Searching for the Right Words

I never know exactly what to say.

I am afraid I will not say it right. My words will become jumbled, and my tongue will get tied. Somehow, I will take a simple idea and lose it with the wrong words. I will say too much or possibly not enough.

I am afraid you will not feel these words correctly. What I am saying to you is coming from the depths of my soul. I feel an overwhelming depth of gratitude, and I want you to know how much I appreciate you. The hurt deep inside my heart will not translate into words. Joy will sound like laughter, and I don’t want to be misunderstood. I just know you won’t feel what I am trying to communicate.

I am afraid I will forget something. My mind is full, and I usually miss something in my words. You will notice not just what I say, but what I do not say. You will think I didn’t notice or that I didn’t care.

I am afraid that my good intentions will be lost and you will get angry. A barrier will be built in our communication rather than a bridge. Instead of moving forward in our relationship we will get sidetracked or even worse, we will take a step backward.

I am afraid my words will not come out just right. I will be misunderstood. The result will not be what I desired. Instead of love and connection, there will be loss and separation.

What if I interrupt you and ruin the moment? What if I misunderstand you? What if you don’t respond the way I want you to answer?

Have you ever felt this way? You need to talk. You need to say something. You want your relationships to grow, but the words will not come out.

Communication is hard. It is the most difficult with the people closest to us.

Many of us will choose not to say the words. We will keep quiet. Quite possibly we will go the other route and talk about trivial things just to fill the space.

What if today, or maybe this weekend, you said the words? What if your faith was reflected in your words? What would happen if you trusted God to take your words and accomplish something beautiful in your life?

You will never have the perfect words. Do you believe in a God big enough to take your words and accomplish good things in your life?

Reading the Old Testament is Difficult

My Bible reading plan has me in the book of Isaiah. This book contains 66 chapters and trying to read 4-5 chapters a day means I will be here for over two weeks straight. Can I be honest? It is killing me. At times it is confusing, other times boring, and frequently shocking. I am working through it this month, and I will finish it, but it will come only through determination.

Does any of this sound familiar? Have you ever struggled to read through your Bible, especially the Old Testament? Have you ever wanted to give up on your Old Testament and skip through to Matthew one? Me too.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind as you read through the boring parts of the Old Testament, particularly the book of Isaiah.

1. Look for the Big Picture. I read that the book of Isaiah has eight major sections and is not written chronologically and can be very confusing. That is the truth. For me, I try to focus on the big picture. I have found at least four themes in this book and much of the Old Testament:
1) God’s plan and purpose.
2) Current events (to them) as judgment or blessing.
3) The coming of Jesus and a new era.
4) The last days and God’s final judgment.
I try not to get lost in all of the minute descriptions and poetic language of the prophets. I try to see the big picture of what God is doing and saying.

2. Study What is Most Difficult. The Bible I am reading right now is a type of study Bible. It allows me to read little one-page descriptions of topics I might miss. There are dozens of resources out there to help you understand any part of the Bible, take the time to study if you want to know more. Ask questions, take notes and dig deep. I know of a guy reading through Isaiah and is studying every line. He plans for it to take well over a year.

3. Notice the New Testament Connection. The book of Isaiah is quoted 55 times in the New Testament. There is a connection made through the coming of the Messiah. They were looking forward to a hope that we now look back on. I try to listen carefully to hear the hope of Jesus in any passage.

4. Write Down Some Takeaways. There are some great lines in every book of the Bible. Just today in Isaiah 44 I read a story about a man taking a piece of wood and cooking lunch over part of it and then making the other part an idol. The point is the foolishness of man to see one piece of wood in two different ways. Wood is wood no matter how you fashion it. There are several levels of application to all of my possession and worship. Look for the one line or chapter that can touch your life today.

5. Ignore Some Parts of It. Yes, I know it is God’s word, but oracles concerning Tyre and Sidon have little application for me. If I do not find something meaningful in a chapter, I move on without regret.

I hope that you will one day read the Bible. If you do, there are parts that will be a struggle to read. Develop a plan and move forward as best you are able. You can spend a lot of time looking at every word or move quickly looking for the big picture. Either one is beneficial for your spiritual growth.

Two Surprises in the Local Church

I have spent my entire life as part of a local Church. My parents attended a small local Church until I was five years old. Then we transferred to another Church where we remained until I went to college. Since then I have led six different congregations while attending dozens of others. I not only lead, but I am deeply connected to the local Church. I love it, and its people and I am glad to have spent time with some of these wonderful people.

There are a couple of things that have surprised me about the Church through the years.

1. Many Christians are Fiercely Independent. I know the Bible often refers to believers as sheep. This metaphor might lead you to believe that its members are quietly following Jesus without questions or any exercise of their will. I have found the exact opposite is true. Church people are often strong-willed, heavily opinionated, and constantly questioning. They settle into a set way of doing things and stand up to anyone who brings change.

I thought leading a Church would be like leading sheep and it became more like herding cats. Though their independence they become God’s unique creation. While stubborn, most of them are wonderful people. They love deeply, give generously and serve selflessly in the name of Jesus.

2. They Gather to Listen But Seldom Hear. I believe God created me to be a public speaker. When I was in the 5th grade, I wrote a speech and ended up going to teach a lesson in every class in our elementary school. God has molded me since I was little to stand up and speak to groups of people in a way they could understand. This gift led me to the role of the preacher in the local Church. Each week I present a lesson from the Bible and then wait to see results. At first, it surprised me of how little people heard of my well-crafted sermons.

One Sunday I preached a sermon and used a powerful illustration at the end of Satan and all the demons of hell. The next Sunday as people were leaving Church a lady caught me and said, “I heard a TV preacher give a great illustration using Satan this week.” She then proceeded to give me about one-third of what I had said the week before. When she finished, she smiled and said, “You can use that someday.” This is just one of a thousand times my own words have been repeated back to me with mistakes, half quotes, and misunderstood lessons. Yet, through all of the distorted words and mixed signals, people still manage to grow. Each week I am reminded that God does the work of taking my words and pouring them into people’s hearts to somehow bring growth.

Early in life, I dreamed of one day leading a local Church. I would be this powerful orator who could command respect as people hung on my every word. The Church where I preached would grow continually as people’s lives were changed and inspired to “go into all the world.” Then I went into ministry to find people who smile and nod throughout my sermon and then do whatever they want.

Then one day a truth hit me like never before: this is the Lord’s Church. He is the one who calls this group of misfits together. He is the one who is molding them through his word. He is in charge and leading these individuals somewhere as a group.

The Church has never been assembled to worship a preacher and follow him without question – that is a cult. A Church is a group of individuals seeking God’s guidance together. My role is to partner with God to help him accomplish his mission in everyone’s life. That is your role too.

Jesus Paid It All

A few years ago, I made a big mistake. Honestly, that is an understatement. I sinned. I cross boundaries God did not want me to cross. I denied what I believe. I broke trust with people I love. I failed and fell short of the glory of God.

Since that time, I have claimed the power of forgiveness in Jesus Christ. I understand that he died on the cross to pay my debt of sin. I did not deserve his special treatment, and that is called grace. I am forgiven, and my life moved on.

The only problem is that when my life quiets down for a few moments, my mind drifts back to that mistake. At those times, I begin to beat myself up about my failure.

“How could I have been so stupid? I knew better. It is no wonder some things in my life are such a mess; I completely deserve it. If I were God, I would punish me in a way I would never forget. How could anyone love me? If people knew what happened, I would be humiliated. My sin is greater than I can bear.”

These are just a few of the lines that race through my head when I think about my sin. Sure God may forgive me, but I still deserve some punishment for my sin. Even if it all just happens inside my own head.

Recently I was driving down the road and had started the process over. The pain I was feeling was genuine, and I couldn’t escape it. Then as clearly as I am writing a thought went through my brain, “Jesus paid all of your debt on the cross so you can stop beating yourself up.”

The Bible never speaks about us “forgiving ourselves.” The Bible pushes us to remember that Jesus paid it all. Mentally torturing yourself is of no value. Each one of us can let go our sin and shame in the name of Jesus. God forgives you, and that is enough. The price for sin has been paid in full.

I wish I could say that this concept changed me and this will be the last time I will struggle. I know better than that. One of the aspects of faith is continually clinging to the cross even when I don’t feel like I deserve it. It is about letting go of punishment, even self-punishment because the cross was enough.

Six Simple Ways to Serve Your Spouse

In yesterday’s sermon, I talked about “My Crazy Spouse.” I tried to focus my thoughts on two concepts. First, I need to accept responsibilities for the problems I bring into a marriage. Second, I need to work on improving my marriage more than complaining. I lifted up the Biblical example of two people who are selflessly serving each other.

Then I gave six actions steps to help improve your marriage. I thought these might be beneficial to repeat. (Please note, these were gathered from at least five sources and none are original with me).

1. Become the kind of person you would want to come home to. Does your spouse enjoy going to work and staying there more than coming home? What could you do to change that trend?

2. Do one thing to improve your spouse’s life. This might include you taking on a new task or making a simple purchase. There are numerous ways we can reduce our mate’s stress level if we care to do it.

3. Compliment your spouse. Criticism is easy; compliments are difficult to say. In the end, those compliments are far more beneficial.

4. Ask your spouse about themselves. Listen intently. This will mean you need to shut off the TV and put down your phone. For an added bit of fun, what if you agreed with your spouse and told them they were right about something.

5. Remember the small stuff. It is important to learn your spouse’s love language (Those are: words of affirmation, gifts, service, time and touch.) Then do little things that show your spouse you care enough to make them feel loved.

6. Overflow with Forgiveness. Develop a short memory. The Bible says to “keep no record of wrongs.” Make sure to forgive your spouse’s flaws as they have forgiven you.

All six of these steps are simple and relatively cheap. They do require us to give our time and attention, and those are the two most valuable commodities in the world right now. When you are willing to sacrifice those things for another person, it is the ultimate act of love. Those actions will build a great marriage.

Adrian Christian Church Announcements

1. This weekend I am kicking off a new three-week sermon series called My Crazy Family. I will be exploring marriage, parenting, and grandparenting. You can join us every Sunday at 9:30 am for worship.

August 6 “My Crazy Spouse.”
August 13 “My Children are Driving Me Crazy.”
August 20 “Crazy Old People.”

2. On Sunday, August 13th our leadership will be spending all afternoon in a meeting planning for the future. One of our biggest topics of discussion will be the possibility of transitioning to two worship programs each Sunday morning. The old rule of Churches is that you will stop growing when you are 80% full in worship, and several times this past year we have surpassed that number. For us to reach more people with the message of Jesus Christ, we need to make some changes. Please be in prayer for our leadership as we decide a plan for growth including two worship programs on Sunday morning.

3. As we look toward the fall, we are going to participate in Operation Christmas Child again this year. This is also known as the Christmas Shoeboxes. Ashley Stephens has volunteered to lead the program, and a few people have already stated that they would help her. Three ways you can help with this project. One, be in prayer for as we move forward with planning and collection. Two, volunteer if you would assist in any way. Three, begin setting aside money now for the purchase of needed items or simply for making a cash donation. I look forward to this being another great year to make an impact in our world in the name of Jesus.

4. Our next Membership class is scheduled for October 15th immediately following worship. The Church will be providing lunch, and we will jump right into the material. It will take about two hours total to cover all the material. This will include what it means to follow Jesus, why you should be a part of the local Church and what is the next step on your journey of faith. We are encouraging everyone to take the class who would like to become a member or continue as a member of ACC. Please see me (Pastor Matt) if you have questions.

These are a few of the things going on around Adrian Christian Church in the coming weeks. I hope you will join us in worship and prayer. May God bless you all.