I Should Have Known That

Recently I, an outspoken preacher, was asked a theological question and went blank.  I was involved in a friendly debate and was asking some insightful questions.  When they responded with an equally good question, I could not think of a response.  The verses slipped my mind, and I was speechless. 

I tell you this story to remind you that you will never have all the correct answers. Even preachers don’t know what to say sometimes.  No one knows everything and can remember it all on command.  Do not expect that of yourself either.

Many Christians do not like to talk about their faith because they fear not having the correct answer.  The truth is, there will be a conversation that you will not know or remember how to respond.  It is simply part of life, even for believers. 

Since our dialogue, I bought a book, read it, made notes, and committed things to memory.  An answer was out there, and I found someone who could articulate it, and I learned from them.  My primary response was to find a solution and be prepared for the next conversation.  Maybe it will be with the same person, or possibly someone else. 

Moments where we don’t know how to respond can be embarrassing, or they could be the situations that propel us forward.  I now know more than I did and have learned this topic thoroughly.  I am all set until the next time a person asks me something I do not know.  Then I will repeat the process of learning.  Every interaction like this could end with a bit of embarrassment, but it could also be just what we need to grow. 

Your Version of the Story

Everyone has a unique perspective. 

We see life through our own eyes.  No one else has our vantage point. 

This is why the Bible says that every judicial decision should be established on two or three witnesses.  It is a practice that still exists today.  To completely understand a story, there must be multiple people sharing was they saw from their perspective. 

The gospel story is the same way.  We have Matthew’s view as a tax collector turned follower of Jesus.  Mark writes down the stories of Peter.  The gospel according to Luke, is the collection of multiple sources who spent time with Jesus.  The final gospel of John is the most unique. 

John was written years later, and he wanted to write something different than the accounts already being shared.  Much of his gospel is built on the final week of Jesus’ life.  Within his story, he shares something that reveals his unique perspective.  He doesn’t call himself by name; instead, he refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Jesus was the same, and his work had not changed, but John’s view was through the eyes of a man who had a special relationship with Jesus. 

Upon rereading the words of John, I was gripped by the thought, “What is my version of the story of Jesus?” Am I the sinner whom Jesus saved?  Maybe I could be called the rebellious child whose father welcomed him home?  Perhaps I am better seen as the preacher who was saved by the grace he preaches?  I am not sure what label best describes me.  God is doing a work in me, and no one understands his efforts the same way that I do. 

The same is true for you.  Your relationship with Jesus is unique, and the Church needs to hear your version of the story.  It can be told in large groups, small gatherings, or in one-on-one situations.  It doesn’t matter where you share it, as long as you are sharing it somewhere.  The work of Jesus is being revealed in you, and you have a one-of-a-kind story to tell. 

Their Opinion Doesn’t Count

A random person’s opinion of me doesn’t matter to me.  It should not matter to you either.

After all, they do not know us.  They do not know our family of origin and the battles it took to get this far.  They do not know how much we have learned from our mistakes.  Our experiences, success and failures, lessons, and insights are foreign to them.  They certainly do not know me well, and I doubt they know you. 

Yet, we live in a world that increasingly cares about what random people think about us.  We allow them to comment on our social media posts with ideas that have no context.  Their comments haunt our minds as their negative statements somehow seem more believable. 

They certainly want us to know their thoughts, and they cannot just scroll past and leave their ideas unsaid.  They talk to people and share stories built on half-truths to convince others that they should hold the same view of us.  Their words hurt, even when I don’t know them. 

I want you to know today, while I remind myself, that some people’s opinions of us do not count.  They should be ignored entirely and forgotten if they are accidentally heard or read.  Not everyone has the right to speak into our lives, and their opinions are a burden we do not need to carry with us.  Let it go, and let’s move forward with the people who love us and want the best for us.  Critics abound, so consider the opinions of only a sacred few. 

It’s Not About You

Our primary concern in the world is ourselves.  Even Jesus affirms this when he says that we are to love others “as we love ourselves.”

The result is that we like to meet our needs, serve our self-interests, and talk about ourselves. We are at the center of our concern, and it bubbles into every relationship. 

Unfortunately, that is the path to loneliness, isolation, and despair. The more we are focused on ourselves, the fewer people want to be around us.  All of us know that one person who fills us with dread when they contact us because it will be all about them.  We know they will suck the life out of us primarily because they are so self-centered. 

Faith in Jesus is an “other’s focused” religion.  We love God, AND we love others as we love ourselves.  Christians elevate the people around them above themselves in every way. 

If I spent one day with you, what would I see and hear?  Do all your conversations focus on you and your needs?  Would I see a person who asks other people about their lives?   Do you elevate people with your deeds and actions?  Are you always the one who goes first and gets the best?   When you do a good deed, do you make sure other people notice your participation?  

One of the most brutal battles faith wages in your life is with self-centeredness.  How would your life be different if you said to yourself in every encounter, “Remind me, Jesus, that it is not all about me.”

Not Just Another Day to Me

Today is May 5.  Some people call it Cinco De Mayo and will celebrate Mexico’s victory over France.  For me, this day will always remain my dad’s birthday.   Today he would have been 86 years old.  Instead, time has no bearing on him as he lives in the presence of God.

For me, this is not just another day. 

This is a day I am sad that I no longer have my father in my life. But it is more than that too.

This is the day I am thankful for the father God gave me.  A man who loved Jesus and his family.

This is the day I remember our many adventures together in the outdoors. 

This is the day I am thankful for the friendship I had with my father that many people never get to experience. 

This is the day I am thankful that my children had a grandfather who loved them, and I will cherish every memory of my boys and him together.

This is the day I am thankful that I still have my mom.  I treasure every day I get to spend with her. 

This is the day I am thankful for my wife, who has stood beside me through dad’s strokes and his funeral.  She loved me through the down times and remains by my side. 

This is the day I am thankful for the hope I have in Jesus Christ.  He conquered death and provided eternal life for all those who follow him. 

This is a day where I have a choice.  I can be full of anger or grief or a whole host of emotions. Today I choose to be overwhelmingly thankful for the time I had with dad.  To you, it might seem like just another day on the calendar.  To me, it is a day to look back, remember, and am filled with thanksgiving to God. 

I Can’t Explain God

God is beyond the realm of the natural.  He works in ways that are beyond explanation. 

Sometimes that means he shows up with a loud voice, a burning bush, and fire from heaven as he did in the Old Testament.  Other times he works miracles that defy natural laws as he did in the New Testament.   

There are also times when God’s works are not miraculous or impressive in the way it was during Biblical times.  Yet, it remains beyond explanation. 

In my own life and ministry, I have seen this happen repeatedly.  Like the time the money arrived from an unexpected source at the perfect moment for paying bills.  There was the person who had not been to worship in months and showed up the day I spoke on their specific struggle.  I could repeat story after story of things that happened that were totally unexpected. 

Now, I could try to sit down with a piece of paper and show you where I was on my journey, the struggle I encountered, and how something happened that made everything work out well.  Even when I do that, people look at me and say, “You are so lucky.” Honestly, I don’t think luck has anything to do with it because I believe it was the power of God. 

We often minimize the work of God simply because it does not fit our preconceived mold.  We think he should work with bright lights, loud noises, and fire.  Perhaps his work is better described as those moments you cannot explain.  When things come together in a way that you cannot fully put into words, maybe that is where God is working in your life.

What I Said …

Was not what they heard. 

Communication is exceptionally complex.  This is true in all its forms.  Conversations can be misconstrued.  Emails and texts can miss the tone and nature of the words being given.  There is an unlimited number of ways to mishear someone. 

We catch only parts of conversations.  We read into things that were said.  We misinterpret tones.  We fill the gaps in stories with our imagination. That is not to mention all the things that distract us while trying to listen. 

One good rule for every encounter is to overcommunicate.  Tell other people and then tell them again. Explain, reiterate, discuss, dialogue, and repeat what you are doing, why you are doing it and what you hope to accomplish.  You may feel like you have said it all before, but that does not mean they heard it. 

That Awful Pastor

My primary job is communication.  It is something I love, and I believe it is where God has gifted me.  The result is that I preach as my chosen profession.  On top of that, I teach youth group, lead small groups, podcast, and write this blog.  I put a large amount of material into the world. 

When I first began this process, I liked to make myself the hero of every story.  I thought that people would admire me if I made myself look good all the time.  I was raised in a time where even the commercials underlined that “you should never let them see you sweat.” I heeded the advice and became the person publicly everyone wanted. 

Somewhere along the way, I began not just to think I was a hypocrite; I felt it in my soul.  I knew that I was not this perfect pastor with a flawless personality, impeccable work ethic, harmonious marriage, and an unstained soul.  I was a deeply flawed individual who relied on God to make it through each day. 

As a result of my awakening, I decided to share more of the ugly side of me.  I started letting people hear the real stories of my life.  There is my struggle to develop a prayer and devotional life.  There are also my issues with people, along with my introverted personality, that has repeatedly caused problems.  Not to mention my ministry failures, temptations of every type, and the long list of sins I have committed.   My life is a mess, and I honestly struggle as both a believer and a pastor. 

Most people welcomed my openness.  Others did not.  I have been repeatedly told, “That is not how a preacher is supposed to think, feel and act!” Pastors are good people with few flaws, and they certainly don’t talk about them.  They gloss them over and work to build confidence in their leadership.  I have been called “an awful pastor” by more than one person. 

Unfortunately, when preachers try to wear this public persona, it usually makes the Church stronger for a period. BUT it leads many pastors to quit, feel burnt out, depressed, and soothe themselves with some form of sin.  After all, if the preacher cannot be real, then he needs to find a way to escape.  The end of that story is tragic and leaves a massive wake of destruction. 

I know that my honestly leads people not to trust me, to use my words against me, and become a reason to leave the Church I lead.  But I am willing to risk it – if for nothing more than my own soul.  Paul said that he had to learn a harsh lesson one time.  He was given a thorn in the flesh to understand that God’s grace is sufficient. God’s power is made perfect in weakness.

I want to be a model of grace and the power of God.  I do not want to be a hypocrite that everyone thinks highly of while living a lie. 

Let’s Talk About Something Else

The conversation turned personal.  I could tell it was starting to hit a nerve deep in the soul.  That was when they changed the subject. 

They did not say the words out loud, but it was clear they wanted to talk about something else.

Everyone has a topic that when they hear it come up, they wince inside.  Their mind begins to race with questions of how they can change the subject naturally.  They know it is not something they will talk about today, or with you, or publicly in any forum. 

My guess about anyone who changes the subject is that that is the exact topic they need to address.  Those things we push from talking about are often the things we need to speak about the most.  Each one of us needs to allow these interactions to reveal something about our inner demons.

These are the conversations that move us forward both personally and spiritually.  When we are willing to speak on an item we have been avoiding for years, we are finally able to heal and move on in the name of Jesus. 

Maybe today, instead of changing the conversation, we should lean into it and find the help and healing we so desperately needed. 

Fail More Often

We like to avoid risks.  No one wants to make a colossal mistake, fail publicly, or do anything that makes them look foolish.  It hurts to be branded as a failure who could not get the job done correctly.  The result is that we do everything possible to keep ourselves from failing. 

The problem is that fear can keep us from trying new things, both personally and professionally.  It can keep us from attempting new ministries for God that might further his kingdom.  We can be paralyzed into repeating the same behaviors even when they have quit being productive. The result is that we never grow, change, or move forward in constructive ways. 

One odd-sounding piece of advice is that you need to fail more often.  I am not talking about sin, but rather the willingness to try something new even though it might not work out the way we plan.  The more you are willing to attempt new things, no matter how they turn out, will teach you to rely on God, learn valuable lessons and come closer to finding what does work.  You will also see that you can live through failure, and the grace of God is enough to sustain you. 

This is the perfect day to walk into the unknown and try something that might leave you feeling foolish.  It might also be the thing that changes your world for the better.  You will never know until you try.