Tomorrow is the last day of July. August is upon us. As I have talked to people this week and mentioned the coming month the response is usually the same, “Where has the summer gone?”
I completely understand that they are saying. Time seems to have flown by this summer. Which usually begs the question “Where did the time go?”
I think maybe a better question is “What did I do with my time?”
For me, I want to ask some questions for every season of life to help understand where the time went and what I have accomplished.
Did I grow as a believer? I know this is hard to measure in many ways but there are simple metrics to help us. How many pages and chapters of the Bible did I read? How many Christian books did I read? How many times did I attend worship? Was I a part of Christian Small group or Sunday School? Did I invest time in my faith?
Did I touch another person’s life? Have I invested any time into other people? This could come in large ways like building a lifetime friendship or it can come in small ways like offering a cup of cold water to a neighbor. How many people did I invite into my home? How many moments of encouragement did I bring into the world through my words and actions? Is there anyone thankful for my life right now?
Did my relationships grow? Is my relationship with my parents, my spouse, my siblings, my children better today than before? How much time did I spend with the people I love? How many deep conversations did I have lately? How many important phone calls did I make? How many visits?
Did I improve my world through my gifts? Lately was my life more focused on me getting what I want or me blessing other people? How many times did I help someone with a project? How many needs did I fill in the world? How much of my time was given away to other people?
Where did your time go? When you look back on this summer was it a time of growth or stagnation?
We would all agree that there are seasons when time seems to fly. There are days when we do not seem to have enough time to accomplish everything we want to get done. Often the problem is how much time was wasted on trivial issues. The real question is, “Did I/you do anything that really matters?”
If you do not feel happy with any of your answers about this summer; I am sorry. But I also have good news. Fall is coming and you still have time to make your life count. Why not start today?
I looked at the corner of my computer and saw the date of July 29, 2015. As soon as I read the numbers my mind did a quick flip back in time. 25 years ago today was a Sunday morning and I received a phone call telling me that my best friend Paul Shroyer had been killed in an accident. Little did I know at the time that this one phone call would alter the direction of my life.
First, I lost my best friend. Other than my wife, I have never had another person I felt as close too. We hunted, fished, shot bows and chased girls together. Losing him left a void in my life that I have never quite been able to fill.
Second, I have never viewed life the same after that day. Eternal questions took over my life and the things of heaven became more important to me. Up to that point I had known a few people who had died, but never anyone that close to me. My perspective on life, people, time and eternity changed.
Finally, it sent me on a road that became my career. Before this happened I had already committed to a year of Bible College but when he passed I went with a different mindset. I literally thought, “I am going to prove faith wrong and walk away from it forever or I am going to prove it right and commit to it forever.” That first year I read every apologetic book I could get my hands on. I asked questions of anyone willing to talk. I shared my hurt and found hope. In the end I came to a place of stronger faith that would eventually lead me into the preaching ministry.
My life was drastically altered on this day 25 years ago. I lost a friend. He did not get to see my wife or my children. I did not get to see him grow up and find a career or a wife and kids. So much has happened in that time and it seems hard to believe that 25 years have passed. I miss you my friend. I hope to see you in heaven one day.
I am not writing this looking for sympathy. Most of the hurt is long since passed. I am writing this to tell you that out of deep personal pain God brought me here. He used that awful experience to teach me and to mold me. My life story is not complete without a mention of Paul and the impact he had on my life.
The temptation for the Church is to think their pastor does not have problems. After all, he spends all day reading scripture, praying and thinking deep thoughts about God. How could someone like that have any struggles? Well, my answer is simple – “I am a fallen individual who struggles in his relationship with God and other people just like everyone else.”
I admit …
1. I struggle with my faith. I don’t have all of the answers. There are things in the Bible that trouble me, passages I don’t understand and concepts that are hard to grasp.
2. I continually battle sin in my own life. If you knew all that I have said and done in my life you would not want me as your pastor. I sin. I repent. I sin some more. Once in while I overcome some type of sin to have it replaced by another. My struggle against sin is a real everyday battle.
3. I love and hate the Church. There are many wonderful people in the Church who do wonderful things … and then there are the other people. I admit I have seen and heard things that make me want to the leave the Church and never return.
4. Some people drive me crazy. I have known people who are selfish, self-centered, mean, abusive and all other sorts of evil who call themselves Christians. Even more people are half-hearted in their faith while trying to convince the world of their strong belief. I often think that God is making me a better person by having me deal with people who annoy me.
5. My relationships are not perfect. I am not a perfect pastor, husband, father or son. I have not figured out every aspect of how to be the man I am supposed to be. I try to do my best but continually see my shortcomings.
These are just some of my issues. I could spend all day listing off my failures, shortcomings and sins. In the end it accomplishes very little to keep beating myself up in public. I simplly tell you these things for two reasons.
One, I am a sinner saved by grace just like all of you. I need the gospel to save me. I need people to help me become who God wants me to be.
Two, I want you to remember that you are just a sinner saved by grace like me. You need the gospel and you need people to help you become what God wants you to be.
In a world filled with bad news and prophets of doom on Christianity and the Church I am taking a stand for something different. I am going to be thankful for the blessings in my life.
Today I am thankful for …
1. Sunday Worship. It was another great day of worship yesterday. I also enjoy the weekly opportunity to see my brothers and sisters in Christ. I am always encouraged, challenged and blessed by being together on Sunday mornings. Thanks to God for everyone who attends and is a part of this group.
2. My Church. I am a part of a Church of people who treat me like family. A little over a year ago I did not know anyone from Adrian Missouri and now they love and care about me. They laugh at my stupid jokes and they are understanding my struggles as a pastor, husband and spouse. I am blessed by being a part of the Church.
3. Our Youth Group. 21 teenagers and 3 sponsors headed out to the Christ In Youth Conference (CIY) yesterday. I am praying God will touch each of their lives for good. Then I pray they will have an impact on this Church and community. I am especially thankful for the people who took them (Ike, Jaron & Emily).
4. Air Conditioning. If you live around here that is “enough said.”
5. My family. I am blessed with great parents, a great wife and pretty good children. Everyday they make me smile, laugh, think and feel in a powerful way. I love them all.
6. God providing everything I need. Sometimes the money is tight but I have never had to go without food, clothing or shelter. So often I forget the little blessings.
7. The Power of the Holy Spirit. Each week He somehow takes the words from my mouth and touches someone’s life. Every week at least 1 person feels that God has spoken to them. Quite often it comes in conjunction with something they have already been studying, talking about or praying through. I am not smart enough to put everything together this way, it is truly the power of God.
8. Healing and Recovery. It is great that some of you have seen the hand of God in your life through times of personal struggle. Personally, I have watched my dad continue to get better and better since his stroke. It has been a blessing. I know some of you have told me of improvements in your health and current situations and I praise God for those.
9. People who willingly give their time to serve. Each week our Church is able to have a worship program, children’s Church, nursery, Sunday School, Greeters and a host of other activities because of people who donate their time to serving the Lord. I am deeply thankful for any person who gives their time in the service of the Lord.
10. Forgiveness through Jesus. I can never be thankful enough for all God has done for me through Jesus Christ. Each week I fall short of the glory of God. Every day my attempts at righteousness are like dirty rags. I need God’s grace and mercy every day and every week. I am so thankful that I am not held captive by guilt and shame. I praise God for his work in my life through Jesus.
This is a short list. I could go on and on. I am truly blessed and I thank God for all he has done for me.
What are you thankful for?
Here are some more good articles from the Internet that are speaking to me. Enjoy.
Homosexuality and the Biblical World View by Jack Cottrell
It will break. And you’ll need to fix it. (a great card over at indexed)
God encourages us in His word to “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” [Hebrews 10:24 (NIV)] As Church leader this is part of my job description. I am continually trying to motivate people to live the life God desires for them. A life filled with love of others and doing good deeds for them. In fact, just this morning my wife and I had a discussion of how we could get a couple to change their ways for the better.
The “how to” is usually the easy part. The hard part is getting people motivated to make the changes they need to make. How do you get people to do love and good works? The verse says we are to “spur” them. Usually we picture this to its western equivalent and try to motivate people by digging in our heels and making them surrender in mercy. I would suggest this is not exactly what the passage means or at least it is not limited to this one type of motivation. There are a variety of ways to motivate people whether you are a church leader, a parent, a coach or a boss at work.
1. Encouragement – As a parent I continually find myself telling my children, “You can do it.” As a church leader I am required to encourage people to step out in faith. A simple and kind affirmation of some people’s potential is all they need to motivate them.
2. Rewards – “If you do this you will receive this.” Sometimes it can be, “Since you have done this good thing I am now going to reward you.” Very frequently you can motive people to do almost anything just by giving them a simple reward.
3. Praise – Once a task has been completed a moment of applause can be the best feeling in the world. The words “thank you” are two of the most special words in the world. I can last for a week on a simple word of praise for a job well done.
4. Punishment – First you tell the person the punishment if they fail and then they live in fear of that consequence. Also, you punish the person for their wrong behavior so that they do not do it again. This can often be born out of anger over wrong behavior.
I know I could list a few other ways to motivate people but my bigger question is, “What motivates you?” What pushes you to do or even redo some good action?
The follow-up question is equally important; “What do you use to motivate others?” All of us have some basic tools that we go back to again and again. The hard part is that other people may be motivated by something different from you. Because of your background and personality you may be motivated by fear, but the people you are trying to motivate are challenged by praise. This gets difficult because you get angry and try to instill fear into people who are looking for praise and it is as if you are speaking different languages.
So I ask again, “What motivates you?” and “What do you use to motivate others?”
What is it like to visit a Church for the first time in your life?
What is it like to visit a Church if you have not been since you were a child?
What is it like to visit our Church for the first time?
These are vital questions all of us need to ask ourselves if we are serious about reaching people with the gospel through our Church.
I have an extremely difficult time answering any of these questions because I have attended Church my entire life. Now, I do have some insights because I have walked into 6 congregations in my life as a new minister. I have set in the crowd feeling the awkward moments of being unsure what is going to happen next. I have felt what it is like to not know where to go, when to sit or stand and should I participate or not?
As a result of my experiences and my desire to reach out to new people I have come up with three questions I need to be constantly asking myself.
1. What am I assuming the other person knows? I was talking to a visitor to our Church and I told them our nursery is attached to the fellowship areas. Sounds simple right? Then they asked, “What is a fellowship area and where is it?” Take time to explain everything in as much detail as possible. Many people have no idea what we do in Church on Sunday morning and I need to remember their unfamiliarity.
2. Am I using Churchy language? Inside the doors of a Church our vocabulary can become oriented for insiders while forgetting we are not all insiders. A “fellowship time” being done after the “invocation” that is followed by the “Doxology” can be confusing for the people who just walked through the “narthex.” Why can’t we just shake hands after we pray and before we sing a song of praise to God? It can be far less confusing to the new family who just walked through our lobby.
3. Will I choose clear or clever? Churches love to use clever names. Once in Iowa our new Church was given an old Church building. We tried to call it by all kinds of clever names only to discover people liked it most when we just called it “our building.” Calling the nursery, children’s ministry or teen group something clever is popular to Christians but it is not very clear to non-Churched people. Calling a part of your physical campus by a religious name sounds Godly but it can simply be confusing. Always choose clear over clever.
I believe one of the simplest things a Church can do to help reach new people is to continually try to think like a non-Churched person. This will help us eliminate boundaries and open up our faith to new people. The questions are not easy, but helpful.
I am not the world’s best communicator and I am affected by my introvert ways, but lately I have had a couple of conversations that were difficult. I do not mean they were full of difficult content; rather the person I was talking to was not a very good communicator. In fact, while they were babbling on and on I thought up a blog post that offers a little help in everyday communication.
1. Watch Body Language – When someone crosses their arms their guard may be going up against you and your ideas. When the other person starts moving toward the door the conversation is over. When the person leans in toward you that means they are listening.
2. Remove Distractions – This is not a rant against technology, but please put down the phone. When someone is talking and the other person picks up their phone and looks at it, they are basically saying I am not listening anymore. “But I can multitask!” Really? “Can you tell me anything that was just said 30 minutes from now?”
3. Listen Closely – One of the biggest communications problems all of us have is trying to think of what we are going to say in reply. Listen to what the other person says and worry about a reply later.
4. Ask questions – All of us have been in conversations where the other person clearly only wanted to talk about themselves. In those moments I cannot wait to get away from that person. A good conversation is a give and take. You listen, you ask and maybe you share.
5. Be Honest – Say what you mean and mean what you say. You do not need to exaggerate. You do not need to gloss over tough ideas and concepts for me. Just tell me the truth.
6. Go Old School – My teachers said repeatedly, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” It is still a good rule.
7. Drop the Useless Phrases – “You Know” or “Like” are conversation fillers that contribute nothing to good communication. Yesterday I heard a lady use the phrase “you know” after every sentence. Two thoughts kept coming to mind. One, someone please shoot me. Two, “No, I don’t know. That is why you are telling me this.”
8. Learn to tell a story – All of us know some bad storytellers. They take too long with the set-up. They focus on unimportant details. They have no resolution or conclusion. The ability to tell a good story in a powerful way is a tool that can fuel all conversations.
This is not an exhaustive list of ideas, but hopefully it will be of some help. Most of us think we are great at communication but the reality is that we all need some work – even me and yes, even you.
I know of a few people who love to quote scripture. They usually preface each statement with “Like it says in the Bible” or “As Jesus said one time” or some other set up to let you know that this is not their own idea. It usually sounds like a great addition to a conversation about spiritual things.
Through the years I have noticed a few problems I want you to consider.
1. Quoting the Bible in English is difficult. There are so many English translations that it is easy to mess things up. I used to tell people that my Sunday school teachers used King James Version, then my first Bible was New American Standard, and when I got to college they told me to use the NIV. As a result I can’t adequately quote a verse in English from one translation.
And while I am on this topic, I have to admit that after years of study most English translation have verses that are terribly done. This happens for several reasons ranging from theological presuppositions to just wanting things said for ease of understanding. This alone makes quoting scripture very difficult to do accurately.
2. Make sure you get the quote right. Jesus did not say “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” Paul did not say “Charity begins at home.” I have heard people say all kinds of things they thought were in the Bible and simply were not. If you are not 100% sure who said what and where simply do not claim it is in the Bible. Saying something is in the Bible or from Jesus and then getting it completely wrong is embarrassing.
3. Context is King. This is what my theological professor at college used to say. His point was that we can pull a passage of scripture out of its original context and completely miss the intended meaning.
For example, I once had a couple of teenage brothers who took the audio track from my sermons and cut them up on their computer and then pieced a bunch of random things back together. They took sermons about divorce, abortion, homosexuality and prayer and put them into a scary collage of me saying I was praying about cut up babies from my divorce to a homosexual. The sad part was that I said every word, but when taken out of their original context and put back together corruptly ended up saying something different than what I meant.
This may be a poor example but it is one of thousands that exist. Quoting a single verse of scripture can be a trap since we do not know the context. This can allow me to quote something completely wrong.
4. Search for deep meaning and not quick quotes. To get the most out of the Bible I encourage people to read large section and look for big meanings. If you want to quote the Bible then open an actual Bible and read a large section with another people. This is definitely more difficult but it is also far more productive.
I love the Bible. I love the fact that God communicated with us through an unchanging book of truth. I just don’t want to be guilty of misusing it to further my own thoughts and agenda. I don’t want you to uses it that way either.