Lesson Time- He Used Their Memory

Check out the video for this week’s teaching! This is such an important concept to grasp.

www.youtube.com/watch

Dodging Rocks: What Purity Feels Like

dodging rocks

Take a deep breath. Close your eyes. Take a restful nap with nothing on your mind. Imagine a life where you could exist in peace and harmony. Ok, so I am not leading a yoga class right now, and I may seem like I am going to the extreme, but in all seriousness there are some important lessons to be learned from the practice of embracing peace.

Many people struggle to find stillness in their life, because their mind and body are always on the go. Busyness has taken over hearts and schedules fill up. This is reality. Life happens and we all have a task list to complete. Today, however I don’t want to talk about peace as the opposite of busyness, but peace as the antidote for sin. Purity is peace.

Culturally, we have embraced the lie that says that in order to be accepted and affirmed in society, we must participate in acts of sin and those things that erode our soul. Often, when someone sets out to live a life of purity, avoiding things that take one captive, they are ridiculed and accused of acting “superior” (and certainly those people exist). Then, there are those people who don’t just ridicule the person who tries to glorify God through their actions, but they actively attempt to sidetrack an individual…or perhaps that is not their intention, but their actions would lead one to believe that they do not care about the spiritual well-being of another.  So, what happens is…their actions may help bring about more temptation for a person truly trying to keep on the right path in their life.

Which begs the question…should we take responsibility for another person’s actions? Or…maybe putting it another way…Is it our fault if someone chooses to sin? Well, I think yes and no (contextually speaking). The Bible gives many examples of a transformed and well lived life being practiced in the context of community. The implication, we are all responsible for each another. People that are immature in the faith will only be concerned with themselves.

Let’s look at an analogy that may help us in this discussion. Imagine a tight rope walker performing in front of a large audience. Her act includes balancing on a thin rope and walking from the top of one tall building to the other. The act is very dangerous. Then, imagine, while she is in the middle of her show, people start throwing rocks at her, and will all her might she attempt to balance and avoid being struck by the stones. You can picture the rest of the illustration.

The fact is, as Christians, we can do a lot to help a brother or sister in Christ pursue God’s best for their life. Certainly, we have no control over what happens behind closed doors, but we can be a positive influence and encourager for them.

Everywhere we look, we are surrounded with people with both private and public struggles. Perhaps they are battling alcohol, smoking, or even sex addiction. At the same time, their eyes, mind, and heart are being flooded with images and messages that tell them that going back to that dark place is the only way they will find peace. This battle can lead to a mental breakdown in some cases.

In an ideal context…what would purity feel like? It would be peaceful…relaxing…free. It would make your pillow the softest it has ever been. It would be joy.

What if we exerted energy to help guide others on the right path? A path of purity. I’m not talking about the type of purity we see pledged at church camp when we are teenagers. I am talking about living a life that is dedicated to God and His will.

Brother and sisters…I want you to experience freedom.

Love you all.

-Landon DeCrastos

4 Discouraging Thoughts Pastors Have (Repost)

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.

-Landon DeCrastos

You Are Not Who You Think You Are

You Are Not Who You Think You AreHave you ever met someone who is always incredibly negative about life? I’m not talking about someone who is suffering with depression or living in a dark chapter…I am talking about a person who refuses to look on the bright side. It can be exhausting. People in this situation tend to convince themselves that reality is different than what is obvious. They look at their experiences through a different lens than most.

When something is apparent to one person, and it seems that another is almost blinded to the truth, frustration can rise, and relationships can be damaged. If a person in this situation embraces pride, then they tend to further distance themselves from others. As distance grows, isolation breeds contempt and bitterness. These traits can rewire a person’s mind to believe things that are simply untrue.

There is a fundamental temptation in the heart of many, if not all, of people who have chosen to follow Jesus. The pattern is almost written as a common script. The individual will make great strides in their life and see great transformation. They may live on a wonderful trajectory for a significant period of time, and then something happens that derails their progress. Perhaps they give into an old temptation, or stumble over a struggle they thought they left behind. In this scenario, there are three ways that a person can go. The first way is to acknowledge the mistake and step forward into growth. The second way is to embrace defeat and punish themselves for a relatively short time. The last way complicates things a bit. It is the circumstance in which a person convinces themselves that they are “just that way” and they will “never change”.

As a pastor, it can be so frustrating to interact with a person who has taken a slight detour in their faith, and for them to be convinced that “this is who they truly are”. Why do we do this? Why do we think our bad behavior is our true self and any previous good behavior is nullified? This is like getting the flu and convincing yourself and that you are always meant to be sick. People can change, and we are meant to change. We are meant to grow and flourish, and we must learn from our mistakes.

There are people who I have met and truly look up to with amazing stories of how God has navigated their lives. They can tell you tales of how they were completely different when they were younger, and their development can be compared to a caterpillar and a butterfly.

God loves you exactly the way you are, but He loves you too much to not cultivate progress in your life. I guarantee you, when you are going through a rough patch in your life, and you have convinced yourself that you will “always be this way” …you are not who you think you are. Sometimes it is easy to believe the lie that a mistake can send you backwards when, in actuality, it is more like just “taking the scenic route”. Now, this is not an excuse for cultivating horrible behavior, but perhaps it can bring hope to someone who is feeling lost.

You are not who you think you are. Remember, you can be better.

-Landon DeCrastos

My Thoughts on Pain (Repost from 2011)

Being one that is chronically ill, pain becomes a multi-faceted word.  As of today, I am 27 years old and have undergone nearly 40 surgical procedures; with each one bringing me face to face with many types of pain.

As if that weren’t enough, two of my close friends, one I consider a true sister, passed away in as many years.

I learned at an early age, pain is a fixture in life.  In 1998, on my 14th birthday, I was in Madison, Wisconsin for a doctor’s appointment at a prestigious children’s hospital.  It was on that day that I was diagnosed with Lupus and kidney failure.  I was to immediately start IV steroidal and chemotherapy treatments.  Surprisingly enough, despite the physical pain, it was the emotional fallout that hurt the worst.  For a 14 year old girl, the nearly 80lbs the steroids helped me gain caused so much social damage, I would have gladly taken a million IV’s instead of facing my peers.  I was so overwhelmed with pain on every level, physical, emotional and spiritual that hearing the words “this is temporary” fell on deaf ears.

However, like most things during your teenage years, it was temporary.  Not my Lupus or kidney disease, mind you, but the pain in those moments was.  Yes, surgery is painful and most of the time, for quite a while – but, you heal.  Yes, using needles so large they should be illegal 3 times a week is painful – but after a few hours, they are removed.  Physical pain tends to be treatable.  Maybe not curable, but as a race, we humans can make it tolerable.  So when I was asked to share my thoughts on pain, my mind went the route I am most familiar with: physical pain.  That is the easy kind, the kind that, for me, eventually goes away.

But, the real pain for me comes from loosing two great friends.  One I learned passed away because she was a victim of murder; her spouse being the number 1 suspect.  The other, my very best friend, due to health complications on an Easter morning.  For me, these are pains I cannot shake.  They are pains I am promised will get lighter.  The are also pains that I am afraid to heal, because as I have learned from my experience with physical pain – healing hurts as well, if not more.

I could write a novel how to handle physical pain, but am clueless as to handle pain in this capacity.  On my closet mirror at home, I have written “Just because they are in Heaven, it does not mean they are separated from us, because we are all part of the Body of Christ.”  It was something my pastor here in Florida had once said in a sermon and it brings me comfort.

So, day by day, needle by needle, memory to memory – I heal a little bit more.  You think I would know by now that all healing, no matter the kind takes time – but those that know me best know how impatient I can be.  All I can do is thank God that He created the healing aspect of life; because He certainly wasn’t obligated to!  That along with knowing that we as Christians will undoubtedly experience total healing and the existence He intended for us with Him in Heaven – makes the pain all the more bearable.

-Kara Netzel

2 Strange Letters

There are 2 strange letters

on your word I see

Their placement on the front

Doesn’t make sense to me

I am pretty good at reading

But these 2 don’t fit

They don’t describe what I see

It’s the meaning I don’t get

The first letter I have seen

In books and other things

The second is also familiar

But confusion is what it brings

The word is badly changed

And it doesn’t reflect the truth

It doesn’t show how I see you

Whether aged or in your youth

These 2 strange letters

Throw everything off track

They mess up your description

And set the meaning back

Without these intruders

The definition wonderfully fits

They initially seem harmless

But shatter hearts to bits

The letters are “I” and “M”

But I remind you they don’t work

The accuser uses them untruthfully

To diminish the Master’s work

The word in question is “perfect”

And in its purest form

Is how I look at you daily

Through sunshine, snow, or storm

Don’t let the enemy convince you

That you are not good enough

And that God can’t possibly love you

With all of your broken stuff

While you may be human

And lacking in many things

You are perfect; you are loved

You are a child of the King

How Renewal Happens

renewalOne of my fondest memories of college occured in late fall/ early winter of my sophomore year. This was my second year in our school’s traveling men’s choir, and we happened to be in the midst of a tour in Northern Indiana. This choir (Testament Men’s Choir) was one that traveled around the midwest singing in churches for ther worship services. We were used to singing in large venues and very small ones. No matter what the size, every one of us truly loved what we were doing, and felt God had called us to use the voices He gave us for the glory of the kingdom. Despite our love for what we were doing, sometimes it became a monotonous task to sing the same songs and go through the same routine. This tour turned out to be different…

In Northern Indiana, when we were inbetween performances, we decided to take an excursion to the local mall. Christmas marketing was in full swing and every square inch of the mall reflected this fact. Our song set for choir also reflected the season with the necessary songs to celebrate the birth of Christ. We had the songs memorized almost to boredom, and because of the frequency of how often we sang these tunes, many of us hummed them without even knowing it.

As we formed into clumps of people and scattered throughout the mall to do some shopping, God began to stir something in the hearts of most of the guys. As a few of us were walking around in one of the clothing stores we began to hum one of our tunes called, “In the First Light”. This musical infection started with a couple of the men who were really singing it to give into the fact that is was burrowing in their brain. Then, as the other members heard, they began to join in using their assigned harmonies.

We were not really paying attention to the people around us at first, and after a few lines, we looked up and the staff of this particular clothing store had stopped what they were doing to listen. Tears were coming down the cashier’s face and this started a conversation about what we were doing in town. The patrons and workers were excited that we were singers and wanted to hear more… This gave us an idea.

The small group split up to collect as many of the guys throughout the mall as possible. Our idea was to gather the full group and meet in front of this store to give the workers an impromptu show, and make them smile at the very least. Oddly enough, right outside this store was a piano that the mall often used to randomly entertain patrons with carols and such. We decided to highjack it for our purpose. We also were able to collect nearly every member of the choir for this show.

We began to sing. We had never been so into what we were singing and the harmony poured out like never before…As we sang, people from all over the mall gathered to listen. People were crying, many had their eyes closed in reflection, and some even had out their cell phones recording the event. We never thought anyone would notice, but it moved people unexpectedly. People were drawn to the event. We had a blast!

Here is the point…I think, as the Church, we get the wrong idea about how God moves. We think that we have to set the perfect mood, and make a pursuasive case for belief. What we often forget is that there is something terribly attractive about the concept of God’s people worshiping Him with passion. God will draw people to Him when His people praise. This is how renewal happens. A spark…then a fire.

Trust God today.

-Landon DeCrastos

The Week that Broke My Heart

Consider these facts:

    • Over 27-32 million Americans have significant hearing loss
    • About one in four families have at least one member who is deaf or hard-of-hearing
    •  The number of severely to profoundly deaf people in the US is estimated at 1 million
    • Only 2% to 4% of deaf people claim to know Christ as Savior

When I first read these statistics, I honestly skimmed over them as if they were another pile of information to wade through on the internet. It is so hard not to. There is so much information out there that would have startled a person years ago, and we have become so jaded as a culture when it comes to new information of this kind. The stats above came from their website.

Last week, I had the awesome privilege of working, for 5 days, for a ministry called “Silent Blessings Deaf Ministries“. The purpose of my time there was to help the organization develop a fundraising strategy for a campaign they have coming up in the near future. So, my time that week largely consisted of getting to know the ins and outs of the mission, vision, and values of this ministry. Silent Blessings is an organization that desires to bring people, both deaf and hearing, into a profound encounter with the reconciling love of God through Jesus Christ. I would say that is a worthy goal.  They also produce a TV show for deaf (and hearing) children that is broadcasted all over the world. It is called Dr. Wonder’s Workshop.  All of the actors are deaf and the voice-overs cater to the hearing population.

I know very little sign language and I only personally know a couple deaf people. For a while, for some reason, I have felt like our church has had some sort of call by God to reach out specifically to this people group. I am still not sure how that is going to look structurally, but we have already started dabbling in sign language as a church to prepare for what God has for us.

My week there was exciting, and I felt like I was at home with my temporary co-workers. I felt like we had the same mission in ministry even though I did not have much connection with the deaf commnunity I know God was nudging me. God broke my heart that week, more deeply, for the deaf community. In many surveys, this people group is called the largest unreached people group in America. To hear stories of how the deaf are marginalized, abused, and ignored entirely made me leave my temporary office shaking my head and desiring more of a connection. One stat that really shook me to the core involved the fathers of deaf children. Less than one percent of fathers who have deaf children are engaged with their child to help them grow spiritually, emotionally, or mentally. Not good.

So, as I reflect on last week, I have fond memories, and I look forward to my continued connection with this organization. My heart is filled…but it is also broken. Jesus loves everyone…even those who can’t hear.

Take a look at the video above and catch the passion for why this ministry began. Go to their website and donate!

-Landon DeCrastos

5 Lessons From Recess

recess“Red rover, red rover send Stacy right over!” You remember that game don’t you? Two lines of children would face one another and when your name is called, your job is to run at full speed and attempt to break through the human chain that opposed you. Some would timidly trot only to be captured…others would use this opportunity to take out some aggression. These are the types of things we did at recess as children.

Recess was an incredible time. Next to lunch, it was my personal favorite period of time during school. If we grew up with this as a common occurrence we can close our eyes and remember times when we made terrible decisions, and also lifelong  friendships in the midst of a kickball game or on the “time out wall” when we pushed Emily Stevens down the curly slide and she had to be a stinkin’ little tattle tail and rat us out…umm…hypothetically.

As I was reflecting on my experiences during this unstructured time of play, I realized that there were lessons I learned from the playground that can translate into my spiritual life. It may be a stretch, but sometimes it is fun to see how things like this can link our thoughts to wisdom.

There are 5 lessons I think we can take from recess

1. Tetherball is important– The game of tetherball can be a lesson in the way we handle our pain. The point of tetherball is to hit the ball and draw it closer to the center pole. Your opponent’s purpose is to drive the ball farther away from the pole in the opposite direction and oppose your progress. Each day we are tested in the same way. Life abuses us, sends us through trials, and we walk through suffering unwillingly. If we are not careful, we can walk through these struggles and, if not looked at redemptively, they can oppose our growth and draw us further from the center focus…God. God does not want any pain to be wasted. We can use these instances to draw closer to Him.

2. Bullys are everywhere– Whether it be in the work place, in the grocery store, or the bank we know that bullys still exist. We encounter people on a regular basis who seem to desire the worst for us and our well being. Our first impulse may be to put them in their place or get angry, but often we do not see below the surface. Many times the people who are this way are dealing with such deep pain. Pray for them…they need an encounter with God. They are not your enemy.

3. People will chase you– I noticed that, when people chased you at recess, that meant they really like you. Personally, I was a fan of being chased by girls even though I didn’t admit it. Obviously our main goal in life is not to be liked by all, but we must ask ourselves what type of influence we are to others. What kind of life are you living that deserves to be influential? Hopefully it is one that is chasing after Christ.

4. The point is to get sweaty– As kids we knew what recess was really about. Teachers wanted to get us sweaty so we would “get the wiggles out” for the rest of the school day. It was smart because we were more productive in the second half. Many of us limit our Christian experience to reading, and silent reflection. These are absolutely essential, but there is also more to it. When we get closer to God we realize that there must be a point in which we bring action and service to our faith. “Getting sweaty” is the point of a life that draws us closer to Him. We are being formed in His image to be a light to the dark world.

5. Red rover, red rover– Remember this game? I think we can learn something from it. God wants us to live our lives with purpose and focus. With His resourcing we can break through to freedom. The enemy will try to prevent us from growing and being a part of God’s mission, but He has plans for us. Plans that can give us hope and a future…we just need to close our eyes, put our heads down, and run towards Him.

This is just what I have reflected on…it is no comprehesive exposition of scripture, nor is it meant to be used in a university setting. All I know is that God wants us to learn things through every experience we encounter.

Know you are loved. Know you have a purpose.

-Landon DeCrastos

6 Things Pastors Are Tired of Hearing

clergyYou may not know this, but if you go to a church, or are “shopping around” for one that fits you there are some things that you may not know about what the pastor is actually thinking. Pastors put on a great front and try to paint on a fake smile, but deep down inside we are cringing at what you just said to us. Don’t get me wrong, we know your heart and know you have the best intentions behind what you are saying to us, but quite frankly, sometimes we also have a bad day and want to throw a tantrum. We are not allowed to though, because we are pastors, and our angel wings are at the cleaners getting polished for the potluck next week. If I am to be brutally honest, some phrases we hear from our parishioners sound like a broken record. I may be out of bounds, and presumptuous by thinking I can speak for all pastors, but I know I can safely speak for many.

Here are 6 things we are tired of hearing…

1. Pastor, it’s not about the numbers… – You know what?!? It is about the numbers. It is all about the numbers. Think about this…as a pastor, a man or woman dedicates their whole life to service for one purpose; spreading the Gospel among as many people as possible. We have sacrificed time, energy, money, and friends to boldly go into whatever mission field God has called us to go and impact as many as we can. So, when people take this lightly, it really stings. As pastors, we get tired of hearing this, because many honestly don’t even think about church until Saturday evening. Do us a favor, and help us spread the message God has called us to…

2. Children are the church of tomorrow- False. Just because they are not good tithers, doesn’t mean they can’t impact the kingdom like anyone else. Children are the church of right now, and should be incorporated into every part of the church body that their abilities can handle.

3. A few people have said…–  No…they didn’t. You and Mrs. Jones don’t count when presenting me with that phrase. You are lovely contributors to the kingdom, but Mrs. Jones complains about everything, and if anyone else really said anything about this I will give you $1000. Send around a petition and we will talk. Love you by the way…

4. The church down the road…– Let me stop you right there… First, there is only one Church, and just because that congregation is growing rapidly doesn’t mean they are sinning or “watering down the word”. It could actually be that they are experiencing a revival that God has brought. Second, they are our brothers and sisters. It is our job to help them grow…WHAT?!?! Yes…you hear me right. We are not their competition. We are their support and extended family. Now, put on your big boy pants and pray for them. Love you by the way…

5. Remember when...- It is sometimes a lot of fun to reminisce about things from the past. We only get tired of hearing this when it stands in the way of reaching more people. Remember, what brought us here will not necessarily get us there…I can admit, though, that it is easy to sometimes “throw the baby out with the bath water” and overlook the fact that there are some things we used to do that may work now.

6. I’m only human– Ok…excellent. Now you can sin all you want. Whew… NOPE. The fact is, you are not only human. If you know Christ, and desire to grow in Him, within you dwells a divine substance. The Christian life takes work, and thank God for the grace of correction.

Brothers and sisters…please understand my heart in these writings. It is not an attempt to shame anyone, but a light-hearted look on things that I think we really need to ponder. Let us be thoughtful in the words we speak and Biblical in the thoughts we think. Love you by the way…

-Landon DeCrastos