One Lesson from Vacation

I have spent the last seven days just watching the world move on without me. I have enjoyed time with my family, going shopping, eating out, fishing and generally relaxing. We did not take any trips or do anything expensive, mainly we did not work. Today I was reflecting on my time off, and I was reminded of this one simple truth: God is in control of the world.

I know that sounds so simplistic, but I think we need to be reminded of this essential belief repeatedly. It is easy for me to believe that everything depends on me. I have to lead the Church. I have to take care of my family. I need to run as fast as possible to keep all the plates spinning, or they will crash without me.

A week off reminds me that God is in control. Nothing crashed without me. It might be a blow to my ego, but it was strength for my faith.

Attending Church Anytime and Anywhere

Yesterday I was out of town on vacation with my family. We wanted to attend a Church worship program with the entire family as a part of our regular weekend routine. Here is what I have discovered every time this opportunity comes up.

1. There is a Church almost everywhere. If you are out of town, a quick search on google will reveal all kinds of Churches within a few minutes drive of your location.

2. There are multiple time options on Sunday morning.
We found Churches with programs from 8:00 am clear up to 11:30 am. Do not think you are limited to your “normal” time at your home Church.

3. There are several non-traditional options to consider. Many larger Churches have added a worship programs on Thursday Night, Saturday Night, Sunday evening and even other possibilities. If your Sunday morning is booked with travel or activities, an alternate program may fit your needs.

4. If all else fails, online programs abound. If you physically cannot make a worship program, there are numerous Churches with live online events. Some even record them so that you can experience them at any time.

The old saying is, “Where there is a will, there is a way.” That is true with Church worship attendance. If you want to be a part of a weekly worship experience, there are several possibilities for you each weekend. No matter where your life takes you.

Quote for Second Chance People

This is a quote from a former professor of mine who now preaches at a Church in Arizona. His name is Mark Moore, and this originally appeared on his blog, and I thought it was very well said:

“At a recent men’s retreat I had the privilege of being sharpened by a number of fellas who had true brokenness in their lives: Unfaithful wives, sexual addictions, violence in the home, anger management issues, failing parents, failed ministries. One old friend emailed me just to say thanks for the time we got to share together after years of lost contact. My final sentence to him was this: ‘From one wounded warrior to another: stand in the grace we have come to cling to, no longer out of theological commitment, but raw necessity.’

Look, I’m not OK, and neither are you. We serve our king, not because we have earned the right, not because we have lived right, not because it is right, but because we have expended all our other resources and run out of options. As Peter said, ‘To whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.’

Lord, all we can offer you is broken lives and wounded hearts, inflamed with the passion of one indiscriminately loved.”

How to Get Good at Anything

I have always had an interest in becoming a stand-up comic. I know there will be people who will smirk and say I am not funny. I understand that I am not currently qualified in any way to be a comedian. As a result, at one time I did some research on how to become a comedian. People shared several stories and ideas of their journey into comedy. One article I ran across was an interview with Patton Oswalt (not a Christian in any way). He told his story of becoming a nationally known comedian. He said he didn’t take a class, in fact, he made fun of people who did take classes usually at local community colleges. Instead, he became a good at telling jokes by standing up night after night and bombing. He shared how he would go anywhere there was an open mic and give it a shot. Over time he noticed what made people laugh, the stories he told well and how to develop an act. His suggestion was that to become a good comedian you need to fail over and over again until you get good at it.

I have found this information to be true of almost everything in life. It applies to preaching. One of the ways to become better at preaching is to preach and teach repeatedly. In the early years of my ministry, I usually spoke more than 100 times a year. This truth extends beyond just preaching in ministry to almost every area where I serve. Over the year my teaching, my small group leadership, my counseling and everything I do as a minister has significantly improved. Each improvement came at the cost of a hundred failures.

So how do you get good at anything? The biggest step is to overcome your fear of failure. That is it. Most people spend their lives as amateurs poking at things with no sincerity because they are afraid to fail.

What if I embarrass myself? What if I flop and everyone laughs at me? What if I make a mistake and say something wrong? What if it doesn’t go perfectly?

Rest easy. You will fail. You will embarrass yourself. You will make mistakes, and it will not go well. This will happen over and over again. Then one day it won’t. One day you will do it right. You will succeed. Everything will begin to go better than you imagined. People will respond, and you will finally feel good about what you are doing.

God calls us to trust him completely. He is working even in our failures. Sometimes his work does not bring about immediate results. Instead over time, he is molding us into the people he can use. All we have to do is be willing to be used even when it doesn’t look or sound pretty.

The Problem with “Turning it Over to God”

I have heard this one cliché used by Christians since I was a boy. They say something like, “I just decided to turn it over to God.” Usually the phrase comes up when someone is struggling with a complicated issue. They will talk about reaching the end of their rope and then in a moment of clarity they say, “I just turned it over to God.” The rest of the story usually is about some happy ending to their problems.

The other day I heard it again and I had a small mental meltdown. The problem I see is that the phrase can mean nothing. In other words, I was struggling and I came to the point that I am no longer going to worry about it and let God work it out. I know that sounds nice, but is incredibly impractical and might actually be a bad idea.

My fear is that this phrase and others like it might actually be promoting an attitude of apathy. I will just let God handle my issues, and I will avoid any real work to change.

Giving your life to God is not a passive decision.

1. Turning it over to God means I will seek his will as found in his word. Some things are crystal clear in his word. There are some passages about how to handle forgiveness, sin, marriage and other difficult subjects that must first be read and understood.

2. Turning it over to God means I will pray intently about my struggles. There needs to be a day by day searching for God’s will, asking for his guidance while living in his forgiveness. Trusting God is connected to a commitment to prayer.

3. Turning it over to God means I will listen to the wise counsel of other believers. This can be a pastor, a professional counselor, or just an older believer. Trusting God means listening to those wiser voices who might have a different perspective than our own.

4. Turning it over to God means I will take the necessary actions to bring my life in line with God. Once we have sought God’s leading in his word, in prayer and in other people then we commit to go where he is leading. I have had countless people sit in my office seeking my advice. Then I offer it to them and watch them walk out the door to ignore everything I said. Later they return and ask me for more wisdom and I really wonder why.

5. Turning it over to God means trusting that my actions will not be in vain and he will bring about a positive ending. I may have to work for years to see any results. I may spend months beating my head against the hard wall of defeat. Even if there are no immediate results we keep doing the right thing, knowing that in the end God will make sense of it all.

The problem with most people who say things like, “Turn it over to God” is that they want to skip to number five on my list. They want to sit back and do nothing while waiting for some miraculous result. That is not really turning your life over to God, that is laziness.

I firmly believe in the concept of turning your life over to God, but only in healthy and Godly ways. If you are struggling I hope you will hand over the issues of your life to God and then push forward until you see some results.

The Ministry of Listening

One passion in my life is to see people serve the Lord with their gifts and abilities. In talking to people, I am often confronted with the concern over a lack of talent. Many people just do not feel like that know enough or have the right skill set to serve the Lord in a productive way. Lately, I have noticed a ministry that requires little ability other than an open ear and a closed mouth. I call it the ministry of listening.

The need for this ministry becomes clear in conversations, in counseling and even in small groups. There are a large number of people who are just looking for someone with which to share their story. Yes, some people are looking for answers, but that number is limited. Most people know exactly what they should do, they have just not convinced themselves to do it. They want to talk it out. They do not want someone to give them advice, they just want someone to listen to them.

There is a great potential for ministry by simply taking the time to listen to people talk.

I know this is not a new concept to most of us. We understand it. The problem is that we are often way too busy to spend time in seemingly unproductive listening. I know this was true for me until one day I realized that it was not time wasted, rather time invested. Listening is investing in other people for the good of the kingdom of God.

Once you understand this idea as a ministry, then you should build extra time into your schedule. What would happen if you took an extra 15 minutes to actually listen to a co-worker share their struggles? What if you left 30 minutes completely free to listen to your spouse or children? How many lives could you touch for good simply by sitting quietly while other people talk? What would happen to your world if you took some time this day and over the next week to just listen?

I think you will find that listening is often far more influential than talking.

Some Thoughts on Loneliness

Since my dad passed a couple of months ago, I have worried a lot about my mother getting lonely. I have nightmares of her sitting alone at home crying and wishing she could connect with other individuals. As a result, I have spent a considerable amount of time contemplating living life alone.

1. Do an Attitude Check. In the Church, I have seen several people who were belligerent and mean their whole lives. They were difficult people to connect with, and now they wonder why no one comes to visit them. Ask yourself a simple question, “Am I the type of person other people would want to spend time around?” Then be honest with yourself.

2. Develop Relationships Beyond Your Spouse and Kids.
One day your spouse may pass away. Then who will you turn too? Most people think it will be their children, and in some ways, I hope you are right, but you need to think this through. One day your kids will be pursuing a career, raising their own children and seeking their own adventures. They will most likely not be able to sit with you except on holidays. You need to develop healthy relationships with members of the same sex.

3. Invest in Relationships Now. If you want friends in 20 years, then you need to go out and make them now. It is that simple. The seeds you are planting in the lives of other people will be harvested in the fall of your life. Make connections today that will last a lifetime.

4. Being Alone is a Choice for Most People.
I often think of two different ladies who are only a few years apart in age. One of them sits at home waiting for people to visit. The other comes to Church, attends Sunday School and is involved in a couple of ministries. She is always spending time with Church people. I think of another couple who attends Church and all the local school functions. These people are out there and active, and they fill their life with people and joy.

5. Technology is Your Friend (Even if You Are Old). Learning a few simple lessons on computers can open up a whole world. You can call, text and video message. The technology out there sounds intimidating, but it can be mastered with a few steps written on old-fashioned paper. Additionally – buy your mom or dad a computer, download the needed apps or programs and then show them how to use. Be sure you connect with them using it yourself!

I know that no one wants to sit at home alone and lonely, but I know it happens. I think the Church has the potential to help and minister in these situations. I do not want to limit the need of those in our congregation to be a light into dark places. I also know there are some things people can do to help themselves. I hope these help you and your family.