Sometimes

Sometimes
You just have to say no
To the lies the enemy tries to bind you with…
To the thoughts that invade your mind
Say no to the negative thoughts
That try to steal your joy

When you are on that mountain of blessing
And overcome with bliss
In an instant you can come crashing down
All because of a thought

But you can handle it

It is your job to say no.
Those thoughts won’t win today
And I am stronger than you think I am
Stronger than yesterday
The devil does not know who he is dealing with
The “what ifs” will not be written on my heart today

Those old tricks won’t work
And if worse does come to worst
I will deal with it then
Because in my mountain top times
I have gained enough strength
To deal with the broken things
And to not overwhelm myself

I will endure and not be discouraged
For I know who walks with me
I always remember that
Ok…maybe not always
Maybe just
Sometimes

-Landon DeCrastos

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Running the Course

running the course.I was a teenager in need of physical conditioning.

It was my sophomore year of High School, and I had the bright idea to try out for the school wrestling team. Before you comment, yes, I was aware that a successful completion of this tryout meant that I would be privileged to wear the tight uniform (known as a singlet) given to team members. I didn’t care though, because it was a sport I thought I would really enjoy. I was fairly skilled in the “grappling arts”, but the cardio-based side of the sport had me gasping for breath. I have never been diagnosed with asthma or anything…let’s just say that I wasn’t ready for the physical demands.

Let me paint the picture for you. Me and a large group of boys, who were already sweaty before they ever stepped foot in the wrestling room, stretched and began the arduous endeavor of proving our physical prowess. Coach Silverman let us cut time and intensity off of our workout if we could muster up the energy to run up the wall and do a backflip off of it. Spoiler alert: I could not. This was because I had not worked out in a long time, and I was still carrying a little extra baby weight (which the ladies loved by the way)…I digress. Anyway…after a grueling workout inside, it was time for the aspect of the tryout I had been dreading.

The 5 mile run.

For the average runner, a 5 mile run is something that is rather routine. For me, I had struggled heavily even jogging an entire mile, and the mere thought of running 5 made my legs tired. I was a slow runner anyway, but I knew that being the first one to cross the finish line was not the overall goal. Simply finishing the course was what the coach wanted. We all lined up at the starting point. The coach yelled, “Go!” The mass of humans went on their way and I kept up with the pack nicely for a while.

The course was marked out like a cross country track, with orange traffic cones and yellow tape. At some point, I got a little confused where to turn, but soon got the lay of the land. I felt like I started to get a great pace, and I am not sure whether I got my second wind early, or I was excited to pass a few people, but I felt my energy increase. At one point, I was all alone, and I assumed that the full pack was so spread out that there would be times where I would not be near anyone. So, I charged ahead, and ran longer than I have ever run without slowing down. I felt so proud of myself. I knew I was not going to be the first one that finished, but to finish at all was quite an accomplishment for me. Then, after a run that felt like it took most of the day, I rounded the corner and could see the end in sight.

When I crossed the line, I felt such pride. My pride, though, immediately turned into concern, when I looked around and saw that I was the only one standing at the finish. The coach looked at me with a very puzzled look on his face and asked, “are you done alread?” I nodded my head, and wondered why he asked me in that tone. I soon realized that, at some point, I took a wrong turn, and accidently took a giant short cut. I had only run a little less than 2 miles. It felt like 100. I was devastated. I never came back to tryouts after that day.

In life, it is very tempting to live life always desiring to take short cuts and find the easy way out. If we do this, we keep ourselves from growth and opportunities that will only make us better.

With the easy accessibility of instant information, fast food, and communication, we have mentally conditioned ourselves to make instant gratification not only a desire, but an expectation. This even leaks into our spiritual life. We think something is not God’s will if we become tired of praying for it, or we call waiting a “closed door”.

God wants us to develop a passion for the path and mission He has us on. We must learn to thicken our skin and become laser focused on what we know to be true…no matter how long it takes. When we see resolution, it will be that much sweeter.

Endure dear friends. Simply endure.

-Landon DeCrastos

In Despair

“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. – Matthew 14:17-21

When looking at this passage, it is easy to think that the disciples and all the people gathered were on “cloud 9” after seeing the amazing miracle that had taken place. In review of the story, Jesus had just blessed the contents of a little boy’s meager lunch and used it to feed over 5000 people (in those days only men were counted…so there could have been exponentially more people). Often when we read this story we talk about how God provides and He can do anything. This is absolutely true, but I think it is easy to miss the important detail of what Jesus and the disciples were going through during this time.

If you look at what happened right before this popular event, you will see something that potentially brought God-followers into a deep emotional and spiritual valley. John the Baptist was killed. He was beheaded as a present for Herod’s birthday. He was gone.

People who followed Jesus would have probably looked at this as a massive blow to their cause and movement. Some may have even thought that it was time to give up. Many would have been very afraid to continue following Jesus. All would have felt the devastation.

Imagine the scene. So many people gathered and many with their heads down in despair. They were hungry and probably very tired. Then, Jesus provided nourishment for them all as if to tell them that everything was going to be okay. Jesus knew that John’s sacrifice was not going to be in vain and that there was still hope in the midst of discouragement. No matter how dark things looked, it only took a little light to set the world ablaze. Jesus knew that this was a pivotal moment in their lives and they needed to pay attention. They were going to be the people who brought the gospel to the world!

Remember this today. Whatever darkness you are going through…in Jesus there still is hope. Even if the deadline has passed. God is still on the throne and His timing is perfect.

Trust Him today.

Prayer for today: Jesus, help me to rely on you every moment of the day. Thank you for who you are and your abundant grace. Amen

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

The Fight (Reposted/ Updated)

Ladies and gentlemen
Welcome to the main event
A fight of the century
The bout worth every cent

In this corner, Daddy
Big, strong and wise
In the opposite; daughter
With the biggest blue eyes

This fight will put chills down your spine
It’s bound to be a thrill
Let’s listen to this verbal match
Lean in quietly and be still

The smallest one starts it off
Let’s hear her first swing
With a phrase she starts the brawl
Then Daddy steps into the ring

“I love you so much” she begins
We can almost hear the crowd roar
Their eyes stare each other down
She gets the very first score

“I love you more than you will ever know”
Daddy says with a smug grin
Then little lady fires back
The intense struggle is about to begin

“No, I love you times a million”
She says thinking she was going to win
But Daddy was ready for her joust
He cracks his knuckles, takes a breath, and leans in

“You are out matched little one
You don’t have a prayer
Mom and I asked God for you
We loved you before you even breathed air”

Daughter tried to fire back
But Daddy didn’t let her go
There was more that needed to be said
He was not nearly out of ammo

“I love you more than wide is wide
I love you farther than the planet Mars
I love you all the way to God and back
Way past the twinkling stars

Don’t try to defeat me in this
Because you have already lost
I would do anything for you
No matter what the cost

Sometimes mom and I can get mad
And raise our voices to correct
But never forget how much we love you
You are mine, despite whether or not you object

And with that final blow
The little girl accepted defeat
Not a thing could be said
As she stared at her little feet

Then, suddenly she looked up
with joyful tears in her eyes
She kissed Daddy on the cheek
And he realized this was all a guise

All she really wanted
Was to hear her Daddy say
That He loved her without conditions
And then she ran off to play.

-Landon DeCrastos

The Meeting

Holy-of-Holies

The High Priest opened the curtain and slowly walked into the Holy Place. His hands were still damp from the recent experience in the water basin. He took a deep breath as he walked through the threshold and whispered a quick prayer during the initial steps.

He looked to the left and made note of the candelabra. This priceless piece was hammered out of one piece of pure gold. Until this point, this lampstand has been used for several generations, but one would have poor observation skills not to notice that the stand still looked brand new. He knew that there was deep meaning in all the pieces that were placed in the Temple, but there was something in him that understood that there was a far deeper meaning to this lamp than what he could currently comprehend. Perhaps the full meaning would be revealed in time…

As he shuffled forward, his robe nearly dragged on the ground. He, once again, became aware of the weight of his breastplate. When he looked to his right side, he remembered the 12 tribes of Israel. This was symbolized by the loaves of bread on the table. The High Priest closed his eyes and inhaled through his nose. The smell of freshly baked wheat filled his nostrils, and for some reason, as if it was forcibly planted in his mind, stories of the times that God was faithful to His people were recalled.

The path became shorter, and the priest saw the last stand that he had to navigate around. The closer he got, the more the scent of incense gripped him. This small table had great significance, and the placement made it so it was almost an obstruction to the final goal. As the smoke filled the air, he was made acutely aware of his mission and purpose. The incense symbolized the prayers of the people that he was there to represent. One concept that struck him, that he had never thought of before, concerned the placement of this table. It was strategic. When God gave the instructions through Moses to build the original Tabernacle, it seems as if He wanted to make sure that prayer was the closest thing to Him. Perhaps there is more power in this action that we often think.

With a bowl full of blood in his hand, the High Priest approached the final curtain. He opened it to see the Arc of the Covenant. His heart pounded harder and harder. He felt slightly dizzy and had to compose himself. The makeshift room seemed to be illuminated and he felt as if it was significantly hotter. Then, he gave thanks to Yahweh, and began sprinkling the blood on the artifact. The experience seemed short lived as he concentrated on the ritual. He exited.

Weeks later, the High Priest heard rumors of a baby that was born not too far away. This child was born during the empire-wide census in a stable among animals. People spoke of a scandalized mother, who was pregnant before she was married to her husband. After a while, word about this little boy seemed to fade away. Perhaps we may hear more about this story later.

A New Ministry Model

ministry modelWhether or not I have consciously realized it, I have been on a quest for over a decade to discover the perfect ministry model. In pastoral circles, we use the phrase “ministry model” to categorize a system of programs and ideas that lead the pastor on a trajectory of success in their respective calling.

In ministry, according to what most instructors, consultants, books and mentors tell us is that success in the role of a pastor has more to do with people accumulated under our scope of ministry than anything else. The bigger the church or program grows (in the shortest time possible), the more successful the ministry. In recent years, I have challenged leaders to redefine success as “a consistent and unwavering focus on God’s mission in the world.” So, in essence, I guess you could say that I am challenging our definition of success.

I know what you are thinking. I am a heretic when it comes to ministry preparation. I hear the justification all the time that the interaction of the Holy Spirit in the life of ministry automatically means exponential growth. “Biblically, anything that the Holy Spirit has [his] hand in grows quickly…” is a phrase or inference that is often conveyed. This, however, is actually not always true. When this justification is brought up, the mental image of the massive growth of the New Testament Pentecost event is visualized. The spiritual domino effect of this was mind boggling. In many people’s minds, when the Holy Spirit is unleashed and active, this is what happens. Things go crazy and, as scripture says “people are added to the group daily”. There is not much wrong with this thought process, but it doesn’t give a full look at a larger story. The fact is, when we truly look at scripture as a unified story, we realize that the Holy Spirit has initiated growth on many different levels and in many different ways. At times, we see the Holy Spirit’s transformative power in one on one interactions. Other times, we see power unleashed through the healing of a man or woman. In even more rare occasions, we see massive groups converted in bulk. Whatever the case may be, there is great evidence to suggest that God’s awesome power is not limited by our metrics, and He is creative. Keep in mind, Jesus’ ministry was not one based on rapid expansion but consistent commitment to His purpose on earth.

My heart has been heavy for a long time concerning ministry preparation. I feel like we, as a Christian culture, have adopted a “Henry Ford” model of education and training (assembly line). It seems as if pastors have stepped into a process in which they are given a “cookie cutter” system of practices and expectations to help them be successful in the task of attracting large crowds. In the same way, whether it is purposeful or not, we are being told that there are only certain personality mixes that are eligible for pastoral ministry. I will write about this concept in my next blog post.

I think we need to rethink the way we do ministry. Passing clergy through an assembly line of preparation is simply not Biblical. I also think we need to consider a new model of ministry. There are 3 things I think we need to emphasize in this new thrust (which is not new at all):

  1. Shepherd shaped development– Too often, we are calling a new minister to seek to be someone God has never called to them be. We think that, in the best case scenario, and if everything goes well, this pastor will become the local community celebrity and gain a massive following (as long as God “blesses” them). Instead, when a leader does not reach that expectation, they become frustrated and even question their ministerial call. What if we put more effort to teach new pastors to become a shepherd? The position of shepherd implies not only a mentality of guiding, but also sending. A shepherd will send the herd forward, and when they need it, come alongside and direct. When a pastor is shepherd, they dedicate themselves to a community, and they spend energy in making sure that each person is cared for, and loved. They develop trust and deeper concern. It is hard and messy. It is not easy. It will frustrate the leader. It is immensely worth the time.

  1. Pastor as Healer – Sometimes, as Christians, we get a wrong impression about the word “healing”. Perhaps we cringe or our mind drifts to televangelists who misunderstood the gifts of the Spirit. In this context, the word healer and soother could be interchangeable. The idea is that a leader can and should seek to be an influence that provides care, infuses peace, and speaks life into everyone they encounter. Also, the minister should develop a desire to see that other leaders are brought through rejuvenation.

  1. Minister as a trainer/ mentor – There is nothing more satisfying than to experience someone, that you have poured time and energy into, grow and take ownership of their own area of ministry. This person may have started out as skeptical about the Gospel, but now they are leading others to Jesus! This is energizing! Pastors across the board should be doing this. I know that many leaders would say that their role is to pour into a smaller group so that this small group can pour into the masses. This is absolutely true. This would be a great example of what this concept looks like in a larger ministry setting.

Let me be clear. I have nothing against the larger worship communities and I think that they can be incredible assets to the Kingdom of God. My problem is that we often expect every leader to look the same and we base success off of statistics and sometimes arbitrary metrics. I understand that many are only trying to harness these principles for efficiency…and many are doing this….but let’s not take these ideas and consider every other ministry arbitrary if they are not “falling in line”. Some leaders are gifted and called to lead smaller communities, and they should be encouraged, and equipped to develop passionate disciples in that context.

In my next blog post, I will speak about the personalities that make up a church and the internal wiring of a pastor. I think we are being told, as implied before, that only a certain type of person is a valid candidate for ministry. Spoiler alert: scripture counteracts this idea.

Love you all,

-Landon DeCrastos

3 Things All Pastors Should Know

3 Things All Pastors Should KnowOne of the most important lessons I have learned as a pastor is that I must always maintain a teachable spirit. Ministry can be stressful and require a lot of physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental energy so making a vow to humbly learn all one can is vital. I am, by no means, an expert in the area of ministry, but I have realized that there are things I didn’t necessarily learn in seminary.  I do believe that my schooling was very valuable and I would recommend it to any pastor I speak with, but there are just so many things that must be learned on the “field” that can’t be taught.

Today, I want to speak about 3 Things All Pastors Should Know.

Sometimes your ideas are not the best ideas– Often when a pastor enters into their ministry calling, they have big and beautiful ideas about the programs, sermons, partnerships, and impact they will have in their church or organization. These types of thoughts get them excited about the endless possibilities. Then, reality sets in and when the minister makes their attempt to change the world, discouragement comes because the people they are leading are not responding in the way they imagined. Sometimes, this makes church leaders frustrated and want to give up. The fact is, this realization does have to be a bad thing. Often times, the best thing that could happen in pastoral ministry is for the anointed leader to come to terms with the fact that they are not the most creative person in the church. Perhaps there are others that, if listened to, and given authority, can set the church up to fulfill the call that God has given them. Now, don’t get me wrong, the pastor is the person who articulates the agenda for the group they are shepherding, but don’t forget that there are others who are blessed with great talent and creativity. They can be a powerful force for ministry too.

Don’t make your ministry a career – My heart breaks when I see pastors moving from church to church in a relatively short amount of time. In a way, I get it. Sometimes one church is not a great fit and we make mistakes discerning where God wants us. The problem comes, though, when a minister is always in search of that next larger church as if it is some sort of “promotion”. When we do this, we start to look at people as a consumer good or inanimate object. We also begin to look at each spiritual interaction as a means to an end for our benefit. Pastor…YOU MUST STOP THIS! The people who are in front of you are hurting and need someone to lead them into their own Promised Land. You could be their Moses (well, technically Joshua but you get my point). Don’t leave your ministry until God calls you to do so. And, no, God’s only way of “calling you” is not through the avenue of more influence, comfort, and a higher salary. Snap out of it.

It’s okay to admit you are wrong – It is often tempting, as a pastor, to believe that the people who we lead in ministry think of us as flawless human beings who can do no wrong. This is obviously false. There are times when the pastor is wrong, and if they are stubborn about admitting this quickly then their influence will be tarnished. People want leaders who are transparent and who understand their pain. If their shepherd won’t admit and embrace their humanity then they become irrelevant. We don’t have all the answers and we can’t fix every problem. We can, however love people through their own mess.

I wish I would have learned a lot of these things earlier in ministry. I think it would make me a better leader today. It’s okay, though, because God is still using me and I am anxious to continue to grow.

Love you all.

-Landon DeCrastos