Standing on the Edge of a New Year

Every year holds both highs and lows that will move our lives in new directions.

2017 started for me with a new low. Dad’s health began failing at Christmas, and he passed on January 8th. It was a difficult start and sent my whole year into a spinning emotional roller coaster. Still, the rest of the year went well. My second son finished his sports career and graduated high school. It was the bittersweet journey of a boy into manhood. Two boys are now in college, one is a junior in high school, and my baby is now a freshman. Personally, my life is transitioning to pursuing new horizons that lie beyond school and sports.

Professionally, things at Church have gone well this past year. We had the biggest attendance on Easter and Christmas of any Church I have ever led. We hosted a very well attended VBS over the summer. Twelve people were baptized this year, and numerous people took the membership class. We transitioned to two worship programs on Sunday morning, and dozens of people visited the Church in the past three months since it started. It was a year full of decisions, changes, growth and new connections. God has blessed my ministry and the Church I lead in several ways, and I am excited about what the future holds for all of us.

What did 2017 hold for you? Now is an excellent time to reflect on both your achievements and disappointments. I encourage everyone to take a few minutes to do a review of the past year before moving on to the next.

This is also a great time to dream about 2018. We stand on the edge of the unknown. It will be exciting and scary at times. There is unlimited potential lying ahead of us over the next 365 days.

I am dreaming about the future and setting goals. It was suggested to me to set five personal goals and five professional goals before January 1. I want to be a better spouse, parent, and pastor. I am planning exact ways to make that happen.

Here are my three suggestions for everyone heading into the new year. First, set five goals for yourself. Second, pray regularly about how these things can develop in your life. Finally, create a plan of action. For example, I want to strengthen my marriage this next year. I am asking God to give me ideas and opportunities to make it happen. Currently, I plan to have a date night every other week with my wife. On the opposite weeks, I want to have an at home night with time together and possibly a movie.

Sure, God will throw things at you this next year that you never planned, and things can change at a moment’s notice. For now, I am moving in faith in the directions of my dreams. I know God is in charge and with his help 2018 will be another great year for myself and his kingdom.

I pray this next year will be full of joy and spiritual growth. I will see you next year.

Top Posts of 2017

Here are the most highly viewed posts I wrote in 2017 according to WordPress. I hope these are still helpful or insightful to you. Thanks for reading and looking forward to a great 2018.

1. True Confessions from a Pastor

2. That Time My Parents Changed Churches

3. When Life Goes Beyond Explanation

4. Wanting Attention from the Church

5. Holding Tight to Faith

*Bonus – Finding Your Own Way to Spiritual Growth

Selflessness Moves the Gospel Forward

This past weekend was filled with three Christmas programs at our Church. We had one Saturday night with children specials, one Sunday morning and one Sunday afternoon. Overall it was a powerful weekend for our Church. Even with a bit of snow on Sunday morning that kept some senior citizens at home, after we eliminated the number of people who attended multiple programs, we had 315 unique visitors to our programs. This number ties the record we set for Easter weekend. It was indeed a blessing to see so many people attend the worship programs. Our final program on Sunday afternoon was over 50% first-time guests. It was a beautiful weekend in every way.

When I finally got home on Sunday night, my mind started racing through all the events of the weekend. The one thought I could not escape was that none of this would have been possible without volunteers. We had dozens and dozens of people who sacrificed their time to make this weekend happen. The lives that were touched this weekend for Jesus were the result of people willing to put aside their own time for the sake of the gospel.

Think about it this way. We had people give up their time to organize and practice with the children. We had people decorate all over the Church, especially the auditorium. We had people bake and cook to feed the children and provide snacks for the adults. We had people video the program and make a special video to show at the other programs. We had people run sound and PowerPoint at three programs. We have people work the nursery and watch other peoples’ children. We had people clear the stage for Friday and then reset it for Sunday. We had musicians and singers who practiced and practiced making every program special. We had several men willing to pass the communion and offering trays. I am sure I am missing someone, but you get the picture. For the kingdom of God to advance here on earth it requires far more than one person called a pastor.

My heart is full of thanksgiving for all the people who willingly sacrificed their time because of their faith in Jesus. This past weekend was a wonderful time of worship and reflection, and it was made possible by you, the servant of the Lord. May God bless all of you who sacrificed your time, the world is a better place because of you.

Christmas at Adrian Christian Church

Christmas is officially here. There are several opportunities to worship here and at other places this weekend.

Here is our list of programs at the Church I serve each week.

Friday – December 22 @ 6:30 pm.
(Please note – this will have the live children’s performance)

Sunday – December 24 @ 9:00 am.
(Please note – there will be no 10:30 am program, but it will return next week)

Sunday – December 24 @ 4:00 pm.

Final note, each program will have the outside seating areas blocked off in the beginning. If enough people come and sit in the middle, then we will open up the chairs on the side for everyone. This will help us with the passing of communion and candle lighting if we have a smaller group. (Thanks for understanding and not complaining 😊)

Please join us for one of these programs. If you do not care which one you attend, then I would ask you to consider coming to the 4:00 pm Sunday worship as it looks to be the smallest attendance right now from initial feedback.

If you cannot make it, I wish you a wonderful and blessed Christmas season.

A Pastor’s Christmas Wish List

Have you ever wondered what a pastor dreams about at Christmas time? Probably not. That being said, it is not going to stop me from sharing what I focus on during the holiday season.

1. I pray non-Christian people have a positive Christian experience. I chose the words carefully. I do not have a plan to explain the whole gospel at our Christmas programs. Instead, my focus is on people who are skeptical about religion to have a great experience at Church. Our program will be mostly special music with few congregational songs, communion, and candlelight will be the emphasis, guests can take home a gift bag, and we will have cookies in the kitchen if anyone would like to have one. I want people to develop a positive attitude toward people of faith.

2. I hope people learn something. Every year I want people who attend our Christmas programs to learn one tiny thing new. This year I have been teaching about the songs of Christmas, giving their backstory and looking at the lyrics of each song. I hope one little part of that information sticks with them and it comes to mind year after year. The story of Christmas is very familiar, but possibly one person may hear it for the first time or maybe understand in a more precise way. One goal is to have people who come to our programs deepen their understanding of faith.

3. I want people to receive something helpful to them. If people are down right now, I hope they feel encouraged even if it only comes through a prayer. If they are lonely, I hope they find a friendly person with which to talk. If they need to refocus on what is important at Christmas, I hope we are able to help them. I believe every person has holes in their life they are trying to fill, and I want God to use our Church to help them on their journey of faith.

4. I am asking God to use this Christmas to further his kingdom. I have been asking for God to send us a large group of people. I hope this weekend will spark something inside of several of them. Maybe it will inspire them to come back to Church again. Perhaps it will challenge them to come back a faith they once left. Maybe God will use this to touch the heart of a person with the gospel in a new and exciting way. I have no idea what God will do through our programs, but I believe he will use it to produce good fruit in the coming year.

As a pastor, when I come to the holidays I think about how God can use this one season for his glory. I ask God to use me and the people of the Church I lead to make an impact for eternity. I want this Christmas to be better than last year and have a more significant impact on our community and our world.

Surprising Ministry Skills During the Holidays

College and Seminary do not adequately prepare you for all the demands of ministry. Some things you need to know already or learn on the fly. This is especially true as the pastor of a small Church in a smaller community. It has been busy around the Church and here are some of my skills that come out the week of Christmas.

1. Sweeping and Mopping. I want everything to look perfect for all the guests we will have this weekend. Often the work starts out ground level with cleaning some of the floors.

2. Purchasing. Numerous supplies are needed to make the weekend come together. An extra strand of lights, lighters, batteries, and candles were some of the items on the list. I am sure more stuff will be needed.

3. Decorating (at least helping). I am not a decorator, but I can place things where I am told. Occasionally my thoughts are needed to make everything look stunning around the Church.

4. Candle trimming and prep. I know a lot about candles. Things like how to store them for a year and how to prep them for use. Every candle is burned, and then the wick is trimmed for a beautiful look at our program.

5. Moving (plus stacking and unstacking). The stage has been cleared and will then need to be reset after the program. Decorations have been brought out and unpacked. Eventually, all this will have to go back into the tubs and then back into storage.

6. Taking Instructions. Many times, I just need to do what I am told. Move this, buy that, clean this, throw that away and whatever else needs to be done.

7. Emptying trash. This time of year seems to fill the trash can over and over. The dumpster is already full and will probably end up that way again in a few days. Wrapping paper can fill a trash can.

8. Advertising. We need to get the word out about our services (Friday @ 6:30 pm & Sunday at 9:00 am and 4:00 pm). I try to think of every free way to spread the word.

9. Creative Teaching. I was taught in Bible college to study the text and discover the authors intended meaning and then preach it. That part is easy, the tricky part is preaching on a story everyone has heard in a new and creative way.

10. Prayer. This week I have tried to spend extra time in prayer. I am praying for everyone involved in the program and especially all the guests who will come to a program. I pray their hearts and minds are open to the message of Jesus.

Weeks like this remind me of a couple of simple truths. First, the work of the gospel is for everyone. I may be a trained professional, but my job only requires 5-10 hours of that training this week. God can use anyone willing to step up. Second, ministry often happens in the little things. A clean floor or an empty trash can do not seem like much until you want one. A candle burning on the stage is a simple object until God uses it in the worship of him. This weekend, a kind word, an open door, a handshake, showing someone the nursery, passing a tray and a hundred other things will help people experience God. When you are willing to do anything to see the kingdom of God furthered, then every little action helps the cause of Christ.

Observations from Attending a Professional Football Game

Last Saturday night three of my boys and I attended a Kansas City Chiefs football game at Arrowhead Stadium. I attended at least one game I can remember as a child, but the memories are a little blurry. This was my first pro game as an adult. Here a couple of thoughts on my experience and how they might have some application for the Church.

1. People Value Experiences. Many people are moving away from obtaining more stuff to having great experiences with their money. For me, and many others, this was a family experience. We could all attend together, see the sights, watch the game and have fun while building a memory that we will all keep a long time. This quest for a shared memory meant people arrived early and tried to add to the fun. Many took numerous pictures from all over the stadium.

This type of thinking is impacting the Church. Many Churches see the importance of their weekend experience in a desire to get people to encounter God in a life-changing way.

2. Money Means Different Things to Different People. A group of twenty-somethings next to us showed up halfway through the first quarter and left at the start of the fourth. They did not seem to care about the game while purchasing overpriced food and expensive beverages. If you add in parking their night was costly. On the other hand, I used a discount ticker, ate before and after the game away from the stadium and had my wife drop us off, so we did not have to pay for parking. The value of money to many people is very low. Dropping several hundred dollars on an experience they desire is nothing to them.

The Church is frequently resistant to asking for money. The problem is not in the asking; many people have the available resources. The issue is more about people seeing the need and the benefits of giving.

3. People Want to Have Fun. The single biggest driving factor in this quest appears to be alcohol. Anyone who has been to any sports arena will tell you that the alcohol flows all game. Personally, I do not entirely understand the thinking behind it, but numerous people believe they need something to help them drop their guard and have fun.

The Church must lovingly confront the use of alcohol. The Bible allows for people to drink, but when you need it to have fun, a drastic change has happened. In the end, I have seen far more destruction from consumption than fun.

4. People Have Lost Control of their Tongues. I heard the “F” word more at one game than I had in the last year. I sat and wondered how many of these people would call themselves Christian. I also questioned whether the word they were using has any meaning anymore.

The Church must continually confront what the culture says is acceptable. It also should push people to use their words for good and not for evil.

Overall, I had a good time with my boys on Saturday. Since I work all day Sunday, it was a rare treat to go to a game on Saturday night. I value my time making a memory, but I was reminded of the great need people have for Jesus.

The Long View of Sharing Your Faith

Recently a couple started coming to Church that I met a little over three years ago when my family moved to town. They knew I was a Pastor and we had mutual friends. Only one Sunday over this time had they visited Church or showed any interest. Then we launched two programs at Church, and suddenly they appeared and have been with us ever since.

This couple reminds me to take the long view of sharing our faith. Sometimes it takes years and years to break into someone’s life with the message of Jesus. I need to be continually reminded of a few truths.

1. The Rule of the Harvest. Farmers know that it takes three seasons to get a crop off a piece of land. You plant in the spring, water and fertilize in the summer and harvest in the fall. Growing something substantial takes time. Planting seeds of the gospel may not have any fruit for years to come; it might even take a lifetime.

2. Don’t Give Up on People. I think there is a natural tendency to stop talking with people about faith at some point in time. It may be after a series of rejections or we just simply get tired of seeing no response. Whatever the case, I often watch people stop talking to their family and friends about Jesus after a year or two. Stay strong, making an impact takes longer than you think.

3. Don’t Let Your Light Die. Jesus told his followers that they are the light of the world in Matthew chapter 5. Believers shine the light of faith into the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it. Yet, I have observed Christians slowly let their light fade into a small flickering ember that barely shines. This happens when we ask someone, and they reject us. We take it personally. When that happens enough times, we just stop shining anymore. We don’t speak of faith, mention our Church and the name of Jesus is absent from our lips. Rage against the dying of the light.

4. Expect the Unexpected. I am amazed the number of times I have said, “They will never come to Church or care about faith.” Then one day they walk into a worship program. I had no idea God was working on them. Frequently their anti-Christian behavior is a plea for someone to truly show them, Jesus. No one is so far removed from God that he cannot reach them.

5. You Will Never Know How God Will Use You. The Apostle Paul makes an interesting statement to the Church in Corinth. He says that he planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. I recognize that other people may see a harvest for the kingdom of God because of the work that I did. You may share your faith over and over, and no one responds to you personally, but one day the door opens through someone else, and their life is changed. You may not oversee the harvest of souls; your job may be plant and water.

Talking to the man who came to our Church recently I was reminded of how God is working in ways I cannot imagine. My job is to be a great representative of his, wherever he has placed me. If I speak of my faith to others, one day someone’s life may know Jesus in a meaningful way.

Weekend Reading

I have read a few interesting and insightful articles over the last couple weeks. Here are a couple of my favorites. I hope you enjoy them this weekend. May God bless you all.

Let Your Pastor’s Wife Be Herself

The First Question Every Leader Should Ask When Making a Decision

Read 1 Book 50 Times, Not 50 Books Once (and other advice about reading)

Here is an interesting commercial I saw that fits the holiday season –

What Will It Take to Make You Quit?

Their house still catches my attention most days as I drive by it. They used to come to Church to worship every Sunday. Then they disappeared. Their story is an all too familiar one to me.

While attending someone said something that hurt their feelings. I do not know the details of the encounter; I just know sketchy pieces of a painful story. Now the family no longer attends the Church I lead, and the painful ending is that they do not participate anywhere. One ugly encounter derailed this family on their journey of faith. They have not involved themselves in weekly worship anywhere, they do not appear to use their giftedness for God, and they are not bringing anyone new the message of Jesus in any formal way. For me, it is another story of a family quitting the Church and much of their faith after feeling like they were on the right track.

People like this leave me with a burning question in my soul for the people I serve in my Church, “What will it take to make you quit your faith?” Stated another way, “What would it take for you to give up on Jesus and his Church?

The early Church suffered persecution that pushed many to compromise and give up. Today in the United States there is a limited amount of oppression. Here, Satan and the forces of evil have used other tactics which seem to be more effective.

Would one hypocritical person cause you to quit?
Would one mean legalistic person cause you to quit?
Would one painful event that happened publicly or privately cause you to quit?
Would one negative experience cause you to quit?
Would one attack on your faith cause you to quit?
Would one bad doctor’s report cause you to quit?
Would one season of busyness cause you to quit?

What would it take to get you to give up?

For every person whose house I drive by that gave up, there are five people I know who did not quit. Talking with the people who attend my Church, I find that some of them have held on through terrible pain and horrific difficulties. Each one has an ugly story that did not destroy the work of God in their life. Lifelong Christians are rarely people who did not experience pain; they are people who clung to the belief through difficult times.

Faith is about trusting God and God alone. We are thankful for his blessings, but we do not worship them. We are happy for the relationships that surround us, but they are secondary to Jesus.

Jesus told his followers, “In this world, you will have trouble (John 16:33).” Life will be full of difficult decisions, ugly encounters, and heart-wrenching pain. Is your faith strong enough to stand strong when the winds of pain and doubt come? Be sure you are preparing today for what is sure to happen down the road. It will be hard, but you can overcome.