First Sermon

In the spring of 1991 I was asked if I would be willing to preach a sermon even though I was a freshman who had never preached a single sermon. The whole story is that my girlfriend at the time was on a traveling music team at the college I attended and she asked their leader if I could preach the sermon that week. The leader and I agreed and I had about a month to prepare a sermon. I prayed, I studied the scripture, I thought and I wrote. Like most 19-year-old college freshman, I had the world figured out and had a complete grasp on what the world needed to hear.

Eventually the sermon was written by hand a several pieces of paper. I preached through it again and again in my room. I asked a fellow student to read it and give me his thoughts. I do not remember what he said but I am sure it was something like, “Brilliant. Simply brilliant.”

The Church was a couple of hours away and we actually drove up the night before. I stayed in a house with a couple of young children. I remember making small talk with the parents while keeping my thoughts on the sermon continually. The next morning I practiced and prayed one final time. Then off to Church to unload my brilliant ideas in a sermon that I was sure would be talked about for years in this congregation.

After arrival the team sang and played and led the congregation in worship to begin the program. Finally, I was up. I walk to the podium and hung on for dear life. I almost threw up. I felt light-headed. I forgot most of what I was going to say and started to wing it. I explained everything I knew about God, the Bible, Jesus and the Christian life. Glancing up at the wall clock I saw it had only moved about 8 minutes. Reaching deep in my soul I found myself telling the congregation about the death of my best friend and how God had given me hope through my faith. Three minutes of emotional story telling and I was done. I preached or spoke or rambled something for 11 minutes. Those poor people had not been treated to the best sermon ever, but rather the exact polar opposite.

When the service was over I hung my head, swallowed my pride and walked sheepishly to the back door to shake hands. I heard things like, “I like short sermons.” I heard small talk about the weather and sports. No one really knew what to say to me. It was difficult and embarrassing for everyone like a bad first date. Then after everyone appeared to have left but the music team and myself, one couple came up and said, “We want to thank you for your sermon today.” The woman was crying and told me about how she had recently lost a sibling and was struggling to make sense of it. She appreciated what I had said and it was a comfort to her.

I was shocked. Really? That sermon helped? I hadn’t even planned to tell that story, but thought it might generate pity if they congregation thought I was grieving. That sermon? Yep. That sermon help.

On the ride home I remember being amazed at my God. He took that awful sermon and touched someone’s life for good in that congregation. He took that sermon and touched my life.

That experience has led me to believe that God will take anyone willing to speak for Him and use their words for good. God does not require perfection to serve Him, simply a willing heart. In the end, we may feel like we have failed when in reality God succeeded through us. Making an effort for God is always a winning move.

Today

Today is the 15,705th day of my life. I figured this out by basic math and the help of Google (for leap year additions).

There are reasons to be sad about today. With each passing day my kids get older, I gain more weight, lose more hair, have more aches & pains while I am slowly losing touch with pop culture.

But I am thankful for today – because it is a gift from God.

The Bible says in James 4:13-14 “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ (14) Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

My mist may be vanishing into thin air, but God gave me today. For today I am thankful.

Intentions

It was my second year of college and one of my older classmates had invited me to the Church he attended. Since I did not have a regular preaching gig yet I accepted the offer and visited his Church that Sunday morning. He not only attended but was teaching a Sunday School class before the worship program. I must admit that I have sat through some terrible Sunday School lessons in my time but this one lesson he taught made a deep impact on my life. For part of the lesson he talked about a book he was reading for a class written by William Law called “A Serious Call To A Devout And Holy Life.” It was originally written in 1728 and was then given a new forward by Elton Trueblood in 1951.

I remember very specifically his lesson was about chapter two of the book. That chapter is entitled “The Importance of Intention.” It is only 4 pages long and can be read very easily. My friend and my teacher took this one chapter and explained it and then attached it to one story in the bible that he applied it to. I can’t remember the exact Bible story he used but I do remember the beginning of the lesson. He focused on the concept that Law had taught hundreds of years before on the matter of intentions.

Here is the simple principle – Our intentions guide our actions. Intentions are those attitudes that guide our emotions and actions. People who intend to run a marathon will begin training for a marathon. People who intend to read the Bible will develop a plan to read the Bible. The opposite is also true. The reason many people never change their actions is that they never intended to. I am not training for a marathon because I have no intention of running one. People who never read the Bible have no real intention to do it.

All this begs the question: “What do I intend to do with my life?” Do you have any intention to serve, to read, to study, to attend, to become, to do anything for God? The harsh reality is that you and I will never accomplish anything we do not intend to do first, because intentions guide actions.

After his lesson I went out and bought the book. To be honest, it is the only chapter I have ever read completely in the whole book. That’s okay, that single concept has helped me to get a handle on my spiritual growth. Start with an idea, develop an intention and start working on the action. It’s that simple.

Measurement

A conference speaker made a statement that has influenced my life and ministry beyond what he could have ever imagined. Maybe it touched me so deeply because I was new into marriage and new into ministry. His words were clear and true and have helped to guide my life. He said, “Anything that truly exists can be measured.” That may not sound like much to you but he went on to explain what he meant. I can talk about my Church and say it has a “heart” for evangelism and if that is true I will be able to measure it by the number of visitors my Church has, the amount of money spent on outreach, the number of personal invitations offered and several other pieces of information. Then he continued his line of thinking. I may say I am a good husband and if that is true I will be able to measure it by the number of times I tell my wife I love her, by the gifts I purchase her, by what I am willing to sacrifice for her and the way I respond to her love language. Then he took it one step further. I might say that I am a good Christian and if that is true I will be able to measure it by the fruit of my life, my obedience to God’s word, my commitment to Christ’s Church and a number of other metrics.

Edwin Louis Cole underlined this same truth to me a couple of years later in his statement, “We tend to judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions.” I have also heard it asked another way, “If I was put on trial for being a Christian (or good husband or good parent or good anything) would there be enough evidence to convict me?” Unfortunately, I meet people who frequently view themselves as devoted followers of Jesus despite all evidence to the contrary. I meet men who claim to be a good husband or father whom I have never seen do anything to demonstrate that characteristic. Their ideas and intentions are always good but there is no action to validate them.

It is a slippery slope of the mind. We convince ourselves that we are something and then we ignore all evidence to the contrary. We base our ideas about people on our feelings rather than real action. So I must continually ask myself, “Is this real information based on facts of just a figment of my imagination?” Because anything that truly exists can be measured.

Purge

Yesterday morning I felt awful. I am very sorry for that. I was unable to carry a train of thought, keep focused or do any of the things I wanted to do on a Sunday morning. Today I am feeling better but I am still fairly weak and tired even after roughly 16 hours in bed. During that time I did have a thousand thoughts go through my head that I wanted to share this morning. Years ago I used to do a “Monday Morning Mind Dump” on my previous blog. It was just a bunch of random disconnected thoughts about life, the Church and all things Christian. Today I thought it might fit my last day by calling it a purge 🙂

– Thanks for being so kind and patient with me yesterday. In more than 20 years of ministry I have only been sick on Sunday morning 4 times. I am sorry, but it happens.
– Thanks be to God for getting me through the sermon. Twice I almost got sick, but managed to make it through. (Did you notice the long pause?)
– I am glad the Holy Spirit is not connected to how I feel. He can work through words even when I am struggling.
– Ministry is very personal to me, I find no way to separate it from my life.
– Praise God for the Baptisms lately. 3 in the last 3 weeks and I have a couple more being discussed. 1 re-dedication. 2015 has had a great start.
– Why don’t people take advantage of all the Church has to offer – like Children’s Church, RUSH youth group and Sunday School?
– Last week’s posts on A Small Church in A Small Town had some positive feedback. Lots more I could write. I hope you read and enjoyed.
– Never say “Hello Stranger” to anyone at Church – its offensive even if they laugh.
– Pray for our leadership as we start into our time of leadership selection.
– I am looking for anyone with computer skills to help me/the Church.
– Watched several movies lately. Most were not that good. I did find it interesting how the movies portrayed the Church and Christians. It is never very positive.
– I hate Tax Season. Even with a return I still hate all the paperwork
– When you’re a preacher and you get sick, a day off is not really helpful. Sunday is always coming.
– The only time I was too sick to preach on Sunday morning I showed a video of a sermon. Better make sure I have another one setting ready.
– Thanks to Adrian Christian Church for your support of me and my ministry. May God bless you all.

That’s it for now. Until next time. Thanks for reading.

A Small Church in A Small Town – The Outreach

I am continuing my series of posts on life in a smaller Church (under 300) in a smaller town (Under 10,000). I have already wrote about the Pastor, the Past, the Leadership and the Senior Adults. Today I want to talk about the outreach of a smaller Church.

As a believer in Jesus I feel I am commanded to share the gospel of Jesus with the whole world. I take that command seriously as a person but also as a Church leader. Now, I also believe there is no one way to share our faith. That belief has led me to try everything I could to reach out and tell people about Jesus and the ministry of the Church I was leading. I have held revivals, put an ad in the phone book, held big events, done mailer cards, participated in community service and the list could go on and on. Some of these have been a great success, we brought people in the door and introduced them to the Church and to Jesus. They returned and eventually gave their life to Jesus. Unfortunately some things did not work too. I once held a coffee night outreach and had set up for over 50 people to arrive to only have 6 people show up, none of whom every attended my Church.

With all that said, I have found that in a smaller Church there is one form of outreach that always works. It is the single best way to share the ministry of the Church and introduce people to Jesus. In fact, I think this might have greater impact in a small town than anything else the Church can do.

What is this magic outreach system? WORD OF MOUTH.

Small Churches in small towns grow when people start talking about their Church. I would take it a step further and say that many other events have had success only because people invited their friends and family. I think that in a big city a Church needs to make a statement that says, “We are here, do not ignore us.” In a small town everyone knows the Church is there people just need to hear that they are invited to be a part of it.

The question for each one of us is very simple, “Am I telling people what is going on in the Church for the Lord, and then inviting people to come and be a part of it?” It is still the best way to reach people with the message of Jesus, especially in a small town.

A Small Church in A Small Town – The Seniors

I am continuing my series of posts on life in a smaller Church (under 300) in a smaller town (Under 10,000). I have already wrote about the Pastor, the Past and the Leadership. Today I want to talk about the Senior Adults in a smaller Church.

When I was first entering ministry my fellow students, and honestly some faculty, told me that I should be wary of the senior adults in my congregation. I was told that they will not want anything to change and they will fight you at every turn. I was given the impression that senior adults would hold back ministry while secretly plotting against me. As a result I was skeptical of all seniors adults, questioned their motives and built up barriers between myself and them.

Through the years I have learned a couple of big lessons that have changed my view of senior adults and my relationship with them.

1. All Ages of People Have Deeply Flawed Individuals. I will be 100% honest, I have met some really mean and hurtful senior adults. I will also tell you that I have met some really mean and hurtful teenagers, twenty year olds, thirty somethings and even those in their forties and fifties. There are people with huge character flaws in every age group. Because people had warned me about seniors I began to paint all of them with the same brush and that was simply not fair to them. Most of the seniors I have met are generous, kind, thoughtful and loving.

2. Everyone Resists Change. Through the years I have had more resistance to change from younger adults than older ones. In fact, many times younger adults will not want to change and they blame the older adults to make themselves feel better and look better. The harsh reality is that all people resist change, even when it is good for them. Maybe this gets magnified for senior adults because they have seen so many changes, but I am still not sure that is true. There are senior adults who change more quickly than younger people because they have already seen change over and over again and do not fear it.

3. Senior Adults are a Great Resource to a Church. Leadership guru John Maxwell said that he once held a leadership conference that was mostly for senior adults. He quickly changed his sermon once he saw his audience. He said that he reminded them that they are in best position to help the kingdom of God at their age. They have more free time than ever before, they have more resources than ever before and they have more knowledge through experience than ever before. He says that at the end of conference more than half of the crowd committed to some type of ministry.

Through the years my disdain for senior adults has changed into joy. I love sharing my life and my ministry with older members of my congregation. Sometimes it is hard to visit as much as I would like as my family pulls me different directions then their lives. I find myself closer to people whose kids are in the same activities as my kids simply because of proximity. That does not mean that I do not care, I care greatly and I am glad they have been a part of the Churches I have served. I wish all Churches and Church leaders would show their appreciation to their senior adults not for what they have done but for what they are doing. My experience is that most Churches would fall apart without them.