The Church You Want

It does not exist.

Every Church has flaws, problem people, leadership issues, worship struggles, and lacks ministries. Every. Single. One. 

The only way to improve the local Church is for God to work through you. It is not someone else’s job to fix things to please you. Your responsibility is to dig in and start working beside the people for a better outcome. 

Christianity is not better if you find the right Church. It is better when you commit to making the best Church possible while allowing God to work through you. 

The Power of a Good Story

I heard a preacher say something to the effect of, “I just preach the Bible. I don’t tell stories.” He meant he walked through the Bible when he preached passage by passage without personal illustrations. There was no place for our anecdotes in the presentation of God’s word to him. 

The problem is that the scriptures are a book of stories. The Old Testament comes to us as laws, psalms, proverbs, prophecy, and … stories. It is an account of the people of God being formed and trying to live what they claimed to believe. The gospels also come to us as stories. Within those gospels, Jesus told more stories that we call parables. The rest of the New Testament uses word pictures that capture the meaning of Jesus’ work. He frees captives, adopts us as his children, and brings us into his family. 

Stories, illustrations, analogies, and anecdotes are essential for understanding God’s work. They are also critical in helping us explain the good news to other people. 

In fact, I would say that YOUR story is making an impact for the kingdom of God right now. Some people are amazed at where your life is today. Others might be shocked to see you in Church and walking with God. 

The preacher who I heard say that was absolutely wrong. Part of sharing the gospel is telling stories, including your stories. We do not do this to show that you are a good person but to demonstrate the power of God working both in and through you. Your life intertwined with God’s story is the most potent tale you know. 

Termites of the Soul

Termites destroy over 600,000 homes in the United States each year. They also do an estimated five billion dollars worth of damage annually. To put that in perspective, depending on the year, that is more than wildfires and tornadoes combined. 

We fear the other two because they have the potential to take a life, but each year the total damage done is far more significant by this tiny insect. 

Unfortunately, the tiny things that go unnoticed or unchecked do the most considerable damage to our world and our souls. The quickest path to self-destruction is to pay no attention to the little compromises in your life.

Big issues are scary, and we need to keep ourselves safe. Let us also not forget to check the small dark spaces of our lives for the unseen problems that can destroy us.  

I’m Gonna Change the World

There is a five-year degree at the college I attended called a Bachelor of Theology. The workload is intensive, and only a handful of students choose this path each year. Those that do are rewarded with an opportunity to speak in chapel their senior year. They can preach a sermon to faculty, staff, and the student body on whatever they feel called to say. 

While I was on campus, one student started his sermon by putting duct tape on the floor in a straight line. He then said, “I’m gonna change the world. Wanna come?” He preached a sermon that I do not remember, but he challenged any student who wanted to be a world-changer to walk to the front and cross the line he had taped. 

Several students jumped at the occasion. When you are in your late teens or early twenties, you have this insatiable desire to do something meaningful with your life. You want to make your mark on the world in a positive way. 

Well, that was thirty years ago now. I recently looked up that student online, and his life has gone much the same direction as mine. He worked in local ministry at the Church, did some writing, and tried to help young believers on their faith journey. Unfortunately, on the surface, it looks like neither of us became the world changers we dreamed of at the age of 21. 

With turning 50 years old this past January, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about the impact of my life on this world. There is a sense of failure that sweeps over me some days. I never did anything that most people would consider significant. I have preached at five small local churches, led some small groups, wrote some blogs, taught some classes, and did my best to help people follow Jesus. I have received no awards, honorary degrees, or recognition from anyone. I get up and do my job every day to the best of my ability. No one knows about most of what I do but God and me.   

Neither that student nor myself changed the world. But hopefully, along the way, we did change a few people’s worlds. I pray that I have led people to follow Jesus, find forgiveness, and showed someone the next step on their faith journey. 

I often think that my ministry life is not a failure as long as I am able to help a few people become disciples of Jesus or at least a better one. Many of us wanted to change the world, but we never dreamed it would happen one person at a time.  

It’s Raining Outside

There has been a cold rain almost every other day for the past two weeks here in Missouri. 

I wish I could make it stop. Bring out the sunshine and dry everything off while warming things up. 

But alas, I cannot do it. I lack the power. 

I can hold umbrellas.

Each one of us has the power to impact the lives of those who come near us. We can add a little sunshine to their day and make them feel the warmth of kindness from another person. 

It may not be possible to fix everything for people but keep your focus on what you are able to do. 

Church Connections

People want and need connections to other believers.

The trouble comes when people think that the best relationship should be with their preacher.

I am here to break the sad news to you, “It is not possible for the preacher to be good friends with everyone in his Church.” No one has the relationship capacity to be a good friend with more than 12-15 people. Usually, 2-3 people are all that can be very close to anyone.

Let me make sure we are clear. Even in a Church of 50 people, the preacher is not everyone’s friend. They may know “about” all 50 people, but they do not “know” them personally. My definition of “knowing” is that they understand what makes a person laugh and what makes them cry. They know what brings the other person joy and pain. I want to clarify because knowing someone is not the same as being able to give you their spouse’s name, kid’s names and ages, work info, and a background overview. A friend is someone who knows your heart and soul while caring deeply for you.

No one can be an excellent friend to 50 people or more, even your preacher.

The goal of a Church has never been to have everyone connected to the preacher. In fact, that might be a sign of a very unhealthy group of people. Instead, the desire is for everyone to have a relationship with someone.

You do not need to be my friend, but we both should have friends.

Don’t get me wrong; we should care about one another as brother and sister in Christ. Both preacher and congregation should strive to know more about each other and be as friendly as possible at all times. Both groups should eat together and share their lives.

But to find soul-fulfilling relationships, you will usually need to look around at the people sitting next to you, not the person on stage.

Personal connections in Church are vital to have with someone. And that is true for everyone.

Gray Areas

Frequently the decisions we face as believers are not black and white.

We are never asked, “Will you choose Satan or Jesus?” The choices are not about right and wrong. Often, they are about picking between the good and almost good. They are about small compromises to our commitment rather than total apostasy. Will we choose to follow Jesus in this one area of our life that no one else notices?

What do you do when the choices to live for Jesus are not easy?

I often want to say to people, “Follow the path of most resistance.” The way of Jesus is narrow and difficult. Whenever life is complex, you are usually on the right path following him.

Obviously, it is much more complex for a Christian to arrive at the right decision than asking a single question. Finding the Lord’s will in your life will require at least these three things.

First, you must know the Bible. God revealed his will there, and numerous answers can be found on its pages.

Second, you need to have a willing heart. This can only come from within you. Are you ready to do whatever the Lord asks you to do? Would you accept it if he were pointing you toward a job with less pay? If he told you to give something up or take something on, would you be willing to do it? Those are questions only you can answer.

Third, you need a couple of mature Christian friends who will be completely honest with you. Each part of that is essential. They are required to be believers trying to walk the same path with Jesus. They need to be mature in their faith and life. As I age, I am beginning to see the need for wisdom from the aged. They must be a friend. You need someone who has your best interests in mind. The single most challenging piece to attain is the last one. It is critical that the people be willing to be honest with you. They value you more than friendship. It is risky to tell someone the total truth because they might reject you, and the relationship will die. Few are the people who will be completely honest with you when asked.

The Christian life is complex. God wants us to be part of a faith community because we need each other. It is essential to have people around us to help us see things we might be missing. Living in black and white is easy to do alone, but you need mature Christian friends for all the gray areas.

Non-Biblical Beliefs

A straightforward question for Christians to ask one another is, “Where do you see that in the Bible?”

Is there a passage where this is stated? Is there a section where this is explained? Is there a story where this is illustrated?

What is there in the Bible that led you to that conviction?

Too often, we hold onto traditions, poor advice, and unbiblical influences with the same enthusiasm as the Scriptures.

I know your grandparents said it, your teacher explained it that way in school, and even your pastor might have taught it a particular way. But the bigger question is, “Where do you see that in the Bible?”

Just because it makes sense in your head doesn’t make it scripture. 

How to Kill a Small Group

Since the fall, every Monday night, I have been involved in a small group for the men in our Church. It is always interesting, and there is usually a lesson or two to be learned each week. This is one of many small groups I have been involved in, including numerous ones that I have led myself.

I have noticed certain characteristics from the leaders or participants that quickly kill discussion and ultimately connection to other believers through the years. 

-Arrive late.

-Take every opportunity to talk. And talk. And talk.

-Don’t talk. Never say anything. 

-Be sure to talk about yourself and your issues whenever you have the opportunity.

-Don’t ask questions about other people.

-Don’t listen to other people; spend your time thinking about what you want to say.

-Bring up the same issue in your life over and over and over and …

-Tell the same stories repeatedly that everyone has heard. 

-Don’t accept advice; instead, get defensive. 

-Let your emotions run wild each week so that you are unpredictable. 

-Increase your volume and intensity to get your point across.

-Throw in an occasional cuss word for no apparent reason.

-Focus on what you are getting out of the group.

-Leave early or quickly. 

These are some of the most popular ways I have seen people kill a small group. It is not too hard to get people to attend, but many walk away feeling unconnected. This is because many people do not know how to function with a group. Maybe there is an adjustment you need to make to help small groups be more fulfilling to everyone. 

How Long Will It Last?

Yesterday was Easter. It is a big day in the Christian community. The worship was phenomenal, the crowds were large, and the people were happy. The feeling in the air was almost electric on a significant religious day like that. I get a similar sentiment at Christmas when everyone comes to Church and is in the best mood. It leaves me feeling so close to God and his people.     

I have also experienced this same kind of feeling when I have attended various conferences and retreats throughout my career. Spending a day or two reading the Bible, praying, fellowship with other believers, and listening to dynamic speakers will put you on a spiritual high.

On the flip side, I have also seen people get close to God through tragedy. This could be the loss of someone they love that causes a person to do some soul searching. It also occurs when people walk through their own issues like a heart attack or cancer. These moments in life force us to place our total dependence on God and leave us with a feeling that our lives will never be the same. 

The question I am pondering today is, “How long will it last?”

Recently I saw someone at the local grocery who told me they were “turning their life around” after a series of events. They got excited about Church and faith, and it lasted all of six weeks. Then gradually, things went back to the way they were before.

One challenge in faith is endurance. We must have the ability to stand firm in our faith after the big days have passed, and our feelings have changed. It is rarely some big sin that knocks someone off the course of faith. Usually, it is the daily grind of keeping the faith when nothing exciting happens. 

I love Easter and the experiences I had yesterday. I hope all the people who attended anywhere had a wonderful day that was a blessing to their faith. I also pray that everyone will protect the spark that was lit and keep it burning for a long time.