Holiday Roundup

Today is my last post until the New Year. I am taking some time off and time away from the computer. I will return on January 2, 2019, with all new posts that I pray you will find helpful and encouraging. Until then I want to give you a roundup of a few things that you might like.

1. I have not directly posted anything this year about Christmas. The one article I thought about posting could be called “Our Year without a Tree.” This year the schedule has been pretty full with my wife’s job, the boy’s sports, family time and Church so we decided to not put a single Christmas decoration. The gifts are stacked neatly in the corner until Christmas day, and that will be all the time we spend on it. I am not anti-Christmas, but I am anti-busyness. That led us to decide that this year we would focus on Jesus, each other and not all the frills of holiday decorations.

2. If you live near Adrian Missouri, this year our Church has our only Christmas programs on Sunday morning December 23 at 9:00 and 10:30 am. The children will be performing three songs, the congregation will be singing and so will the worship band. I am preaching on the idea that “we have heard it all before” and we will end with candle lighting. If you live nearby, we would love to have you join us, but please consider coming to our 10:30 am program.

3. NO. We do not have anything on Christmas Eve. If you would like to attend a program that night, there are numerous ones in our area being hosted by other Churches. We encourage you to visit any one of them if you feel the need to attend.

4. Here are some articles to read over the next week –

HIGH SCHOOL ACTIVITIES HAVE BECOME “ALL OR NOTHING” AND IT’S UNACCEPTABLE – I have been saying this the last couple because of its effect on the Church. This is not written from a Christian perspective but reaches the same conclusion.

A Note For Anyone Who Has Thought About Suicide (Like Me)

Why Social Activism Is Not Enough

A RESPONSE TO CHRISTIANS WHO ARE DONE WITH CHURCH

The Real Power of the Most Misunderstood Viral Verse I shared this on Facebook, but if you have not read it, it is a good article.

7 Advantages Of Long-Term Church Membership

Seeing what’s right in front you

1,000 little steps

5. Finally – Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to Everyone. Thanks so much for reading. 2018 saw my most visitors to this blog and the highest number of posts viewed. This thing has grown every year since its inception. Thanks for reading and may God bless you this holiday season.

Of Front Doors and Bible Reading

It happened again for the hundredth time just minutes ago. I wish I were kidding about this, but it is one hundred percent true.

During the past year, we installed a magnetic lock on the front door of our Church building. When myself or our office administrator is inside the building, we turn on the power lock. When someone comes to the Church building, they can open the door with a five-digit key code. If they do not have the code, they have to hit the button on the right side of the door. This rings a bell on a video monitor in our offices alerting us to someone who wants to enter. Once we are notified, we can speak to the person through the system, or we can just hit the unlock button releasing the lock.

I know it all sounds simple but believe me, it is not. At first, we tried to notify people of how it worked through weekly announcements and social media. That did not seem to help, so we placed a sign on the front door telling people to hit the button. Soon we had people who would hit the doorbell button, and I would unlock it for them, and they would just stand there. I am not joking; dozens of people thought the door now would magically open without them pulling on it. Finally, the office manager and I decided to create a new sign detailing how to get in the building. It reveals how they need to hit the button, then listens for the sound of it unlocking (a loud snap as the magnet releases) and finally, they need to pull the door open.

It all seems like an easy, foolproof plan, and yet, almost every week I sit at my desk and look at the monitor while people try to figure it out. Once again, this morning a man hit the button and stood there waiting while I hit the unlock button repeatedly.

The one flaw in our system is that you need to read the sign. When you walk up to the front door of our Church building, you must stop and read every word of the sign first. Once you read it, then you need to act accordingly. The biggest problem we are encountering is that everyone thinks they know how a door should work, so that skip the step about reading the sign. Without the proper information, they follow their instincts or experiences elsewhere, and they fail. They stand there until I come and manually open the door in front of them (often with a scowl on my face).

It seems easy enough for a child to do it. Just read and act accordingly. Yet these actions steps escape most people.

This has served to me as an analogy for Christian living. God gives us his Bible. Sure, there are some tricky and difficult passages to read and understand, but those are the minority. Most of it is easy to comprehend the message. Things like “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or “turn the other cheek” or “do not lie” are all straightforward. The problem is that most of us have convinced ourselves that we do not need the information found inside. We are alive and have made it this far on our own, why would we possibly want to read anything?

In 2018 one lesson I have learned is from our new door lock. Most people are unwilling to read even if it unlocks doors we want to go through. Maybe next year your world will be changed with a little reading.

To Tell the Truth

In the last two weeks, I have caught people in a lie. These people told me one story and then told a second person a completely different story. Now, I am not so naïve as to think these were the only lies that I heard, but these were the only ones I can prove. Whenever this happens, it breaks my heart. I wish those people would have come to me and just been honest.

One of my professors in college used to say that the reason we lie is that we do not think the other person can handle the truth correctly. At the very least they will not treat it the way we would want them too. After years of encounters like this, I am convinced he was correct.

The people who lied to me simply do not want to hurt my feelings. They don’t want to damage the fragile psyche of me as a pastor. I guess that the people who lie to you feel something similar. They do not want you to feel bad or get mad, so they avoid the truth. Thinking they are somehow protecting you from confrontation and pain.

Honestly, the truth is hard. It can be cold, painful and difficult to hear.

This is why the Bible refers to “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). We balance the hard truth with soft love. In other words, I am saying this not to hurt you, but rather I want the best for you. I once heard it said this way, “The truth without love is too strong, and love without the truth is too weak.”

The interesting thing to me is the context of the statement in Ephesians. The verses that surround that statement are about all of us reaching spiritual maturity. The idea seems to be that when we do not speak the truth in love, there are issues in my life and yours that will not be addressed. Those attempts to protect me are stunting my growth. The damage is still done, it is just inside our souls where others can’t see.

One challenge in life is to not only speak the truth but also to hear the truth. Ask yourself, “Am I prepared today to both hear and speak the truth?” Have you surrounded yourself with people willing to both listen to the truth and speak it repeatedly?

Here is my guess if you haven’t said anything that is difficult to hear lately, then you are not speaking the truth. You are a liar. Also, if you have not heard anything that hurts to hear, then you have surrounded yourself with liars.

The truth is hard to come by these days, even so, followers of Jesus are people committed to the truth in love. I know I would like to hear it more, I bet you would too.

Will That Be on the Test? (A Preaching Analogy)

I think I finally found the perfect analogy for being a preacher. Here it is in the form of a story.

His question echoed through the room as everyone stopped to listen to the answer intently. It was not the first time I had heard someone ask it and I am sure I had posed the question myself a time or two.

Let me give you the context of his question. I was asked to teach a semester-long class on the topic of evangelism at the local Bible Institute. That year I had two hours every week for three months to explain the Biblical teaching and practical applications of sharing our faith with other people. There was a large amount of material to cover, and I tried to move as fast as I could each week. While I was only teaching once a week, the students were taking multiple classes throughout the same time frame. Their semester was winding down, and their schedules were overloaded.

I paused my presentation of my prepared material to give them some bonus information from my years of pastoring. It was good advice mixed with Biblical logic, but it did not fit into the rest of the teaching. At that moment a student stopped me and asked, “Will this be on the test?”

Every teacher knows how this moment can go. If I say yes, they will dig in, take notes and listen carefully. They understand that this information is vital toward their passing of the class and possibly graduation.

If I say no, then they will put down their pens and slowly tune me out. I was forced to reply with honesty, “None of this will be on the test.” Then I took the next minute to explain that just because it will not be on the test does not mean that it is not important information. I assured them that they would one day wish they had listened closely to my teaching.

I watched as a couple of the more committed students continued taking notes. Several of them put their pens down and listened less than intently. Others leaned back and relaxed as if I was no longer talking.

Being a preacher is like a teacher who has said none of this will be on the test at the end of the week or semester. Yes, one day you will wish you had listened closer. There will be a time in which you will want to have this knowledge, but most likely that will not be today.

With that in mind every week I stand up to preach, and I look out at some people who listen closely and take notes, others who listen but not intently and finally some people just lean back and relax (and sometimes take a nap).

Each week I pray, study, prepared and present the word of God. It is a job a take very seriously, but most of the time people are just looking for the stuff they will need to get by right now. It is hard to get people to take the long view of life when the immediate is what seems the most important. I know it might not look like it today, but your spiritual life is essential.

The World Through My Eyes

I am 46 years old, an introvert by nature, and I was raised by loving parents who stayed married for over 50 years. I have been married myself for 24 years to the same woman, and I have four children of whom I am proud.

My parents raised me going to Church every Sunday. I became a Christian at the age of 8 and have stayed fairly committed most of my life, I went to Bible college for five years and entered the preaching ministry 25 years ago. I have served six different Churches in 4 states. I have worked in a tiny Church and one with almost 300 people. I have worked in one of the oldest Churches in Indiana and started a new one in Iowa. I have been in ministries that were incredibly difficult and enjoyed seasons of overwhelming love and support.

Most of my life has been spent in the Midwestern part of the United States. I spent 11 and a half weeks in England one summer and five years in Alaska. I have never lived or even visited the east or west coast.

My hobbies include hunting, fishing, and metal detecting. My dad raised me to be a trapper which I enjoyed till the market fell through in the ’90s. I spend most of my free time outdoors, but when I am inside, I take pleasure in coin collecting, reading, watching sports (especially the Packers) and movies.

My life experiences include the death of my best friend two weeks before I went to college. I also lost my dad two years ago who was one of my best friends in the world.

I am blessed beyond measure both spiritually and physically. I have suffered several dark nights of the soul, but God’s grace has brought me through. Failure has been a faithful companion on every stretch of this journey, and I thank God for Jesus daily.

These are some of the things that make up my life. These things affect my views more than I like to admit. I try to mold everything I do on the words of the Bible, but unfortunately, I keep getting in the way. I am biased without wanting to be simply because of my background and life experience.

Recently I heard a wise pastor talk about doing a complete life assessment. He looked at the dynamics of his life along with the background of his wife. With every new avenue he traveled he discovered something about himself that deepened his faith and understanding of God’s work in his life. I think I am beginning to understand what he meant.

I think it is a profitable journey for everyone to know their influences. You need to search through your family history and see how it shaped who you are today. None of us came to this point in our lives without a long road behind us. Take time this weekend and this season to think about all the things that mold you and your faith. Perhaps you will find something that sheds light for the journey ahead and makes your path easier to walk.

Stop Saying You Are Trying to Be the Church

The first time I heard it, I was on board. Almost 25 years ago I received a flyer for an event where the Church would meet on Sunday morning and then instead of worshipping; they would travel all over the community serving people. Once their activities were complete everyone would return to the building for lunch with a time of testimony and prayer. It was a challenge to the Church to “leave the building” and “be the Church.”

With every great idea, over time it gets watered down, changed and perverted. Now I hear this phrase used almost every week. I see it on social media, read it on blogs, and listen to it in lessons. Most of the occasions in which I hear it or read it the hair stands up on the back of my neck, and I feel nothing but anger.

First, YOU are not the Church. To clarify, let me give you the definition of the Church. The Church is a gathering of believers who are committed to living for Jesus. The Church is a group of people called Christians. You alone in the world are not the Church. Now, you can live in a Christlike way as an individual, but that is not the Church. Anytime you say “I” or “you” are trying to be the Church, by definition you are wrong.

Second, most of the time I hear people say it, it is an excuse not to be a part of a Church. Quite often it is a justification for attending kid’s events, going to the game with friends, sleeping in or whatever else occupies our time. I have even heard it used smugly, as in “I will be with a group of unbelievers on Sunday morning because I am trying to be the Church.” Please, please do not justify your lack of connection to the people of faith by saying you are trying to follow Jesus.

Third, when Christians gather, it is the Church by definition and by action. Somewhere along the line people started to believe that what happens on Sunday morning is meaningless. That is simply not true. When believers gather there is time for fellowship, prayer, interaction in the word, communion and singing praises to God. According to Acts 2:42 that is what the Church did in the beginning as led by the Holy Spirit. Though the years I have witnessed people change their lives as they came together in the worship and service of the Lord.

Please do not misunderstand what I am saying. I firmly believe the people who call themselves by the name of Christ must allow their faith to affect them wherever they live every day. I want people to be Christ to the people around them.

My frustration is that we have entirely lost sight of the Biblical view of Church have replaced it with a cultural perspective that no longer pushes us toward greater faith. Please stop saying you are trying to be the Church when you mean that you want to do what comes naturally to you without a community around you. For us to be the Church, we need to be connected to other believers and serving the Lord together, anything less is not what God intended, no matter how you label it.

You Need to “Moneyball” Your Life

I am a numbers guy. I try to track everything in as much detail as possible. Not only do I keep track of numbers, but I usually make notes on the story behind them. There is so much knowledge to be gained when you do this correctly.

This single issue has been one of my biggest pet peeves. Most people from parents, to Church leaders, to Christians, and even coaches try to follow their gut feelings. Unfortunately, this often leads us to wrong conclusions. We believe fiction when we do not have all the facts.

This type of thinking was dramatically displayed in the movie Moneyball. You need to know I am not a baseball fan, but I loved the emphasis in trusting our gut over trusting the numbers. There is one scene where a group of old baseball scouts is talking about potential players. They end up talking about how one guy has an ugly girlfriend. “What does that mean?” a coach quips. “It means he lacks self-confidence,” comes the response. Then in comes a guy who suggests the team start looking at the numbers and put a team together not based on feelings but statistics.

Can I suggest to you that you need to Moneyball your life? You need to stop trusting your gut and look at the real hard facts. I recommend you come up with a series of trackable numbers for any and every activity and then do an honest evaluation.

Take your marriage for example. Try tracking some of these numbers: How many hours you spend each week with your spouse in conversation? How many date nights have you had this month? How much time do you spend physically touching?

Then take those numbers and compare them to your children. How much time do you spend with your children? How many hours and evenings are given to your children every week?

Then compare those numbers against your work, your hobbies, and even your religious activities.

Be honest how much time do you spend in prayer, Bible reading, worship, fellowship with believers, and anything that will help you grow in your faith.

The one glaring mistake I see many people making is that they are trusting their own feelings far more than the facts. Down the road, everything goes wrong, and they wonder why it happened. They thought they had a healthy marriage, even though they were only giving it an hour a week. They thought their kids would grow up and live for Jesus even though they were only doing anything religious one hour every other week. They thought … and they were wrong.

I challenge you to track the numbers for a month or two and see where they lead you. The truth might be far different than you imagine.