From time to time, at my full time day job, I have to work a shift that necessitates that I work until 8pm. Obviously, no one would consider this to be an ideal shift, but I have found that there are some benefits to working these hours. When I work this time span, I start at 11am. This means that, in theory, I could sleep in and enjoy a longer morning before heading into my workload for the day. I have kids, though. So, this naturally lends itself to chaos and an early wake time regardless.
Last week, I had a late day and had the opportunity to spend time with my daughter. My son was at school and my wife decided to go on a walk with her friend. I asked her what she wanted to do, and she chose to play with baby dolls and make shadow puppets. We had a great time, and there was a lot of laughter and smiles from both of us. It was so fun, and she led the play time as if she had been planning exactly what she would do if she had alone time with Daddy. Everything was calculated, and the game rules she made were well thought out. I could tell she was in her girly element.
At the end of this play time, Mommy came home and it was time for me to go to work. My little girl hugged my neck and kissed me goodbye. It was a tender moment and I loved the look in her eyes as she focused her attention on me.
To understand the reason why this day was significant, it is important to understand how my daughter has behaved lately. She has experienced behavioral issues and general disobedience. Part of the problem is the fact that she is 3, but there were times that it went beyond a typical 3 year old general disobedience. There has been something missing, and my wife and I have been frustrated because of it.
Before you make assumptions, I want to clear the air and say that I regularly play with my kids, and make it a point to show them a great time (I also discipline them as needed). I can probably admit that I tend to spend a larger quantity of time with my son because of his age and certain things that we do together, but not so much that there is favoritism shown.
This impromptu playdate with my girl brought about a realization in me that I had been hypothesizing for a little while. Her behavior was kind, sweet, and loving for most of the day after I left for work. She obeyed more, and even kept her focus (for the most part).
I realized that she needed me to “fill her tank” from time to time. The times when I have taken her on dates, or focused my attention on her alone has always made a significant difference in her day. Often, she runs on empty, and I have the power and the spiritual obligation to fill her with life and call out the girl she was made to be. I am her closest male connection to God here on Earth. I know that sounds extreme, but I take personal responsibility for the spiritual wellbeing of my family, and I am the leader when it comes to helping my kids understand God and His faithfulness in their lives. I don’t take that lightly.
So, it has come to my attention that I need to take more time to fill the spiritual and emotional tanks of my children (also my wife, but that is another blog post for another day). I thank God that I did not wait until they were older to find this out.
My daughter needs me, and I need her. God is growing me through loving her in her own unique way. Her behavior is not perfect, but I can see glimpses of change from time to time.
My princess needs her king.
I am a young pastor. I have limited experience on many levels, and because of that I know that there are not many who would give much weight to my words. Years ago, as a student, I could have told you what type of church I wanted to work in, and the type of people I wanted to minister to. I wanted to be a part of a church that had some history; that had thriving ministries, and had enough money in the bank to cushion any hardships that may come their way. I wanted plenty of people to pick from when it came to having a need for volunteers and I wanted a church that was progressive and valued new ideas. I had so many ideas (if money was no object and people were abundant of course). Back then, my idea of success revolved around shrinking seating space, and expanding offerings. In fact, if everything worked out well, then I may get into a church that had excellent music, incredible preaching, and a flexible congregation that really wanted to try new things.
Over a period of time, as I grew in confidence and knowledge, I began to have complaints. My first church was somewhat small, and didn’t really have much of a budget for the youth program I was leading so I often sat in my office and felt sorry for myself and blamed everything else for why my ministry wasn’t growing. I began to become jaded about the church for various reasons (they still sing from hymnals, they sat in pews, they needed new carpet, they didn’t have a very nice website). Surely all of these things PROVED they didn’t want to grow. If they valued ministy, then they would pay me more so I could do more things. I would sit around, in a mental autopilot, waiting for things to change so that “real ministry” could begin.
After being a youth pastor for a while and seeking more education, I started to realize the horrible faulty thinking I had come to believe. I realized I was the problem…not the old furniture or traditional music. It was ME. My heart and mind needed to conform to God’s.
Then, God called me to start a new church. At first, my thoughts revolved around ways this new congregation could be cutting edge, different, and set apart from any other church in town. If it was different and exciting, then people would come to my church instead of any other. If you know me now, you may be surprised that this was my thought process, because over the last 5 years God has completely transformed my heart and now I desire to lead a church much different than the one I used to crave. I have a new desire.
Now… I want to lead a church who:
…cares more about the broken than looking all put together.
…welcomes the single parent, widow, and widow and desires to be a source of encouragement for them
…prays for those who do not look, smell, or sound like them and embraces them with compassion
…will give up their comfort and be sacrificial for the advancement of the kingdom
…will put God’s word into action
…will do things that are bad for business but great for relaying the gospel
…will welcome the abused, rejected, oppressed, and hated
…will hate sin so much that they are willing to be grace agents
…will seek what sacrifice truly means
…will welcome the sinner no matter what their sin, and treat them with respect and dignity
…will follow God into the darkness; ready to be the light
…will do everything they can to see other churches grow
…will accept the fact that the Church must be real and transparent
…will not be a different person in the seats than at home
…want passionate worship instead of manufactured praise
…want to serve more than want to be served
…understand that “being fed” means feeding too
…want imperfection in-process instead of processed perfection
…desire God’s will to be done no matter church size, money in the bank, or political climate
…look at the world around them with love instead of bitterness
THAT is the church I want to lead.
I’m sure glad I do 🙂
This month, I have been leading my church through the book of Philippians. In this book, Paul encourages the Philippian Christians in many ways, and talks to them about having joy despite what their circumstances may present. This letter presented joy in a different way than we see it in our culture. Often, we look at the list of good things that have happened to us, or cite the number of affirmations that people have conveyed. When asked about our level of joy, if we are having a bad day, we may laugh it off and deny that it is there.
We know what joy is though… It usually comes on a Friday at 4:30, or when your favorite song comes on the radio. When joy is looked at in this way, I think we completely miss the point. We begin to think that joy fluctuates depending on our mood or what is happening around us. The fact is, joy is more of a decision along with a set of intentional habits. Even more than this, it is a biproduct of a life lived in a healthy and spiritually growing way. God gives us joy when we choose to obey, and follow Him. So, in a way it is a spiritual gift straight from God. I do think, however, there are ways that we can positively feed the joy we have been given.
Among many other ways…I think there are 7 ways we can feed our joy.
1. Collect secret places– This week, our family went on a hike at a new park. It had a main trail around a small pond, and it also had narrower trails that split off into different parts of the woods. We decided to take some of these trails to where they lead and a few of them led to a beautiful river. It was so calming and it almost felt like we were the first ones to ever discover this location. It was so quiet and peaceful. I can imagine myself, one day, going to this place to speak with God, and reflect. I think it is important to collect these type of secret places…places that you can escape to for the sole purpose of connecting with God.
2. Give generously– I heard a very wise person once say that giving things away give them true value. Giving feeds our joy, because we are acting in a way that we were designed to act. Whether it be money, possessions, time, or anything else for that matter…sacrifice always gives what we have meaning. God does not bless us to become a hoarder…but to become disciples. Let God use you in this way. Giving will give you joy like you have never experienced.
3. Become addicted to forgiveness– Wait…what? Addicted? Yes. But, what if they misuse my forgiveness, and go on doing wrong. Well…I suppose that is none of your business. You are called to forgive as Christ forgave you. How insulting would it be for us to reject the most precious gift in the universe, because we are trying to prove a point. Granted, there are times that someone hurt us very deeply, and I certainly do not want to diminish this concept, but God’s power, if accepted can give us healing. Forgiveness is an important step in allowing ourselves to be healed.
4. Make a fool of yourself– Sometimes, you just need to have a tea party with your daughter or sing a silly song at the top of your lungs. You spend way too much time trying to network and market your accomplishments…Spend time getting the wiggles out. I think the life we were intended to live in the Garden of Eden was supposed to be this way. We are never too old to play.
5. Lighten up– I have said this so many times to my congregation, and I know they are getting tired of hearing it. “If you are a Christian, filled with joy, don’t forget to tell your face”. It is true. Far too many Christ-followers have the worst attitude and are always pooping on everyone’s parade. It really gets exhausting when you think about it. Why would anyone want to follow a Jesus that makes everyone grumpy? Don’t take yourself so seriously. You only get one life, and you are not doing it better than everyone else. Release yourself of the obligation of needing to be serious all the time.
6. Listen during prayer– God is not a vending machine and your prayer life is not a radio show with God as the audience. Stop it. Take a breath and let Him talk. Many times, when we complain about the fact that God is distant, God is really facepalming Himself because He has been trying to talk to you, but being the gentleman that He is, patiently waits to speak.
7. Expect miracles– Often we pray, but don’t expect anything. This is like ordering a delicious meal from a restaurant and leaving the place before you get your drinks. Why ask if you are not ready to receive? God can do anything, and the answer you need is included. He loves you so much. Let Him work.
Much of the world searches for joy around every corner, and neglect the things that feed it the most. Don’t starve your spirit. Walk up to the buffet and dig in!
Have you ever heard something over and over and, after a while, it sounded like nails on a chalkboard? Every once in a while I hear something that does this to me. Many times it is a phrase or piece of advice that is meant to uplift people’s spirits but the central message is against scripture and often harms development.
A few days ago, I happened upon a facebook page that was dedicated to posting different inspirational phrases to uplift people. It was rather pleasant. I decided to scroll down and check out the phrases that have been used and then I saw it…..it was ugly…it was terrible….it was incredibly misleading. It said, “Be a leader….not a follower.” I almost choked on the water I was drinking…..My first thought was “did I read that correctly?” Yes….yes I did.
Now, before you send me hate mail, let me explain why I do not like this phrase.
We always hear stories about great leaders and their influence on others. Whether it be politicians, pastors, CEO’s or supervisors, many of us love the idea of having the ability to lead others. Leaders are visioncasters; they guide cultural change. The purpose of this inspirational phrase is to motivate people to want to change the world, set trends, and be unique. It is misleading.
What about followers? God teaches us in the Bible that followers are equally important. For some reason we have gotten the idea that followers are non-thinking robots and ultimately easily manipulated. This is simply not true.
The disciples are a great example of how followers are needed. I know what you are thinking….The disciples of Jesus eventually became leaders and preached the gospel publicly. This is true but they had to go through a period of sitting at the feet of Jesus to learn and assist Him. They were organized and effective in the ministry because they followed.
Do you feel called to ministry? This is great, but I encourage you to pray about whether God has called you to a formal pastoral ministry or to being a passionate lay person. Pastors yearn for lay people to help implement vision.
Today, instead of seeking to be a leader….seek to be a follower of Jesus…..then simply obey. God will lead you to the opportunties necessary to build His kingdom. If you are a Godly follower others will be influenced by you.
Don’t discount those who follow. They may be specifically called of God to do so.
It happens ever year at Thanksgiving time…I spend time with family and we gather around the feeding trough to prepare for a day of grazing. I may start with the perfectly carved turkey, and move on to the sides that will fit on my plate at the time. By the end of the day, I am making turkey sandwiches that have to be warmed up.
Throughout this exhausting day, I also tend to take the time for a nap on a nearby padded accommodation. At the time, this seems like a good idea. The next day, however, I immerge from my coma lethargic and feeling as if I need to be carried whereever I go. I also find myself getting cranky, and not feeling right. I think this story is true for many people.
Many churches today have this same ailment when dealing with the spiritual condition of their people. Some will sit in the seats each Sunday, and desire to be spiritually fed. They would rather sit in these seats and keep “eating” until they feel lethargic and unwilling to move. A few symptoms of this sickness is apathy regarding the work of the church, and constant criticism. These will both lead to burnout of the Christian. The fact is if believers do nothing to exercise their gifts and what they are being fed, then preaching at a group of stoic Christians that have lost their joy will do no one any good.
When churches become spiritually obese, then you hear phrases like “we need to start worrying about the people here before we start reaching out.” Or, “why do we need this new ministry…we tried it 10 years ago and it failed…” Church…..it is time to get off our rumps and start doing what God has called us to do. We will get more nourishment out of feeding others than we will just sitting in the seats every Sunday.
Several times in scripture the phrase “fix your eyes” is used to call attention to a very important focal point. In some cases it is a general term that encourages the reader to keep focused on the goal of living a devoted life. In other cases, this imperative statement is more specific. It may refer to looking at Jesus as the only example. When something is fixed it means that it doesn’t waver…it is still and concentrated. So, in whatever case this phrase is used, it is meant to illustrate the fact that one must avoid distraction and intentionally create habits that are spiritually healthy.
Biologically, the eyes are wonderfully complex organs that act as sensory computers for the whole body. The slightest abnormality or negative influence can cause blindness or the inability to focus clearly. The eyes are often called the gateway of the soul. This means that all things of spiritual influence enter through the eyes. We are a culture that relies on what is visible over what is invisible, so in the generation that we live…our eyes inform what we believe and how we interpret evidence.
We worship an invisible God, right? We are called to rely on a faith that is unseen, correct? Well..not exactly. That may be how we start, but growth in God’s word takes us beyond that. When God tells us to fix our eyes…I think He is being literal. Our eyes are broken and they need to be fixed. We were born with eyes that only see the practical, explainable, and defined. This is a weakness of human existence.
When we create a habit of looking for the movement of God in everyday life, this faith will become seen and tangible. Our eyes will be transformed so that we can spot God in all places.
I challenge you to look for “God moments” this week. Seek God in the everyday occurrences and the unexplained miracles. Doing this will allow your eyes to be focused and fixed.