Taking Off the Mask

Today is Halloween. Throughout today and especially this evening people will dress up as various characters and they will put on a mask to look like someone else. Those people will attend parties and go door to door trick-or-treating as part of this day. It will all be done in good fun as part of this one day. Tonight those people will take off their costume and return to their normal lives tomorrow.

Unfortunately, many people they will continue to wear a mask over their lives far beyond today. They will put on a smiley face to hide the pain they are facing in their family or their personal life. They will try to bury their feelings deep inside and act like a person who has everything together. They will attempt to deny their true feelings through some form of addiction from porn to shopping to alcohol. Their pain is always masked by the appearance of a person with no issues.

This time of year I am reminded that we need to take off the mask and seek to become more real.

1. Be Honest With Yourself. What is really going on inside your heart and mind? When you have 15 minutes of quiet time alone where does your mind go? Are you struggling with lust, with greed, with pride, with failure or with temptations toward self-destruction? It has been said that the first step in healing is admitting you have a problem and you need help. What do you need to admit?

2. Be Honest With God. Once we are honest about what is really going on inside of us then I think the next step is to talk to God. Find a quiet place and pour out your heart to God. Admit, confess, plea and open up. Tell God all the things you have locked up inside your heart that no one knows.

3. Be Honest With Someone Who Cares About You. The final part of this process is to share your struggles with someone who truly cares about you as an individual. This can be a friend, family member, co-worker, church member or a pastor. Find someone and tell them where you have been struggling and tell them your plans to change. Ask for and advice and for continued prayer. Ask them to help you if possible and maybe hold you accountable. The best person will listen and love you no matter what they hear.

Many people I know are wearing a mask 365 days a year and not just on Halloween. Their mask is not worn in fun. It hurts themselves and others. Honestly, if someone were to look close they would tell you are acting like someone you are not. All masks are only a temporary illusions. It’s time to take yours off and move on to a better future.

The Truth About Introverts Like Me

This Sunday night our Church has a membership class and I was reminded of the introduction I used to do for this class in another Church. I would always start with a little history of the Church and then I would begin talking about the staff. I was first on the list and I wanted people to know me better so I would tell that I was their pastor and I was probably the only pastor they would know who didn’t like people. They would laugh and then I would tell them about how much of an introvert I am. I would explain how I loved Jesus and wanted to serve the Lord, but he tricked me and made me part of a bunch of people. I would look around the room and see some people with shock on their face and other people nodding in agreement.

It has taken years but I am slowly becoming more understanding of how God made me. Each of you reading this are in one of two positions. One, you are right here with me. You will nod in agreement to this post in many ways. Two, you have no idea what I am talking about because you are an extrovert. But there are people you know and love who are very similar to me.

1. I like individuals, but not groups. Large groups of people are draining to me. I illustrate it like being put in a pool with piranhas. They tear away at me a little at a time. On the other hand, I love a having a deep one on one conversation.

2. Spending time with lots of people exhausts me. Sunday morning wipes me out. I take a nap almost every Sunday afternoon after spending time with people.

3. Alone time energizes me. My hobbies are metal detecting, hunting, and fishing. One of the reasons that I like these activities is because I do them alone. I can spend time inside my own head and get my thoughts clear. It keeps me balanced.

4. I love to talk once I get to know you. My wife says that I do not shut up:-) If I do not know you, I will come off as reserved, awkward and shy. Once I know you and trust you I will share almost anything about myself.

5. I will avoid situations just to avoid people. I plan shopping trips around the number of people I think will be at the store. I avoid events with large crowds.

6. I spend a lot of time inside my head. This is why I like reading. The internet also holds a certain appeal. I think a lot about what I should have said or done. I hold complete interactions in my brain without ever acting. I enjoy fantasy worlds of my own creation.

7. I don’t understand extroverts. I do admire them. I wish I could act without over thinking. I dream about talking to strangers and not feel awkward and uncomfortable. One day I hope to share my faith without overwhelming fears of rejection.

8. I feel a kindred spirit with other introverts. When someone tells me of their struggles it makes me think I am not alone. I am glad I am not the only one who thinks or acts this way. If you are like me, I am your friend.

This is just a beginning of the things you should know about me and other introverts. Our world may be different from yours. I know it is hard for some to understand but bear with me. I love Jesus and I want to like you, it is just going to take time.

True Commitment is Seen In the Struggle

The other day I was thinking about a group of people I know and how difficult their life has been lately. Immediately a thought went through my head that was clear and unmistakable. I have been thinking about it for a few days and I am sure the thought is true. Here it is: Real commitment is seen in the struggle to make things work

1. A committed believer will find a way to be at worship
My parents have started attending Church again. That may not sound like much to you, but it is not easy for them. My dad has suffered two major strokes in the last two years. He drools a lot, is hard to understand when he speaks, has difficulty walking and wears out easily. My mom has had an infection this year that hospitalized her twice and received treatment for cancer. For several months they have not attended Church because they were not physically able. Dad and mom are going again, but each week is a struggle. I know they really want to be there and they will do all they can to make it.

2. A loving spouse will find a way to work through difficulties.
I know of a couple where the husband was unfaithful. The wife was devastated but did not give up. They have been to counseling and have worked hard to stay together. They changed jobs, lifestyles and completely rearranged their lives. While it would have been easy for one of them to walk away, they have stayed together to work it out. She has been a model of love, patience, and grace through the most difficult of situations. I know she is committed to her husband and their marriage.

3. A true friend will find a way to be there for you.

My then fiance and I changed our wedding date from June to December 31. Only one of my college buddies made the wedding. Landis packed up right after Christmas and drove 8 hours to Wisconsin. He endured a snowstorm, the loss of family time and a holiday and he shelled out some money just to make the trip. Everyone else gave me long stories about how tough it would be to get there and yet I never once heard him complain. Real friends will find a way to overcome obstacles.

Real, true, committed people will fight through struggles to do what is important to them. If something or someone is too much of a hassle, then you simply don’t care that much, no matter what you say.

Saying the Same Thing Over and Over Again

I was recently talking with my wife and I told her that I feel like I am saying the same things over and over again. After that conversation, I began to truly reflect on my ministry. It does appear that over the years I have returned to one of these few topics.

1. People Need Jesus as Their Lord and Savior.
Christians are people who have based their life on the person of Jesus Christ. Nothing more and nothing less. All of us need the forgiveness we find in Jesus. Then when we find ourselves moving away from him, we need to come home where we find a second chance. The other side of making Jesus your savior is that you make him your Lord. That means you need to live the life he taught about and demonstrated while he walked on the earth. We are to follow Jesus in every way.

2. You Can Understand the Bible and You Need to Try Regularly.
I am a Bible guy. I believe it. I trust it. I read it. I teach it. I firmly believe that it holds the answers we are looking for in our lives. It challenges us. It shapes our thinking. It is vital for faith and practice. Unfortunately, most people do not read it. Some think they can’t read it and others simply will not read it. I believe spiritual growth is connected to our use of the Bible.

3. Transformation is a Daily, Gradual, Lifelong Process.
The daily disciples of prayer, bible reading, worship and reading are the key to a transformed life. There are a thousand ways to do each one, but each one needs to be practiced regularly. My dream would be that people would spend a few minutes each day in some sort of a growth activity. Each day will accumulate until one day we are amazed at the results.

4. Everyone Needs to Be a Part of a Church
I do not believe that the Church is an optional part of the Christian life. God purposely puts us together with other believers to help us grow. The people of the Church will help lead us in worship, they will teach us, they will encourage and challenge us. The Church is a place where we can serve with others for a Godly purpose. The people of the Church will love us, hurt us, ignore us and embrace us. All of those things will help us to grow into mature Christians.

5. Invest Time and Energy in Your Family
Your spouse is important. You need to give them time, energy and love. Give them more than leftovers. Your children are also important. They need teaching, correction, and love. Give them more than leftovers. Neither of these is God. Put God first in everything and teach your family to do the same. Then give them the best of yourself and you will be blessed in every way.

These five topics have been the theme of my ministry for over 20 years. In fact, I speak on these five things over and over. You will probably get tired of hearing me speak about them. That’s okay. You need to hear it … and so do I.

Who Am I to Judge?

I once read an article that stated the most popular verse in the Bible used to be John 3:16. Then it explained that the new most popular verse was “Do not judge.” I do not remember where I read it or who was the author, but it has lodged itself in my brain for a long time now.

Three things bothered me about the article.

One – I wonder how many people even know where the verse that says “Do not judge” is found? (It is in Matthew 7:1 and Luke 6:37)

Two – How exactly do you measure this study to see if it is true? I believe the article did a bunch of internet searches but that would only give you a limited window. Most of the information had to be based on personal experience and assumptions.

Three – The Bible says a lot about judgment and this is only one verse. There is actually a great deal we need to know about Biblical judgment.

1. Christians are not to offer eternal judgment.
Judgment belongs to the Lord. One day he will judge the living and the dead. Numerous verses underline this truth to us. It is not our job to condemn anyone to hell or to commend anyone to heaven. God is the judge and everyone needs his grace.

2. Christians can make judgments about another Christian’s ungodly behavior.
The Apostle Paul writes this in 1 Corinthians 5:12 (NIV) “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” The context is about a man living in sexual immorality. The Church was not to tolerate this ungodly behavior but to point it out so the man might change.

3. Christian judgement runs both ways.
The passage that follows Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge, lest you be judged” says, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” After that, Jesus gives an analogy of removing the log out of our own eye before helping to remove the speck out of someone else’s eye.
I believe Jesus wants us to understand the hypocrisy of judging someone about an issue when we have a bigger problem with the same issue. But, if we have that problem under control then we are to help someone else with their struggles. I must first fix my own issues before I can help other people.

4. Christian judgment is purely for spiritual growth.
The reason I might point out another Christians flaws is not to make me feel superior or to make them feel like a failure. My goal is not to expose them to public humiliation. My only goal in pointing out someone else’s struggle is so that they will address it and grow in their faith.

Be clear, I am not advocating anyone go around with a sense of superiority to others pointing out all their sins. I am saying that Christians need to help each other by offering grace-filled judgments of the sins in other people’s lives. If you know I am at fault, in Jesus name, please let me know so that I can fix it.

I know when most people quote this verse it is because they do not want you to look into their lives too deeply. The verse actually means the opposite. Christians should be looking in the mirror at their own spiritual issues and helping others to do the same. I say, “Judge me, so that I can be more like Christ.”

Two Very Different Roads

I am not sure where I heard it the first time. That is okay because no one is sure where the phrase originated. Some say it has been around since 1100 AD and yet it did not actually appear in print until 1855. I usually credit my mother for first introducing this phrase into my life since she has always been full of wit and wisdom expressed in funny little phrases.

No matter who brought it into my life it has been a recurrent theme when living out my faith. The phrase is simply, “The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions.”

The meaning is pretty straightforward. Most people have a mind and heart filled with the best of intentions. We want to live a righteous life. We want to read our Bibles, pray fervently and live lives of service. The reality is often far different. Our intentions never make it into reality and the life of faith we planned to live disappears into the mist of good intentions. That journey from good intentions that doesn’t stop at action only leads to destruction.

I continually remind myself of this truth as I make plans for the future. My intentions are not the measure of my faith. My actions are how I will be judged. I recently learned that some people have added a second part to that old phrase. They say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions but the road to heaven is paved with good works.”

It’s Monday and I am looking upon another week. I have lots of good things that I would like to do. I really intend to do them. Maybe you feel the same way.

The real question is which direction will your week lead? Only your actions will tell.