My Greatest Fears

Today is Halloween, and I was thinking about the things that truly scare me. I am not afraid of ghosts or goblins or things that go bump in the night. I have genuine fears.

  1. I Fear The Lord. We often associate the fear of the Lord with the Old Testament. Jesus brings it into the New Testament in Luke 12:5 when he says to fear the one who has the authority to throw the soul into hell. I live every day knowing I have a loving father and gracious king, but I will stand before him and give an answer for my life one day. Having a healthy fear is a good thing because it keeps my mind focused on what is really important.
  2. I Fear My Children Drifting From Jesus. I have been blessed to see all my children come to a saving relationship with their Savior. I have watched them walk a righteous path through their teenage years, but now they are on their own. I fear them leaving their roots to see what it is like in a distant country. I pray they never do, but if they do, I pray they find their way back home as a prodigal.
  3. I Fear I Will Miss Opportunities The Lord Gives Me. As a follower of Jesus, I know that every day, he will lead me toward opportunities to share his grace in its various forms. I fear that I will not see them, or worse, mess them up. I want to be a trustworthy servant of my Lord, but many times I am blinded to the work he wants me to do by my sin and selfishness. Many nights I lie awake and ask God to forgive me for getting sidetracked from the things in life of eternal significance. My life goal is to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” and I fear falling short of that goal because my eyes are focused on temporal pleasure.

I don’t know if any of these resonate with you. Tonight, there will be kids dressed up as all kinds of people and things that some might consider scary. I don’t share in those fears. Honestly, while my life is hedged with reverent fear, I spend every day thankful that I do not have to live with the fear of death because of the work of Jesus.

When the Church Outgrows the Preacher

One description of the people who follow Jesus in the Bible is the family of God. We are brothers and sisters in Christ with God as our father. It is a beautiful picture of the closeness and commitment we all feel toward one another in our common faith.

It is not the only picture we find in the writings of the New Testament. The Apostle Peter gives us several names in his letters, including a royal priesthood and a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9). Those descriptions are vastly different than a picture of a family. While there are numerous lessons for us from each of these labels, one of the biggest I would point out is mere quantity. There were hundreds of priests, and a nation is composed of thousands and hundreds of thousands of people.

When I think of a family, I think of a handful of people in a single house enjoying themselves together. When I think of a nation, I think of a large number of people in many different homes. How are these two things similar in any way? Well, a nation may start as one single family. Israel began that way with the family of Jacob. Then it grew and multiplied and grew some more into an entire nation. If you keep adding to a family, eventually it outgrows a single home and possibly a single town.

The Church fits both descriptions in much the same way. A local group may start as a handful of people who meet and know everything about each other. They spend time in each other’s homes and can cite intimate details about everyone. If those believers take the words of Jesus seriously, they will continue to make more disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). Soon the number is too big to know everyone else in the same way. Most people are okay with not knowing everyone in general, but they struggle with their connection to the pastor.

I have led three Churches in my life that have hit what is called the “200 Barrier.” This is the place where a Church outgrows its pastor. There are simply more people than the primary leader can connect with in a meaningful way.

Usually, one of three things happens at this point. One, people quit and look for a smaller family. They want to know the pastor in a more meaningful way, so they look for a place they can do that. Two, people disconnect and drift. These people understand the change and don’t know a positive way to handle it, so they attend less and stay on the fringe, many times hoping things will shrink and return to the old way. Third, the group of people who will last is the ones who start to connect with a few other family members in a meaningful way. This might be in a small group, a Sunday school class, a ministry team, an affinity group, or inviting other people into their life and home. However it happens, people need to connect to one another more than with the pastor for the Church to move forward. It is a significant change for people, and that is the reason this is called a church barrier because many will not make the transition. In fact, in many Churches I know, it is the pastor who cannot make the transition. He wants to know everyone and be a shepherd, so his desire limits the outreach of the Church.

I believe any Church that takes the commission of Jesus seriously will one day hit this wall. The Church I lead is hitting it right now. It is a difficult time, and we are struggling to keep people. I hope that everyone will start getting to know their brothers and sisters in Christ more than me. If we want to reach more people, that means your family and friends, with the saving message of Jesus Christ and lead them into discipleship; then, the Church must outgrow the pastor.

Always remember, we are still a family, but one that is taking over the country with the gospel of Jesus, and that is bigger than any one pastor can control.

My Total Disdain for Pastor Appreciation Month

Every year I brace myself for another “Pastor Appreciation Month.” This is not the grip of anticipation and thoughts of “what will someone give me.” My feelings are more along the lines of I hope no one listens to Christian radio and hears about this nonsense.

Apparently, someone in a big company who preys on Christians decided to set aside October, a whole month, as Pastor Appreciation Month. I assume this was an idea that was meant to drum up business in an otherwise “unspiritual” fall. Easter consumes the spring, and then there are graduations, Mothers and Father’s Day, and the patriotic appeal of July. Thanksgiving is a good month, and Christmas sales are through the roof, but we have nothing to make money in October. Someone said, “I know, let’s focus on Pastors and guilt congregations into gift-giving.” I pray their motives were pure, and they truly wanted to honor pastors, but I highly doubt it.

Anyway, there is this month promoted in Christian bookstores (aka trinket shops) and on Christian radio as a time to honor pastors. In case you do not know or cannot hear my tone, I hate it.

  1. It is unbiblical and feeds some pastor’s egos. Jesus in Matthew 23:1-12 chastises the religious leaders of this day because some of them were in it for the glory. They loved to have the best seats for events, they enjoyed the perks of their position, and they loved to be honored by others. Jesus offers an alternative view of humble service without recognition.
  2. It hurts some pastors. This happens in one of two ways. First, some pastors do not get anything from their congregation, and they feel hurt that no one appreciated them. While that may be a problem in the pastor’s soul (#1), I understand the hurt. Imagine your spouse forgot an important holiday. Second, sometimes, it is just painful. Two instances of this have happened in my life. Once a woman gave me a card with a financial gift in it, and she wrote about how I could use the money to buy some nicer clothes. The one time a Church tried to honor me, they gave me a gift that showed how little they knew me. It was wasted money on a gift that I did not want or need.
  3. It divides the Church. This one is subtle. It demonstrates a line between the “staff” of a Church and the “laity.” The staff is godly people, and volunteers are grunts. The Bible speaks of a priesthood of ALL believers. No one is greater than another.
  4. It sends the wrong message. I believe this month sends the message to volunteers that their job is to make the pastor look and feel good. It forces a light onto Christian leaders and gives the impression that service in the Lord should be for recognition in this life. A volunteer can feel like less of a servant of God than a person in a paid position or worse; they can become like #1 on my list.

That is enough for now. These are only a few of the reasons I have a great disdain for Pastor Appreciation Month. I am glad the month is almost over, and I can relax. I am so happy a few people like me, and I am honored by their kindness, but I serve so that God gets the glory. The Lord be praised for anything good that happens through me.

Your Life Has Value and Worth

Recently two of my pieces of teaching have coincided interestingly. Last Sunday, I completed a sermon series on the skeletons we hide in the closet of our hearts. This series finished with a sermon about depression, but all of them focused on our life having value and worth in God’s eyes. He sees us as his precious child, no matter how we feel about our past or present.

While I was teaching this series on Sunday morning, I was teaching the teenagers on Wednesday night, a series called “The Haves and the Have Nots.” This was focused on building a self-image based on God’s view of us rather than comparing ourselves to others.

Both materials were two sides of the same issues, “How do we develop a proper view of ourselves as humans?” My sermons are available online, but the material I taught the teens is not. I thought this would be an excellent place to share my four foundational blocks of a Godly self-image.

  1. You are created in the image of God. God created humanity unique above all the rest of his creation. We have intellect, emotion, and a soul. Just by being a human, you are special. Not only that, but the Psalmist says you were knit together in your mother’s womb. You are not only created in his image, but your picture is unique.
  2. You are saved by Jesus. God so loved the world that he sent his son to save it. You are part of that world. God loved you so much that he sent his son to die and save you from your sins. This is true, no matter what you have done.
  3. You are adopted as a child of God. When we come to Jesus, we are not treated as slaves; we are his children. As his dearly loved children, we are also heirs of the promise of Jesus. We are part of the family of God with him as our Father.
  4. You have a purpose. The Apostle Paul says that are God’s handiwork. That word can also be translated as his poem or my favorite, his masterpiece. This is a description of what God does to us after we come to Jesus. There he remolds us, using our past, present, and future to do his good work in the world.

I have spent four weeks driving these points home in our teens. Many of them feel worthless, because they do have enough money, own the right things, have good grades, are not excelling at sports, and a host of other issues. They have the world telling them that they came from nothing and are going to nothing. Our teens and many of our adults are swimming in a sea of misery, worthlessness, despair, and depression because of their lack of self-worth. I tell people you have no self-worth, but you do have Godly worth. Those are things that can never be taken away.

No matter who you are today or what you have done or how you feel about yourself, these four principals are eternally true. God created you, loves you, views you as his child while having a grand design for you. May these truths comfort and guide you this day, week, and your whole life long.

Three Things I Want to Tell All Parents

My wife and I are one year away from having an empty nest. It is an exciting and challenging time as we let go of the reigns of parenting school-age children. Through the years of parenting four boys, we have learned a few things about being a parent. Today I want to share the three biggest lessons I know.

  1. You are to instruct your children. You are required to teach them about faith, love, service, behavior, attitude, actions, and everything in between. You need to tell them what to do and how to do it. You are the parent, and you do not need to discuss anything with them. A parent is required to lead and not be passive in the life of their child.
  2. Say “No” and mean it. I am not sure when it happened, but most of the young parents I know are afraid to say no. I think it might be motivated by the idea that we want to be loving toward them, and loving parents do not ever say no. I guess we are afraid it will hurt their delicate psyche. Hear me loud and clear; you need to say no. You need to teach them the correct behavior.
  3. Discipline is a necessary part of parenting. There needs to be a reward for positive behavior and punishment for negative behavior. I know it sounds harsh and can “hurt you as much as it hurts them,” but ungodly actions require a change of action. When they were tiny, we smacked their hand, and in elementary school, we swatted butts, and in high school, we took away phones and driving privileges. We told them what to do, and when they broke the rules, there were consequences to correct their behavior.

My wife has worked with children in the Church and the community, most of her adult life. She now has a job where she works with teenagers on a full-time basis. She always notes how children will behave differently for her than for their parents or anyone else. That is because she sticks to these three rules in every situation.

We are not perfect parents, but our children have turned out to be well-behaved and Godly young men of whom I am very proud. I know some people out there are struggling every day in their role as a parent. I pray this will help instruct you and encourage you as you walk this difficult journey.

Maybe You Should NOT Follow Jesus

Large crowds are following Jesus. The number of people interested in his ministry is reaching an all-time high. It seems like he should be excited as he is starting to have a significant impact on the world. Jesus looks at this massive group of people and says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-27 – NIV 2011)”

I am sure the crowd was immediately stunned at his words. Before they could raise their objections and get answers to their questions, he launched into two parables about commitment. First, there is a man who wants to build a tower. The first thing he does is to calculate the cost because if he cannot finish it, people will ridicule him.

The second story is similar. If a king wants to go to war, the first thing he does is calculate the number of troops under his command. He wants to know if the size of his army is able to defeat the other one, and if not, he will negotiate the terms of peace so that they will not be destroyed.

This is not a call to greater commitment; it is a statement that being a disciple of Jesus is an enormous decision. If we do not take it seriously, we will bring ridicule on ourselves and Jesus. Those who quit their faith halfway through their lives are like a guy with an unfinished tower in his field. If we do not adequately consider the cost, it will be like us being destroyed by an enemy’s army. We will end up humiliated and hurt.

Jesus is actually discouraging people from following him. He wants to make sure that everyone knows the cost of being his disciple and that not everyone can cut it. When people give up and quit the faith, it damages their own life and those connected with them.

As a preacher of the gospel, I want everyone to come to Jesus. I would like to see the entire town in which I live to come to a saving relationship with him. Nothing would please me more, but I am not sure it would make Jesus happy. He is not looking for half-hearted people to give him lip service of their devotion. He is not looking for people who are willing to split their time between being obedient to him and sacrificing for their kids. He has no desire for people who will give him any time they have left at the end of their busy day. He is looking for people who are completely sold out on his mission.

Jesus once asked his twelve closest disciples if his words were too demanding. Peter said, “To whom shall we go. You have the words of eternal life.”

If these ideas seem harsh to you, then don’t follow Jesus. Sleep in and enjoy this life. Take it easy each day, and don’t trouble yourself with the demands of the Christian life. There are far easier ways to live on planet earth than being a disciple of Jesus; the only problem is that they do not lead to eternal life.

Jesus As Lord and Savior

It is two sides of the same coin. When someone comes to follow Jesus, he is first their Savior. That means he rescues people from their sins. One Christian told me that the image conveyed is of a ship going down, and the people are saved from certain peril.

This image is not the end of the story. Once we have made Jesus our Savior, then he becomes our Lord. The picture here is that of a king sitting on his throne directing his kingdom. He tells people what to do and expects them to follow.

In the New Testament, the word for Savior is only used a few dozen times while the word Lord is used a few hundred times. Both ideas are equally valid for the work of Jesus, and his followers need to be familiar with both. The struggle always comes with Lordship and must be addressed repeatedly.

Everyone I know likes the idea of Jesus as their Savior. They love the idea of being free from their guilt and shame. No one rejects the good news of a God who wants to love and forgive them. Even non-Christians are easy to sell on the idea of someone removing all their stains and making them free for a new future.

Not everyone likes the idea of having a Lord. If I believe that Jesus is my Lord, then I need to do what he says. I must adjust my life and make changes to my actions. The words of Jesus will have the final authority in my life, and his ideas for my future may look different than my dreams. Making Jesus your Lord is the hard work of daily routines, changing behaviors, and adjusting my heart to look like Jesus.

Recently I received an anonymous card in the Church offering requesting that I “preach more Jesus.” Then I was told by another person that I do not preach enough about Jesus and grace. As a result of these criticisms, I have looked over my sermon list from the past year. The interesting discovery is that I did not preach that much about Jesus as our Savior. The past twelve months have been sermon after sermon about Jesus as Lord. Things like, if we follow Jesus, then it will affect our decisions, mouths, attitudes, outlook, and the way we treat others. This year I have spoken a great deal about Jesus; it is just that I taught about following him as our Lord.

We love to hear that Jesus is our Savior, but the struggle of the Christian life is also making him our Lord. You do not get to chose one without the other. Following Jesus is not about receiving a “get out of hell free” card, but about being transformed into a right relationship with God in every way. To make Jesus Savior without placing him as your Lord is to miss half of his reason for his coming. Be assured of this, the Jesus who was crucified is now both Lord and Savior (Acts 2:36).