Attendance Opens Doors

Here in Homer Alaska the Churches have a unique bond. The leaders of the Churches here meet together each week in a Pastor’s group we call the Homer Ministerial Alliance (HMA). This group of pastors lead a couple of community events together. One is a joint Halloween carnival for young children. The other is a community wide worship service that we call “One Lord Sunday.” Through the years we have done several other projects, but these are the regular ones. Because we have organized events our weekly meetings have a president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer.

I have been a part of the HMA every since I moved to town 5 years ago. I have attended a meeting here and there, but I could not say that I have been at every meeting – not even close. I have attended once or twice a month depending on the time of year and the topic for discussion.

This last year everything changed. I volunteered to be the president of the HMA for the fall of 2013 and spring of 2014. Knowing that we had events to plan and that I was the primary person responsible motivated me to commit to attending every meeting this year. While I have missed a couple of meetings for various ministry reasons I have not missed a meeting this calendar year.

Yesterday we were meeting together and the conversation was good. We have been praying for one another and that continued. We joked and laughed and enjoyed ministry together. After the meeting I told my wife that this is the closest I have ever felt to the other preachers in town. I feel like they are my friends and I can share openly and honestly with them. I feel as though they care about me and I know I care about them.

Last night I was reflecting on my feelings about the other pastors and I wondered what had made the difference in my relationship with them. Here are my conclusions: One, we are praying for each other. This definitely breaks down barriers. Two, I have known them longer. With time many walls come down. Finally, I have been attending every week.

One of the biggest reasons that my relationship with other Christian leaders has changed is because of my regular attendance at meetings. I now understand the “inside jokes.” I know the ups and downs of their lives. They now view me as a part of their lives. Every dynamic of our relationship changed simply because I attend every meeting.

I think the same is true for every Christian. If you attend a large group or a small group meeting once in a while, you will feel little connection. But when you attend every week and participate in conversations then a world of new relationships open up to you. Yes, we can be Christians without attending Church functions every week, but the dynamics change when we do.

In Praise of Teachers

Recently an elderly lady donated old Sunday School material to our Church. This lady has only been attending our Church for a little while now, but has been a part of The Church as a whole almost all of her life. She moved to Homer in 1951 and apparently began serving as a Sunday School teacher not too long after. Now she struggles to get around and a nice woman in our Church drives her to worship with us each week.

A couple of weeks ago she asked about donating some old Sunday School material to the Church. I told her it would be great and I made arrangements for her to call me when it was ready to pick up. About two weeks later she finally gave me a call and this last Sunday my son and I went to pick it up. Honestly I was expecting a couple of boxes of old “purchased” lesson material from David Cook or Gospel Light publishing. We arrived to find 7 boxes of materials and 2 medium-sized trash bags full.

For the last three days I have been going through the material. Much of it was craft material. She had construction paper, stencil, glitter, glue, etc. Two or three of the boxes of material simply went straight into our supply boxes. A couple of the boxes contained file after file of magazine pictures. Through the years she had taken magazines and cut out pictures and filed them under: Adult Men, Easter, Christmas, Animals and a few other titles. Apparently she took these files and when she taught a lesson. For example, when she taught on Noah’s ark she took out the animal file. When she taught about Father’s Day she took out the appropriate file. One file of pictures for every Bible story, holiday and craft project you can imagine.

As I went through the files I found a few useful items, but most of it was just very dated magazine pictures. Honestly, it was not much more than trash to me. (Although I did laugh at some of the styles and haircuts in the pictures) But this project had me thinking of two things.

1. I am impressed by how much time and effort was put into making these files. These boxes represented hours and hours of work and prep time for the classes she taught.

2. Did any of her students know how much effort she put into the classes she taught? I imagine that most of them had no idea that she had spent hours gathering material so she could be prepared for any lesson on any day at any time.

All of this has me thinking about the teachers in my Church and the effort that they put in each week. It also has me thinking about all the teachers I have known though the Churches I have served. Finally it has me thinking about those people who taught me. I have no idea how many hours were spent on lessons that influenced me and the people around me.

So today I want to praise all of you out there who teach children’s classes so selflessly. Thank your for your hard work and many hours of service for a group of kids who probably do not appreciate it enough. Thank you for spending time getting everything ready so that others can learn. I, for one, am glad you serve. I just hope I don’t ever have to go through your files one day:-)

Relationship Risk

A couple of weeks ago I preached a sermon about “Providential Relationships.” The idea was simple – God brings people into our lives who help mold and shape us. That sermon has generated a couple of good conversations and quite a bit of reflection.

Throughout my life I have had a few close relationships other than my wife. Sadly, I am not close to many of those people anymore. One of them died many years ago, one of them I lost contact with as our lives moved different directions, one I still have contact with although we are not close anymore. And on and on it goes. My wife and I have been together for 20 years and during that time I have had a few relationships with other men that I would call my friends. Some of those relationships go on in a different way and others are gone.

I say all of this to underline the fact that relationships have risks. People die. People leave. People change. We change. We move. Life is constantly evolving and so are our relationships. But I firmly believe that we need to continue forming relationships no matter what the future holds.

I am reminded of the song by Garth Brook entitled “The Dance.” There is this powerful line in the chorus, “I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.” Relationships involve risk, but the rewards are far greater than the risk.

So head out today and make a friend. It may not have a happy ending, but it may bring some good times. You never know.

Two Sides of the Church

As a pastor I am exposed to almost everything in the Church. I lead its worship each week, I talk to its members, I read about its growth and each week I handle its problems. All of this time in and around Church has led me to two conclusions about Church.

One – People are looking for a person and place to worship. They come to Church looking to experience the infinite. They see Church as a group of people who worship together.

Two – People are looking to connect with other people. They come to Church looking to experience relationships. They see the Church as a group of people who live for God together.

These two different sides of Church shape all that we think, experience and do in the Church. One group views the Church building as a holy temple where they come before God. The other group views the Church as a community building for activities that bring people closer together. One group views the Church as a place where Sunday morning is about reverence and worship. The other group views the Church meetings as places to talk and fellowship. And on and on the issues go.

The tension in the Church is often trying to get people see these two sides of the Church equally. We often think that our view is the correct one, and we even have verses to prove. Tensions rise when we think our side is all the Church should focus on each week.

How do you view the Church? Do you think the Church can function as both? If so, how? Just some food for thought.

Who You Are

Lately one of the biggest discoveries I am making is about myself. This past week I was in a minister’s meeting and we were having an open discussion time. The other pastors were talking about politics and flavored soda water and about technologies and all things foreign to me. After that conversation I was reflecting on who I am as a pastor.

I am not into politics. I am not up on the latest technology. I don’t drink fancy drinks. Instead, I am into my Church. I love my family. I really enjoy sports. I drink Diet Coke and sweet Tea. I metal detect. I hunt and fish. I am what in some circles what would be called “a redneck.” I am not trying to be anything, this is just who I am.

As a pastor, I put most of my energy into preaching. I am naturally introverted, but I am trying to do better. I am very cheap. I don’t write many posts that are “7 Steps to …” or “8 leadership principles of …” I wear T-shirts most of the time. I am a simple man who loves the Lord and his people.

For years I have been running away from who I am to be something I thought I was supposed to be. Lately I am trying to embrace the real me as God created me and as he is recreating me in Christ Jesus. I think that one of the biggest journeys in life might be to the place where we are comfortable being who we really are.

May God help me to be who I am. May God grant you the ability to find that too.

The Replay Button in My Mind

It had been a pretty good day … or so I thought. Then night came and I fell asleep quickly and deeply. Finally I woke up at 3:00 am to go to the bathroom. Upon returning to bed I discovered that I could not fall back asleep as I had hoped. Instead of sleeping I lie awake replaying the day before. Suddenly I saw all these problems that I hadn’t even noticed upon first experience.

I thought; “What did he mean when he said that?” “Did they take that the wrong way when I said that?” “I hope they were not offended when I didn’t say anything.” And on and on my thoughts went.

A perfectly good day was ruined by the replay button in my mind. And here is the interesting part, nothing that I thought while replaying my day was overly positive. I did not think about how well I had performed but rather about the possible mistakes I made.

I have come to believe that one of the biggest acts of grace is to break the replay button in my mind. In faith there is a place for guilt and regret, but there is no place to wallow in it. I constantly struggle to experience life as it happened and not over-analyze everything to the point of despair. I believe that one of the ways we experience a second chance in life is by not replaying the failures of the first chance.

Not As I Planned

I have a very normal routine to my week. I have certain things I do on certain days and I expect to get results. Well, yesterday did not go according to plan.

Let me back up. I live in Alaska and the area I live has a high concentration of arsenic in the ground water. As a result most of us have cisterns somewhere around our house that are filled to provide us with fresh clean water. Personally, I have two 2,000 gallon tanks buried by my house that are filled every three weeks to make sure we never run out of water. With that said, yesterday morning my third son came out of the shower and said, “I think we just ran out of water.”

“What? How could this happen? Surely not!”

Upon investigation I discovered that we truly had run out of water. My wife and I started making calls – water delivery and repair man were first on the list. Long story short, over 5 hours later and two different people looking at the situation and trying to fix it we discovered that one cistern was plugged and not providing water. The other one had been used completely and we ran out.

Now I am looking at digging down to the cistern and finding the blockage so that we can get it working again. It is going to take several hours of digging along with pumping water and who knows what else. The problem is that I had a plan in place to install a new cistern this summer in a room off the back of my garage. Now I have to change my plan completely.

Yesterday afternoon when I was finally able to set down and start working I thought about how my day did not go according to my plan. Then my water system set up did not go as planned. As I reflected longer I remembered how very little in life goes according to plan. We make plans and we set goals but rarely do things ever work out. Instead we have huge right turns thrown at us financially or physically or mentally. Then we have to adjust and make new plans until the next curve ball comes and we have to adjust again.

Today I am thankful to God for second chances when things do not go according to plan. I am thankful that I get to re-adjust, and sometimes things work out better than I planned. That is a gift from God. I am also praying that this experience will be a gift and not an expense.

The Kilchers

Last fall I wrote THIS POST about the Kilcher family who lives in Alaska and stars in the reality TV series “Alaska: The Last Frontier.” Since I wrote that post it has become my number one read post and often the search people use to find my blog. Well, today I wanted to write a follow-up post to the first one.

I am doing this for two reasons. One, last week at a pastor’s meeting the other pastors began talking about how much they despise the show since it really stretches the truth. Let me be 100% honest – the people who live in Homer, Alaska find the show comical and extremely exaggerated. I have yet to find one person who lives here who thinks the show is legitimate.

Second, I just got off the phone with a broker at the company that handles my retirement account. I needed some info for taxes and he had to wait for some pages to come up on his computer. While waiting he began to ask me about Alaska. He told me he watched a show on TV with some people who live a remote life in the wilds of Alaska. He was talking about the Kilchers. I simply replied, “Don’t believe everything you see on TV.”

Well, if you read my last post, you know that the Kilchers live only a few miles from my house. They are not miles “off the grid” or “out in the bush” as we say in Alaska. They live right here on the road system a few miles outside of Homer where we have about 5,000 people living. We have jobs, grocery stores (3 of them) and all the modern conveniences of the world.

Today I want to add one more piece of information for you that are concerned about the Kilcher’s hard lifestyle. Jewel, the music superstar is the Kilcher’s daughter. That’s right. The rich, beautiful star of music and is now appearing in movies and on TV is the daughter of Atz Kilcher. Don’t believe me – Read it HERE.

I often wonder what she thinks of the show. I wonder even more if she has ever offered to pay for plumbing or internet or anything. Then again, maybe she doesn’t have to now that the TV show is paying their bills.

I do not have any huge spiritual lesson from this post. Just living here I am reminded daily of the old saying, “Don’t believe everything you see on TV,” because “things are not always as they appear.” Just ask anyone living in the Homer area 🙂