My belly’s full of food
My heart is full of love
My family is all around me
And even more looking from above
I can’t thank God enough
For everything I possess
I deserve none of it
It is all by grace; I confess
Sure, these material things are great
And the money I earn is fine
But I honestly can’t say
That the any of the credit should be mine
I owe absolutely all I have
To the one who gives grace and hope
When I am standing on the mountain
Or at the end of my rope
I know I do not have much
In comparison to most
But, I can say I am content
Even though I cannot boast
I am truly grateful this year
For all the little things
And I pray that I will continue
To thank The Lord for what He brings.
If I were to be completely honest with you, I would say that this blog post is one of the hardest I have felt led to write. The reason is not because the topic is a difficult one to articulate or the fact that it is a particularly controversial stance on a “hot button” issue, but because of my heart attitude behind it.
As I get closer to Jesus, I have learned that God honors thoughtful response over angry outbursts. He values the offering of hope over a self-righteous decree of condemnation from my own personal soapbox. So, I want to write today out of love, grace, mercy, but firm resolve and I pray that God will be in my words. I want to talk about the concept of racism.
I sat in a big leather chair in front of a woman who had cried so much that I was afraid she would become dehydrated. He husband had cheated on her. The adultery was getting to be too common in their marriage, and after multiple transgressions, he once again told her it “would never happen again”. This woman was broken, angry, and had practically given up on long term joy in her life. My heart filled with my own brand of anger when she told me the lies that were told and the sins that were committed. The man that she was married to made her feel inferior. He made her believe things about herself that were not true. He made her think this was all her fault. On top of this, over the period of several years, he had made sure that she was removed from opportunities, relationships, more education and much of the outside world as a method of domination and control. She prayed that God would help her and He did. She divorced him and years later, she married the man of her dreams. She also forgave her ex-husband.
The problem is, I really want to hate this man. The carnal part of my human existence wants to show him how wrong he is, and make him pay. I know, however, that a life lived controlled by God’s spirit compels us to seek a much higher level of conduct.
You see, if Christ lives in a person, has complete control, and has forgiven them…it is really hard to go on living with hatred towards another human being. That doesn’t mean that the temptation is not there, but there is a power that is greater in you than that which is in the world.
Racism, at its core, is a systematic desire for a group or groups to express their perceived superiority over others. Often times they will single out a particular community, and do what they can to separate them from society, tell them lies, and openly display their hate for them. In essence, there is not much difference between an adulterer and a racist individual. With that being said, there is a part of me that wants to treat someone who is racist with the same contempt as I would the adulterer. I can’t though. I can’t because I have no idea what type of lies that person has been told throughout their life, and I have to believe in my heart that they are eligible for restoration and love as much as I am. If Jesus cannot heal them, then His death on the cross was a waste of time. Sin is sin.
This doesn’t make the whole issue any less frustrating though. I have heard people who wear gold crosses around their necks say the most awful things about people of different races. This is confusing for many reasons.
So, here is my overall thought. There is no such thing as a Christian racist. I say this, because I have heard people getting upset at the Church for racist acts they have seen in media outlets. And, there have been people who have displayed racism in their lives who claim to be believers. Let me make this very clear. Not disagreeing with the Bible, going to church on occasion, and being raised in a semi-religious home does not make someone a Christian. Nor does giving oneself the label of “good”. A Christian is someone who desires to be like Christ, associates themselves with His crucifixion and resurrection, allows God to transform them, allows the Holy Spirit to guide them, and who has accepted the forgiveness that Jesus offers; all while bearing the fruit of the Kingdom. So, there is no such thing as a “Christian racist”. It cannot exist. Christianity and racism are like oil and water. Sure, there are people who have accepted Christ and who have had to repent of old habits that have arisen temporarily, but that leads to deep grieving and change.
Jesus led by example, and when He wanted to emphasize a virtue, He displayed the virtue through His action. Look at the story of the Woman at the Well in John chapter 4. There were two main issues being addressed when we look deep into this story. The first issue was the sin (and thus the cure) in the life of the woman (who happened to be a Samaritan). Water was just the illustration. Jesus offered her a way out of her constant searching for love, fulfillment, and forgiveness. Jesus took care of all of that, and offered her abundance. The second issue pertained to race. This woman was astonished that a Jew would even speak to a Samaritan, not to mention offering her something to drink. This was unheard of, because of the deep racial divide. In other areas of scripture, the implication is that even the disciples accepted this divide as common. Jesus shatters this mentality, loved this woman, and contradicted the culture.
Hope exists, because there is a God who fashioned all of us from the same dust. This same God declared that we were made in His image. This is a foundational belief in the Judeo-Christian world view. Hope comes from the fact that God forgives and transforms human hearts. He forgives.
The old me wants to hate people that are full of racism and hatred. I have realized that this type of hate is the same brand of hate as those wielded by racist individuals; only in different packaging.
So, a Christian, if guided by the Holy Spirit would spend more time serving, loving, giving, feeding, clothing, proclaiming truth, and praying than complaining and allowing anger to fester and grow. In fact, Jesus did his ministry in the shadow of pagan statues, unholy temples, and hateful hearts. His mind and heart were focused on the people, and He knew the only true kingdom was not this way.
The heart of the Christian is occupied and Jesus does not need a roommate. Hate does not fit.
As followers of Jesus we are called to speak out against hatred of every kind. We are also called to serve those who are not following God.
I end all my blogs the same way…but today I mean it more deeply than I have in the past. With a broken heart yearning for reconciliation, I say it once again…
Love you all.
Across America, churches are doing their best to express creativity when it comes to reaching new people for the purpose of presenting the Gospel. For the most part, the central message concerning the love of God and the deliverance that Jesus brings is preached in these churches, but that does not mean that every congregation looks or behaves in the same way. You may have a church on the east coast that looks more like a coffee shop, and when traveling to a rural part of Arkansas you may encounter a little white chapel far from the hustle and bustle of city life. There are large churches, and there are small churches. That is okay, because we are united in spirit, and have the common bond of Christ that connects us.
From time to time, I have the privilege of visiting churches who are in need of help. In some cases, they have concerns regarding the direction the congregation is heading, and I arrive to help survey various members to try to assess the main detrimental issues that they face. I will never forget one particular church that I visited only a few hours away from where I live. On the outside looking in, they seemed to have everything going right for them. They had a young, energetic pastor. They had a relatively new and beautiful worship facility. They even had a good amount of young people in attendance. Everyone seemed fairly happy with the ministry that was happening, but I couldn’t help but think that there was something missing. Perhaps I was over analyzing what I felt, but I just knew that a heaviness existed that didn’t go away.
One by one, church attenders filed into the interview room I occupied and I systematically questioned them to try to dig further. Each couple that came were in their late twenties and many others were in their early to mid-thirties. Toward the end of my time, I had two interviews that did not reflect the general lighthearted sentiment of the other people I interviewed. These conversations took place with people that fell into an older category. NOT OLD…mind you…but older (before you get upset). The first woman was in her eighties and the next couple were in their seventies.
During the exchange, these individuals expressed concerns about the direction the church was heading. At first, to be honest, I assumed they were just being finicky and trying to cause division. As they spoke from their heart, though, they conveyed the same passion for the lost that everyone else did. By carefully listening with an open heart and mind, I realized that they were not being heard when it came to decisions in the church. Everything was changing and they didn’t necessarily mind change, but their minds were trying to understand the meaning and purpose behind some of the changes. Each change they described was geared to reach a younger generation.
The leadership made it very clear that they wanted to specifically reach out to the 18-35 year olds in their community so they focused their resources and actions in that way. The pastor had gone to a leadership conference that taught him that this was the only way to grow the church. So, with passion and vigor, he came back ready to conquer that large suburb in the name of Jesus.
As I reflected on this experience, my mind went back to all of the leadership conferences I have been to in the past. The takeaways that the pastor came back with are really ones that are conveyed at these events.
Just so you know, I am about to say something that will be very unpopular.
Folks. I think we are missing the mark. I think, when we focus on a certain age demographic, we are neglecting many others. We can change the paint color, music type, seating arrangement, and even the way we dress but, in many cases the tendency is to create a religion that is human focused instead of a movement that is Christ-centered.
Specifically, when we neglect the older generation, we actually disregard the structure and content of scripture. In the Old Testament, the older generation proved to be the most vital generation and the vehicle by which traditions were passed to progeny.
I have a theory that the older generation sitting in our pews is the one of the largest unchurched people groups we regularly come into contact with. That is, if we understand the term “unchurched” as “not belonging to or participating in a church”. We have thousands of older ladies and gentleman who come every service but do not feel like they belong, and do not get involved.
We need to change this. If we are a Biblical movement, we cannot sit on the sidelines and neglect this forgotten generation. They have wisdom and so much to share.
The only things that will radically grow our churches is a dedication to prayer, a passion for those who do not know Christ, and service to the “least of these”. Not a new gimmick or attaching to a cultural fad.
Remember…there was never a story where Jesus did a demographic study before healing, preaching, or even dying on the cross.
Love all. Serve all. Listen.
Love you all.
I am writing you today to share with you a deep concern I have for you and those who love you very much. From the title of this letter, you know what this is in regards to, but I ask you give me a chance to help you understand my concern. No, this is not going to be a letter meant to make you feel bad about your current situation. So, before I share, I want you to know you are loved, and God can use you in mighty ways. You have a chance to be a hero. Let me explain.
As a pastor, sometimes I am privileged to have impromptu conversations of deep spiritual significance. I can tell you that there are times when people open up with me about their deep hurts, frustrations, and disappointments. From time to time, I can sense that they are holding back and not fully telling me what is on their minds. This is common and there is nothing inherently wrong with this idea. On several occasions, I have interacted with men and women who have felt betrayed, and deeply hurt by people they have developed intimate trust with, and who have abandoned that trust. In the largest percentage of cases, it is because their spouse has been caught in an affair.
Like I told you in the beginning of my letter, I am not writing this to scold you, because I have a feeling you can guess what my views on this would be. Also, I can imagine that you have gone through some self-hatred of your own. This is not my place. I am just here to tell you what I know.
First, I want to ask that you repent and seek a renewed relationship with your mate. I know this sounds insane right now, and there may have been words said that have hurt both of you deeply, but let me tell you what I see from my perspective. When I speak with a spouse of a person who is involved in adultery, I notice that they not only deal with pain from the event, but also self-loathing. Why you ask? Because in many cases, there are thoughts that lead them to believe that your actions are their fault. This breaks my heart. Sure, we could have a discussion about how you both have been “drifting apart” and they no longer “meet your needs”, but we can both agree that you still have the ability to make your own decisions. I acknowledge that it can be more complicated than this, but just know that people can be drastically transformed by Jesus. Keep that in mind.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Sex.
Friend, I am here to tell you that we were made for this action and it is okay to desire enjoyment from it. In fact, we are encouraged in scripture to do what we can to help our mate find fulfillment in this area. The problem is, we are called to be second in this act. If everything works the way it should, your spouse’s enjoyment will lead to a more fulfilling experience for you. Here is another thing. No one is better equipped to satisfy you in this area than the one God has ordained for you. Are you afraid God didn’t ordain this union? Well, let me also mention that God ordains covenant love. This is the kind of love that is built on trust and commitment. Plus, you could potentially have the rest of your life to fall more deeply in love and grow. To me, that is exciting.
So, as I am pleading with you to seek steps to reconcile and turn your life around. If you have already divorced, I encourage you seek a civil reconciliation so that there is no animosity between you both.
God is in the amazing business of grace and mercy. As you get closer to Him together, you will feel fulfilled and joyful in the context of your relationship. The opposite posture breeds bitterness, shame, and anger.
You are incredibly loved, and every drop of blood that Jesus shed was for deliverance. You can be delivered, and just imagine what kind of testimony you will have when God restores you. I am excited for you to be productive for the kingdom in this area.
Thank you for listening. I know I am just another pastor, and it seems like I am wagging my finger, but I really want you to know my heart. You can be free. I promise.
Break the chains friend. The first step is the hardest.
If you need to talk, I am here. I won’t judge you, but I will listen.
Love you all
Teamwork makes the dream work. This is a phrase that is passed around in many circles and I have heard it used to bring light to dark situations. It is an interesting concept. The idea of becoming partners with a group for the common purpose of meeting measurable goals is something that is appealing to most. I have always valued being a part of something bigger than myself and joining with others to collectively pursue a mission. I know that I do not have all of the answers, nor do I think that my way is the best way.
I have had the opportunity, in my experience as a pastor, to talk with many pastors and church leaders from around the world. Many have shared my theological tradition and many have not. One conversation I have engaged in during my ministry with these leaders relates to the topic of Christian denominations. When speaking about this subject, it is quickly apparent that a large number of people are against the idea. The nondenominational movement is something that has gained great steam in the last several years. Church goers cite many reasons for leaving denominations and pursuing a worship community unaffiliated with a larger movement.
Personally, I am thankful that people have chosen a church to attend, so the point of this blog is not to downplay the value of the nondenominational church, because these churches are still a part of the global body of Christ and do great good. I am simply writing this to explain my view as to why I have chosen a larger movement to align myself with.
In my recent past, I have volunteered with a missions organization that has no main parent church affiliation. This ministry has established schools, orphanages, churches, food pantries and pastoral training centers around the world. They have an incredible network of churches that have bought into the vision of the organization and support it with volunteer help and financial support. People are being introduced to Jesus in large numbers because of these partnerships. They have seen success in their work because they have churches that share the passion that they display. This network functions as a denomination in their web of partnerships.
When I think about this nonaffiliated entity, my mind wanders to those who are against denominational entities. Why is this?
I get it. Sometimes it can be frustrating when the general leadership of a certain denomination sends down a decree (for lack of a better term) that sometimes doesn’t fit into the cultural context of a local community. Perhaps, even, a person may discover theological differences that don’t line up with their system of beliefs. But, in my conversations with leaders that have left denominations to pursue independence, the desire to be autonomous was the overriding factor in their decision making process.
A Christian denomination is simply a missional organization with affiliated churches. These churches share a theological identity that is not mandated, but that is shared due to common purpose and passion. In the same way, we see a fast growing movement of nonaffiliated churches that long to be connected in partnership with a missional entity. As a pastor, there is something initially attractive about being disconnected from “outside” accountability. The fact is, this mentality can’t be sustained for very long, because eventually the craving for extended community is realized.
I am a part of something larger and I have learned that I do not have all of the answers. I need my brothers and sisters who are partnering with me to help convey the message that God has given all of us. No individual congregation can do everything they are called to do in complete isolation. This is why I have chosen the path I am on. The sometimes frustrating and flawed movement that I have joined.
Love you all.
What could possibly happen
if the Church made a decree
That no single mother
Would ever go hungry
That no little child
Would go unembraced
That the lowly would be educated
Through the struggles they face
What if the sinner was served
As if it were right
And, instead of spewing venom,
We prayed for their plight
What if our enemies
Were looked at with care
Could we really love them
Would we even dare?
What if we were given
Just one single day
What would we do
Would we give ourselves away
What about if…
We were given only two
Would we still set out
To please God in all we do?
What if all believers
Decided right now
That God’s work was too vital
To simply throw in the towel
I think I know the answer
I think it is clear
For His promises are sure
And can eradicate our fear
A revival would come
Like has never before
We would be the Church
And like Christ even more
So mobilize sleeping giant
It’s time to stand up and fight
We are the hope for the world
Serve others with all your might.
If we are not careful, we can begin to think that the people around us do not have deep hurts and pains like we do. Sometimes, our own suffering can be so distracting that we forget that we are not alone. As a pastor, I can look out among the faces that make up my congregation and see the struggles etched into their countenance. From confidential conversations to very public pain, I have evidence to prove that every person during any given worship service has a situation on their mind that is weighing them down.
The people “out there” are allowed to have struggles, and discouraging thoughts, but sometimes pastors believe that they are exempt from this type of human display and have no right to have similar feelings. There is a reason for this too. Many times when pastors publically express their discouragement, they are reprimanded and told they must not truly be called to ministry if they are tempted to whine about their situation.
The fact is, pastors do have discouraging thoughts. We are taught to suppress and hide them though, because it is not an attractive quality. We are treated like salespeople, and we all know that it is hard to sell a product when we are not always enthused and encouraged. This leads to silence and church leaders practically become robots. So, before going further, let’s just agree that pastors are allowed to have these thoughts. It’s okay. Yes, God has called us, and no we are not abandoning our faith, but pastors want to be considered as much a part of the congregation as anyone else. We are real people.
With that being said, I think there are 4 common discouraging thoughts pastors often have (and it’s going to be okay):
The People You Help Most Are the First to Leave
This thought can be the most frustrating. Whether we like to admit it or not, there are people who require more attention than others. In ministry, there can be only a few people who take up a majority of a pastor’s ministerial energy. Every pastor I know would agree that helping people both physically and spiritually is the biggest thrill and a reward in itself, but it can weigh heavy on our hearts when we realize that the people we have invested so much energy in are the first ones to give up on the church entirely. It could be that they were passionate about it at one time, but suddenly they just disappear.
People Just Don’t Care Anymore
Sometimes, in ministry, it is easy to believe this because pastors are not sensing an atmosphere of urgency in the hearts of the people. People become distracted with other priorities and it feels like church becomes more of a hobby than a hunger. There are seasons in which it is so difficult to motivate people to authentically listen to God’s call. Then, sometimes seemingly overnight, hearts are stirred again and momentum is restored. The time in the valley, though, can be excruciating.
I Can’t Do This…
It is easy for church leaders to run out of ideas, energy, motivation, and positivity when it feels like the proverbial walls are closing in. A pastor can sit alone and begin to lose themselves in the negative self-talk that inevitably distorts the reality that God is truly moving. The 3am calls, hard decisions, waiting, visitations, preaching preparation, conflict mediation, and other normal pastoral duties can be taxing. In these times, perseverance always proves to triumph because God then brings a great encouragement that breathes life back into their dry bones.
I’m Not Doing Enough
This is a big one for EVERY pastor I know. Sometimes no matter how much is done, and how many hours in a day are dedicated to formal ministry, the devil plays with our minds and makes us think we are not even making a dent in accomplishing the work God has called us to do. A pastor will go sleepless thinking about the concept of more meetings, visitations, or bible studies in hopes that the congregation will be inspired by their efforts. The truth is, God often does His most amazing work in the times of “stillness”.
I know I am going to get a lot of comments about this blog, but my heart wants to be open and honest. Many think that pastors should simply do the work they are called to without complaint (my intention is not to complain, but to be transparent) because “if they were really called they would be joyful about the process”. Well, interestingly enough, God only calls humans to be pastors and humans are creatures who think these things.
Despite the thoughts that ministers have, it is amazing to see how God blesses despite our fallibility. I can name time after time in which God has shown me His mercy in the valley and it has brought new life to my heart and soul.
Ministry is so rewarding. I am so glad that God has called me to it.
Love you all.