Weekend Reading

I know this weekend will be busy for many people. Churches will have special programs to fill any time that is not spent with family and friends. If you do have a few spare minutes, here are some of the best articles I have read lately. Lots of good stuff. I hope you enjoy them and have a blessed Easter weekend.

8 WAYS TO PRAY FOR EASTER WEEKEND EVENTS

No, Easter Isn’t Pagan, Either An interesting and thought-provoking article about the true history of the word Easter.

How the Resurrection Reshapes Success and Regret

Why are There no Chairs inside the Tabernacle? – interesting little observation on the work of a priest.

Why Before-After Testimonies Aren’t the Only Ones That Matter

The Simple Reason Why So Many Christians are Miserable

ON BEING A MILLENNIAL PASTOR – LEADERS WHO DON’T REMEMBER THE GLORY DAYS – A fascinating read for Church leaders young and old.

oh father, where art thou – an interesting post on the role of the father in faith with a side note for parents of autistic children.

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My Not-So-Holy Week

The week leading up to Easter has been traditionally called “Holy Week.” It is the time of the year we celebrate Maundy Thursday as the night of the Last Supper and Jesus institution of Communion. We remember Good Friday as the day Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world. We draw attention to Holy Saturday as a time of quiet reflection as Jesus body lay in the grave so many years ago. Then we reach the pinnacle of the week with Easter Sunday morning as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the grave.

This is a week set aside in the mind of believers as an extraordinary week in the Christian calendar. It is a time for reflection, celebration, and praise. It is a week to focus on God and the work of Jesus Christ.

So why do I not feel so holy this week? Why does it seem like just another ordinary week?

Maybe it is because Easter has come a little earlier on this year’s calendar? Perhaps it is because of the weather this year? All the cold and rain along with snow in some areas makes it still feel like winter. Quite possibly this feeling is the result of my own life. My days are full of work, the boy’s school, and my regular springtime activities. Whatever the reason my week has felt Not-So-Holy to me.

Today I am reflecting on my week and my not-so-holy feelings. Here is some good news I see …

1. Jesus did not come and die to save only religiously excitable people. This week was not about setting up a religious holiday for believers who are full of joy. It is about Jesus dying on the cross for sinners such as I. It is a week for people whose lives are a mess finding Jesus is the Messiah. This week is a call to become holy, not just for those who are holy already.

2. God’s gracious work has nothing to do with my feelings. A preacher I like says, “Remember some things are true even when you are asleep.” His point is that the truth of God is not dependent on what I think or feel about it. The cross and resurrection are unchanging truths. Jesus great work still saves me, especially when I do not feel holy.

3. The joy of Easter is always unexpected. I am sure that the first Sunday of Easter was not filled with expectation and joy. The ladies went to the tomb to anoint the body and grieve. The disciples were slumbering in confusion created by the cross. That Sunday morning opened a door out of the mundane into the world of forgiveness with little warning.

So maybe you are like me. This week has not felt like anything special. I think that is just fine. God still did his mighty work in Jesus. The events of this week are extraordinary, no matter how I feel about them. Who knows, maybe in the middle of my seemingly average week, God will break in and do something special in my life. He frequently comes at unexpected moments. Suddenly our feelings change, and the world seems different.

I hope you have a wonderful week. I sincerely hope it is filled with joy. More than anything I want you to anchor your life to the message of the cross and the empty tomb, even when you don’t feel like it. And who knows what God may do this weekend if we open our life up to him.

The Hand and Glove of Ministry

Recently our Church hosted its first Senior Citizen’s luncheon as an opportunity for our older generation to spend some time together. It was a wonderful time of food and fellowship. I then offered a short devotional thought and a few announcements about our Easter programs. Finally, I asked the big questions, “Does anyone else have anything they would like to know about?”

Quickly a response came from a lady asking if everyone would take a minute to introduce themselves and say one or two things about their lives. One by one we went around the room, and each person took an opportunity to speak. Many of the people mentioned marriage and family details while several made comments about the Church.

I am happy to say that most of the people are enjoying my ministry and the sermons I give each week. They felt the worship program on Sunday morning was a blessing, and they stayed with the Church because of it. But that is not all people stated they liked about our community of believers. The other response given was that the people of the Church were friendly. Upon their first visit, they were greeted with kindness and warmth, often like an old friend.

My mind reached two conclusions about the ministry of the Church.

1. It doesn’t matter how good the preaching or the worship program is each week if the people are not friendly.

2. It doesn’t matter how friendly a Church is each week if the people are not taught the Bible in a way that challenges and encourages them.

A Church does not reach people with the gospel of Jesus if either of these parts of the Church is lacking.

The reason I draw your attention to these simple truths is that Easter is this Sunday. I have been planning and preparing the best sermon I can preach. I have spent hours reading, thinking, praying and preparing so that people will be blessed by the worship and the word. My part is done. If you do not attend the Church I lead, I am sure you preacher has done the same. This day has been circled on their calendar for months, and they have done their best work this week.

This leaves only one part of the equation left to make this work. That is your part. One of the most significant ways you can make an impact for the kingdom of God this weekend is to be friendly. Take time to speak to strangers. Introduce yourself and ask questions. Smile and be polite.

A Church does not reach people merely through one person with a good sermon. It takes everyone working together to make a difference for Jesus.

Knowing More Than A Bible Story

A simple conversation with a teenager about their attendance at youth functions at the Church provided an interesting revelation. The teenager who was no longer present at events argued that they didn’t need to attend as they “knew all those Bible stories pretty well.” They were looking for something more practical than just relearning the same old stuff.

Honestly, I do understand their frustration. It can seem like we preach and teach on the same passages in the Bible frequently. There is the flood, the coat of many colors, the exodus, Jonah, Gideon, Samson, David and Goliath and a handful about Jesus.

I also think this person was completely wrong. They knew about some stories in the Bible, but they had no idea concerning the meaning. Take Jonah for example. I am sure most people can tell you the basic narrative. Jonah ends up in the ocean and is swallowed by a whale. Simple enough to understand, now let’s move on to something else. I would argue that if that is all you know, then you have no idea what the story is really teaching us. In Jonah, we have a man disobeying God, God’s mercy through ugliness, a second chance for Jonah, God’s love for outsiders, God’s grace and a believer’s ugly heart. There is so much in that one four-chapter book that can impact our thinking about God, ourselves and others. That one little Old Testament story helps us understand the Gospel and why Jesus came to earth. It provides us with the metal tools to shape our attitudes and our actions. By believing that upon hearing a Bible story they had mastered it, they totally missed the point.

The Bible is not a storybook that provides us with nice tales to keep the kids entertained. It is a series of books that reveal the nature of God, people and how they both interact. While I am all for practical teaching that is relevant to life. We need to have a solid understanding of theology from which our actions flow. Missing the lessons from what is being taught will lead us to all kinds of misinformation, wild conclusion, and unwise actions.

So, the next time you read or hear a story from the Bible, listen carefully. Lean in and ask some big questions. What does the passage actually say? What does the story mean? What are we supposed to learn about God from this? What are we to better understand about ourselves? How would our world be different if we lived in light of the truth of this passage?

Maybe one of the problems in our world is that we have no real concept of what God is trying to communicate to us through these ancient writings. Perhaps we have assumed we knew the truth and we only know rumors and conjecture.

I want everyone to know the stories of the Bible, but I certainly hope it does not end there.

Who Will Speak the Truth in Love to You?

The Apostle Paul writes to the Church in Ephesus, and he has a section about the structure of the Church. This leads him to the goal of Christian maturity. In that area, he makes a statement about an action those in Christ take when they are on this road to becoming a complete believer. Ephesians 4:15 says that we should be “speaking the truth in love.”

This verse came to mind as I saw a couple walking the other day. I know the couple’s story, and I also know all the statistics about their behavior. They are making enormous mistakes, and it is obvious to me, and I am sure several other people. Watching them and knowing the path they are on led me to this question: “Who is going to speak truth into their life?” Suddenly a series of thoughts ran through my head that made this conversation complicated.

1. Speaking the truth can be cold. Sure, some people love to speak the truth. They can be mean-spirited and do not care about you personally. In fact, many will use the truth as a weapon. They know if they say the right thing at just the right time it can puncture a hole in your life and wound you deeply. They know the truth, and it is cold information that can bring the pain.

2. Speaking in love can be soft. I imagine there are people in your life who care about you deeply. Their love is so profound that they will not tell you the truth for fear of hurting you or the relationship. This is why in most marriages the spouse is not honest with their mate. A spouse, especially people early in their marriage, will never say anything negative unless it is a weapon in a fight. The people closest to us, love us too much to tell us anything we are doing is wrong. No one wants to risk their meaningful connection with other people over a harsh truth. It does not just happen in marriages, but with parents and children, friends and anytime you put people together.

3. Speaking the truth in love is rare. This is such a complicated issue for people. How do you tell someone the truth and yet let them know you are saying it because you care? I do now have all the answers to that question, but I know it needs to happen. Maybe you develop safe places and times where anything can be said without ramifications. Perhaps you go to a counselor who can help mediate a conversation. I know I do this as a pastor occasionally. Whatever method you chose, you need someone to speak the truth to you in love.

All these thoughts went through my head about this couple I saw walking, and then the conversation in my head took another turn? Who is there in my life who is willing to speak the truth in love? I need to know when my problems are increasing. I need someone to point out to me when I am walking the wrong path. I need to know the truth without it being used to hurt me.

The reality is that all of us need a few people in our lives who can live out this one command. We need people willing to speak the truth in love to us. As a Christian, I would say those people need to be believers. People who care about you personally and spiritually are vital to you reaching your full potential for God. Who is there like this in your life? Who is there in mine?

Christian and Church Observations From The First Three Months of 2018

It is difficult to believe we are already three months into 2018 and Easter is a week away. At the end of last year, I read several articles about what to expect in the Church and for Christians in 2018. Now that we are three months into the year, I have noticed a few things that are happening in the small community where I live.

1. Church Security is the Hot Topic. With all of the violence in our country, schools, and Churches, security is no longer a topic to be ignored. Two of our elders attended a workshop for Church leaders. Our entire leadership invited two police officers in to tour our building and make suggestions. Nearby a Church is hosting a weekend for all leaders to attend that will address all security measures a Church might take to be a safe place.

Two sides of application for you to consider. First, upgrades in security come at a cost. We are looking to change doors in our building, add more magnetic door locks and security cameras for a start. Unfortunately, everything costs money including Church security. Second, these actions bring change. We might lose the aesthetics of some of our doors for more functional ones. We may have a person posted by the back door each week. Some doors will remain locked and force us to use a different path. The leadership feels these changes are minor to ensure the safety of our people.

2. Busyness is Getting Worse for People. One of my most significant pleas is for people to reduce their schedule. Do less is my battle cry. Busyness is destroying relationships. We no longer have time for people or Christians projects. When we do take time to do something meaningful we keep our phone handy so that we can stay connected.

My application for you to consider. Ruthlessly evaluate your schedule. Limit the number of sports and activities your children will participate in this year. Build into your schedule non-phone times and periods of freedom. Use those to focus on relationships and the people you love. Side note for grandparents: As your children get more and busier your role becomes more critical than ever. Your grandchildren will be spending more time at your house as your kids run to their next activity. Your influence is higher than it ever has been in my lifetime.

3. Spiritual Hunger is Growing. This might surprise you. I am convinced that people are getting more and more disillusioned with their lives. They are longing for something in their soul that will touch that spiritual void. I have had more spiritual conversations over the last six months with people than in my previous three years in this Church. People are hurting inside, and they are longing for answers that only Christ can give.

My application for you to consider. The longing is there for people we only need to invite people into the conversation. We need to ask people to Church and into our homes. Believers have the opportunity to make an impact on other people for eternity. The flip side to this truth connects with the second observation; many Christians are so busy they are missing the chance to share Jesus with those around them who are looking. My plea to open up space in your life is not just for your benefit but for those around you as well.

2018 has been a good year for me so far. The weather has been uncooperative, but God has used some ugly days to show some bright truths. I am excited about Easter, and I am praying the rest of this year will be better than the first few months.

May God bless you this coming week and the coming nine months.

The Most Difficult Leadership in the World

There are several blogs I follow that are about leadership. Some write about leadership in general and others specifically about Church leadership. Each one is full of insights on how to be a better pastor, manager, leader and visionary. While their material is useful information, it usually does not touch on the toughest leadership in the world. That is the topic of Self-Leadership.

I believe that to be a great parent, grandparent, teacher, coach, manager or whatever label you want to put on leadership, you must first lead yourself.

I am not writing about self-discipline, although the two concepts are related. Self-leadership is not just about doing the right thing each day; it is also about having a vision for your future. It includes making the tough decisions for long-term benefits. It is about self-assessment and continually re-evaluating your actions. Self-leadership is what moves you into the future and develops you into the person you will become when you get there. Self-leadership means doing the difficult things day in and day out when no one else is watching. Self-leadership is tough.

Personally, I would rather read about being a better business manager or how to organize my church for effective ministry. Maybe that is why the articles on leadership are so plentiful because it is easier to lead others than yourself. It is much more enjoyable too.

Before you set out to conquer the whatever piece of the world you lead, would you take a long look in the mirror? Ask yourself, “Am I leading that person well?”

Self-leadership will open the door to all other forms of leadership. If you can motivate yourself to be a better person, your family will follow. If you can stand out in front with confidence and conviction, other people will rally around you. If you can push yourself into new challenges with success, onlookers will come to learn from you.

Every day is a test of leadership. Will you lead yourself in the right direction?

Today is no exception.