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.

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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

10 MIS-PERCEPTIONS LAYPERSONS HAVE ABOUT PASTORS

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

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

All of us are looking for a quick fix. I want it today. Really, I want it now.

After 44 years on this earth I have come to realize that almost anything worthwhile takes time. This is equally true if you want a great mind or a great body or even a great spirit. Through the years I have watched people walk in the doors of the Church and hope to put their marriage back together and they want it by next month. I have had numerous teens that come to youth group and want deep relationships within 3 or 4 visits. I have watched people come looking for moral teaching for their children and give up after a year.

Unfortunately, none of those things work that way.

I firmly believe that healing for your marriage, great moral teaching for children, deep relationships and a of life transformation only come after a long period of repeated action. Eugene Peterson once wrote a book I read (now I forget almost all of it) entitled “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.” I do remember that his point was simple; to develop a deep spiritual life you need to continue doing the same things day after day, month after month, year after year, and decade after decade.

The two simplest principles I know for real change: Start today. Don’t ever give up.

The Lenten Season Begins

I did not grow up in a Church that celebrated religious holidays other than Christmas and Easter. With that said, today is Ash Wednesday or the first day of Lent. After reading that piece of information on the internet several times this morning I set out to find out more about this religious practice of which I know very little.

1. Lent is the 40 days before Easter (not counting Sundays – so it is actually 46 days long) This year Easter will fall on March 27th
2. Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten, which means “spring.”
3. The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.
4. Yesterday was Mardi Gras. The word Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday.” It is a day of celebration with feasting and partying before the religious seriousness begins. The idea was to spend a day of indulgence before a period of denying yourself.
5. Today is Ash Wednesday. Church leaders will take the palm branches from last year’s Lenten season and burn them to get ashes. A member of the clergy will then take those ashes and put them on the forehead of a Church member. It appears to be a symbolic reminder of man’s mortality and God’s solution in Jesus.
6. The original idea of the season as to set aside time for repentance, fasting and prayer leading up to Resurrection Sunday.
7. Most of these traditions are attributed to the Catholic faith in origin but some orthodox Churches also have it as part of their history.

The follow-up question for me is, “What do I think about this tradition?”

Well, there are two sides to that answer.

One, I see no Biblical reason to celebrate this season of Lent. There are no verses that talk about Lent, Fat Tuesday, Ash Wed. or any part of this holiday season. It is clearly an invention of the early Church to put a greater emphasis on the season in which we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Since there is no Biblical mandate to observe such a season then Christians are not required to keep it.

In Colossians 2:16 and Galatians 4 (especially vs 10), Paul explains that we have to be careful of believing that keeping a special religious holiday makes us right in God’s eyes. We are not saved by our righteous acts of worship but by Christ alone. Let no one enslave you to human traditions.

Two, I do not see that there is any harm in celebrating the Lenten season if it is done for the glory of God. In Romans 14:5-6 say that if one man considers a day as special it is okay as long as he does it for the Lord. It would probably benefit everyone if they spent a season of prayer and fasting this spring.

So today as people celebrate Lent and you see ashes on people’s head, hopefully you will have a better knowledge of what they are doing and why. May this day and everyday be a day for the glory of God.

A Simple Approach to Church

One problem that many Churches fall into is trying to have too many programs. We want to have programs for every holiday and season along with every age group. There are two side effects that happen when a Church tries to over-program.

First, volunteers are worn out. Volunteers are giving time to the Church over and over again. Sometimes this group is only 20% of the total Church attendance. If that is true then every new program drains the people in this group of servants.

Second, you can wear people out for no reason. I firmly believe that the Church is not here to provide wonderful programs for every age and holiday. The Church is here to take people who are not believers and help transform them into fully devoted followers of Jesus. The end goal is not activity but transformation. Unfortunately many Church have for more activity than they have discipleship. People run from this program to that program and never really grow in their faith.

As a result of seeing these two problems I have encouraged people to think of Church in more simple terms. To grow as a believer there are only a few simple things I want each person to do.

1. Worship Regularly – I believe each person needs to worship in a community of believers on a regular basis. I would love for this to be weekly, but some people are required to serve during worship once a month so they cannot be in worship. I do think that the more you worship the greater possibility of growth.

2. Connect Regularly – Each person needs to be a part of something that helps them to connect with other believers. This could be Sunday school or a small group. It can be as simple as meeting with a couple other believers over coffee on a weekly basis. Do something that will allow you to fellowship on a deeper level with a few other followers of Jesus.

3. Serve Regularly – Everyone in the Church needs to use whatever gift God has given them to share the grace of God in some way. I would love to see everyone serve in some way once a week, but for many people twice a month is more realistic. Serving will stretch each person in their faith as they serve while blessing other people in the name of Jesus.

4. Give Regularly – The Bible talks more about money that almost any other topic. I think the cross and the love of God are the biggest subjects that the Bible addresses with money coming in third. I think this happens for a very practical reason. One of the biggest obstacles between man and his relationship with God through Jesus Christ is money. Giving, whether it be monthly or weekly, frees the grip money has on our hearts and teaches us to rely on God. Giving is an enormous step in our path to growth in Jesus.

Growing in Jesus is not a commitment to attend Church functions every time the doors are open. It is a commitment to doing a few simple actions over and over. This may sound easy but I promise you it will take the rest of your life to understand it.

Three Words for a Better Marriage

I wanted to do a quick recap of yesterday’s sermon. I hope you find it as helpful as I originally found it to be for me.

Yesterday I preached a sermon about the expectations of marriage. There is a possibility that each one of us brings a box load of desires into a marriage and then we dump them on our spouse. We expect them to meet all of us desires and are disappointed if they fail. This creates a “debt/debtor” relationship which impacts the way we view our spouse and their actions.

The first step toward improving your marriage is to develop a Christ-like perspective. This is the perspective that says I will put others above myself because of my faith in God. This is hard to do but makes our marriage a living example of the gospel.

The second step is to begin communicating about our expectations. This takes a simple concept and grounds it in real life actions.

I want you to remember these three key words –

1. Share
Share your struggles with expectations with your spouse –
– Maybe that means saying “I am sorry that I placed all my expectations on you.”
– Maybe that means you say, “I feel like you crushing me with your expectations.”

2. Ask
Ask one vital question: “What can I do to make our marriage more enriching?”
It is a simple way of saying, “Share one of your desires with me that I can help fulfill.”

3. Reward
The biggest words you can say are “Thank you.” Thank you, that meant so much to me. Thank you for doing that thing I love.
Please note, this can be words spoken face to face, in a card or shown in a reciprocal action. You bless your spouse as you have been blessed.

All married couples struggle but the smallest of actions can change our experience. I firmly believe if two people try their best to connect with each other verbally and let that flow into their actions then marriage will be the most enjoyable part of life.