Weekend Reading

I have read a few interesting and insightful articles over the last couple weeks. Here are a couple of my favorites. I hope you enjoy them this weekend. May God bless you all.

Let Your Pastor’s Wife Be Herself

The First Question Every Leader Should Ask When Making a Decision

Read 1 Book 50 Times, Not 50 Books Once (and other advice about reading)

Here is an interesting commercial I saw that fits the holiday season –

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What Will It Take to Make You Quit?

Their house still catches my attention most days as I drive by it. They used to come to Church to worship every Sunday. Then they disappeared. Their story is an all too familiar one to me.

While attending someone said something that hurt their feelings. I do not know the details of the encounter; I just know sketchy pieces of a painful story. Now the family no longer attends the Church I lead, and the painful ending is that they do not participate anywhere. One ugly encounter derailed this family on their journey of faith. They have not involved themselves in weekly worship anywhere, they do not appear to use their giftedness for God, and they are not bringing anyone new the message of Jesus in any formal way. For me, it is another story of a family quitting the Church and much of their faith after feeling like they were on the right track.

People like this leave me with a burning question in my soul for the people I serve in my Church, “What will it take to make you quit your faith?” Stated another way, “What would it take for you to give up on Jesus and his Church?

The early Church suffered persecution that pushed many to compromise and give up. Today in the United States there is a limited amount of oppression. Here, Satan and the forces of evil have used other tactics which seem to be more effective.

Would one hypocritical person cause you to quit?
Would one mean legalistic person cause you to quit?
Would one painful event that happened publicly or privately cause you to quit?
Would one negative experience cause you to quit?
Would one attack on your faith cause you to quit?
Would one bad doctor’s report cause you to quit?
Would one season of busyness cause you to quit?

What would it take to get you to give up?

For every person whose house I drive by that gave up, there are five people I know who did not quit. Talking with the people who attend my Church, I find that some of them have held on through terrible pain and horrific difficulties. Each one has an ugly story that did not destroy the work of God in their life. Lifelong Christians are rarely people who did not experience pain; they are people who clung to the belief through difficult times.

Faith is about trusting God and God alone. We are thankful for his blessings, but we do not worship them. We are happy for the relationships that surround us, but they are secondary to Jesus.

Jesus told his followers, “In this world, you will have trouble (John 16:33).” Life will be full of difficult decisions, ugly encounters, and heart-wrenching pain. Is your faith strong enough to stand strong when the winds of pain and doubt come? Be sure you are preparing today for what is sure to happen down the road. It will be hard, but you can overcome.

Correctly Handling the Word of Truth

There are necessary rules for reading the Bible. A good student will look at the context of the passage, the type of literature, the place in history and the overall theology. It takes works to get a proper understanding of what the author meant to the people who received the information. Finally, how to take that truth and apply it to our lives today.

Paul told Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 – NIV)”

The call is to properly handle the word of truth that is the Bible.

This is a vital instruction to the people of God. The flip side is found throughout the New Testament. The continual warning of the early Church leaders is to watch out for false teachers. I recently taught through the seven letters from Jesus to the Churches in Revelation (chapters two and three). The believers in those communities were struggling with teachers like the Nicolaitans, the teachings of Balaam and Jezebel and the synagogue of Satan. Each group represents people who claimed some belief in the Bible but distorted it.

1. Some Distort It for Selfish Gain. Christianity is big business. Throughout history, people have misused their Bible to fill their own pockets. Today there are prosperity gospel preachers that teach a false doctrine of giving and receiving while making millions of dollars.

2. Others Misuse It Out of Ignorance. Some people just know enough to be dangerous. They can quote a verse, but it is usually out of context and often abused. Frequently it is misused with good intentions, but it perverts the overall message of the Bible.

3. Many Read Their Own Ideas into It. This is the easiest to do. People used to treat Sunday as equal to the biblical Sabbath. It is clearly not the same thing or even the same day. That is just one example of taking my already decided viewpoint and then applying it to make the Bible say something it doesn’t mean. It is easy to take our cultural setting and apply it to what we read in detrimental ways.

Through the years people have used the Bible in some awful and disturbing ways. The problem was not with the Bible. The problem was with the people who were handling what they found there. Words were molded and shaped to fit an agenda scripture simply did not contain. The word of God is never the difficulty; it is the people who taught improperly.

The Bible is not always easy to understand or interpret. No one said it would be simple. It takes a concerted effort to handle the word of truth properly. The call to the people of God is to do our best to understand Gods’ word so that his will might be proclaimed.

The Dynamics of a Church

His hands were clasped together, and he said, “Here is the Church” then he wiggled his index fingers that were pointed up and followed with, “and here is the steeple.” Next, he turned his hands over and moved all his fingers inside and declared, “Open it up and see all the people.”

I was probably five years old when my brother showed me that little hand motion. It became a simple reminder of the Church being more than a building. Through the years I have told people the Church is not a building, it is the people. That is entirely true, but it is more complicated than it first appears. The Church has several dynamics working at the same time.

1. The People Dynamic. The Church is a group of people who have come together in the name of Jesus. We are united by our faith in our Lord and Savior. Our salvation brings us into a group of people of different ages, personalities, races, nationalities, and gender.

2. The Spiritual Dynamic. This group of people is united by belief. We have faith in a God who is unseen. We worship him in song, we pray to him, we give to his work, and we learn of him through his word. The people of the Church are deeply spiritual in their actions.

3. The Facility Dynamic. While the Church is not a building, it does own one. It is an essential tool in the work of God’s people. It provides a place to worship, outreach and service for the people of God.

4. The Program Dynamic. This group of people try to serve others and grow in faith through various activities. As a result, we hold small groups and youth groups. We organize events that are meant to teach, provide fellowship and service. Each Church has numerous programs to support their work and mission.

5. The Systems Dynamic. This is also described as the policies and procedures of a Church. It is the nuts and bolts part of a Church that directs how things get done. These may be written but are frequently left unwritten and sometimes even unclear.

The Church is people, but every organization of individuals, whether religious or not, has more to it than just people getting together. Several dynamics make the group move forward in unity. Each piece is essential and needs constant attention.

For example, I occasionally speak with Churches who are seeking to add new believers to their Church. They may perceive their struggle is a spiritual problem, so they gather and have prayer meetings. Upon further investigation, I often discover it is actually a facility problem. Another Church may think they are having a facility problem when it is really a problem with their systems. Still, some Churches have everything going great, but they have a problem with people inviting people.

Any group of people who truly wants to please God and do all they are able for his kingdom must give attention to every dynamic of ministry. I know you may not like the thought of Church as anything less than spiritual people. I want you to know that all parts of the Church are spiritual if they work together for the good of the kingdom of God.

The Quest for a Better Understanding Of People

Have you ever thought, “If people knew the real me they would act differently toward me?”

If other people understood the events, ideas, background, emotions, and details of my story, they would behave in an entirely different way. I must continually remind myself of this as a pastor when dealing with people. The words and actions I immediately see rarely tell the truth.

A person may come off as confident or even cocky because of deep-seated insecurities. They may appear mean and angry because they are suffering from deep emotional pain. People often try to mask their real feelings in ways that make them a greater target for misunderstanding.

Here are some of the things I want to know about people –

1. I want to know about your childhood. The events that happened to you as a child can have an immeasurable impact on you as an adult. What was your father like? How was your relationship with your parents? Is there a deeply hidden secret that you have not confronted? I believe to truly know a person well you need to understand their upbringing.

2. I want to know what you have been through in your life. This line of thinking is focused on the events that have happened to a person in their life. Did they lose a parent at a young age? What physical problems have they suffered? Many people have experienced a hard life that shaped them as an adult.

3. I want to know what decisions have impacted your life. This is focused on the things we have done to ourselves. This could range from the decisions that lead to an addiction to a sin that dominates someone’s life. Sometimes there have been poor relationship decisions which are often the result of number one on my list. Many people are carrying the burden of their own mistakes, and it molds their personality in unique ways.

4. I want to know what you are struggling with right now. Everyone is fighting their own private battle. They may be fighting at work or struggling at home, or they might just be at war with themselves. These difficulties lead to patterns of behavior that send out mixed signals to the people they encounter.

As a pastor, I encounter a broad spectrum of people. Most of them are struggling through a complex range of emotions coming from a variety of directions. Honestly, some of them it makes tough to love. It leads some of them to say and do things that appear unkind and often unchristian. People can act in ways that are hurting themselves as they leave a wake of pain in their path.

One of the hardest parts of following Jesus is believing the best in other people. It can be tough to see this beautiful person under all the dirt and mud. Then staying by their side long enough to help them get cleaned up. It requires us to offer grace and forgiveness by the truckload. It requires us to get our hands dirty as we dig through years of junk that has polluted people’s lives.

Each week God sends me one or two difficult people. My natural reaction is to get angry at them and walk away while shouting some generic instruction. My spiritual response pushes me a different direction. It forces me to ask tough questions and love people who at their worst.

The Bible says that is how God treats me. While I was still a sinner, he died for my sins. God offers me forgiveness and grace without measure. He sees the best in me and pushes me to live a better life. God treated me that way, and he wants me to do the same for others, and one huge step on this journey is trying to understand the people God brings in my life in a more profound and more meaningful way. Once we understand someone better, then we can behave in a way more fitting to their situation.

Maybe there is someone today that you need to spend some time getting to know better, perhaps it is one of the most difficult people in your life. This is where your faith meets actions.

Thankful for Big Answers to Small Prayers

One of my regular prayers for my family is that God would “protect and direct us.” I pray it over my boys before they head to college and while they are there. I pray it before vacation and big trips. It is so ingrained in my prayers that I rarely give it much extra thought.

An experience recently reminded me of this daily prayer. I was approaching a stop sign, and I slowed down more than usual. No other car was around, but I felt an easiness I cannot completely put into words. Then a car comes flying out of nowhere and speeds by the stop sign while hanging a left right in front of me. If I had been about 4 feet forward, I would have been hit as this person turned. If I had sped to the stop sign and took off like normal, I would have been struck broadside.

I paused for a moment and looked around to see if anyone was watching what just happened. There was no other car in sight, and the other driver sped down the road without hesitation. I looked up to heaven and thanked God for his protection and direction.

Some people will say, “Yes, but someone I love was in an accident.” I understand that God’s plan is bigger than mine. I will never know why some moments go by without incident and others come with a big price. There is a tension that exists in the divine actions of God that we will never clearly understand this side of heaven. Right now, I am not asking questions, I am just thankful.

In my life, there have been hundreds of little moments where God guided me away from danger for which I am thankful. There have been accidents barely avoided, decisions that keep me from danger and close calls that have shaken me awake from my boring routine. A speeding car running a stop sign can be a messenger of destruction or salvation. I thank God for all those little moments of grace which are so easy to forget.

The Pastor Who Doesn’t Play Well With Others

It was in first grade when I noticed I was a little different. The teacher challenged us to count as high as we possibly could. She placed a stack of grid paper on her desk and said we could use it to write our numbers one by one. I loved the challenge. If I remember correctly the teacher gave us a week to complete the task for a chance at a prize. For me, I skipped both recesses to write my numbers. Other children claimed they wanted to do it, but individually they all dropped off in favor of having a social time with their friends. I kept counting. In the end, the teacher claimed I went the highest of any student in her twenty-five years of teaching. I like to think the record stood until she retired some years later.

I look back on events like that as foundational to my personality. I am an introvert. Before you say, “Oh yeah, me too,” let me tell you the depth of my struggle. To say I am not a people person would be an understatement, I generally do not care for anyone outside of a few immediate family members. They confuse and frustrate me. As a result, I like to be alone in my mind. I wear headphones and try to avoid people and conversations. Large crowds give me anxiety, and small groups are more stressful. I chose activities I can do alone. I read, I fish, I hunt, I metal detect, I think, I dream, and I am beginning to enjoy writing because I can do all of them alone or with a very select few.

When God called me to be a preacher in college, I was sure he was kidding. Me? Right. The struggle became immediately apparent as people would criticize me for being unfriendly. The first full-time ministry offered an unwanted evaluation. They commended my preaching and my leadership. They also told me that my work with people, particularly adults, was sub-standard. Honestly, they were correct. My wife tells me I tend to treat people like they are stupid. I don’t mean to do it, I just have thought through all possible scenarios and other’s lack of thought frustrates me.

When I planted a new Church, I had a series of funny T-shirts. I wore them everywhere including Sunday mornings, and it became an identifying characteristic. They told the bitter truth in a funny way for all the world to see. One of my shirts simply read, “Doesn’t play well with others.” It’s true.

My words may seem foreign to many of you. You love people. They bring you joy and happiness in a way I do not understand. Some of you may know a little of which I speak. For either group, I want to offer a couple of lessons I have learned in 20 years of God calling me to public speaking for him.

1. God Made Me Unique. Early on in life, I wanted to be like the other kids. When I told them about my imaginary basketball teams, they would look at me like I was from Mars. I learned to hide my unique personality to try to fit in more. As an adult, I have learned to embrace my one of a kind approach to life. I have a unique perspective that I now see as a gift. I think God gifted me this way to make me a better preacher and leader. Everyone should embrace their own personality.

2. People Need Jesus. Even though I do not entirely understand people, I am sure they need Jesus. I have read and thought, and I am one hundred percent convinced of the gospel story. Everyone needs to know Jesus and the gospel message which leads to salvation. God stretches my boundaries to proclaim what I believe is factually true. This truth forces me to live in ways that are uncomfortable for the sake of the gospel.

3. I Can Help People. Because of my personality, I can see things that others miss. Because I spend so much time inside myself, I am able to arrange lessons and sermons in a logical way that makes sense to people. Lately, I am discovering that since I do not care about what other people think it has helped me to speak the truth that some people are afraid to reveal. I think my life can be a blessing to others, even with our social differences. Just be patient with me and people like me.

4. I Need Other People to Be Complete. God has taught me the need to have people who are gifted in other ways in my life. I need extroverts to do parts of ministry that I am not talented at doing. You complete me … and I complete you. The body of Christ needs all its parts.

I am hesitant to write any of these words. I am not a person who likes to draw attention to myself. It will lead to awkward conversations and embarrassing questions. Being open about my inner world creates more anxiety, but I am going to risk it. There are introverts everywhere, probably not exactly like me, although I have found some ministers who are similar. We want you to understand us. The Church needs to come together beyond all barriers no matter what differences there are.