Saying the Same Thing Over and Over

Every night I tell my boys, “I love you.” Whenever my children leave the house, I tell them, “Make good choices.” My wife or I will state again, “Be careful.” Before any sports activity, I will say, “Have fun and do your best.”

The list of things I say over and over is long and relatively basic. Why do I do it? Why do most parents say the same things time and time again? We do it because we want to make sure this one concept is seen as important, so much so, that it becomes second nature. I want my family to have no doubts about how I feel toward them. I want my children to enjoy life and the things they do in a positive way. I repeat myself, so they never forget.

If this is true, then how many times should we talk to our children about God? How many times should we read the Bible with them? How many times do our children need to hear those stories repeated and taught?

When we repeat the same things over and over, sure there is a possibility that our words will be lost in the noise of life, but that is precisely why we repeat them. They do not get the significance of my words with one hearing.

I hope that when my children think of their father, they say, “I have no doubt that he loved me deeply.” I also hope that when my children think of their heavenly father, they have no doubt that he loves them too.

My Identity is Built on Biblical Truth

Let me be straightforward with you – there are days I struggle with feelings of worthlessness.

I look back at my life and see a mountain of disappointment and failure. The shame of my mistakes and sins weigh on my soul. I have lost more battles than I have won.

I look around, and I realize my insignificance. I do not lead a big Church or have power in my community. Most of the people who listen to me each week, care little about what I say.

I look forward, and I see no change on the horizon. I will keep leading my little Church in my corner of the world with no accolades or awards. Right now, I plan on preaching as long as God enables me and then I will fade into the background at retirement.

Most days I have every reason to feel an emptiness in my soul.

Whenever these feelings arise, I go back to my identity as revealed in God’s word.

1. I am created in the image of God. I am not just another animal thrown onto a planet by random chance. God knit me together in my mother’s womb. I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

2. I am God’s unique creation. When God put me together, he made me incredibly unique. I am not like anyone else. My thoughts, experiences, and dreams make me one of a kind. I am not supposed to feel like I fit in with everyone, my goal is to be God’s unique gift to the world.

3. I am redeemed in Jesus Christ. God loved me so much that he sent his son to die for my sins. Not only did he create me, but he fixes the bad parts through Jesus.

4. I am part of a family. When I came to Jesus, I joined a group of other people who were following him. Sure, that group has many dysfunctional issues, but they are still my family. Whenever I need support, all I have to do is ask.

5. I have a future in heaven. Jesus went to prepare a place for you and me. One day he is coming back to get me, or I am going to meet him. At that moment, I have the hope of Jesus for eternity.

Whenever feelings of inadequacy fill my mind, I go back to the essential truths found in the Bible. These are where my true identity is discovered.

No one can shout at me enough to remove these truths. No amount of failure can invalidate his promises. There is nothing that can separate me from my God.

Dark feelings will come. They will come to you and me. In those days, your identity will be tested. My thoughts are unchanged by circumstance. I hope yours are too.

10 Bible Passages That Guide My Life, Faith, and Ministry

Today I am doing a little reflecting about my life. This has me thinking about two things. One is the way God created me. Two, the concepts that shape my life. Here are the biggest thoughts that guide me from the Bible. (All quotes are from the New International Version 2011 edition).

1. 1 Timothy 1:16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.
– I am a miserable sinner, and God saved me. I pray it is a testimony to the power of God

2. 2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
– One of my life goals is to correctly handle the truth found in the Bible.

3. Matthew 28:19-20 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
– God has a desire to see more and better disciples. I give my life to this service.

4. 2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.
– I am called to preach.

5. Acts 20:20 You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.
– I preach and teach information that is helpful to anyone on a spiritual journey.

6. 1 Corinthians 9:22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.
– I will try anything to help people know Jesus.

7. Mark 10:42-45 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
– Leadership is about service. Nothing more.

8. Titus 1:5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.
– A Church leader, the pastor or preacher, has a responsibility to set things in order.

9. Hebrews 13:17 Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.
– I am to keep watch over people as one who will give an account to God.

10. John 3:30 He must become greater; I must become less.
– Everything I do is for God’s glory and not my own.

This is my list. I frequently revisit these passages to remind me of purpose in life and ministry. What passages guide your life? I would love to hear the thoughts that inspire you every day.

A Fundamental Flaw in Youth Sports

Over the last 15 years youth sports, particularly basketball and football, have been a significant part of my life. I have four boys, and all of them have been involved in one sport or another since about third grade. Through the years I have watched hundreds of games and spent uncounted hours in bleachers. During this time with my boys, I have had the opportunity to watch boys grow into adults over each season. Those precious little tikes become awkward middle schoolers and by their senior year have beards.

Through the years I have noticed a fundamental flaw in all youth sports. I rarely hear anyone talk about it, but I think it is worth considering if you have children walking this path. I believe youth sports give children a wrong concept about their value and worth at an early age.

On one side we have the group of kids who excel when they are young. They are faster than the other boys, maybe a little taller or possibly physically stronger. As a result, they get the starting position and are thrust into the role of team star. I especially notice this when a boy gets his “man body” earlier than the rest of the children. Do you know what I am talking about? That one boy who is over six-foot-tall when the rest of the boys are barely four-foot-tall. Suddenly they are a big deal, and quickly they begin to feel there is something special about themselves. Many times, their parents even buy into the hype. They talk about how talented their child is and how hard they work when I want to point out that their child is just bigger than everyone else their age.

On the flip side is another group of kids who flounder in team sports. They usually fall into one of two subcategories. There is one section of kids who are small. Their bodies are behind everyone else, and they are not as fast or strong. The other group is those who grow but are very awkward in their new body. Either way, there is a group of kids who feel inferior simply because of the changes their body is going through or not. They can quickly get down on themselves and feel a sense of failure for things they cannot control.

The other day I watched a boy playing basketball. When he was in sixth grade, he was bigger than everyone else and scored 30 points against our team to beat us. Now, everyone else has grown up and passed him. Suddenly he was no longer a star, but a reserve. At one point I could swear I saw the look of disappointment and confusion on his face.

I write this because I worry about our teens. I work with them every week, and they are either overconfident or have feelings of worthlessness. Many times, this has been the result of involvement in youth sports.

Now, maybe more than ever, our young people need to know their value and worth do not come from what you do with a ball. They come from being created in the image of God and being redeemed by his son Jesus. That truth is not affected by how tall, fast, good or bad you are at a game. Please be sure you impress this into their lives today and every day.

Weekend Reading

Here are some of the best posts I have read over the last couple of weeks. The final few are about pastors and the struggles we face that I thought you might find interesting –

I’ve Been Dancing With Her Ever Since – older article, but I great read.

I Lost Mom, but I’ll Never Lose the Church

What Is the Opposite of Homosexuality? Why Marriage Is Not My Mission

10 Marks of a Happy Church

Here are a few articles to understand your pastor better –

10 Heartaches of Being a Pastor

When People Leave: The Private Pain Of The Small Church Pastor

5 reasons why pastors leave the ministry

Advantages of Reading the Bible Over and Over

With the start of the new year, I began reading through the entire Bible one more time. This will make the fifth trip through in the last eight years. The first three times were with the aid of the Bible on CD as I went through the New International Version. My fourth time through I read the English Standard Version with devotional for men. Now I am trying the One Year Chronological Bible in the 2011 New International Version.

I will be the first to admit that after Bible college my Bible reading was limited to what I was teaching for the week or what a daily devotional placed as the passage for the day. I tried reading the One Year Bible along with numerous Bible plans, but I would always stall in Leviticus and Numbers until I finally gave up. I did read through the New Testament a couple of times and thought I was doing well. To be honest, I wondered why it mattered if I read it for a second or third time, I mean, wasn’t once enough. I was familiar with most of the stories and had a general knowledge, and that felt good to me.

On my latest trip through the Bible, I have noticed a few advantages of reading through it one more time.

1. Starting to see the big picture. It is easy to think of the Bible as a collection of books that are disjointed and have little connection. I am starting to see how the law ties to history. I see how the prophets connect to history. I slowly understand how the Old and New Testament tie together. The Bible is one harmonious story and should be read together.

2. Learning theology from the whole Bible. Because of my emphasis on the New Testament, I often saw God and his work in Jesus with no connection to the Old Testament. While reading through those old stories, I am amazed at how many times God’s grace is mentioned. My view of an angry God in the old covenant and a grace-filled God in the new one was shattered.

3. Noticing the details in the stories. When you first read through the stories found in God’s word, there is a focus simply on learning the story. Okay, Jacob and Esau were brothers and didn’t get along. Now I see things like, Esau knew his parents wanted him to take an Israelite wife and yet he purposely married not one but two Hittite women. Recently I have been reading Job, and I notice how much of what he says is true, but how my theology lines up with his friends who are wrong.

4. Greater familiarity. I noticed how much more of the stories are attaching themselves to my long-term memory. I have heard this before, and it is starting to stick. God blessed me with a strong memory, but it is tremendously aided by repetition.

5. I hear something new every time. My personal situation has been different with each reading. My relationships have changed, the people I serve in ministry are involved in different struggles, and my leadership is growing. Because of the changes in my life, I find that different lines and phrases touch my heart more with each reading. I underline different verses with every reading. God speaks to me in just the way I need with every page I read each time.

These are my reflections. Some of you have been through the Bible much more than me. What would you add to my list?

I always encourage people to read their Bible, but I would also suggest you read it more than once.

One of the Most Difficult Parts of Youth Ministry

Working with teenagers comes with a whole host of issues. I have dealt with everything from teens lying to my face, sneaking out to smoke in the bathroom, addictions, and struggles with suicide. Every year comes with a series of stories and adventures that keep teen ministry interesting.

All those adventures keep youth ministry interesting, but they are not the most challenging issue I have to deal with each year. The single biggest struggle is that teenagers only want to be entertained.

Whenever I talk to teens, who quit the youth group and ask them why they stopped I know what response I am going to receive. They will tell me something like, “It’s not that fun” or “A lot of it is boring.” Then I talk to parents, and they give me a similar response. “They just don’t enjoy it,” is the most common answer that I am given.

At first, I tried to do everything I could to make youth group fun and enjoyable. Every week was the most fun game I could find. The leaders and I would brainstorm for hours so that every minute of the group was exciting and memorable. This seemed to work a little, but the competition from the world was always better. TV, school, video games, sports and just about everything else seemed to be more fun no matter how much I planned. It was a battle the Church could just not win.

Here is the reality, our teens do not need more entertainment. They need to know God. They need to learn what the word of God says about life. They need to develop Christian friends who are walking the same path of faith. They need to get connected to mature Christian leaders who model faith. The most difficult part of youth ministry is convincing people that matters of the soul are essential.

The teens today are drowning in a sea of fun activities. At the same time, their spiritual struggles are growing. Words like depression, anxiety, stress, loneliness, and suicide are real problems for teenagers. They need to address the evil and sin that exists in the world and especially inside of their own soul. Teens, like adults, need what faith has to offer.

I no longer try to make youth group “the most fun hour of their week.” Now I am working to connect with the deepest needs of their heart. The work is challenging and frustrating, but when it works, it is the most important work in the world.

A Scripture Christian’s Must Consider Today

When I decided to become a preacher while in Bible college, a verse was pointed out to me that I found to foundational to my ministry.

2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. (NIV 2011)

Paul underlines that the primary job of a preacher is to “Preach the Word.” It was a powerful charge to a young man going out into the world with a Bible and a hope of making a difference for the kingdom of God. He follows this statement with a series of phrases that drive home the importance of this preaching. Sometimes you preach when people are ready for it and other times they will not. Not only are we to explain the Bible but use its words to correct people’s thoughts and actions along with challenging them to grow. This type of work calls for great patience and careful instruction – what a great word to any young preacher or Church leader.

Somewhere along the way, I lost the next verse. Recently I rediscovered it and the context of Paul’s instruction.

2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (NIV 2011)

Paul tells Timothy to preach the word but then gives him a warning. There will come a time when people will not put up with sound Bible teaching and instruction. Instead, people who claim to follow Jesus will come up with their own ideas; then they will gather people around them to affirm what they want to believe.

These words came back to me recently after several conversations about faith. Repeatedly I have encountered people who have created their own theology and belief system and are just looking for someone to agree with them. To make matters worse, we live at a time where the internet allows us to find a person or a group who does agree.

Since Paul warned us about this type of action, let me ask you a few questions:

1. Do you only read material that you already agree with? Do you expose yourself to a different point of view regularly? What is challenging your thinking from the Bible and theology?

2. What have you changed your mind about lately? What new truth have you learned that has challenged you to change your behavior? How have you been corrected, rebuked or encouraged?

The remedy to bad theology is a better understanding the word of God. So, my final question is the most important, “How much time do you spend on the internet compared to the word of God?”

Every time I go to social media I cringe. People are sharing posts from all kinds of places that they think are wonderful. Many times, they are just affirmations of what they already believe. Many appear to have gathered around them what their itching ears want to hear.

A Simple Milestone

My post last Friday may not have meant anything to you, but it was a milestone for me. It was the 1,500 blog I have posted.

When I started this blog in January 2013, I had no idea where it would go. In fact, I didn’t think I would do it five days a week. I thought I would share a few thoughts on the Christian faith, ministry, and living for God. When moments of insight hit me I would write a little something and post it. Slowly it transformed. I started to enjoy writing and looked forward to it as an outlet each day of my thoughts.

Now I have a notebook on my computer and a brown journal that I keep all of my ideas inside until I am ready to write about them. I have ideas coming to me regularly about things I want to write. It is a discipline I enjoy, and I hope it is a blessing to other people.

As of last Friday, I have sat down at my computer and posted something from a picture to a lengthy detailed article one thousand five hundred times.

Whenever I think about this blog, I am reminded of the power of daily discipline. If someone has asked me to post this many times, I would have been overwhelmed. But taking a few minutes a day to do something repeatedly, over time accumulates to something big. This is true of writing, Bible reading, exercise, prayer, marriage conversations, reading, or any activity you enjoy.

In January six years ago I decided to start doing a little writing and here I am today. What decision are you going to make that one day you will look back upon and smile at how far you have come? Life is altered by little choices that we practice every day.

Follow Jesus By Picking Up Your Dirty Clothes

Over the course of a few months, I met with a couple to offer them some marital counseling. They were like most couples who come to me, about to give up after a long hard struggle to survive. It appeared they had tried everything, and they were going to give it one last shot with me.

In one of my conversations, the problem began to crystallize. The wife was upset about the way he treated her. He was never physically or emotionally abusive, but he seemed to be overly irritating all the time. One example she gave was they he never picked up his clothes. He would take things off at night and throw them in the corner of the bedroom. The next day he would put on clean clothes and leave the old ones in the corner for her to pick up. She had tried everything to get him to change. She left them there until the pile reached enormous proportions. She quietly asked, and she yelled with a loud voice to wake the neighbors. Nothing changed.

The conversation that brought this all into focus was one that I had with him alone. I asked him what he was doing to help his marriage, and he gave me an honest and straightforward response. He said, “I am trying to follow Jesus.” I inquired as to what that meant, and he said something like, “You know I am reading my bible and praying.” I asked what else he was doing. He thought hard and said, “I also come to Church each week with her, and I am trying to attend a Sunday School class.” Once more I questioned him, “Is there anything else you are trying.” He looked at me and said, “Nope, just trying to follow Jesus and asking the Lord to work this out.”

Trying to be a good counselor I did not state the obvious and tried to lead him to the truth. No matter how I posed the questions he came back to this singular idea, “I am just following Jesus.” Looking back, maybe I should have said it directly, but I also think he would have resented me for it. I wanted to shout at him, “Why don’t you try picking up your clothes!”

I share this story because it gives us insight into why a marriage crumbles. A marriage usually fails when people fail to put faith into action in the simplest of ways. They have a disconnect between following Jesus and picky up their dirty clothes to make their spouse happy.

Couples fail when one or both of them quit saying, “I love you” or stares at their phone instead of talking. It happens when the things that please my spouse go undone despite their continual requests. Ask someone you know who is divorced and most of them will not tell you about one significant incident that ruined it all. Instead, they will tell you about a flood of small issues that were never resolved.

Truly following Jesus sometimes means doing the little things that bring joy to other people in his name. We can follow Jesus best by picking up our dirty clothes.

What could you do in the name of Jesus this weekend that would help your marriage? The answer might be as easy as a laundry basket.