Happy Thanksgiving

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday weekend. I thank God for saving me. And I thank God for you.

Thanks for reading, thanks for your comments and thanks for walking with me on this journey of faith.

Numbers 6:24-26
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Who Do You Allow to Shape Your Life?

With all the modern technology that surrounds us it seems everyone has something to say about everything … even you! It seems every decision you make will be reported on Facebook or someone will twitter about it to the world. You take the time to make something and everyone is more than willing to give you a review. Critics and comments are woven into the landscape of our lives. At times it can be a blessing and help me to see the blind spots in my life and work, but most of the time it is just a headache. In fact, many times I have allowed an unknown stranger’s comment or criticism to anger me and keep me up at night. So through the years I have come up with a short list of people who I allow to speak into my life. Maybe this will be helpful to you:

1. People Who Follow Jesus – A non-Christian does not understand my thinking or my point of view. If I know they are not a follower of Christ, anything that person has to say to me is taken very lightly.

2. People With Whom I Have a Long Term Relationship – My parents, my wife and my children can say about anything to me and I take it to heart. I have a few other friends that I listen to because they know my past and my point of view.

3. People Who Have My Best Interests at Heart – There are people in my life who I know want to see me succeed personally and professionally. They are not trying to tear me down with their words, but rather build me up.

4. People I Respect – I listen to certain preachers and professors because of their expertise. Many people do counseling on a regular basis because a counselor is trained in the ways of the mind. Some people through their study have earned the right to speak to me.

5. People With Positive Long Term Life Experience – I love to talk with people who have had a long happy Christian marriage. They give me insights on how to think and live. I am slow to listen to anyone with a few years of marriage or a divorce under their belt. I want to hear the voices of success and what they can teach me.

Who do you allow to speak into your life? Who gets to shape your thinking with their words? Through the years the group I listen to is getting smaller and smaller. I am no longer blown around by every word of criticism and critique. Maybe this will come in handy when aunt Betty has words to say about your job, your children or your life. Enjoy the season and take everything with a grain of salt 🙂

The Greatest Gift You Have to Offer

I really enjoyed this post I read over on PEOPLE OF THE SECOND CHANCE

This world needs to hear your story. It will challenge, shape, encourage, and provide shield for many who hear. We must not withhold our greatest gift to the world.

Our brokenness will always be a willing canvas for beauty. Yet for some reason, it’s still easier for us to believe in a less wondrous outcome, one that takes our negative circumstances and simply neutralizes them.

Our own stories reflect this truth. Often, we see our failures as liabilities, things to be forgotten, edited or removed all together. If it were up to us, we’d tear out every page in our story that represented the negative parts of our life. In short, our shame makes us terribly boring authors.

What if we decided to step boldly into the reality that our weaknesses give us an unfair advantage? Have you struggled with sobriety? You have a unique opportunity to connect deeply with others who also struggle. Ever felt abandoned? You’re probably better at creating community because you know exactly what people need.

This is easier said than done.

But your story is your gift that you bring to the world. Please don’t censor it. Instead, bring it with boldness to the people that need to experience it most. The most powerful words we can say to each other is “me too.”

The Power of Words

Last night I preached at a multi-Church thanksgiving program. I spoke about the power of words and especially the word “Thanks.” I shared something in the sermon that I did not have in my notes. It was a personal illustration that just hit me in the moment. I thought I would share it with you today.

When I began ministry I used to receive all kinds of discouraging notes. Most of them were completely anonymous and left on the back of connection cards in the space labeled for “Prayer Requests or Other Comments.” Most of them were about the way I dressed, the jokes I tried to tell, the changes I was making in worship and some were just general character attacks. It ceases to amaze me how many people have no trouble becoming a critic when it comes to Church and its leadership. Even though I never asked for people’s viewpoints they still shared them willingly while never revealing their name. The hard part was that most of them contained elements of truth. I hate wearing ties and dressing up, I did struggle with humor, I was making changes in worship and I have some huge character flaws. Because these comments contained elements of the truth I held on to them and read them over and over hoping to improve myself. Over time those words written on cards became part of my identity. Of course things were not going well in the Church, look who God had leading these people. My mind was more in tune with failure than success.

Then one day, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, I threw all of those cards away. I started a new file by taking all of the positive comments that I received – some on connection cards, some on real cards and some through email – and saving those. I put all of those cards together and when I was feeling down I would take out the box and read through those notes. I would open up my email and read all the wonderful things people had to say about my ministry. Slowly my mindset began to shift from all the negative stuff to all the positive. In fact, I am still in the ministry today because some people took the time to say something nice to me in written form.

I firmly believe that life is shaped by words as much as events. So what words have shaped your life? What words are shaping your life into the future? Maybe an even bigger question is, “How are my words shaping other people?” Maybe this week I need to be reminded to say “Thank you” to someone. Or maybe I need to tell someone how much I appreciate what they have meant to my life. I know it will not only brighten your week but it will encourage someone more than you will ever fully know. I am living proof of that.

How To Mold The Lives of Other People

This is my final installment for this week on having a positive influence in your life and in your world. Yesterday I listed some of the people whose life you can touch for good. I realize that many people will say, “I agree with that. Now what?” How do we impact the lives of others in a positive way? Here are some suggestions:

1. Follow God Yourself – In Deuteronomy chapter 6 verse 7-9 we have this great image of impressing God’s word on our children. The preceding verses (4-6) say that the word of God should be in our heart first. You are to love the Lord Your God before you try to impress your beliefs on another person. Now that does not mean that we have to be perfect, but that does mean that sending our children to church programs that we will not attend ourselves can prove to be worthless. Much of our influence is more “caught than taught.”

2. Volunteer for ministry – Some people, especially children, will come to Church without a strong Christian influence in their life. When you volunteer you put yourself in a position to fill that void. Giving your time to things such as being as a greeter, Sunday School teacher or youth sponsor opens the doors for greater influence.

3. Be Available – Keep time in your calendar open for other people. What would happen if we gave a specific time to other people just for influence. Josh Hunt once wrote a book in which he suggested giving your Friday nights to God. He took that night every week to open his home to teenagers, eat pizza, play games and just hang out with people of all ages. It changes his life and Church. In this process he also about to double his Sunday School class in 2 years.

4. Don’t Be in a Hurry – I struggle to do this one, but it is a great idea. I once heard a preacher of a growing Church say that one of his secrets to success was to “walk slowly through the crowds.” He knows that those 1-5 minute encounters each week could be used for God if he opened up his life to it.

5. Don’t Do Things Alone – An older minister once told me to “never do anything alone.” He was not talking about sin and temptation and having someone to help you through it which is a good idea. Instead he was saying that you can pour your life into another person in the margins of your time. A 20 minute trip to the hardware store could be an opportunity for you to take a teenager with you and talk about the world. That lunch hour could be a time to share your life with a co-worker. I always like to take someone with me when I go fishing. It is a low pressure time to talk about everything. Use your time.

6. Find Your Niche – Each one of us has our own gifts and abilities. Not everyone is gifted as a teacher or preacher. That’s okay. What are you good at? How could you use that for God? Maybe that is writing a blog like this to teach other people, maybe that is teaching some teenage girls to bake, coaching sports with a Christian attitude, or any number of other things from building, repairing, cleaning, giving to serving. God has made each of us unique and you can use your unique life and lifestyle to shape other people.

I am sure there are other ways to touch the lives of people. These are some of the most effective things I have found in my life. Maybe you can add to my list with a comment. My hope is that we will use our life to make an impact in the world for Jesus. I know that it rarely happens without some thought and effort on our part. Maybe this will get you thinking and the rest is up to you.

People Whose Lives You Can Influence

This week I have been writing about having influence in another person’s life. Most particularly I have been telling of the people who have shaped and molded my life. At the same time I have tried to raise questions about the people who have touched your life and whose life you are shaping in turn. I meet numerous people who want to have influence but do not have any idea whose life they are molding or could shape. So let me give you some people I have found that are soft clay ready for tender hands.

1. Your Own Children or Grandchildren – I know this sounds obvious to most of us, but I encounter several parents and grandparents who never realize how much they are shaping the next generation. I want to especially underline the power of a grandparent. I have seen this played out first hand in the lives of my own children from both sides. Use your relationships for good.

2. The Children of Divorce & Single Parents – I am not sure we will ever know the potential harm done by having only one parent in the home. I know from personal experience that this group of kids are often screaming for attention with their words and their actions. There is an enormous open area for us to touch the next generation for Christ if we will put in the effort. A couple of times I took a group of teens on a fishing trip to Canada. I quickly learned that on every trip well over half of the kids had little influence from their fathers. Most of them had never had a man teach them to tie a hook, bait a line, catch a fish or clean it and cook it for supper.

3. Widows and Orphans – This one is not an option. James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

4. New Believers – This could be young people or simply older people who are new to faith. When someone comes to faith in Jesus as their Savior they are usually open to all kinds of ideas and people. One of my fears as a Church leader is that we do not do enough to mold this group of people. New believers are a great group to mentor. What if every new believer in the Church were “adopted” by a senior saint to help mold them?

5. Anyone You Have Contact With – All of us have people in our lives. We share our lives at breakfast, lunch, coffee, smoking breaks, sitting next to us in the bleachers, our neighbors and on and on it goes. Look around – I can guarantee there are people in your life who are looking for a positive influence.

My hope is that each one of us will use our life to help teach other people in the way of the Lord. Most of the time we just need to open our eyes to the opportunities that surround us. I hope that maybe today you will think of someone you can reach out to and influence. May God use you as a force for good in the lives of other people.

Some People Who Have Shaped My Ministry

Yesterday I wrote about the people who have shaped my own personal faith. Today I want to focus on the people who have shaped the way I view the Church and the work that gets done there.

1. My College Professors – Mark Scott, J.K. Jones and Mark Moore were three of my professors. Their words showed me what a good sermon and lesson sound like. More than that, they introduced me to the teachings of Fred Craddock about preaching. All of my preaching and teaching has been molded by one of those four individuals.
I encourage people to find someone from whom they can really learn the Bible and then absorb as much material as you can from that person. One or two influential teachers are better than a thousand different voices.

2. Kyle Gardiner – While in college I started preaching every week. I was struggling in my life and faith while leading a Church. Then in chapel I heard a sermon by Kyle Gardiner. Later I would be invited to a book discussion group he was leading. I discovered that he was a preacher at a Church in Joplin and had been for a few years. Within days I drove over to his Church, I walked in and asked him to mentor me. He graciously agreed and from then on, we met weekly to discuss one chapter of a book and how it applied to life and ministry.
I strongly encourage everyone to find some type of mentor. Find someone older and wiser who can pour their life into you. I once heard a man say that everyone needs three people in their life: A Paul – an older wiser person to mentor you in the faith. A Silas – someone who is a co-laborer with you in the faith. A Timothy – someone you can pour your faith into and mentor as you grow older. Which one is missing from your life?

3. Barry Bowyer – Barry was an elder in one the Churches I served in my early years of ministry. He showed me how to be a better father and how to be a better Christian. He lived out his faith in a difficult environment and remained true to his convictions. Later he would become an associate of mine and would then leave to serve as a house parent for children whose parents were in jail. His life was a model of faith, leadership and love.
Great leaders in the Church are an extremely valuable asset. Take time to thank those people who lead you. Your life and Church would not be the same without them.

4. My Wife – My wife has an enormous servant’s heart. She thinks of little things like giving small gifts to children, writing to people (cards, emails and texts), visiting with people, developing people for ministry and doing anything that needs done without glory or recognition. I am an introvert who struggles in relationships, but I would be much worse if it were not for my wife.
As I have said before, serving affects the lives of those you serve and those who see you serve. Our impact is greater than what we immediately see.

Honestly, all of us who follow Jesus are serving in a ministry. Maybe that is helping with worship or children’s Church or Sunday school or anywhere. Who shaped your life and the way you do that ministry? I thank God for the influences who have shaped my life and I pray that I may impact another person the way these people have impacted mine.

People Who Have Marked My Life

I have been thinking about the biggest influences in my life. Sometimes those people did not even know the impact they had on me. Others I have had a long relationship and their impact is undeniable. But I have put together a short list of the people who have had the biggest influence on my life and especially my walk with Christ.

1. My Parents – they taught me about Jesus, took me to Church and have encouraged me every step of my journey. They have not only had an impact on my life but also the lives of my children. I am thankful to have been raised in a Christian home by two wonderful people. I am also thankful for the unconditional love they have shown me through my unbelievably stupid teenage decisions and my failures even as an adult.

2. Virginia Vannice – She was my 5th & 6th grade Sunday School teach at Woodland Heights Christian Church. She scared me to death but taught me to trust my Bible, read my Bible and memorize it. Many of my foundational beliefs were formed in that tiny room downstairs by a woman who taught with an iron fist and a marshmallow heart. I thank God for women like her who teach children week after week, month after month and year after year.

3. Dan Booth – One of my high school youth group sponsors. He taught me that it is okay to laugh as a Christian. He was the perfect balance to Virginia. She was strict and serious and he was happy and fun. I watch him as an adult suffer through the loss of a teenage daughter and still hold onto his faith. I have seen him make bold decisions for Christ while continuing to teach and lead. I am thankful for anyone who helps to serve with teenagers in youth groups all over this country. Teens are not always an easy group to love and serve and I am thankful for those who do it.

4. My Preachers through the years. – Jack Austin taught me a love for great preaching. Ben Wilson taught me to love the words of the Bible. Larry showed me a huge heart for Christ. There were others through the years who preached and impacted my life. For some it was one sermon while for others it was a little longer, but they also had an impact on my life. I continually thank God for the preachers I get to hear in person, on the radio and in podcasts. They have shaped my faith with their words and their lives.

5. An Unkown Woman. – My best friend died on a Sunday morning in 1990. After I received the phone call I drove to Church and told my parents. Everyone quickly heard the story and tried to comfort me. Most people said really stupid stuff. Some of it was almost hurtful. One woman, who was the wife of our youth ministry intern, came and sat down beside me. She wrapped her arms around me and kissed me on the check and sat quietly. Finally she whispered in my ear. “Jesus loves you and I love you.” Those words carried me through a funeral that ripped my heart out, then through a year of near depression and finally into a faith that I still have in dark times today.
Later I found out that when she was in Bible college a van wrecked and killed her best friend. She knew the pain and quietly calmed my soul. I do not know her name but her words still help me to remember the basics of faith – Jesus loves me and other people care about me too.
I thank God for the people He has sent into my life that have touched me in a profound way through a word, a card or some small way.

Andy Stanley tells of the Church he leads surveying numerous people to see what they felt helped grow their faith. They came up with 5 similar responses with one of them being “Providential People.” Those are people God sent into our lives who shaped and molded in one time acts or through years of teaching. I know this to be true through personal experience. I thank God for the people He has sent into my life. I hope you would take time to thank Him for the people in your life. I ask God for more willing parents and servants who would impact their world. I pray that you would “ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.” Finally, I take comfort in knowing that the impact of our lives will never be fully known until eternity. Like George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” the world would be a different place without people who sacrifice and give selflessly. I thank God for them and hope that I am one of them.

I Remember YOU

I was having a conversation this morning that inspired my thinking for the day and inspired this post. I was talking to another man about teaching teenagers. At times it can be one of the most incredibly frustrating jobs in the world. Teens get bored easily, they lose interest quickly and they are often in their own little worlds. Having worked with teenagers my entire ministry I have seen my share of failed lessons and disinterested kids.

Then I replay my life. I will be honest, I have had some great teachers through the years, from elementary to college I have been truly blessed. With that said, I can barely remember anything they taught me. I remember a line here and there from a lesson they taught, but most of the information has been lost. What I remember from each of my teachers is their life. While I cannot tell you the exact lessons my teachers shared with me I can tell you several things about each of those teacher’s personal lives. I can tell you that some of them knew the Bible very well, others had huge hearts, some were extremely talented and many were just normal people who loved Jesus.

I spend a lot of hours worried about my sermons and studying for my lessons and most of the material will be quickly forgotten. Often I encounter people who will not teach because they do not know enough. I think that most people miss the most obvious part of teaching. The message is inseparable from the messenger.

At the end of the day I remember one thing from all of my Christian education. I remember the people who touched my life. I remember YOU.

That leads me to two thoughts. First, thanks to all of you who give your time. You have made an impression on me and countless others. Second, who will remember you? Who will be thankful that you took the time to share your life? Often a poor lessen delivered with an open and honest heart is the best lesson in the long run.

I Still Do

I am about to celebrate 34 years being a follower of Jesus. There have been a lot of ups and downs during those years. There have been moments of perfect faith when I walked out with Jesus on the water and did not sink. There have been moments when my faith was so week that I couldn’t even see Jesus outside of the boat while I hunkered down and hoped he wouldn’t see me. I have felt the extremes of joy and the depths of depression. Through all those years my faith has ultimately grown, but I have a few confessions to make.

I still have doubts about certain aspects of faith.
I still have questions about Jesus.
I still find it hard to read my Bible.
I still struggle to worship every Sunday morning.
I still do not understand a lot of deep doctrine.
I still am confused by the Old Testament
I still have issues with some of the other people who claim to follow Jesus.
I still feel guilt in my soul when I remember certain sins.
I still want to have a bigger faith.
I still wonder if I will ever feel completely mature as a Christian.

The reason I feel compelled to tell all of you this is because when I get Christians to really open up about faith, I find they usually feel the same way. Maybe there is a since of comfort that we all struggle in this thing called faith. All of us have doubts and questions and issues that we are working through. None of us has it all figured out – none of us.

One of the great things about faith is that no where does the Bible imply that we have to have all the answers or completely understand all that we believe. Instead the Bible invites us into a journey of following Jesus through everything we think and feel. I picture it like a marriage. I have days in which I don’t feel love or understand what is going on, but I stick to it anyway. What I find is that through the years the issues get smaller, I grow in my understanding and eventually I realize that most of my struggles weren’t really ever that important.

I still have issues. I am still going to keep following.