Grace is Rare

Grace Is RareUnless you have been living under a rock, you have probably read articles, or have seen news segments about recent allegations surrounding pastors who have morally fallen. Some of these stories involve sexual misconduct, and others imply that the leaders have mismanaged funds belonging to the church or organization they lead. The fallout of these allegations can be devastating. They can give their families a deep wound and tear apart the church they were once pastoring. Some ministers have been arrested, or publicly shamed for their actions and when this happens, we all know social media goes wild with comments. Certainly, if these allegations are true, we should hold the leaders accountable and they should repent of their actions. These actions come from a prideful heart and sometimes the money and influence become intoxicating.

The circumstances alluded to above can cause energetic conversation at the dinner table. These scandals are not just confined to those serving in a pulpit, though. We can all tell stories of people who we once trusted yet let us down in a catastrophic way. Odds are, if they have developed trust with us, they are probably considered a “good person” by the world’s standards. They have given to charity, encouraged their neighbor, and they even were once considered a model citizen. Then, something goes wrong, and their affair is exposed, or their unflattering mugshot is displayed on the evening news.

When these things happen, what is our response? Well, if you are the average human being with a social media account, you have 1 of 2 reactions. Either you are shocked and thrown off balance, or you proclaim with arrogance that you “knew” they were not as “squeaky clean” as everyone thought. The sad part of all of this is…far too many people have the second reaction. It is one that is very common in our culture. When we experience a person who seemingly has it together, and is living a “great” life, it is tempting to always retain a level of suspicion about them. That way, when someone messes up, we can immediately jump on the “I told you so” wagon. The reflex of distrust in these situations only takes a microsecond to develop. As a culture…distrust comes quickly.

What about the inverse, though? Why does it not work the other way around? Let’s say a person who has lived an unscrupulous life experiences a complete transformation. Perhaps this individual has hurt us many times in the past without repentance. In cases like this, our minds have been conditioned to distribute grace slowly. Why is this? Can’t forgiveness come as quickly with a person who hurt us as distrust comes after an infraction?

The reality is we live in a fallen world that is very bad at reconciliation. When someone is restored to a new life, it is tempting to not believe them until we personally see some benefit from their life. This makes us just as selfish as the transgressor. Grace is a rare commodity, and I understand that healing takes longer than being wounded, but we must get to a point in our maturity when we develop a quick forgiveness reflex. Does this mean we could be hurt? Yes…yes it does. I won’t sugarcoat it. The purpose, though, is not for us to live in euphoria…it is to share in the redemption of others. Let go of fear, and embrace forgiveness.

-Landon DeCrastos

A Thief in the Night

lightHave you ever had something stolen from you? It is a unique feeling that only occurs when this event takes place. When I was a youth pastor in Florida, my wife and I lived in an apartment complex only a few miles away from the church.  It was a safe neighborhood, and everyone we met was very friendly.

One morning, we decided to sleep in and get a little extra rest. We had gone to bed late the night before watching a movie, and were in a deep sleep. All of the sudden we were jolted awake by a knock on the door. It was a loud knock. We were not expecting company, and we were still “rockin’ the pj’s”. I rushed out to the front room and looked through the peephole only to see a shiny police badge on the chest of a large buzz cut human being. He looked like he meant business.

“Can I help you?”, I questioned. I assumed he had the wrong apartment, and if this was the case I was poised to be a little cranky because I wanted more sleep. “Are you the owner of a silver Chevy Cobalt?”, he asked. I nodded my head, and he motioned me outside of the apartment. When he took me to our car, I saw a pile of shattered glass. Someone had broken into our car and several other cars. For some reason, this also happened to be the first (and last) time I had ever left my wallet in my car out in the open. Yep…you guessed it. It was stolen.

You may have been in this situation before. We felt so violated, and immediately our minds went to how we were going to respond to this event. We wanted justice. We wanted these people to be caught. We wanted our stuff back. We wanted more sleep! There was also a little part of us that wanted to give up because we didn’t think there was ever going to be a way to recoup the cost of hat was taken. After the dust settled and we figured out logistics, we realized that it was only stuff and we were going to be okay.

As I reflected on this situation I realized that this feeling is what many deal with on a regular basis. Perhaps not in the sense that someone broke into their car and stole a wallet, but often in a much deeper way. Many feel like something has been taken from them. This feeling could come from an abusive past, a damaged relationship, constant disappointment, or the aftermath of addiction. The result can be extremely harmful, because the feeling of violation slowly emerges over time. Due to the speed of its full onset many people become so comfortable with this feeling, but cannot point out why they are miserable, because this becomes normal. They develop unhealthy habits, lifestyles, and patterns of behavior all because their life is now (while they do not admit it) defined by the pain that they have been feeling for such a long time.

We may never fully know the hurt people are dealing with, but we do know where to find the antidote. We all bring a certain amount of pain and experience to the table. We have to approach people with love and grace, and try to understand them before we jump to conclusions. God understands how we think, operate, and respond to the world around us but He wants to free us from unhealthy patterns that only perpetuate this type of life.

As Christians, we are called to help people sort out the logistics of the mess that they are in, and point them to restoration. First, we pray that God will equip us to lead people to freedom. Then, we approach life with a willingness to be used by God in any way He sees fit. This is an uncomfortable position to be in, but a necessary one in order to be used by God to the fullest of our potential. We will not always be thanked for this, because many are in love with their pain, and don’t want to be awaken from their sleep. Scripture shows us our brokenness, and a relationship with God provides the grace for mending. When people are rescued from their darkness, they become a powerful weapon against darkness, because they knew what it felt like to feel alone.

The thief of our soul wants us to stay broken. He wants us to stay violated. His desire is destruction.

Be a change agent. A hope dealer. Spread the light.

-Landon DeCrastos

The Valley

valleyAs I sit and write this blog post today, I can’t help but experience a variety of emotions. I have a hidden discouragement that is covered by a smile, but secretly I am in pain. I am in a valley. You may have been where I am as well. If you know me very well, you may now know that I lost my day job this week.

Before you get upset at the company for letting me go, let me be very clear…the company I worked for was amazing in every sense of the word. I was good at what I did, but there were a few functions of the job that I simply was not wired for. As a result, they asked me to leave. I have never been terminated before, so you can imagine the feelings that were flooding my brain and heart during this conversation.

The good thing is…my relationship with the leadership of my former place of employment is fully in tact, and there is no hard feelings. In fact, during the final meeting I had with my employers, we prayed together and cried. It was a decision that I think they needed to make and it will better the company.

I am a bivocational pastor, so losing my full time job was quite the hit. When the words were spoken, my heart sank. Immediately I began to think about providing for my family and the malnourished bank account we already had.  I was mad at God, and wondered how He could let this happen. I cried, and thought I was all alone. I felt worthless. I felt shame. I felt embarrassed. Not only was I in a deep valley…but it was a big valley.

When I walked out of my place of employment for the last time, I made a promise to myself and to God. I promised that I would be open and transparent about the physical and emotional journey I was on; from the very moment I was let go. It is a hard promise to keep. I am doing this, because I think there are many people who are going through (or have gone through) this situation and wonder if the thoughts they are having are normal, and if the struggle they have is appropriate. You are not alone. Like I said…I am in a valley. You have been in this valley too. Many times. You may have not lost a job, but you have lost a loved one or wondered where the next dollar was coming from.

The valley is an interesting place to be. As humans, we avoid the situations that lead us to this point, but we can all honestly say we know the feeling well. While going through times that make us feel pain, all we want to do is get away and make the hurting stop. We want to do this, because we are afraid that it will never end. Sometimes, we lose our hope and don’t know where to turn. And, when we are being led through the valley, all we can do is look up to the mountaintops and long to be there with the people that have smiles plastered on their faces.

Why does God allow us to be in the valley? As I have waded through a knee-deep pile of confusion and pain, I think I may have figured something out about this mystery. As I have reflected on this illustration, I have realized that water does not stay on the mountain peaks, but always funnels down crevices and declines until it empties into the vast depths of the valley.

I think this is how God’s grace works. Sometimes, we experience a more powerful display of the living water when we are going through the lowest points in our journey. Even if you are at your lowest point…I can tell you it is about to rain. Look up and receive the water. Grace is coming.

All I can do at this point is look up and praise my God…and expect miracles. I am at peace.

-Landon DeCrastos

 

5 Confessions of a Tired Pastor

Yawning2At 2:30pm today, I hit the wall…you know what wall I am talking about. The one you may hit everyday too. I try so desperately to fight it, but often it overtakes my every move. A yawn escapes and there is something so satisfying about letting it go. It may be my personality, but I often find myself in these moments snapping myself out of a daydream. I do that often…I can’t seem to help it. Then, somehow, I make it through. I leave work and come home to a house teeming with life, pretend and snotty noses…and then it is bedtime for the kids and sometimes I stare at a blinking cursor…knowing that God wants me to share my heart, but with droopy eyelids. This is my life.

As a bivocational pastor, I have found myself getting into unhealthy routines because my brain and heart are on autopilot. Between my day job, preaching, visiting people in the hospital, counseling people, putting out fires, parenting, and life in general it is easy to make excuses for myself. As I write this blog today, I feel led to admit some things you may not know about me. I am tired…and I have some confessions to make.

The following are 5 confessions I have about my life as a pastor:

1. I don’t get into God’s word like I should– It is funny. The most energizing and life giving activity that I engage in is something that is often put on the back burner. Granted, I do dip into scripture regularly to prepare my messages, but I definitely feel the damage when I get into a habit of “snacking” on scripture and neglect the full meals that I need. I know that God is not going to keep me from Heaven because I got half way through the Psalms and got side tracked…and really that’s not the point. The point of soaking in scripture is to fall more in love with the author. I need this.

2. Sometimes I want to cuss– It’s true. It really affects the glow of my halo too. Don’t worry conservative fan base….I don’t, but I want to. Often something will come up that is stressful, or I have realized I have dropped the ball on a project, and I get as far as a “crud” and dare not go any further. What I have found, for me, is that the less I soak in scripture as mentioned above, the more these thoughts erupt.

3. From time to time I pray selfishly– It is a joy to pray for people in their time of need or simply when they come to mind. I will confess that there are rare times when I simply want to have what I want. A fat bank account, a new house, a smaller pant size, and the list goes on and on. As a result of these things, sometimes God hears about it…and the prayer request that someone gives me comes second. God checks me during these times, and reminds me of the blessings that He has provided…or…at the moment I will see one of my children boumding past my view and I am reminded how rich I am.

4. I find myself not trusting God– There are times where I look at the bank account and the prognosis doesn’t look good or I gear up for a relational battle that I think may be coming, and I forget that God is supposed to be in control. I try to take hold of the outcome so I am not left looking silly or so I can still look good. God has shown me, so many times, that his timing and methods are perfect. I don’t have to worry…but I confess that even though I preach this at church regularly, I often get caught in the negativity trap.

5. I often feel sorry for myself– If something happens to me or there were not many people at church this Sunday, I tend to have a short-lived pity party. It is a trance that I get into. I convince myself no one cares and no one should care, and I begin to get upset based on a false reality that I create in my mind. I think God wants so much more for me. He is always waiting for me, to snap out of it, and return to serving.

Like mentioned above, it is easy to come up with excuse after excuse. I could tell you about all the things I need to do between now and next week and cite these things as a reason for the way I handle situations. I am tired. I am a pastor. I desire to know Him more and serve Him. I get angry, and I falter. Obviously, I know God wants more from me. Sometimes it is really hard. But, when I think about it…I wouldn’t have it any other way. What keeps me going is the celebration I see in a person’s eyes when God reveals Himself to them in a mighty way. Really…I am living the dream, and my faults are opportunities to be transformed. I am not perfect but God is chpping away at my edges. I am so grateful.

-Landon DeCrastos

The Problem with Pain

There is an epidemic that is spreading throughout the world. It is one that every human being has experienced and will continue to experience until they enter their eternity. This epidemic is the ailment we call pain.

For the most part, humans try to avoid pain, or when they are in the midst of it, attempt to find some sort of sedation. I see this every day in my day job (a doctor’s office). People call every day wanting their pain medications and depression drugs so that they will not have to feel what is affecting them.

People are in pain….I get that. It hurts….I get that too. Pain is not always a physical malady that we can treat with medication, but often hits us in our emotional center. This often hurts us the most. It feels better to alleviate it….It is easier to concentrate when it is gone.

I think we often misunderstand the interplay of God and our perceived archenemy; pain. We assume that God’s main job in life is to take away our pain, and even prevent it. I tend to agree, mostly, with these assumptions but I think there are times where pain is a necessary tool to use to guide us to holiness.

In ancient times, when a lamb would wander away from its shepherd, the shepherd would break a leg of the lamb and carry it on his shoulders until it is healed. The pain for the lamb would be trememdous and the shepherd would also experience turmoil for the pain that it inflicted on the lamb. The point? The lamb’s leg was going to heal and simultaneously this delicate animal would learn to fully depend upon its master. The nature of the relationship changes for the two characters in this story and, at the same time, the lamb’s leg is stronger than ever.

Why do we equate pain with evil? God never said that pain didn’t exist before the fall of man…He just said that the fall would be painful (childbirth, death, etc).

God cares about your pain and truly desires to heal you……Just don’t allow any suffering you experience to be wasted.

What is Love? (baby don’t hurt me)

“…love is patient, love is kind…” -1 Corinthians 13

I have both officiated and attended several weddings in my lifetime. Almost all of the weddings I have attended have included this verse (including my own). This is a very popular verse that gives inspiration to many, and the tone that it is read in often instills feels of warmth and relaxation. We imagine the author writing with a big grin…with weddings in mind.

When we read the history behind this passage, however, a different intention is revealed. Paul was writing to a church that was experiencing struggles, infighting, and an attack on the message that they have come to know. Rivalry between social class, families, and members of the church had emerged and threatened to destroy the community that God had built.

So, Paul, with this understanding, pleads with this church. He wants them to understand what true love looks like. He wanted them to know that this love that comes from God is patient, kind (infighting), it does not boast (social class)…and deserves more than just lip service. Christ’s death on the cross was meant to convey power…not counterfeit feelings.

Paul realized that these people who called themselves Christians could do everything they were told to do, but if they did not do it with love…then their actions would be worthless and their speech would be just noise (resounding gong or clanging cymbal).

What we say and what we do can help or hurt if depending on whether love is our driving force. This passage is not meant to be lovey-dovey, but a plea of frustration.

The concept of love is not a weak. It is the power that created the universe…and the blood spilled in the war for your soul.

-Landon DeCrastos

The Pattern of Pain

If I kicked you in the shin what would you do? This may seem like a silly question but the answer to this may help us understand how we react to pain. In general, it is safe to say that most humans have the same pattern of response to an assault that inflicts pain. The visual display may look different but the reaction has similar foundations. This same response can not only be seen with physical pain but also with the infliction of emotional distress.

As I have been reflecting about the concept of pain, 3 steps (obviously not the only steps) of pain response come to mind that manifest in different ways.

1. Expression of Pain (OUCH!)- When many experience an unwelcome trespass on their comfort, the natural urge is to make that infraction known. The reflex of expression shows the assailant that harm has been done and that, at the very least, restitution is deserved. Some try to mask this step by acting like everything is okay, but the bottled hurt manifests itself in other areas of life.

2. Anger- When a person comes to terms with the fact that there has been harm done to them anger or indignation occurs. This anger causes the mind to think of ways justice can be served. “Lashing out” for retribution often occurs. This reaction could be passive, and the individual may seek justice but this justice may look more like “pity” or the infliction of guilt on the opponent.

3. Questioning the Event– When someone is “kicked in the shin”, as was started earlier; the final response may be to question why they were the one hurt. Often times, if the answer is not adequate to the one harmed a new pattern of pain commences. A new cycle has begun.

Why am I saying all of this? Well, we can see this same pattern in our spiritual lives. Many people have been dealing with deep pain for a very long time. Pain that is unresolved can feed a cycle that leads to deeper anger, bitterness, and even addictions. If we can’t understand why we are hurting, or even refuse to seek an answer (we have become comfortable in our suffering) then doubt, fear, anxiety, or unhealthy relationships have a natural breeding ground.

Seek to understand how you respond to pain.

God is not calling us to lead a pain free life, but to be a living example of what healing looks like.

-Landon DeCrastos

The Cure

I have seen the commericial many times before. It is an advertisement for a new miracle pain reliever. It is powerful, and it has to be prescribed by a doctor. The nice lady in the background tells me how it can cure migraines…I have seen the commercial so many times, that I start to have a migraine. Well….not really.

When watching commercials like this it is interesting and somewhat entertaining to hear the long list of side affects associated with the drug. A pill that is meant to treat minor pain can cause nausea, itching, drowsiness,  insomnia (odd how it can make you sleepy and not able to sleep), and trouble swallowing. In a few tests, death occurs… The side affects, to me, make the medicine not worth buying. Many times people will over medicate themselves, and are incorrectly medicated to attempt some sort of retreat from their pain.

We often try to swallow the “pills”  that the world has to offer. Many long to thwart the evils of deep internal pain, so they look to sin to be numbed. Some will drink, seek sexual immorality, drugs, and other idolatry. God tells us the side affect of this treatment in Romans 6:23. The apostle Paul says, “  For the wages of sin is death…” We all are familiar with the concept of wages….An individual earns according to the work that they do. One earns death, if sin is the occupation. The side affects of attempting an artificial cure is death.

Jesus can heal all of our pain, and a life lived for Him is one that will last forever. Will there still be pain? Of course, but we will be glorified with God through the way we deal with it through prayer. The great physician is with us always. Talk about a fast house call!

God, however, shows us the side affects of His prescription. In the second part of that same passage Paul says, “…BUT the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The cross is sin’s antidote.

-Landon DeCrastos