A Little Inspiration from Basketball

On Monday night I watched the NCAA men’s basketball championship. The game matched Texas Tech versus Virginia. Honestly, my boys and I did not care who won, but we enjoy sports especially championship events. They are the culmination of a whole season, and one team will walk away saying that they were the best.

Even though I did not care who won the game, I was encouraged as the game unfolded. Texas Tech was playing the role of the underdog, but Virginia has its own unique story. Last year Virginia became the first number one seed in a region to lose to a number sixteen seed in the first round. It was a humbling loss and could have destroyed most programs and coaches. While I am hesitant about sports figures when they talk about their beliefs, I was interested to hear that the coach of Virginia says that the defeat was brutal, and he only made it through because of his faith and his family. At least three times the announcers mentioned his faith in a positive way.

Last year’s first-round embarrassment did not cause the team to give up in any way. Instead, they decided to work harder and be better prepared this year. Once again, the team went into the tournament as a number one seed. It looked like history was going to repeat itself when they were down by more than ten points in the first half of their opening game. I am sure there was a feeling of doubt as they struggled in that first half of play. When all seemed lost, they pulled themselves together and went on a run that leads them to victory in the final game.

Lying there Monday night after watching the game I could not help but feel a little inspired. It takes hard work, courage, and strength or character to go from a tough loss last year to be this year’s champions. It takes perseverance to keep trying when the chips are down. I don’t know any of the players or coaches on the Virginia team, and yet I appreciate them.

There are seasons when some of us have felt overwhelming defeat, and I am reminded this week that it is possible to turn everything around. Hang onto your faith in those times of loss. Keep doing the right thing with all your might. No failure is permanent if you keep trusting God and working hard.

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Things I am Thankful for Today

This past Sunday I preached on being thankful. This attitude should flow through us as believers not just one day a year or even one day a week, but every day. Inspired by my sermon, I decided to list a few things I am thankful for today.

1.Technology. While many bad things come from technology, there is also an untold number of good things. You are reading this blog because of technology. I have unlimited access to blogs, podcasts, sermons, books and videos that can help me in my Christian walk. It is a great time to be alive.

2. My Wife. One of my professors told me that I married far above myself and he was right. She works hard for our family. She is beautiful, strong, and honest while being tender-hearted. She is a blessing to my life and to everyone who knows her. I truly am blessed.

3. My Church Family. I am blessed to have people who love and support me. I look forward to every single Sunday. I know each week I will have people who speak kindly, who encourage me and who challenge me in a good way. If I ever had a struggle, I know there are people who I could call. I am blessed to be surrounded by so many great people of faith.

4. Our Church Leadership. This past Sunday our Church had a leadership meeting composed of all the staff, elders and deacons. I know of Church leaders that dread these meetings, but ours is usually fun. I smile, laugh and encouraged at almost every meeting. There are no hard feelings between any of us. We all have our flaws, but we are serving side by side in the name of Jesus.

5. Jesus My Savior. Today, like all other days, I will do something contrary to the will of God. I strive to live without sin, but it comes back again and again. For every failure Jesus forgives. My life is in continual need of the grace that is given in the name of Jesus. My past is clean, and my future is secure.

This is not a complete list of all the things of which I am thankful. I could probably fill a large number of pages with the blessings I have received in my life. But instead of spending the next few minutes reading about my life why don’t you set down and write your own list. Make time today to be thankful.

A Cat, a Rabbit, and an Opossum

On Saturday morning I was up early to go on a fishing trip. The darkness still surrounded the road, and one by one different animals came to the edge.

First was a cat. It sat by the roadside and just stared at me. It did not move one step.

The second was a rabbit. It was down in the ditch on the right side. It quickly darted up, and at full speed, ran across the road right in front of me. It ended up safely on the other side.

Finally, there was this opossum. It waited and even looked in the truck’s direction. In a seeming act of defiance, it took off running. Then, for reasons unknown, when it reached the middle of the road, it turned around. That was its fatal mistake. By this point, it was too late for me to brake and I heard the thump.

There in those morning hours before dawn, I could not help but reflect on all three of these animals. There was a life lesson wrapped up in their actions. Go or don’t go but be decisive. The road is littered with opossums who went halfway and gave up early.

Unspoken Guidelines of This Pastor

Recently a lady told me she loved to hear about the life of a pastor. She could not imagine what I thought and did and posts that reveal my life she found interesting. Well, I hope she is not the only one as I decided to share a few of the concepts that guide me as a pastor.

1. Everyone is Deeply Flawed. I don’t understand people no matter how hard I try. They frustrate me and often leave me feeling confused. The one common theme that runs through all my experiences is that people are flawed into their very soul. They continually do things contrary to the will of God no matter how good they appear. Every time I deal with people, I expect to be disappointed by the sin in their life. I know that people feel the same way about me and rightfully so. Always expect the worst and be surprised by godliness.

2. Be the Leader You Want. Despite countless books and classes on leadership, very few people grasp the way that Jesus wants us to lead. Servant leaders are rare, and when one cannot be found, I will do the job. Who knows, maybe God put me in this position to be the leader that is needed. One of my mottos is to grab the bull by the horns and get to work.

3. Don’t Focus on Negative Attention. As children, many people picked up a nasty habit. They found the only way to get the attention they so desperately crave was through lousy behavior, complaining and drama. These people grow up, and one day they show up for Church. They bring all those issues to the community of believers. Instead of finding healthy ways to engage people they are always fussing, cussing and crying. I have discovered that when you give in to these people, then they will continue to do it for attention (or get worse). I refuse to give in to their desires, and it usually drives them crazy. The result is that they leave the Church with a loud voice and try to take people with them.

4. Fake It Till You Feel It. This is my introvert nature speaking. My desire to avoid people is ingrained, but the cause of Christ calls me to community. When I go to places where people are gathered, I start out struggling, but I know if I fake it the feelings of joy will eventually come to me. I say the right things, ask questions, try to smile and be kind in every way. Do that long enough, and finally, you no longer must fake it.

5. Address the Elephant. Every group of people, especially the Church, has people with issues. In most cases, everyone knows, and no one talks about it. This person is the proverbial elephant in the room. I refuse to set back and let someone be a big bully or have a big mouth that hurts the body of Christ. At least three times I have confronted someone, and it was ugly. They were wolves and wanted to destroy the flock, and I would not allow it. In all the cases, not one person had ever confronted their evil behavior. They scared people, and no one dared to call them on their ungodly behavior. I refuse to let anyone take the Church hostage.

These are some of the significant guidelines for me as a minister. Most of them have some connection to scripture and others are born out of experience. Maybe these will help you to understand my behavior along with some other preachers. Then again, perhaps these are just me.

A Genealogy of Faith

Through the years I have been exposed to numerous people who are interested in their genealogies. They spend hours looking for names and connections to people whose time has long since forgotten. Most of them hope to make some discovery from their past that will impact their present view of themselves and their family.

I sat in a doctor’s waiting room listening to a lady talk about her family heritage. She was not speaking to me, but she was loud enough for everyone in the lobby to hear her. She told about hunting for cemeteries with her family and all kinds of exciting discoveries. Then she dropped her big piece of information. She claimed, now more loudly than before, that Pocahontas eighth grandson married her something grandmother. She was very specific naming all the number of generations connected with quite a bit of pride. I smiled as my wife finished her appointment and we left with her still talking.

For her, the names and stories she discovered were part of her identity. It shaped her view of herself, her family and she shared it to help others see her unique background.

While she spoke, I could not help but think about how we read the Bible. Do we read the names there as distant people with no impact on our world? We are separated by the river of time and our two cultures it can seem there is no real bridge between us.

I believe the Bible is given to us as our genealogy of faith. I walk in the way of Seth and am not part of the lineage of Cain. Abraham is my ancestor. His faith runs through my blood. David was a part of my family. His success is my joy, and his failure is my shame. The Apostle Paul laid the foundation of my faith and built a heritage that I read about with pain and pleasure. My family includes people like Peter, Luke, Barnabas, Silas, and Timothy.

If the Church is the family of God, then the Bible is the purest form of my family tree. It tells me of people who held the faith, preached the gospel, endured hardship, and loved others in the name of Jesus. My understanding of their work in the past shapes my view of the present and even my identity.

I am not sure of who my great grandparents married and if I am somehow connected to a famous hero of the past. I do know that I am a child of God and if you are a person of faith then we are related to Christ. Together our ancestors walked as believers, and we must hold tight to faith to make them proud.

Compared to What

I asked a woman about her husband’s faith and was shocked to hear her response. She told me that he was a committed believer who had a strong faith. Her response caught me off guard because I had seen little evidence in his life to support her comments. He attended worship once a month at best, never participated in any class of any kind, did not serve in any capacity of which I was aware, he never carried his Bible and showed no evidence of reading it. By my estimation, he was a marginal Christian at best.

Immediately a thought went through my mind, “Life looks different through a preacher’s eyes.” I try to compare people to Paul along with those great leaders of the early Church. I take people’s actions and lie them alongside the saints of old who led the Church of my boyhood. I compare people to the characteristics of a fully devoted follower of Jesus. The bar is set incredibly high and is usually unachievable by anyone I know including myself. This keeps us striving for a higher level of commitment in our walk with Jesus. Through my eyes, most of us have a long way to go in our faith.

The flip side of this is equally valid. If you compare yourself to the people you see every day, you can come off looking pretty good. Each one of us is surrounded by people who keep the bar low. We think, “At least I am not as bad as that person.” In the end, we feel confident about our faith but also about the people we love. This was evidenced to me in this woman’s words about her husband.

So let me ask you a pointed question, “To whom are you comparing your life of faith?” Are you striving to live like Jesus? Do you focus your attention on how bad other people are living to make yourself feel good?

Honestly, I know you do not care what this preacher thinks about you, but I want you to be honest; Do you believe God’s standards are lower or higher than your pastor? Be sure you are comparing yourself to the best and not the rest.

The Absence of Action

The criticism cut deeply and left me feeling hurt. It was not the first time I had heard this type of accusation, but that did not make it less painful. This person stated that they thought I was unkind, mean and generally not a good person.

What had I done? What was so evil as to rouse this anger against me? The answer, “Nothing.” I had done nothing.

This person expected me to be present with them in their struggle. They wanted me to run and help. They wanted to see my concern in physical action.

The truth is that I did care. I did want to help. I prayed for the situation. I told other people to pray and suggested how some of them might be able to help. My heart was in the right place, but my body did not follow in the way they desired.

One thing I have learned from encounters like these is that the absence of action can speak as loud as negative actions. When you do not visibly respond to needs and issues people will assume that you are calloused, uncaring and mean. People will, correctly or incorrectly, make judgments about your lack of appropriate behavior.

The New Testament writer James goes so far as to say, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (James 4:17 – NIV 2011)”

As a believer, I must continually evaluate what I am doing and what I am not doing. It is one thing to be busy and not be able to act; it is another to know how to respond and turn away. Your absence of action says something about what you believe.

Make today a day in which you do the right thing. Make this week a week in which people will see you doing the good you know you ought to do.