Long Holiday Weekend

Tomorrow starts the run into the fourth of July. Most places around here start festivities on Saturday, and I know events are running through Tuesday the Fourth. With that said, I know that no one is going to spend their time wondering, “What does preacher Matt have to say on his blog?” You will be out enjoying life, family and the height of summer as everyone should be doing. I know I will be enjoying the weekend along with our time of worship this Sunday morning.

This will be the last post for a few days, and I will get back into the swing of writing more soon. Until then, may God bless you all and I am glad I live in a country where I currently have the freedom to write about God and living for him without persecution.

Have a great holiday weekend.

A Plea for Strong Godly Men

This past Sunday after the sermon the Church was taking the time to share in communion. During this period in our worship, there was a video playing on the screen to create a mood of meditation. The video was the song “O Come to the Altar” by Elevation Worship. We were playing the video they have uploaded to YouTube with the images on the screen.
[You can watch the video HERE]

I have seen the video several times and heard the song a hundred more times. This time I noticed something I have never noticed before. During the video, there is a section that shows a baptism program at their Church. It starts at the 3:00-minute mark and lasts until the 4:00-minute mark.

The first thing I noticed was that most of the baptism decisions were being made by men. That caught me off guard a little as most the baptisms that I perform are women and children. The second thing I noticed was the guy they showed at the 3:54 point who is last in the video section is quite the man. He is big, strong and handsome. He is a manly kind of man, and he is celebrating his new life in Christ. The image caught me like never before.

His decision filled me with joy and then with a moment of despair as I thought, “Where have all the real men gone in the Church?”

Where are the men who lead their wife in faith?

Where are the men who lead their family in spiritual growth?

Where are the men who lead their Church with confidence?

Where are the men who lead their community in the power of God?

Unfortunately, many of the men I know have little spiritual strength. They either do not come to Church, or they come only because the wife tells them too.

Very few men are leading the way in spiritual growth. Few read their Bible or do anything to help themselves grow. Over 80% of the readers of blogs like mine are female.

Churches are desperately searching for male leadership. Recently I was reflecting on the idea that in 24 years of ministry I have only brought three men onto Church leadership as Elders. That is because either no one was qualified or simply no one wanted the job.

Most men I know have settled into going to work, coaching their kid’s sports team, or doing some hobby they enjoy. They have stepped back in their faith or completely stepped away.

Today, one of my biggest hopes is to reconnect men to their faith. I want to see men step up and be strong Godly leaders in every area of their lives. I want to challenge men to be more than people who watch faith from the side. I believe the future of our marriages, families, Church and even our country will depend on whether men are willing to be all that God wants them to be.

It all starts with one man willing to stand up and say, “I am ready to live for Christ.” Thank you guy at the 3:54 point for reminding me of what it means to be a Godly man.

My Identity in Jesus

I cannot imagine what it is like to live a life without faith. I mean that literally. My parents took me to Church on the first Sunday of my life, and I have been mostly faithful clear through to today. There has never been an extended time in my life without faith. I also mean that spiritually. How does someone live a meaningful life without faith?

My faith teaches me –

1. God created me. I am a child of God. He knit me together in my mother’s womb. I am not the result of a random DNA experiment. My life is not a mistake.

2. God loves me. God created me so that I could spend time in fellowship with him. He is the eternal father who is connected to his children in a profound way that words cannot express. Someone of significance cares about me.

3. I am forgiven. When I chose to walk away from God and openly rebel against his will, he chose to offer forgiveness in Jesus death on the cross. While at times I may feel guilt and shame, those will never define my relationship with God. I am loved beyond my mistakes.

4. I have a purpose. God created me, and then he recreated me in Christ Jesus. He takes both parts and shapes me to serve him in the world. I get to be the hands and feet of Jesus wherever I go. I am not just hoping my life has an impact. I know that God is using me for his purpose.

5. I have a family. I am not the only one that God created, loves, forgives and uses in the world. I am part of a group of people united by the same understanding and experience. There are people like me in almost every place on the globe. Just because of our similar faith we are connected without even knowing each other. I am a part of people who call me their own.

6. I have hope. This life is a journey of learning and growing until I reach a destination. My faith looks at the end of life with hope and joy. I believe there is a heaven, an eternal promised land, waiting for me on the other side of death. I do not look at the future with despair, for me, to die is gain.

While this is not an exhaustive list of my identity in Christ, these are the places my mind lands daily. When the world is telling me, I am just a pile of flesh that is here by random chance. When the people around me are whispering that I am not handsome enough, or smart enough or have achieved enough to have any real value. When people are fighting desperately against their final breath because it will all be over soon. When the world seems dark and depressing, and many have no love or hope. I understand that my faith has made me different.

My life has infinite value and worth. No one can tell me any different.

Today is Your Day

It’s Monday. You can hang your head and start another week with despair.

You can mope around about starting a new work week. You can miss the freedom of the weekend. You can whine all the way till Wednesday.

There is another option. You can make today great.

Today can be the start of a wonderful and amazing week. You can spend time with people you love. You can touch the lives of other people for good. The kingdom of God can be present in your world through what you do today. You can be the catalyst for change. You can start something that will make your world a better place. You can shine your light in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.

I think we need to be continually reminded that “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24 – NIV)”

Tomorrow is never promised to us. All we have is today. Make it a great one.

Being Christ to People on Sunday

Those who call themselves Christians accept the responsibility that we represent Christ wherever we go. This is true at our jobs, in our homes and even in our Churches. Each interaction we have sends a message about the Jesus we follow.

We ordinarily just tell people that on Sunday they need to be friendly. While that is true, today I want to be more specific. Here are ten ways you can be Christ to people this Sunday morning at Church.

1. Smile. Simple yet still inviting.

2. Shake Hands. Walk up to a stranger and say, “Welcome. I am glad you are here today,” while looking them in the eye.

3. Talk Nicely to People. Ask questions and listen to answers. Respond calmly and nicely no matter what they say. Use gentle words.

4. Help guests. Ask if you can help them find anything.

5. Don’t Gossip. You may think no one hears you telling those stories about other people in the Church. They do, and it hurts the cause of Christ.

6. Pray with & for People. No explanation needed.

7. Let Go of Agitations. This is not your time to complain about the preacher, the music and whatever wrong you feel is happening to you. A negative attitude hurts everyone.

8. Give up Your Seat (and parking spot). Save the best places for other people. Park far way and sit at the front.

9. Engage. If you talk and are disinterested in the music and the sermon, other people will get the impression that what we are doing is not important.

10. Don’t Be Weird. I know this is subjective, but try to act normal. Save your love of Star Wars or macramé or whatever for another time. You scare people who do not know you yet.

I know this is not a complete list of ideas. What might you add?

Just remember that your every word and action represents Jesus to the world. This might not be greater anywhere than in the Church.

Putting on a Personal Magic Show

One of the cornerstones of magic is misdirection. Misdirection is a form of deception in which the attention of an audience is focused on one thing to distract its attention from another thing that is happening. A good magician draws your attention to his right hand while his left hand is doing the trick. It is an essential magicians tool, but when used correctly it can fool people completely.

Unfortunately, people will use misdirection in their personal lives to trick you too. We will talk about their children all the time so that you do not look at our marriage. We talk about our marriage, so you do not look at our career. We talk about our exercise and diet, so we do not have to deal with our past. We push one thing to the forefront of our conversations, social media, and personal interactions so that you do not look at the other areas of our lives.

We do this because we know that if you were to look carefully, we would be exposed. You would see the mess we have tried to hide for years. If we can keep your attention away from the mess, we feel good about ourselves for another day.

The trouble is that one day we will be exposed. It is not a matter of “if” we will be exposed, but when and to whom. One day someone will reveal our secrets, and the trick will fall apart. One day the divorce papers will come, the children will make a huge mistake, you will get fired, or you will forget everyone is watching and you do not put on the show. All secrets are gone, and the personal magic show is over.

What if instead of spending so much time pretending you have it all together you spent your time really trying to change. What if you had that hard conversation? What if you truly forgive? What if you ignored what the public thought and focused on your issues? What if you were honest for once in your life? Sure, life might be more difficult at the moment, but you would be dealing with reality and not all the smoke and mirrors.

The truth is that magic shows are fun for sideshow carnivals, but personal magic is a complicated web of deceit that ultimately destroys people. Maybe today it’s time to stop the show.

My Thoughts on Church Membership

When I started in ministry, I felt like Church membership was an archaic idea that meant very little today. In fact, most of the Churches I knew had huge membership lists with very few in attendance. It seemed like the concept of being a member meant nothing and had little value other than a nice line in your obituary. Through my years of ministry, I have changed my mind. The problem was not the concept of Church membership; the problem was the way some Churches handle it. At this point in my life and ministry, I have come to believe that membership in a Church is essential if the Church handles it correctly. Here are a few reasons I believe this to be true.

1. Membership is Biblical. While the phrase “Church member” is never used the concept is repeatedly found. I really think the leaders of the early Church had no dream of there ever being a Christian who was not a Church member. Here are a couple of examples: When the Church had problems in Acts 6 they were to select leaders (later called deacons) from “among you.” Who is the” you?” I believe the “you” represents everyone who was connected to that body of believers. We call those people members. Also, in 1 Corinthians there was a man living in public sin who was part of the Church (chapter 5). Paul says they are to put the man out of their fellowship. What does that mean? That means there were people who were a part of their group and people who were not. Lines had been drawn between insiders and outsiders or members and non-members. These are just two of several examples.

2. Membership Shows Connectedness. Every civic group I know has members. They understand that you need to connect with them to adequately represent them officially. The same principle is true in the church. Placing your membership in a Church is a public demonstration that you are connected to this local group.

3. Membership Raises Accountability. This is where many Churches fail. To me, if you are going to be a member then you are saying I want you to treat me like family. The Church then responds by keeping an eye on you like a caring parent. If you are sick, we come to pray. If you are absent, we ask what is going on in your life to cause this. If you are involved in public sin, then we lovingly confront you. The goal of membership is to care for you both physically and spiritually.

4. Membership is a Declaration of Belief. Personally, I teach a membership class that contains the basics of faith I believe are found in scripture. When someone becomes a member, they are declaring that they understand those beliefs that we teach and will never teach against them. This helps the Church to find teachers, leaders, deacons and elders who understand our beliefs and will support them publicly.

5. Membership Means Involvement. A true member is someone who has claimed to be a part of a group and really means it. The group then depends on them to help in their cause. This is true of all memberships but especially true in the Church. One of my goals is to help members find their giftedness and then use those gifts as part of our body. Membership means nothing if you do not get involved.

6. Membership is Practical. This is huge for me. We have hundreds of people who drift in and out of our Church. It is impossible for me (and the elders) to care for everyone who walks through our doors. We can try, but we will fail because people will fall through the cracks. What we can do is care completely for those who have stood up and said, “This is my Church.” Those people are easy to identify, lead and care for when needed. I take a membership list and then divide their names up and put together a plan to care for them. They are my people who want my care and I am clear on where they stand.

I know there are numerous people who will skim this article and ignore my words. Then down the road, they will complain that the Church is not meeting their needs. It is a level of craziness I do not completely understand.

When I was little, I spent a lot of time at a neighbor’s house, but I had no expectation of them to care for me. Not unless I stood up and denounced my family and had the neighbors adopt me. If I claimed them as my family, then the expectations changed. The same general principle is true for believers. If I want more out of my Church experience than a casual Sunday morning encounter, then I must stand up and say, “Count me in.”

Two Lessons from My Latest Membership Class

I recently taught the membership class at our Church to over 40 individuals. It is a two-hour class that is designed to teach what our Church believes and how we function. I have taught it at this Church 4 times and each time I handle the class about the same way.

First, I give everyone a book. Then a teach part of what the book says but add lots of needed information to the words on the page. Finally, I have everyone fill out a sheet with information about themselves so that I can have a follow-up visit. This time as I was looking through everyone’s information sheets I noticed something unique.

1. Roughly 90% of the class became Christians before the age of 19.
I am used to seeing a large number of people accept Christ before they turn 19. Nationally I have read the statistic is about 75% of all believers come to faith before they leave high school. Our number for this class was way higher.

The first lesson that immediately comes to mind is about the importance of what we teach our children. What are you teaching your kids about faith? Our words will stick with them for a lifetime.

The second lesson comes from the joy of seeing people stick with their faith their entire lives. Some of the people who took the class are over 65, and they have followed Jesus since the age of 6 or 8 years old. There are still committed individuals in the world.

The third lesson was learning that several of these people had wondered from the faith during their college years or in their twenties and now they had come back to their faith. I found this especially encouraging because of the number of young people I see who make decisions and then leave the Church. It ‘s nice to know that many of them come back.

2. 10% still accept Christ after the age of 18.
While many people find Jesus early, there are still those who accept later. I remember one-time thinking that I would never baptize and adult. It seemed as if the only ones who would respond to my teaching about faith were children. Through the years that has actually flip-flopped for me. I ended up having more people make faith decisions as adults than as children. This group always encourages me. To know that there are adults still willing to change their lives no matter where they have been. While 10% was low for any class I have taught I am still glad the number was not less.

I am sure the decision to become a Christian is harder for an adult than for a child. It makes me glad to know that the gospel is still being accepted by older people across the country.

Rarely do I lie out people’s information and have something like this jump out to me. One look through the pages revealed that God is at work in both young and old. The Church needs to never shy away from people making faith decisions no matter what their age.