A Christian Memory Bank

One of the projects that a follower of Jesus must do on their faith journey is to build a Christian memory bank.  They need to do things that fill their mind with the promises and power of God.

Part of that project is increasing our knowledge of God’s word.  That will include passages we read that immediately apply to our lives.  The Apostle Paul’s final chapters in each of his letters are filled with statements for men and women to use right after reading.  This work will also include putting concepts in your long-term memory.  Reading through the Old Testament gives an extensive overview of how God worked over thousands of years.  Those who were faithful to God give us numerous lessons on faith, but they may not be topics that touch our lives at this moment.  We put them in our memory bank, and one day, when we are feeling down and discouraged or prideful and overly self-confident, we pull out those stories to keep us grounded in God.  One day we will need every part of the truth revealed in his word, even if it is not today.

The other part of increasing your memory bank is filling our minds with the stories of God working in our lives presently.  I encourage people to have a journal, a book of thanksgiving, or a notebook of prayer requests, along with the answers received.  Occasionally we need to sit down and mentally go through all the ways we have seen God work.  That way, when the money gets tight, we have a story of a time God provided.  Maybe when we are feeling down, we can be reminded of a season that faith brought us great joy. 

It is essential to have your mind filled with the knowledge of God’s working to last in faith over a lifetime.  The journey is too hard with too many pitfalls for you to make it through without more than a few lines of information to carry you.  We each need to dig deep into the scriptures to see the unseen work of God.  We also need the ability to recall those stories that we lose when the darkness is overwhelming. 

My question for today is, “What are your doing to increase your Christian memories?” If you are not doing anything, I know that you will not last long in the faith.  If you keep adding to your account, you will have enough faith to withdraw throughout a lifetime. 

What is Shaping You?

It seems like such a simple question, but it is vital to ask.

What story in the Bible or specific Bible passage has shaped your life? 

When you think of your life and the dreams, hopes, and passions that shape your actions, what scripture principles are driving it?  What lines of God’s word have directly influenced you as a child, spouse, and parent? 

I have been asking this question of several Christians lately, and their response is often disappointing.  They tell me about models of faith they have seen in others, good examples for marriage, and lectures they have heard about parenting.  All that is good information, but I wonder, is your life being shaped by the Bible or by the good thoughts from others?

Reclaiming Kindness

Many times, I think Covid made people less kind. 

We quit smiling behind the masks because no one sees, and now our smile is gone.  We learned to social distance, and now we are afraid to get physically close enough to offer an occasional hug.  We moved behind our screens and have lost the art of common courtesy when we are around other people.  Our connection to others was reduced to social media, and our comments have become calloused and argumentative.   

I recently interacted with some people I thought had a kind heart, and it seemed lost or at least dulled from lack of use. 

One of the byproducts in the life of a believer is that they are kind.  They treat others with respect, speak nicely, and are a pleasure to be around.  I hope that as we come out of this pandemic, we are not distant and angry.  Make this week an opportunity to reclaim kindness in all your encounters.  It will take some effort as our habits changed over the year, but it will be a simple way to show Jesus to those closest to you. 

If You Spent a Week with This Preacher

I am closing in on 28 years of Church leadership.  Here are a few of the things that happen every week that you might not know about leading a Church.

  1. Maintaining my own spiritual life.  This is the easiest one to neglect, but it is foundational.  In fact, moral compromise is always the result of not taking care of our own souls.  Most days, I start with a grateful journal, prayer, and Bible reading.  I spend time reading blogs from wise leaders and listening to podcasts.  I like to read and squeeze in as much as time will allow.  A preacher must feed their soul first. 
  2. Preaching and Teaching.  A sermon takes about 10-12 hours to write, and a lesson takes about 5.  Most weeks, I preach one sermon and teach at least one lesson.  Writing is only half the battle.  I must also edit, practice, commit to memory and deliver.
  3. People Issues.  Every week there is someone or something that needs to be handled. This can include hospital visits, upset people, counseling, emails, texts, conversations with leaders, and other meetings.  There is also the time required to deal with people who need assistance in various ways who drop by the building.
  4. Building Maintenance. Some weeks there is trash to be taken out to the dumpster, items that need repair, and contacting the people required to handle issues.  Every week I know there are 2-3 hours of work simply because the congregation owns a building.
  5. Various Ministry Projects.  Each week I write blogs, podcasts and help plan worship.  Monthly we have a leadership meeting where I do a devotion and help lead the meeting.  I am part of a local ministerial alliance with three programs a year, and I will speak at one of them.  There are items to order, receipts to track, and communication with the treasurer.  I also have elders’ meetings, minister’s meetings, and membership class, along with its follow-up. 
  6. My Personal Life.  When all the Church work is done, I still need to connect with my wife and children.  I now spend an hour or two exercising each day.  Finally, I like to do some things that I enjoy, like hunting and fishing. These all bring extra joy to my life.  

Each week when I finish preaching, I immediately know that I am starting over again for another full week. Don’t get me wrong, I am blessed to serve the Lord each day, but it requires more than you imagine – probably just like your job.  My only request is to treat your preacher with grace and kindness as they handle so much more than just your issues.       

That Time I Didn’t Really Say Anything

Once upon a time, I was asked to give a reference for someone in the Church I lead.  I was a little uncomfortable about how I was going to respond since I hardly knew the person.  The reference was to include information about specific topics and matters of character.  This made it even more complex as a couple of stories about this person that had been relayed to me were not favorable.

I took some time and thought about it, prayed for wisdom, and looked for a way to keep my integrity and be honest.  Finally, it hit me.  What I wrote was, “I have never seen this person be unkind.  They have never disrespected authority in my presence.  There has never been a time where I witnessed them being disloyal.” Basically, I wrote a reference on the absence of actions. 

If other people were to ask about my character, the whole experience has me wondering if they would be greeted by a list of Godly, positive actions or an incomplete list of unwitnessed character traits.  A follower of Jesus should let their actions speak for their belief and integrity. 

I wonder, if your preacher were asked to give a reference for you, what would they say?  Have they seen you living out your convictions, or would they be forced to speak from a void?

Posting Selfies

I used to hate selfies.  People posting their pictures with a “look at me” attitude.  Those people are selfish, self-centered, and narcissistic. 

As is so often the case, there is a flip side to everything.  Often, the posting of selfies is from people who are inviting me into their life.  They are not self-centered; they want people to be included in their family and world.  Their desire is for connecting with others, and we are not there to join them in person.  Each post is a plea for a deeper personal connection than we can achieve in casual conversation.  

So when you are scrolling through your social media feed, there will be times you will encounter people who have an overblown ego.  You will also see people who are longing for and offering a connecting point to their lives.  You can either respond by saying, “get over yourself” or by saying, “thanks for inviting me.” 

One of those statements will make you angry, and another will make you friends. 

The Issue of Manhood

No woman asked me to write this, and yet every one did at the same time. 

One issue I repeatedly encounter is men who are lousy husbands and distant fathers.  I have been trying to think of a nice way to say that but keep landing on the direct approach.  Some men define their manliness by how much beer they can drink, how late they can stay up, and the number of women they can sleep with and not form any emotional connection.  Then those men become fathers who show no interest in their children’s lives.  Mom handles everything while they bring home a paycheck and feel like they have done their fatherly duty.

It is not difficult to see where this thinking originated.  Many of us were raised by men who acted the same way.  We have repeated the model of the generation before us.  This image gets perpetuated in TV shows and movies until everyone thinks it is normal behavior. 

I believe God calls us to so much more.  Men are to lead their homes as strong, courageous, and Godly men.  They follow Jesus and are willing to risk everything to see his will done in their lives and in the lives of those they love.  They love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.  They raise their children in a way that promotes favor with both God and man.  They take the lead in both teaching and serving in the home.  Men in the Church should be the gold standard of what it means to be a son, husband, and father. 

Last year, I had planned a sermon series directed at men and a day to get together and fellowship.  Covid changed all our plans, and an elder in our Church started a men’s group the first week of January as an alternate idea.  I have been so blessed to sit with these men each Monday night and ask one another questions, study the scriptures together and try to improve as the men of God.  I know this group is not for everyone, but it has me asking a fundamental question, “What are we doing individually to be shaped as Godly men more than being molded by the culture around us?” The world does not need another absent father or distant husband. It requires men of God who shine their light into a dark world and make the world a better place for all, starting at home. 

The Week Everything Changed

Last night our Church had its annual congregational meeting.  To prepare for it, I review all the numbers from last year along with the monthly reports I give to my board.  Looking into the statistics and information led me to divide everything into “Pre-Covid” and “Post-Covid.” This led me to the realization that one year ago, this week was when the world changed.  Our Church had regular worship until the third Sunday of March, and then we went into lockdown for 12 weeks. 

It is incredible all the things that can change in 12 months.  We lost about 100 people who attended our worship programs twice a month or more.  When we started meeting again, we added about 50 people in the months that followed.  After one year, our congregation looks completely different. 

Not only have people changed, but ministries have ceased because of restrictions, new roles have been assumed, and adjustments are made monthly.  Like most, we have been utilizing technology in new ways while trying to keep the best of the old ways of doing things.  We have experimented with techniques and methods to find what works best with our people in our area to be fully devoted Christians. 

I could spend several pages detailing all the changes from the past year, but most of us are far too familiar with them.  No, I want to take a minute and mention the one thing I love about my job and being a believer.  Nothing in God’s word has changed – not one tiny little thing.  One of the promises to those who study that Bible is that the grass will wither, and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord will stand forever (1 Peter 1:24-25).  Not only that, but the Jesus who is revealed in the scriptures is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  Our faith’s core has not changed in the slightest, even though Covid has altered his people’s methods and procedures. 

The coming year will bring more changes as we implement the vaccine, and some things will become the “new normal.” There will be frustrations and failures alongside successes as we move into an unknown future.  The good news is our Bible and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be the same and can guide us into whatever the next 52 weeks hold, just like they did last year.

Please Forgive Me

Next to “I love you,” there are no more powerful words than “Please forgive me.”

Everyone is a sinner who regularly fails to do God’s will.  This failure damages our relationship with him and with one another.  That means we need grace from God and the forgiveness of our fellow man.  With all that being true, then we should continually be asking others to please forgive us.  Yet, I would ask directly, is that your experience?

We need to acknowledge that we make mistakes and sin.  Tell someone that your emotions got the best of you, and you lost control of your tongue.  Be clear to others that you crumbled under the weight you were carrying.  Share with them that you regret your words and actions, and you are trying not to let it happen again.  This is not who you are.  It was a time you stepped away from what you know to be proper behavior and acted in ways that hurt God and others.  It was a moment of weakness, and you are truly sorry. 

All these words are so complicated to say, and yet they need to be communicated regularly.  One of the most significant steps toward healthy relationships at home or the Church is the willingness to ask for forgiveness.  The second step is to offer it in return.    

Advice No One Asked For

I give an enormous amount of advice on life and faith. I share my thoughts in blogs, podcasts, and sermons both daily and weekly.  The topics range from being a better spouse to a better parent to simply a better Christian.  Each piece of information is shared after reflection, prayer, and some editing to make sure it sounds understandable and applicable.

The funny part of this story is no one asked me to do it.  I do not receive emails begging for my advice.  No one catches me at the store and says, “Please post something about this topic.” Most of the tips I provide are entirely unsolicited. 

Then why do it?

My answer is that God has laid it on my heart to help others, even if it is just one person.  When I pray, God seems always to point me back to this idea of sharing what I know and have experienced.  This has been reaffirmed through repeated comments, regular opportunities, and the joy I receive from doing it.  I am not concerned if millions admire my work; the hope is that one person will learn something to do to help them on their journey with God. 

My question for you is, “What is God laying on your heart to do for his kingdom?” This may just be a notion in the back of your mind, a repeated question from a friend, or an observation of a ministry that needs to be done.  One pushback that most people encounter is, “Yeah, but no one is really asking me to do it.” My response is, “Who cares?” If you feel God is leading you to do some work for his kingdom, you do not need an invitation. You only need to possess the willingness to try.