The Fear of the Open Mic

There is nothing scarier to me as a pastor than an open microphone.

This has taken many forms throughout my ministry. In the early days, it was “prayer request” time during the worship program. The leader would ask if anyone had any other needs they wanted to share, and people would stand up and say all kinds of craziness. One time we were told about mom’s cancer, and then it was followed by a request for a woman’s dog.

Later the mic shifted to after the sermon and invitation time. The preacher would ask anyone who had a decision to come to the front, and numerous times people would come and whisper, “I need to say something.” Suddenly it was a free for all discussion about sin, struggles, and shameful gossip.

Next, the mic is being used at funerals. People are asked if they have anything they would like to share about the deceased. These have ranged from touching to horrifying.

Finally, the mic has been placed in front of believers on the internet. This can be in blogs like this, social media, and the comment section of almost anything. When the mic is open, and someone starts to talk or type, my stomach starts to roll, and fear grips my body. What are they going to say?

There are three possibilities of what is going to happen at the open mic time.

  1. Nothing will happen. People will stand quietly and say nothing. This can seem golden, but it can also be harmful. Someone NEEDS to say something.
  2. Something awful will happen. The words that are shared will be evil or filled with anger. Often this comes from a lack of information, but it can also come from knowing too much.
  3. Something wonderful will happen. Words of grace, mercy, compassion, and humor will flow, and other people will know God better. They will hear something in your words that is different than other people, and they will notice that you have been with Jesus.

Right this minute, people are at home quarantined, so they are surfing the internet and reading lots of posts and comments. This scares me, and I can feel my nerves getting tied in a knot. This will be a time when people will be blessed or agitated. The world is watching to see how we will handle the open mic. I pray we will shine our light for Jesus in everything we say and write.

Eight Positive Things I See in the COVID-19 Situation

A thousand things have been written about the coronavirus and how it is impacting the Church, and this may not be the addition of any new information, but I want to share a couple of positive thoughts. Over the past week, I have noticed numerous reasons I believe God might be using the virus as a blessing in his Church.

  1. Hygiene has increased. Our Church has always kept hand sanitizer available around the building. We have always cleaned and disinfected the toys every week. Not every Church has done this, and they are now increasing the overall safety of the Church.
  2. Technology is being utilized. This issue is forcing many Churches to update their approach to online services, video, and Facebook live. The impact of these last few weeks will be felt for years in the Christian community because of these shifts.
  3. The need for ALL online ministry. I write this blog, have started a podcast, and I am leading our Church through a book of doctrine called Core 52 on Facebook. All these things are great resources for a Church that is canceling meetings. We also provide a site called RightNowMedia free from the Church to the people who are connected to our Church, and it is filled with valuable teaching and resources. All these tools enable the Church to keep moving forward in faith through the internet.
  4. Church Teamwork. It has been great to see ministries and Churches working together across denomination lines to navigate this crisis. Christians are helping other Christians and Churches for the good of the gospel, and most are doing it for free. Unity is increasing as we work together.
  5. Some needed rest. People’s lives today are busy, busy, busy. The cancelation of many activities has enabled people to slow down and get some rest.
  6. It makes us long for community. The old saying is, “You don’t know what you have till its gone.” When the Church is not allowed to meet, it reminds us of how much we need it. I missed seeing some of my brothers and sisters in Jesus yesterday because they were not able to join us. I shudder at the thought of not meeting in the coming weeks. I love my Church family and hate the idea of losing it. I hope you do too.
  7. It reminds us of the value of human touch. Yesterday I did not shake hands with a single person. I gave no hugs, pats on the back, and no physical contact with other humans. I waved and spoke from a distance. One day soon, I will be able to do those things again, but for now, they are gone. This got me thinking about people who do not have those things and might never get them back. Someone who is sick, elderly, or just lonely who lives in isolation needs us to reach out.
  8. It has us thinking about life and death issues. Brutal honesty here, either this virus or something else, is eventually going to end our lives. Situations like this should have us thinking about eternal matters. God has a way of using tragedy and difficult situations to remind us that this life is temporary, so we better be right with God.

These are a few of the things I am seeing. Do you have anything you would add to my list?

My New Podcast

I am excited to announce that after months of planning, preparing, and recording I am launching my new podcast. It is hosted by both me and Hannah Newkirk, one of the worship leaders at our Church, a mom and a committed Christian. We offer completely different perspectives on topics of faith and the Christian life. I would love for you to check it out and let me know what you think.

Click on the link at the top labeled “episodes” to listen to the first four recordings. More will be added weekly for the coming year.

Thanks for listening and may God bless you.

When the First Contact Person is Hurting You

There is a business that my wife and I have used since moving to Adrian, Missouri, almost six years ago. The people who work there usually do good work, and they have not disappointed me, and yet, we are thinking of taking our business elsewhere.

The significant change that is driving us away is not the quality of the work or even the price. It is the lady who works at the front desk. There have been four different people who have sat there in the past years, and each one had a very different personality. The first three were very friendly and had excellent people skills. The first would call me by name and smile and ask me about the Church I lead. The second one was always smiling and kind in her quiet way. The third was more direct but always treated me with respect.

Then they hired a new lady. She is younger than all the rest, and I imagine that factors into her demeanor. Honestly, her personality is causing me to want to change businesses. She seems to have no clue who I am each time I walk in and ask for help, even though I am there frequently. Her words are short and condescending. Often, I have to wait for her to put her phone down to make eye contact with me. She doesn’t listen carefully to what I am telling her, and so some of the work I need does not get done. My experiences with her are making it difficult for me to continue using this particular business.

During this time, the quality of work has not changed. The rest of the people who work there have not changed. The price is still the same. Not one single difference other than the lady who works at the front desk.

I tell you all this because it has implications for the local Church. Each week I can preach the best sermon, prepare a touching worship set, and deliver a high-quality experience. Our worship team can practice and lead songs that are inspiring with heartfelt prayers and excited demeanor. Our children’s ministries can have the most fun and educational time during the worship program. Everything can be perfectly prepared and planned, but if the people that guests first encounter are rude, have an ugly attitude, or ignore their needs. Nothing else matters.

This reality starts in the parking lot with how people interact before they reach the front door. It includes our formal greeters at the door. The people standing in the lobby are also involved. The people that guests first encounter, many times, will be the determining factor in whether those people will return.

The lady at the front desk is killing a local business, in my opinion. My prayer is that everyone in the Church will understand the importance of being a positive first contact. Together we will make an impact for God one interaction at a time.

Redefining Authenticity

In many Christian circles, you will hear talk about the quest for authenticity. It permeates our conversations and thoughts as people do not want to be fake in their walk with the Lord. But my question is simply, “What do you mean by saying you want to be authentic?”

Being authentic is usually defined as: “not false or copied; genuine; real,” or “representing one’s true nature or beliefs; true to oneself” That means to be an authentic follower of Jesus, we do things that align with our beliefs. Our actions represent our true nature as a believer without feeling fake. We often use phrases like “be real” or “real life” to demonstrate the concept. A person who is willing to share their struggles in their faith is authentic and being real with us.

There is an ugly flipside that I have seen emerge from this movement for authenticity. Some Christians are unwilling to do certain activities because they can feel fake. If you are an introvert and you push yourself toward people, then you are not authentic to the way God created you. If it feels unnatural to be a part of a Church community, then don’t be fake and force yourself to attend. If it hints of feeling fake, then I am not going to participate, because I would not be authentic.

My quest today is to challenge you to redefine authenticity to include this one concept. Being authentic also means that I act in ways that produce who I want to become. If I really want to be this one type of person in the future, then I am going to have to do things that feel fake now.

This is always easiest to illustrate with the human body. If I genuinely want to be healthy and fit a year from now, that means I will need to do things today that feel fake or inauthentic. I must get up and exercise when I don’t want to do it. I need to eat healthy even when I don’t feel like doing it. My actions now may seem inauthentic to my feelings but not to the person I am trying to become in the future.

I want you to be real and share your life in a way that is not false with the people who follow Jesus. This does not mean that everything will feel right at the moment. To achieve what I authentically want in the future, I may need to do things that feel fake right now. Doing the right thing each day is the only path to a better future, no matter how you feel about it.

An Essential Element of the Church

All Christian lives are interconnected through their faith in Jesus. Maybe nowhere is this truth more specifically stated than in Paul’s letter to the Church in Galatia. Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

This passage says three things to the community of believers about what it means to follow Jesus together. (I will start at the end)

  1. There is a law to following Jesus. Most of us think of being a Christian as a journey of grace. God loves us, forgives us, and gives us freedom. While those are true, the New Testament states that there are rules to following him too. I believe this passage is a reference to John 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (35) By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The one primary requirement for being a believer in Jesus is that we love the other believers. We care about one another on this journey of faith.
  2. We are to carry each other’s burdens. Each of us has a weight that we are carrying through life. It might be one enormous burden we have carried since childhood like an absentee father, or it might be an ever-changing burden with the passing of years. Some people struggle in their marriage, then with their children, then with aging parents and then with the difficulties of age. Everyone had a burden, and the imagery is that as a community, we come around the struggling person and help to lift that weight off their shoulders.
  3. We must be willing to share our burdens. This is only implied in the passage, but it is significant. For me to help carry your load, you must tell me about the weight you have on your shoulders. What is it that you are carrying that is about to crush you emotionally? I think these two things are deeply connected. For me, many times, when I have finally opened up to someone about my difficulties, it was like a burden was removed just in talking about it. That weight you are feeling is hurting you, and you need to tell someone about it.

The community of believers is a place where we can find someone – it can be a leader, or it might be a friend – who can help to carry our load. If you are not sharing your struggles with someone, it is not healthy for you. If you are not contributing to carrying someone’s burdens, then you are not fulfilling the law of Christ. It is easier to stay out of other people’s lives and not help lift the weight, but that is not what it means to follow Jesus. We are all in this together.

Sharing Your Personal Testimony

One of the most powerful tools you have in your religious tool bag is your personal story of transformation by Jesus. This is often referred to as your testimony or conversion story.

The power of this story comes from two places. One, it is a tale that you know intimately, so you do not need any special reminders or notes; therefore, it never sounds like a canned speech. Second, your current life serves as a reference point as to how far you have come as a believer.

Since this is such a magnificent tool, I get to hear people share their stories all the time. The problem is that most of them have never been instructed on how to share their testimony in a way that brings maximum impact. Let me give you a three-step plan to share how Jesus has changed your life.

  1. Here is where my life was before Jesus. Tell people about your struggle without faith. This should be less than one-third of your entire presentation. The biggest mistake I hear people make when sharing their life story is they talk about all the evils of their life before Jesus, but they do it in a way that makes me think they miss it. For example, “Every night before I was a believer was just one party after another and nothing but fun. I stayed up late, ran around with wild women, drank too much, and had way too much fun.” Does that sound like life was bad or good? You are better to share stories of the emptiness after the fun. Share about the void in your soul that kept you chasing unfulfilling pursuits.
  2. Here is how Jesus found me. Tell people about who shared Jesus with you the first time. Talk about why you went to Church after all those years. Tell me about how the gospel was explained to you in detail and why it made sense. I rarely hear this in a conversion story, but I believe it has the most impact of all that you say.
  3. Here is how my life is different. It is easy to talk about life before Jesus, but the challenge comes with sharing the transformation since you started following him. Talk about what you do differently now. Tell me about how your feelings have changed. Even share your struggles with this new life. This should be a little more than one-third of your testimony. Many times, I hear it added to the end as an attempt to cut your speech off rather than deliver the final truth of the gospel.

That is it. If you are willing to share these three parts of your life, you will never lack in conversation about your faith.

This week someone is watching you. Your life is bearing witness to Jesus, his salvation and transformation. When someone asks you about it, I believe you are equipped to share the gospel simply by using your own story.

Developing a Deeper Faith

Occasionally throughout my ministry, an attendee of the Church I lead will come to me with an interesting statement. They will tell me they are leaving so that they can attend someplace and go deeper in their faith. Often, they are direct and say that they need sermons that are deeper in content. The quest usually seems genuine enough. People want to be spiritually mature, and they think the way to obtain that goal is to expose themselves to a particular type of preaching and teaching.

Unfortunately, this is not the way to develop spiritual maturity. Once we have received the basics of the faith, what the apostle Paul calls spiritual milk, then there are two things that will help us to mature more in religious life.

  1. Learn to Feed Yourself.
    When our children were moving toward physical maturity, one big step was that they could feed themselves. If my wife or I prepared the food, then they could pick it up, bite it, chew it, and finish a meal. The second step in their maturity is when they were able to go into the kitchen and cook their own food. They were no longer dependent on anyone other than themselves. In fact, one of my life goals as a parent is to train them well enough that they no longer need me to survive.
    The same is true spiritually. Real growth is happening when you move beyond needing someone else to feed you the meat of the gospel. When you can read, understand, learn, and apply the scripture on your own, you have made a massive step in your growth. You don’t need someone to feed you, because you can do it yourself.
  2. Learn to Feed Others.
    There is a second level of breakthrough when your children find a mate and eventually have children. Now they need to not only be able to feed themselves, but they also need to start the cycle over by feeding someone else.
    The same is true spiritually. The pinnacle of maturity is when you can take what you are learning and teach it to someone else. Nothing grows you in maturity more than be responsible for helping another person grow.

So, when someone comes to me and says, “I need to go somewhere else so that I can grow.” I smile and wish them the best. They don’t need to go anywhere else, they need to move to the next level of their faith, but that is difficult to do. Going out to eat every night is much more fun.

When Good Grace Goes Bad

The details are sketchy, but it still stands as an ugly page in the history of the Church. Paul writes a letter to the Church in the city of Corinth. In chapter five, he addresses an issue that is taking place in the community of believers. “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife.” 1 Corinthians 5:1.

A man has come to the Church community, and he is openly involved in what the New International Version calls “sexual immorality.” It is probably better translated as “fornication.” The Greek word is where we get our English word pornography. Paul’s letter addresses a situation in which one of several things has happened. Either a man has taken up in a sexual relationship with his mother and is living in an incestuous relationship, or he has taken up with his stepmother in an inappropriate sexual relationship. Personally, I think it is about incest, as Paul mentions that not even pagans tolerate it. Whichever one it is, Paul says it is outside of God’s sexual plan for human sexuality. It is not between a man and a woman inside of the commitment of marriage.

Then Paul adds two perplexing statements. His next line in verse two is, “And you are proud!” A couple of lines later, he adds, “Your boasting is not good.” It appears that the Church was proud of this guy coming to their worship meetings. They were boasting and bragging about their inclusiveness. This Church saw themselves as so full of grace that anyone could be a part of their fellowship. Should believers not be known for who we include rather than who we exclude? They were proud that their grace has no limits.

Paul tells the Church in Corinth, “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?” 1 Corinthians 5:6 (NIV 2011) Once the Church opened the door to sin; soon, sin would become prevalent. He goes on to explain that we must still associate with sinful people; otherwise, we would have to leave this world, but we do not have to tolerate it inside the Church. Public sin must be addressed.

Corinth was a place where the grace of God was exchanged for a license for sinful behavior. Christians and the Church must always be careful of the misapplication of grace. Sometimes our boasting is not good. Sin is being sown, and we are required to address it rather than glorify it. Believers are to be careful about being graceless but also about being too grace-filled. It is a delicate balance of grace and holiness all the followers of Jesus must walk. Something as beautiful as grace can be cheapened, abused, and misused. If you are not continually evaluating your stance, you might be on the wrong side of grace.

Two Types of Faith Stories

As a Pastor, I get to hear numerous people share stories of faith in their lives and the lives of others. They share their experiences in conversations, on social media, and in front of those gathered for worship. Lately, I have noticed there are two distinct types of stories that people share with others.

  1. Stories about Failures. Everyone has a time that they have failed God and been sinful. Often, we share these tales to let people know that no one is perfect, as if we had any doubts. The other thing these anecdotes do it lower the bar on righteousness. If we share stories about how someone failed, then we feel better about the struggles in our lives.
  2. Stories about Faithfulness. These are little pictures of moments where we saw someone live up to the high calling of following Jesus. We share encounters that let us know that faith can be practical if we put our minds to it. When this type of tale is told, it helps to raise the bar on righteousness. If we share stories about how someone lived a Godly life, then we know it is possible to live a better life.

This observation has led me to listen carefully to the types of stories that people tell repeatedly. Many times, people share encounters that lower the bar, so they do not have to push themselves in their faith. Other times, people share accounts of people living in extraordinary ways to push other people to live in a more Godly way. Our narrative of faith often reveals more about us than it does about Jesus.