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

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Patience is a Bird-Shoe

Patience is a Bird-Shoe

When I was a child, I rarely knew why people would laugh when I attempted to teach them a very valuable lesson. I learned this saying from my grandma, and she would say it when I was antsy about a fun trip we were waiting to go on or perhaps anticipating the opening of Christmas presence. As a child, no matter what amount of time you wait for something you are excited about, it seems to be too long. Every time the second hand clicks to the next notch, mental and emotional torture increases. I never fully understood the phrase my grandma told me when I would get into these phases of temporary anxiety. This was the main reason I did not comprehend the purpose of the laughter. The times I would share my deep wisdom on the subject of waiting, I was being serious and wanted people to learn the valuable lesson. In situations when people seemed to want to rush, I would simply say “Patience is a Bird-shoe”. I honestly thought people were giggling, because they recognized that such deep wisdom was coming from a small child, who was obviously intelligent beyond his years.

One day, I was doing an assignment in my dorm room in college, and I decided to take a mental break. I stared off into space and I began to think about random memories of my childhood.  As I gazed into the vast cosmos, the memory of people enjoying a good laugh at my expense came to mind. As I thought about the context of the situation, I immediately realized I was saying the phrase incorrectly my entire childhood. No one ever corrected me because they thought it was so cute.

Certainly as adults we know the correct phrase; ”Patience is a virtue”. The word “virtue” describes behavior showing high moral standards (according to dictionary.com). If a child would say the timeless truth the way I did, we would all have a good laugh and now I understand that. We would immediately know that the child did not know the meaning of virtue or even patience. I propose, however that many adults don’t understand these concepts either.

As fully grown humans created in the image of God, we often look at the concept of patience as an obstacle. It is a necessary evil that we would rather avoid. In our hearts and minds, a delay of any sort of news is one that can cause us to completely rethink our direction and purpose. For some of us who struggle with waiting on a spiritual scale, it is even tempting to think that the need for patience is the same as God “closing a door”. To be honest, it can seem like torture. This is often because our culture praises instant gratification. This is really no different than any generation in history. The Israelites were well known for their lack of patience as well. God’s timing and His power go hand-in-hand.

In scripture, James tells us that “perseverance must finish its work so that [we} may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”. In this context, he is describing perseverance as a sentient actor in our grand drama that is interacting with us. If perseverance were a person then he/ she has a specific calling and purpose and that is to positively disrupt and grow our lives. Waiting can be a mechanism that God uses to transform us into the people God wants us to be so that we can properly steward His blessing when we receive it. Think about that.

So, make fun of my childhood understanding all you want, but if we were to be honest, connecting patience and virtue can often be foreign to us as well.

Trust God as you wait. You will be okay. I promise.

Love you all.

-Landon DeCrastos

5 Possible Reasons Why Pastors Are Depressed

5 possible reasons

As I have become more experienced in pastoral ministry, I have developed theories pertaining to many different areas of the vocation. I have ideas about what motivates volunteers, how people best learn about God, what type of leaders are most compelling and many other things that relate. Like any other career or calling, there are still subjects that perplex me. These are things that I am not sure I can fully explain. I have found myself simply having to embrace my lack of understanding and trusting God for guidance.

We have all seen the news in recent months regarding pastors who have succumb to their depression. After these types of instances, rhetoric flies and everyone seems to have an opinion about the spiritual state of the individual, their eternal destiny, and what could have possibly prevented the horrible outcomes. By “horrible outcomes”, I am referring to everything from common (perhaps wrong word to use here) moral failure to taking their own life. Today, I am not writing this to even remotely attempt to dive into the subject listed above from a clinical perspective, but to simply propose some ideas as to why a pastor would begin to develop (circumstantially) a bitter or deeply discouraged attitude.

Disclaimer: I completely understand that all professions have difficult circumstances and stresses…but I can’t speak to those instances. This blog, also, will not pertain to every single pastor…and that’s okay. I can’t speak for everyone. I am not speaking about the chemical imbalance (chronic illness) of depression, but that which is caused by a constant emotional erosion.

Below are 5 Possible Reasons Why Pastors Are Depressed.

Lack of Friendships

No matter how friendly a congregation is, there seems to always be this “elephant in the room” concerning deep meaningful relationships. Many congregants have the idea in the back of their minds that pastors are temporary hired workers who do not need friendships to survive. They may not want to pursue relationships because of the belief that they are not going to be a part of the worship community long term. Pastors need friends…and, to be honest, pastor’s spouses are even more deeply affected in this way.

“We Need To Talk”

Pastors dread this email or text. When a church leader receives this, we already know what is coming. His means that the person who wants to set up a meeting is upset about the way things are going, or they are planning to leave the church. We completely understand that there are things to be changed, or that people are called to other churches, and that is largely okay, but there are not many times when a pastor is called to a meeting to simply exchange encouragement and support. It is normally all about business. Granted, sometimes it is necessary.

“Just Trust God For Your Provision”

I completely agree with this statement, and I think every Christian should maintain this belief. This phrase often emerges when a pastor’s compensation becomes a topic of conversation. The implication is, a pastor should not concern themselves with financial well-being because they have a higher calling that requires them to be willing to be sustained on faith day by day (which is true). For some reason, though, this seems to be an unwelcome conversation when the pastor is not the topic of discussion. For instance, if I were to say this phrase to someone with a Masters in Information Technology or a school teacher between jobs, I would be met with severe push back, and accused on insensitivity. Should pastors be “in it” for the money? Absolutely not. All I am saying is…don’t say this phrase to your pastor if you are not living it. Side note…pastors are often the poorest people in the congregations, and simultaneously the largest givers.  I’m not trying to sound arrogant. I am just being an advocate. And by the way…why is money such a sensitive subject for people? I digress…

The “Performance” Mentality

Pastors are not sales people. When they are called to ministry, there is no guarantee for a “return on investment”in a worldly sense. When God calls, the pastors obeys (at least I would hope so) and there is plenty of Biblical evidence showing that God often calls people into areas of service which may never yield an exciting result. Many churches use sales metrics to rate and measure the pastor’s performance, and sometimes they are even let go if they are not producing. Behind the scenes, this is a great burden for a minister who is simply called to care for, and challenge a flock they have been called to. Besides…the pastor should be training people to invite, evangelize, and to be a part of the mobilized force to help disciple. You can lead a horse to water, but… (you fill in the rest).

Pastors Are Not Allowed to Complain

I know this seems like an odd point, but hear me out. In every other area of life or profession, there is healthy room for venting or decompression. Often times, when a minister or church leader is struggling and needs to express what is on their heart for the purpose of catharsis, they are met with immense push back because God called them so they “shouldn’t be complaining and be so ungrateful”.  The fact is I am fully aware I am going to get a lot of flak for this post, but I feel like these things needed to be said for this very purpose. Pastors are afraid to say these things because of this exact brand of backlash. We also don’t want to harbor a victim mentality. Overall, this concept is very much connected to the friendship idea due to the fact that there are few people to be able to unload these concerns on.

I am not a mental health professional, so there is only so much I can say about root causes pertaining to deep discouragement in this way. I happen to be blessed with an uplifting and supportive community but these are things that I have heard from pastor friends and those I have coached that do not share my blessed privileges.

Pray for your pastor. They love you very much.

I love you too.

-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

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

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