Down Time

The past 5 days I have been feeling sick. I had a fever the first day. Then it turned into congestion and finally into a full-blown cough. I have still been able to work a little bit, but I would describe myself as “running in mud.” Whatever I do it seems I move slowly and it takes every ounce of energy I have. Today is the first day I am up and around and running at full strength.

Times like this help me to do a few things:

1. I get the rest I need – I often think that if you do not rest then occasionally God allows you to get sick just so you will be forced to rest. Regular rest is a blessing.

2. It reminds me that I am not God – I know this sounds easy, but I often realize that I try to run the world as if I were God. By that I mean, I feel like I have to handle everything. If I don’t do it then it probably wont get done … or not at the quality I desire. When I have down time, God reminds me that I am not really in charge of anything.

3. I remember to enjoy the little things – Yesterday I was winded just walking up a flight of stairs. My lungs cannot even seem to handle the simplest of things. Then I am reminded how all year-long I take this simple task for granted. All of those things that come so easy to me are once again appreciated when I am sick. God has blessed me in so many ways.

That has me thinking that sometimes God can even use sickness to give us a different outlook on life. So for sickness … I will be thankful.

A Little Grace (A Second Chance Story)

A pastor friend of mine has had a dramatic fall and winter. His son is in his second year of college and this year met a girl and they began dating. Then late last fall they found out that she was pregnant. The boy confessed this to his parents. Together the boy and girl confessed it to the Church congregation they were attending at college. Then began a process of prayer and discussion. For them, aborting the baby was not an option. Should they get married? Yes. They finally made the decision and were married just as she was starting into her second trimester over the new year break.

The father has been proud of how his child and his girlfriend owned up to their mistakes and prayerfully moved forward with their lives. He is very pleased that gossip and rumors have been squashed as the truth has always been present. But he was most touched by something that happened in the wedding.

Yesterday he was updating a group of pastors and he told us how on their wedding day. They paused and shared their mistakes with everyone present, but how they looked forward to life together as a couple and soon as a family. They thanked everyone for their love and support. Finally they informed everyone that they had come to find out the sex of the baby. They were soon going to be the proud parents of a little girl. Since this little girl was ultimately going to be born because of a mistake they wanted to make sure she knew of the love and support she was going to get and not the condemnation – so they announced they are going to name this new little baby girl “Grace.”

Weddings and Marriage

In just a couple of hours a group of ladies will arrive at our Church building and set up everything for a wedding tomorrow morning. I began with clearing the stage of all instruments and most cables. The ladies will arrive with flowers and all kinds of decor. They will spend an enormous amount of time and money putting together a wedding.

Here is the funny thing to me – I see no correlation between how much time, money and energy is put into a wedding and the strength of a marriage. You might think that if the person was putting this much of themselves into a one day celebration that they might put that much into their marriage. It simply isn’t true. There is a vast difference between a wedding and a marriage.

I am a huge believer in marriage and I do not think living together before marriage is a good idea (for many reasons – but that is another post). But you do not honor marriage by making your wedding a bigger and bigger celebration. You honor marriage by making a commitment to one another and then sticking to that commitment for he rest of your life.

So I am happy for this couple. I hope all the money for decorations and dresses and suits and food and music and etc. are enjoyable. But what I really hope for them is a long and happy marriage. May they spend as much energy each year on each other as they do preparing for this one day.

Vehicle and Marriage Maintenance

Recently I have had conversations with 2-3 couples who marriages are really struggling. This is nothing new since people often come to Church or want to talk to the Pastor when they are having problems. In fact, one of the main things I have tried to emphasize in my ministry the last 5 years is help for married couples. That has lead us to have a video conference here at Homer Christian Church and this year it has lead us to join with the other local Churches to bring in Gary Chapman for a one day conference in March.

Well, last week I was talking to a Church member and I asked him about his marriage and if he was going to this conference. He responded that everything was going great right now and that he and his wife would not be attending the conference. I was a little surprised and told him it was a great opportunity here in Homer for a little encouragement in his marriage. I asked him to pray about it and let me know if he changed his mind.

Later that afternoon I was driving home and recalling my day when a thought hit me. Maintaining a healthy marriage is like maintaining a functioning vehicle.

With my car, I need to regularly be changing my oil, checking my fluids, listening for squeaks and asking the mechanic to check out something like the brakes when I am getting my tires rotated and balanced. Why do I do that? Simply to keep my car running smooth so that I do not experience a big breakdown later on. A little bit of maintaining here and there will save a huge cost of a major repair.

I think the same is true with marriage. You need to be doing those regular daily things like talking, touching and opening up your heart. But you also need some regular maintenance. Maybe that means attending a conference once every other year about marriage. Maybe it means you read a book about marriage every so often. Maybe it means a regular date night or vacation week. Maybe you need to be a regular visitor to a counselor. I really don’t know what will help your marriage best. I do know your marriage might be fine now, but if you do not do any regular maintenance then there will be a big cost later on. Pay the price now or pay a big price later.

Evangelistic Help – part 2

I have been in a short series of blogs that are a synopsis of my current sermon series. The sermon series is based on the two biggest lessons I learned while teaching a class on evangelism at a local Bible institute.

Both of the lessons are applicable to all of us in the Church. First, I see the need for us to connect to non-Christians. Second, there is a need for the ability to communicate the gospel to those non-Christians. As a pastor friend of mine used to say, “Lifestyle evangelism is often more about lifestyle than evangelism.”

So – imagine you have made a new friend and they are genuinely interested in your faith. You now have a chance to share the story of Jesus for someone, maybe for the first time. How do you do it?

Here are three suggestions:

1. Use your story – One of the easiest ways to teach the gospel is to personalize it. Every person’s story has three essential parts: A) Where my life was before Jesus B) How I came to accept Jesus as my Savior C) How my life has been different since I made Jesus my Savior. Usually the other person will connect to one part of the story and what helped lead you to faith may help lead them.

2. Use a proven method of sharing the faith – Often we feel like we need to “reinvent the wheel” when it comes to evangelism. This is simply not true. People have been sharing the gospel for years and years and have come up with some good ways. I suggest “The Bridge Illustration” of the gospel, the “Roman Road,” “Evangelism Explosion” questions, “Four Spiritual Laws” or (a new one to me) “The Wordless Book.” You can Google anyone of these and numerous websites will walk you through how to use them. Sometimes the old ways are best.

3. Use the Church as a resource – We do not have to share our faith alone. We can use staff members, elders, deacons, small group leaders, or any number of people in the Church to help us. You can invite a friend to an evangelistic event like Easter or Christmas and the gospel will be explained for you. You might simply ask someone to help you. You are a part of a body – it is okay to use it.

These are some of the ways I have shared my faith in Jesus through the years. Hopefully they will help you overcome one of the biggest obstacles to sharing your faith.

Evangelistic Help – part 1

In my last post I stated that one of the biggest problem most of us have in sharing our faith is that we have no relationships with non-Christians. How do we solve that problem?

I believe there are two simple answers.

1. Jesus was a friend of sinners.

Jesus moved outside of religious circles to connect with people who needed the forgiveness he offered. Are we willing to do the same? But Jesus took it a step further, he ate with tax collectors and “sinners.” He opened up his life with a group of people and treated them as important.

Let me ask you: “When was the last time you ate with a non-Christian?”

2. Jesus purposely shared his life

The best story to illustrate this point is in John 4:1-26. There Jesus encounters a woman at a well. In this encounter I see several possible points of application of how we can make connections with non-Christians.

A) Adjust your life pattern – Jesus went to the well at noon; not the normal practice of the day.

B) Start a conversation – There was no technology to hide behind, Jesus talked to people.

C) Look for the meaning behind their questions – The woman wants to talk about water and worship, but Jesus knows she is searching for love. The kind of deep love that only God can give.

In John 4 Jesus moves from being a stranger to this woman to being her messiah. There is nothing really miraculous about the story or anything that appears beyond our capabilities. It is a simple story about how one man opens up his life and is able to connect with another person. Let me ask you, “When have you done the same?”

Two Evangelistic Lessons

This Sunday I finish a two-week series on evangelism. Last fall I taught on this topic at a local Bible institute and as any teacher will tell you, “I learned as much from the students as I taught them.” Well, after the class was over I boiled down the two biggest lessons I learned and turned it into a two-part sermon series called “Eats With Sinners.”

Last week I started the series by talking about the first problem the students encountered. All of them believe that other people need to know Jesus but many of them have no relationships with anyone outside of the Church. There is a huge disconnect between what we say about the importance of sharing our faith and the number of people we are actually sharing it with.

This week I am talking about the second problem I encountered. All of them want to share their faith but they have no idea how to do it. They are willing to make friends with non-Christians but they never get to the explanation of the gospel.

I believe that both of these problems not only exist at this Bible Institute but that they are present in each and every Church.

Think about your life. Are either of these true of you? What about your Church?

The next couple days I will look for answers.

Don’t Quote Me On That

I hate most quotes. Some are unique one-liners, but most are not. Quotes can be pulled out of context. Quotes can be misused. As a result I use them on an extremely rare basis.

Once in Iowa I conducted a 20 minute phone interview on a topic for the local newspaper. I was happy how the interview went and was excited to read the article. When I went and picked up the paper I found that I was only quoted 2-3 times and all of them were sadly misused. After that I vowed I would rarely use a quote unless I knew the context.

Another time I had a group of teenagers take my sermons and cut them apart and mash them up into a new sermon for me. They took some lines about sin, about abortion, about marriage and made a funny and shocking story. Once again, I was quoted exactly, but way out of context.

So please, be careful if you quote someone. Try to find the context of what was said and why it was said.

Finally, knowing my dislike of quotes I bought a T-shirt that I am wearing today with a quote on it. It says, and I quote:

“The problem with quotes found on the internet is that they’re not always accurate” – Abraham Lincoln

Maybe not a second chance

I was recently talking to a man who knows my love of second chances. He told me that he thinks I a limiting grace too much. He though it might be better to say we serve a God who “gives us another chance.” He told how he thought God had given him way more than two chances. He felt like it might be better if my blog were called something like “Give me another chance” pastor.
Maybe he is right.

Another Second Chance Story

On New Year’s day I turned on the TV for a few minutes to see what was on. The station that appeared was already showing a football game with the University of Central Florida, so I stopped to watch. It was near the end of the game and the announcers were talking about the coach George O’Leary.
You may not remember his name, but it is burned into my mind. You see, I am a fan of the Notre Dame football program and in 2001 they hired George O’Leary from Georgia Tech. As he ascended into the public eye on a more national level the press started to write articles about him and his past. Well, upon research it was discovered that the had lied about playing football in college and he had lied about a master’s degree he had received from a fictitious university. Both of these inaccuracies had been on his resume for years and apparently helped him get a job early on in his career. Neither were of significance for the Notre Dame job, but his integrity was shot and within weeks he resigned before coaching his first game.
Now the rest of the story. George knocked around through a couple of professional coaching jobs as an assistant until he finally accepted the job with Central Florida. Within a few years he has turned around the program and produced a bowl winning team.
When I turned on the game it was about over it was clear that Central Florida was going to win. The announcers were talking about George’s checkered past. They roughly quoted Mr. O’Leary as saying something like this, “I can only put the past behind me and do my best with the chances that lies ahead.”
In my eyes, George O’Leary was given a second chance and he is making the most of it. And for that George O’Leary – I salute you!