Ministry Creates a Mess

Preacher Dave Stone told the story of visiting a Church when he and his wife had little children. After the program they had a fellowship dinner for their special guest that day. Dave asked if they had a high chair his child could use during the meal. The people affirmed that they had one somewhere. They began searching and there in a closet they found a nice new high chair covered in dust. The members there took it out and set it up for Dave and his child. While wiping it off one of the older members apologized by saying, “I’m sorry, we haven’t had any little ones around here in a long time.”

I heard this story in a sermon Dave preached entitled “Keeping the Dust off the High Chairs.” The sermon was an encouragement to try to reach children with the message of Jesus in our Churches. While I don’t remember any of the details of that sermon, including the text he preached from, but I do remember that story. In fact, I remind myself of it regularly.

For the last two days I have been cleaning up around the Church both before and after Vacation Bible School. People leave trash everywhere, especially water bottles. Those who do throw away their trash leave full trash cans that need to be emptied. The children eating leave messes on the floor that need to be vacuum or mopped. There is quite a long list of issues that having over a 100 children and 50 volunteers make each night .

As I walk around the Church cleaning up the mess I keep reminding myself of that Dave Stone story. I want to always remember that we can either have the mess that ministry brings or the dust of no ministry. I would much rather have to clean, or repaint, or re-carpet, or pick up than have a building that sets empty with nothing going on.

It’s true, ministry creates a mess, but it is a beautiful mess.

How To Offer Better Prayer Requests

As a rule I do do not reprint blog posts from other people. I usually only give links and you can read it on the other persons site. At best, I share other people’s material once or twice a year and only when it is really applies to my readers. I really liked THIS article by David Murrow on Prayer Requests. Really good stuff and I am sharing it as a help to Christian everywhere, especially those I serve. Enjoy


“Les has been gone since last night. Please pray.”

This appeal showed up in my Facebook feed recently — posted by an old high school friend I hadn’t spoken to in decades.

I was mystified. Who is Les? Her husband? Her son? Her daughter? A co-worker? Her dog?

And what does “gone” mean? Run away? Missing? Kidnapped? Away on vacation? Dead?

If you want people to offer intelligent prayers on your behalf you must give them more of the backstory. They need to understand who and what they are praying for. This is especially true on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, where most of your followers do not know the names of your loved ones.

In intercession we ask for a specific outcome for a specific person or situation. It’s hard to do this if we don’t know who needs help — or what the need is. We can always lift up a generic prayer such as, “God, please bring Les home safely” – but praying for a missing child is different from praying for a missing dachshund. Prayers for a runaway teen differ from prayers for a business traveler.

People tend to omit the backstory because they know their own lives intimately – and assume everyone else does, too. Their social media post makes perfect sense to them and their very close friends. Everyone else is mystified.

Back to my friend. If she had said, “Pray for my 12-year-old son Les, who left for summer camp last night” – then everyone would have known who and what they were praying about. No one would have feared a calamity was at hand.

The same goes for prayer requests at church.

I used to attend a small church where folks were invited to stand up and offer requests and praise for answered prayers. Oftentimes a petitioner would say something like, “Please continue to pray for Gladys Hunt.” Longtime church members would murmur and nod their heads in agreement.

But most of us were thinking to ourselves, “Who the heck is Gladys Hunt? And why are we praying for her?” Had the petitioner simply said, “Keep praying for Gladys Hunt, who’s recovering from a broken hip” then the assembly could direct its prayers toward her healing.

Some prayer requests require more delicacy – but we can still be specific enough.

Let’s say your friend Calvin discovers his wife is involved with another man. Calvin is considering divorce and asking for prayer – but wants to remain anonymous to spare his family embarrassment. Here are three ways you could share the request without breaking confidentiality:

-I have a friend who really needs prayer right now.
-I have a friend whose marriage just hit a crisis point. He has young children.
-I have a friend who needs prayer. He’s a young father who just learned his wife was unfaithful. He has asked for prayer as he decides what to do.

Request #1 doesn’t give potential pray-ers enough information to pray specifically and intelligently for Calvin.

Request #2 is better because it identifies the age and gender of the person, and his situation in life. We know we are praying for a marriage that’s in trouble.

Request #3 is best because it allows the body to pray quite specifically.

Of course, we can share too much detail in our requests for prayer. For example, it would be a breach of confidence to share request #3 among Calvin’s friends because they could easily figure out from the situation whose marriage is in trouble. You should never say, “Please pray for our organist Betty whose son was arrested on drug charges” — unless Betty specifically authorized the request. It’s easy to spread gossip in the form of a prayer request.

Jesus told us to be persistent and specific in prayer. Most men are not satisfied to lift up generic prayers for generic issues – they want to focus their prayers on real people and real problems. Christ told us to expect answers when we pray – but how can we get answers when we don’t even know what to ask?

So please – next time you ask for prayer, whether in church or on social media, give enough backstory so people can pray specifically and intelligently over your situation. Give them the tools they need to envision an outcome — without gossiping. And don’t forget to update them (with rejoicing) when the prayer is answered.

If I Had Missed Church Yesterday

There are moments when I stop and reflect on all the events of a Sunday. Yesterday evening I found myself recounting all of the blessings of the day. If I had not been at Church yesterday I would have missed…

– The opportunity to speak with a “Senior Saint” before worship.
– The chance to lift my voice to God in praise.
– Seeing videos of what the children will be singing for Vacation Bible School (VBS)
– A brief pause to speak with people who have a faith similar to mine along with some new people.
– The chance to be updated on the needs of our congregation and pray for them.
– A moment of communion and reflection with the Lord.
– An extended explanation of God’s word
– Some ideas of application for my own life
– The experience of seeing a guy eat a cricket (bacon flavored?) just to get children to VBS
– A few minutes of fellowship with all ages of believers.
– The encouragement that comes with each time of worship together.
– A chance to hang around and serve the Lord and help reach hundreds of children.
– Free pizza for lunch with more fellowship.
– Some wonderful funny stories and a few lame jokes.
– Time developing deeper relationships with other believers.
– The laughter and joy that comes with doing a selfless act with wonderful people.

Yesterday was a good day full of love, laughter and worship. I was tired when the day was over, but it was a good tired. I am truly blessed.

When people tell me they do not get much out of Church I quickly assume that they are not experiencing it to the full. They are gone frequently on Sunday morning or they skip out on service opportunities or they don’t hang around to fellowship.

Most of the blessings found from being a part of a Church are only found through your presence. If you missed it yesterday then you really did miss out.

An Open Letter to My Boys

Dear Sons –

Your dad has spent his life trying to teach you the ways of the world. One day you will go out into that world and face life all by yourself. Let me offer you a few words of encouragement before you go.

First, I hope you will search for a Christian woman when you desire to get married. I know all of you are keenly interested in the opposite sex. Date Christian women and make sure they have a deep commitment. Who you marry is one of the biggest decisions of your life. Don’t settle just for looks, because looks will fade. Don’t settle for personality, because everyone hides their demons. Find a women with Christian character who will love you and raise your children in the ways of God. Down the road you will find nothing more attractive.

Second, find a Church home. Wherever you decide to live, go out and find a Church. Then stick with that Church. You will not always like the sermon or the worship or the leadership. People will make you mad and test your faith. Stay and make a change for the better. Every Church has innumerable flaws. You will not find a perfect Church so find one that you like and allow the people there to help you grow. Unfortunately it takes both good and bad experiences to make you a mature person of faith.

Third, serve the Lord through the local Church. The Church at its best is a group of volunteers who serve the Lord unselfishly. Support the work of the Church. Attend events that people lead for the Church. Help out in every way you can. Invite the preacher into your home and say nice things to him. You know how lonely life can be for a ministry family. I would encourage you to eventually become a leader. One good servant leader is more valuable than gold. You will find that as you serve, attend and lead that your life will be transformed into the image of Christ.

Fourth, listen closely to some of the “senior saints.” You will not believe what some people have been through and held onto their faith. You will be shocked by the sin some have overcome. Many people have gained an enormous amount of wisdom through the years. That doesn’t mean they are always right, but there will be timeless truth in many of their words and practices.

Finally, my boys, no one really prepared me for what real life was going to be like and that’s okay. You figure it out as you go along. I did. All of us did. There is a lot to learn and you will spend a lifetime filling your head with all kinds of useful advice. The important thing is that you develop a life that honors God. Live with integrity and solid character as you move into the future. You faith will never let you down.

When life falls apart, and it will fall apart, hold onto the grace found in Jesus. A Christian wife will stand beside you and your Church will support you with prayer along with covered dishes of food. Then one day you will have your own children. I hope you remember me and my advice with thankfulness and love.

In Christ,
Your Dad

The Difference Between Good Work and God’s Work

There are hundreds of options as to where you can donate your time. There are lots of projects out there that range from good to great. But as a Christian I am not just interested in what is good. I want to do things with my life for God’s kingdom. I do understand that there is a huge amount of overlap when I talk about this distinction. All of God’s projects are good, but not all good projects are God’s.

Here are some comparisons between good work and God’s work

Doing good work is for personal glory. Doing God’s work is for his glory.
Doing good work builds your reputation. Doing God’s work builds up his kingdom.
Doing good work makes me known in my community. Doing God’s work makes him known in the community.
Doing good work will help people to like you. Doing God’s work will help people to love the Lord.
Doing good work will require to you to use your talent. Doing God’s work will require you to rely on God’s Spirit and strength.

Do you hear the difference? God’s work is God Honoring and good work can be for personal glorification.

I was in a preaching class in college and one of the students finished their sermon and the class had time to critique him. Everyone enjoyed this man’s sermon but I loved how one student put it. He said, “When he finished preaching I thought we should all chant Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”

When we do God’s work people will leave the experience shouting about the goodness of God and not singing our praises.

The really big question is “What kind of work are you doing with your life?”

What Has Jesus Done For You?

In the High School Sunday class that I help lead we are going through a couple of books entitled “Can I Ask That?” The goal is to cover some deeper topics for Christians, get the teens to open up with each other and hopefully share what the Bible teaches. We have covered topics like, “Is it okay to ask questions?,” “Why is there pain and suffering,” and “Is Hell real?”

The last few weeks we have been talking about evangelism? Do we share our faith? Why do we do it or why don’t we? It has generated some good discussion but I have also been listening very close myself. I am deeply interested in how to get people to share what they believe.

This last weekend, the other class leader asked a very penetrating question from the book, “Has trusting and following Jesus impacted your life in a way that you’d want to tell someone about?” In other words, “What is the best part of following Jesus for you that you would want to share?”

I love that question and we shared several ideas in class. I have been thinking about it a lot since Sunday and trying to come up with my list. So here it goes – In Jesus we have …

1. Grace and Forgiveness
All of us make mistakes, we break the law, we violate our conscience and we sin against God. We fail over and over. Jesus gives us the joy of a second chance. We can have our sins forgiven by God’s grace poured out through Jesus on the cross.

2. Unconditional Love
The Bible underlines that God loves us so much that he sent his son to die for us. All of us long for someone to truly care about us as individuals. Jesus is the ultimate example and expression of love.

3. Significant Service
We want to have a positive impact on the world. In following Jesus my life can touch people around the globe. It can be through giving my money to a global cause or my time to a local project. Both have the potential to reach out with the love of God in a very real and practical way.

4. Access to God
In Jesus we each have the opportunity to speak with God directly. We do not have to go to a special place or speak with a special person. We can pray where we are at whatever location we find ourselves during any point in the day. We have complete access to God through Jesus Christ.

5. Eternal Hope
As we face the end of our lives we turn our thoughts toward what happens next. Following Jesus gives us the hope of eternity. We will share that eternity with Jesus along with all of the other believers who have gone on before us. We are sad at the transition from this world but filled with the hope of heaven.

That is my short list of the blessings I have received in Jesus. What am I missing from my list? How has God blessed you in Jesus Christ?

The bigger point of our Sunday school lesson was that as followers of Jesus we share our stories with other people. We go from Church to share with people who have made mistakes that God forgives them. We share with the lonely about God’s love for them. We take the blessings of God and share them with other people so that they can feel that blessing too.

Lessons From a Long Marriage

Today, July 5, 2016, my parents celebrate their 57th wedding anniversary. Through the years I have written several posts about each of them individually, but I have never written about them together. I have spent 44 years watching them live, work and share together as a couple. Through those years I have learned some big lessons about love, service and sacrifice. I have also learned several smaller pieces of information that are useful to know.

1. Do the small things for one another.
Through the years I have watched my mom pay attention to all of my dad’s little peculiarities. She makes sandwiches just the way he likes them. At the same time, my dad is always on the lookout for some small piece of jewelry that mom might like. Not every choice has been great, but he has also done some really nice things. I have watched each one pay special attention to the other and respond accordingly.

2. Never give up.
I have seen my parents disagree. I have seen my parents fight. I know their marriage has had some difficult seasons. But to my knowledge I have never heard the word “divorce” ever mentioned in their relationship. I have never had a doubt that my parents would stay together. Leaving each other was never an option.

3. Hold your tongue.
I know there have been times when my mom wanted to explode. I have sat in a boat and listened to my dad voice his concerns just to get it off his chest. Both of them had the same frustrations all of us feel in a marriage. I have never seen them vocalize their total anger at one another. Usually they have chosen to hold their tongue rather than say something that would destroy the other person.

4. Know your role.
While people often mock men and women having traditional roles in marriage today, my parents proved that some traditions work. Mom would have dinner on the table by 5:00 pm when dad got home. Then dad would go and work in the garden for hours. If we went fishing we would come home and dad would clean the fish while mom got supper ready. One of them would zig while the other would zag. Working together as a team is a thing of beauty.

5. Show true concern.
Over the last several years I have watched mom and dad try to take care of each other. They traveled to the doctor together. They sat in waiting rooms filled with fear. They have served each other to the best of their ability. Recently, mom had worked hard to take care of her man. I have watched in silence as my mom handles the deep struggles of dad’s stroke with love and compassion. I know her heart is breaking but she continues to hang tough.

My parents are not perfect. I would never pretend otherwise. They are two people with a deep faith in Jesus who love one another. Through the years they have stayed together to leave a legacy of love for my sister, brother and I to follow. I hope they have a great day and I thank them for all they have taught me.