If You Travel This Summer

We are starting the vacation season in the United States especially here in the Midwest. For the next two months, the attendance at our Church will be down each week. Honestly, I am okay with it. In fact, I take a vacation myself.

While you are on vacation this summer, I want to encourage you with thought.

Please keep worship as a priority.

1. Attend Worship at Any Church You Are Near. My family and I love to visit new Churches, especially larger ones. We get to relax and worship without any pressure to perform. We are not there to serve, but to draw close to the Lord.

2. View a Worship Service Online. Many Churches have online campuses where they put on a worship program for people. These are perfect in many ways for vacation times. You can sit back in your pajamas and still hear worship music and a sermon. One Church I have watched even pauses for you to take communion as a family.

3. Have a Family Worship Time. This can be a fun experience. Let one of you family members lead each part of your time. One can pray. One can read scripture. One of you can play your favorite Christian song. I believe it will bring you closer to God and closer to each other.

4. Have Your Own Quiet Time. Once I was on a trip to Canada, and I woke up earlier than everyone and just walked around outside until I found a quiet place. There I prayed, sang a song and then read a passage of scripture. Surprisingly God spoke to me in a deep and profound way there all alone on that morning.

I hope you have a wonderful summer. I hope you get a chance to rest. I hope you have fun. I hope you reconnect with your spouse and with your family. I pray 2017 is a summer you never forget.

I also hope and pray you keep Christ at the center of your life. I hope he rules over every season of your life, even vacation season.

Do You Want to Know What I Think?

I have been a preacher a long time. In all my years of ministry, I have encountered thousands upon thousands of people. I have spent time with people who completely embrace all that I believe, and I have talked with those who totally reject my beliefs. My contact with people has sometimes surprised me, but usually, I have noticed similar patterns that keep reappearing.

Here is what I think is really going on in most people’s lives.

I think you are worried. You are anxious about the future. You worry about your finances, your job, your parenting, your future and the future of the world. I think that at night you lie awake replaying every day and hope tomorrow will be better.

I think you are scared. You are afraid of what people think about you. You are afraid your marriage is a charade. You fear that something will happen to someone you love. You have insurance on everything, but your insecurity has never been higher.

I think you are lonely. You desperately want to connect with people on a deep level. You want to share your heart with someone and know they will care while loving you completely. You are present on social media yet feel alone. You may even be surrounded by people, but you never let your guard down. When you do start to connect with someone you try to undermine what you feel so you do not get hurt.

I think you are hurting. Someone has hurt you. Something has hurt you. The scars on your soul are open and still festering, but you never talk about it to anyone. When you are alone, you cry and can’t seem to tell other people what you are feeling. You might even drink to dull the pain, but the next day you feel the same way. You think no one knows or will understand.

I think you feel guilt and regret. When you have quiet moments, you do not feel the goodness of love and beauty. You replay your failures. Your mistakes haunt your mind and will not let you rest. You want to confess your sins to someone, but you are afraid it will destroy your relationships. Every year it gets worse, and you do not know what to do about it.

I think you are worried that you are the only one who feels this way. You look at the world and believe most of the people you know have it all together. Their marriage is perfect, and their children have no flaws. Surely, they must be happy and have a level of peace you do not know. You think their lives are wonderful with no struggles and you are alone on this island inside your mind.

I am here to let you know simply we all struggle with the same things. None of us have the peace and clarity we want in our lives. You are not alone. All of us are a mess. If we claim we are not that way it is because we are insecure about telling the truth.

Jesus did not come to save those who were perfect from making future mistakes. He came to take us who are full of flaws and give us a better future. He did the same for all of us. I think you need to stop trying to fool yourself and embrace yourself as a person in need of grace and mercy. Just like the rest of us.

Weekend Reading

Here are some of the good articles and posts I read this week. Interestingly enough, several of them are about Pastors. I hope you enjoy them and are encouraged by them.

What to Say When Your Child Tells You “I’m Not Sure I Want to Be a Christian Anymore”

The Internal Battles of Even the Best Pastors

5 Simple Statements Any Small Church Pastor Would Love To Hear

10 Reasons Anger is Often a Problem for Pastors – I have known several angry pastors through the years and found this insightful.

The Uncomfortable Subject Jesus Addressed More than Anyone Else – Short but interesting article about Hell.

“Keep Yourself at 17 Inches” – Great sports analogy

Do the Right Thing

The words hung in the air like the smell of sour milk in the kitchen. She said, “I know what I should do, I just do feel like doing it right now.”

How do you respond to that?

Let me encourage you with one little thought today. Do the right thing no matter how you feel about it.

Do the right thing for your spouse … no matter how you feel about them or yourself.

Do the right thing for your parents … no matter how you feel about them.

Do the right thing for your children … no matter how you feel about them right now.

Do the right thing for your neighbor … no matter how they have upset you.

Do the right thing for that person … no matter how you feel about their decisions.

You may hesitate, and it may not come naturally. Your palms may sweat, and your voice gets shaky. Your stomach may go into all out revolt. It will be okay, I promise.

Smile. Say hello. Ask how they are doing. Hug. Tell them you love them. Hold their hand. Speak kindly. Forgive. Offer grace. Send an email or text and say something nice. Go out of your way to do something helpful. Be friendly. Invest your energy in someone else. Don’t withhold your kindness to other people, especially those closest to you, just because you don’t feel like it now.

Your feelings will change. Tomorrow will look different. You will never regret doing the right thing. You will, however, regret waiting to act until it is too late.

Today is your day. Doing the right thing is within your power.

Two Elements of Discipleship

One of the primary goals of the Church is to produce disciples of Jesus. It is not enough to merely preach the gospel and see people come to faith. The bigger goal is for people to grow in their faith until they are living like Jesus.

Two of the biggest elements of this project are …

1. Bible Teaching. A follower of Jesus sees the Bible as the word of God spoken to them. You read the stories and seek to understand all that it says. As a result, we read, and we study until we know more than just a few children’s stories.

2. Practical Application. What does this mean to our lives today? What does the message of the Bible look like if it were lived out today? How do we do what the Bible is teaching us? These are all very practical questions that can have various answers. For example, the Bible teaches that husbands are to love their wives like Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her. I believe this is a fundamental teaching about marriage. But the practical application can range from a weekly date night to taking out the garbage and doing the dishes.

It is important for each one of us to understand these two different principles.

First, you need to understand the information you are receiving clearly. A Bible study might be a group that studies the message of the Bible with very little application. This blog is very practical with little Bible teaching. A sermon might be a combination of both Bible and implementation.

Second, much of what is considered practical application can adjust for each person. What works in your marriage might not work in mine and vice versa. Sometimes you might need to try several possibilities before landing on the best plan for you.

Third, Bible teaching is timeless, but the application is ever-changing. Applying a passage today might look very different from what it did 100 years ago because of the internet. We as believers and as a Church need to continually be evaluating our practices to make sure we continue growing over a lifetime.

If we teach the Bible without application, we might only produce mentally strong Christians. If we try to live for Jesus without knowledge of the Bible, we can easily slip into pop psychology instead of eternal truth. When we combine both, we prepare the way for years of growth in Christ.

Wanting Attention from the Church

I am not a clinical psychologist, but I am still convinced that everyone is born with a desire for attention. We want people to connect with us so that we can feel important and have a sense of belonging. We want people to notice and care about us.

The best way to receive this attention is in a positive manner. Be the best you can be at something and people will notice you. This can range from singing to art to athletics to even being smart.

If we are not getting the attention we desire in a positive way, then we resort to negative attention. People will do some destructive behavior in an effort to get people to notice them. This can range from a child throwing a tantrum to a teenager who gets into trouble at school.

What happens when these children who grow up seeking attention in a negative way become adults? More importantly for me, what happens when these adults come to Church?

Here are some of the ways I have noticed people seeking attention from the Church –

1. Something is Always Wrong.
They are always complaining about something. The music is too loud, or the preacher is too quiet. The seats are too soft or too hard. They just never seem to be happy. When you see them coming toward you, you brace yourself for their next complaint. They feed off the attention they receive from everyone trying to make them happy.

2. There is Always Drama.
This person is the king or queen of prayer request time. They are always hurting or sick or struggling to make it somehow. If it is not them, then it is someone in their family or close circle of friends. They are driven to get attention from people asking how they are doing. They always have a difficult tale that generates sympathy.

3. Things Must Be Done Their Way.
They come to Church and want to be in charge. They are usually convinced they have the gift of leadership. They want everyone to listen to them as the voice of wisdom. They strive to get the attention of the weakest members of the group because it makes them feel important. Often their influence also comes from a position of power or financial success.

4. Everything Cries for Attention.
Through the years, I have been interested in who raises their hand during worship. I notice who wants to be on stage or up front all the time. I see who always wants to be the greeter every week. No matter what the situation they seem to be able to turn the spotlight toward themselves. They feed on being seen by people in a positive way.

Have you seen these people in Church? They have been present in every setting in which I have ever pastored. As a fellow believer, I try to show them love and concern without going overboard. Quite often these people use up all their attention-grabbing tricks and then move on to another congregation. They especially love smaller churches where they can get attention in large quantity from a small group.

So the next time you encounter something at Church, ask yourself, “Is this person merely trying to get attention?” All of us have our flaws, believe me, ALL of us do. This is just another one of them that I hear very few people talk about. I want to be a part of a group of individuals where positive attention is given for the building up of all believers.

Please Don’t Destroy What Has Taken Me So Long to Plant

The Bible describes the process of sharing our faith as a farming metaphor. The word of God is a seed. We do the work of planting the seed until there is a harvest. It is a simple image that those of us in the Midwest can easily understand as we live in the middle of farm country.

This word picture as used in the Bible does give us the primary activities of planting and watering as part of sharing Jesus. But knowing a little bit about farming and even more about sharing my faith I have seen that there are far more actions required to have a successful harvest. In fact, there is a lot of hard work that goes into farming long before the seed is ever planted.

First, the land must be cleared of any obstructions. Trees may need to be removed and grass cut. Then the ground needs to be prepared. The soil must be properly “worked” before it can be planted. This might even include some form of fertilizer to help make the ground the receptive to the seed. Turning a plot of land into a field requires hours of labor to make it productive.

I often view my work in ministry like that of a farmer. I spend numerous hours trying to clear away obstructions that people have built up against faith. I work the ground of people’s heart to soften them up to the message of Jesus. I add in moments that will help to make them open to the work of the Lord in their lives. Honestly, sometimes it takes 3-5 years or more before I am ever able to talk to some people about Jesus.

I work hard to be a good farmer of the gospel. The problem I have is when someone comes along and tries to plant the seed of faith before the soil is ready. Suddenly I find myself trying to keep a small seedling alive in the middle of a pile of brush or the hard, unfertilized soil of their life.

Here are a couple of things that destroy the work I am trying to do as a Christian farmer.

1. Don’t Turn Every Speaking Opportunity Into a Sermon
I know as Christians we applaud the sports star who takes the microphone after a big game and proclaims his faith in Jesus. But you need to understand that their “star” status has given them a unique platform. Some people, inspired by what they see on TV, take anytime they are asked to talk as an opportunity to launch into a sermon. I have found this repels most people from faith rather than attract them. Sometimes the best thing you can do is what you are assigned to do. If you are asked to welcome people to an event, then welcome them. If you are asked to speak about your time in the military, then tell them about your struggles during those times. You do not have to turn every speaking opportunity into a sermon to have a positive effect as a Christian.

2. Don’t Make Everything About Jesus
I once knew a guy who made a commitment to talk about Jesus to everyone he encountered in his life. At first it sounded noble, but eventually, it just became annoying. Some people simply want to talk about themselves and their interests before they will listen to you. The one big tip I can give anyone who wants to share their faith is simple, “Ask questions and listen to answers.” I believe that as a Christian it is okay to talk about racing, football, fishing, movies and just about anything without ever mentioning Jesus. Frequently these conversations will one day break the ground of the hard soil of someone’s heart.

3. Don’t Argue About Bible Passages With a Stranger.
Numerous times people have found out that I was a preacher and they wanted to argue with me about something in the Bible or faith. Quite often these people are searching for answers but me arguing with them will not bring the desired result. In those situations, the first thing I ask is for people to share their story with me. This is vital. Why are you asking these things? The second thing I do is ask if we can set down and have a full discussion later. Honestly, I have never found that arguing or having a heated discussion has ever done much good in the long run.

I could spend a lot of space telling you every struggle I have had, but these are the biggest ones I am dealing with lately. I know that as believers we want to share the gospel and we want to do it now. Sometimes now is not the right time. There is work to be done making the soil ready. I once heard a man say it takes 8-10 positive Christian contacts in a row before a person is open to the message of Jesus. You and I might not be number 10 who sees the conversion, but we might be number 6 who keeps the Lord’s work moving along. My plea is that you are also not the negative experience that sends the work back to 1. Let’s all use our heads and work together for the good of the kingdom.

The “God Factor” for a Believer

As a pastor, I am always trying to communicate the truth of the gospel in some way. I teach and preach. I write and post. I talk to people in small groups and individually. Simply put, I try to explain the life of a believer in every way that I able.

I work to make everything I say the clear, engaging and understandable. I do think God is present while I work, but I work as if the world depended on me. That is all that I can do.

Then God steps in and takes what I do and connects it to where it is needed.

I can’t completely explain why you came to Church that Sunday. I can’t entirely explain why the sermon was on that topic. I can’t completely explain why the songs on the radio, the conversation you had with a friend or simply the way you are feeling all align with what I taught that time. The only explanation I have is that I serve in a place where God consistently shows up and puts everything together.

I do not believe this is limited to preachers and pastors. This is a reality for everyone who believes. As you go out into the world living for Jesus and sharing his message with the people, you know God will show up and put people in your path who need you and your message.

I think if you open yourself up to God he will speak to you. If you allow God to use your life, you will speak through you. I firmly believe God is at work in ways we cannot even imagine. You just never know what God is going to do with you and through you today.