The Whole Story is Important

All of our stories need context.

Imagine you go to the store and you start talking to a person you know. You are not close but you see each other occasionally. You start talking about your children and their achievements and suddenly this lady starts crying. You are not sure how to react. You end the conversation and think, “Wow, she is overly emotional.”

Now a week goes by and it becomes public knowledge that her son has made some terribly poor life choices. He was caught again and this time he will be going to jail for 3 years.

Does your attitude about that lady and that first experience change?

Now imagine a person you encounter at work. You try to tell them about Jesus and Church while they shake their head in disbelief. They tell you they once went to Church and then they grew up, went to college and got an education and they gave up on all that religious stuff.

Is it important that this coworker went to a Church that rarely taught them the Bible? Is it important that while they claim to have gone to Church a lot, that they really only went once a month or less? This person never went to youth group or a conference. They had little to no spiritual influence through their parents. Does any of that change their story? Does it matter that they went to an extremely liberal university? Does it matter that they didn’t ever go to Church during college? Is it important that they had no spiritual connections while on campus? Are those important parts of the story?

Let me go one level higher. You read a book where an author makes all kinds of religious claims. I think their life and background story are important. Maybe you read a book that makes claims against religion. I think the context of the author’s life is important.

You need to be very careful about taking anything today at face value. One of the reasons I share my life story in my blog on in my sermons is because I want people to know the context of my life when they hear my words. In fact, one of the things I love about ministering in a small community is that people get to know my story. The story matters to the message.

When you encounter a person who behaves in an unpredictable way with either tears or anger, what would happen if you found the context of their life? Would it change your thoughts about them?

What if the next time you read a story, an article or even a nonfiction book you asked, “What is the context from which this was written.” Would you hear the words the same way? Would you hear the solid truth and be able to separate it from the biased information?

The context of our story is important. All of our stories need context.

The Fuel of Faith

Recently I have been helping teach teenagers in both Sunday school and youth group about similar topics. We have been exploring questions about faith. Questions like “Is there a Hell?” Or “Why is there pain and suffering?” I have been a part of some great discussion and lessons over the past several weeks.

In this teaching exploration I have been continually reminded that questions about our beliefs are the fuel of faith. If we allow our questions to push us toward real answers, no matter how difficult to understand or accept, then our faith grows. Questions are not the absence of faith but the soil in which it grows.

With that said, let me give you a few thoughts on finding answers to the questions of faith.

1. There are answers out there somewhere. Your questions are nothing new. Man has been asking some of the same age-old questions since the beginning. Someone has written down their answer or made a video. When you have questions allow them to push you to find the answer.

2. Don’t accept the first answer as final. Sometimes the first answer you find is right but sometimes it is not. I get real nervous when someone says that a single book shaped their thinking.

3. Read everyone, trust no one. I know this sounds cynical .. and it is. Listen to a multitude of voices. This is important because everyone sees the world through their own set of lenses. Some people hate Jesus and some love him. Some people have studied deeply and others have not. In an information age we need to take everything with a grain of salt so to speak.

4. Discuss your thoughts with other people. Talk out your questions and your thoughts with other people in various settings. Talk to old believers, new believers, former believers, and non-believers. Work through your thinking out loud and listen to what other people have to say.

5. Learn to accept unanswered questions. I do not have all of my questions answered completely. Unfortunately the Bible does not answer everything. At the end of the book of Job God shows up. Job has been questioning his pain and suffering while his friends try to console him. God shows up and asks Job question after question. Job could not answer any of his questions. The point is simple, there are lots of unexplained things in our life and most of them we have just learned to accept. Faith is saying, “I don’t have all the answers but I have enough to hold onto my beliefs.”

Through the years I have found answers to many of my questions and my faith has grown exponentially. I have also been able to answer some questions and yet my faith continues to grow. I firmly believe that those questions you have hidden in your mind will help you, if you let them.

What I Love and Hate About Baseball

I am not a fan of baseball. I have watched a few games through the years and I have developed this love and hate relationship with the game.

What I hate about baseball the most is the fact that they play 162 games in a season. The season lasts forever. As a result a team can lose a lot of games and still make the playoffs. Last year the world series champion KC Royals ended the season with a 95-67 record. That means that more than one third of the time they took the field the team lost.

Then there are the players. I great hitter bats between 300-400. That means they only hit the ball three out of ten times at bat. In other words, seven times they walk to the plate and do not get on base. And those are the great players. An average to poor player has lower numbers, that means he hits less than two times for every ten trips to the plate.

I hate that. I want superior performance.

What I love about baseball is that they play 162 games. A team can lose a game and it will not derail their season. Last year’s best team lost 67 games in their season.

And then there are the players. They hit the ball only two or three times for every ten times they walk to the plate. They can get our seven times and still be great.

I love that. I love the ability to fail and still win.

I find that baseball closely resembles life more than other sports. Life is not a short season where every tiny event matters. Life is about stepping up to the plate and getting out over and over. It is about losing repeatedly in spite of our best efforts. The hope is not that we will never lose or strike out, the hope is that we will win more than we lose and occasionally we will get on base. Life is about forgetting the last at bat and the last lost and pushing forward.

Maybe you are going through a tough period in your life. Everything seems to be going wrong. Don’t give up. Today might be the day you get a hit. Step up, take your swings and remember that even the greatest players get out a lot and the best teams lose almost as much as they win. Today might be your day. If not, then maybe tomorrow. Keep swinging. Good things will come eventually.

You Will Find a Way …Or Not

For most people life is really about finding things to confirm what we already want to do.

Imagine you have plans for Saturday and then someone offers you free box seat tickets for the game. What do you do? Most people will change their plans. They will explain it to their children or they will make calls all night and find a way to get there.

Flip that over. On Saturday you have plans to work on your lawn. You really don’t want to. Then you get a call inviting you to a distant relative’s second grade piano recital (insert your own undesired event). Suddenly the lawn work sounds wonderful and you simply cannot go to the recital.

You will find a way to do the things you really want to do. And you will find a way not to do the things you really don’t want to do.

This is true in every area of life. Even in our spiritual life. We will find a way to do the things we really want and we will find reasons not to do the things we don’t.

There are two reasons I tell you this. One, you can stop lying to yourself about how busy you really are all the time. You will find the time if you want to. Also, you can stop lying to other people (like me). Everyone knows the truth.

Second, I find that the times I grow the most in life, especially my spiritual life, are when I do the things I do not want to do. When I make time to teach that class, attend that event, listen to that speaker or do that service, it often proves to be the most valuable thing I do. I think that is because doing things we do not want to do stretches us. It stretches our faith. It forces our mind open.

Resistance is usually a sign that I need to grow in that area. Sometimes the best thing to do is the most difficult.

My Biggest Concerns for the Church Right Now

Numerous issues make headline news for the Church: Churches are closing, gay marriage, refugees, the role of women, and the next political candidate. Over the last two weeks I have read several articles on all of these issues. Writers make each of these issues seem like they are the biggest threat to the Church.

Honestly, I am not fighting any of these battles in my small town Church. My concerns are different from those making the national spotlight.

I am concerned about …

1. The Lack of Committed Volunteers. Many of us grew up in a Church with people like Virginia. Virginia was a saintly yet firm older woman who taught Sunday school to 5th and 6th graders at my Church for 40 plus years. Almost everyone my age and older can remember that man or lady who never missed Church and served thanklessly for years. Everyone knew grandma so and so as the most Godly person in their Church. She was a role model that everyone both admired and respected.
The hard truth is I see almost no one who is like that today. Very few people teach for longer than their own children are in that age group. If someone serves more than five or ten years at one position then they quickly describe themselves as “burned out.” I am concerned about what the lack of committed volunteers is doing to the next generation.

2. The Lack of Strong Men to Lead. If you were to look around the Church where I serve you would find a lot of men. But ask one of them to step up and lead and their attitude is clear. “Oh, not me.” Its seems most men are afraid to take a stand and do something for the Lord. I think there are a lot of reasons for this that I will save for a later blog. I can just say that I think most men are scared. Where are the men who will serve in spite of their fears because this is the Lord’s work? My biggest concern is that in time the Church will run out of men who are strong in their faith. Where are the strong Godly men that are willing to lead the Church?

3. The Lack of Church as a Priority. Let me ask you, “If this Sunday morning you had a choice between a family gathering, a team game, some other social activity or Church. Which would you choose?” For most people the Church is reserved for the days they do not have any other activity. The odd dynamic it is creating is that the Church has more people than ever before. Attendance might even be increasing. But many of those families are only coming once a month. Each week is a different collection of people who are not busy that particular week and decide to show up. The end result is community is lost and Christian relationships are shallow.
Honestly, I could care less about attendance numbers. I really mean that. It is great to see an increase because that means more people, but if those people are not getting connected to other believers and not being discipled, then the end result is failure. I am concerned that most people are not experiencing Church as God has designed it.

These are some of the biggest issues that concern me. Sadly, I do not read many, if any, articles that are addressing these issues. So I am throwing my words out into the world. I hope it will lead other people to think and possibly start a dialog about the changes the Church needs to make to address these issues.

Divine Appointments

It is extremely hard to see in the moment. We can understand it a little better in hindsight, but only if we look closely. I am not sure we will ever completely understand it on this side of heaven. You see, I believe there are numerous things that happen in our life that I call “Divine Appointments.”

There are those incidents that are beyond comprehension. Someone walked into your life at just the right time. Someone did something at just the right moment that changed your life. Someone said the right word that really helped. Someone stepped up to help and it made all the difference to your life.

Do you know those moments I am talking about?

When my friend was killed in a tragic accident I received a phone call while I was home alone. I was still sleeping on a Sunday morning before I would head out to second service at our Church. My parents were in first service. After getting the word I loaded up and quickly drove to Church to tell them. While there crying uncontrollably in the lobby a young lady put her arm around me and kissed me on the cheek and quietly said, “We love you.” She was the wife of our summer youth intern at the Church and I do not know her name. Apparently she had lost her best friend at college the previous year and was still hurting from her loss. In that moment she felt my pain and comforted me with a kind and understanding word. In less than a month she was back at college with her husband and they were both lost to me forever. But that one kind word carried me through a funeral and through one of the darkest times of my life. Honestly, I like to think of her as God’s messenger sent there just for me.

I believe that was just one of the times that God put everything together in a perfect way to help me in my walk of faith. There have been several times when I could see the hand of God working in my life through a particular person. Each time was an incident in which God did his work through the people he put into my life. I think they were pre-arranged as a divine appointment.

Every time I think about the people the God has sent into my life I have to follow that up by thinking of the people whose lives I have affected. I really don’t have names and stories of all the times I might have been a blessing. Sometimes I don’t know that I have ever filled that role completely, but I hope I did. My final thoughts always have to land on a question, “Who will be thankful for me today?” Into whose life has God placed me to be a blessing today? I may never really know, but I can live today as if each encounter was put together by God and let Him use me in ways I will never fully comprehend.

My Life is a Mess

You cannot tell it by looking at me. You might not know it to talk to me. But if you could spend an extended period of time with me you might start to get the idea. Spend a day inside my head and you would be certain of it. I am a 100% verifiable mess.

As proof I offer these open-ended statements: I say the wrong thing frequently. I don’t take things seriously enough. I lust. I feel greed. I don’t really care for most people. I tend to avoid conflict even when needed. I keep my mouth shut. I shoot off my mouth and embarrass myself. My thoughts are not always Godly. I occasionally let a “bad word” slip. My prayers are too short. My understanding is too limited. I know I could do better, but many times I just don’t do it. I really wish I was a better person.

Do you ever feel the same way? One thing I have learned from doing counseling is that most people feel like they are a mess too. They are not proud of all their thoughts and actions.

The good news for believers is that we believe in a God of second chances. The title of my blog is a foundational statement for me. I believe in a God who shows us new mercies every morning. I believe the Church is a place for people to preach and to hear of our gracious God. I want to be a pastor of second chances.

But the good news is more than just that basic truth. The good news is that we do not have to remain the same. We can be transformed in our thinking and our way of living. You see, while I openly admit that my life is not all that I might hope it to be, I also know that I am not what I once was. God has taken my life and been slowly transforming me into a new person. I often think that the transformation would go better if I did less fighting against His work. But still God continues to mold me and shape me. He continues to teach me and transform me. My mess is getting smaller as he continues to clean me up.

Some days I just have to thank God simply for his grace and mercy. Other days I need to be remind of the transformation He is bringing about in my life. Maybe a true measure of faith is not just where we are now but how far we have come.

Changes You Need to Know at Adrian Christian Church

I do not usually focus my blog just on issues at the Church I serve because I have people who read it all over the country. But today I am going to make an exception. There are several things going on at Adrian Christian Church that you might need to know about wherever you live.

1. Children’s minister – In case you have not heard, the Church approved at our annual meeting to hire a full-time Children’s Minister. We have been spreading the info online and have received a couple of resumes. Please be in continual prayer about this as Jaron Scott (our college help) will be done on April 24th. (Please share your appreciation with Jaron for his work)

2. Building Use – due to several concerns about use of our facility we have decided to move from a public use facility to a private use facility. That means that all of the members and frequent attendees at ACC can use the building anytime it is available at no cost. A member must be present and accept all responsibility for damages. The other side is that we are no longer renting out our facility to anyone who requests it.

3. Building repair – because of hail and high winds over the last 14 months the church has settled with the insurance and the leadership has accepted a bid to replace our roof. Our new roof with new gutters and down spouts will be going up in the next couple months.

4. Membership Class – We are moving to a format that requires all new members to go through the membership class. This is also a great class for anyone who attends ACC. It covers the basics of faith along with some of the plans for our Church. Next one is April 24th and it will be the last one till early fall.

5. Invitation Time – The elders and I have been in continual prayer and discussion about this portion of our program each Sunday morning. We have a couple hopes: First, if you are interested in making Jesus your Savior please attend our membership class. Second, you can visit with any of the leaders at any time to discuss a decision about following Jesus. Almost everyone who comes to the front during invitation time was completely expected. Third, if you need to make changes in your life our elders will gladly meet with you to pray anytime, especially at the end of our worship program. The elders and I have decided that we do NOT want the end of our program to be an “open mic” time for anyone who wants to speak.

6. Baptismal Robes – The board approved and I have purchased new, super nice, non-see through baptismal robes. That coupled with the fact that our baptism is always full and warm will allow us to have a baptism at any time. We are ready when you are:-)

7. CIY – Our annual trip with teenagers to the Christ in Youth conference is now considered one of our missions. Each year we take several non-Christian teens on this trip for a week and we felt it was more than just a fun time as many commit their lives to Jesus there. Making it a mission means we will no longer be doing a bunch of fundraisers each spring but rather we will be supporting this work from the general budget.

Last night our leadership met for about three hours to discuss the Church, its people, its building and the future. It is always great to meet with these men and work together. I hope we are in your prayers and you will be blessed by the decisions we are making and the work we are doing.

On the Web

Here are some insightful articles written by smart people. Enjoy.

7 Lies You’ve Been Telling Yourself About Church

10 WAYS TO MINISTER TO YOUNG MEN IN YOUR CHURCH

Would you immerse me for baptism? – great article and story by Bob Russell

8 Ways to Reduce the Stress in Your Marriage

5 Secrets You Must Know About Your Husband (Part 1)

5 Secrets You Must Know About Your Husband (Part 2)

Big questions before little ones – this is a business article but has a wider application.

No choice – another great article by Seth Godin