Victory Medals

Sitting in my son’s closet is a box of medals and trophies. They were primarily given for success in sports. He excelled in football, basketball, and baseball while playing with some great teammates. There are also a few for academic achievements. Various quiz bowl victory awards are found inside. There are also prizes from a lifetime of events and activities that serve as rewards for his hard work.

All those medals were once proudly displayed as monumental achievements. There were hours of practice devoted to perfecting his skill. Then, more hours of study and mental preparation were required. Then he performed in a way that allowed him to get the prize. Pictures were taken and placed on social media. He boasted about his achievements and had the metal to prove his prowess. 

Now. They sit in a box in my closet, about 100 miles from where he lives. He has no desire to take them, and I don’t have the heart to throw them away. Once, these metals garnered pride, and now they gather dust. 

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in the city of Ephesus and told them this truth about people. “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 9:25 – NIV 2011). 

Every metal, prize, and trophy will one day be trash. If not, they will be held onto by a family member who doesn’t value them but can’t bring themselves to throw them away. Paul encourages the people who follow Jesus to spend their life and energy trying to do something for eternity. It is the only thing that will truly last a lifetime … and more. 

Trying to Fix the Past

I am now leading my third Church through the creation of Bylaws or recreating them after years of neglect. Along with that, I am putting together a policy and procedure manual to accompany them. Once again, I am spending long hours reading administrative paperwork for the Church.

Every time I do this or walk someone else through this adventure, I realize that most smaller Churches create policies to fix problems that happened in the past. For example, once upon a time, a person tried to take over the Church, and they set up policies so that would never happen again. Someone attempted to sway a vote for something, and they developed a plan to prevent its recurrence. 

For the local Church to grow and move forward in ministry, it must stop looking at the past and turn its thoughts toward the present and the future. Instead of trying to fix yesterday’s mistakes, the Church should make plans for a more significant impact in the name of Jesus tomorrow. It is a subtle shift but necessary to reach people for Jesus.

Same Old Topics

If you read my blog regularly, it is possible you have seen multiple posts on the same topics. As I did a little searching of my writing, I discovered that sometimes things written years apart are almost identical.

This happens because I have come to emphasize only a handful of topics in my ministry. Of course, I want to preach and teach from the “whole counsel of God,” but within my life and context, a few issues always appear. 

Most of what I say and write fall under the categories of Jesus, the Bible, conversion, discipleship, and life as a follower of Jesus, particularly in the Church. I don’t often address things such as end times, apologetics, time management, psychological issues, money management, counseling, parenting, and current events. These are not the essential ministry God has given to me. I will handle them when necessary or when I feel God has given me something to say. My primary focus is on following Jesus and how we live together as a community of believers.

The question is not, “Why doesn’t Matt address everything?”; instead, it is “What is the main message God has laid on your heart?”

If each one of us speaks with informed knowledge about the passions given to us by Jesus, then as a Christian community, together, we will completely share the message of faith. 

Next Level Spiritual Maturity

When people grow up and become adults, they take responsibility for themselves. They start paying their own bills, making their own food, and handling all the affairs of their own life.

Then one day, they reach a new level of maturity. That is the day they start taking care of other people. This could include caring for a newborn or an aging parent. There is this shift from a self-centered focus to an others-centered one.   

The other day I watched someone and saw an even higher level of maturity. That is when someone starts caring for other people without being asked and without obligation. This person saw a need and stepped up to help despite them not being connected in any way. 

What is true of physical maturity is also true for spiritual maturity. The closer someone gets to Jesus, the more they are willing to step up and serve others without being asked, even when they have nothing to gain from it. 

Lost and Wounded

The pastor said that their Church was no longer targeting lost people only. He referenced the stories of Jesus in Luke chapter 15, which we call the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Then he said that their Church is now trying to reach lost and “wounded” people.

We often call the last story in that chapter of the Gospel of Luke the Prodigal Son. But when we take the time to look closely, it is not simply a story about someone who recklessly wasted their money and resources.

This man wished his father had died, left his brother behind, and started a new life. There he made poor choices that resulted in him losing all his money. Then he thought he had hit the bottom of the barrel as he went to feed pigs, but he had further to fall. One day he sat with a desire to eat pig food. He had neglected his family, failed alone, and was now as low as a person might get. 

We label him a prodigal, but perhaps we should consider him a hurting person. He was someone wounded by life and the poor choices that people often make. He did not suffer at anyone else’s hands but knew the pain of self-inflicted wounds. We have the option to view them as people who threw their life away as a prodigal or as people who are hurting from years of personal trauma. 

The conclusion the leadership of their Church made was to start saying they were here to reach both lost and wounded people. While many might not understand they are lost, there is a world full of people who clearly know what it means to be wounded.

How Far They’ve Come

We often judge people based on where we think their life should be. 

The problem is that we don’t know where people are on their journey with God. Some people that we feel should be better Christians have already come a long way individually.

People may not be as spiritual as we would like them, but compared to where they were, they are doing fantastic.

Words of Non-Affirmation

Gary Chapman introduced the world to the “Love Languages.” This is the idea that each one of us feels love in our unique way. There are five basic language types that everyone uses to experience love. 

One of those is “Words of Affirmation.” This means what the people closest to you have to say about and to you touches your heart deeply. If you are married, you desire for your partner to say things that build you up and demonstrate your worth to others.

This is not my love language, but recently I discovered something which might be true of others. While I do not need words of affirmation, I am wounded by words of non-affirmation. Some people need to hear you speak about their value and worth; on the flip side, people like me do not want to listen to critical and mean-spirited things.

It is not that I am afraid of constructive criticism or rebuke when I need it. Instead, it is how much it hurts me when those things are presented in a destructive way. So, for example, I respond to a coach who tells me how to improve rather than one who yells at me about what I did wrong.

The old saying is, “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.” Some people crave affirmation, and others need you to avoid your non-affirming words.  

Which Character Are You?

When you read a Bible story, with whom do you most identify?

Are you always Jesus, Paul, or a disciple? Are you always the hero in the story who stands full of faith? If you are the bad person, is it only because you find redemption by the end of the story?

One tip for reading your Bible and understanding the stories more completely is to attempt to put yourself in the other character’s shoes. Ask yourself, “What was life like as a Pharisee?” and “Why would I be upset at Jesus?” Sometimes take the position of a non-believer and imagine what it was like to see Jesus perform a miracle or hear Paul preach for the first time. 

Most of us have been reading the Bible from one vantage point for so long that we no longer consider how the other people in the story feel. Which ultimately leads us to forget how the people around us feel when they encounter faith.

People are not one-dimensional, and reading the scriptures from one viewpoint will limit our ability to understand the full impact of Jesus on everyone.

The Church is Cheering for You

As this person walked to the stage to speak, a small group applauded. However, the person had not said anything to garner the cheers of the audience, so at first; I was confused. Then as they started talking, it began to make sense; this group of people had shown up in support of the speaker as they attempted to do something unfamiliar to them for Christ.

After a young person had spoken one Sunday morning, several people said something similar after worship. They all complemented this person’s bravery to stand up and speak for the first time. It was clear that they were nervous, and honestly, it was a hurried speech, but everyone I talked to was very supportive.

It was their first time leading worship. It didn’t all go smoothly, but it went okay for their first attempt. When they finished, I watched as the remaining people on the worship team went up one by one and expressed their appreciation for them stepping out and being a leader.

Christians often get nervous at the prospect of doing something new for the Lord. What will people say? What if it doesn’t go well? What if I fail miserably and make a fool of myself? What if I am an embarrassment to the kingdom of God? These concerns and fear keep us from stepping out in faith and trying something for God’s glory.

In all my years of ministry, I have only seen support and encouragement when a person stands up in the faith. Church people are genuinely excited about this step of faith and praying for the best. Oh sure, a few fringe people and outsiders might criticize, but mature Christians are cheering for them. I often say that the most supportive group of people you will ever address are those in the Church.

Too many people stand on the sidelines of faith, waiting to use their gift because they fear how others will react. I am here to tell you we are all here cheering for you.

Like Jesus

The older man had a sign that he was carrying around. He had another one taped to the outside of the small suitcase he was pulling behind him. Later in the parking lot, I saw his car. It had the same sign hanging in both back windows of his vehicle – one man with four different signs and all with the same message. 

“Treat Everyone Like Jesus.”

I do not know the backstory. I could not quickly find anything about it on social media. There were no explanations, brochures, video links, or sermons: just an elderly man and his signs.

I have been thinking about him for days now. I wish I had taken the time to talk to him. I wish I had invited him out for a meal or coffee. I wish I had asked his story and why he carried the sign. I wish I had gotten to know him so that I could tell you the rest of the story.   

Unfortunately, I was too busy. I was rushing from one thing to another: so much to do and so little time to finish it. I saw him standing there and walked by without hesitation. A quick mental note about the sign and on with my day.

In reflection, I thought Jesus would have probably stopped and talked to him. Sadly, I am no Jesus; then again, maybe that is not the point. Perhaps he was Jesus to me that day. But who has time to think about that?