Losing Sight of My Goals

Today is the first day of fall, and it is time for a review of my year so far. Sadly, this year did not go the way I planned. There were two goals I had for this calendar year. Both started with the letter “P” and captured my struggles from the previous years.

My first goal was to be more positive. For me, the glass is usually half-empty, and a selfish person probably consumed the first half. I need to do much better in this area. My other goal was people. The plan was to spend time with people this year in every way possible. My wife and I were going to invite them into our home for meals and visiting. I was going to make connections with people every week before worrying about the worship program. Then there was going to be ball games, meals out, movies, and possibly board games.

I started the year off well. I smiled more, talked kindly, and went out of my way to spend time with people. I tried to have more joy in my life and be more optimistic with others. Each week I would walk around the church auditorium and with people and listen to what they had to say. The first quarter of the year was fantastic.

Like many people, Covid-19 destroyed my plans. Suddenly the world was falling apart, and all my worst fears were coming true. Church was canceled on Sunday morning, and the steamroller of tragic events kept moving forward. On top of that, everyone was instructed to social distance and move farther away from people rather than closer. So the next half of the year has been spent alone with my poor outlook on life.

Now we are three-quarters of the way through the year, and it is time to start over. Today is the time to reset my priorities, start working on my goals and seek to become more like Jesus. I could wait till January and start with the new year, but why waste another day? Today is the perfect time to throw away your guilt and start fresh.

This year may have knocked you off your plans and derailed your goals. Rather than delaying the life you want another few months, why not start today? Today is as good of a day as any to begin again.

Who Do You Want to Become?

You can train yourself to do and be almost anything.  Obviously, there are physical limitations to your dreams.  Despite my best efforts, I will never play professional sports, mostly since I didn’t play in college or high school.  Beyond that, your future is almost unlimited. 

I once met a man in Alaska who was retired and had time on his hands during the winter. Being unable to get outside for months at a time, he taught himself a new skill every year.  One year he learned to make cheese, the next to make the best homemade loaves of bread, and how to cook gourmet meals another winter.  He would simply decide what he wanted to learn over the summer, buy a few tools to make it possible, and dive in with the help of YouTube, Google, and the local library. 

The truth is that you can know anything you want to know.  There are resources everywhere that you can access to help you.  You can do anything you want to do.  People are selling specialized items all over the globe for precisely what skill you want to learn.  Others have put together instructional videos to help you succeed.

Suppose you want to know more about God and theology.  You can do it.  If you want to know how to be a better spouse.  The information is there for you.  You can become whatever you want to become.  You can start today and set yourself on a different, and perhaps better, direction.  The only limitation you have is your willingness to step into the unknown.  

The Pain of Putting Yourself Out There

Communicators bear the weight of putting their thoughts out into the world for others to read and hear.  It can be a TED talk, a blog post, a comedian, or even a pastor who shares their words with the world.  With each piece of material that is shared, there can be one of several reactions. 

Some people will hate it.  Critics abound.  Whenever you share something, there is sure to be someone who disagrees and those who can tell you a dozen ways you could have done it better.

Some people will ignore it.  There will be those who do not react to your words.  My favorite preacher described it as trying to change the world by throwing lightbulbs at a brick wall, hoping to knock it down. 

Some people will love it.  The message will be the right words that hit at just the right time.  Lives will be altered.  Hope will be given.  Comfort will wrap itself around them.  Joy will enter their world as a smile crosses their face.  Something will happen that is beyond explanation. 

I hate that some of the sermons I preach will flop.  It bothers me that my podcast only has a few dozen listeners.  Many days I feel like quitting my blog because the reaction is not what I hoped it would be.  It is painful to put yourself out there and be met with anger or apathy.  But I keep doing it because occasionally, a breakthrough happens, and the unexpected takes place.  Those moments are rare and beautiful gifts that keep me coming back. 

If you have ever considered sharing your thoughts with the world, know that it will not be all fun and glory.  It will take thousands of hours for a few minutes of joy.  Also, know that it is completely worth every minute.   

A Call to Faithfulness

All of us want our lives to make a difference. As a young man in my 20’s, I wanted to change the world. I was going to be a religious leader who made a real difference in the world. I imagine Isaiah felt the same way, possibly even more than me. He was a prophet of God. He lived as the mouthpiece for God. While living in an ungodly society, I am sure he thought more than once that God would use him to do something great.

Then came his great undoing. King Uzziah died, and Isaiah was left searching for answers to the future. His wanderings led him to the temple, where I am sure he was going to pray and seek God’s direction for his future. In an unprecedented moment, the sky was rolled back, and he saw God high and exalted. The train of his robe filled the temple. His voice shutters as he can only cry out, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

His moment of terror gives way to a six-winged creature flying to the altar picking up a hot coal and touching his lips with it. Either because of the heat or the blood that was still on the altar, “his guilt is removed, and his sin atoned for.” Isaiah felt the weight of sin and then the freedom of forgiveness.

Then the voice of the Lord says, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”‘

Without hesitation, Isaiah says, “Here am I. Send me!”

The Lord instructs him to go and preach but be warned the people will listen but not understand. Their hearts will grow calloused, and they will not understand you. None of them will be converted or healed.

Isaiah is still optimistic. Surely, he will preach, and the people will not listen for a time. Then after that, they will change, and he will have a considerable impact. So, he asks, “How long, Lord?”

The response is baffling in many ways. You go until the cities lie in ruin and the people leave. Eventually, everything will be laid to waste, and all that is left is just a seed in the empty ground.

This is where my imagination kicks in, and I begin to play with the story. I picture Isaiah saying, “What? Lord, are you sure? You want me to preach and never have a single convert? But I was going to change the world?” The look of disappointment must have registered on his face.

The story is essential for anyone who serves the Lord. God calls us to be faithful to him. The results do not matter, as long as we do what he called us to do. He is working out things we do not understand and may never see in our lifetime. A believer is someone who is faithful to God, even when the world gets worse despite our best efforts. Faith has teeth and tenacity in its spirit. It keeps doing the right thing day after day while the world is falling apart. True faith stands strong when things are getting worse because that is what God called us to do.

Hear the Holy Roar

Our Church sings a song written by Chris Tomlin called “Praise Him Forever.” I must be honest; it is one of my new favorite worship songs. While I love the tempo and how easy it is to learn, the words are always the critical part. This song contains a line that I had never heard before in all my years in Church. It is important to sing with understanding, so I want to spend a minute to dissect the phrase. The line is, “Hear the holy roar.”

The concept of hearing a holy roar comes from the idea that one form of praise is shouting with a loud voice. The picture is of a person standing and shouting their praise loudly to God, focusing less on a melody and more on volume. This shows I am giving God all my emotions, voice, and energy. For one person to do this would sound loud and awkward, but when a group does it together, it will become a roar to those in the distance.

I have been to an NFL football game in Arrowhead stadium here in Kansas City. It is one of the loudest stadiums in the world. When the team takes the field or scores, you can make out the shouts of the people next to you, but not everyone. The noise just blends into a roar of praise. This is the idea behind the statement. We are not shouting our praises to a team, but rather the God of heaven in a holy and pure way.

When the people of God stand together and sing, sometimes it is quiet reverence, other times a beautiful melody of blended voices, and still other times it is a holy roar as people praise him with a loud voice.

Behind the Scenes of Worship Leading This Week

I was walking through the back of our Church building after our first program Sunday this past week, and I overheard a lady speaking to another woman about the worship. Honestly, it was not mean-spirited gossip or someone causing division. It was a woman expressing her opinion, and she said, “Worship was a little long today, and I wish we had done each song about half as long.”

There was a moment where I wanted to stop them and say, “If you knew what happened today, you would be thankful we even had worship.” I kept quiet, but I thought it might be important to share a story with you.

The sermon idea had been set for a year, and about a month ago, I started working on the worship to accompany it. I created a list of possible songs that made a connection to the sermon topic for the day. Two weeks ago, one of our worship leaders picked out the final list of songs they wanted to play. I typed up the worship plan for Sunday, and it was shared with everyone on the worship team.

In the week preceding Sunday, members of the worship team listen to the songs online. Then they practice the songs with their instruments to be prepared. We have wonderful worship leaders at our Church who take their job seriously and are ready to lead every week.

Late Saturday afternoon, I received a text stating that our worship leader was sick and possibly had Covid-19. She was set to get tested on Sunday morning and would not be there for worship. She and her family would not be leading or participating in Church in any way.

I immediately contacted another worship leader and asked for help. She took the songs that were planned and headed to the Church building to practice them and try to prepare. She contacted other people from the team and tried to throw together additional singers and musicians. So on Saturday evening, everything changed from the leader, the main instruments, and the singers, all while keeping the same songs because some of the team knew them well and everything was already in our presentation software.

Finally, these incredible people showed up early on Sunday morning. They prayed and practiced for about an hour. Limited changes were made because of the timing. Then these people all stood up and led worship and even sang a special chorus that was the sermon text put to music.

All things considered, it was a good morning. Was worship polished and perfect? Nope. Did we offer praise to God? Yep. In fact, if I had not told you this story, most of you would have never known anything happened. People stepped up, everyone helped, and no one complained.

I have no hard feelings about what I heard this woman say in the lobby of our Church building. The leaders knew it wasn’t perfect, but they lead in the best way possible. At moments like these, I come to appreciate the Church and all the people who love the Lord and serve there each week. Even when it is not flawless, God is working both in and through his people, maybe, especially when it is not perfect.

Don’t Take It for Granted

When we take something for granted, it means “we believe this thing will always be available.” We “accept its presence without question.” This leads us to a “lack of gratitude” for this thing and a “failure to take it seriously.”

Those are explanations I found while searching this topic on the internet. It is a common phrase that people use when they realize they have undervalued someone or something in their lives. They didn’t appreciate each day as a special gift given by God. They didn’t make time to treat that person as special and thank them for their contribution to their life because they assumed they would be able to do it tomorrow.

Today God has given us another day and possibly another week. Throughout this time, we will be surrounded by people, and many have special meaning to us. Our phone is full of names of people who love and support us. We can wait till another time to connect but remember that these people may not always be available, so we had better take it seriously. Be careful of living a life where you take things and especially people for granted.

When God Surprises Me

My wife and I had been praying about a significant situation in our lives.  Day after day, I had bowed my head before God and asked him to intercede.  After about two months, a series of three phone calls answered my prayers.  In fact, God did exceedingly more than I could have asked or imagined.  Our prayers were answered wonderfully, and I was astonished.  It was, in the words of some Christians, “a total God thing.”

Upon reflection, I wondered why I was so surprised that God had answered my request.  Maybe the simple answer is that it shows a lack of faith on my part.  Perhaps the shock came from seeing so many prayers left unanswered.  That might not even be true. God may have just said “no,” and I refuse to accept it willingly.  It is also quite possible that I have missed seeing the answers God does provide.  I pray and pray and don’t notice the little answers he gives me day after day.  For whatever reason, my surprise at his great work this time was clear and evident. 

At moments when God shows up and does his fantastic work, we have two options.  One is to focus on ourselves and our issues.  We lacked faith, we were blind, or we are hardheaded. God can surely surprise us all. 

The other option is to allow this answer to prayer to result in praise.  There is a need to stop for a few seconds and thank God for his mighty work in my life and possibly in yours. We need to take time to thank God for his consistent provision and unstoppable power.  We should pause and lift his name and point others to his might work in our lives.  The surprises of God should result in a time of praise.   

What if today each one of us stopped and vocalized our thanksgiving to God?  How would your attitude be different if you acknowledged his work in your life?  How would our world be different if they heard the voice of his people celebrating his surprising work?

Counselors, Chiropractors, Friends, and You

I once had a doctor who attended a Church that I led, and we got into an interesting conversation one Wednesday morning. It started because of a discussion during a men’s breakfast. One of the men was complaining of a sore back and was going to a chiropractor that afternoon. I was curious to know a doctor’s thoughts on chiropractors, and so I cornered him and asked his medical opinion.

He responded that there are two types of doctors in the world. These descriptions also applied to several other professions, including chiropractors. One group will try to fix your problem and then move on to other patients. The second group is the people who want to get rich off you. They attempt to fix your problem but then follow that up by telling you that you need ten or twelve more visits. Then he said something like, “Keeping people broken can be beneficial.”

With that conversation, some things became clear to me. Not everyone wants you to put your life together correctly. Several people benefit from your life staying a mess. Some can cash in on your financially while others like the emotional dependence it brings.

One challenge in life is to surround yourself with people who want the best for you. Fill your life with people who have the desire to see you achieve and not get something from you. This is incredibly difficult to accomplish when others see numerous ways to take advantage of you. You can feed their emotional or even financial needs. You need people in your life who pour into you instead of taking from you.

The flip side is also true. Be the kind of person who offers help and hope without expecting anything in return. Do you want your friend’s life to get better, or do you like the fact that they need you? Do you want other people to be healthy and whole, or would do you feel a sense of satisfaction that they depend on you?

A good friend, like a good doctor or chiropractor, wants you to be healthy, both mentally and physically. A charlatan keeps you coming back for more.

A Lesson from Youth Group Transitions

Tonight, the Church I lead will have students involved in youth group from sixth grade to seniors in High School. We start with our Jr. High and High School students together for the food and lesson, then break up for the small group time. Through the years, I have noticed an interesting transition that happens during a student’s time in this ministry.

The Junior High years for each youth are a time of much-needed growth. Their bodies are growing and changing, their views are moving from toys to teenage things, and their faith is solidifying. These students attend and spend a great deal of time watching. They watch the leaders, their peers, and older students.

Somewhere along this journey, a transition happens. These wide-eyed teenagers become young adults. No longer do they watch with the wonder of a young child; instead, they become the role model that others observe.

This is an important transition because a young person’s attitude toward youth group changes in the process. Suddenly that child who enjoyed and connected at youth group is not interested in going. It no longer feels the same for them. I often remind parents and teens alike that there becomes a point where you are not the one being influenced as much as you are the one influencing. Those younger attendees are looking up to them for guidance and direction. At some stage, youth group becomes more about what the student provides than what they receive.

When this happens, I have sadly watched through the years as many teens quit coming. I think this occurs for two reasons. One, they don’t want the role of leadership. Two, they are convinced that everything should be for them. The most significant step of growth in any teenager and any adult, for that matter, is when they realize their example casts a shadow over those younger than themselves, and they take it seriously.

Leadership is needed in the kingdom on every level. We can attempt to run from our influence, or we can embrace it for the good of the others. Either choice is going to impact someone for God.