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.
I can only imagine how the disciples and the extended family of Christ followers felt sitting in a poorly lit room 7 weeks after Jesus ascended into Heaven. They probably felt defeated and completely drained of all hope. When you think about it, the only instruction they had was to “go back to Jerusalem” and pray. This would have naturally seemed counterproductive, but then again they have seen amazing things happen because of time spent in desperate prayer. But…Jesus was gone now…and it seemed unlikely that anything memorable was going to happen.
They remembered the good ‘ol days when just 12 disciples and their supernaturally gifted rabbi healed, preached, and interacted with individuals with the obvious power and authority of Yahweh. 12 followers grew into thousands of families who longed to be affected by this man who seemed to fulfill all the requirements of the long-awaited Messiah.
The remnant of followers reorganized themselves and scraped together the last set of believers to pray as instructed. Then, something amazing happened. The Holy Spirit came and empowered this marginally talented bunch of commoners and the masses came to faith in Jesus. They simply prayed and then were faithful to what God led them to do. Each person had a role and a small amount of people impacted the world. The events of Pentecost in Acts 2, created a domino effect that has changed the course of history. God’s power was shown and people repented of their sin. The world was beginning to reconcile with the Creator; one person at a time.
There have been 2 movies lately that have impacted my view of God’s call on my life. They have been used as an illustration for my divine purpose.
The first movie is Schindler’s List. If you have ever seen that movie, you know that the main character, Oskar Schindler saved the lives of 1,200 Jews during the brutal reign on Adolf Hitler in World War II. He spent all of his wealth to employ these men, women, and children from death at the hands of the Nazi party. At the end of the movie, Schindler was stricken with grief because he realized there were still things he could have sold to have the money to rescue more Jews. He could have sold his car, his gold lapel pin, etc.
The second movie is a newer one; Hacksaw Ridge. In this movie, Desmond Doss (who was a conscientious objector in World War II) was a medic who saved many men who were injured on the battle field. He single handedly dragged these men and lowered them down a cliff face to safety. Some estimate that he saved over 100 people (true story). While his hands, back, and arms ached heavily as he lowered them to where they needed to be, Doss kept repeating a simple prayer to help him gain strength. “Lord, just one more”, he said over and over. He wanted to save people so desperately, and he knew he didn’t have the strength to do it on his own. He wanted to rescue “just one more”.
There is a theme running through these scenarios. God has shown me that my purpose in life is not to put more butts in church seats, but to help create a traffic jam at the gates of Heaven. I have fervently prayed that God will give me “just one more” person to minister to, and impact for the gospel of Jesus Christ. My heart’s desire is to see people transformed by Jesus. I know I can’t do this on my own, but I can do what I have been told to do.
Can you pray that prayer with me? Can you pray that God will continue to put people in my path to love, serve, and grow with?
If you follow Jesus…I will pray the same for you.
Love you all.
My son’s demanding shout came from the back seat…”TELL ME WHERE WE ARE GOING!!!” In my house, if we are doing something fun for the whole family, we keep it a secret from the children. This is not necessarily so we can have a giant reveal and see the look on their faces, but because of the incessant questions and whining that will inevitably occur from the time they are told our fun location to the time we arrive. My kids, when they know something fun is going to happen, tend to get really impatient.
Often we will tell them when we are in the car on our way to the exciting destination. This particular trip was not really that different. In this particular instance, we decided not to tell them until we were about 30 minutes away, due to the fact that it was going to be a two-hour excursion; which was equivalent to some CIA level torture in the minds of my offspring. As implied above, the little man who thinks he runs my house became irate with the fact that we did not let him in on the secret. So, like any good parent, we yelled back disciplinary threats in hopes the screaming would stop. It didn’t. In fact, he became so upset that he threw out a bluff. He said that he didn’t want to go anymore (with arms folded of course) and wanted to go back home. Of course we rolled our eyes and ignored it. We knew he would be elated when we arrived.
I can’t help but think of the Israelites in the book of Exodus. Over and over again, God had shown his power, faithfulness, and eagerness to accomplish His will through His people, but every time, His people slipped back into their own comfortable habits. In the journey that took place during this time, God gave them specific instructions regarding behavior and when to move after the Tabernacle was built. God would show up regularly in the form of a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day, and these forms would fill the holiest place of the Tabernacle. Israel saw the result of His glory. God then instructed the people to get up and move their camp, only when God’s presence left. They were instructed to follow cloud and fire. They never knew when they were leaving, and they never knew where they were going. They just followed.
Despite the miracles and consistent provision God gave His people, they still felt the need to complain regularly. Whether it was food, water, sickness, worship, or legal disputes…they made a full time job out of whining about their circumstances. On more than one occasion, many even threatened to find their way back to Egypt. The only reason cited was the fact that Egypt made a mean cheeseburger (paraphrase) and they missed it. In many other cases, people even fell back into idolatry as if they were chomping at the bit to get back into these old habits.
I can accuse Israel of being selfish, impatient, and ignorant all day, but I have to look into the mirror. We tend to be like 4 year olds who do not know where they are going, when God calls us to follow. That is the temptation, at least. We want to know NOW, and if we are not informed then we begin to look back at our past as a comfortable and controllable existence. Faith is the concept of believing in that which we cannot see. We can accept that cognitively, but it is so hard to act as if it were true.
If we ask God, in honest times of prayer, to guide us we must be ready for uncertainty and discomfort. Also, we must be ready to move when He does instead of complain about our lack of knowledge, resources, abilities, and influence. Just follow.
The world is a dark place. It needs us to follow. It needs us to be uncertain but resolute. It needs us to be all in for Christ. What is stopping us?
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.
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.