One Lesson at a Time

I have two different files in Evernote that I use daily. One file contains blogs that I have started and put together several lines. Some of these fragments are almost complete and others have a long way to go. The other file is just an idea file. It contains a phrase or a one line idea for a blog post.

I just counted up both files and I have 138 ideas for blog posts.

Why do I tell you this? Simply to underline the fact that there is a lot to learn in the Christian life. Almost every day I see something, read something or watch something that gives me a small lesson worth remembering. I have a lot to teach, but I also have a lot to learn.

Some days I get discouraged and think I am not learning fast enough. I wish I knew more. I wish I was a better Christian. I wish my life was a perfect example of what it means to be a believer.

Then I remind myself that I am growing. My growth is coming at my own pace. If I can learn one thing new each day, then I am a success. If each week I can do one new thing for the Lord, then I am growing in my faith.

I continually need to remember that I am living one day at a time and learning one lesson at a time. Even small growth is still growth.

Why I Still Believe

I often wonder what happened to the teens I attended youth group with as a young adult. We had a group of about 30 teens who gathered every Sunday night to play, connect and learn. I have no idea if they continued in the Church and in their faith. I do know that statistically speaking most of them are no longer involved in any Church even though they might still claim to be believers. Time is not kind to people of faith. Quite often people will quit on their journey with God long before they reach their destination. Some people get hurt, others lose interest and still, others fail and just quit trying.

I am unique. I have stayed their course with my faith. It has been 36 years since I proclaimed Jesus as my Lord and Savior and was baptized. My faith has changed through the years but I am still trusting God’s grace daily and actively involved in Church. Lately, I have been kicking around the question, “Why do I still believe when many others have given up?”

1. My decision to follow Jesus was purely my decision
I did not feel any manipulation from my parents, my youth leader or my Church. In fact, I think I surprised people the day I walked forward to accept Jesus. Many people come to faith at a week of camp or CIY where there is a lot of emotion in the moment. Some people come to faith to make their parents happy. I really didn’t feel that pressure. I made my decision based on what I understood and as a result, I feel a personal obligation to God.

2. My faith is built solely on Jesus.
My dad explained the gospel to my brother while we rode around in his truck. I overheard everything and it made sense to me. My preacher offered an invitation to accept Jesus and be baptized and I went forward. I trusted Jesus as my Savior. I did not get scared at some “Thief in the Night” or “Heaven’s gate and Hell’s flame” production. I clearly understood the gospel message and built a life of faith on a strong foundation.

3. I have sought answers for my questions.
Through the years I have had numerous questions about my faith. I struggled through the death of my best friend. I was tossed around in seas of doubt. I have nearly drowned in guilt and shame. Each time I encountered a new struggle I went back to the Bible. I prayed and read God’s word. I read books and articles to help me understand. I talked to people who lived through a similar crisis of faith. Each time I came out of the mire of doubt a little stronger than before.

4. I wanted to help instead of fleeing
The Church can be incredibly ugly. I was there in the Church lobby when my dad was verbally assaulted by a lady about his work as an elder. I have heard the horror stories of my dad as a young man. I decided I wanted to make a difference in the Church and not run away. As an adult, I have realized most of my childish fears. People were mean, ugly and nasty to me. With each encounter, I asked God to teach me and help me make changes that would make the Church better. Honestly, wherever two or more are gathered to do anything, there will be issues. The Church is no different, unfortunately. You can either be a part of the problem or a part of the solution.

5. I still need grace
No matter how hard I try to achieve it – I am still not perfect. I still make mistakes. I still struggle with temptation and sin. I still struggle with guilt and shame. I still need the forgiveness that I find in Jesus Christ. I still need the grace to let go of my yesterdays and embrace today. I still need the hope of heaven. I still need Jesus.

I have always said that if I find anything better than Jesus and I come to the point of believing it, then I will leave my faith in him. To this point, I have found nothing that can compare with my faith in Jesus. In fact, I find most people desperately need what he offers. Even when I could have walked away from faith and no one would have blamed me, I didn’t. To whom shall I go? Only Jesus has the words of life.

One Pastor’s Thoughts on the Church Today

As a preacher, I am thinking about the Church all the time. I work at the Church building 5-6 days a week. I will preach 49 times this year. I am here for youth group and numerous other meetings. If you were to ask my wife, she will tell you that I think about Church and my ministry a great deal even when I am away from the office. I talk to Christians and some non-Christians about faith. I keep notes on what I am thinking and what I am seeing.

Here are a five of my current thoughts on Church.

1. Bible resources are high, Bible knowledge is low.
Honestly, I am not completely sure what is going on. People have Bibles on their phones and resources that past generations would have never dreamed about. There is great preaching on the web along with some wonderful Bible study tools. And yet, most people I meet have little Bible knowledge. They don’t know the stories or the point of the stories. There is a huge disconnect between the amount of tools and the amount of knowledge we are getting from them.

2. Time Management is more important today than financial management.
I see this in the Church along with every other area of life. Money is no longer as valuable as time. People will gladly give their money to a project long before they will give you a single minute. Time is a resource that must be managed to be used effectively.

3. Christian parents need Godly guidance.
I fear we are raising a generation that is selfish and confused at the same time. Christian parents are striving to be good parents and in the process, they give their children everything. Unfortunately many are neglecting the most important things in life while exalting the temporary. Sports and success are the idols used to deceive a new generation.

4. A one-time good work is quickly becoming a replacement for discipleship.
People would rather spend one Saturday month doing some project like working at a homeless shelter or food pantry or meals on wheels than time in Bible study or prayer. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in people serving and doing good works. I simply do not believe that those are the only part of living a righteous life. In fact, we can quickly shift to a works related salvation that has very little to do with the grace of Jesus. True believers will develop into a Christlikeness through all that they do.

5. Strong, real relationships are second only to Jesus.
Our first priority is a saving relationship with Jesus. Our second is to connect people to other people. With the rise of electronic devices, there has been a steady decline in relationships. Combine that with poor time management and overactive parenting and most people are very lonely. One of the biggest issues for the Church of the future is how to get people connected into deep meaningful relationships. In fact, I believe many people will develop a great relationship with Jesus but struggle with other people because of limited to no social skills with other believers.

These are five of the biggest issues that I see facing the Church today. Would you add anything to my list? I know that some of these will change in the very near future, but some will only increase in the future. I spend a lot of time thinking, reading and praying about these issues. I don’t have a lot of answers yet, but I am asking God to guide his people through these into a better future. I hope you will join me.

Is God Trying to Get Your Attention?

Lately, I have been getting startled with increasing frequency. There is one simple reason for this; I am slowly losing my hearing. Yes, along with my failing eyesight I have hearing issues. The result is that quite often I do not hear people when they are trying to talk to me. After a few moments of speaking, they begin to move closer to get my attention and meanwhile I never hear them coming. Suddenly they tap me on the shoulder or shout something to get my attention and I jump like I had seen a ghost.

I was wondering recently how many times we have grown deaf to God and he is desperately trying to get our attention. I think there are a few ways that God tries to get our attention.

1. Sometimes He Speaks in Our Circumstances.
Some events in life are simply beyond explanation. A job opens up that you did not expect. An opportunity appears from out of nowhere. I believe that sometimes God opens a door of blessing that should cause us to pause and thank him for all he has done. When great things happen in our lives that we did not plan or prepare for, it might be God trying to show himself to you.

2. Sometimes He Underlines Himself with Repetition.
I know this happens to me. In one week I hear a song on the radio, I read an article on the internet, I listen to someone on TV and each one seems to be saying the same thing. I have audibly said, “God, are you trying to tell me something?” I think God is trying to grab our attention by repeatedly showing us the same information over and over.

3. Sometimes He Shouts in Our Pain.
It was CS Lewis who is reported as saying, “Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” When everything is going well we have little need for God. Thrown into the midst of difficulty and suddenly we realize we are not in control and cry out for help. Maybe in those dark hours of our lives, God is reaching out to us to get our attention.

4. Sometimes He Speaks through Other People.

I have a minister friend who used to always say, “I cannot tell you the color of my own eyes.” Then he would draw this conclusion, “There are some things in my life I need other people to see and tell me about.” He’s right. That person who questions my behaviors. That voice of someone challenging me to live differently. Those people might be the word of God being spoken into my life.

In a world filled with noise, it is easy to not hear the voice of God. We can get wrapped up in just making through each day that we lose sight of God in our lives. He is speaking to us. He is warning us to change. He is challenging us to grow. He is leading us toward a better tomorrow. If we do not stop to listen, he may try to startle us awake. Even then we need to pay attention to what is going on around us. Maybe you will find that God is trying to get your attention this week.

On the Web

Here are some of the best articles I have read in the past month or so. Enjoy.

4 Types of People Leaders Must Not Listen To – simply excellent

Yes Christian, You Need the Church – I had not thought much about his last point. Good thoughts.

Jesus Never Worried About Politics – reminds me of my sermon a month ago.

10 CHURCH MEMBERS WHO DRIVE ME CRAZY

How VBS Saved My Life – good story with great reminder.

7 Words of Encouragement for Sending a Child to College – I found this article helpful to me

THE 14 KIDS YOU FIND IN EVERY YOUTH GROUP – I found this humorous … and true.

Stay Where I Can See

The boundaries have been ever expanding. When he was born I didn’t want to let him out of my sight. When he was a toddler, I couldn’t let him out of my sight. When he began to ride a bike and venture out on his own, we would say, “Stay where I can see you.” Frequently we had to add in the phrase, “If you can’t see me, then I can’t see you.”

With every passing phase the boundaries expanded a little more. I didn’t sleep the first night he was out late in his car. I have lied in the bed quietly listening for the texts to come or the door to open. And to this point it has always arrived. Almost every night he has slept under my roof and I knew he was safe.

Today, all of that changes. As I drop my oldest son off at college I know a pain I have never felt before. No longer will he play where I can see him. He will be off on his own adventures far away from the comforts of home.

I really am okay with this but the separation is hard. I have prayed, planned and prepared for this day. It still feels like I am loosing a part of myself. The pain will linger as I wait for every text, call or visit. I don’t want to let him out of my sight but I know he must go.

I am proud of my son. He is a big man with a soft heart. He loves and feels deeply. He will touch people and be a great adult. Today as I drop him off. I ask the God of heaven to guide, guard and direct his life until I see him again.

Let It Go

It is hard to embrace good things in life when you are holding onto bad.

Let go of your guilt and shame
All of us have failed. Some of us have failed in big ways. It was public enough that other people know about it. It is embarrassing. You feel shame. You know you were wrong and you feel guilty. Run to grace and let it go.

Let go of your pride and arrogance
You might find yourself on the opposite side of the issue. You have no real guilt or shame and you are happy to let others know it. You feel self-confident and would never allow yourself to be less than perfect. Your pride is also your downfall. You can’t sympathize with weakness. You are demanding. You are self-centered. Your quest for perfection has left you feeling smug… and alone. Face the truth and let it go.

Let go of your anger and hurt

Your struggle is not just about you. Someone said something. Someone did something. And in their words and actions you were hurt. How could they have done that? It hurts. The natural response to being hurt is to go one of two possible directions. You can be crushed spiritually or you could get angry. Most people let their hurt simmer long enough that anger is the main byproduct. You have all these open wounds that whenever someone gets close you lash out for fear of being hurt again. Fill your mind with forgiveness and let it go.

Let go of whatever is holding you back. Empty your heart, mind and soul of the evil that keeps pulling you down. Let it go. Open up your mind. Say you are sorry. Offer forgiveness. Embrace grace. Put away your selfish pride. Let it go. Let go so that you can grab ahold of something better. The only person you are hurting is yourself.