God Works in Mysterious Ways

Yesterday made me mad. I had planned on how I was going to do things for the Church. The picture in my mind was clear, and I spent the morning getting inspired to do the work. Then the wheels came off my vision. One email arrived that changed my initial plan, then another and then another. Finally, my intentions were shattered all around my mind, and my leadership was heading in a different direction.

I wish I could say this was the only time in life I have experienced such things, but that would be far from the truth. This happens monthly, if not weekly. There are great plans developed by me, and God goes and changes everything. Following his leadership is the roller coaster ride of emotions as he does mighty things in ways I would never expect.

One time I was describing one of the hills and valleys of the Christian life to a person, and he said a line I have heard a thousand times before, “God works in mysterious ways.” For some reason, it struck me, unlike previous times. Yeah, that is correct. God is unpredictable in his methods. He uses people I would not have expected to do things that are mysterious at the time they are occurring. His ways never take the most direct path, and there are surprises around every corner. Following the leadership of God is more like an adventure than a cakewalk.

There are times when I hate this about faith. I long for the predictable patterns of an ordinary day. Then there are moments when I am so thankful for his mysterious ways. It keeps me praying, reading, searching, and looking for his will in every new day and venture.

Maybe you feel the same way that I do. I love and hate the unpredictable nature of God. Each day is full of surprises and unexpected joys if you will take the time to look. God works in mysterious ways, but that is part of the fun. He will accomplish things you never imagined in your life and mine. Our call is to follow and not to plan the journey.

When Anger Starts to Grow

Lately, I have spoken with several people who are struggling with their anger.  Some of it is part of ongoing issues, and some of it is the result of the shutdown.  Whatever the reason, numerous people are noticing their anger and that of people they love increasing in destructive ways.  Here are a few things to think about when anger starts to grow.

  1. Evaluate your background. I deal with people who are living out the behaviors they learned from a parent growing up.  Dad always yelled and was mad when he came home.  Mom and dad both were filled with hatred and a mean spirit, and you think that is how communication takes place.  Examine your models for relationships and communication.    
  2. Look for the root cause. This one is the trickiest. Many people are carrying baggage from experiences that happened years and even decades before this event.  It could be from a friend who betrayed you to a parent who mistreated you.  It can come from significant life events like a parent’s divorce or the death of someone you love.  Dig deep and see the pain you feel inside and make a strong attempt to reconcile your past. 
  3. Choose to see the positive.  Everyone has issues to deal with in their life.  These are magnified when you put people together.  Each one of us has a choice as to whether we will focus on the negative things that anger us or the positive things that inspire us.  The choice is totally up to you. 
  4. Practice distancing techniques.  Find what works for you.  Counting to 10 works for some people, while other people need to take a long walk.  There is something in your life that will calm your nerves and move you away from anger.  Find it and use it liberally.   
  5. Seek God and Godly people.  The obvious answer for a believer is to pray.  That is always the best place to start with any problem.  But I would also suggest that occasionally the answer to that prayer is found in other people.  When anger grows, find someone who can help you walk through the issue and see the positive.  This is not about venting, as that often validates your feelings and keeps you focused on the pain.  You need someone to point you away from anger and toward the work of God in your life.

It is bound to happen.  Somewhere in the coming month, anger is going to raise its ugly black head and try to destroy you and your relationships.  Be alert and take the offensive when it happens.  Anger is never a constructive force, so your resistance is critical.  Maybe something I wrote here will help, if not, find the help you need.   

My Favorite Bible Character

Our children’s minister Jaime recently interviewed me for her “Thursday Update” on Facebook. One of her questions was something I have been asked several times in ministry. She inquired, “Other than Jesus, who is your favorite Biblical character?” There is this standard idea that everyone who reads the Bible is inspired or identifies with one person, and they become a sort of hero of the faith.

Through the years, my answer has varied a little. In the early years, I would have responded with Paul. A man who knew no limits in his service of the Lord. He preached and planted new Churches with an unwavering devotion to Jesus. Yes, Paul was my favorite.

In the middle years of my life, I would have told you, Peter. Peter was one of Jesus’ closest followers and spent three years learning from him. He also is known for his misstatements and cowardly maneuvers. He needed grace in abundance as he walked the way of his master.

Nowadays, my response is Joshua. If I could have two, it would be Caleb and Joshua. As young men, these two were joined by ten other spies as they went to explore the promised land. Both were full of faith and believed that God would deliver the people into their hands. They had witnessed the plagues in Egypt and the miracles in the wilderness and knew God would come through. Soon after that story, Caleb slips out of focus. He comes back a couple of times in the scripture but never in a significant way. Joshua becomes a central figure in the Old Testament.

Joshua is Moses’ successor, and it is a role with pressure I cannot imagine. How do you follow one of the greatest men of faith in the entire Bible? Well, you ask God for courage. Then you lead forward in faith to the best of your ability. He never waivers in his commitment to God. He was full of faith as they approached the land and equally convinced as they move in and take over. He is a one of a kind leader in the Bible. One person pointed out to me that there is never a negative word written about him in the entire scriptures. Maybe that is why the name was given to the man we call Jesus is a form of the name Joshua. He is the Jesus of the Old Testament. He is a great person of faith through every phase of his life and a model believer to every generation that follows.

One day I hope to meet him in heaven, and I have a few questions I would love to ask. Was Moses the same in front of people as he was in private? Would you tell me a funny Moses story? How many times did you pray for courage when you followed him? What did you feel when you went to cross the Jordan river? Was there ever a moment of doubt? And on and on it goes.

This is an excellent question for every believer. Not only is it a good practice to have a favorite Bible passage but also a beloved character. You need someone to inspire you to the life of faith God desires from you. Joshua inspires me, and I hope he can do the same for you.

My Online Community of Faith

Communities of people come in numerous forms. Some are brought together as a unified body by their location. Others are linked together by a common history, personal interests, and similar hobbies. Still, others have shared goals or political allies that make them a connected group.

The followers of Jesus have the Church. We are joined together by our like faith in the one who came to save us from our sins. The problem is that for the last six weeks, I have not been able to meet with my fellow believers. These circumstances have forced me to look elsewhere for the community of faith that I so desperately need.

Over the past few weeks, I have lived with a virtual Church to support me. At first, it seemed overly demanding. Every Christian and leader on the web were producing articles, podcasts, video Bible studies, and sermons. There was so much new material that it was overwhelming. I tried to read, hear, and see it all. Thankfully, after Easter, the amount of new content has reduced, and I have been enjoying the ability to absorb information at a reasonable pace.

Today I realized how thankful I am for my new online community. This is not a long-term replacement for the Church, but it is functioning in the gap while I wait for us to rejoin one another. For all you believers in Jesus out there, let me say this to you.

Thanks for using social media in all its forms for the glory of God.
Thanks for sharing that piece of scripture that touched your heart.
Thanks for sharing that link to a great Christian article.
Thanks for telling us about what God is doing in your life.
Thanks for watching our worship program with my sermon.
Thanks for sharing the stories of how God is using you to bless others.
Thanks for keeping me updated on your family. I miss you ALL.
Thanks for keeping things positive during a negative time.
Thanks for sharing that Christian inspiration quote.
Thanks for the texts and emails, no matter what they say.
Thanks for writing blogs, making podcasts, and videos.
Thanks for sharing your faith with the world.

Right now, my faith has gone online, and it is not hurting too much. I miss the connection with real live people in a face to face manner, but the ability to have a group to share faith with has helped to ease the pain – for that, I am grateful. Keep sharing with the world your life and your faith. It makes the distance between us seem so much less.

Both Sides of the Camera

I have a meme with a picture of Forrest Gump, and it says, “And just like that, we are all televangelist.”  What makes it funny is that it is also true.  Within one week after the COVID-19 shutdown, every Church in my area started shooting videos and putting them online.  For our Church, the transition was not as challenging as it was for some.  We had already purchased some equipment a year ago and were beginning to make our own videos for announcements and special activities.  For other Churches, they had to start from scratch and figure it out quickly. 

With all of that said, within days after the shutdown, we were recording a sermon for Sunday and experimenting with different ways to present our material.  At first, it was just me and Jaime, our children’s minister here, getting recorded.  We have expanded with each passing week, and now eight people will be involved in this week’s program.  And just like that, I became a televangelist.  Suddenly our worship was being broadcast globally, and I was the center of the program with my sermon. 

People have asked me what it takes to put together a robust worship program online.  I tell them about getting closer to the camera, caring about the background, and making sound your number one priority.  Then I tell them the most significant thing I know.  You need high-quality volunteers.  A successful video ministry needs a person willing to learn and lead production.  The person on the other side of the camera is the most critical in the worship program.

Often, we forget about who is holding the camera or running the computer.  These are the people who make me look good.  At our Church, Rory has been an asset that has made our Church successful.  He has received help from Jacob and Traci, along with a few other people occasionally.  These people have made everything a success during this time of shutdown. 

I know many of you do not attend the Church I lead, so let me tell you a bit of advice.  Find out who helps with the camera and runs the sound.  Who put things on the computer and uploaded files during this time?  Find out who these people were and bless their life.   That may mean a kind word or a warm meal.  It is up to you.  These faceless warriors have helped the Church navigate one of its toughest times in 100 years.  I want to say a hearty “Thank You,” and I hope you will too. 

Four Lessons I am Learning Through the Corona Virus Shutdown

It is always good at moments like these to take a few minutes to reflect on what God is teaching during this time.

  1. You do not know what you have till it is gone. There are lots of little things I miss while being inside during lockdown. The most significant is our worship meetings on Sunday morning. I miss the songs being sung by the Lord’s people. There are also the simple pleasures of sitting in a restaurant with my wife on a quiet Friday. I am going to miss my son’s college graduation, and it was our first one, feeling disappointed about it. This time has clarified some of the things I value and do not realize it.
  2. I can do without a lot of things. The flip side of point one is also true. I have not missed sports like I thought I would. Casual shopping trips where I spend too much money without planning for it, are definitely not missed. The weekly maintenance around the Church building both before and after worship does not leave a void. Several things I thought were important have proved not to be so significant to me.
  3. My connection to people. I am an introvert. I have always valued my time alone with a small group of people. I am surprised at how much I miss seeing everyone. This is especially true on Sundays. The family of God contains people who are precious to me. My family would also love to see my mother, but for the sake of her health, we have stayed away. Time away from family is hard. I never expected to miss my time with people so much.
  4. The power of God in weakness. Over the past few weeks, I have been blessed to see God working in so many ways. Several people have reported to me that non-Christian family members have watched our worship programs at home. Others have told me about friends reading religious books along with their Bibles. On top of everything, our Church rallied to take up a massive offering over a 12-day period in which we gave 10% (above our standard 10% to missions) to a local school program. The number still blows me away. God even uses things like the virus to do his mighty work

These are the biggest lessons I am learning, or at least being reminded of during this time. What is God teaching you? The lessons of life are often discovered in seasons of unexpected challenges. I pray this time is a time of growth for all of us.

Avoiding Church Comparison

Lately, I sense I have fallen into a trap.  Sunday comes, and because of our current situation, I find myself watching my sermon online with my family.  Honestly, I usually watch my mannerisms and repeated phrases.  It is humbling to see yourself public speaking. Then, because every Church is online these days, I will scroll through my Facebook feed and look at what other Churches are doing.  

It is incredible how quickly I can go from worshipping God to comparing myself to other people.  I can shift from “Thank you God for our Church,” to some distorted view of worship.  This move goes one of two directions. 

First, I can quickly be filled with a sense of pride.  “Oh God, I thank you I am not like those clueless Churches.”  Some of the videos I am seeing are horrendous.  With all the modern technology, it amazes me how some Churches are doing so poorly.  My ego swells, and my pride in my Church overflows. 

Second, I can just as quickly be filled with shame. “Oh God, why is my Church not like those technologically advanced Churches?” Some of the videos I am seeing are tremendous.  The quality of production rivals Hollywood.  I am amazed with all the technology out there that we are doing so poorly.  My shame grows, and my dislike of my Church overflows. 

It is so easy for believers to find Sunday morning invigorating or humiliating because we are comparing our Church worship to other Churches in our town and across the country.  As I was thinking about this over the past week, I have had conversations with other Christians who had told me the same thing.  On Sunday morning, they are watching multiple worship programs, and it is causing their emotions to ebb and flow with whomever they are watching.  This is not healthy for our souls. 

My plea for you is the same thing I plan on practicing for the rest of this break.  The moment I start watching another Church program, and I start comparing it to the Church I attend, I am going to shut it off and move along.  It is not good for my soul and yours.  It breeds discontentment and arrogance in the lives of believers.  If we don’t, I fear that this time of “online Church” will make us more unhappy and less like the people of God.  This is a trick of the evil one. 

Comparison can steal your joy.  Don’t let it happen, especially when it comes to Church worship. 

Don’t Forget to Breathe

During a Junior High school gym class, we were learning to use the weights for building muscles. It was in one of these classes I remember hearing what I thought was the dumbest advice ever. The teacher would repeatedly say, “Don’t forget to breathe.”

What made it seem so incredibly stupid was that I did not think about breathing at all. This one part of my life was completely involuntary. It was innate action that kept me alive. It did not require me to remember it at any point in time. Why would I need to think about it while lifting weights?

It wasn’t too long after we started that I realized what he was saying. When encountered with lifting a heavyweight, the natural tendency is to hold your breath and push harder to overcome the obstacle. When things get strenuous, the temptation is to forget to breathe.

These words resonated through my head recently as I anticipate the coming six weeks or more. Life is out off-kilter with the shutdown for the coronavirus, springtime is arriving, there is the anticipation of things starting to open again, and a busy schedule is looming on the horizon. I can feel myself starting to tense up and the weight of incoming burdens beginning to weigh me down.

“Don’t forget to breathe” may be the best advice I can give you this week and this year. Take time to step back and feel the oxygen move over your lungs. Pause and reflect each day on the way God is working in your life. Build moments into every day that will allow you rest and freedom. Don’t tense up; be willing to give it all over to God.

Whenever your days are overwhelming, breathe deep the breath of God. You will get through this, and he will use it for his glory.

While We Are Not Meeting Together

The Church community is here to help you grow in your faith.  Each week it provides programs for adults and young people alike to take new steps in their walk with God.  This growth comes through worship, prayer, communion, and ultimately teaching.  It is here to help you read and understand your Bible, along with how it applies to your life.  The Church wants teach you know more about God’s will and encourage you to live it out through the week. 

Through this time of lockdown, I have been wondering about what people are doing to grow spiritually without their community of faith to help them.  Don’t get me wrong, as a Church leader, I am still here to help you, and I am trying to provide resources, but there is only so much I can do. 

The person who is most responsible for your maturity as a believer is YOU.  You need to be able to read, study, and learn on your own.  You need to know how to pray for yourself and others.  You need to feel the desire to sing and find the words to voice your praise.  The most significant factor in your faith journey, other than God, is you. 

During this time of quarantine, some of you will thrive, and some of you will starve.  My prayer is that you will use this time to bring you closer to God.  The primary factor to whether that will happen is staring you in the mirror.  There is no one else to blame right now; your spiritual growth is in your hands. 

Here is the shocking truth; once this is all over, the same person will still be responsible.  This time away from the Church body has not changed anything; it has merely revealed something many of us have ignored.  Each one of us is responsible to God for our own faith, and the Church is just here to help you.

Alone and Afraid

There is a TV show called “Naked and Afraid” where they drop two people in a remote place with nothing but one tool of their choosing and a small woven bag. The show is frequently staged, and I have read stories describing some of the fake settings and film editing. It is still a fascinating study of survival. The most challenging part of the experiment is when one of the contestants calls it quits and decides to go home. Then the person left behind is alone and afraid. The struggle with loneliness is often more significant than the struggle for food, water, shelter or clothing.

We long for companionship. We need people in our lives. God does not just create Adam; he gives him a companion in Eve. In the New Testament, he does not only make new creations; he provides us with a community of believers we call the Church.

One of my fears through this pandemic is that when the dust has settled and people are allowed to go back to their “normal” lives, they will abandon Church meetings. After all, we have survived for weeks and weeks without meeting together, why do we need to go back now?

My continual prayer though this time, is that God will show us our great need for community. I pray we will miss the fellowship of faith. I hope you will feel an absence in our lives that can only be filled by other believers. I dream that we will come out of this time with a greater sense of our connection to the body of believers.

If that does not happen, then much of this time will have been in vain. Let that longing you feel to connect push you toward the Church community. It is not good to be alone and afraid. We were made for connection, and any voice pushing you away from it is not the voice of God.