Repost: Engaging Our World

I was going through some old posts I had saved on my computer. These were written almost 10 years ago on a different site when I was serving another Church in a distant city. I kept some of them on my computer and read through them occasionally to get inspiration or a laugh. This one caught my attention, and I thought I would repost it as it was written. I hope you enjoy


I had an interesting experience last week while donating plasma. A lady at the plasma center who was also donating sat down next to me reading a book called “Growing an Engaged Church.” I have never read it. My initial guess is that it might be about how the church as a group can engage people at a deeper level. I went to Amazon, and it says that we need to stop “doing Church and become the Church.” I judged the younger looking lady to be a college student. From the look of the underlines in her book, she was reading it for a class – probably a class on practical ministry.

If that is the case, I find it very interested how the rest of the morning played out. She sat and read her book without ever looking up to see the people around her. There was Kyle who came into work at 8:00 am for a full day. He estimates he helps over 50 people a day with their donations. Or there was the nice lady that helped me when the donation was complete. Her name was Barb. She had been in that day since 5:30 am and was feeling exhausted. She is working two jobs to make ends meet and worked 16 hours the day before. She wore a huge button that was a picture of her and her husband on their wedding day. She knew people who lived in my little community of Epworth and wondered if I knew them too. We had a nice chat while she unhooked my machine.

Meanwhile, the lady with the book never looked up. She did eventually talk on her cell phone to someone. Then as she was about to leave she began talking to a young man directly across from her. They apparently know each other from college. After a short conversation with him, she slipped out quietly. Probably no one but myself noticed she was there … or gone.

The nice lady and I finished our conversation 5 minutes after I put my coat on to leave. She asked nicely if I will be back in a couple of days. I responded in the affirmative, and she said “Well, I will see you in a few days” with a smile.

The reality is simple. We don’t need more books about becoming “engaged” with people in the community. We need more individuals who care about other people.

A Time to Serve

When are you going to serve the Lord?

Two conversations.

The first one was with a younger woman. I spoke with her about getting involved at the Church and serving the Lord in some capacity each week. She replied with a statement of eager anticipation, “Oh, I would love to help.” Unfortunately, it was followed by a list of reasons that would not allow her time to help us. She said that her job demanded much from her and her kids were always busy. She talked about spending time with her husband and their need for recreation. She was busy all the time right now. She did add one disclaimer. One day her kids would be grown, and her job would be more secure. There would come a day when she and her husband’s life would calm down, and they would feel less stress. One day, when she is older, she would gladly be a part of the work of the Lord at our Church.

The second conversation was with a much older woman. In Church circles, we call them “Senior Saints.” Those wonderful older people who are now in their retirement years and enjoying the last leg of their journey on earth. She spoke of being lonely now that her husband was gone. She longed for a connection with the people of the Church in deep and meaningful ways. My wife explained to her that she could be a real blessing to the ministry of our Church. She could serve with other older ladies to make an impact on the next generation. She could connect with other people as they stood side by side fighting the good fight. Her response was a quiet, “I have done my time. It is time for the younger ladies to step up and do something.”

Do you see the problem?

There seem to be several people who claim to follow Jesus that believe serving Jesus is someone else’s job.

Sure, we want our church to have nurseries and children’s programs. We want our Church to have small groups and Sunday School classes. We want fellowship dinners and special events. The only catch is that we do not want to help make them happen.

The Church moves forward in a community when people stop saying “one day” I will serve. It will make a greater impact on the lives our neighbors when we stop saying it is no longer my time. We will change the world for Christ when we step up and say “Today, I will serve the Lord.”

When are you going to serve the Lord? How about today?

Following Jesus is a Series of Decisions

Numerous times I have heard Christians talk about other people “making a decision to follow Jesus.” They are usually talking about a big public decision that came with a confession of faith and in our Church, it also included baptism. Christians celebrate these as huge markers in our journey of faith. I do it too. Each year I am excited about the baptisms that happen in our Church. I am encouraged by each and every person who takes a big step for the world to see.

Through my years as a Church leader, I am getting less excited about that one time someone made that one big decision. Lately, I am more excited about the ongoing decisions people make to following Jesus.

-I am excited for the child who decided to come to Church as a teenager even when their parents say it is “up to them.”
-I am encouraged when a teenager makes the decision to pursue a life of faith above all else including sports, school, work and a social life.
-I am impressed by any college student who attends Church and tries to remain faithful to God when all their friends are walking away.
-I am overjoyed when a recent college graduate connects with a body of believers and commits to growing in their faith.
-I am thrilled when newlyweds decide to build their marriage on Christian principles and patterns.
-I am moved by new parents who bring their children to Church and start their family on a journey of faith together.
-I am touched as parents of a young family make Church and faith a priority over all the “big shiny things” that plead for their children’s attention.
-I am wowed by parents of teens who believe that faith is the single most important thing for their kids over the thousand activities that compete for their time.
-I am amazed at newly empty nest couples who commit to ministry over recreation and self-centeredness.
-I am honored to watch senior citizens continue to serve, grow and love when they could sit back and rest on the accomplishments of the past.

I picture faith like a journey with God. Frequently there are exit ramps on this road with bright lights and exciting attractions, but faith just keeps moving forward with God. With every new phase of life comes a new decision to follow Jesus. One time public decisions are wonderful steps on this adventure, but they are meaningless if you quit somewhere down the road.

The journey of faith is filled with numerous decisions to follow Jesus. I hope and pray that you continue to choose to follow him day after day and season after season.

Learning from Difficult People

As adults, most of us have learned that there are difficult people everywhere. We see them at our jobs, in our families and even when we are on vacation. They are self-centered, lack social graces, say uncaring things, and frequently they hurt us in some emotional way.

Most of us have encountered difficult people everywhere we go. We have come to accept it. We often expect it when we are placed in certain situations. The one thing many of us did not expect was to find those people in Church. We went to Church with the idea that everyone would be friendly, kind and overflow with love.

Then it happened. Someone crossed the line. They said something of which I did not approve. Their attitude seemed to be angry and mean. They demonstrated unchristian behavior.

Unfortunately, it happens. The people who come to Church are not perfect. In fact, many of them are a total mess, and that is why they came to Church. Mistakes will be made, confrontations will happen, and people will generally rub each other the wrong way at times.

I hate it that this happens. And if it happened to you, I am sorry. It has happened to me, and it hurt, in fact, it still hurts. Through the years, I have noticed that God frequently allows these people in my life to mold me. Quite often, I am shaped more by the difficult people than by anyone else.

Difficult people …

1. Teach me to be kind. There are times I have vowed to never treat another person the way I am being treated. I want my life to exude kindness rather than anger.

2. Teach me to forgive. It is easy to forgive nice people when they fall short. It is much harder to forgive the angry people who shout “Crucify.”

3. Teach me to love people different from myself. Many times, the difficulty I have with other people is not about theology but rather methodology. I need to accept that people will handle things different than I do, and that does not make them a bad person.

4. Teach me about the Love of God. Luke 6:35 says that God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. God loves everyone no matter what they have done. We are called to that kind of love.

5. Teach me to love my enemy. Biblical love is not emotional. Biblically love is an action. Jesus teaches us to act in a loving way toward people who we consider an enemy. It takes real faith to do something kind for someone who has hurt me, and yet that is what Jesus is calling us to do.

6. Teach me to be careful of assumptions. Many times, I have thought someone was a jerk until I heard their story. I have encountered people who were abused as children, cheated on as adults, suffering from pain, and a hundred other issues. The person you feel is full of anger might just be full of hurt themselves. They are crying out for attention and have no idea how to get it.

7. Teach me to exercise grace to others. I want people to be kind to me when I fail. I want them to offer me grace in my weakest moments. Just as Jesus offers me that grace, I am called to turn and offer that to other people. The real test of my heart may be how I deal with difficult people more than anyone else.

When we are hurt and feel the pain of connecting with other people we have two options. We can allow God to use these encounters to make us better people. The other option is for them to make us bitter people. There is this strange dynamic where Christian people get hurt emotionally and then turn around to be just as hard and calloused as the people who hurt them. The other option is to let go of the pain and learn to work through our issues. I believe when we try to deal with difficult people, the end result is that all of us will grow and become better people.

My Favorite Non-Traditional Bible Passages

There are some Bible passages that are favorites among believers. Some of those include John 3:16, Matthew 16:16, Psalm 23, Isaiah 53 and Matthew 28:18-20. For many believers, there are passages of scripture that we hold dear to our hearts and have since our early days in their faith.

While most of us could agree on some timeless verses, there are some that you might not immediately know that have become favorites of mine. (all passages are from the New International Version)

1. Jonah 3:1 “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.” Jonah had failed God, and yet God gave him a second chance. This is the story of my life of faith. God comes to me over and over again after I have failed him and gives me one chance after another.

2. Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Our God never leaves us in our hurts, rather he draws close to offer us comfort and peace.

3. Proverbs 24:16 “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity. I love the picture of a righteous man not being perfect but instead being persistent. Falling down is not the problem, staying down is.

4. Jonah 4:2 “He prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.’” There are several variations of this verse throughout the Bible. God is frequently described as gracious, compassionate and slow to anger. He expects us to live a life worthy of his name, but gives us grace when we fall short.

5. 1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Other translations say, “Cast your cares on him …” The main idea is that whatever is bothering you or whatever is keeping you up at night and causing you to “stress out.” Those things can be given over to God, and he will handle them because he cares for you personally.

I don’t know if you have heard any of these passages before. They are usually not the ones that get repeated in Christian circles, but they continue to remind me of the grace and mercy of God.

What passages would you add to my list?

Your Ever-Changing Role in a Christian Community

As a believer in Jesus, we are placed into a community of people that we call the Church. It is composed of people from all kinds of backgrounds, with all types of personalities and various maturity levels. To be a part of this community is like being a part of a weird blended family in which we are all connected but all different.

I believe one of the reasons God places us in this group of his followers is because each one of us has something to offer. One lesson I have learned through the years is that I may have to offer several things to the people of this community. Here are some of the roles we fill each week.

1. Sometimes You Are a Teacher. This can take many forms in the life of the Church. Quite often it is teaching the Bible to other believers. There is a lot to learn about God, his word, his will, and theology. Other times it is teaching from your experience as a Christian. Sometimes we have the role of teaching of what we know.

2. Sometimes You Are a Cheerleader. There are a lot of people who come to this community beaten down by the world. Their self-worth is declining as they have been told they are a failure or at least not as good as other people. Some days I simply stand and cheer other people on and remind them that God sees them as valuable. Reminding them that each life has a purpose, and God can use it for good. Many times people need someone to cheer them on so that they can go back out into life with confidence.

3. Sometimes You Are a Counselor. Very often we find ourselves listening to the problems of other people. Sometimes we offer advice and other times we just sit quietly. We ask probing questions and try to help people see themselves and their situation clearly. Many times I have been the lightning rod for years of struggle to help someone heal. Sometimes your heart breaks as you listen to the failures people have made that brought them to the breaking point.

4. Sometimes You Are a Parent. There are people in each community who need someone to take them under their wing and mentor them. There are people looking for a spiritual parent in the faith to help them grow and mature. With each passing year of experience as a believer, you gain knowledge that can be shared to help the next generation.

5. You are always a servant. I wish I knew exactly how many times in my ministry I have said, “I will help in any way that I can.” I never know exactly what role will follow, but that’s okay. I have been a mover, a cook, a cleaner, a lawn care guy, a babysitter and a hundred other roles. Numerous jobs simply require a willing body.

What I have found through all my years of being a Christian and especially a Christian leader is that many people are looking for spiritual and emotional help. They have no one close enough to help them or listen to them. God in his wisdom created a community of people who are here to help. You just have to be willing to fill whatever position needs to be filled. In fact, I am sure there is someone who needs you this weekend. Open your eyes and be what someone needs.

How Would You Describe Your Child?

I recently watched a woman try to describe her children. What was unique about her attempt was that she sought to do it in one word. I admit that I had never really thought about it before watching her effort. She tried to use a descriptive word for each of her children to encapsulate their personality and their dreams.

While watching her talk about her children a couple of thoughts came to my head. First, how would I describe each of my kids in one word? Then a second more pointed thought came to mind; “Would that word reflect my faith in God?”

There is a big difference between raising a “winner” and raising a “giver.” No one will mistake a “self-confident” person for a “self-sacrificing” one. There is a vast spiritual gap between “faithful” and “proud.”

There are a lot of good words that we can use to label our children, but not all of them reflect our faith. They can be smart or funny or an athlete or social or determined or fast or strong or even a leader with no knowledge of God.

Raising our children in the way of the Lord will lead to the fruit of the Spirit being manifest in their lives. They will be children who are known by their love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

My question from this little exercise for myself was quite pointed, “Am I raising children who are defined by God’s standard or by the worlds?”

How would you label your child in one word? Maybe that says more about our parenting than their personality.

A Helpful Marriage Analogy

I am currently meeting with a small group of people, and we are talking about the topic of marriage. We are using the material entitled “A Lifelong Love” from Gary Thomas. We watch a half hour video each week and then discuss it for 8 weeks. The material has been quite good so far and generated several good discussions.

This last week Gary used an analogy that I found very helpful. He stated that most people view marriage like a tree. With a tree, you take and plant a seedling into the ground. In the beginning, you should water it, possibly fertilize it, and keep any animals from destroying it. We once owned a new tree, and we had to stake it and keep adjusting the ropes to support it. Over time, though, you do less and less for the tree. Eventually, you just expect it to be there offering the joy of its shade. No real work left to do but occasionally clean up the leaves in the fall. He said most people view marriage like that tree, some work up front but little work in the future.

Then Gary suggested a better analogy for us to think of marriage. He said that marriage is more like building a brick house. Each and every day we are placing bricks into the structure of marriage. If we quit and leave before it is finished, then the whole thing is not right. Brick building takes diligence and hard work day after day and brick after brick. You are not finished until every block is set in place. Only then can you really enjoy what you have built.

I thought the analogy was extremely fitting for the lives of people I lead and counsel along with my own marriage. Most of us put very little energy into making our marriage better. Sure, we did in the beginning, but now we feel like we should just be enjoying it.

The big question is “How do you view your marriage?” The wrong images lead to the wrong actions or in this case, lack of action. How would your marriage be different if you viewed it as a brick house other than a tree?