One Simple Christian Behavior

One of the most basic Christian virtues is kindness. While it seems like this is an easy idea for us to grasp, it must not be because the Bible continually reminds the followers of Jesus to be kind (Colossians 3:12, 2 Timothy 2:24 & Ephesians 4:32). In fact, one of the fruit that will be seen in our lives as we live by the Spirit of God is kindness.

Kindness is defined as the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. It means saying a pleasant word instead of a harsh one. It means smiling when we want to get angry. It means doing a nice thing when we want to be mean.

One reason we need to be reminded to be kind is that we often limit our good behavior to a few people. Let me tell you of a few people to be kind too –

1. The strangers we meet. Throughout your day you are going to encounter people everywhere you turn. Our lives bump up against people at the gas station, coffee shop, store, restaurant, and school to name a few. How do you treat the people around you? It has been said that the way you treat your wait staff when eating out or the janitor at your place of business is the accurate measure of your kindness.

2. The people that we know. Sometimes we are very kind to people we do not know while having anger when dealing with the people at our work whom we encounter every day. When we know people and their story, we can feel we have the right to be rude or indignant. Often we feel free to pour out our negative emotions and attitudes over the people we know the best.

3. The people in our family. This can be your children, who continuously frustrate you after a long day. It can also be your spouse. Frequently we act well-behaved all day long only to unleash on the people we love without realizing the damage that it causes. Don’t treat strangers better than you treat the people you love.

Honestly, if you look at my list, that is everyone you meet. As a follower of Jesus, your kindness is not reserved for the short list of people you think deserve it. It is not something that happens when you want to make a good impression. Kindness is the default action of people who love Jesus. Today is a good day to be kind.

Parenting Choices My Wife and I Have Made

Recently I was in a conversation with a lady about some of the choices she was making with her children. These were not necessarily Biblical decisions, but they do reflect the life of a believer. They involve good stewardship, building strong family dynamics and giving us a format to teach our children about Jesus. As the parents of four boys, we made several mistakes, but these were some of the best choices we made when our children were young.

1. Experiences Over Stuff. When my oldest was six or seven years old, we made a conscious decision to focus on having wonderful experiences together over getting them more and more toys. One Christmas we took the money we would usually spend on gifts and got a hotel room at an indoor water park. It was basically empty, and we had a great time together.

2. Cheap Over Expensive. You do not need to go broke making these experiences. One year we waited in line for a coupon book the radio station was giving away to a local amusement park area. That summer we took a couple of trips and enjoyed everything free we possibly could. Let me be honest, at a young age your children do not understand what is expensive and what is not. A city park can be as much fun as six flags for a child and way cheaper.

3. Teens Over Toddlers. One thing we discovered is that anything we did before the age of twelve was forgotten. There might be a faint memory, but those usually came more from a picture, home video or family story. I recently asked my boys about the experiences we had in Alaska when we lived there for five years. We have now been gone for almost five years, and they have very little memory of most of what we did. As a result, we decided we would take our big trips when the boys were old enough to remember and appreciate it. We make a special trip the year our boys are a senior that they get to choose. I am glad we saved the money.

4. Together Over Isolation. We do things as a family. If one of the boys has something happening, then we all go to watch, support and enjoy. We generally do not send our boys off to anything alone. That means we sometimes have to do crazy things like all of us sleeping in a van in a parking lot, but it is a memory we share. When we go to amusement parks, we try to stay together even when I hate the ride. We go to games as a family even when we do not all enjoy it.

5. Us Over Me. When the boys were born, I gave up my week-long fishing vacation. My wife has really never had a “girls’ night out.” We made a choice when we had kids to raise them ourselves. We did not leave them very often with baby sitters or grandparents so that we could go have our fun. We chose to give up our trips while we have kids living in our homes. Now, we are already planning to travel when the boys are all off in college and gone, but while they are in our house, we will be a family.

I don’t know if you find any of this to be helpful or challenging. Maybe you hear echoes of your own parenting or even your childhood. These were choices that we made that have given us a close relationship with all our boys that I would not trade for anything. Great families are the result of good decisions, and these are some we made. What would you add to my list?

Developing Our Theology

Theology is defined as the study of God or a set of beliefs. Everyone who has ever thought about God has developed a theology. As a pastor, I am exposed to people who have arrived at a detailed theology about all things religious. They have convictions that flow from their understanding of God and what he desires. The most significant question about our beliefs is, “How did we arrive at that conclusion.”

There are two fundamental ways that we develop our theology.

The first way is to read the Bible and draw conclusions over what we learn there. This is difficult because it requires us to be familiar with all the Bible. We need to understand both the Old and New Testaments and how they fit together. It requires study and searching for common themes while harmonizing complicated thoughts. Quite often it requires years and years of research to form solid concepts about multiple topics.

The other way to arrive at your theology is through informational gathering. This requires us to listen to teachers, read books and have spiritual conversations. This is not necessarily an easy journey into learning, but it is different. It leads us to theologians, authors and loud voices who can influence our thinking. Frequently it is affected by my family and personal experiences.

I have encountered both and realized most people are not disciplined enough to develop a robust Biblical theology, so we try to shortcut the process with information gathering. This is not necessarily a bad thing in any way, but there are two critical questions to ask yourself:

Do I believe this to be true because of something I found in the Bible or because of the words of someone else?

If I found something in the Bible that was different from what I currently believe, would I adjust my thinking accordingly?

We must always be on guard against arriving at our religious beliefs and then trying to find ways to support what we already believe. This forces us to read only the parts of the Bible with which we agree. In turn, we listen only to speakers and authors whom we agree. Without noticing it, we create a theology based on our preference nothing more. I believe faith should pull and stretch us into unnatural positions and conclusions based on a supernatural being. When God likes and hates all the same thing that we do, usually we have just made a god in our own image and have not discovered the God of the Bible.

A Lesson from the Church Refrigerator

I spend an enormous amount of time in the Church building. As a result, I use the refrigerator located there for personal and professional uses. Through the years I have developed a statement that I repeat when it comes to this one appliance. I tell people, “Anything in the Church fridge is community property.”

Throughout my ministry, I would leave food, soda and bottled water inside the refrigerator to keep it cool during the week. Repeatedly I would go back to find food missing and the drinks are almost always gone. In an effort to protect my stuff I took a permanent marker and put my name on items. While it slowed them being taken it did not stop the removal of anything people found. One Sunday morning I looked up to see a woman singing on the stage with a bottle of water with my name clearly on the side. “Anything in the Church fridge is community property.”

At first, all of this upset me, and I thought, I cannot buy enough food and drinks for the whole Church every Sunday. Then it began to humor me. It was a game of who will take the food this week. Recently I have decided that the stupid refrigerator is a symbol of what it means to be a Church. We are a community of people who belong to one another. The Church is one big family who lives together as one. Sure, anything in the fridge is community property in the same way anything in mine at home is fair game to anyone who visits me. The Church is more than a building or a collection of people who share similar beliefs; we are a community of people connected through Jesus. If you don’t believe me, try leaving some bottles of water in the fridge.

Christian Music Playlist

I always like to do a little something different on Friday. So here are some of the Christian songs I am listening to lately. Take a few minutes to listen and maybe you will find something you like. Have a great weekend.

1. Cochren & Co. – Church (Take Me Back)

2. Passion – It Is Finished ft. Melodie Malone/ (Youtube also has an acoustic version of this song)

3. Good Grace (Live) – Hillsong UNITED

4. Mack Brock – Greater Things

5. Red Rocks Worship – Fill This Place – The Rooftop EP

**Bonus – Passion – Follow You Anywhere ft. Kristian Stanfill

A Lesson from My Failing Eyes

There is a long list of excuses that I can give you from waiting on insurance to just being stubborn, but I waited five years to get my eyes checked. This might not be a problem for someone younger than I am but when you’re in that place in life where things begin to fail it was far too long.

Almost three years ago I noticed I had to move my glasses around to be able to see better. Progressive lenses enabled me to compensate for a while. Then it proceeded to get worse and worse. During 2018 I started having dizzy spells. I would occasionally fall and hope that no one was looking. I knew the cause was my eyes, but I still refused to do anything about it. I kept telling myself that I will do something when I have more time and money. The problem reached its peak last fall when I could no longer read the words on the screen during worship without headaches and nausea.

Finally, in January, I went to the doctor, and he did inform me of a significant change in my prescription. I ordered new glasses, and they arrived in the middle of January. I have now been wearing them for over two months. While wearing them, I have not had one headache, dizzy spell or a case of nausea. The problems are gone, and I can read without adjusting my glasses or straining my eyes.

Sitting here this morning reading my Bible I started thinking about my glasses. One question filled my mind. Why did I wait so long? Was it the cost? Was it my stubborn attitude? Was it my headstrong nature? Whatever it was inside of me that made me wait to change was utterly wrong.

What about you? What is there in your life that you put off changing? What will it take for you to act? How long will you wait? When we embrace the changes instead of hiding from them, we usually find that life is better. Then a new question emerges, “Why did I wait so long?”

My Two Biggest Concerns Currently as a Pastor

This past Sunday our Church had its annual congregational meeting. It is a time for the staff and treasurer to give reports and for us to talk about our future plans. This event has been on my calendar for a couple of months, so my thoughts were clear on what I was going to say. As I think about the future of our Church and Christians in general, I am focused on one word: Discipleship. I want to help people grow as believers into fully devoted followers of Jesus. This one concept then branches into my two most significant concerns in ministry.

1. How does the Church leadership help people grow as believers?

The numbers I read tell me that people used to attend Church 3-4 times a month minimum and today it is 1-2 times a month maximum. This creates enormous issues for all Churches especially smaller ones in rural settings. In the past, the leadership relied on a person to come on Sunday morning for both a small group called Sunday school and stay for a large group time of worship. Many times, believers would return for an evening gathering and possibly another Bible study through the week. The opportunities for discipleship were easy and abundant. Today the landscape has changed. Many of the people I lead will only be on our campus once a month for one hour. How do we help those people grow in the Lord?

Honestly, I don’t have any solid answers, but I continue to read, study, ask questions and watch what is working across the country. One thing does seem clear; for many people, spiritual growth is going to include technology. It will consist of online small groups, social media groups, internet resources and video from our own setting.

Church attendance is not a goal of the Christians life. It is part of the journey as it helps us to connect, grow, serve and worship. The ultimate goal is for people to become like Christ. One of my biggest concerns is how to facilitate that as a Church leader with the current culture.

2. How does the Church help young people to grow in their faith?

Once again, I am watching the numbers of teens who attend youth group shrinking. In fact, this is the first Church I have led where the youth group size has continued to decline. Two primary factors are contributing to this reduction in teens involved in Church. One is the cultural obsession with entertainment and second is sports. The people I talk to give me only one of two reasons that they do not come to youth events anymore. They either say, “It’s boring” or “I’m busy.” The problem then becomes twice as difficult if their parents are only at Church once a month and are not growing in their faith.

I clearly understand that involvement in the youth ministry of the Church is not the ultimate goal for teens. The goal is to see them grow in their faith and hold onto it for a lifetime. Youth groups were formed to help them accomplish that end, but it no longer seems to be working.

Honestly, I have no idea how to fix this problem either. I think part of the solution is getting parents to grow toward spiritual maturity and then they can teach better in the home. Also, technology is going to be a significant factor in helping teens develop. I am not sure what else is going to work. As a parent of teens along with working as a youth leader, my heart breaks to see so few kids who grow up coming to Sunday morning worship having little spiritual depth.

These are the two issues that keep me up at night. I spend more time thinking about these topics as a Church leader than any others. What is it going to take to help people of all ages grow into disciples of Christ in the immediate future? I am not sure.

What are your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions? If you have none, then I suggest you begin praying about these issues because they are not going away anytime soon.

Four Christian People I Would Like to Thank

Occasionally people will ask me, “What made you decide to become a preacher?” While the ultimate answer is that God led me to this position, I also know that I am the result of several Christians I encountered along the way who help to mold my faith. Today I want to thank a few of those people.

1. The Nursery Workers. Growing up at Church I never spent a Sunday in the worship program. Instead, I was entrusted to volunteer nursery workers during the worship hour. These selfless volunteers enabled my parents to grow and serve in the Church. Dad and mom’s freedom to mature in their faith then led them to teach me at home through word and deed. Obviously, I cannot remember the names of these people, but they made a difference by giving my family a chance to grow in faith.

2. The People Who Donate Time to Teach Children. I cannot count the number of people who volunteered to teach Sunday school, lead children’s Church, and organize events like VBS for students like me. My life was shaped by people who were willing to sacrifice their time to work with other people’s children. I am sure it was not easy as I was a little hyperactive, but they worked with me none the less.

3. The Youth Group Sponsors. Our Church had a youth program on Sunday evenings that the paid youth minister put together. Looking back, I never really thought much about the other four to six people who came those nights. They did activities with us, went to events with us and even seemed genuinely concerned about our lives.

4. The Leadership of the Local Church. While I did not realize it as a young person in the Church, we had elders and deacons who were serving to lead the Church. They gave countless hours to make decisions about things like budgets, staff, selecting teachers, protecting the Church, visiting the sick, along with giving of themselves so that our church could exist.

My life was shaped by people whose names I didn’t know or can’t remember. There were an untold amount of people who served hours to mold and shape me as a believer. Not only did they make an impact on my life, but our Church had several people who went into Bible college and then into full-time ministry. I never had a chance to thank any of these wonderful people, but I am a life that was changed.

The same group of people still exist today. Sure the names have changed, and the methods they use to lead are entirely different, but their impact remains the same. The kingdom of God is moved forward by people willing to give their time to the work of the Lord. We will never know the lives we touch on this side of eternity. Still to all the volunteers out there serving in the local Church I want to say Thank You.

When You Are Feeling Weary

Some days I wonder if I am making a difference at all. Every week I preach, and most of the time, nothing seems to change. Every week I blog, and the number of readers rarely goes up. I have received little acknowledgment for my service, no awards from my peers and no outstanding opportunities to further my career.

Most days are the same. I pray, read my bible, look through several articles on the internet, write a blog, work on a sermon or lesson until I go home. There are only a few variations in my routine. This happens day after day, month after month and year after year.

Some Mondays I set at my desk and feel weary. The hours pile up, and I am not sure they have amounted to anything. Maybe you have experienced this type of feeling in your life. You work and work only to see little results for your effort. You thought you would have achieved more for the amount of work you have done.

At times like this, there is one verse that I hold onto to get me through. Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (New International Version 2011)

Paul reminds the believers in the city of Galatia that it is easy to get weary, but don’t let those feelings overcome you. Keep plugging away. At some point, we will see all our hard work come to fruition. There will come a day when we will reap the reward for all the effort we have given in his name.

His final statement is the most critical. Don’t give up. When you feel weary, do not quit. Hang on and keep doing the right thing. You will probably not appreciate this advice today, but one day you will. Keep doing good, today and every day.

Weekend Reading

Here are the best articles I have read over the past two weeks. Enjoy.

Q&A: HOW DO I START A CONVERSATION WITH A FIRST-TIME GUEST? Great information for everyone who attends Church, especially as we head into the Easter season.

The Marble Jar Analogy… with a twist I have used this analogy, and this is a great twist. The link is a 4-minute video that is worth your time as a parent.

Nadia Bolz-Weber and the Sexual Revolution We Need Great thinking in this article. I really like the last few paragraphs. What if we actually lived out God’s plan?

Girl, Follow Jesus – I have not read Rachel Hollis but if you have, this article is worth considering.

Everyone and no one Business guru Seth Godin with another simple yet powerful thought.