Start Somewhere

I once visited a local minister to talk about life as a pastor and the work going on in our churches. We were walking around the building and he proudly showed me his first ever Church newsletter. The Church had talked about having one for years and he had finally gotten his first one done.

I picked it up and quickly flipped through the pages. There were spacing and formatting errors that drive me crazy. There were a couple of typos and flaws. I politely pointed out a couple of the mistakes to him with the hope of helping him produce a better product.

He looked back at me and said something I will never forget. He said, “I know it’s not perfect, but you can’t improve on nothing.”

While his grammar might be confusing his point was clear to me. For years his Church had wanted a printed newsletter. He had taken the time to produce the best product he could. Finally they had a newsletter. There had once been nothing in existence and he finally had a product. There was a plan, a format and information ready to go. From now on he could focus his energy on making his newsletter better. The hardest part of his project was behind him – the work of getting started.

All of us in life and in our Churches have these grand dreams of all that we want to do for God. We have been putting it off for years because we were waiting for everything to be perfect. Honestly, it doesn’t have to be. Start somewhere and improve on that. After all, “You can’t improve on nothing.”

A Reflection on Sports With My Son

It is very late at night after my oldest son’s final basketball game. Actually it is early in the morning the next day and I still can’t sleep. My emotions are still running wild and my mind will not stop. I have been thinking about the first time my boy played organized basketball in 4th grade. I have watched him grow from an awkward little boy into a starter on his high school team. And tonight it all came to an end. Oh, I am sure he will play basketball again. He may play hundreds of games more in his life, but I will no longer be in the stands to cheer him on as my high school son. Tonight was a transition for both him and me and I have a few thoughts that I want to share.

1. Sports Provided Us With Many Great Memories Together. I have been with him as a parent and as a coach through everything. We were together for all the great moves, incredible shots and difficult losses. Tonight we spent just a couple of minutes sharing memories and stories and my heart was full as I thought of all of our times together. Sports may be a lot of things, but it is a great way to spend time together as father and son.

2. Sports Was a Family Affair. Through the years we have approached sports as a family. We spent time together as a family at practices, before games and after games. I am proud that my younger children have always had a great role model to look up to in their older brother.

3. Sports Helped Develop My Son’s Character. I firmly believe that faith and family are the greatest factors in a person’s development, but sports can help. My son has been shaped by learning to handle disappointment, criticism and one coach who was mean. He made friendships with players, celebrated the success of others and always been a good sport. I am not really sure if it developed his character as much as it gave him a chance to use all he was learning at Church and home.

I know tonight was just another game on the grand scale of things. It was just a sport with no real significance in the state of the world. But my world changed if only just a little. So as #42 walked off the court one final time I gave him a hug and said, “I love you son and I am very proud of you.”

I am thankful for all God has given my family through sports. I pray He will bless your family through whatever adventure you take with your children as He has blessed me.

The Other Disciple Named Simon

The Bible gives us a list of the 12 Disciples without much commentary. Names are listed as if we knew something about each one. In reality we only know a little bit about most of them and a couple we know almost nothing. One such disciple is known as Simon the Zealot.

The attachment of the name Zealot is a very specific historical reference. The Zealots were a group of fanatical Jewish Nationalists who were filled with hatred for the Romans. It was this hate for Rome that destroyed the city of Jerusalem. One historian says the Zealots were reckless persons, zealous in good practices but also in the worst kind of actions.

With that one paragraph I have just described everything we know about Simon the Zealot. There are no Bible stories about him. In fact there is no real extra-Biblical material about him. With most of the disciples we have some great story of faith and martyrdom associated with their death. Tradition says he died as a martyr and nothing more.

He lived as a Zealot. Then he followed Jesus. He eventually died for his faith in Jesus. That’s it.

There was another Simon that Jesus called to follow him. Jesus would change his name to Peter and he would become a spokesman for the disciples. He would make a great confession. He would be one of Jesus three closest disciples. He would deny knowing Jesus and be reinstated. He would preach on Pentecost. He would be pillar in the church and a great historical figure.

Two Simons. One well know and the other barely known. One a leader and the other a question mark.

I wonder, “Does that make Simon the Zealot insignificant?” I mean, “Did Jesus really need him as one of the twelve?”

Maybe the bigger question is this, “Does a life become more significant in God’s eyes by being famous?” “Does being known equal being significant?”

Unfortunately we live in a world with celebrity Christians. Religious leaders, government officials, entertainers and sports figures who claim to follow Jesus are headline news. In a quest to keep up with the crowd we boast of our service or charity on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram looking for some kind of acknowledgement. If people know what we are doing then we are somehow more significant to the kingdom of God.

I am convinced that the kingdom of God needs more people willing to be Simon the Zealot than Simon Peter. We need more people willing to serve far from the headlines and make a difference known only to God.

Having Jesus know our name makes us significant and nothing else.

The Food Network and Half the Truth

My wife loves to watch the Food Network. Since I love my wife I get to watch it too. After having seen several hours of cooking shows I am convinced that they are selling lies. Well, maybe not lies but rather only half of the truth.

Almost all cooking shows lead you to believe that you can become a great chef in half an hour. In reality the hard work of great food is a much longer process. For example, my wife once saw a recipe while we lived in Alaska that required vanilla beans. We searched every local market and found that they do not even sell them where we live. When we finally did find them at a store a long distance away we found the price to be outrageous. Great food requires you to have a good source of food. That alone can take hours of shopping and create a large expense.

The second problem that I see on TV is that the lady on the show walks to the refrigerator where everything is clean, cut, measured and ready to cook. Anyone who has worked in the kitchen knows that it takes far more time to do food prep than to actually cook. For example, I love to fry fresh fish that I catch. I know it will take me an hour of prep time to cook a single plate of fish.

Finally comes the clean up. Has anyone ever seen a TV cook actually scrub and wash dishes? It will sometimes take us longer to clean up after a meal than it did to cook and eat it.

For anyone who lives in the real world the cooking shows on TV are less than half truth.

My fear is that the Church can come off the same way. We have our hour of worship on Sunday. In that time the preacher gives us a 30 minute sermon and makes the Christian life sound so easy. We meet people who seem to have it altogether and they make everything look so easy. Honestly, the reality is far from what we see on Sunday morning.

To have a living, growing and fruitful spiritual life you are required to spend hours studying, reading, praying, meditating and fellowshipping. The hard work behind the scenes is what will make everything work. The daily grind of the spiritual disciplines are the key to a great life. The weekly commitment to worship and instruction are the vital prep work to a Christian life. The clean up of pouring out our heart in forgiveness and love after making mistakes is what makes us into better people.

A wonderful life of faith may look easy on Sunday but it is really the result of a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes.

Each day I might want to take a shortcut and buy a prepackaged meal, but it will just not taste the same as a quality made product. Something that is easy to make and something that are high quality are rarely synonymous.

I Once Could See But Now I’m Blind

It was 9 years ago that I started having severe pain behind my eyes. It would gradually get worse as the day went along. After talking with a doctor I went to an optometrist who ran several tests on my eyes. He determined that my vision was impaired and my eyes were staining to see the words as I read. Since I read a lot of material through the day my problem was getting worse the more I read. His simple solution was glasses.

Now he warned me that my eyes had probably been getting worse for years and when I started wearing glasses my eyes would finally relax. The end result is that my prescription would increase dramatically over the next couple years. He was right my eyes quickly became worse and it didn’t take 5 years before I was in bifocals.

For the last several years I have been able to occasionally remove my glasses and still read items if I varied the distance from my face. Well, last night I had taken my glasses off for bed and one of my boys needed some medicine. I went to the cabinet and took out the bottle. To my surprise every word was blurry and no matter how I adjusted the bottle it wouldn’t come clear. Finally in frustration I went to get my glasses just to make sure I was reading the pill bottle right.

After this experience I flopped down in bed realizing that my vision was gone. I could no longer see well enough to do even minor activities without my glasses. What once was in sharp focus was now lost into a lifetime of blurry.

This led me to thinking about the Apostle Paul. In the story of his conversion from Judaism to Christianity he sees the Lord on the road to Damascus. He speaks with the Lord and then something interesting happens. He had something form over his eyes like scales and he was blind for three days (Acts 9:9).

I really wonder why God made him blind. Couldn’t he just have seen a vision and then went on with his life? Why make Paul blind?

Here is my conviction: God wanted to teach Paul to depend on something other than himself.

For three days he sat in darkness knowing that he would need the help of someone to lead him out of this situation. Finally Ananias comes to him and gives him instructions on the next step of his journey of faith. And at that moment he is ready to listen. Paul knew he needed guidance in his life, because he was blind.

I think that sometimes God steps into the mess we have made of our lives and shows us a way out. Also, sometimes He comes in and makes a mess of our lives so that we learn to depend on Him. To say it another way, “Sometimes he makes the blind to see and sometimes he makes people who see become blind.”

Through the years of my decreasing sight I have learned total reliance on my glasses. If my glasses are missing I need someone to help me read anything. I have learned dependence because of my weakness.

What if God were trying to do the same thing to you? What if He was frustrating your plans so that you would learn to depend on him? What if your biggest struggle was the place God was trying to do his biggest work?

I Did That Once

When I was little my parents taught me a phrase that has been invaluable to my life. It is possible you have heard it too but it bears repeating. “If at first you don’t succeed; try, try again.”

This one little statement implied that some of my ventures in life were not going to be successful. In light of that reality I had the choice to either give up or try again. This phrase also underlined the importance of perseverance. There is the possibility that some things in life take more than one effort to master. Quite often we need to just get up and dust ourselves off and repeat the process until we can complete the work.

I don’t know if people still use that phrase. I don’t know if people still believe it. I am really beginning to wonder if Church people have thought, “It’s not in the Bible so it must not be true.” I say this because over the last two months I have asked people to get involved in Church, to step out in faith and use their gifts for God and I was great with a blank stare. Then I was told, “Well, I tried that once.”

Every time the person gave me that similar response they acted as if they had just given the decisive argument in the debate. They had said something that I could not argue with and clearly explained their lack of action. Meanwhile in the back of my head all I could hear was “If at first you don’t succeed; try, try again.”

Well, I am here today to tell you that nothing in life worthwhile comes easy. In fact most of the really important things require a great effort. The best things only come after getting up after falling down over and over. Just because you failed once or even twice in trying to accomplish something great does not mean that you will never be able to do it.

Please, I am begging you to try, try again.

Texts I Regularly Send My Boys

I hesitate to write this post. I really don’t want it to seem like self-glorification. But lately I feel like I need to share something that I have done for years with my four boys. All of them are teenagers and as they have gotten older they have each received their own phone. I know a lot of parents bemoan modern technology and all the evils that come with it. I completely understand that thinking. In my mind there is also a great upside to technology – mainly that I can communicate with my children anytime and anywhere. In my mind why not use your phone for something good.

With that in mind I want you to know a few things I text my children regularly.

1. I Love You. Honestly, I don’t think any child care hear that phrase enough. They may get tired of it in some ways, but the meaning will last a lifetime.

2. I Am Very Proud of You. I send them this text after every big effort they make in life. I send it after their grades come out, after they sing in Church and after games. It doesn’t matter if they win or lose.

3. I Am Praying For You. I literally pray for my children every day. Occasionally God “puts it on my heart” to let them know that truth.

4. I Am Glad You Are My Son. I really can’t believe God has allowed me to be a part of these wonderful children’s lives. I am blessed beyond words.

5. I Hope You Have a Great Day. I believe that everyone gets down and they long to know that someone is rooting for them.

When it is possible I try to send them specific notes of encouragement but whenever my children cross my mind I drop them a text and let them know. Maybe you should do the same.

A Road of Failure

I was watching one of my favorite preachers on the internet. I happen to also go to college with him for a couple of years. Right now he is a speaker and leader at one of the largest Independent Christian Churches (a Church like mine) in America. What might surprise you is that he is that he was a pretty good basketball player. I think he had dreams of a college scholarship and outside hopes of a pro career. He might be a great preacher but he is a failure as a basketball player.

One of the very best preachers I have ever heard was a college professor. Several times he tried to be the pastor in a local congregation but was unsuccessful. He might be a great professor, but he was a failure as a pastor.

The guy who does my taxes is one of the best in the world at minister’s taxes, but apparently he didn’t last long in his military service.

As I review the people in my life I realize that everyone I know who has been a great success in one area of life has often been a huge failure in many other areas.

I believe the journey of following God in your life is filled with closed doors, missed opportunities and repeated failures. Don’t let those discourage you. Those are often the tools God uses to mold and shape us into the people He wants us to be.

I have to continually remind myself of this truth in my own life but also in the lives of those around me, especially my children. A road of failure can be the highway to God’s plan for a life.

The Effects of Bad Weather on Church

I have never read an article on the topic of weather and the Church so I think it is time one pastor spoke up. This past Sunday morning at 4:30 am I heard the rain and ice beating against my window. I went and looked outside to see the conditions and then checked the weather app on my phone. Ugly weather with ice was the forecast. I might as well have gotten up then because my sleep was interrupted a dozen times with each sound as I checked the window and my phone.

Let me tell you straight up, even if it means a Sunday off, every pastor I know hates bad weather weekends. Let me tell you why:

1. Canceling Church is a high stress decision. We only get 52 Sundays a year. Every Pastor understands the importance of each worship meeting. Missing one is a hard call because you can’t just make it up at a later date. I usually consult 6-8 people to get their insights.

2. There is a lot to consider. Many people just tell me to have a program and whoever shows up will be blessed. Well, it is not that simple. My first concern is people’s safety. We have several senior adults and I would hate for them to get out in bad conditions. Some will try if they know we are having Church. My second concern is for the program we will offer. Gone are the days when a piano and a preacher were all you needed. We need people to run the sound and PowerPoint. We need people to play music and lead it. We need nursery and children’s lessons. We are a Church of around 165 people on an average Sunday and we need about 20 people to make everything happen. In bad weather I wonder if everyone will be able to make it happen. One missing piece can equal disaster.

3. Canceling Church does not equal a free week off. Canceling one Sunday equals a couple extra days of work and often a week of work lost. This is true for me at least. I have every Sunday planned in detail for 6 month and planned in part for another 6 months. These plans include holidays and special events. Every week is put together with a bigger picture in mind. When I cancel a Sunday I have to replan everything. For example, this Sunday was Valentine’s Day. I had a special sermon planned with gifts for a few married couples. If we canceled, I can’t just preach it the next week. If I did move it back I would have to replan my Flannel Graph Jesus series that is starting next Sunday and leading up to Easter. Do you cancel a sermon on marriage or Jesus? Hum … tough call.

4. Canceling Church kills momentum. Having a small worship program usually does the same. When a sermon series is going well and people are excited about Church one bad Sunday throws everything off. Thankfully with the internet my sermon can still be posted for people to listen to later, but it is not the same. Also, for some Churches one Sunday without an offering is devastating.

5. Personally, I hate not having Church. I love Sunday mornings. I love the fellowship, the singing, the learning and communion. I want to be at worship if it is humanly possible. But I know there is far more to consider than just my own personal feelings.

Throughout my 20 plus years of ministry I have had to cancel Church about a dozen times. Each time has been a hard decision to make on every level. Thankfully this past Sunday we were able to have a later program and several people showed up. Hopefully that will be the last bad Sunday of this winter, but I know more days will lie ahead. I still pray they are a long way off.

More Great Reading

Some people are going to have a little longer weekend because of President’s Day on Monday. Not me, but some people do. I thought I would share a few of my favorite articles I have read in the past two weeks. Enjoy.

5 Steps to Recovery from a Failure

I Love My Church

Four Reasons I Love the Church Unapologetically


5 Quirky Things That Are Way Too True About Church Life

What Your Wife Really Wants for Valentine’s Day Sorry this is a day late, but still good info for everyday.

Don’t Play Travel Ball: Stay in the Rec League
This is a wonderful article for all Christian parents of young sports enthusiasts.

The thrill is gone

Finally is a great video from Josh Shipp – Every Kid is ONE Caring Adult Away From Being a Success Story