Not Everything You Think is Right

Have you ever made a guess about something and been totally wrong?  I know I have.  A couple of weeks ago I made a guess about a meeting I was going to have.  I was just sure I knew what this person was going to ask and how they would react.  They came by the office and I found that I was 100% incorrect.  In fact, while I was talking to them I wrote a small note that simply said, “Not everything your think is right.”

Through the years I have seen people live large amounts of their life based on assumptions that they thought up.

-They didn’t speak to me because they are mad at me.  (Give it long enough and I will decide that they must hate me.)

-I know they will be mad if I ask them that.

-That person posted that on Facebook purposely trying to hurt me.

-I know my boss doesn’t like me because of the way he looks at me and his tone of voice.

-The people at Church don’t really care about me.  In fact, no one will care if I quit attending.

And on and on it goes.  We make decisions about other people, their emotions, feelings and attitudes without ever getting the facts.  Unfortunately, most of the time we are completely wrong in our conclusions.

So a couple things to keep in mind –

  1. Reject gossip. Don’t slander.  Don’t listen or speak evil of people.
  2. Get the truth when possible. In the Bible everything had to be established on 2 or 3 witnesses.  That is a great practice to establish.
  3. Talk to the person directly. Then believe what they say.
  4. Try to avoid projection. It is easy to project our feelings onto other people.  “I was hurt so you must have meant to hurt me” does not always logically follow.
  5. Be slow to speak and quick to listen. (James 1:19)

Ask yourself.  How many emotions have I attached to my own thoughts about something?  Not facts or conversations, but the thoughts that exist only in my head.  Just because you think that person hates you or loves you does not mean they do.

What if today you set out to seek the truth instead of following your own thoughts?  Would you ever be willing to admit that some of the things you think are wrong?

It is hard to do, but it usually very healthy.

Thank You Specifically

This week is Thanksgiving.  I have been reading several articles about being thankful and saying thanks. Some of these articles are divinely directed.  Many people, including myself, see this Thursday as an opportunity to thank God for all he has given to us.

The other group of articles is focused on the people in our lives.  These writers want us to focus our attention this this Thursday on the people who have blessed our lives and tell them thanks.  I am in total agreement that our gratitude needs expressed often.

There is one thing I learned a long time ago that none of these articles have contained.  Somewhere along the line I heard someone explain to me that for a compliment to be truly encouraging you need to be specific.  I honestly don’t remember who told me this information or where I heard it, but I know that is come home to me as truth.  Since that time I have tried to practice this advice every time I thank someone and it is always more effective.

For example:

Don’t say “Thanks.”  – Say something like, “Thank You for showing up and helping me rake my leaves.  It saved me a lot of time and I appreciate all you did for me.”

Don’t Text “Thanx.” – Text something like, “Thank you for staying in my life when others would have left.”

Don’t write “Thank You.” – Write something like, “Thank you for visiting me on my birthday and taking the time to visit with me.  I know you are busy and I really appreciate the time you gave me.”

Don’t email “I thank God for you.”  Email something like, “I thank God for the way you study and prepare for your Sunday school lesson each and every Sunday.  You have made an impact on my life and the life of others.  You truly are a blessing to me”

I believe that people like to hear statements of gratitude but they love it when they know why you are specifically thankful.

Dropping Your Guard

The Church is full of two types of people.

The first group always keep their guard up.  They don’t tell anyone about their personal struggles.  Their marriage will fall apart and they will never tell anyone.  Their addiction will destroy them and no one really knows.  They don’t want you to know that their children have made poor choices.  They are closed off to other people.  They don’t speak up, they rarely join the group and they run the moment someone gets close to them.

The second group shares almost everything.  Give them a minute of your time and they will end up telling you some about some dark corner of their life.  They will tell you things you are not ready to hear.  Nothing is off limits.  Conversations frequently end in tears and an awkward silence as people do not know how to respond.

The problem is that neither group ends up feeling the joy of their faith or comfortable in the community of believers.

Being a part of a community of believers is a give and take process.  We are called to share our struggles and we told to carry the burdens of others.  We must find a balance of openness in order for a community to work.

So here are two defining questions:

  1. Does anyone other than your spouse know your struggles?
  2. Do you know the struggles of anyone other than your own?

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A Monday Rundown

Before I do any regular writing this week I needed to run through several things.

1. It was great to have a full house yesterday for worship. If you have not heard Kenny Limpus collapsed during the sermon. That was a first time something like that has ever happened while I was preaching. In the end it all worked out and Kenny seems to be doing fine today and hopefully he will come home from the VA hospital.

2. Read the announcements in the worship bulletin. Every week the announcements in there are updated, changed and added to. I try to reduce announcements made before the program to 1 or 2 at the most. (And please don’t ask me to announce something a few minutes before worship.) Almost every week someone asks me a question about Church programs that were found in the bulletin. Do yourself a favor and read it!

3. There will be no RUSH youth group this Wednesday – Nov. 25. Our rule is “no school then no RUSH.” Remember this on snow days too. We will resume on Wed. Dec. 2 and 7:01.

4. Next Sunday November 29th –
— We begin a new sermon series entitled “The Nativity Set” (Relax, I am done talking about money)
— We will be collecting the baby bottles with donations for the Life Choice Center in the library.
— The “In His Steps” Sunday School class will be starting a new series of lessons on “Apologetics.” Those are lessons on the tough questions of the faith.
— After Sunday School we will be decorating the Church for Christmas. Please stay and help out if you are able. We will be buying pizza for lunch.

5. We are collecting items and donations for 8 children at Show Me Christian home over the next couple weeks. See Gwen Ford (or tell Matt and he will contact Gwen) if you have any questions or would like to help in any way.

6. Sunday December 20th the church will be having our Children’s Christmas program during our regular worship time. Be sure to come and support our kids. If you would like to help in ANY WAY you can contact my wife (Michelle) and let her know.

7. Our Christmas Candlelight program will be on Wed. December 23rd at 7:00 pm. Please note the date and time!

8. Membership Class will be Sunday January 31. I plan on starting at 5:30 pm and it will last about 2 hours. Mark calendars now and there will be a sign up sheet later.

9. This Thursday is Thanksgiving and the offices will be closed from Wed. afternoon through Saturday. Have a great break. I know I will:-)

10. Thanks to everyone for your support, encouragement, prayers and kind words over the last two weeks. Adrian Christian Church is a great group of people.

Whose Side is God On?

A few years ago I was reading in the book of Joshua and I noticed a verse that I had never noticed before. It has since lodged itself in my brain because this morning I was thinking about it after reading several news articles.

Joshua 5:13-14 (NIV) Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
[14] “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

Joshua is ready to go to battle and he encounters an angel from God.  When asked which side the angel was on he gives the most interesting response.  “Neither.”

It struck me.  God is not on one side or the other.

God is not more for Americans than any other place in the world. He has no national concern.
God is not more for Republicans or Democrats. He has no political affiliation.
God is not even more on the side of the Packers or the Chiefs. He has no limited sports preference.

God is on His side.  That is all.  God’s will supersedes all cultural, political, racial and economic barriers. He desires for us to worship Him alone!  And Joshua falls facedown to a messenger of the God of all the world.

Does God love me?  Yes!  In fact, He so loved “the world” that he sent his son for all of us … All of us!

The Pessimistic Side of Community

Today has been the best day of my week so far. My thoughts have turned from last week’s failures and refocused on the possibility of great things happening this coming Sunday. One big part of my emotional turnaround was the community of faith offering support and encouragement. As I mentioned yesterday my church has been a blessing to me getting my thoughts clear and seeing the good in my life.

Last night I was thinking about my whole experience and a light bulb came on in my mind. I could have easily seen this story from a completely different perspective. With little effort I could have seen the dark clouds behind the silver lining. So I started a mental list of all the ways I could have viewed this experience differently.

-Only 28 people made positive comments on Facebook about me. I serve about 250 people. That could mean that over 200 people really don’t care about me.
-No one showed up at my house weeping for my struggles.
-Some people I care about said nothing. Do they not care about me?
-No one showed up with gifts or food.
-No one from my high school Sunday school class did anything.
-My own children didn’t even notice how down I was on Sunday.
-I know people who were gone from worship last Sunday will be gone again this Sunday.

I could probably go on and on, but you get the idea.

Here is the point. If I am so inclined I can always find a reason to see the glass as half empty. If I am looking for more people to let me down, I will find them. If I think the Church generally doesn’t care about me, there is a lot of information that could support that theory.

One of the biggest problems that exist in any faith community is the ability to see the worst in any situation. There is the great possibility that all my negative thoughts about people will come true. If I look hard enough there is always a reason to be sad or mad.

Which view are you going to take? Is having one person showing encouragement and support enough? I can’t answer that for you, but your answer will determine whether you love or hate the Church.

The Blessings of a Community of Faith

The last week has been hard on me emotionally. I will not tell you everything that has been going on in my heart and mind but I will tell you that on Sunday I hit a low point. There were few people in worship and I thought the sermon did not go well. Then I taught Sunday School and the kids seemed bored. The rest of the day was spent mulling over my life and the events of the day. Finally on Sunday evening I sat down at my computer to catch up on the day’s events. On a whim I posted a statement on Facebook that simply said:

“Some Sunday mornings are energizing and exciting to me. This morning was a tough one for me. Still trying to shake it off.”

I was not quite prepared for what happened next. There were 28 replies to my original post. All of them were very supportive of me and my ministry. Some people emailed me personally. Some people stopped by the office on Monday. My elders encouraged me and prayed for me. It was an outpouring of love and support that brightened my day.

Last night as I lie in bed I was thinking about everyone’s kind words I had one clearly defined thought, “How do people get through life without a faith community? Yesterday I was clearly given three things by my Church.

1. Encouragement. The word encouragement means to give someone support, confidence or hope. While I felt bad about my leadership in the Church numerous people spoke about the difference I had made in their life. They gave me hope when I was feeling down.

Side Note – The best encouragement is specific. A personal story or comment takes it to a new level of helpful. (Thanks for sharing)

2. Prayer. Several people just let me know they were praying for me. This is frequently the best thing people can do. Whenever you do not know how to help someone, prayer is the answer.

3. Togetherness. Several people just reminded me that I am not alone. Everyone has a bad day now and then. All of us feel like a failure at one time or another. Most people have a day when they feel the weight of the world crushing them. It is good to know that other people have made it through tough days for the better and the same will happen for me. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just sit quietly with people and let them know you are there with them and for them.

The Church is a place where there are flawed people who gather in the name of Jesus. They make a lot of mistakes with each other that are sometime regrettable. Other times the Church is a place of support, encouragement and prayer. It is a group of people who help each other in their walk with God. The Church has been that for me. I hope that you find it that way for you too.

Attendance and the Heart of a Preacher

It happened again yesterday. Attendance in worship was way down. I have spent the last 24 hours thinking about it.

In the first day of a freshman practical ministry class I was told “Don’t evaluate your ministry effectiveness based on your Church’s attendance.” Every preacher knows that. Most of them parrot it over and over to themselves on Monday morning in order to keep their sanity. But if you want to know the truth – all of us still do it. Every minister I know has an intimate connection to the amount of people they serve each week. When attendance is up we feel confident and secure. When attendance is down we feel like a failure with little self-confidence. No matter how hard a preacher tries to tell you that is not the case, he is lying.

Before you hop to judgement there are some good reasons for this.

1. Preaching is Extremely Personal. I am not just teaching some facts, I am also sharing my life. This is what I believe. This is what I am trying to live every day. This is what I am being challenged by. I am sharing stories and struggles from my life. In part a rejection of Church is also a rejection of me.

2. The Gospel Message is Extremely Significant. At the end of the day I am not just trying to get people to buy another widget. I am not speaking to people just to encourage them. I am sharing what I believe is the life changing message of the gospel. I want people to hear and respond to Jesus and lack of attendance means that fewer people will hear the message. I believe heaven and hell are at stake an every person matters to God.

3. Spiritual Growth is Hard to Measure Any Other Way. A minister friend of mine was remodeling his house. I asked him about juggling work, family and the remodel. He told me that he found it energizing because when he did a remodeling project he could actually see something get started and bring it to completion. Then he added, “And I don’t get to do that in Church.”
Spiritual growth is hard to measure and it is never finished. I can measure Bible reading, prayer time, giving and service but I also have to include Church attendance. You can disagree with me, but in 23 years of ministry I have yet to meet one growing Christian who did not attend Church regularly. What I mean is that rarely is someone growing in the other measurable areas of spirituality without being a part of Church regularly.
I want to see people grow and attendance is one metric to show if I am doing my job well.

4. I Wonder Why People Are Not Here. Did I offend them? Do they need someone to talk to them or pray with them? Are they leaving the Church? Are they mad at me or someone in my family? Did I teach something wrong? What happened? People miss Church for legitimate reasons but some miss because of my past failures. The other possibility is that I am currently failing them as a pastor. These are personal questions that spin out of every empty seat on Sunday morning.

5. God Is Molding Me Too. I have to remember that God is teaching me in everything. That means when attendance is down I ask myself, “God, what are you trying to teach me?” That is a very personal question. Is he teaching me to trust Him more? Is He showing me my pride and arrogance in the past with present failure? Have I been trusting my own clever ideas rather than His spirit? Attendance numbers can be a reflection of my spiritual walk, that is something I can only evaluate through a week of prayer and reflection.

These are just a couple of the reasons that Sundays when attendance is down lead me into a self-doubt and insecurity. They lodge into a preacher’s brain and push him to ask question and evaluate everything. I know I was told not to do this, but I think I have good reasons. I do not want anyone to attend Church to make me happy, but when people attend Church to worship the Lord, it definitely makes me happy.


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