Thursday, February 27, 2014

Why our "WHY" is important

Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. Your brother has come, he replied, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound. The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, Look! All these years Ive been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him! My son, the father said, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. (Luke 15:25-32 NIV) 
Our ministry began to look at why we do what we do.  I thought it was our mission statement but as we debated and prayed it became apparent that it is found in Luke 10:27--To Love God and Love People. As I was thinking about our "Why" it became apparent that I didn't always believe all of Luke 10:27.  I loved God but I'm not sure how much I truly loved people.  In the passage above you will a young man who loved God.  But he didn't love people.  His father did, but the older brother had God compartmentalized. He was like the Pharisee who asked Jesus what must he do to inherit eternal life?  I think the Pharisee and the older brother both loved God but they didn't love people.  They probably like a lot of us who had a check list that let them know the score with Jesus. 

Before I was called to the ministry I was a High School Football coach.  We always told our guys to give 100%.  But in our Christian life some of us only give 50%.  I dare say most Christians love God, but how many truly love people?  We all know the story of the younger brother in the passage before the one above.  He blew everything before he realized he had everything at home.  He humbly came back to his father.  We see that daily in our mission fields.  But I dare say there are many Christians who are like the Older Brother.  Many of us dealt with Older Brothers/Sisters in our churches.  Many people say they love people, but what they really mean is they want the people to become like them.

I'm going to be transparent.  I was the older brother.  I was blessed to be brought up in a ministry family.  My dad's ministry was to Prodigals and just plan pagans.  I was spoiled and had 2 parents who loved me and shared Jesus with me at a very young age.  I loved God, but I didn't love people.  In fact, I didn't like the people my dad was ministering to.  I thought I was better than them.  I had my check list that proved how spiritual I was.  I read my Bible, check.  I prayed, check. I tithed, check, etc....  If I saw someone who sinned, I would point it out.  I graded my spiritual life vs others.  I was wrong but it was my life. My dad's staff shared with him how I had become a snob and he confronted me.  But it took something to really shake up my life.

I had a friend named Jimmy (not his real name).  Jimmy and I were best friends in high school.  We were both active in our church and were both in a discipleship group together and did everything together.  But Jimmy met a young girl name Suzie (not her real name) and they began dating.  She was active in her church but began pulling Jimmy away from our church.  One day Jimmy confided in me that he was in an intimate relationship with Suzie. I told him that he was wrong, but unlike my judgmental attitude towards others I stayed Jimmy's friends.  One day 3 months before graduation, Jimmy pulled into the school parking lot and asked me to get in his car.  He told me that he and Suzie were getting married that Saturday and he wanted me to be his best man.  He then told me that Suzie was pregnant.  You could have hit me in the stomach with a baseball bat.  Had it been anyone else I would have poured on the heathen remarks.  Had it been anyone else I would have turned my back on Jimmy. But this was my best friend.  I was like the Grinch at that moment.  My heart changed.  I loved Jimmy.  I began to see how Christians especially at my church turned on Jimmy and Suzie.  Despite my attempts to be their friend, they both dropped out of church and today Jimmy is in jail. I could go into more detail, but needless to say, that was when I realized that people mattered to God. 

Up until that point, I looked at people like Jimmy and Suzie as sinners not realizing that I was sinning by my judgmental attitude.  I'm not saying that the inner Pharisee doesn't come up in my from time to time but today I get moved by lives that our changed.  I believe God has called each of us to not only love Him but to love people.  Why?  Because people matter to God.  In the first part of Luke 15, Jesus tells three stories of how much people matter to Him.  A man lost his sheep and went on an all out search for the one sheep.  A woman lost an coin and went looking for that coin.  Then the prodigal left and God allowed him to leave but always was looking for him.  Instead of being like they older brother, God wants us to search for lost people and rejoice when they come to know him.  The biggest party we can ever imagine occurs when lost person comes to know Christ.  Why? Because people matter to God.  So instead of being partial Christians I want to challenge each of us to Love God & Love People.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Is it really Good News?

"Our nation is going downhill"
"We've lost our way"
"Lord help us"
"America is in crisis" 

Insert your own favorite line.  I'm not going to pretend that I haven't had those thoughts.  But how does saying derogatory things about our nation or world in public help us in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ?  Just because we don't agree with something, doesn't mean we have to shout it from the Mountain Tops!  Publicly blasting our someone who isn't a follower of Jesus comes across as mean spirited.  Claiming that we are being persecuted is going to fall on deaf ears. Why do some Christians continually look for the next opportunity to be offended?

This is why I love the Apostle Paul.  He was shipwrecked, left for dead and put in jail but he was constantly giving thanks to God.  He was trashed by people outside of the Christian faith and from fellow believers.  Yet, Paul always looked at things from a positive perspective.  Whenever I read Paul's letters I get a heavy dose of conviction.  What right do I have to be offended by someone who doesn't claim to have a relationship with Jesus?  Why should we expect people outside the church to have the same convictions that we have?

Do circumstances and events in the world point to things getting worse? Yes.  But what time in History didn't?  When I read or talk to people who were around during World War II, that was a time of uncertainty.  I remember how scary things were during the Cold War.  If we believe that complaining or voting certain ways are going to change our world we are greatly mistaken.  The only thing that will change our society at any time in History is to turn to God. But putting "Turn or Burn" signs or anything like that on our church billboards will only turn people away.

I know that when things are rough for me I enjoy hearing good news.  I think the same is true for people who are struggling in their lives.  If things are going well, people don't think they need God.  But when things are tense or their world is falling apart, people want to hear good news.  What better news can we share than the truth that Jesus died for their sins? So is the "NEWS" we are spreading "GOOD" or are we turning people away?

Monday, February 24, 2014

What do we have to complain about?

I was reading in Exodus 16 about how the Hebrews had just been rescued from being in bondage to the Egyptians. What is amazing to me is how they had been under extreme oppression & God chose to deliver them in a spectacular manner. However, almost immediately they began to complain!  Before it seems as if I'm pointing fingers, I have been/am guilty of this at times.

No question that the moral compass of our country is turning, but to hear from some believers you would think they are under heavy persecution. I don't recall any American Christians standing before a firing squad or in line to be beheaded. In Philippians 2:14, Paul tells the church to do all things without complaining or arguing. This is why he was in jail. Maybe we as followers of Jesus (me at the top of the list) should quit complaining & rejoice in what God has given us.

I don't know if I would be interested in someone telling me good news while they complained. Maybe if we quit calling foul & complaining how the world is against us, they might actually listen to the Good New we have to share.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Sometimes "NO" is the best answer!

My parents were in ministry their entire adult life.  My dad worked with High School Students for more than 30 years.  My mom told me a story about how early on in their marriage my dad was gone at night more than my mom liked.  So they set up an appointment with their pastor to talk about it.  What they discovered was the pastor was busier than my dad.

I worked on staff at churches for over 20 years.  One of the things that bothered me is that we had so many programs that I felt we were pulling people away from their families in order to do more programs.  Most churches had multiple services on Sundays and that is understandable.  But many have programing everyday of the week.  There is such a tension placed not only on the pastors but also the church members to be at the physical church building for every program. I've heard pastors say that the Sunday night crowd was the most spiritual. Really?

A fellow church staff member and I who had the youngest children on the church staff were called into a meeting with our Senior Pastor at the time.  He was concerned that we weren't seeing enough decisions (actually, not enough people walking down the aisle) so he wanted the two of us to give up our "OFF" days and work on getting people to join the church.  I said no.

It was about that time I read a book by Andy Stanley called Choosing to Cheat.  His premise was that we are going to cheat something: our job or our family, so he chose to cheat his job (church).  He said that he left everyday at 4:30 to be home with his family.  That book resonated in my spirit and I decided that I was choosing to cheat my job for my family.  Now, I'm not lazy but I have only ONE first wife and Two Biological Children.  I want them to know that God comes first and they are second.  Some people mistakenly think that their relationship with God and attending church and church programs are the same.  I believe involvement in church is a necessity but busyness is not!

In Luke 10 Martha and Mary invited Jesus over to visit them.  Martha was so busy "SERVING" Jesus that she had no time to be with him.  Mary spent time at the feet Jesus worshiping Him and Martha got so upset that she told Jesus to make her sister come help her.  But Jesus told her that Mary had chosen what was better.  I've seen too many of my Christian friends and ministers get overburdened and burned out by doing every program at church!  I'm not saying to stop doing ministry, but you can't do everything.  Sometimes we get so busy "DOING CHURCH THAT WE HAVE NO TIME TO BE THE CHURCH!"

About 6 years ago I read another book that actually instrumental in my changing my thinking about church.  It is called the Simple Church by Thom Rainer.  I tried to lead the church I was pastoring to reduce the programing so we could be more effective with our families and in reaching our community. But I realized they weren't ready for that radical change.

I believe sometimes the best word in ministry is "NO." God never intended for us to do everything.  He wants to spread the work among the body of Christ.  Even God rested one day after creating the Earth. If we do everything we are robbing other people of opportunities to serve Him.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Church Police?

There aren't many things that cause me to boil over, but hypocrisy is probably at the top of the list. Full disclosure that I struggle with it myself so maybe that is why it bothers me so much. Former smokers are often are more anti smoking that those of us who never have smoked.

One thing I've never understood among fellow believers in Christ is why there are a few that think it is their gift or responsibility to monitor or "Police" pastors & other ministry leaders.  There are radio programs & websites devoted to "protect" the church from heretics (at least what they consider heretics).

Billy Graham has probably been the most scrutinized minister in my lifetime. Rick Warren has been the whipping boy of the last 20 years. Then it was Andy Stanley & Craig Groeschel-- both who are my favorite speakers outside of my own pastor. Now we have a new crop: Perry Noble & Steven Furtick. Full disclosure, I've heard both speak in person & like both of them.  I like anyone who is leading people to Christ. Do they have blind spots & weaknesses? I'm sure they do, but I have enough to work on with my own failings than to spend hours writing blogs & designing websites.

Recently I began reading some recent "news" reports about both Noble & Furtick. I was in Charlotte this week & have a friend who knows them both personally so I asked him what all this was about? He had a lot of wisdom and I realized that these reporters/bloggers have way too much time on their hands.

So what makes someone think they are God's Police Officer? When we planted a church 13 years ago, we never heard complaints from those outside the church. But we received plenty of scrutiny & criticism from church people who would never visit our church & were not our target audience. Stuart my associate & I affectionately referred to them as the "Church Police."

When I had my previous blog, there was one man who actually printed out everything I had ever said on the internet & was convinced I was a heretic. He never abided by Matthew 18:15 which clearly said the man should have met with me in person. Maybe I had some things that I needed to repent of. But to blast someone in public is not what Jesus taught.

Back to the criticism of these mega church pastors. Why haven't the reporters/theologians/bloggers confronted these pastors in person? They are sinning by not responding to a brother in Christ in a manner Jesus commanded!

The Apostle Paul taught in Philippians 1 that there were people who did preach out of wrong motives. I don't think any of the above pastors do! However, even if they did, Paul says no matter the motives as long as Christ is preached he rejoiced.  Why can't the "Church Police" do the same?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Pastoral Pressures

To say the recent string of suicides among pastors is tragic would be an understatement. My heart breaks for their families, friends & their churches.  I often wonder what could be so bad that it would lead you to take your own life?  I also hear about ministers who get involved in affairs, drugs, alcohol and other destructive behaviors. Why I ask? But having grown up as a minister's kid & being a pastor myself for over 22 years I know too well the pressures that those in ministry.

Now I'm not making excuses. I'm just saying I understand the pressures they endure. I remember watching my parents struggle with people who criticized their ministerial methods. Not unchurched people, church members! One of my best friends had death threats from a church member because he led the church to relocate! He also had Full Page ads in the local newspaper blasting him as an unGodly man. This was from a so called Christian. It's bad enough that pastors have to deal with styles of music and what we wear, but imagine being expected to be at everything that goes on in the lives of church members.

These pressures are not limited to the pastors either. Family members have unrealistic expectations placed on them. My then pre-teen son had one of his Sunday School buddies brag that his parents voted to cut my salary by a large amount.  He has never forgotten that. I had a man at another church who disliked me so much he printed out everything I had ever said on any blog, not just my own. Then he brought the stack to the deacons to try to get me removed as pastor. Credit to our deacons that they tried to stop him. But then he got a room at a local restaurant & recruited people to come hear why I should be removed.

Now I have never thought about taking my own life. But I did consider going back to secular work. I even tried to get a secular job. But God wouldn't allow me to leave the ministry. I was reminded of my calling.  But some ministers don't have the same support system that I have. I have a supportive wife & family. Some ministers suffer in silence.

I'm fortunate to be allowed to use my Spitual Gifts in a para-church ministry and have become active in our church. Pastors are my heroes! Not in an idol worship way but because I know how difficult it is to feed their flock & lead them to do what God wants them to do.

What can you do to make sure your pastor doesn't get to a breaking point?
1. Pray for your pastor daily.
2. Ask them how you can serve him?
3. Don't place unrealistic expectations on him?
4. Make sure they take a day off & guard it for him.
5. Make sure he has time to be with his family.
6. Take care of them financially.
7. Pray again.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Why complain about Modern Worship?

Psalm 105:2 says "Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!"

I've heard since I was a kid-people complaining about Modern Worship.  I grew up in a church that sang from the Hymnal but also sang "Choruses." For our day, I guess we were contemporary.  I can worship in any kind of style of music.  I will never say that Hymns are bad and Contemporary is good or visa versa.  The reality is Praising God is good no matter what style it is in.  My personal preference is Contemporary but I'm not a hater on Old Hymns and love the way new artists redo them for a Modern generation.

While I was pastoring one church I often heard snide remarks about a contemporary service we started.  Some griped about "7-11" songs.  They said the songs were seven words sung 11 times.  That may be funny to some but who cares?  Where in God's Word does it say you can't praise God over and over?  What can possibly be "Wrong" with any song that gives praise and glory to God and puts attention on Him rather than us?

Why would a growing follower of Jesus have a problem with someone praising God?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Importance of Listening

I have had my life positively affected by some powerful messages by some dynamic speakers/pastors. I've been challenged and convicted by some dynamic messages. In fact it happened yesterday at church. I believe 2 Timothy 3:16 which says "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness," (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV).  

As a young person I was told that the Sunday Sermon was for the congregation to be taught and take what was learned and practice it in the world.  But I noticed something different when I went to seminary.  Some were so convinced that the Sermon was the primary way to see life change.  Again, I've seen lives changed through powerful messages. I've known Preachers that that is all they did. They preached powerful messages but had no interaction with their congregation and especially non-churched.  But the non-Christians whose lives were changed through those messages had a relationship with someone who brought them to hear the message. 

If we believe that a Sunday message alone is going to change the world we are sadly mistaken. Preaching is important to believers and non-believers who are ready to hear the message.  But for someone who doesn't believe in God or the Bible than preaching to them and sharing verses without their permission will fall on deaf ears.  Actually it will fall on angry ears. 

This has become more apparent to me in the last few months.  With changes in our culture moving away from a Biblical Worldview some well meaning (and not well meaning) Christians blast Social Media and Talk Radio shows quoting Scripture about various social topics that bother them. To be honest those same social topics bother me.  A few years ago I probably would have been in the same group mentioned above.  But I have learned through my ministry that less preaching and more listening has given me more opportunities to share my faith.  In fact because I've learned to listen more and preach less people start pouring out their lives without me even asking.  This has given me numerous opportunities to share my Faith!

Let me be clear that Preaching is a necessary and valuable tool.  But in today's society we need to become more active in building relationships with people whom we don't always agree with.  We can't get so offended that we destroy any opportunity to minister.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Hurry up & wait!

I'm not by nature a person who likes to wait. I HATE being late for anything. I'd rather be an hour early than 5 minutes late. I'm not patient when it comes to God either. I wish He would answer my prayers when I want.

I was studying Genesis 40-41 on Joseph & after he was put in jail for something he didn't do. If that wasn't bad enough, God used Joseph to interpret the dreams of two of Pharaohs servants in jail. After Joseph gave a correct interpretation of the cubbearer, I'm certain Joseph was expecting to be out of jail within a few days if not a few weeks. But Joseph was stuck in jail waiting for 2 more years before the cupbearer remembered Joseph.

I can't imagine the despair that Joseph must have felt. I wonder if he thought God had forgotten him. He was sold into slavery by his brothers, wrongly accused of advances on his boss's wife & now forgotten after he did a giant favor.

I've never been in jail or had hardships anywhere near what Joseph endured. But I have been wrongly accused. I've been forgotten. I've wondered why God has answered my prayers. But He did answered my prayers just not like I wanted Him to. My lack of patience has caused undo worry & probably delayed in learning what God  was trying to teach me.

I think too many of us who follow Jesus want a magic Jeanie or instant answers. That isn't how God works. He is more interested in our development than our wants. That's not easy to do for many of us.  I encounter people who give up on God because they feel He has given up on them. The truth is God cares too much about us to give up on us. He just has something He is trying to teach us. ShadrachMeshach, and Abednego were facing being thrown in a firery furnace. They believed God was going to save them. But they said "even if He does not" they would still worship God. I wonder if we truly live that way today?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


It has been quite a while since I last blogged. To be honest, my previous stint blogging became burdensome. I was very active in my former denomination's reform efforts. In retrospect I'm not sure it was worth the effort. 

For the last 5 1/2 years I have been on mission as a workplace chaplain & manager in Birmingham, AL. We attended several churches from my former denomination and for various reasons never fit in. It was a little frustrating. Finally, to my hesitation, we visited a multiple-site non-denominational church. However, we ended up loving it & have gotten very involved.

I always thought God was calling me to lead a cutting edge church that reached the unchurched. But I don't know if I had the skill set to do it. It is so refreshing to be involved in a church that is reaching the unchurched without compromising the Bible. 

I think I finally found what I was meant to do. As a church staff member I always looked for opportunities to interact with the unchurched. I would hang out at Starbucks, go to health clubs & just try to meet my neighbors. But, the pastor tag always seemed to put up a wall between me & those I wanted to influence. But God in His wisdom gave me a new platform. Every day, I get to hang out with people who would never set foot in church. I have built relationships with these people. We are friends. I would never talk about what I have encountered because of confidentiality.  But, needless to say I get to hang out with all of the people whom I attempted to hang out with as a church staff member. This isn't a criticism of churches, but just an observation that I get to do everything that I went to Seminary to do through the workplace. 

I'm not going to make promises that I will update this every day or even every week. I really could care less about how many people read this.  I'm excited about what God is doing in my life & that I get to be a part of a great workplace mission field & a mission minded church.