You Should Be a Part of It

I slumped back into my chair exhausted on Sunday night. Then I repeated it on Monday and Tuesday. Just for fun, I did it again on Wednesday and Thursday. Every day this week has ended with that completely worn out feeling that accompanies a Church Vacation Bible School (VBS) program.

This week almost 65 volunteers helped to share the message of Jesus with about 140 kids each night. Many of the people worked all day and then came to the Church to donate another three or four hours. Other volunteers are retired, and they took their time to come in early to start preparing for the children hours before they arrived. Everyone gave of themselves for the sole purpose of making this a great week for our young people in the name of Jesus.

It is awe inspiring watching those little lives singing and shouting their praises to Jesus. There is a joy in watching these kids grow in their knowledge of Jesus over the course of the week. It is encouraging to see the other workers donate their time with kindness and love for children, many of whom they do not know. The sight of people serving and learning in the name of their Savior is a blessing that will last beyond these few evenings.

This week has been exhausting, but it is a good type of exhaustion. It is the kind that comes with doing something meaningful. It satisfies the soul with a sense of purpose. It touches the heart with unspeakable joy. It fills the mind with good thoughts. It is hard to completely describe the thoughts and feelings that come after a week like this. It happens at VBS, but also at Church camp, mission trips and retreats for teens. These types of events are special. They leave a residue on your soul that can never wash off.

I hope you didn’t miss it. If you did, know that you should be a part of the next one.

The giving of yourself on behalf of others is exhausting, and it is the best feeling in the world.

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You Never Know with God

There is no way of predicting when God will show up.

Recently I listened to a man tell me about an encounter that led his father to faith in Jesus. It was a chance meeting that changed the trajectory of his dad’s life. Then there was the lady who had a stranger walk up and question her bruises. That chance conversation changed her life forever. Each one appeared to be an ordinary moment when God showed up and transformed it into a divine appointment.

I have seen this in my own ministry. The sermons that I felt were total failures were later described as having the most impact. Conversations in which I thought I failed to speak the truth plainly and accurately end up touching someone deeply in unexpected ways. The hour I was sure nothing significant happened proved to be the time lives were altered through the power of God.

You just never know when God will show up and change everything you think will happen.

Never underestimate the power of saying something for Jesus.

Never downplay the impact of one random act of kindness.

Never forget that one minute of service in the name of Jesus can send a ripple through eternity.

Every chance meeting can be a moment where God breaks into the world and does something extraordinary. Today might be the day God shows up in your life.

My Blogging Journey

Over the past year, several people have asked me about my blogging. They want to know how I got started, what have I learned and why do I keep doing it. Today I want to tell you a little about my blogging journey.

Eighteen years ago, I was starting a new Church, and I was looking for ways to reach people using the internet. One article I read shared information on this new area of possibility called weblogs (now just called “blogs”). Several preachers in large Churches were trying it out, and there seemed to be unlimited possibilities for a guy like me to write useful material. At first, I tried my hand at writing a daily devotional. I would post it on a website and create my own blog without anyone’s help. This was fun, but the work was tedious.

Soon after came places like WordPress that offered professional looking sites with easy to use features. I signed up under my name and started the regular habit of writing. The first attempts were longer more humorous pieces somewhat modeled after Robert Fulghum’s writing. Those contained some decent material but had little practical use. They were also difficult to create five days a week while trying to plant a Church.

Phase three of my blog was really directed at the Church I was serving. It was more of a journal of the events happening in our little community of faith with my commentary added. During those days I would often post six or seven days a week. The popularity of blogs was growing, and most days I had 400 hits or more.

When I left my Church plant, I was exhausted. I took some sabbatical time and spent several months in reflection. I quit blogging and took a break that was only going to last a few months and ended up being two full years. During this time, I gave up my old blog and lost over eighty percent of what I had written. It was a mistake I regret, but I was able to start with a clean slate.

At one point, I was a preacher in Alaska and was learning so much about life there that I wanted to share with people. I was also feeling a tremendous burden for those who were far away from God. I relaunched my new blog with a double emphasis on second chances with God especially for people in Alaska.

One more move in ministry changed my writing again. Going from Alaska to Missouri removed part of my mission, but it opened new opportunities to speak to fun topics. The past few years I try to write four to five days a week. I try to focus on anything that will help people in their walk of faith. Right now, I have about 50 readers every day on email and another 25 who visit my blog page. Several of those people have told me they visit once a week and read everything instead of stopping by daily. I am blessed to have numerous people who read these words I write.

This whole experience has taught me several lessons about life, ministry, and writing. The biggest thrill I get from blogging is the chance I get to help people, quite often from all over the world. I have discovered that something I wrote years ago is still helping people today. Through the years, many things have changed about the way I write, but I find it to be a joy most days to post something.

My encouragement to everyone is for them to find their voice. Who are YOU and what do YOU have to share with the world? Your words may come in teaching, music, poetry, leading children, writing, or numerous other ways. What has God put inside of you that might touch the life of another believer? The internet is full of people typing their thoughts and ideas, but you have the words that only you can provide.

These are my words, and I thank you for stopping and reading.

Living with Real Friendships

Yesterday I met with an old friend. We have known each other since college, and while we have not seen each other in years, we have managed to stay in touch by phone, email and social media. It was great to talk with him and catch up on some of the significant events in each other’s lives.

My conversation yesterday has me thinking about true friendships that are deeply embedded in the soul. I fear that many people today are walking through life with a shallow substitute for real relationships.

1. Real Friendships Start with General Knowledge. The first step in solid friendships starts with getting to know the other person. This sounds like an easy step, but if you are like me, you like to talk about yourself too much. To develop the connections we desire, we must ask people about themselves. What do they like? What is their background? What are they feeling?

2. Real Friendships Go Past General Information. This second step is the most difficult, and I am afraid that is where many people stall. It is great that I know your name, your spouse, and your kids. It is a good start that I know where you live and where you work. But my knowledge of you is not that same as a friendship. In an age of social media, we can gather all kinds of facts about people, without ever really getting to know them.

3. Real Friendships Know Both Joy and Hurt. I define a true friend with two descriptors. First, they know what makes me laugh. They are in tune with what will bring me joy. They see a movie or comedian and think of me. There is an understanding of what I enjoy in life. Second, they know what makes me cry. They know what makes my soul hurt. They know when words are spoken that will hurt me. There is a clear of idea of topics that make me sad. Real friends have insight into my soul.

4. Real Friendships Endure. This one hit me just yesterday. A real friend is someone you can meet up with years later, and it is almost like no time has passed. There is a connection that exists that is truly beyond explanation. Maybe it comes from common interests and experiences or possibly it is just built on the past. Real friendships are forged over the anvil of time.

The question I find myself asking, “How many real friends do I have in my life?” Have I accepted surface levels of interaction as cheap substitutes for the real thing?

And what about you? We live in a world where there are more ways to stay connected with people, and yet loneliness grows. It is easy to blame society and even shout at other people about how they should include you in their lives. I am finding the best solution to loneliness is taking the initiative to invite other people into my life. We all need friends, but it will take a little work to get them.

A Pastor’s Reflection on Summer Faith

As a Church leader, I have a love and hate relationship with summer.

I enjoy the downtime that summer can provide. For two months I have no youth group, no small groups, few meetings and little expectation. I take the summer to focus on the future through sermon planning, youth group organization, and long-term organization. The summer affords me time to read, dream and pray.

On the flip side, I hate what happens to my Church community in the summer. Worship attendance in summer reaches annual lows. It is a tough time to get people motivated for the next week, let alone the rest of the year. There is an apathetic attitude that prevails over most of the people as they are tired from the long summer days.

Today I am thinking about my perspective on summer.

1. Find a Way to Keep Growing Spiritually.
I want to encourage everyone to make a plan to grow in your faith. One way might be to have a summer only Bible reading plan. Another approach might be to develop a list of books to read and commit to completing them. One more possibility might be to listen to a series of podcasts on some aspect of Christianity. Do something … anything.

2. Remember How You Model Faith.

The way you treat the things of God over the summer clearly communicates something to the people who know you best. Usually, the people the most influenced are your children. They develop a value system based off what they hear you say and what they see you regularly do. If you spend 75% of your summer weekends at the lake with no thought of Church, there is a message that is communicated. If you find a place to worship on Sunday while on vacation, another lesson is being taught.

3. Know that Actions Quickly Become Habits.
This one I see repeated every summer. Someone comes to worship with the Church on Easter and a level of interest in faith grows. That momentum carries them to Mother’s Day and often clear up to summer. Then they miss worship for this and for that and suddenly two months are gone. By now a new habit is formed, and the enthusiasm of belief that existed in the spring is sometimes lost forever. Missing a week or two is something almost everyone does, but those weeks can slip into months and years.

Summer is hard on pastors. We see people stall in their faith, watch their lives move away from God and lose people from our congregations. Personally, many times I slip into survival mode. I try to make it from week to week praying God will do a mighty work that I am not seeing. I wish it were not this way, but every year seems to repeat the same old cycle.

We are over halfway through summer, and I look forward to the fall. I do want to encourage you not to let another summer slip away from you. Better said, don’t allow summer to let you slip away from God.

Of Mustard Seeds, Yeast and You

Jesus is clear that the work of his followers will seem insignificant. He tells a set of back-to-back parables that are so short they only take four verses in the gospel of Luke and three in Matthew. I guess it is fitting that both analogies are tiny since they are about minuscule work of the kingdom of God.

One of Jesus parables is about a mustard seed. It is the smallest of all the seeds they knew at the time. And yet it can grow into a bush and left alone long enough it will make a tree. Then there is the yeast. A woman has sixty pounds of flour and only a tiny amount of yeast. Still, this seemingly insignificant amount will work through the whole dough causing it to rise.

The single point of Jesus double layered stories appears to be the way the kingdom of God starts small and then increases in size. That would explain how a handful of disciples would lead in a movement to create a worldwide religion called Christianity.

While the Church as a whole today is big, the work of the Lord is still small. My efforts for Jesus equate to throwing mustard seeds and grabbing pinches of yeast. The actions seem insignificant at the time because of their size.

I want to see God’s kingdom come to earth. I want truth and justice to work together with compassion and love. I want people to serve God with their whole lives until the day of judgment. I want everyone to know Jesus and live for him. I often think that there is a world full of people and we need to do something big to make good things happen. Believers need a large platform from which they can change this planet into the kingdom of God. Unfortunately, Jesus never told a parable about God’s massive kingdom. He spoke about seeds and yeast and people.

Jesus reminds his followers that they will be engaged in seemly small actions which will probably never make the impact they want. At least they will not change the world today.

My efforts for Jesus today might come in a hundred little ways. Those actions are not to be ignored because of their size; they should be embraced as the way Jesus changes the world.

Vague Generalities of the Future

All of us have hopes and dreams. There are things we want to achieve and improvements we need to make. We want to be a better spouse or parent. Deep down we have a desire to be a better Christian with meaningful relationships. We will do something great one day and in some way.

Most people dream of a better future with vague generalities.

The reason we never accomplish any of these things is that we have no specific steps.

It is like me saying that one day my wife and I hope to visit Hawaii, but we are not making any plans to get there in the future. If we really want to go, then we need to come up with a series of smaller action steps. We need to save money. We need to start researching places to stay. We need to talk to our work about vacation. And on and on it goes. You get the idea.

Whatever it is that you want to achieve in life, the best way to make it happen is to think in small actions steps. Big dreams come in little pieces.

I am not saying these steps will guarantee success in life, but if you do the daily work, then you will be a lot closer to your dreams in a year than you are today.