I can only imagine how the disciples and the extended family of Christ followers felt sitting in a poorly lit room 7 weeks after Jesus ascended into Heaven. They probably felt defeated and completely drained of all hope. When you think about it, the only instruction they had was to “go back to Jerusalem” and pray. This would have naturally seemed counterproductive, but then again they have seen amazing things happen because of time spent in desperate prayer. But…Jesus was gone now…and it seemed unlikely that anything memorable was going to happen.
They remembered the good ‘ol days when just 12 disciples and their supernaturally gifted rabbi healed, preached, and interacted with individuals with the obvious power and authority of Yahweh. 12 followers grew into thousands of families who longed to be affected by this man who seemed to fulfill all the requirements of the long-awaited Messiah.
The remnant of followers reorganized themselves and scraped together the last set of believers to pray as instructed. Then, something amazing happened. The Holy Spirit came and empowered this marginally talented bunch of commoners and the masses came to faith in Jesus. They simply prayed and then were faithful to what God led them to do. Each person had a role and a small amount of people impacted the world. The events of Pentecost in Acts 2, created a domino effect that has changed the course of history. God’s power was shown and people repented of their sin. The world was beginning to reconcile with the Creator; one person at a time.
There have been 2 movies lately that have impacted my view of God’s call on my life. They have been used as an illustration for my divine purpose.
The first movie is Schindler’s List. If you have ever seen that movie, you know that the main character, Oskar Schindler saved the lives of 1,200 Jews during the brutal reign on Adolf Hitler in World War II. He spent all of his wealth to employ these men, women, and children from death at the hands of the Nazi party. At the end of the movie, Schindler was stricken with grief because he realized there were still things he could have sold to have the money to rescue more Jews. He could have sold his car, his gold lapel pin, etc.
The second movie is a newer one; Hacksaw Ridge. In this movie, Desmond Doss (who was a conscientious objector in World War II) was a medic who saved many men who were injured on the battle field. He single handedly dragged these men and lowered them down a cliff face to safety. Some estimate that he saved over 100 people (true story). While his hands, back, and arms ached heavily as he lowered them to where they needed to be, Doss kept repeating a simple prayer to help him gain strength. “Lord, just one more”, he said over and over. He wanted to save people so desperately, and he knew he didn’t have the strength to do it on his own. He wanted to rescue “just one more”.
There is a theme running through these scenarios. God has shown me that my purpose in life is not to put more butts in church seats, but to help create a traffic jam at the gates of Heaven. I have fervently prayed that God will give me “just one more” person to minister to, and impact for the gospel of Jesus Christ. My heart’s desire is to see people transformed by Jesus. I know I can’t do this on my own, but I can do what I have been told to do.
Can you pray that prayer with me? Can you pray that God will continue to put people in my path to love, serve, and grow with?
If you follow Jesus…I will pray the same for you.
Love you all.
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.
When people are passionate about something, they tend to become frustrated when others are not fully immersed in their cause.
Currently, America is fully involved in a public debate about politics, because we are on the verge of electing new leaders into prominent leadership positions throughout the country. This debate stems from ideas that guide our thinking and these ideas are often guided by past experiences and even hurts that we want to eradicate.
Christians that enter this public debate make comments often about “who true Christians should vote for” and, lucky enough, the answer to this always follows who they happen to support. The question of who Jesus would vote for is the proverbial “elephant in the room” and I think it is an important one to explore.
As I read scripture, I think I have figured it out. Jesus would vote for:
- Those who clothe the naked, feed the hungry and are close to the broken-hearted.
- Those who care about the dignity of every human, and who would respect life at every stage.
- One who cares enough about their neighbor to look at them with compassion…
- One who flees from temptation
- A person who sacrifices and serves
- …who is a peacemaker
- …who mourns with those who mourns and rejoices with those who rejoice
- A person who hungers and thirsts for righteousness.
- Those who are passionate about the persecuted.
- A person who speaks truth when it is hard and even sometimes unpopular
- …whose heart breaks when they see evil running rampant
Ultimately, there is no perfect candidate.
When we look at scripture, we see that Jesus was not concerned with who was governing, or who had the most power in the region. He simply healed, loved, spoke truth, and sacrificed. He knew that no matter who was in charge, His kingdom was what mattered more than anything.
Maybe we need to stop being so concerned with who is going to be president of our land and start being concerned with who is king of our hearts. Voting is important and a duty we should embrace, but our eternal destiny is much more important.
So, who would Jesus vote for? Well…He may accidently forget to go to the voting booth because He would be too busy conquering death and healing the broken. I’m not encouraging you not to vote. Just remember that the way you treat your neighbor is much more essential.
Love you all.
The book of Joshua records an incredible story about God’s people during a time in which the odds were against them. Joshua, who took over for Moses to bring people into the Promised Land, led the Hebrews to Jericho; a massively fortified city that was nearly indestructible. With a very low population of nervous people who believed God could do anything, they were able to make the walls of Jericho fall. Somehow, they won the battle. This didn’t happen because of their might, but because of God’s provision and protection.
In the book of Judges we find one of God’s anointed Judges, Gideon, who many would say lacked confidence and charisma, but still believed God was supremely powerful. God tells Gideon that the vast Midianite army will fall to a militia that Gideon is going to lead. Many scholars say that there were over 100,000 soldiers on the Midianite’s side, and through a series of events, God tells Gideon to send most of his troops home. He sends so many home, in fact, that Gideon is left with 300 people. This is certainly not enough to get the job done.
Fast forward: Gideon’s band of 300 easily destroys their foe.
In the book of Luke, Jesus sends out 72 of His followers to different towns for the purpose of sharing the Gospel. This relatively small group of people expend their energy and resources to make sure the good news of Jesus is spread throughout the land. These followers come back testifying of great victories and entire households being converted to faith in God. Once again, a miracle happens through faith and obedience.
In all of these cases, we see that a relatively small group of people were able to exercise their faith in God and He blessed them with disproportional abundance and victory.
There is an interesting trend that has arisen in Christian culture. Larger churches are attracting people by the hundreds and sometimes even thousands. These megachurches, in many cases, have filled a need for a community who has seen dwindling church participation over the years, and the greatest contribution they have given, in my opinion, is the participation in areas of ministry from people that were once estranged from the church.
Big churches are exciting. Many have great music, excellent preachers, and elaborate programs that keep people busy around the clock. There always seems to be something going on and people get energized when a new initiative or series is introduced.
In this context, it is easy to forget the vital importance of the small church.
The healthy small church provides a needed service to the community that larger churches cannot easily fill. In a lot of instances, Christians will see exciting things happening in a large church and their attraction to the excitement becomes intoxicating.
It’s hard to not be drawn in when these churches create an assembly line of spiritual cheerleaders who market the church every chance they get by their actions, logo wear, insider language, and testimonies of God’s work through the ministry. Big churches are great for the most part, but sometimes people do not see how the smaller church can possibly fit in the local community like a piece of the puzzle.
The healthy small church does great when it comes to getting people involved in ministry, corporate accountability, developing deep life-long relationships, and creating an atmosphere of extended family.
The common misconception is that a small church is the size it is due to failed leadership, or some catastrophic event that split the membership. In some cases this can be true, but in most cases it is not. From my experience as a pastor of a smaller church, I have noticed that there are instances in which people are getting involved in leadership in areas where they would not be able to plug into in a larger setting.
Often, for instance, in music ministry, the larger church looks for those gifted on a professional level. A small church looks for those willing and with the talent and call to participate. A person of average leadership abilities can become a leader in a small church for the purpose of sharpening their skills and growing into their call.
There are unhealthy small churches just like there are unhealthy large ones. As implied, the inverse is also true. Healthy large congregations are ones that are not interested in simply getting bigger, but multiply with purpose through smaller works.
Congregations of all sizes are needed. If you are not a part of a church, consider trying out a small church with passion and a heart for Jesus. You may need what it has to offer. With that said, don’t just look at your “church search” with a consumer mentality of what it can offer you, but truly pray about how you can get plugged into the kingdom of God and use your gifts to serve the world.
Love you all.
Did God create sin? This is an intriguing question for many because it certainly seems that this could be a feasible origin. I think it is important for us to define sin first.
In scripture, when the first humans sinned it started a domino effect that still cause residual “ripples” today.
Some people have a problem with the identification of sin. Sometimes it is easier to have a list than to follow a principle. Is it things like sex before marriage, drinking, or dancing? Or, is it things like skipping church, playing cards, or saying bad words? Then again, what if it was something like child abuse or animal cruelty? These things get confusing.
The basic definition of sin is living in disobedience to God. The word “sin” is an old archery term that literally means “to miss the mark”. So, if we understand sin in this way, we can see that sin wasn’t actually created, but was a free will response.
Next question, did God know Adam and Eve were going to sin…even though He knew it would separate them from HIm? Ahh….this is a good question and one that a few scholars debate. I am no scholar, but I believe He did know. Why? Well, I am glad you asked.
When humanity was created, God already had a mechanism in place that would alleviate the weight of sin. This idea of forgiveness and mercy was ready to be deployed any time Adam or Eve messed up. It was a pretty straight forward transaction and an effective teaching tool.
Adam and Eve, with the first sin (to be like God and reject His truth) had this mechanism available to them. God even still walked among them to search for the couple after the sin was committed. It was their shame (a result of sin) that created the separation. Their shame was what made them hide, and to them it was sacred.
In my next post, I want to talk about what causes us to sin….a very interesting concept.
But what you ask of earth? Earth, I think, will not be found by anyone to be in the end a very distinct place. I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself.
“‘That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say ‘Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences’: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say ‘We have never lived anywhere except Heaven,’ and the Lost, ‘We were always in Hell.’ And both will speak truly.’
‘Is that not very hard Sir?’
‘I mean, that is the real sense of what they will say. In the actual language of the Lost, the words will be different, no doubt. One will say he has always served his country right or wrong; and another that he has sacrificed everything to his Art; and some that they’ve never been taken in, and some that, thank God, they’ve always looked after Number One, and nearly all, that, at least they’ve been true to themselves.’
‘And the Saved?’
‘Ah, the Saved… what happens to them is best described as the opposite of a mirage. What seemed, when they entered it, to be the vale of misery turns out, when they look back, to have been a well; and where present experience saw only salt deserts, memory truthfully records that the pools were full of water.’”
-C.S. Lewis “Great Divorce”