Using Your Story

Your journey of faith has value to other people. 

Often we are embarrassed by the twists and turns on our walk with God. There were times we turned our backs and seasons of poor choices where we felt more like a prodigal than a prodigy. We went through periods where our faith was small, and our thoughts about God were infrequent. There are multiple days we would like to hide in the past and never speak about again.

Those experiences of failures, along with your successes, are what made you the person we see today. When you share those parts of your story, you will find it helps others on their journey. Sometimes it warns about wrongful thinking and how it can hurt us. Other times it will encourage people who are also struggling on their journey. Still, other tales will inspire, challenge and help people as they live their faith. 

Your story is powerful, even with all its bumps and bruises. Scratch that, especially because of its bumps and bruises. 

True Worship

Last week I attended a conference at my alma mater. The emphasis of the week was the unsung heroes in the Bible. Some Bible characters are mentioned in passing, yet they impact the overall narrative of the scriptures. 

Each session started with 2-3 worship songs led by a band from the college. A few songs were unfamiliar, but the students were singing loudly, and I found it uplifting every time I could hear hundreds of voices singing their praise to God. 

I sat in the back of the auditorium for one session to get a view of the entire building. That is when I noticed the guy running the lights in the sound booth. He was unlike anyone I had ever witnessed serving in the media center during a worship program. He stood up and sang along, often raising his hands and moving with the music. At times he appeared to be shouting out the lyrics from the very back of the auditorium. He was pouring his heart into worship, and only a few people in the back row, like me, even saw him.

This incident reminded me that true worship is not something we do for others to see; it is the unseen act of praising God while no one else is watching. It is not reserved for Church and conference gatherings. It can be done anytime and anywhere you feel the urge to do it. Don’t wait for Sunday morning or to be in the presence of others to worship. God sees your heart whenever and wherever you lift your voice to him. 

Man in the Arena

Recently I heard a man stand up during a sermon and read a speech from Theodore Roosevelt. It was initially called “Citizenship in a Republic” but has become known as “The Man in the Arena” speech. It was delivered in Paris on April 23, 1910.

The preacher I heard read these words did it slowly and methodically. He read it to people who are Church leaders with an emphasis on their work in the world as citizens of the kingdom of God.

So to you, servant of God, I share these words for you serving in the arena.

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither knows victory nor defeat.”

Valuable Versus Useful

Recently I heard a preacher say that Christians need to be clear on these two words.

First, God finds all of us valuable. Each human life has infinite value and worth. We are created in God’s image, and Jesus died on the cross to bring us back into a right relationship with him. Therefore, you are valuable to God.

Second, being useful is something different. When someone is useful, they are able to complete the work assigned to them. They serve, give, and love in the name of Jesus and further the work of the Kingdom of God.

Every life has value, but God also needs useful people to do his work.

Ask yourself, “Am I useful to God?” Is the world becoming more like the kingdom of God because of you?

To answer that question, look at the fruit of your life and labor. A good tree bears good fruit, and valuable people are like apple trees in October.

Where Did You Get That Idea?

Every one of us has a multitude of ideas moving around in our brains. They cover every topic under the sun, from work to recreation to Church to God. 

One crucial question to continually ask yourself is simply, “Where did I get that idea?”

Are your thoughts on a subject derived from your parents? Did you learn this from a friend? Perhaps you had some classes in college that influenced your thinking. Maybe you watched something on TV or read it in a book. Was your information gathered from social media, podcasts, or talk radio?

None of those places are inherently wrong, but if you follow Jesus, you need to ask what the Bible teaches. Did Jesus address it during his ministry? Are the issues discussed in the New Testament? Was there someplace in the Old Testament that shines a light on our thinking?

Numerous ideas are moving around in our brains; not all are equal in value. One challenging part of living for Jesus is pushing back years of teaching and replacing it with God’s truth. But it is only in knowing the truth that we will truly be set free.   

Rough Edges

When I graduated college, the edges of my life were sharp and could hurt you. I had firm opinions that could not be swayed. I had unmovable ideas about how the world worked on topics such as marriage, parenting, faith, Church, and politics. And unfortunately, I went into the ministry with these rough edges, and I continually left hurt and heartache behind me.

Looking back, I see the wisdom of God in putting us together with other believers in this thing called a Church. While my life crashed hard into some people, others crashed harder into me. Slowly those rough edges began wearing smooth.

Now I could understand the pain and struggle some people experienced in their marriage; sometimes, there were no clear answers. I saw good parents fail and watched my kids have their own issues. People who didn’t share the same views as me on everything were walking with Jesus in a vibrant relationship that I did not possess. And politics brought only division to those who swore by its power.

Little by little, over a lifetime with the other followers of Jesus, I became less rough and more friendly to the people I met. I am still not where God wants me, but with every passing season, I feel another chunk of me fall away as I am molded to look like Christ.

When people ask about the Church, I have my Biblical answers and simple explanations. But I want to tell them that it is the most incredible group of people you will ever hate until God helps you to love them. Then and only then will you understand what I am writing.

If It Looks Easy

Anytime you watch someone do their job and think, “That looks easy,” and possibly add the phrase, “I could do it better.”

Know that you are 100% wrong.

The people who make their job look easy are the ones who spend countless hours away from people perfecting their craft. They have calloused hands, lost sleep, and spent years working on their skill. They have knowledge and experience accumulated through failures and mistakes.

I have learned through the years that a person with skill will only make it LOOK easy.

This is true in every arena of life.

Ministry Surprises

Throughout my years of ministry, I have discovered a few things that surprised me about being a Pastor in the local Church.

  1. Some People Surprise Me. There are always a handful of people who will do almost anything for the Church. They serve happily in every area where help is needed. I have watched some people donate hundreds of hours to the cause of Christ without complaint or expectation of recognition.
  2. Attendance Surprises Me. Some people are here every week unless there is a tragedy. Others I am totally unable to predict. They show up for a month in the fall, then at our candlelight, then a couple of days in February, and other surprising times. I am unsure who I will speak to every week and if they will be back the following week.
  3. Behind the Scenes Activity Surprises Me. Inevitably I will talk to someone at Church doing great ministry that very few people know about. There have been people who provide meals for others, some holding Bible studies, others giving rides to people, holding prayer meetings, and dozens of other things that benefit the kingdom of God.
  4. Those Who Leave Surprise Me. Every year about 20% of a congregation disappears for one reason or another. Some people move, others change jobs, and their schedule interrupts Church; others find a different Church, and a few quit it altogether. The list of people who are no longer a part of the Church I lead is surprising. With very few of them, could I have predicted their departure.
  5. God Always Surprises Me. I am always amazed at how things work out with the Lord. Money comes at just the right time, the right person steps up to help in ministry, someone decides for Jesus, and a thousand other positive things happen all the time. God always does exceedingly more than I could ask or imagine, and he does it in his time and his way. Even after all this time, he has a way of surprising me with each new season.

These are some of the major things I was not expecting when I entered the ministry. Some of them made me smile, others made me cry, but all were a surprise.

A Commercial I Hate

I saw a commercial for the new iPhone while watching TV the other day. First off, the setting is hilarious. There is a race with a bunch of schoolboys. They are at a fair or some outdoor event. The course is dirt, and no one is appropriately dressed for a footrace. Second, there is a big crowd to watch a handful of boys run a few yards.

As the boys line up, one boy looks at his mom, standing equal to the starting line with her new phone, ready to film the race. The mom then runs at the same speed as the boy sideways while holding her phone and filming. She runs in front of everyone, and many of them are filming too. She runs into people, hits a lady, steps in a mud puddle, and makes everyone get out of her way. Finally, the boy wins the race, and the video is perfect because of a new feature that eliminates shaking.

What upsets me about it is the utter self-absorption of the woman. It appears that no other adult or child matters. She gives no thought to anyone else, and no one calls her on it. It is an advertisement that promotes selfishness, and I hate it.

One of the lessons I tried to teach my children is what we call the golden rule. It is found in the Sermon on the Mount delivered by Jesus in Matthew. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12 – NIV 2011)

As followers of Jesus, we are aware of the people around us, and we treat them in a way that glorifies God. That means we should never run in front of people, pushing them out of the way for selfish reasons. Instead, we are to be people who let others in front of us.

I know it is just a phone commercial, but don’t let that mindset quietly slip into you subconsciously. They are also selling a story, and the people of God should not buy into it.

The Ostrich and You

God comes to Job after all his attempts to understand the things happening in his life. His friends have had their say, and Job has responded to each discourse. Then God shows up and begins questioning Job. We quickly discover that there are numerous things in this life that we do not understand, but we accept them. Likewise, other things seem odd, but God has a design for them. 

One of the things that God brings up is the Ostrich. In Job chapter 39, he starts by saying several negative things about this bird. It can’t fly, and it is not wise where it lays its eggs. It is not a good parent and not a very smart animal. Then he says this last line, “Yet when she spreads her feathers to run, she laughs at horse and rider. (Job 39:18 – NIV 2011) The Lord points out several bad things about the Ostrich, but when it begins to run, it is beautiful and faster than any horse and rider. 

It is easy to see our shortcomings; most of us can list everything we are bad at doing. But what is the one thing you can do well? Perhaps God created you with only one ability, but when you put it to use, it is a thing of beauty. 

You do not need to be able to do a lot well but find your one thing and do it with all your might.