The Company You Keep

Last Friday night I was driving back from my parent’s house in Indiana. Normally I take all interstate highways to get home, but this time, I decided to take a different route. This move enabled me to stay out of the rush hour traffic and avoid the thousands of semis on the road. My choice to take back roads also made for some interesting radio listening. As I scanned through the stations that evening I heard farm reports, lots of local football, several country stations and one channel that was all Hispanic music (which is interesting for small town Missouri radio).

One station I landed on had a song playing that I knew. I listened through the end of the song and then the announcer came on to speak. Instead of a local personality, the show was syndicated and the person talking was John Tesh. He said something like, “Studies show one more secret to weight loss when we return.”

To be honest, I could drop a couple of pounds so I stayed on through the commercials. Finally, Mr. Tesh returned and he told about a study conducted somewhere by some university on the topic of weight loss. He said this study discovered that people who have fit and skinny friends are more likely to lose weight. The people who have fuller figured friends are less likely to lose weight. The reason this happens, according to this study, is because thin people reinforce a lifestyle of less indulgence. Heavier friends have the opposite effect. When they gather to have fun they bring food and drinks. The big conclusion to his story was that we need to pay attention to the people in our lives because they also influence our weight.

No more had the words come from his mouth and I could see the application for Christians.

Your life of faith is molded by the people you spend time with each day too. Spend time with people who are dedicated to the Lord and make Godly decisions and you become like them. Spend time with half-hearted people who bend their morals to every situation and you become like them. Spend all your time with nonbelievers and you soon act like a nonbeliever.

Almost 2,000 years ago the apostle Paul wrote to the Church in the city of Corinth. He told them in 1 Corinthians 15:33 “Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” (NIV)

One way to assess your growth as a Christian is to look at the people you spend your time with. How do you view them? Are the deep, spiritual people? Are they wishy-washy about their faith? Would you never guess they are believers at all?

Maybe that is the type of person you are today. Maybe it is not at the moment. You may not be like them now, but given enough time, you will be.

Of Doctors and Churches

This past year I have spent a great deal of time in doctor’s offices. My mom and dad along with two of my sons have been to numerous doctors for their various issues. With each visit, I have noticed three things that make for a great doctor’s visit.

1. The Staff
The people who represent a doctor are the first contact people encounter. A secretary with an attitude is a bad first experience. A nurse with limited people skills is a terrible representation of the doctor. More than one person has changed their doctor because of the staff that serves him.

2. Knowledge
My mother visited a doctor who basically told her she was getting older. While that is true, she did have a problem called C-diff that another doctor diagnosed. The first doctor didn’t listen to her problems closely and didn’t run the right tests. His lack of ability to find her problem offered her no relief. Needless to say, he is no longer her doctor. You go to a doctor to gain the knowledge you could not obtain on your own.

3. Bedside Manor
A good doctor has to be able to deal with people. He needs to put people at ease and make them feel important. A smile, taking the time to listen and a kind word are as important as knowledge. My mother loves her new doctor because he makes her feel like more than just another patient.

After visiting with dozens of doctors, in my opinion, these three are the biggest pieces to being a good doctor. The longer I thought about it, the more I believe that these are the same parts of a good Church. The people who represent the Lord through his Church are important. What and how we teach are vital. How people interact with each other gives the Church a personal feel.

I am not saying that these are all there are to a Church. But these are three big factors in the life of a Church. The good news is that each of these can be improved by attention and effort. We can be more welcoming. We can put the right people in the right places. We can always improve our teaching. We can stretch ourselves to be more friendly.

How many doctors lose patients to another location because of something they could have changed, but didn’t? I wonder how many Churches lose people and they never go back to Church at all because of things we could have done better but didn’t?

Through the year I have learned that a really good doctor is hard to find. I hope that a good Church is not so rare.

Change for the Sake of Change

Years ago I read an article from a wiser older minister that has greatly influenced my thinking. In this article, he wrote that Churches need to “change for the sake of change.”

Conventional wisdom says this is wrong. You only need to change if the activity has deep significance and is beneficial to everyone. I was told, “Don’t change anything unless is it completely necessary.”

This preacher argued in the opposite direction. He said that Churches should be changing everything all the time. In fact, he said that Churches should be creating a culture of change. His line of thinking was quite simple. When you only make a few changes every year then people are startled when they occur. When you change lots of stuff all the time, then people are used to it and react less aggressively when big changes happen.

After 20 plus years of ministry, I have come to believe he is right. So at the Church I lead I am constantly changing everything. I try to move activities around in the order of program each week. I try to keep moving items in the entryway and lobby. If there is something that can be changed easily then I like to change it. I firmly believe we need to “change for the sake of change.”

Hopefully, this keeps us open to the movement of God in our Church. We are ready if we need to adjust our plans to make things work better for his kingdom. It might not always be comfortable, but remember that God calls us to be faithful and not comfortable.

Just Glad to Know I Am Not Alone

Most days I really let myself down. I start off the day by saying, “I will not do that today.” Maybe it is more personal like “I will not think like that again.” Either way, I frequently plan to have a day that I think will make God proud of me. I pray for it in the morning. I plan for it as the day gets started. I swear to it in the deep recesses of my spirit.

Then it happens. I step into the darkness of my own soul. I do that thing I swore I would never do again. Upon realization of my thoughts and actions, I slip into the despair of another failed day. I let myself down and I let God down.

On a day like this, my mind goes back to a piece of scripture. It is from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome. He is talking about a life of faith, the gift of grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. In that passage, he says something that I cannot escape.

Romans 7:15-20 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (16) Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. (17) So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (18) For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. (19) For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (20) Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (ESV)

I know there is a deeper understanding of this passage than what just lies at face value. Yet, I read the words clearly without any commentary other than my own life.

“I do not understand my own actions.” Oh yes.

“I know nothing good dwells in me.” How very true.

I quickly take comfort in the fact that one of the greatest Church leaders struggled some day just like I do. He felt the burden of our flesh’s desire to do that which is contrary to God’s will. He felt the burn of the flesh as he did those things he despised.

I know that feeling. And sometimes, I just want to know that I am not alone in my struggles. There are times that I think no one will ever understand what I am thinking or feeling. There are times I feel all alone in my depravity. Then the scripture reminds me that I am not alone. God’s people have struggled with sin since the very beginning. Even God’s greatest people were a total mess, all the way from King David to the Apostle Paul.

The human struggle against sin is real. We all have been there. We are all there right now.

Take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. Everyone has been there. Just do not give up. Instead, throw yourself on the grace of Jesus over and over. No believer is perfect, just forgiven.

New Mercies Everyday

Lamentations 3:22-23 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; (23) they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (ESV)

I learned this verse through an old hymn that we sang in Church. Some of you might know the song “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and remember it too. It was written as a reflection on this verse and has a great line, “morning by morning new mercies I see.”

For some reason, this line was going through my head when I woke up the other morning. The strange thing for me was that I had not sung that song in probably 20 years. But there was this hymn running through my head in the darkness just before dawn. I began to think of all the wonderful things that each new day brings. I thought of the great mercy God has on me just by giving me another day to live.

1.Each day I get to live in the grace of Jesus.
I am keenly aware of the fact that I am a mess. I honestly believe God has every reason to punish me in some way. But through the grace of Jesus, I am made new. My sins are washed away and I stand clean before him. Every day I am newly thankful for the mercy of God.

2. Each day is a chance to start over
Yesterday is gone along with all with all of its mistakes and failures. Today is here and it is full of new possibilities for good. God has given me today and I can use it to start new and do whatever he wants me to do. I am so thankful for each new day.

3. Each day is an opportunity for me to serve the Lord in some way.
I love the fact that I do not know where today is going. Someone may walk in my office and I can share the message of Jesus with them. I may encounter someone at the store that needs to hear a kind word. I may write a lesson that will help someone understand the Bible. God only knows what great opportunities this day will bring.

4. Each day I get to experience love.
I am blessed to have the love of my parents, my spouse, and my children. I am also surrounded by people who love and support me. I am thankful for every day I get to spend with them.

5. Each day holds new chances for learning and growing spiritually.
Today I will read articles, stories and posts that will teach me. I will spend time reading my Bible. I will talk to people and hear their ideas. In those experiences, I will get to know God more and learn of his ways in the world. Each day brings so many new lessons.

I believe that each day is filled with great opportunities for so many wonderful experiences. Each day is a gift of God in his wonderful mercy. Morning by morning new mercies I see. Will you look with me today?

Two Sides of the Same Coin

Scrolling through the daily feed on my Facebook page I noticed several articles about the same events. Because I have a diverse group of friends the links that many of my friends shared were opposing sides of the same story. One event and two groups of people saw it completely different.

That reminds me very clearly. Some people love you. Some people hate you.

It doesn’t seem to matter what you are doing or what you are going to do. There will be people who stand beside you. There will be people who stand opposed to you.

One group will bring you joy and the other will bring you grief.
One group sees the best in you and the other sees the worst.
One group inspires you and the other discourages you.
One group energizes your day and the other sucks the life out of you.

Which of those groups is going to occupy your mind today?

Will your day, your week, your month or your year be occupied with trying to please people who really don’t care for you? Will your critics win your heart by their negative comments? Will you spend countless hours replaying your successes or your failures?

Honestly, the choice is up to you. Choose wisely.