The Importance of Your Life of Faith to Others

The other day I sat with a lady who told me an all too familiar tale. Her daughter had married a man who called himself a believer but did not go to Church. As my inquiry of the situation continued, she told me about how this man was wonderful and kind and giving but did not have time for other religious people. Then came the story about how he grew up in the foster care system. He was placed in a family who claimed to be a Christian family but showed no signs of it outside of Sunday morning. They were mean, manipulative, and very uncaring for this man throughout his formative years. The big word he put on these people was simply hypocrites.

I wish I could tell you that this is the first time I heard this sordid tale of a family who claimed to follow Jesus, but I would be lying. These allegations have been leveled against believers for as long as I have been in ministry. It is always the same tale, “I have no faith or little need for the Church because of some people who demonstrated their faith as a charade.” It was played out every Sunday morning for the community for whatever reason, and this person saw behind the veil.

My response to those stories is usually the same. First, I express my sorrow over what they experienced. I remind them that people are flawed, and there have been religious charlatans since the beginning, and even Jesus has a Judas. Second, I tell them that not all people are like what they think. There are some wonderful, deeply committed people who attend the Church and live out their faith with a high level of commitment. They love, give, and are a blessing to the world. Third, I remind them that their faith should never be placed in people. Jesus died for our sins, and if you set your sights on anything less, you will be disappointed. I point out that frustration with people is not the same as disappointment with God. Finally, I tell them that they can be different. Their faith does not have to be a mask they paint on for Sunday morning; they can be a shining example to others. The failures they experienced in others does not need to be repeated by them. It can be the motivation to live authentically for Jesus.

I have never converted anyone through this one conversation, but hopefully, I have opened their eyes to some new possibilities, and over time they may walk a new path.

Today, I want to flip this whole thing over and remind you of the importance of your life. If you attend a Church or call yourself a believer, you have been placed on a pedestal and are being watched by others. You may not have asked for this responsibility or even like it, but it happens despite your approval. What you do Sunday afternoon through Saturday night is making an impact for the kingdom of God. The words you use, the attitudes you display, the beverages you consume, the way you treat others, the conversations you have, and on and on, speak volumes about what you really believe to others.

You are having an impact for the kingdom of God. Is your impact positive or negative? I pray that one day I do not have to sit down with your kids or coworkers and have them talk about having to overcome a terrible Christian experience with you.

The Power of Music

One of the most popular gifts of the holiday season was Apple Air Pods. If you have no idea what I am writing about, then let me describe them as the little plastic pieces people have in their ears. Most of them are white, and they are a form of wireless earphones for listing to music. That’s right; now you can go anywhere with a phone and wireless headphones and listen to music unattached and undisturbed. The result of this gift was seen everywhere I went over my New Years’ vacation. I would say that one out of every five people (pure guesstimate) had in these new headphones while I was out shopping.

I have numerous reactions to this new trend. One of my most prominent thoughts is how it cuts off the human connection and moves us toward isolation. But I have come to land on this one repeated idea. Music is more important now than it has ever been before in human history. People are having the tunes and words piped into their brains all day and everywhere they go. This is making music the most important tool of the twenty-first century.

Many years ago, I heard this quote shared by Ravi Zacharias: “Let me write the songs of a nation–I don’t care who writes its laws.” Andrew Fletcher, Scottish political activist (1655-1716). At the time, I thought it was interesting that a person who lived so long ago cared about the power of music. Then I saw this new revolution that has come with the smartphone, and now I understand it completely.

As a Christian living in the year 2020, we need to acknowledge three things about music.

  1. The Power of Music. Music can create moods, connect with moments, and share thoughts in a way that pleases us. I bet I could start the line of a song, and even if it was from many years ago, you could still remember the words while associating some story with it.
  2. The Importance of New Music. For all my ministry, I have heard the older generation complain about the new songs we are singing in the Church. At first, it was open hostility, and now it is more passive-aggressive as people tell me that “worship was outstanding today” when we sing a few more hymns. One thing people are missing is the power and importance of new music to the next generation. Because they can and will listen to it all day, they are drawn to new expressions of faith in music. You may not care about that new song, but it is communicating something to our children and grandchildren.
  3. The Need for More Music Writers. If the future is going to be impacted by music more than it ever has, then we need to encourage more people, especially young people, to write new music. Instead of complaining, we need to be embracing the power of music for good for the next generation.

Today, when you play music in your vehicle, listen to it at work, hear it in the store or see some person wearing Air Pods, then remember the presence of music everywhere and the power it brings with it. Our ability as believers to harness this medium for God might be the most significant ministry to this generation.

I Enjoy That Quote Too, But …

There are thousands of quotes floating around the internet. My social media feed is full of them every single day. This is not a new phenomenon. When I first entered the ministry, people would shout different quotes at me. One person used to say to me over and over, “People don’t care how much you know, till they know how much you care.” For him, that settled the issue of the connection between preaching and pastoral care.

Let me say this clearly: I enjoy a good quote too, but that does not equate it with Biblical truth.

One of my Facebook groups shared this quote, “God would rather I am sitting in a boat fishing and thinking about him than sitting in a Church thinking about fishing.” People responded with their affirmative statements except for one fellow who used a hashtag as his response – #thingsJesusneversaid. It sounds like a good view until you try to align it with the words of Jesus or any part of the Bible.

We may like a quote because it expresses something we think or feel. It captures our thoughts and puts words to it. I am glad you like and are possibly inspired by it, but that does not mean that it rises to the same level as God’s word. This is true even if the quote is from a Christian source or a religious leader.

One statement within our movement of Church was to “call Bible things by Bible names.” The idea was that once we step out of the pages of the scripture, meanings can get changed, and intents can be skewed. The same is true, with quotes from both the famous and infamous. We can take a nice turn of phrase and elevate it to the level of undeniable truth, which we should not do.

Go ahead and enjoy that quote. Put it on your wall in a beautiful frame, have it emblazed on a T-shirt, or make it the background on your phone. The one thing I want to warn you about is that you should not build your life on it. Only the Bible is worthy of that type of action.

Showing Appreciation

I am an outspoken opponent of Pastor Appreciation Month. I have written about this on my blog (you can search for those posts), spoken about it in sermons, and deconstructed it in private conversations. Most of the people I serve know where I stand, and last October, I received precisely zero cards or gifts, and I am perfectly fine with that happening.

But all my crusading has led people to the wrong conclusion that I hope to correct. A month ago, I was talking to one of the people in the Church, and they said, “I know you don’t like people to appreciate you, but I want you to know that I do.” Wait. What?

I guess they had taken my harsh words about a month set aside to artificially praise your pastor as a statement that I was opposed to all appreciation. That is a mistake, and I am sorry if I gave anyone that impression.

Showing appreciation is a vital part of every community, but especially the Church. There is a proper place for people to demonstrate their recognition for the works and gifts of other people. Telling people that you are so happy that they did this project is not wrong. Stating how glad you are that someone used their talents for God’s glory is always a good decision.

I am against artificial praise. People saying how blessed they are by a ministry when they are not. Friends offering praise for a clearly subpar effort is a mistake. A false appreciation that is forced by some holiday or social construct is my problem.

Sincere, genuine appreciation is a precious gift to the community of God’s people. Let me encourage you to say the words, send the email, drop a text, write a card, or pay a visit to someone and tell them how much you appreciate them. Take time today to contact that person who has made your life better and tell them how they have blessed you. May your words be ever full of the praise of God and an appreciation for others.

You don’t need a particular month or day to show people how much you appreciate them. If you genuinely mean it, today is as good of a day as any.

What Dad’s Stroke Taught Me

Last week on January 8, I remembered it had been exactly three years since I lost my father. The hard truth is that in many ways, we lost him about 20 months before. On Easter weekend, the day we call “Holy Saturday,” my dad had a stroke. He spent days in the hospital, and the latest technology saved his life, but dad was never the same.

Everything became a struggle. He could no remember things well. He once had this enormous memory of everything. Now it was gone. He could not formulate words into coherent sentences the same way anymore. Words were mistaken and jumbled. As the days wore on, he would talk less and less. His anger would, and frustration was evident as we struggled to understand him.

The biggest thing that happened was the loss of control of the muscles in his mouth and throat. He could no longer drink regular water. It had to be thickened to the perfect consistency. Meals became a struggle as he could not swallow the same way. Throughout the entire twenty months, every day consisted of trying to get him to eat and not choke.

One of the most significant lessons to me through that time was not just my love of dad, but the amazing designs of our creator. While this may take a more extended discussion somewhere else, I do not believe in evolution. I understand the Bible story of Genesis chapters one and two are hard to harmonize. Within the first part of the story of humanity is the undeniable truth that God created humanity. Each and every individual is put together in a fantastic and complicated way. Systems in your body depend on other systems and muscle groups.

We take for granted the intricate design simply to take a drink of water. Your brain kicks in when you lift the bottle. Muscles in the back of your throat contract so that you do not allow liquids down until you are ready (that is what dad lost). At the precisely right moment, your mouth pushes the fluid back with your tongue while your throat opens. It takes multiple muscles and brain activity, and you do not even notice. That is until it is all taken away.

Dad choked on food. He would gag on water. We did everything we could, including me telling him my sister was “going to throw him into a home” if he didn’t try harder. It didn’t help. He lost weight and struggled until the very end. All this happened because he lost control of a handful of muscles and mental connections.

One example of the hand of the creator is the human body. It is said that Darwin struggled with his theory because of the complexity of the eye. The work of the mouth reassures what I believe. Our creator God knit us together, and even with its flaws and shortcomings, you are an incredible piece of engineering. Your body and your life are not formed by random chance.

In many ways, my dad continued to teach me about God to the very end. At one point, it was through his words, and near the end, it was through his body. The whole experience might have left me sad in one way, but in another, it strengthened my faith in the one who made me.

Before I Forget to Tell You

I keep scraps of paper with notes everywhere. They fill my pockets, the top of my dresser and the bag in which I carry my computer. I have this tendency to forget things, so I make notes to help me overcome that flaw.

Today I have a few little pieces of information I want to share with you before I forget.

You are created in the image of God.
You were made unique in his creation.
Before you gave God much thought, he sent his son to save you from your mistakes.
When you wandered lost and alone, God was searching for you, hoping you would come home.
That moment when you feel unloved, God loved you so much he sent his son for you.
You can have a new future in Jesus. Your past can be forgiven, and your life changed.
You can let go of your guilt, regrets, and shame in the name of Jesus.
You are dearly loved, and God has a place for you in his family.
Your life has infinite value and worth to God and his people.

Some days life can be overwhelming. You can hurt and experience struggles you never imagined possible. The sad result is that you might feel like giving up. You may never have told anyone this about yourself, so you carry your pain quietly. I want you to know that God stands waiting for you to come home with open arms. Quite possibly, you have wandered away again, and you do not think he is still interested in you. Come home again. He is waiting for you.

Sometimes I get busy, and I forget to tell you how much value your life possesses. So today, before I forget, I want you to know the truth about your life.

Lonely Little Icon

One year ago, I decided to write a book on small community ministry. I have now spent almost thirty years working in small communities and little Churches across this country. I developed an outline, chapter topics, and began the process of writing.

During this time, I went to conferences and seminars on the topic of the rural Church. I sought out blog posts on the subject and began gathering more information. I suddenly began to see a large number of books being published on the same issue. It seemed everyone who had walked a similar path as mine was writing a book and saying all the things I wanted to say. Right now, I have no less than four books on my shelf on this topic to read, and another 20 in my Amazon wish list that I might decide to read one day.

After all these books hit the shelves, I stopped writing. The document still exists, and I keep it on my computer. In fact, I keep it on my desktop near the top, just a little left of center. Every day I sit down to work, there is this lonely little icon of my unfinished work.

What I am going to say next might surprise you. I assume most people would say something like, “Don’t be a quitter. Don’t give up on your dreams. Get back to work. You can do this.” Those are the standard pleas people give to uncompleted tasks.

Today, I am going to tell you something completely different. It’s okay that the work is not finished. I can let it go and move on. Not all ideas are great ideas. Not all work is worth finishing. It is okay to find a new dream.

After much thought and some prayer, I have decided to give up on that book. This year I have an idea for a new book, and it is a story that only I can tell. I think it is a better opportunity for me to do something I love in a way that blesses people. I am excited about the door that has opened and the ideas that are flowing.

Too many people carry around guilt for uncompleted tasks. We once had this dream, and people believed in us, and we do not want to disappoint them. As a result, every day, the icon gets bigger and more intimidating. We resolve to finish that one task that we dread and end up doing nothing. My encouragement today is to put some old dreams in the dumpster and form new ones. Your life has changed, and God may have exciting new paths for you to tread. The delete button is a necessary part of moving into the future.

Star Wars and the Christian Faith

Don’t worry, this is not a movie review or some heretical piece about how “the force” is like faith in Jesus. No, this is a simple observation.

The latest Star Wars movie came out before Christmas, and my family decided to see it together. My wife, out of her devotion to us, watched all the previous eight films in the series so that she could understand the show (She skipped Solo and fell asleep while watching Rogue One).

Finally, my vacation started, and we all loaded in the van and went to the theater. While I was watching the show, something dawned on me that I had never noticed before. In every movie, the Resistance that is portrayed as the good guys, are always in the minority. Palpatine and Vader can always summon thousands upon thousands to the dark side. Those who fight against oppression for the cause of freedom are always just a handful of people. They are always desperately outnumbered, lack the latest tools, and seem weak to those who observe them. The people on the side of good are a handful of true believers in the cause for which they fight.

This truth is found in the story of the people of the Christian faith. Small is the number of those who work for good. Darkness has legions, and they seem to have the power to do anything they desire – there a just a brave few who stand against evil. Courage is standing with those few other people fighting for what you believe matters.

The flip side of this tale is equally compelling. The good guys always win. Sure, they don’t win every battle, but they succeed when it matters. The power of a few true believers is still stronger than the forces of evil.

While the movie played, I could not help but find some encouragement. If you have ever felt alone in your faith, know that there are a handful of us fighting beside you. We may not seem like the most significant or strongest army, but by the power of God, we will win. We, the people of the real resistance must keep fighting the good fight and the goodness of God rule in the end.

Five Lessons from 25 Years of Marriage

Two years ago, I saved an article in my files entitled “The First 25 Years are the Hardest.” It was written by a minister who was celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary, and his father, who had been married 50 years, gave him that one statement about his marriage. I have never forgotten that advice and have read the article a few times, and I guess that is because one week ago I celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary. For us, it has been an exhilarating thrill ride from the beginning. I was never sure we would make it here as either my heart would give out from the stress or my wife would wise up one day and realize how big of a goofball I really am and leave me for a better man. Well, neither of those things happened, and here we are today, married for 25 years. I thought I would take this time to reflect on what I have learned so far on this journey through life we are making together.

  1. Make Christ the Center of Your Home. Faith is the glue that holds people together. I do not have the time to explain all that means, but let me say this: It has helped us to be on the same page in our decision making, parenting and goals. It has enabled us to practice forgiveness and grace when one of us needed it. It has helped us to move past materialism and egocentrism. Often our faith is unspoken, but every workday (5 days a week) for the last ten years, I hit my knees in my office and pray. My first prayer is for my wife and her safety, love, sanity, and work. I believe my prayers have helped both of us make it this far.
  2. Communication is King. There is no problem a couple cannot work through if they are willing to talk about it. Usually, I have seen this from the wrong side. A conflict comes, and I realize it is because we have not addressed it together. Always be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
  3. Love Languages are Real. Learn the way your spouse desires to be loved. This will open a whole world of joy for both of you. We tend to do for our spouse what we want to be done to us. This does not work. For me, this has meant learning to be physically affectionate outside of the bedroom. I rub her head, back, hands, and feet regularly. It has created a bond that I pray helps her to know how much I love her.
  4. Do the Right Thing. When we get mad at our spouse, the temptation is to withhold our kindness. You spoke mean to me, I will show you, and I will not pick up the dishes after dinner. This type of thinking does not work. Be proactive and love your spouse when they least deserve it. Be the type of person you would want to come home to each night.
  5. Don’t Give Up. Don’t Ever Give Up. While we never really talked about it, divorce has never been an option. In fact, in twenty-five years, I do not think that word has ever been said in our house. Even when I was a complete idiot, we never thought about separating. It has not always been easy, and the first twenty-five years may have been the hardest, but we are still here and still holding onto each other.

These are the biggest lessons I have seen in our relationship over the years. Maybe you have something to add. I wrote up a pretty long list of things I think have helped us like saying, “I love you” daily, doing little things for each other, and don’t go to bed angry. When the list was made, these five have been the biggest lessons I have learned, and I hope you find them helpful.

Core 52 and You

Today I am going to step out of my usual routine of writing and tell everyone about an exciting thing going on in the Church I lead.  Today we are starting a program called Core 52.  This is a one-year journey to improve your knowledge of the Bible.  Along the way, we will read a book together, watch videos about Biblical topics, memorize scripture and hopefully begin to see the big picture of the Bible. 

There are multiple levels of connection that are available at Adrian Christian Church.

  1. The first thing you need is a book.  [I have them in the Church office, or they are available for purchase on Amazon HERE] Honestly, this is the only thing some of you will need besides your Bible.  At the end of the chapter is a checklist of what you are to have completed that week.  Let it be your guide every week of this program.
  2. The second level of participation is there the  First, you will need to go into the upper right-hand corner and register.  Once registered, you will need to login for each use.  Second, once you are into the site, click on the “view lesson” button with the corresponding week of the program.  There is a video for day one and day two.  The first one is about five minutes long and is for the first day of the week.  The second one is to help you memorize the scripture for the week.  The rest of the lessons on the site are the scriptures for you to read in the English Standard Version of the Bible. 
  3. Our Church has put together a Facebook group to help encourage you on this journey.  This group is strictly by invitation of two of the administrators.  We want to make sure this is for people who are reading the book and are at least a little connected to Adrian Christian Church. Many people you know are involved, but many are not.  Also note, this is not a prayer request group or a social site.  This is for the material in Core 52 only.  The Church has its Facebook page for other things.  Finally, I (the Pastor) reserve the right to delete any posts I feel are unchristian, highly negative, mean, unbiblical, highly controversial, degrading, or demeaning to anyone. (If you would like to be a part of this group message me through Facebook)  
  4. Currently, I am planning a bi-monthly meeting between worship programs at ACC to encourage the participants and keep this program alive for the entire year.  These are not required, but you may find these meetings helpful on your journey. 

Thanks to everyone who is participating, and may God bless you as you learn more about him and his word in 2020.