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 gives grace and hope
When I am standing on the mountain
Or at the end of my rope
I know I do not have much
In comparison to most
But, I can say I am content
Even though I cannot boast
I am truly grateful this year
For all the little things
And I pray that I will continue
To thank The Lord for what He brings.
If I were to be completely honest with you, I would say that this blog post is one of the hardest I have felt led to write. The reason is not because the topic is a difficult one to articulate or the fact that it is a particularly controversial stance on a “hot button” issue, but because of my heart attitude behind it.
As I get closer to Jesus, I have learned that God honors thoughtful response over angry outbursts. He values the offering of hope over a self-righteous decree of condemnation from my own personal soapbox. So, I want to write today out of love, grace, mercy, but firm resolve and I pray that God will be in my words. I want to talk about the concept of racism.
I sat in a big leather chair in front of a woman who had cried so much that I was afraid she would become dehydrated. He husband had cheated on her. The adultery was getting to be too common in their marriage, and after multiple transgressions, he once again told her it “would never happen again”. This woman was broken, angry, and had practically given up on long term joy in her life. My heart filled with my own brand of anger when she told me the lies that were told and the sins that were committed. The man that she was married to made her feel inferior. He made her believe things about herself that were not true. He made her think this was all her fault. On top of this, over the period of several years, he had made sure that she was removed from opportunities, relationships, more education and much of the outside world as a method of domination and control. She prayed that God would help her and He did. She divorced him and years later, she married the man of her dreams. She also forgave her ex-husband.
The problem is, I really want to hate this man. The carnal part of my human existence wants to show him how wrong he is, and make him pay. I know, however, that a life lived controlled by God’s spirit compels us to seek a much higher level of conduct.
You see, if Christ lives in a person, has complete control, and has forgiven them…it is really hard to go on living with hatred towards another human being. That doesn’t mean that the temptation is not there, but there is a power that is greater in you than that which is in the world.
Racism, at its core, is a systematic desire for a group or groups to express their perceived superiority over others. Often times they will single out a particular community, and do what they can to separate them from society, tell them lies, and openly display their hate for them. In essence, there is not much difference between an adulterer and a racist individual. With that being said, there is a part of me that wants to treat someone who is racist with the same contempt as I would the adulterer. I can’t though. I can’t because I have no idea what type of lies that person has been told throughout their life, and I have to believe in my heart that they are eligible for restoration and love as much as I am. If Jesus cannot heal them, then His death on the cross was a waste of time. Sin is sin.
This doesn’t make the whole issue any less frustrating though. I have heard people who wear gold crosses around their necks say the most awful things about people of different races. This is confusing for many reasons.
So, here is my overall thought. There is no such thing as a Christian racist. I say this, because I have heard people getting upset at the Church for racist acts they have seen in media outlets. And, there have been people who have displayed racism in their lives who claim to be believers. Let me make this very clear. Not disagreeing with the Bible, going to church on occasion, and being raised in a semi-religious home does not make someone a Christian. Nor does giving oneself the label of “good”. A Christian is someone who desires to be like Christ, associates themselves with His crucifixion and resurrection, allows God to transform them, allows the Holy Spirit to guide them, and who has accepted the forgiveness that Jesus offers; all while bearing the fruit of the Kingdom. So, there is no such thing as a “Christian racist”. It cannot exist. Christianity and racism are like oil and water. Sure, there are people who have accepted Christ and who have had to repent of old habits that have arisen temporarily, but that leads to deep grieving and change.
Jesus led by example, and when He wanted to emphasize a virtue, He displayed the virtue through His action. Look at the story of the Woman at the Well in John chapter 4. There were two main issues being addressed when we look deep into this story. The first issue was the sin (and thus the cure) in the life of the woman (who happened to be a Samaritan). Water was just the illustration. Jesus offered her a way out of her constant searching for love, fulfillment, and forgiveness. Jesus took care of all of that, and offered her abundance. The second issue pertained to race. This woman was astonished that a Jew would even speak to a Samaritan, not to mention offering her something to drink. This was unheard of, because of the deep racial divide. In other areas of scripture, the implication is that even the disciples accepted this divide as common. Jesus shatters this mentality, loved this woman, and contradicted the culture.
Hope exists, because there is a God who fashioned all of us from the same dust. This same God declared that we were made in His image. This is a foundational belief in the Judeo-Christian world view. Hope comes from the fact that God forgives and transforms human hearts. He forgives.
The old me wants to hate people that are full of racism and hatred. I have realized that this type of hate is the same brand of hate as those wielded by racist individuals; only in different packaging.
So, a Christian, if guided by the Holy Spirit would spend more time serving, loving, giving, feeding, clothing, proclaiming truth, and praying than complaining and allowing anger to fester and grow. In fact, Jesus did his ministry in the shadow of pagan statues, unholy temples, and hateful hearts. His mind and heart were focused on the people, and He knew the only true kingdom was not this way.
The heart of the Christian is occupied and Jesus does not need a roommate. Hate does not fit.
As followers of Jesus we are called to speak out against hatred of every kind. We are also called to serve those who are not following God.
I end all my blogs the same way…but today I mean it more deeply than I have in the past. With a broken heart yearning for reconciliation, I say it once again…
Love you all.
I am a young pastor, and I do not presume to think that I can offer up much worthwhile advice and encouragement to a new generation entering the ministry. I do think, however, that any amount of experience has its own level of anecdotal instruction that can be offered to anyone willing to listen.
This week, I have thought about what I have learned in my decade of formal ministry (volunteer and paid) and I think there are some things that are worth sharing. Some items being shared in this blog are a result of frustration that has helped to grow me as a minister. Other points are simply things I that have come to mind. Just know that none of them are meant to demean, discourage, or demonstrate anger. I just feel these things need to be said.
I love learning. Sometimes the learning involved pain, and other times it was a result of great joy.
Today, I want to share 5 Things I Have Learned As a Pastor.
People prioritize what matters
Sunday after Sunday pastors all over the world work their hardest to preach, teach, and display the Gospel in their lives. Their families often feel the brunt of the time and effort they put into sharing vision, meeting with those in need, and attending business meetings. Sometimes a pastor will give their all for a congregation who seem to look at the idea of worship as “something they will attend if they have nothing else to do”. Don’t get me wrong. Pastors are thankful that anyone shows up for worship, but we now live in a Christian culture that has prioritized other things over meeting together as was commanded of us in scripture.
Discouragement is only temporary
I’m going to let you in, behind the scenes, for a moment on what pastors talk about when they are together. Sometimes we talk about how things are progressing with the church. Other times we talk about how discouraged we are in a particular area of ministry. For some people in ministry, short seasons of discouragment end in resignation. It is easier to quit than to persevere. When discouragement comes, and it certainly will, it is always vital to lean into God and rely on His promises. The seasons of discouragement do not last forever. They can just be painful. When we tap into God’s resolve, then we find times of great spiritual wealth and ministerial progress.
There will be resistance
No matter what God has asked a person in ministry to do, resistance to that call is inevitable. Sometimes there is resistance because the author of lies is creating unnecessary conflict in the church. Other times (I am speaking to myself here) it is because personal pastoral agendas are forced and God’s will is not taken into account. Pastors are not exempt from being stubborn or having human thoughts, emotions, or actions. A consistent prayer life trains the mind and heart to more readily pick up Christ’s signals and gentle nudgings.
Lives matter to God
When looking at scripture, it is apparent that God has spent a lot of time showing humanity His love. Sure, there are times of discipline, but the way He guided the Israelites out of captivity, restored them multiple times after their transgressions. sent Himself to die, and gave us the Holy Spirit, no one can deny the energy that has gone into God’s affection for us. He calls pastors to be distributors of this love and grace. Christians in general have this call on their lives as well, and are compelled to share this message with the world. So, when someone comments that a pastor’s focus is “all about numbers”, they are actually somewhat correct. Every person matters to God, and He came to die for every single one. A pastor’s job is a response to this concept.
Often times, more energy is spent on lemurs than butterflies
Ok, so this one is a difficult topic to talk about. Now, I do not want to sound harsh or condescending, but this idea breaks my heart so I felt as if I needed to share. You may read this heading and be somewhat confused, but allow me to explain. I wrote another blog post a while ago that compared the personalities found in the church to animals that live in a zoo. Lemurs are animals that live in trees and eat berries and bugs. When there are no more berries or bugs in the tree they move on to another one that will suit their needs. Butterflies start as caterpillars, and camp out in trees or bushes. They are sheltered by the tree and allow themselves to be transformed. Often churches respond to God’s call to help those in need (in and out of the church), and sometimes it is the “lemurs” get the most attention. In the church, it is often the case that the ones that are the most helped are the first ones to leave. The church is a great place to seek transformation. No matter the result, though, we are called to serve.
Overall, I can honestly say that God has blessed me more than I deserve. His calling on my life to participate in the transformation of souls is something that invigorates me. Ideas keep me going, and His spirit not only makes up for my inadequacies, but moves me out of the way completely. He has also given me an amazing church family.
If you are a young pastor leading a church today, I implore you to lean on that calling. Don’t quit. It is a very difficult job, and it is not going to get any easier. You are not going to make millions and you may struggle to help grow the congregation you are in. Don’t be a “corporate ladder” type of pastor and just move to the next bigger church for the nice facility and salary package. There is a large family sitting in your pews waiting to see revival, and their souls need it. Be vulnerable, and build deep relationships. What if they leave? Well, then you will be deeply hurt, but don’t run away from being hurt. God’s call means more.
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.
My fingers tap to the beat of a popular pop melody being played on the radio. The soft, rhythmic finger drumming is a socially exceptable form of what I wish to do, and that is stand up and shout the words at the top of my lungs. This is not because I want everyone to hear my beautiful singing voice, but so I can finally vanquish this parasitic tune from my brain. Tapping will have to do, and I notice that the chair I am sitting at in the doctor’s waiting room has distinct pitches and allow the full band in my mind to play on until the end. I hate waiting. I think that this feeling is universal.
Waiting is something that is fairly easy at first. In the depths of each of our own souls, each one of us has set a certain limit to how much waiting is acceptable depending on the circumstance. We wouldn’t expect the closing of a newly bought home to take only 5 minutes after the offer is placed, but if we are 7 minutes delayed in the expected enjoyment of a fast food cheeseburger then we must notify management of our dreadful plight.
Let’s look at the first disciples. It would have seemed as if they invented the idea of waiting. First, Jesus died. Then, they had to wait 3 days to see Him again in full glory. What happens next is both amazing and oddly frustrating. Christ spends time with His followers; then leaves again! Before He leaves, He tells the disciples and a smattering of other believers to sit, wait, and pray until He sends “round 2” of His wonderful work. These faithful few were instructed to pray. No short hail Marys or a wimpy “bless this food” type of prayer…but a converstation with God born out of desperation and spiritual hunger, with, by the way, no answer coming any time soon. So, they waited.
In the midst of the long wait, the Holy Spirit came and made all the waiting worth while. Victory was theirs, and they saw amazing fruit from their faithfulness. Then, the honeymoon phase was over. The Holy Spirit still gave the followers amazing testimonies and abilities, but Jesus also indicated that the best was even YET to come. He was talking about the end of days. The BIG finale. The final end to all of this…junk.
Well folks…we are it. Fast forward. We are the disciples that are now called to wait. He has not given us a time, day, or even specific decade, but Jesus has given us His spirit. That’s great, and I am happy but…why, then, do I feel so guilty about being impatient about this? Or, why do I sometimes secretly hope it doesn’t happen soon? I may be anxious or I may have more sinning to do.
The problem with waiting is it causes us to feel the need to keep ourselves busy. Also, the times in which we are tapping our toe force us into times of introspection and honesty. We want to fix everything ourselves and earn our Heavenly reward by our own merit, but Jesus has called us to something a little more uncomfortable…waiting…and deeper so…staying faithful.
Jesus is coming back. We must embrace the idea that this time of waiting could be an excellent time for us to make the world around us a better place. On top of that, there are people we could impact for His kingdom. Don’t give up just because impatience is a reality.
Stop tapping your toe. Get up and go! Be the hands and feet of Jesus before it is too late.
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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.