Adding an Asterisk

Recently I was reading an advertisement, and it had an asterisk at the end of one of the sentences. This led you to the bottom of the page where there was some important information. After adjusting my bifocals, I could read, “Offer not available to employees and their families … Offer not available to residents of Alaska and Hawaii …” There were all these restrictions to the original statements made in bold print.

Often, I feel like when we read the Bible, we add an asterisk where one does not exist. We believe that the idea in that passage has restrictions. Those words do not apply to us.

Sometimes we add this little piece of punctuation to keep us from feeling bad about faith. We know Jesus wants us to go and make disciples, but that doesn’t apply to the young, newlyweds, new parents, parents of teens, and senior citizens. Surely Jesus understands that we cannot keep that command at this point in our lives?

Sometimes we add the asterisk because we don’t feel good enough. Sure, God loves the world, but he doesn’t like adulterers, fornicators, drunkards, and sinners. Jesus came for good people, and I am not that good. Surely God’s love in Jesus doesn’t apply to my life.

My thought for today is simple; don’t add an asterisk where one does not exist. God loves you. He also has commands he wants everyone to follow. You are not the exception. There are no restrictions listed in the fine print, no matter how close you look.

Praise for the Small Works of God

Yesterday I woke up feeling horrible. My throat hurt, my body ached, and I felt nauseous. Usually, I would call in sick and work when I felt better, but this was Sunday morning. There is really no one to call when you feel unwell on Sunday morning as a Pastor. Generally speaking, no one can whip together a sermon on short notice and speak for me. So, no matter how I felt, I got up and went to the Church building and prepared for worship.

I followed my normal routine and tried my best to keep the sermon clear in my head even while it was spinning. When worship started, I tried singing, but the vocal cords were not going to have it. I coughed, my throat pain increased and felt nervous about standing to speak. In the middle of the worship time, nausea increased, and I was unsure I was going to make it. Then I stood up to speak.

Surprising as it was, I did not feel the least bit sick while I was preaching. I remembered every word from the sermon notes that I wanted to say. I felt strength and the power of the spirit as I taught. In the end, I felt good about how everything came out.

When both programs were over, and two sermons were complete, I was wiped out. I was more exhausted than I had been on Easter. The afternoon held a two-hour nap for me as I tried to regain strength. Despite taking all my energy, the morning was a success for the kingdom of God.

I hesitate to call what happened yesterday morning a miracle. It could be explained as pure focus, adrenaline or just a feat of the human will. For me, there was something more to it. I needed God’s help, and he provided me with exactly what was required.

This is not the first time this has happened in my life. God has shown up for an untold number of sermons, lessons, and conversations in my ministry. Still, every time it amazes me. This time I do not want to let it go by unnoticed. I want to take this moment to encourage you. Whenever you step out on faith in your service to the Lord, I believe God shows up. He gives you the words to say that someone needs to hear. He gives you the strength of spirit to get through stressful moments. He will work through you if you allow him. These experiences might not be the miracles, but they are the small works of God that increase his kingdom on earth through you.

Celebrating the Resurrection this Weekend

Last weekend was the holiday formally known as Easter. It is the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead as a Church body.

Several years ago, a person asked me, “If the resurrection is so important, why do we only think about it once a year?”

My response to them was that the Church focuses on the resurrection every week. The followers of Jesus meet every Sunday morning because that was the day Jesus rose from the dead. In the Old Testament, people observed the Sabbath which is Saturday. The early Church changed their meeting to the first day of the week to connect their faith specifically to Jesus.

I don’t know whether you were at Church last weekend for the special holiday weekend or not, but we will be celebrating the resurrecting again this weekend. The followers of Jesus will get up on Sunday morning, the first day of the week, and they will connect with other people who follow Jesus in worship. We will sing the praises of God and talk about his will for our lives. While we may not specially refer to Jesus rising from the dead, the very act of gathering is a declaration to the world that he has risen. He has risen indeed.

I hope to see you on Sunday.

Reasons I am Optimistic About the Future of the Church

It seems that almost every day I read an article about the demise of the Church. Churches are closing, attendance is dropping, and the “Nones” are rising (people who claim to have no religion). While I read these posts with great curiosity, I do not believe they tell the whole truth about the Church and all things spiritual. Here are five reasons I am optimistic about the Church’s future.

1. The Loss of the Half-Hearted. A couple of the articles I have read recently explained that people are attending worship gatherings less frequently. Then they go on to tell that those who are attending less are people who have a “lukewarm” faith. In other words, those who genuinely love Jesus and have a deep faith are not leaving the Church. The people of God have always moved forward with faithful believers in the lead, and it will do so in the future.

2. Blank Slates. Most of my ministry life has been spent either correcting poor teaching or trying to overcome past hurts inflicted by someone in a Church. Whenever I encounter someone who has no preconceived ideas about Jesus and his body, it is like a breath of fresh air. I can teach them the truth and work through their questions without trying to fix the past.

3. The Pendulum of Life. At one point in history, people may have seemed very close to God while now they seem very far away. I believe you can only get so far away from God and the pendulum begins to swing back the other way. The history recorded in the Bible is of a people who leave God and then need him. The history of all of humanity is basically the same.

4. Technology and Tools. The future of mass communication has never been so bright as it is today. Videos, podcasts, live feeds, and streaming are just a few of the tools the Church is using to touch the world. Personally, I am in the beginning stages of creating a video series to answer basic questions about things like the Bible and how to use it. The opportunities to share our faith abound.

5. God is Still in Charge. God has a way of making bad things turn out good. This may take a thousand forms, but he has the power to bring a change in a short period of time. Whenever people drift away from God, it isn’t long before he steps in and makes everything right again.

As a pastor, I do not worry about the future of my Church. I see a future full of great possibilities for the gospel message of Jesus to grow and expand. It may not look like it has for the past 200 years, but the body of Christ will move forward boldly into the future. I have only good thoughts about the direction the people of faith are headed.

Dabbling at Faith

The second definition of dabbling is “to take part in an activity in a casual or superficial way.” Unfortunately, I have seen numerous people who dabble at faith. They attend Church on a couple of holidays or occasionally for a few months, and then they disappear. Later, I will run into them and ask them about their faith. They will say something like, “I tried, and it didn’t do anything for me.” At moments like this I want to scream (but don’t), “You never really tried faith, you only made a superficial attempt at it!”

Following Jesus is a lifestyle you only understand when you are immersed in living it. It is not an activity that you observe a few times and then can make a categorical statement about its value. You must walk in the path of Jesus beside other believers in a deeply committed way for an extended period to understand it.

-You will never know the gravity of grace until you weep with another believer after you have sinned.
-You will never know the power of community until you stand beside another believer who is hurting, and you feel their pain and struggle.
-You will never know the wisdom of God until you have spent years learning and listening to teachers who have experienced it in their life.
-You will never know the presence of God until you have worshipped beside people who love Jesus deeply and unashamedly.
-You will never know what it means to really believe until you have stood with someone who keeps their faith through times of loss.
-You will never know faith until you let go of your past and walk differently into an unknown future.

To honestly know faith, you cannot dabble at the edges for a couple of Sundays. Every week my heart hurts for someone because I know they need to experience the life of Jesus in a deeper and more meaningful way, but they are only dabbling at it.

If you are a new believer, know that it will take a while for things to feel right. If you are about to give up on Jesus and his Church, then let me encourage you to hang on a little longer. You will never know the power of faith until you stop dabbling and give yourself entirely to God season after season. In a world of instant gratification, a Christian is someone willing to wait for things to develop.

My View on the Church and Fundraising

The last two days my inbox has been full of emails about fundraising. I can only assume it is because some Churches are looking at the lull of summer looming and their financial resources are about to be depleted. They need money to keep doing their work, and so they resort to fundraising. Churches and Church groups will spend the next few months hosting car washes, bake sales and a variety of other activities to generate the needed money for their work.

As a preacher I want you to know that I am diametrically opposed to Christian fundraising. There are several reasons I feel this way and here are just a few.

1. It has a poor return for the effort. Imagine a group of ten teenagers spends eight hours on a Saturday washing cars, and they make $350. Now, if those ten teens had worked those eight hours for an $8.50 an hour job, they would have made $680. Instead, they spent the day making a little over four dollars an hour. I know there are other positive dynamics at work like learning teamwork and the value of hard labor. There are also adverse side effects like teaching people that the Church is only interested in your money. Plus, it bothers me deeply that non-believers might end up supporting the work of believers instead of the Church giving to its own projects.

2. It divides the Church. This is huge. I once visited a Church that had twelve different subgroups within their organization. Each of those groups had their own bank account and was responsible for its funds. As a result, people would only support the women’s ministry or would refrain from helping the teens because the senior adults needed it more. It was crazy how fractured the Church was in the finances and their actions.

3. It discourages trust. It amazes me how little some people trust the Church leadership. They think, if I put my money in the general offering then they will use it for something I do not approve. Godly leadership should do what is best for the entire group, and most people do not trust their leadership enough to do that.

4. It doesn’t teach stewardship. This is the biggest reason for me. One of the responsibilities of the Church is to teach its people the principle of stewardship. That is the concept that God owns everything, and we are merely temporary users. Fundraising is about the exchange of goods or services for my freewill donation. Stewardship is about saying that God has blessed me, and I want to give back to the work of the Lord. It is about developing the right attitude towards my money and possessions. My goal as a pastor is not about encouraging fundraising, but rather faith raising. I want to see you live a generous life because God has blessed you and you know that he will continue to provide all you need, even if give some away.

With this said, I could care less about what the girl scouts or sports teams do to get money. They can function however they like and do what works best for them. Within the Church, I feel quite differently. I believe that we should be encouraged to grow in our faith throughout every area of our life including financially. So even though my mailbox is full of wonderful ways to generate more money for our Church this summer, I will pass and continue to teach the stewardship of a believer.

The Easter Hangover

There is a phenomenon among pastors that is affectionately called the Easter hangover. When I first entered ministry in the days before the internet and social media, I thought I was the only one who felt it. When I would ask colleagues about the “day after” feelings they would act like I was a weak pastor who had not reached their level of spiritual maturity. It wasn’t until years later that I discover most of them were lying to cover their feelings of inadequacy.

Here is the reality that preachers might not tell you, most of us are entirely wiped out from the minute we leave the Church building on Easter Sunday. Yesterday my social media feed was full of posts about taking naps, total exhaustion and curling up into the fetal position.

The reasons that this week is so exhausting are numerous, and I wanted you to know a few of them that I have experienced this hangover it.

1. Our one big chance. Ministry is usually a slow conversation by conversation attempt to make a difference, but on Easter, the rules are changed. People come to Church who are seeking something spiritual, and this might be our only chance to reach them. I know I feel an enormous amount of stress over presenting the gospel in an engaging and instructional way.

2. Decisions, decisions. I recently read that one of the most exhausting things we do mentally is making decisions. This is why when you go on vacation you can come home worn out and need another vacation. It is because you spend your week deciding on where to eat, what to do and where to go. The week of Easter is kind of like that for preachers. We have to make decisions about who sings what songs, which video to show, what sermon to preach and on and on it goes. In the end, it is exhausting.

3. Spiritual attacks. I firmly believe that the week before a big day in the life of a Church community the leader is continually under spiritual attacks. There is a temptation that presents itself around every corner. It comes in the form of pride, lust, greed, and anger to name a few. Fighting these attacks can be draining emotionally.

4. The emotional roller coaster. There is great joy in seeing new people attend worship. There is a quick drop when that family leaves without making any connections. There is the joy of preaching the resurrection of Jesus followed by the steep decline of feeling like our sermon was boring, irrelevant or simply terrible. The week of Easter is an up and down ride of emotions.

5. Feelings of inadequacy. On Easter, a preacher talks about the most significant thing they know; the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Talking about the weather or sports requires nothing of my soul. Speaking of Jesus death, burial and resurrection reaches deep inside my soul and touches the deepest part of me. It is the message that brings hope to my life, and I want you to like it so much. I want you to know the truth of Jesus and know the forgiveness he offers. Whenever I speak this deeply from my soul, the final product is emptiness. When I walked into my house after Easter worship, I felt like a player who has just given a hundred percent effort in a championship game.

I tell you all of this for a couple of reasons. One, I want you to know your preacher better. Whether they admit it or not, Easter is a wonderfully exhausting time. Two, I also want you to know it takes anywhere from 12 hours to six days for the preacher to get his head and heart right. This will not be his best week of ministry, but that is only because he poured himself out and it takes a little while to get filled back up.

Celebrating the Holy Week

Today is Thursday, and this is when we reach the height of the Holy Week, or it is also called the Passion Week. This is the few days that believers set aside to remember the work of Jesus almost 2000 years ago.

Maundy Thursday. This is the night that Jesus shares his last supper and institutes what we call communion. In the middle of the evening, he washes the disciple’s feet and commands them to do the same. This is an evening where we think of serving like our Savior.

Good Friday. This is the day we remember Jesus being nailed to a cross. He will hang in the air for six hours and finally die this die. It is here that he sacrificed his body to death for the sins of the world.

Holy Saturday. This is the day that Jesus body lies in the grave. Nothing happens this day, but it serves as a time of quiet reflection on the price that he paid for us.

Resurrection Sunday. This is the day we recognize the power of God in Jesus. The sacrifice was accepted, and the payment on the cross was adequate, and now Jesus is raised from the dead. It is a day of joyful surprise and enduring celebration.

These four days believers set aside to focus our thoughts on the work of Jesus that brings our salvation. While I serve in a smaller Church and we have limited programs through this season, there are still plenty of ways to celebrate. Here are a few suggestions:

-Take time to read the story of the passion of Jesus out loud with family or friends. You could even do it all four days from all four gospels.
-Set aside time to pray each of these days focused on that one day’s theme.
-Find a special worship program to attend. While our town is small, we live near a big city, and there are numerous opportunities to worship every day.
-Make plans for Easter Sunday morning now. Our Church is having breakfast and then worship. I know some Churches offer programs at sunrise. Plan now to worship.
-Invite friends and family to join you at this time of celebration and share with them the story of Jesus and the message of the cross.

The list could go on and on: listen to worship music specifically about the cross and resurrection, sing your favorite songs out loud, read a book about the cross or resurrection, give money to a work of the Lord, serve in a way that brings glory to Jesus and on and on it goes.

Here is my point – do not let these next few days continue with business as usual. Don’t let them be filled with children’s activities and forget the Savior. Don’t miss an opportunity to focus your heart and mind on Jesus. This is a special week, but it was done for you, so don’t ever forget it.

The Burning of Notre Dame Cathedral

For the last three days, my news feed has been full of stories about the burning of the cathedral in Paris along with information about the donations for rebuilding. As I read the articles that fill the internet over this event, I am trying to approach this through the eyes of a believer.

First, I understand the importance of the architecture and the history of the Church captured by a building. I have been a witness to several Church buildings being torn down through the years, and people will always tell me the pain it causes to lose it. It conjures up memories of personal decisions, moments of discovery and milestones in life. I realize humanity can develop an emotional connection with inanimate objects as we walk the journey of faith.

Second, I am reminded that the Church is not a building. The Church is a collection of people who follow Jesus together. It is people who make up the Church and not some stone and mortar building created for ministry to occur and God to be worshipped. Even when the meeting place is burned to the ground, the people will continue to be the Lord’s Church.

There is always this tension between the people of Jesus, the building the use, and the memories that are generated in that location.

Events like the burning of Notre Dame should cause us to reflect on what really matters as a Church. Do we care more about our buildings or the people of Jesus? This cathedral is giving us the most dramatic form of this question.

The only things needed to have a Church is Jesus and people willing to follow him. I understand the power a place can hold in our hearts, but what really matters can never be lost.

Five Day Easter Prayer Plan

We are less than a week away from the day in which we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. As a preacher, I have finally rested my mind from Sunday and gotten over the Monday blahs. Now it time for me to refocus. Here is what I will be praying for the next five days and I hope you will join me.

Tuesday – Pray for all the events and activities that all Churches are doing this weekend in the name of the resurrected Lord. Our Church will have only one special program, but some Churches will have dozens of activities. A rising tide (of faith) raises all ships.

Wednesday – Pray for all of the invitations being sent out for Easter. There will be people invited to Church for the first time all over the world. Some of those invited to attend will even be our friends and family. Maybe you want to pray for someone specifically too. I ask God to open the doors for countless people to join a worship program and hear the message of the cross and resurrection.

Thursday – Pray for the community of faith of which you are connected. This is the day we celebrate Jesus instituting the last supper with his disciples. He spent his final evening before the cross with his followers and instructed them to celebrate his death together. You are not alone in your faith; instead, you are a part of the Church as a follower of Jesus. Lift up your brothers and sisters in prayer, especially any particular needs or which you know.

Friday – Pray a prayer (or many prayers) of thanksgiving for the cross. This is Good Friday, and we remember the sacrifice of Jesus this day. Take time to be thankful for a God who loves you and sent his son to die for you that you might be saved from your sins.

Saturday – Pray for those who will lead on Sunday. Pray for the sermon your preacher will share. Pray for your children’s church leader and teachers. Pray for your worship leaders. They have not only spent all week preparing for Sunday but in many ways, all year. May their leadership be strong, and the gospel is presented clearly.

Sunday – Attend worship with your family. Spend the morning celebrating the resurrection. Be friendly to everyone. Show the gospel in your actions and speak it with your words. May this day be a time in which we give Jesus the thanksgiving, praise, and glory he deserves.