for shed antlers and be outside every spare minute. Fortunately, I married a woman who also loves to keep active and especially be outside in some way.

Then weeks like this one hit. This week there has been ice, rain, and cold in my region of the country. School was canceled for several days, and travel was not advised. Because of modern technology I was still able to work on my blog, youth lesson, and sermon for Sunday at home. Beyond that, there has not been too much to do.

This week I have been forced to rest. I have sat quietly inside without rushing to do anything. I honestly believe weeks like this are God’s gift to the world and me. Quite possibly it is his gift to you. Maybe this week God is reminding you that he runs the world. You can take some downtime, and nothing significant will be lost. You can miss some school and the activities associated with it, and your world will not stop. When this break is over, and things return to normal, there will have been nothing missed or lasting importance.

When this break is done, you and I will be rested, and our life will be better for the downtime. I fear that we will jump back into everything the fills every minute without taking time to reflect. Sometimes God forces us to rest and hopefully it helps us to see what our priorities should be because of who runs the world. If you miss it, then these are just lost days. If you learn from them, then this time is more beneficial than any activities you missed.

Following Jesus is Not Always Simple

When I write and preach, I want to simplify things for people so that it is clear what they need to do for Jesus. I try to come up with anywhere from two to five simple thoughts or actions that will help them grow in their faith. I never want to complicate what God has said or make the way of Christ more difficult than what he made it.

Yet, I always have a line from a favorite teacher in mind. After hearing a sermon about the easy steps in following Jesus, he said, “I don’t find any Gethsemane in your sermon.” It is a statement that echoes in my head repeatedly when I think about the Christian life.

Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He came to give himself as a ransom for many. He knew what he came to do, how it needed to be done and was at harmony with God’s will. Still, the night before the cross he is found in a garden where they press olives. He leaves eight of his disciples at the gate and takes Peter, James, and John with him a little father than the rest. There he hits his knees in prayer and voices that painful phrase, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39 in NIV 2011)

We find Jesus at Gethsemane praying with sweat like great drops of blood. He struggles to accept God’s will, knowing it will be a painful experience. He is grounded in his faith and yet he works through his natural emotions until he surrenders entirely to God’s will.

The truth is that sometimes following Jesus is not simple. There are no simple steps to do the right thing. There are nights of anguish that include painful prayers of surrender. There are moments when you will beg for another way to accomplish God’s will. There are times when faith is difficult, and fleeing will seem more comfortable. When this happens, take comfort in knowing Jesus endured the same struggle in his life.

I also flip this story over and think about it from another direction. If I am truly following Jesus, then I should have my times in Gethsemane. If my journey of faith seems easy, then maybe I am doing it wrong. Jesus said that the way to destruction is broad and dark. The way of Jesus is narrow and difficult and winds through shady gardens where we want to give up on trusting God. If a struggle in our faith demonstrates that we are on the correct path, then when was the last time I wrestled with God in prayer?

Being in Gethsemane with Jesus is dark and scary because it leads us to the cross of sacrifice. This is the way of Jesus, and he invites us to walk with him. Where is the place where your life is being pressed in your faith?