No Limits to Your Impact

At this moment, more and more locations are moving to a “stay at home” order. If you are a non-essential business or have no good reason to be out, then stay home. I know for some, this sounds like a type of punishment.

This one thought led me back to the Apostle Paul. Four of the books in our New Testament are called “The Prison Epistles.” That means they were letters written by him while he was under house arrest in the city of Rome. Our letters of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon were all penned while Paul was forced to live in a house as a prisoner.

When I think of the Apostle Paul, I think of him as a writer, and the reality is that he was a preacher, and when he was unable to preach, he wrote. His ministry knew no limits. He had an enormous influence on the whole of the Christian faith even when he was unable to travel and speak.

Obviously, you are not an inspired Apostle, but the lesson is still the same. Your life can have a significant influence in whatever circumstances you find yourself if only you think creatively. Use the gifts you have for the glory of God. Take your extra time and use it in his service. Do things that will make an impact for eternity when you are facing boredom and loneliness.

This can take many forms. You can write cards to senior citizens. One lady I know is having her children make cards and write in them as a homeschool project, and then they are sending them to the elderly in their Church. You can send texts to check on people. You can take your phone and set aside some time each day to call people. There are unlimited possibilities.

We can take this time at home to learn and grow personally. We can take this time to connect as a family. Both of those are wonderful things. We can also take this time to show the world the love of Jesus in a very practical way. You are only limited by your imagination.

No Clear Path Forward

When I lived in Iowa, I spent a great deal of time fishing the Mississippi River. I went out and bought my first boat that was big enough for my family but was designed for fishing. Most of the time, you could find me on my day off flying down the river to some great location to go fishing. One morning I was heading down the river when I turned a sharp corner to find myself wrapped in fog. Suddenly everything disappeared. This happened the days before high tech electronics and sophistical apps on my phone that could help me with GPS. There I was in the middle of a large river with only my compass to guide me.

The fog allowed me to see only about 10 feet in front of the boat, so I slowed down to idle speed. The danger on the Mississippi river is what they call wing dams. These are piles of rocks that jut out from each side to keep the flow of water in the middle and the channel deep enough for large boats. These wing dams often lie one to three feet under the surface of the water. Many careless captains have hit them, destroying their prop and usually the lower unit of their motor. It can be quite dangerous on a clear day, but under cover of fog, with little to guide me, I found myself unsure of which direction to turn to avoid danger and arrive at my destination.

Right now, this is a perfect illustration of life. The year was sailing along fine, and then we turned a corner and hit a fog we now call Covid-19. Suddenly I can only see a few feet ahead of me, and I am not sure how to navigate with any clarity. With every hour, the news changes with more local cases confirmed, government mandates, and suggestions on how to stay safe. I am trying to move my life forward, but I know dangers are lurking under the waters that I cannot see at present.

What do you do in moments like this? Well, on the river that day I did three things. One, I prayed for God to guide me. I do this in any desperate situation where issues lie beyond my control. Two, I moved forward slowly. Proceed with caution. Three, I counted the cost. If I hit something, it might mean I would need to purchase a new prop for my boat. That could be up to $300 in one mistake, but it would not destroy the whole thing.

Those three things, I believe, are still the perfect advice for times like this. One, make prayer a priority. Two, move forward slowly. There is no rush to figure out your plans for a month from now. Take it one day at a time. Third, consider the cost. Will the choices you are making now have long term consequences if they fail. For example, my 84-year-old mother has completely isolated herself, even from family, because we want her to be with us a long time. These three simple things will keep us grounded in our faith and in the ability to make wise choices.

Sure enough, that day on the river, I hit a wing dam. It did a little damage to the prop but not enough to require an expensive repair. I evaluated the damage and then kept moving forward slowly. Eventually, I rounded another corner and hit daylight. I took off again and managed to catch a cooler of fish. The day turned out alright despite the first hour of stress. I am sure the same is true for this year. It has been an unprecedented start, but I am sure daylight is right around the corner.

A Post I Never Thought I Would Write

Yesterday, our Church, like many Churches, did not have a regular worship program because of a nationwide virus. Those are words I never thought I would write.

Let me give you a little context. I have been a Church leader for 27 full years, and during that time, I think I have seen it all. We have canceled our meetings for floods, snowstorms, power outages, ice, and influenza. There have been Churches near me survive fires and tornadoes. They simply skipped a week and found a new place to meet while they rebuilt.

This is different. We have closed for two weeks, and the government is saying it could take 60 days at the least and 120 at the most to get through this nationwide pandemic. I am praying for the best for our people, community, and Church through this time of unprecedented events.

Here is the amazing thing to be me through all of this, I never saw any of it coming. Well, to be fair, no one did. Last year the leadership and I planned a 2020Vision for our Church. It was a five-year plan, and we try to think of numerous issues that might arise. We talked about community changes, staff issues, annual budgets, economic swings, and even the effects of bad weather. Never once did we mention a nationwide pandemic.

All this reminds me of what James wrote to the Church in James 4:13-15, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ (14) Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (15) Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

Did you catch verse 14, “You do not even know what will happen tomorrow.” Moments like this remind me of this insightful truth. I had no idea this was coming, and yet here we are today. We are in a place and time we could not have imagined. So, what do we do?

I have always liked the line that says, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.” Faith in Jesus is not about having insights into the future; it is about trusting him when we do not see the future. It is about holding onto the one certain thing in a time of uncertainty. James wanted the Christians during his time to place their faith entirely in God, not the normal flow of this world. After all, we have no idea what is going to happen.

This day and this week, we are bracing ourselves for more events that no one saw coming. I hope that we will not be filled with anxiety and fear. Instead, I pray this time forces us to cling to faith. Today is a great day to trust God. We are living at a time no one imagined, but we have a God with unlimited capabilities.

What God is Doing

There are some compelling stories about what God has done in the past. You can read the pages of the Bible and see God’s mighty works of power from the Red Sea to the resurrection. Then you have those stories handed down to you by your Church. Tales about how people worked to form the Church you attend, how they were able to erect a building, and obstacles they have overcome to serve the Lord today. They also come to us from our family. Your parents have told you about the grandparents moving to America, and God continually provided. Even the story of your parents meeting and falling in love has his fingerprints all over it.

God has done many mighty things, and maybe you even have stories of this from your life too. You look back and see that God showed up to direct your life, help you through a difficult season, and keep you moving closer to him. I really do hope you have a few stories from your faith journey that can only be explained by his supernatural working. I pray God has been guiding your life from its beginning.

My other hope is that you have stories about what IS doing. These are not anecdotes from the past but modern tales of his power and might working in the present moment. This one can be tougher to see because we do not have the perspective that comes with time. But I still believe if we look closely, we can see some of the things he is doing right now. He is present at this time in history, working in your life, your family, and your Church community.

It is always a good practice to look back and see what God has done, but it is equally important to open our eyes and look around at all that God is doing.

Possibly this is the most compelling when the road ahead looks dark. When we are not sure where we are going and how God is leading us, we need to remember that each step is still under his control. At this moment in time, I am not sure what the future holds, but I know God has been working and is working still.

A Favorite Passage of Scripture

He said to the audience, “This is one of my favorite passages of scripture.” For some reason, those words that I have heard thousands of times before made me chuckle. I thought to myself, “Is one passage really better than another?” I mean, “If it is all God’s word, is one part really better than another?”

The unexpected answer is, yes.

Yes, some passages are better than others “at this moment for you.”

Depending on your life experience, the circumstances you are going through, the people who have influenced you, and the time in which you read it, some passages speak louder than others. The Bible is described as living and active (Hebrews 4:12). This means it is ever-changing as we read it. Each time we read, we see and hear new things. It speaks to us in different ways at different times.

There are moments when the word of God comforts us, and there are other times that it confronts us. It might reveal to us the love of God when we need it or the peace amid a storm. The words that touch our soul from its pages are many and varied. What speaks to you today may not speak to me. What God uses in your life today, may be different from what he will use tomorrow.

The word of God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The flowers wither, and the grass falls, but the word of the Lord stands forever. His word is never changing, but your life moves with the seasons. With each new experience, God can say something new to you that you need to hear.

I don’t know if you have a favorite passage of scripture, but I hope you do. I pray that God has reached out to you through his word and gave you exactly what you needed for this time of your life. You then locked that passage away in your mind like a letter from a precious friend.

Having favorite verses is a sign not just that you are reading the Bible, but that God is working in your life through what you read. For that reason, I hope you have many favorite passages.

A Difficult Decision About Church

I have never wanted to focus this blog on events that take place in the Church I lead. I desire to share information with people that I think will be a blessing all over the state, the country, and even the world.

Today I am going to step out of that routine and share some of what has transpired in the past four days at my Church that culminated with us canceling all programs until March 31 at this point. Then we will revisit the situation and make plans for the future.

By now, everyone is familiar with the situation with Covid-19 and how it is impacting American and the world. Well, last Saturday, it hit closer to home as a town less than an hour away had a reported case. We decided to continue with worship and told at-risk people to stay home. 178 people showed up for worship. Since then, there are a couple more cases that have brought the virus within 20 minutes of us. The government is asking for groups over ten not to meet, and so we decided to cancel and then reevaluate in 14 days.

Here are the factors that went into the decision.

  1. The safety of everyone. This is our first concern. While it appears to be less of a risk to younger people, there is still a risk, and we do not want to contribute to the health care crisis being placed on our medical community
  2. Concern for our at-risk people and senior citizens. Last Sunday, we saw that about one-third of the people who should not have attended worship – decided to attend anyway. We realize that some people will come every time the doors are open, and we decided to force them to stay home for their own safety.
  3. Insurance considerations. No one wants to mention this, but I will. Our insurance is making it seem like people could sue us for negligence if they contract the virus at Church. Most likely, it would be an angry family member who would do this, and we would probably be liable.
  4. Availability of online material. We have cameras and the ability to record and place the sermons online. We already have a thriving presence online, and this move will not stop us from doing ministry.
  5. Quality issues. With people keeping social distance, we had only one children’s worker willing to attend if we held worship. I totally understand this, but it would be challenging to have high-quality programs with a lack of workers. Not to mention the extra help needed to keep things sanitized.
  6. God is still in control. Last year our Church missed three Sundays for snow, ice, and a power outage. We had two other Sundays where we held only one program instead of two. Still, we made budget and saw people come to a saving relationship with Jesus. If we honor him, he will provide all we need to keep ministering in his name.

I know a handful of people will be upset that we decided to cancel. They will claim we lack faith or trust in God. None of this is true. When the leadership and I looked at the big picture, we felt God leading us to take a few weeks off from worship. Hopefully, people will use this time to pray, read their Bible, and use some of the resources that are available for them to grow in the Lord.

The Fear of the Open Mic

There is nothing scarier to me as a pastor than an open microphone.

This has taken many forms throughout my ministry. In the early days, it was “prayer request” time during the worship program. The leader would ask if anyone had any other needs they wanted to share, and people would stand up and say all kinds of craziness. One time we were told about mom’s cancer, and then it was followed by a request for a woman’s dog.

Later the mic shifted to after the sermon and invitation time. The preacher would ask anyone who had a decision to come to the front, and numerous times people would come and whisper, “I need to say something.” Suddenly it was a free for all discussion about sin, struggles, and shameful gossip.

Next, the mic is being used at funerals. People are asked if they have anything they would like to share about the deceased. These have ranged from touching to horrifying.

Finally, the mic has been placed in front of believers on the internet. This can be in blogs like this, social media, and the comment section of almost anything. When the mic is open, and someone starts to talk or type, my stomach starts to roll, and fear grips my body. What are they going to say?

There are three possibilities of what is going to happen at the open mic time.

  1. Nothing will happen. People will stand quietly and say nothing. This can seem golden, but it can also be harmful. Someone NEEDS to say something.
  2. Something awful will happen. The words that are shared will be evil or filled with anger. Often this comes from a lack of information, but it can also come from knowing too much.
  3. Something wonderful will happen. Words of grace, mercy, compassion, and humor will flow, and other people will know God better. They will hear something in your words that is different than other people, and they will notice that you have been with Jesus.

Right this minute, people are at home quarantined, so they are surfing the internet and reading lots of posts and comments. This scares me, and I can feel my nerves getting tied in a knot. This will be a time when people will be blessed or agitated. The world is watching to see how we will handle the open mic. I pray we will shine our light for Jesus in everything we say and write.