Doing What You Don’t Want to Do

Throughout my life I have heard a similar piece of repeated advice. “Find a job you love and it will never feel like work.” There are several variations on this statement but all of them imply that there are certain types of work that are always a joy. Maybe the deeper implication is that if your job is not full of joy then you should find something else to do.

Well, I am here to say that I really like my job. What I do usually brings me joy and a sense of fulfillment. I mean I get to work for God through the Church. BUT – Even I have days when I don’t want to work. There are days I don’t want to go to the office and read more. I get tired of using my brain and just want to sit quietly and watch TV. There are days I want to skip Church. Sometimes I even get weary from preaching and teaching. Honestly, there are days I do not enjoy doing my job.

I am often reminded of the boy scout who asked another pack member, “Do you ever have days when you feel just a little untrustworthy, disloyal, unhelpful, unfriendly, discourteous, unkind, grumpy, wasteful, cowardly, dirty, and irreverent?”

What do you do when you have days like that?

I will tell you what I do. I get up and go to work. I sit down with my Bible and I read. I open up the computer and I start typing. I get up and go to Church. I start preaching and see where it goes. I continue working even when it is not a joy.

I think that if we are honest, all of us have days when we don’t feel like doing the right thing. We all have days when serving feels like work. We all have days we want to just quit life and rejoin the human race later when we feel better.

The difference between people who make it work in life and those who fail is usually simple. To make it work, whatever it is – your job, your marriage, your parenting, your faith, anything – you have to just keep getting up and doing the right thing. Even when you don’t feel like it.

Reading for Your Holiday Weekend

It is Memorial Day weekend. It is the unofficial start to summer. Most people be spending their weekend with family somewhere or off on some big outing. Since they are calling for rain here in Missouri I thought I would share a few good links for you to read if you get stuck inside. Enjoy

It’s Not ‘Cute’ When Dads Threaten My Son For Dating Their Daughter

Four Steps to Kill Nagging Sins

4 Things My Mom Taught Me About Theology

5 Secrets You Must Know About Your Wife

Is Cohabitation a Sin?

Say Hard Things

9 Reasons People Are Not Coming To Your Church

10 Qualities of the Leaders I Want on My Team

Finally – three short (but great) posts by business leader Seth Godin –

The short run and the long run

Calling your finding

The other kind of harm

Books I Would Like to Write for Christians

I enjoy writing. I suppose that if I were no longer a preacher I would try in some way to be a writer. This blog is one outlet for that part of my life. Through the years I have thought of several books I would like to write for the people in the Churches I have served.

1. Busy With Nothing Important. Most people I have met are running from one thing to another all the time. They never take time to breathe. The sad part is that they are usually busy with nothing important. They are slaves to the immediate. Most of us need to focus our eyes on what really matters for eternity.

2. Imitate Christ Not Most Christians. Unfortunately the Church is full of people who talk about faith but do very little with it. People feel they are doing a good job if they are living like they people they see in Church. The sad result is that most people have incredibly shallow faith. Aim higher than most of the faith you see and try to become like Christ.

3. Find a Church and Spend the Rest of Your Life There. People move Churches far too often. I think one of the beauties of Church is that it gives you a place to work through your issues and become more Christlike. Unfortunately it takes a lifetime to achieve this goal. Church is the place you learn how to get along with others even when you are different. Church is where you can learn to forgive and grow in grace when others fail. Church is a place where you can develop deep relationships if you will stay long enough to move past superficial conversations. Church is a family that takes a lifetime to understand.

4. What You Are Really Searching For. I believe that most people are looking for some of the same basic elements of life. They want love, joy, hope and security. I am firmly convinced that these are what Jesus offers to us. Those outside of Christ are looking for what faith offers. Those inside of Christ who feel incomplete are probably doing something wrong.

5. It Takes a Big Dog to Weigh a Ton. Since I was a little boy I have asked my dad, “What do you know?” He has said for over 40 years, “It takes a big dog to weigh a ton.” If I follow-up that question with, “Don’t you know anything else?” He says, “Yes, it take a little dog to weigh an ounce.” Sadly, he is right. I would love to write a book about all the lessons my parents have taught me. There would be a collection of odd sayings and funny experiences. Mom and dad have taught me a lot about life and faith. Here is the funny thing, I am teaching my children some of the same lessons. I am saying some of the same things. We are first molded by our parents and then we spend our life molding our children. Be careful what shape you are forming.

These are just a few of the random ideas I have locked away. One day I will sit down and write and write. Books will flow out of me that I am sure very few people will read. Until that day, I will just keep typing my blog and sharing my ideas with the 25 of you who read this.

Captain America and the Church

My family recently went to watch the new Captain America movie. Its full title is “Captain America: Civil War.” It is another movie in the line of superhero movies being made by Marvel Comics. To this point my family has enjoyed the movies with their diverse characters and interesting story lines.

This movie was a little different from all the others. There was the typical good guys and bad guys contained in all of the movies. Only this one did not have a super villain with special powers but rather a man named Helmut Zemo. He is simply bent on revenge for the past actions of these superheroes. The story line twists as our band of heroes known as the Avengers begin to fight among themselves. Captain America and Iron Man disagree on the level of accountability the team should have under the leadership of the United Nations. A secret from the past is revealed and Tony Stark and the Winter Soldier are divided against each other. People chose sides and a fight breaks out.

The most powerful scene in the movie for me was a conversation with the villain. He states that he realized he could not defeat the Avengers. After all, they are superheroes and he is just an ordinary man. He decided the best way to defeat them was to get them fighting among themselves. When Everett Ross is trying taunt Zemo and make him believe that he lost, Zemo just responds, “Did I?”

I sat back and watched in utter amazement. The biggest threat to the greatest powers in the world was internal fighting. The villain did not have to come with great power. He just had to pit two groups against each other and evil wins.

My thoughts immediately turned to the Church. We are a group of people united not only by the belief in Jesus but also that he guides and empowers us. What could stop the Church? We have the power of God on our side. Well, perhaps the biggest threat to the Church is also internal fighting.

I believe that Satan does not have to show up in a big red outfit with a pitchfork to scare the people out of the Church. All he needs to do is whisper a secret that is damaging and let it spread. He simply needs to get people fighting among themselves and he has won.

Perhaps people will watch movies like Captain America and be reminded of just how damaging civil war can be, even to the Church. I think that is why Christ prayed in John 17 that the Church might be “one.”

Growing Old With Grace

Last week I was visiting my parents in Indiana. It keeps getting tougher for mom and dad. Dad had another stroke recently and my mom has been fairly sick. As a result they could not come to visit our family during my son’s graduation. The week after graduation I decided to load up the boys and go visit them.

On Friday afternoon most of the family had gone to town and I stayed behind to keep an eye on dad along with my son Dakota. Well, my son quickly fell asleep and I was drifting in and out of sleep when I noticed dad trying to get up. After a couple attempts he rose to his feet and pulled the blanket off of his chair. He proceeded to slowly walk across the room without his walker. He made his way toward Dakota with this blanket in hand. Then he stopped and spread the blanket out over my son.

I quickly closed my eyes so that he would not catch me watching. He then walked back over to his chair and sat down quietly. I don’t think he saw me watching any of the events that afternoon. He just wanted to make my son comfortable.

I leaned back in my chair with my eyes closed and thought about my father. Even at the age of 81 he is still teaching me about life. You can grow old and have a sense of entitlement that makes you selfish. You can grow old and get bitter about life. You can even grow old and sit back and let other people do everything. There is one other option though. You can grow old with kindness and grace. You can think of other people and try to make the world better, if only for a few minutes.

Why I Don’t Believe in Karma

Three times in the last week I have heard someone say something about Karma. Then twice last week I read about Karma on Facebook. Interestingly enough, some of the people who have used this word would call themselves believers in the God of the Bible.

Their words inspired me to write a few lines about why I do not believe in Karma.

First, Karma is from Hinduism and Buddhism. It is not a Christian belief. We need to be careful about importing other religions into our thinking. Let me expands that idea in this second point.

Second, Karma is defined as “a person’s actions deciding their fate in the future.” The idea is simple. You do good things and good things will happen to you. You do bad things and bad things will happen to you.

At first this seems very logical, but there is a problem with this from a Christian perspective. God’s word actually teaches that all of us are evil. We all sin. We all like sheep have gone astray. All of our righteous acts are like dirty rags. If we do something good, but only do it to get a reward later then we are just being selfish. All of our best attempts at being good people are flawed in their very core.

Christianity doesn’t teach Karma. Christianity teaches grace. The concept is rooted in the idea that we do NOT get what we deserve. When we choose to reject God, He still accepts us. When we break God’s laws, He offers forgiveness and not retaliation. When we hurt other people, God offers love to us. Christianity reminds me daily that my past actions do not determine my future, God’s past actions on the cross do.

As a follower of Jesus my life is rooted in grace. It sets me free from the past and it allows me to set you free also. I can let go of my desire to get even. I can let go of the hope that somehow you will get payback. I wish you well, in spite of your bad actions.

While it may be popular to sprinkle the word Karma into our Facebook posts and conversations, it is not a type of thinking I want to enter my life. I want to be a person of grace and not Karma.

The Quality of Small Church Ministry

When I moved to Alaska to preach the Church was pretty small. We only averaged 20-25 people each week in worship. By my first summer we had grown to 35-40 people each week. God was using our little Church to reach out to numerous people in spite of our size.

One Sunday morning that summer I was standing at the back door talking to people as they were leaving. We had several out-of-town guests that day as we often did during the summer in Alaska. One of the men grabbed my hand and said, “Thanks for the wonderful service today.” I replied “You’re welcome, we do our best.” Then he said something that stuck itself in my brain. He said, “When we saw the Church was small we didn’t expect much, but you had a great sermon and service.”

That experience was one of those clarifying moments for me. Most people think that small Churches are places where ministry happens poorly. I mean, if you are any good as a preacher you should move on to a larger Church. If you are small then you are able to get away with doing everything with less than excellence. I mean, “we are doing our best” is an acceptable excuse for low quality.

I do NOT believe that a small Church has to do ministry poorly. If you can fix it and make it better then by all means make it better. God deserves our best not excuses for why we can’t do it better. This is true no matter the size of your Church.

One of the ways that God has used me to help Churches in their ministry through the years is by simply improving the quality of everything. There is no excuse for a dirty rooms, peeling paint and poor facilities. If there aren’t many musicians then do the best with what you have. Usually that means extra planning, preparing and practicing. I can still prepare the best sermon possible each week. Printed material should be of the highest quality you can afford…and proofread. There is no acceptable reason for ministry done poorly, whether your Church is small or not. Low quality is usually the result of apathy more than finances.

Each week people arrive at our Church expecting to be disappointed. They are looking for an excuse not to return. They are looking for people who really don’t care and they can see it in everything we do.

How about this Sunday we surprise them with a great Church experience?

My Growing Theology

In May of 1995 I walked across the stage of Ozark Christian College to receive my college degree. I had earned a Bachelor of Theology degree with a New Testament major and a minor in preaching. This is OCC’s premium degree and it takes 5 years to earn it. I was required to take 3 years of the Greek language where I not only learned this original language but translated every word of numerous New Testament books. Part of this degree also required a special class where we had to write a weighty document on some big New Testament topic. I chose the work of Christ on the cross.

With all that education and specialized training I was sure I knew it all. I understood deep things of the Bible and doctrines that might confuse the ordinary Church member. I had an enormous amount of knowledge and all I wanted to do was share it with all the less educated people I met. I was ready for every apologetic argument and any theological discussion that came along.

Or so I thought… In the past 21 years I have realized how little I really knew that day.

Since my graduation from college I have had a lot to learn. For me, my knowledge needed to come on three different levels.

First, I needed to experience more of life to understand completely. I don’t think anyone understands God sending his only son in John 3:16 until they have a son. No one understands the book of Job until they have suffered and don’t understand why. Very few people can really understand Acts until they have experienced life in a Church. My life helps me to shape my theology. As a result I have come to not just know parts of the Bible through my head but also my heart.

Second, I needed to listen closer to what I was reading. My initial knowledge of the Bible was very black and white. Through the years I have started to see more gray areas. For example, I used to teach about Jesus as love. He was a nice guy who loved everyone. Then one day I was reading the gospels and realized he wasn’t always nice in the way I wanted him to be. He tells a follower to sell everything and he tells another who wants to bury his father, “let the dead bury the dead.” He calls one woman a dog and some religious leaders a group of vipers. What I learned was that I often imported my modern mindset onto the stories of the Bible. Over time I have learned that I needed to listen closer to what was really going on in the story.

Third, I needed to meet people who stretched my thinking. I used to caricature people from the other Churches in town. Then I met some of them. I was surprised at how good some of them knew their Bible and could explain their theology. I still do not agree with all of it, but I finally understood where other people were coming from. It caused me to ask questions about what I really believed and why. all of us need people who ask tough questions and confront us with alternate answers.

Over these 21 years I have seen my theology grow as I learn more and more about God, His word and His people. I no longer think I have it all figured out, but I keep trying. Sometimes I pull out old sermons and smile in disbelief. Not that I taught heresy or anything, but rather at how small my thinking was at the time. I suppose one day I will do the same with this Sunday’s sermon. Hopefully your theology will have grown enough that you can smile with me.

Lessons From My Oldest Son’s Graduation

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of events. There has been a senior dinner, a baccalaureate service, the end of school, family visiting, a reception and a commencement ceremony. It seems everyday has been filled with something to bring my son through this time with joy, understanding and a general sense of accomplishment.

I have been a graduating senior two times in my life, but this is my first time as a parent. It will certainly not be my last either as I have 3 more to graduate in the next 5 years. During this experience I have watched the events with an open mind to the lessons I might learn through this celebration. Here are a few of my thoughts.

1. All of us experience life in our own unique way. Some teens want to be in the spotlight, but it is clear that my son does not. He is more introverted like me. He does not enjoy the crowds and talking with total strangers. He enjoyed graduation but is very glad it is over.

2. Most people are very generous. I cease to be amazed at the generosity of people. People have willingly given us their time to help. Other people have opened their wallet to give all kinds of gifts to my son(Thanks everyone). I know we think of the world as selfish and greedy much of the time, but my experience never seems to support that view.

3. The Church is a great family. Most of our family was not able to make my sons graduation or party. The timing was bad, my parents health is poor and some of them just couldn’t afford the trip. As a result we did not expect too many people at my son’s graduation party. We were pleasantly surprised at how many people showed up to support him. Here is the great part, almost all of them were from my Church. They loved Hunter and gave to him just because of our bond in Christ. I love the Church.

4. Take time to celebrate the moment. Ecclesiastes 3:13 says, “That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil–this is the gift of God.” I think the writer of this verse has a couple of things in mind. One, we are never satisfied. We will always think of how we could have done better. Two, we always have our mind on the next thing. The biggest question for my son over the weekend was, “What are your future plans?” It is hard to enjoy accomplishments, but when you do, it is a gift from God.

5. Time flies – so make the most of it. I can’t believe my little boy is out of high school. The time sure went fast. I am thankful for every little experience along the way. Right now I am so thankful for the class programs, the field trips, the games, the awards, the time with friends and a thousand little experiences. I thank God for each day he has given me with my son.

I know the last couple of weeks is not the end. Oh, maybe the end of high school, but not the end of my time with my son. My relationship is changing. My son is now a man. I will be interested to see my thoughts in four years when he is graduating college. How is that possible?

What Will it Take to Reach the Next Generation

Last week I had to opportunity to speak at a high school baccalaureate service here in Adrian. There were 59 graduating seniors who attended out of the possible 60 students. Attendance was great but the overall interest was low. As I looked out over the crowd of teens I saw only three that attend our Church. I would guess there are another 5-6 that attend elsewhere. That means that out of 59 high school seniors only about 10 attend Church with any regularity. Honestly, that is above the national average.

From everything that I read, those students will go off to college and 7 or 8 of them will quit their faith by the time they graduate from there. By the best guess, of those 60 seniors that walked across the stage at commencement only 1 or 2 will have any kind of faith in Jesus throughout their twenty somethings.

Does that discourage you? Personally, it breaks my heart. Unfortunately I do not find many people in Church who really care about this generation of young people.

Here are a few things I have found to be true.

There is a general apathy about teens. Many people say, “Well, they are not my children.” Maybe for some it is “They are not my grandchildren.” There seems to be this attitude that if it does not immediately affect me then it is not important.

Youth group volunteers are rare. It seems no one wants to spend very much time and energy teaching our youth about the Bible and faith. It is hard to find people who are willing to help them in almost any capacity.

Change is very difficult. I wonder how many people in Church would be willing to make the radical changes it would take to reach the next generation. Would you be willing to make everything powered by technology? Would you be willing to change the length and format of worship? Would you be willing to change the style of music. (My children listen to hip-hop and rap). Would you be willing to sit at tables? Would you be willing to drop prayer requests or fellowship time? I can hear the people now saying, “But I like those things?” Truthfully, I agree. I like them too. But if it is not completely grounded in scripture would you be willing to change to reach our young people?

I worry about those teens who sat in that baccalaureate service. Most of them could be described with the word, “disinterested.” They have no interest in us, my question is do we really have an interest in them? I think the first step in reaching our youth is to care about them.