That Awful Pastor

My primary job is communication.  It is something I love, and I believe it is where God has gifted me.  The result is that I preach as my chosen profession.  On top of that, I teach youth group, lead small groups, podcast, and write this blog.  I put a large amount of material into the world. 

When I first began this process, I liked to make myself the hero of every story.  I thought that people would admire me if I made myself look good all the time.  I was raised in a time where even the commercials underlined that “you should never let them see you sweat.” I heeded the advice and became the person publicly everyone wanted. 

Somewhere along the way, I began not just to think I was a hypocrite; I felt it in my soul.  I knew that I was not this perfect pastor with a flawless personality, impeccable work ethic, harmonious marriage, and an unstained soul.  I was a deeply flawed individual who relied on God to make it through each day. 

As a result of my awakening, I decided to share more of the ugly side of me.  I started letting people hear the real stories of my life.  There is my struggle to develop a prayer and devotional life.  There are also my issues with people, along with my introverted personality, that has repeatedly caused problems.  Not to mention my ministry failures, temptations of every type, and the long list of sins I have committed.   My life is a mess, and I honestly struggle as both a believer and a pastor. 

Most people welcomed my openness.  Others did not.  I have been repeatedly told, “That is not how a preacher is supposed to think, feel and act!” Pastors are good people with few flaws, and they certainly don’t talk about them.  They gloss them over and work to build confidence in their leadership.  I have been called “an awful pastor” by more than one person. 

Unfortunately, when preachers try to wear this public persona, it usually makes the Church stronger for a period. BUT it leads many pastors to quit, feel burnt out, depressed, and soothe themselves with some form of sin.  After all, if the preacher cannot be real, then he needs to find a way to escape.  The end of that story is tragic and leaves a massive wake of destruction. 

I know that my honestly leads people not to trust me, to use my words against me, and become a reason to leave the Church I lead.  But I am willing to risk it – if for nothing more than my own soul.  Paul said that he had to learn a harsh lesson one time.  He was given a thorn in the flesh to understand that God’s grace is sufficient. God’s power is made perfect in weakness.

I want to be a model of grace and the power of God.  I do not want to be a hypocrite that everyone thinks highly of while living a lie. 

Let’s Talk About Something Else

The conversation turned personal.  I could tell it was starting to hit a nerve deep in the soul.  That was when they changed the subject. 

They did not say the words out loud, but it was clear they wanted to talk about something else.

Everyone has a topic that when they hear it come up, they wince inside.  Their mind begins to race with questions of how they can change the subject naturally.  They know it is not something they will talk about today, or with you, or publicly in any forum. 

My guess about anyone who changes the subject is that that is the exact topic they need to address.  Those things we push from talking about are often the things we need to speak about the most.  Each one of us needs to allow these interactions to reveal something about our inner demons.

These are the conversations that move us forward both personally and spiritually.  When we are willing to speak on an item we have been avoiding for years, we are finally able to heal and move on in the name of Jesus. 

Maybe today, instead of changing the conversation, we should lean into it and find the help and healing we so desperately needed. 

Fail More Often

We like to avoid risks.  No one wants to make a colossal mistake, fail publicly, or do anything that makes them look foolish.  It hurts to be branded as a failure who could not get the job done correctly.  The result is that we do everything possible to keep ourselves from failing. 

The problem is that fear can keep us from trying new things, both personally and professionally.  It can keep us from attempting new ministries for God that might further his kingdom.  We can be paralyzed into repeating the same behaviors even when they have quit being productive. The result is that we never grow, change, or move forward in constructive ways. 

One odd-sounding piece of advice is that you need to fail more often.  I am not talking about sin, but rather the willingness to try something new even though it might not work out the way we plan.  The more you are willing to attempt new things, no matter how they turn out, will teach you to rely on God, learn valuable lessons and come closer to finding what does work.  You will also see that you can live through failure, and the grace of God is enough to sustain you. 

This is the perfect day to walk into the unknown and try something that might leave you feeling foolish.  It might also be the thing that changes your world for the better.  You will never know until you try. 

To Get You Thinking

I like to write all kinds of blog posts.  Some challenge people, others encourage, and many try to teach a lesson or offer advice. 

Some of the things I post are just to get people to think in a new or different way. 

It is so easy to get trapped inside of repeated thought processes.  This is the way we think because this is how we always think.  People repeat actions without questions.  People accept teaching without checking the facts.  It is easy to walk through life using minimal critical thinking and little brain engagement. 

Some days, the best a post can do is to get you thinking.  Once a mind is awakened, there is no telling what improvements might lie ahead. 

What You Can Control

There is a long list of things we cannot control.  These things range from the weather to other people’s actions and include the work of God.  There are so many ways we seem powerless to bring the outcomes we desire. 

There is also a long list of things that we can control.  You can show up early, work hard consistently, push yourself to do your best, and make the most of every opportunity.  You can choose your words, the expression on your face, your attitude, and the volume of your voice.  You can be a victim or an overcomer, walk the way of Jesus or ignore him, and you can be the kind of person other people want to be around. 

We tend to focus on all the things we cannot control.  We wait for a big break, something to show us clearly the next step or God to do a miracle.  While those things are not beyond the realm of possibility for a believer, they are still beyond our control.

How might your life change if we put our energy into all the things we can control.  What would happen if our effort increased, our consistency improved, and we were the kind of friend others might want to have in their life?  One sure way to make the world a better place is to do our best and let God take care of the rest. 

What is Lacking?

A man came to Jesus and asked him a question.  If you harmonize the story, he is a rich, young ruler.  He asked Jesus a straightforward question.  What must I do to inherit eternal life?  Jesus seemingly brushed him off with, “You know the commandments.” He says, “I have kept those since I was a boy.” It can sound arrogant, but it is more a statement about his lifelong quest for righteousness. 

Jesus then says, “One thing you lack …” (Mark 10:21).  The rest of his sentence is about him selling his possessions and giving them to the poor.  Before we rush into explaining what Jesus is saying and what he means, I want to focus on the first statement. 

This guy looked like he had it all together. He was living a righteous life.  Keeping the ten commandments throughout your life is no small feat – no lying, no stealing, and never using the Lord’s name in vain.  He sounds like a good guy.  And then you see that he has wealth and power on top of that.  From all external measures, he was being blessed by God for living a Godly life. 

Jesus says, “One thing you lack.”

If we seriously follow Jesus, then a valid statement is, “Jesus show me what I lack.”

Genuine spiritual growth is achieved when we are willing to ask ourselves and possibly others, “What is the one thing that is lacking in my faith?”

Jesus is honest and tells this guy what he needs to do, and all the accounts say he went away sad.  Tough questions have demanding answers.  The way forward into the life Christ desires from us is by asking these questions and living with the answers and not avoiding them. 

It’s A Wonderful Life Moments

As a child, I watched the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” and was struck by this feeling at the end of the film.  If you recall the movie, there is a crucial scene near the end where everyone shows up in a big way for George Bailey.  They give him money to repay what uncle Billy lost and add notes of encouragement for what he meant to their life. 

For me, I could not wait for the day when something like that would happen for me.  One day I will encounter a struggle, and all the people whose life I had touched would arrive at my door with gifts and letters to show me how wonderful my life has been.  In a little over six months from now, I will turn 50, and I am still waiting for that day. 

I have asked many older adults if that kind of event has happened for them.  No one I asked had ever felt like there was this one time when all their good deeds ever came to light.  The closest most people get is their funeral.  If you die young enough, people will line up to pay their respects and tell the family how much you meant to them.  Live too long, and only a few close friends will know your work. 

Let me set the record straight; there are no “It’s a Wonderful Life” moments for most people in this life. 

But don’t let that stop you.  Keep doing the right thing.  Every day you get up, keep being a kind, gracious, giving, faithful, loving, and helpful person.  Keep serving others, especially those in need, while maintaining a humble heart.  Keep seeing the good in people while trying to be a good and Godly person yourself.  Stay on the journey of faith with integrity even when no one notices. 

The truth is, our heavenly Father, who sees what is done in secret, will one day reward you (Matthew 6:1).  It may not make this life feel wonderful, but it will make the next one worth every righteous act. 

The Nullifying Word

The words “Thank you” are like precious gold.  The term “sorry” fixes a broken relationship.  The response of “you are forgiven” can bring healing to the people. “I love you” is the most significant phrase in the English language. 

All of us must understand that those words can get nullified by one little three-letter word.  BUT

“Thank you, but …

“I am sorry, but …” 

“You are forgiven, but …”

“I love you, but …”

Suddenly the words that could have brought health and healing are lost by one simple addition.  Without that word, those statements are powerful, potentially life-changing.  With that word, they become ways to complain further or try and correct someone’s behavior. 

One of the most significant ways to improve your life and relationships is eliminating the word, but, from your sentences. 

Everyday Courage

Our men’s group that I attend at the Church has been talking about the topic of courage for several weeks.  We have primarily focused our attention on some of the characters of the Old Testament.  Noah, Moses, Joshua, and David are all men who displayed great courage at specific points in their life. 

Honestly, most of what we have studied has been beyond our group of men.  We will never experience a worldwide flood, lead a nation out of slavery, take over a whole country, or rule as king.  Most of us are common laborers with day jobs or are retired from work. 

As a result, our attention must focus not on enormous feats of courage, rather on everyday courage.  We need to do simple things every day to demonstrate our trust in God to the world.  Most of our moments of bravery are not giant Goliath defeating scenes but little moments that draw upon the same reservoir of faith.  We need that same spirit to talk to a neighbor or coworker about Jesus and invite them to Church with us.  Courage can be doing the right thing at work when everyone else is bending the rules to make an extra dollar.  There is a certain fortitude required to lead a ministry at Church when you know it will draw criticism. 

Most people I know think of following God as this enormous decision followed by a couple of significant moments that the world will see.  The truth is that faith requires everyday courage to be the person, spouse, parent, child, and worker that God wants us to be.  It is not very glamourous, and it can be more demanding than we imagined.  Heroes of faith are not made in the big encounters that the people notice; they are made in the challenging work of the everyday. 

Clinging to Hope

Fishing season has arrived here in the Ozarks. It is one of my favorite times of the year as I spend hours on the water somewhere watching a line or bobber.

But for me, this season is bittersweet. Every year while standing there holding my pole and waiting for a fish to bite, I begin to think of my dad.  He and I spent a lot of time on the water together over his lifetime.  We fished all over the Midwest and even into Canada.  He was the only man I have known who loved fishing as much as I do.  While I find joy on a lake or river, I also feel this sense of loss. 

I suppose it is no coincidence that this is the time of year we celebrate Easter.  The world has come alive with green grass, warmer temperatures, and fish feeding; at the same time, we think about the resurrection of Jesus.  Each year when I stop and think about dad, I take my hands and grab tighter to the hope offered to us through Jesus’ resurrection.  I can’t think of anything that will make this situation better besides eternal life offered in the name of the One who overcame the grave. I could build a memorial to the past or look forward toward eternity, and I choose to look beyond death and into the glorious unknown. 

When my boys were little and went fishing with me, I would tell them to hold their poles tight.  They needed to make sure not to lose their grip and have a fish yank it out of their hands.  Now that all of us are older, my encouragement is quite similar.  Hold on tight to hope, and don’t let anything rip it out of your hands.  It will be the only thing better than fishing.