When In Doubt, Pray

I was recently a part of a religious ceremony that involved several different speakers. After each one gave their devotion or read their assigned scripture there was a moment of pause. Then they each looked around not sure what was going to happen next. In that moment each one did the exact same thing, each one prayed. All total there were four prayers in a matter of 15 minutes.

To people who do not go to Church this may have seemed odd, but to people who frequent religious functions, this might seem normal. In fact, I was once instructed by a professor that if you are ever unsure of what is going to happen next in a program then just pause and pray. He said that this action would focus our thoughts, calm our nerves and get you ready for the next thing.

Watching these men each pause and pray reminded me of those words of instructions years ago. Can I also say that those instructions are valid for anyone at anytime? When you are unsure what is going to happen next, just pause and pray. It will focus your thoughts, calm your nerves and get your ready for the next thing.

It doesn’t matter whether you lead religious activities of not. When in doubt about the future, pray.

Why I Take Fridays Off

A preacher’s schedule may be unlike any other in the world. Every Sunday is a big day for preachers like me. I have primarily worked all week for this one day. I pray, I preach, I teach, I fellowship and often I have meetings. Sunday is usually exhausting for most preachers.

As a result, many pastors take Monday off. Actually I used to do this myself. It gave me a day to rest and get ready for the rest of the week. The problem was that I usually came away from Sunday with a “to-do list” of items that I needed to get done quickly. Soon Monday morning became a time to get just a few more things done before I could relax. But then again, I never relaxed because I knew that Sunday was coming and I needed another sermon and lesson.

Lately I have been taking Fridays as my day off. This has worked much better for me. This allows me to do several things –

1. I am able to keep the ball rolling from Sunday. All of the thoughts I had on Sunday morning can be addressed on Monday and not forgotten.

2. I rest better when the work is done. By Friday everything I need to do for Sunday is done. Thursday night I sleep the best out of any day.

3. It builds in an extra day in case of an emergency. If, Lord forbid, an accident happens during the week, like my son breaking his ankle in four places this year, I am able to flex my day off to another day and then I can work on Friday to get everything done. This helps me to relax.

4. Occasionally I get a day off with my kids. Frequently the school gives my children a day off and very often it is on Friday. It is wonderful to get extra time with my family.

5. Frequently I get two days off in a row. Saturdays are hit and miss. Sometimes I have meetings, sometimes weddings and funerals, and sometimes I just need to do some final prep work for Sunday. Quite often I get to take two days off and enjoy a time to refresh and relax.

These may not seem like a big deal to you, but they are to this preacher. Throughout my ministry I have run into people on Friday and they ask, “Are you not working today?” The answer is simply, “Nope, and I love it.” I enjoy it so much that I encourage all of the Church staff to do the same.

Oh yeah, I wrote this yesterday and scheduled it to post today. Right now I am outside enjoying the day. If you need anything, I will see you Sunday.

What in the World Are You?

To the lady in the scrubs at Wal-Mart last night I want to say something. You look like you are educated and apparently work in some kind of medical field. It makes me sad that when you walked by my cart while I was checking out that you threw your trash in the clothes hamper that was in my cart. A few feet away was a trash can and you were going to walk directly by one on your way out the door. Instead you decided to throw your trash into my newly purchased item, which really looks nothing like a trash can. I want you to know that I think people like you are really what is wrong with the world.

Now it might help you to know that I was with my wife at Wal-mart last night as part of her job. She was purchasing some needed supplies for some ladies who live in an assisted living home. Our cart load of items were not for us and the money we were spending was not even ours. We were simply doing a job and I was trying to help my wife.

To the lady that saw her and walked over and dug out the trash and took it to the can for me. I want you to know that you are what is right with the world.

I admit, at first you freaked me out as you walked over to my cart and stuck your arm down in our laundry basket as we were checking out. You did not say anything and appeared a little angry. When you emerged with the trash and took it over to the trashcan I was a little shocked. I am sure you are a very nice person, but your clothes were very worn and you looked like you had been working hard at manual labor all day. Despite how the situation initially appeared, I appreciate your thoughtfulness at what the other lady had done. Thanks for not thinking you are the center of the universe and everyone and everything else is at your disposal.

Last night I saw two kinds of people in a matter of minutes. One self-absorbed and oblivious to other people. One thoughtful and kind and trying to lend a helping hand. At a quick glance someone might have guessed the opposite to be true of each of them. And yet, the seemly educated women, who had a full load of purchases, felt the need to throw her trash in my stuff. All the while the lady who looked worn was kind and took the trash out of my life. All I was left to wonder was, which kind of person am I?

Why Worry?

My social media has been alive today in light of yesterday’s election. Everyone seems to feel like they need to share thier point of view about what is going on in our country. There are people who are convinced that this is the beginning of the end of the USA and there are other people who believe it is a great step forward as a country. If I had to describe the biggest feeling among my friends, it would be worry. There is a sense of anxiety over the future. The prevailing attitude is, “We don’t know what this means, but it could be scary.” I have a relative who has been listing several negative possible outcomes with our new president. She is very afraid of what tomorrow holds.

Interestingly enough, Jesus does address days like this in a very straightforward way. In the story of Jesus as told by one of his followers named Luke, Jesus says this in Luke 12:25-26, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? (26) Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”

In a similar passage from one of Jesus followers named Matthew he says this in Matthew 6:33, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

In both cases Jesus affirms that there are moments in life where we will be filled with worry. There are times that try men’s souls and in those moments we will want to expect the worst possible outcome. We will then play those horrible scenarios over and over in our head until we can’t sleep at night.

In the context Jesus gives us another option. Instead of focusing our attention on the scary future inside our own mind, why don’t we seek God and his kingdom.

Worry doesn’t change anything. It can’t add an hour to our lives. It can’t stop the trouble that is coming tomorrow. It can’t do anything but drain today of all its possibilities.

Worry is the exact opposite of trust. If we trust God in his sovereign leadership then we have no need to worry. Trust in the Lord and leave your anxiety at his throne. He will take care of you today and tomorrow.

Why Are You Afraid?

It is one of my favorite Bible stories. It is a simple and short story from the life of Jesus.

Matthew 8:23-26 Then he (Jesus) got into the boat and his disciples followed him. (24) Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. (25) The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
(26) He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” [New International Version]

The disciples are caught up in the immediate danger around them. All they see is their current situation and feel a sense of helplessness.

By contrast, Jesus is asleep. He is not worried. He knows who is in charge. He knows who holds the days of a man’s life in his hands. He has peace in the middle of the storm.

Awakened by their cries of despair, he rises and asks them why they are afraid?

Do they not know about the maker of heaven and earth? Do they not know he is in charge even when their world seems to have turned against them? Why do they not have the same peace as their master? Maybe they simply forgot the power of the one who can calm the waves and our fears at the same time?

It is easy to see the mess around us and forget the one we follow is in charge and he will not let us drown if we trust in him.

Sounds like a good word for today … and every day.

I Am On The Lord’s Side

I am not a Republican or a Democrat. I am not an independent. I am not a liberal or conservative. I am not a part of the right-wing or the left-wing. My color is not blue or red or any other color.

I am on the Lord’s side. I am trying to live for Jesus in every way. I love God and my neighbor. I try to treat others as I would like to be treated. I am for truth and justice but I am also for love and grace. I abhor gossip and slander and love quiet leadership in dark times. I stand against all forms of abuse and I stand with those who are mistreated. I love my family both by birth and by choice.

I am not defined by any one viewpoint or one person’s opinion. Aside from Jesus, I don’t agree with anyone 100 percent of the time. I have my own thoughts and opinions and I am glad to explain them to you. You may not agree and I can still like you anyway.

In a world of ugliness, I believe that an active faith in the Lord Jesus is the only way to truly bring about change. Jesus did not tie his kingdom to Greece or Rome or any of the parties that made up their leadership. He formed a new group of people whose lives would be shaped by his sacrifice, teaching and example. I declare my faith in him and him alone. All other powers will fail us.

I am on the Lord’s side. I hope and pray others will join me.

The Quest to Learn and Grow in My Faith

I have spent my life trying to grow into a mature believer who resembles Christ in every way. Perhaps the biggest part of this journey is learning what to believe and how to live it out. This is what keeps me going to Church, to classes, to conferences, listening to a podcast, reading books and blogs, and exposing myself to all kinds of lessons.

Once I was sitting and listening to a person who was teaching a Biblical lesson but they were doing a poor job. I was bored and the material was pretty much review. I took notes and tried desperately to gain something from this hour I was investing. Quickly my mind began to run through everything I had tried to learn from over the years.

I have heard some poorly delivered sermons.
I have attended some fruitless conferences.
I have been bored at uncreative lessons.
I have started reading books that were not worth finishing.
I have deleted more blogs than I have kept.
I have heard some podcasts that I didn’t finish before deleting.

Mentally I made a long list of all of my attempts at spiritual growth that fell short. It was a long list of times that might have been considered a waste.

Then my mind flipped over my perspective. What about all those times I was blessed by some teacher? What about all those books I did finish with delight? What about all of the sermons that I have heard that truly fed my soul? For every failed attempt at growth, there has been another attempt that succeeded.

Here is the hard part. Most of the time I did not which ones were going to bring growth and which were not before they started. In fact, many times I have been surprised at how God showed up and taught me something in a moment that I would have never expected. You just never know where you are going to grow.

I think one action of a believer that wants to grow is that we expose ourselves to a lot of learning opportunities. We open up our minds and attend all kinds of events with a level of expectation. We read knowing that God may speak to us in the next line. We spend our lives trying to learn from almost anyone willing to teach us. Some of that time will not be well spent and I hate that fact. But sometimes, God will show up and you will learn something that will make you more like Christ. Honestly, you never know when that is going to happen. It might even be today or this weekend. Only God knows. Our job is to show up and wait for what God is ready to teach us.

What is Your Time Worth?

It was a moment that literally changed my thinking. I was in my second year of full-time ministry at a little Church in northern Indiana. We were trying to update the Church building with a coat of new paint. There was a planned work day at the Church building and several people showed up to help. I was on the crew who were taping and doing the prep work for the painters.

I went into the kitchen area and I removed all of the light switch plates and then I moved on to the electrical plates. On one wall I encountered a stubborn screw holding the plate to the wall. There had been some moisture that caused corrosion and the screw would not budge. I tried different screwdrivers with no real luck. I bet I spent more than 30 minutes trying to get that one stupid plate off the wall.

Soon James walked through the room. James worked construction for a living and I was sure he would know what to do. I called him over and explained my predicament. He looked at me and grabbed my screwdriver. He slid it in behind the plate on the side and with one quick motion he pulled the plate off the wall. The little plastic plate snapped and popped and broke into 3 or 4 pieces leaving only the screw exposed.

James looked at me and said simply, “They still make them … and they are cheap.” Then he walked away. I took out my pliers and removed the screw and went on about my work.

I have thought about that moment repeatedly over my life. It has left me with this one lingering question about my actions, “Is what I am about to do, worth my time?”

There are thousands of things that we can give our time too. Each one might be productive in some small way, but only a few things are really worth my time. Me spending an hour to removed a 49 cent plastic plate was a pure waste of time and energy.

Is it possible that you are invested in projects that are not worth your time? Your hour of work is only worth 49 cents of results? I think that might be why Paul tells the Church at Ephesus in chapter 5:15-16 (NIV) “Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity.”

God only gives us a limited time to make an impact with our lives. How are we using that time? Are we invested in wise endeavors that produce worthwhile results or are we wasting our time to save 49 cents?

A Christian Leader’s Thoughts on Social Media

I will admit that I have been slow to the world of social media. I am sure some people wrote posts like this 10 years ago. For me, I resisted social media as more of time issues than anything while having a young family. Finally a little over a year ago I entered the world of Facebook. I am trying to do more with things like Instagram and Snapchat but is comes slow as I have so many other interests that take up my time.

First, I will admit that there are hundreds of wonderful things about social media. I have learned about events I never knew were happening. I have made the connection to very helpful websites. I have watched links to inspiring videos. I could go on and on about all of the ways I have been blessed through social media.

Second, I have to say something as a Christian leader. For every bit of joy, I have received from social media I have found something else that breaks my heart. These might not be exactly what you are thinking I might say. These are not links to porn or anti-religious diatribe (yes, those are upset me.) My bad experiences come from watching what other Christians post.

It breaks my heart when …
-Someone talks badly about any other person.
-Someone posts pictures of themselves skipping Church for frivolous reasons.
-Someone uses foul and offensive language.
-Someone posts pictures of their meals and gatherings and they always contain someone drinking alcohol. Frequently it is someone who is Christian.
-Someone declares their love of wine.
-Someone makes comments on issues they know nothing about.
-Someone uses crude or degrading humor.
-Someone promotes anything anti-Christian.

Unfortunately, my list could go on and on. I have watched in horror as some Christians have posted words and images that are against a life of faith. It may not seem like a big deal to you but I think it is. My children see what you posts. They think that is the way a believer acts. Other believers see your posts and they think it is okay to act that way. Non-believers see your posts and just make you down as another hypocritical Christian.

I do not want to come across as an angry old man who is upset about all this technology. I am concerned as a Christian leader that your online life reflects what it means to be a believer. Remember that on the web the world is watching.

Where Credit is Due

I recently reread the story of David and Goliath. It is recorded in 1 Samuel chapter 17 and has been retold a million times by teachers to all ages. This time as I read the story I was struck by something I had not thought of before now.

If I were to tell you the story again and remove the words of David it would be easy to give credit to the wrong things. I mean, you might think that David won the battle because …

1. He was brave. David fought back against fear and faced a much larger foe. David focused his thoughts on the positive outcome and made it real.

2. He was skilled. David had a sling and a stone and he knew how to use them.

3. He was strong. How hard do you have to throw a stone for it to stick into someone’s forehead and knock them down?

4. He was healthy. David shows no signs of limitation within his physical body. I am guessing 1 percent body fat or less.

5. He was smart. David knew exactly where to put that stone. He saw the weak spot in Goliath’s armor and took advantage of his weakness.

6. He was lucky. What are the odds that David would hit this guy in the exact right spot without any practice?

As we listen to the story it is easy for us to focus on what we can do to overcome great big obstacles. We have the power to overcome anything if we will work hard and are willing to pay the price for success.

The problem is that David clearly says that none of those reasons are how he defeated Goliath. David says in 1 Samuel 17:46-47 (NIV) “This day the Lord will hand you over to me …all those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

David says the only reason he defeated Goliath was by the power of God.

Sure it doesn’t hurt to work hard and do your best, but always be clear that the successes of your life are from the Lord and not from your own hand. You are not the result of good luck but of a good God. Believers are called to trust God and give him credit even when we could claim it for ourselves.