I want to offer a quick review of this past year before moving on to the next.
I know some of you are long-time readers and others are new, but I wanted to make sure you had all read some of my most popular blog posts.
Most popular posts written in 2022
5. Only You See It
4. The Power of Suggestion
3. Not Feeling It
2. Missing the Best Part
1. Serving That One Christian
Most popular posts read in 2022 (written any year)
5. What Could Happen on an Idle Tuesday?
4. Marriage Analogy
3. Non-Verbal Communicaiton at Church
2. The Two Dogs
1. Holding Up Moses’ Arms
Thanks for reading over the past year and I hope you will continue to do so in 2023
I never dreamed of being a preacher when I was a little kid. But through the work of God, here I am as a pastor. I have been doing it for over 29 years as my vocation and calling.
Once I decided to stand in front of people and preach the word of God, all I ever wanted was to do it to the very best of my ability. I wanted people to know that when I stood up to speak, they would hear God’s word explained in a way they could understand and apply – every single time.
As a result, I have taken classes, read books, been to lectures, and listened to thousands of sermons. I read helpful articles, tuned in to podcasts, and talked to other preachers. In the early years, I committed to speaking at every available opportunity. Some years I spoke in Sunday School, Church worship, youth group, Bible study, and every holiday gathering. I performed weddings and funerals on an endless number of weekends. For a few years, I spoke well over a thousand times a year.
All I want is to be the best preacher I can be.
The unfortunate consequence is that I neglected other areas of my ministry. I did not develop the people skills I needed to interact effectively. My leadership struggled and still does. I was terrible at small group discussions and leading people in expressing their thoughts.
So as another year ends and a new one begins, I am still committed to being a great preacher, but I am also trying to be the loving person God wants me to be as well. I am planning more and more time with people to make the connections I need in ministry. This is the second or third year I have made this decision, and I hope I am improving. I will keep working on it until I am a great preacher and a great person to be around.
Do you know them? They are a really good person. She is a real “salt of the earth” kind of individual. He would give you the shirt off his back. Call them anytime; there is nothing they won’t do. They are so kind and generous to everyone.
How do you want people to describe you when you are not around?
Most of us want people to think of us as a good person. But for a Christian, one thing is critically missing from those mentioned above. Nothing was said about Jesus.
Don’t get me wrong; I want the people who follow Jesus to be kind, generous, and loving. But those are not the things that define Christians. Instead, they are people who have committed their lives to following Jesus. No matter how others perceive them, the ultimate goal is to follow Jesus’ life and teaching to the best of their ability.
There is a difference between saying, “They were a good person,” and “they are a committed follower of Jesus.”
Whenever a group of people gets together, no matter the size of the group, a dynamic can take over called “Group Think.” The result is that people stop thinking critically, examining the evidence, or evaluating consequences and accept whatever the majority of the people decide.
This can be deadly when a company is trying to make a critical decision for its future. In a desire to get along with everyone, someone will suppress their opinion and not mention flaws they notice. Personally, I have seen a group of people make horrible decisions because of one strong personality.
Group thinking also applies to a small group of people in the Church. A few people sitting around talking about a person or a project can sway the mindset of everyone involved. For example, you might think that someone in Church is a good person, but when the group starts talking about them, you suddenly change your viewpoint, not because you spoke to them, but because the rest of the group shared their opinions. On the other hand, you might have questions about a person, and everyone seems to love them, so you adopt their attitude.
This is why the Bible is dead set against gossip and backbiting conversations. Instead, we are taught to be encouraging and see the good in people. Because the next time you share your thoughts about someone with a few people, you influence how the entire group views that person. Others may not see the good or the bad that you do, but now that you mention it, everyone else does too.
According to the story, Ebenezer Scrooge woke up as a new man on Christmas. His heart was filled with regret that he had turned into the love of his fellow man. He is filled with joy instead of bitterness. His actions are generous and not miserly. His life was dramatically different.
I wonder, if you knew Scrooge before that day and then saw him afterward, how would you feel toward him? Would you be happy with this change or skeptical of its genuineness? Would you forgive his past actions and let him start over without harboring anger? Would you offer forgiveness and open your heart up to his new lifestyle?
While the story is fiction, people can and do change. They find Jesus and make enormous adjustments in their life. Some people who walk with Jesus discover they are not following his will and make changes. Still, others make mistakes and ask for your forgiveness when they know they don’t deserve it.
It is easy to love the story of a changed life, and it is far more complicated to live with the person doing the change.
Scrooge wakes up with a soft heart after Christmas and becomes a changed man. If we are not careful, we can hold all our built-up hurt and frustration against him and become the old Scrooge in our hearts.
Not all memories of Christmas bring joy.
The last picture of my father was on Christmas 2016. He is clearly frail but has a big smile in a totally mismatched outfit. After the initial stroke, the feel of the clothing became much more important than color or style. My mom stepped up behind him, sitting in a chair, and they snapped his final picture as he died two weeks later.
I keep that picture on my phone under a file labeled “favorites.” Each year at this time, I take it out and cry. I miss that man more than I ever thought was possible. He was my father and my best friend. And each year, his memory slips further away with every passing Christmas.
This time of year, there will be celebrations and joy for many people. But for some, it will bring up memories of loss and hurt. Unfortunately, Christmas does not bring joy to all.
So this year, be sensitive to others. Say a prayer for those struggling. And most of all, be sure to tell those close to you how much you love them before all you have is old photos and memories.
Through the years, I have noticed that people primarily come to follow Jesus in one of three ways. First, they make an intellectual decision based on facts and explanations. Second, they make an emotional decision based on their feelings. Third, they make a relationship decision based on their desire to live in a right relationship with God.
These decisions can happen at any time. I have known people to get caught up in the emotions around the fire at a camp, and others have felt it during Sunday morning worship. Still, others have been reading a book in a dorm room when they discovered the truth of scripture and gave their life to Jesus, while others have been sitting in a Bible study.
What I have discovered is that no matter how and when you come to follow Jesus, you eventually need to make all three of these decisions to be a mature believer.
Each one of us needs to surrender our minds to Jesus. We need to give him the lead in our intellect and knowledge. Each one of us also needs to submit our emotions to him. We need to feel the weight of our sin and the depth of his love. This will allow us to be emotionally connected to God. Finally, we must realize that living for Jesus is about a relationship with God. It was not a one-time choice, and we are done with him. It is a lifetime of growing, connecting, and maturing in our faith. We need to understand, feel, and live for Jesus to reach God’s will for our lives.
So, what type of decision have you made for the Lord? Perhaps it is time to surrender more of your life to him. If you have not given him control of your head, heart, and hands, then something is lacking in your faith, and it might be time to commit to Jesus again.
We assign intents to actions.
Whatever anyone does, we immediately make mental guesses at why they did it.
“Did they do that to help me or to hurt me? Were they purposely trying to do bad or good?”
The problem is that often our guesses are not based on truth. Instead, we arrive at them through speculation, rumors, and misinterpreted evidence. We draw false conclusions and make inaccurate assessments.
Everyone does this, even Christians and even in Churches.
Let me ask, is it possible that the person who did that thing you hated did it without malice? They had no ill intentions. They were not trying to hurt you or upset you. They were simply doing their best and made an honest mistake. Their error in judgment or failure was never meant to be taken negatively.
Most areas of tension I find between Church members are not because someone was done wrong. Instead, it is because someone perceived them to have evil intentions when they did it.
The challenge of people living in community is to listen to their words and not the voices inside your head telling you that it was truly done with malice.
There is this fascinating dynamic that happens between people. The more one person cares about another; the more power one has over the other’s life. Affection and admiration mean that one person’s words and actions can help or hurt to a different degree.
Think about a time that someone you admire said something that touched you. You had put them on a pedestal, and unexpectedly they saw your potential and stated it to you. They praised you and your work. Suddenly your world felt bigger, and you saw an unlimited ability within yourself to achieve more than you initially thought possible.
Then flip that over and think about a time that someone you admired said something that disappointed you. You considered their thoughts insightful, and they looked at your work and said something disparaging. You were crushed in your spirit and had to rethink everything you were doing.
The more we care about someone, the more their words and actions mean to us. It doesn’t matter how they feel about us. What is important is how we feel about them.
All that to say, there is great power in relationships. Parents, grandparents, siblings, children, and friends have unlimited power in the lives of those around them. Because of the child’s love for them, mom and dad’s words to their children will shape their world. A great friend offering encouragement is like a light in the darkness. A word spoken to someone who loves you can bring joy or pain to that person.
You have more power than you realize over the people with whom you have relationships. So be sure to use your power for good this holiday season.
Everyone has bad days, weeks, or even seasons in their life. Unfortunately, there are those times when things go wrong, and we are at our worst. We say things that are mean or hurtful. We do things that discourage and damage. We get defensive and mistake your concern for unwanted correction.
All of us need people who will love us through those times.
A real friend is not someone who is only there for the good days but also for the bad ones.
Some of us are hard to love, but thanks to the people who do it anyway. Thanks for holding on and helping out. Words are not enough to express the gratitude and appreciation we feel for all you do. We could not make it without you.