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.
Several years ago, I had the privilege of crossing the stage at Anderson University with my Master’s degree from their amazing seminary. I remember the way I felt as I walked the graduation path with other students. I kept thinking about the logistics of shaking the dean’s hand and taking the diploma along with smiling for the camera. I can barely walk while chewing gum, so I wanted to make sure I retained deep focus.
My years at this school were so helpful for me and my ministry. I have had many friends attend seminary in different places. Some schools were much smaller, and some were much larger. In all of these cases, the general experiences we all had were pretty universal. I would not take back my time at that school for any reason. With this being said, it is impossible for a school of theology and ministry of any type to fully prepare a pastor for everything they are going to encounter. I wish I would have known more going into ministry, but I honestly think God wants all ministers to learn through experience in many cases.
When a pastor leaves seminary, they are so full of life, energy, and hope. They want to enter their first ministerial assignment and change the world, grow the church, and be viewed as the resident scholar of their flock. They often forget that each church is significantly different, and has their own unique culture. Sometimes, changes that are made are needed greatly and other times the pastor simply has an exciting new idea that they have always wanted to implement.
So, here are 4 Things I Didn’t Learn in Seminary.
- Music does NOT equal relevance – As a pastor, I always assumed that if we had great upbeat music and manufactured an exciting Sunday morning service, then this would be the catalyst for people being converted by the hundreds. I fully understand that music is a great medium for conveying a powerful message or setting a certain tone, but people do not come to Jesus because of how up-to-date we are with the music selection. I have had in-depth conversations with younger pastors who would not dare select certain songs to sing at church because they were “no longer on the radio”. In my experience, people can talk about music all day, but true maturity comes from living life with people, visiting them in the hospital, and rejoicing with my congregation when someone has a baby. Relevance comes with relationship and truth.
- The valleys are vital parts of the church’s ministry – If you don’t read or retain anything else from this blog today, please make sure you retain this. In every ministry, pastors experience highs and lows, and discouragement is simply part of the job description. Many, when hit with a devastating blow, will question their pastoral call and they will pray to God to move them elsewhere. Granted, I want to acknowledge that sometimes there are very evident times for a pastor to move on in their ministry, but I really feel like far too many give up far too early. A young pastor is given the impression that God’s call can only be affirmed if amazing numerical growth is taking place and finances are not an issue. The truth is, people in our congregations need to see how we respond to valleys, because that helps us gain credibility and it shows humanness.
- It is okay to truly love your congregation – In the realm of pastoral leadership, there is an unwritten rule about friendships. You can’t have them. Many pastors are looked at as a remote leadership figure who should not have deep loving relationships with their flock, because there is an implication (elephant in the room) that they will eventually leave to move on to another church. In my context, I am learning more and more that this mentality is not only false but could be damaging to the minister’s family and vocation. People need to know they are loved by their shepherd, and that can’t be conveyed unless time is spent with the people that are being led. I know what you are thinking. “What if that pastor leaves? Won’t there be disappointment?” Yes. Of course, but if we never cultivated deep relationships because of the possibility of pain, then we would be empty human beings.
- Your deepest impact won’t come from new and exciting ideas – It is inevitable. If a pastor gives their life to the call God has placed on them, and preaches the good news of Jesus, then there is going to be a time in the future where someone is going to thank them for it. This is not why we do what we do, but it just makes sense that if a family will be transformed by the gospel and will want to shake the leader’s hand who introduced them to the truth. If you’re a minister on the receiving end of this, you will notice something very interesting. The person expressing their gratitude will not cite a cool new program you thought of, or the knowledge you gained from a trendy growth conference. They will tell you that they are thankful that you cared about them enough to be at their surgery or pray for their wife who had a miscarriage. Exciting ideas about new ministries are excellent tools to facilitate learning and outreach, but they do not replace walking alongside families or individuals in their time of need.
There are obviously many other things that are better learned with life experience than “book learnin’ ” but these are simply a few that have recently come to mind.
My prayer is that pastors keep their mind and heart open to what God wants to teach them.
Love you all.
I sat in front of a couple who were so newly married that their rings still lacked any scuff. They were struggling desperately with issues that were not resolved prior to their marriage.
The wife wrestled with insecurities, anger, and disconnectedness. The husband dealt with denial and an inability to relate to his new bride. He felt as if he was being compared to past boyfriends, despised because of his lack of understanding, and he was frustrated because he felt as if something was being hidden from him. Both of these individuals were broken, and at the end of their ropes.
They said things to each other that could not be taken back, and things had escalated to the point of possible divorce.
As a young pastor, these type of situations make me feel so inadequate. It, however is part of my job, and a calling I have accepted. During these type of conversations and tense moments, I have to pray and trust that God will give me the words to say and hope that some amount of educational memories make their way to my tongue as I speak. This situation was one I have dealt with in the past, but every marital difficulty is like a snowflake. None are exactly the same.
As I inwardly prayed for God to guide my thoughts and speech I looked the wife in the eyes. These eyes were red from weeping, and her mascara was ruined. When I looked into her eyes, I saw pain and a little girl hiding behind a rock. If you know me very well, you know that sometimes God gives me the ability to look into the eyes of someone I am talking to and, I feel, God gives me a mental picture to illustrate what they are feeling. Obviously it is impossible to fully know what the pain feels like, but it helps when knowing what to say to start digging deeper into understanding the core issues. This beautiful lady that sat before me was dealing with deep insecurities, fear, and anger and, as I mentioned I saw a little girl hiding behind a rock. As If she was once hurt and was afraid it would happen again.
At that moment, I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to ask her a question. A question that would be very risky, and, if I was completely off base, would embarrass me and damage my credibility as their pastoral counselor. “How old were you?” I inquired. She stopped crying and looked at me as if I had uttered a gibberish language. “What?” she answered. “I said…how old were you. How old were you when it happened?” Her eyes became wide and the tears began to flow. The crying became more and more intense and finally, after a little recovery, she spoke. “I was 15”.
Internally, I was extremely surprised that I hit the wound. Then, I continued. “Who did it?” The tears came again and she told me that her boyfriend at the time was the culprit.
This lovely young woman was raped. This was the root of her pain. It had caused a domino effect of shame and she felt as if she was irreparably broken because of what happened. The husband also had past issues that needed to be addressed. I explained that these past hurts had to be confronted and we set up a plan to move forward to address the situation.
I wish I could say that this marriage was fully restored because of my eloquent words and deep wisdom. It wasn’t. Eventually the couple went separate ways, and after this break up, the healing began. It took a few years for this woman to find healing and a healthy relationship. She allowed God to work through her, and even though the past is not erased, she found that the brokenness in her heart was less painful.
She was right. Her heart was irreparably broken. God, however, gave her a new heart that is whole.
I thank God for speaking to me that day. This is the second time something like this has happened in this context.
If you feel like you are broken beyond repair, remember that God wants you to be whole. There is hope for the broken. I promise. Help is available whether you believe it right now or not.
Love you all.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This week marked the entrance of a new chapter in American history. Donald Trump has been elected president. It is universally accepted and known that this election season has brought about division, anger, and fear among many people. We know that fear is satan’s tool that is used for the primary purpose of division. It bothers me that our country is divided, but it doesn’t fully surprise me. Our compassion for our neighbor, and our love of humanity is a great talking point in public but is often abandoned when we simply want to be right.
If we call ourselves Christians, then that indicates a certain past that has been recreated into a completely different future. Being transformed by Jesus directly implies that there is, or has been a need for our old hearts to be exchanged for new ones. If you truly follow Jesus than this should inform every square inch of your private and public life.
I have seen a certain Christian cliché circulating that I want to address today. It is one that sounds great, but is actually quite terrifying to our status quo. The phrase “No matter who is president, Jesus is King!” is being passed around as a way to comfort and assure people who love God to carry on despite who may have been elected into office. Initially, this sound like solid biblical truth, and in some cases it is, but in other cases it has proven to be absolutely false.
Jesus is the king of the universe and His throne is in Heaven. He is king of all creation, and we know that God created all the birds of the air, flowers of the fields, fish of the sea, and creatures of the ground. God is sovereign concerning the future, and even referring to the past. So, in these cases, we can all agree that “Jesus is King”.
But…is Jesus REALLY king? I honestly don’t know. The reason I say this is because this is a question that you will have to answer in your heart and mind. I say this, because, if Jesus is not the king of your heart, if He does not have access to every corner of your life, and if His word means nothing regarding the way you orient your priorities, then I would have to ask if the statement in question is even valid.
Jesus may be king of everything…but…is He king of you?
If He is, then this will inform how you treat your neighbors, post your statuses, parent your children, organize your finances, and set up your priorities.
So before you even think about saying, ““No matter who is president, Jesus is King!” make sure it is true for you. Pray fervently that God will permeate your heart, convict you of sin, and become desperate for more of Him.
Love you all.
What happened to the practice of a father blessing his children? When I say “bless”, I don’t mean the act of bestowing material goods. I mean blessing in a similar sense that we use the word “anoint” in the biblical context.
In the Bible, we see several instances where a father gives his children a blessing, and this would include an affirmation of who they are and what the father is praying they will become.
Today, we live in a society that would reject this concept on many levels. The current prevailing conversation about the growth of a child centers on the child exploring who they are and forming their own identity. There is nothing wrong with allowing a child to grow and discover what occupation they want to be involved in, but this is not the same as the concept of identity. This task can be confusing and even discouraging for a young person. Perhaps, they are not supposed to do this alone.
The biblical imagery of the father’s blessing shows that the father is instrumental in calling the spiritual identity out of the child as if they were calling upon a militia in hiding to join the battle. A father or father figure’s affirmation in this area is vital, because he is the one who is tasked with recognizing what is not easily seen in this young life.
Today, I want to make known the blessings I have for my children in the form of short letters:
Your name means, “God Heals”. You have such a competitive, and powerful spirit and I have recognized that you also have a compassionate heart. You are my boy, and I love you. Heal the broken. Clothe the naked. Feed the less fortunate. Become a hero to the hurting. You were made, just like the king in scripture who also bears your name, to bring people back to God. You have a huge job ahead of you, and I bless you in the name of Jesus. Grow into who you were made to be. I am so proud of who you already are and how you are a champion for the less fortunate. Fall in love with God’s word. Continue to fight for what is right. Serve the church. Give generously. Share your testimony of how God will show you His miracles. Never stop doing good.
You are my little princess. You were made to glorify God with your body, mind, and spirit. You are too gorgeous for your own good, and this fact will give you great power and impact on the world around you. Always remember that you are perfect. Reject the devil’s lies. He doesn’t stand a chance against you as long as you remain in Christ. I have recognized in you the power you possess in your prayers. So, I am calling out this gift in you. In the name of Jesus, I am blessing you in this area. Continue to grow as a mighty prayer warrior. Someday, you will be sought out for this quality and people will specifically ask you to intercede for them. Your words, and your connection to God will change the outcome of lives that are represented on your prayer list. People will sense God’s presence when they are around you. Even though you are little, you have impressed me with your desire to be nurturing, kind, and loving. Don’t forget who you are and, most of all, whose you are. Daddy loves you.
Kids need direction and affirmation for who they are. They are brand new explorers of this world, and without a tour guide, they will become lost. If you are reading this today, will you allow me to bless you too?
In the name of Jesus, I am calling out the spirit that made you who you are and who God wants you to be. Love each other. Stand for what is right. Pray for your enemies. Remember your value. Don’t forget who you are and whose you are…
That’s all I got…
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.