Monday, October 3, 2016

The Joy of Change and the Season of Death

So, its been like "to infinity and beyond" since I have written on this blog - but, my sweet daughter Abbie has inspired me to write by starting her own blog.

I want to write about the desire to change.  Change is good, but it is easy to think that we cannot change.  Beyond this, we get stuck in our ways and actually like the fact that we are "unchangeable". There is an invigorating feeling that comes when you make a change - you realize that you are not the person you used to be (for the good.)

I have been very vocal about my traditional hatred of the season called "Fall".  The very name is negative.  It is the season that everything dies.  The comfy smells are the smell of death, and stop pouring pumpkin into my coffee, thank you. I guess it must have happened sometime in the last 20 years when I experienced a terrible Autumn.  It is sort of like that intersection that you drive through where you had an accident years before.  There is something within me like Pavlov's dog that connects Fall with darkness.

It is a deep darkness that I feel - like the foreboding of a horror movie.  It is real, and tangible to me.  It is further scored by Halloween, the barren trees, the cold and damp weather......  HOWEVER!

I am writing about change.  I have "decided" this year to LIKE FALL.  You smirk in disdain as you read those words because you think that one does not simply "change" to enjoy something (or walk into Mordor).  But, that is where you are wrong.  I have found the joy of total change in several aspects of my life.  I have found that preferences and opinions can simply be......changed.  These are not "convictions" after all.  This is not a spiritual matter I am talking about.  It certainly doesn't apply to the taste of food or your favorite pair of jeans --- it is about other things; lesser things - like Fall.

One of my first revelations about complete change came as a Youth Pastor when I would go visit the teens at our Christian School at lunchtime.  I sat at their tables and "naturally" ate THEIR snacks with them.  It became part of the "visit".  Well, it wasn't long before I began to be labeled a "mooch".  I didn't like that label and its connotations.  I actually wanted to be a giving person.  So, I decided to CHANGE.

For many months I would go and visit with them and refuse every Doritos, apple wedge, cheese stick, etc. that was offered to me.  I absolutely would not eat one nibble of anything.  Guess what?  My reputation totally changed and so did my acceptance by the teens.  Instead of hiding their food from me, the teens began to insist that I would eat their snacks with them. (which I wouldn't). This may be a "lame" illustration to you, but it was an "aha" moment for me.  I realized that there are many things in my life that I can simply - on the fly - change.  The domino effect of those changes can be astronomical.  Again, I am not talking about the sanctification work of God, I am talking about things you have been doing all our life that you can realize you are not bound to do.  You are not forced to be that way.  You are not glued to your preference or habit in those things.  There are many things that you can just simply decide one day to change.

And so, I have decided to like Fall this year.  No kidding.  I have decided not to hate it - and guess what?  Its working.  Try it, you may find that you don't have to be the person that you have been.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Disappointment of a Failed Expectation

I have noticed in myself and others a common malady that shows up at holidays and big events.  Let's call this malady The Failed Expectation.

This is how it goes:  you are really looking forward to time off or vacation or a holiday with all its special activities, etc. - but then when it actually comes, you feel unsatisfied, maybe disappointed, perhaps even frustrated or angry.  Why does this happen?  What is going on here?  I have found in myself and a few others that have discussed this that when we build high expectations of something within us there is always the danger of the balloon popping and all our hopeful fantasies deflating into perceived failure.  Perhaps this part of  the meaning of Proverbs 13:12
Hope deferred maketh the heart sick, But when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.  

 Why does this happen?  Well, when this happens, we are DENYING a few things:

1.  We are denying the reality of REALITY.

The reality is that things are not going to go exactly how you want them to go.  People are not going to say and act just as you want them to.  As my children grow older, I am realizing more and more that a certain event that I plan is subject to the wills of older children becoming adults.  I cannot just expect that things will run in the totally controlled manner that they did when the kids were little children totally subject to the whims of the parents.

You expect to go to the family reunion and interact with people a certain way, and when that turns sour - you are deflated and perhaps angry because you did not factor in the variables that the reality of life is always changing and never dependable.  You throw that party and want everything to go perfectly - but people fail to show up, your punch turns out wrong, your water heater goes out, and your dog decides to have stomach issues.  The reality of life is that things are not dependable.

This year, I of course had this perfect Christmas scene in mind with our oldest daughter Abbie home from college.  Christmas day has such high expectations in our minds of "the most wonderful time of the year."  Well, this year we had a few surprises that challenged that.  Our Christmas lights won't stay on outside and keep throwing a breaker.  Our "real" tree was full of aphids that flooded our living room and hallway with hundreds of unexpected Christmas guests.  The tree also dropped sap like the sky has dropped rain this Christmas.  Our presents were all covered with sap and aphids.  Lovely.  On top of this, there was a miscommunication about Christmas breakfast that caused Amy and I to have a "serious" talk.  Yeah - the REALITY is different than the EXPECTATION.  Don't get me wrong, it was a nice Christmas, but reality certainly showed up.

2.  We are denying the reality of our FLESH.  I won't say much about this, but just note that any move to "control everything" your way is a mark of fleshly pride.  I struggle with that.  I feel if everything goes MY WAY then everyone will be happy.  This is not true, nor is it good.

When we have these expectations in events where we are interacting with other people, then our flesh is going to butt heads with the flesh of others.  These events tend to be more "tense" than normal days because we are in strange environments and situations that we are not used to.  Our expectations are banging against the expectations of others.  The preferences of introverts and extroverts are colliding. Preferences in a thousand ways are at odds.  There will be interactions that are not the delightful situation that you imagined.

3.  We are denying the reality of God's working.  Our expectations can never factor in what God would like to do in us and through us because we don't know the mind of God.  He is working on these days of holidays, vacations, events.  Many times, that means the Lord is going to throw us a curve ball to grow us or change us and others.  He may be accomplishing something by the mishaps and disappointments that would totally surprise us if we could know them.  So, we need to trust Him when things don't go as we planned.

4.  We are denying the fact that failed expectations are the breeding ground for great memories.  In his video series Hidden Keys to Loving Relationships, Dr. Gary Smalley explains how unexpected calamities in a family or a group can turn out to bond us and bring some of the most joyful memories in years ahead.  He talks about a camping weekend gone wrong and how it brought his family together in an unexpected way.

You know, we will forever talk about the "aphid Christmas with all the sap" in our family.  It will be a humorous memory in days ahead that will bond our family. (no sappy pun intended).  The calamities of a failed expectation certainly can be sorrowful, but some can actually be productive in your life.  If everything went as expected, then life would be a pretty boring place.

So, I guess I would just encourage you in this conversation with a few applications:  1.  Don't build your mind up for some great thing that will likely not happen just the way you want.  2.  Realize that your fantasy involves other people's preferences and wills, and that needs to be ok with you.  3.  Realize God is at work in the curve balls.  Trust Him.  4.  Realize that you are making memories with others - laugh at the Failed Expectation when you can.  I would also add a #5.  Things probably went better than your "failed expectations" feel.  Try to reflect on the positives.

God is good to us even when everything is not going perfect.  We have what we need, we get to be with great family and friends, Jesus is our Savior and King.  That's enough, life doesn't have to be our fantasy of "perfect".

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Expo Canter

My heart was racing from anticipation
and jubilation that could change our nation;

The details making with all norms breaking
the people waking new glory taking.

Christ exalted, satan halted
the world more salted, scripture vaulted.

Shackles broken, minds awoken
doctrine spoken, victory chosen.

Children praising, seniors raving
glory blazing, honor raising

Saints are humbled, ideas crumbled
idols tumbled, principalities jumbled.

God's Word expounded, our hearts more grounded;
new mercy sounded, the Expo founded.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Several things to help pastors enjoy church services

The title of this blog entry may seem very strange to laymen, but I would guess will hit a cord among pastors.  There are many distractions that can rob a pastor from enjoying the very church services into which  he has invested  much thought and effort.  I would like to give you several thoughts that I am continually preaching to myself in this area:

1.  Rest in the fact that this is God's church, not yours.

What I mean by this is, sometimes we feel like all the expectation is on us to perform and make some great thing out of this group of believers.  We bear an unnecessary burden of thinking that it all depends on us and every service must be "super" and above average.  If, and when that does not happen (because it doesn't) we blame ourselves and consider ourselves failures.  Well, listen up "bud" - that ain't your church!  This is God's church, and more specifically - it is Jesus' church.  He is the Head, and He is the leader of it to succeed, fail, or do "average".  Relax - the buck does not stop with you.

2.  Rest in the fact that God is working, so you don't have to manipulate the work.

What I mean by this is that early in the senior pastorate, I felt like I needed to control the "aura" of any given service by pumping the people up or having a theatrical moment, or interjecting myself artificially during the song service to "get the people more stirred, etc.".  I felt like I could make or break how good a service was and how much the people would get out of it.  I have seen other pastors straining to artificially create something by passionate words, brow beating, church self-promotion, etc.   At best this is arrogant, at worst it is blasphemous against the work of the Holy Spirit.

We would do well to consider Psalms 84:2  My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.   God is alive and working in the place of corporate worship and we don't need to manipulate the service to make it "more so".  I think our part is to communicate that clearly to the people and then to allow God to be God.  We all should be coming to the services to meet corporately with God and expect no less.  If the attention is on the "super" pastor or the "super" music or the "super" church we have, or the "super" service - we are missing the boat and participating in plastic worship.  Pastors, rest in the fact that God is working in hearts.  He really is doing a work that you cannot manipulate.  His sovereign evangelism and sanctification is something that works THROUGH us, not by us.

3.  Believe that you are called, gifted, and used by God.

I have no idea how many times I have run back to this chapter in the pastorate:  2 Corinthians 3:6  Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.

Imagine - you and I are "able ministers".  That is such a consolation when you feel like your ministry is worth about 2 cents.  Whether we see results or accolades is not the truth - the truth is, we have the ability to minister for God through the calling and gifts He has bestowed on us.  Our ministry really changes hearts and lives no matter to what extent we ever see it.

So, when I prepare my sermons, when I stand in that pulpit, when I reflect on how I "did" last Sunday - let me look through the lens that I am ministering with supernatural gifts that do not fail.

4.  Come to the services to see the living God yourself.

You are not the one man show at church.  Jesus is the one man show.  When we consider that we are coming to seek and worship the "living God" in corporate worship, we must not think that is for everyone except the pastor.  No, you are coming to engage with the God who is alive also.  The song service is not a segue to your show - it is time to sing in the Spirit.  It is time to lift up Jesus in your own heart.  Stop staring at the schedule to see what comes next - consider the words of the hymn from your heart.  Listen to the song leaders comments (God works through him also).  Listen to the choir's worship instead of focusing on sister Jean who is off key.  That choir isn't singing better or worse for your resume's sake.  They are not singing for YOU.  Focus on the God they are singing to and about.  You are not a better or worse pastor because your song service is primo or pitiful.  You didn't come to the service to build yourself up - you came to see the living God.  One thing that helped our pastors with this was moving off of the platform onto the front row during services.  We are no longer the zoo exhibit, but are part of the congregation engaging in worship ourselves.

5.  Allow the details to be the details and not the main thing on your mind.

I am a detail guy.  I go a bit crazy when the lights aren't on properly, the sound has feedback, there is no centerpiece in front of the pulpit, etc. One of my favorite sayings to staff and helpers is "God is in the details"...but an equally popular saying is "The devil's in the details".  That can certainly be true when we are in a service worshiping and leading worship and the only thing we can focus on is the fact that the piano mic is not on or the projector isn't working correctly.

I think we need to come to the place where we give a certain allowance to details not being exactly right in, well, ANY service.  We are not working with professional ushers, sound system techs, etc. - there will be things not quite right.  I have made the mistake on many occasions to feel negative feelings toward people who I thought should do better, only to realize that they were doing their best - but things "happen".

As pastors, we must strive for excellence and to remove stumblingblocks that interrupt or distract from the message - but ultimately, God WILL sanctify His people despite incorrect details.  I struggle with this, but it is the truth.  If I am so "peeved" by the details that I preach with a bad attitude, then I am grieving the Holy Spirit that wants to use me.  That will never do.

6.  Deflect the "stinkers" that answer to Jesus for how they talk to you.

In every church there are "stinkers" that seem bent on saying exactly the wrong thing to irritate you before or after you preach.  I believe the devil is pinching their bottom or something to say that thoughtless, heartless, distracting, hurtful comment to pull you away from clear ministering.  They say rude things about how long you preach; they correct something that you said; they tell you something they don't like about the church; they complain about some foolish thing or another.   Deflect it - don't engage in it.  I have burned myself time and time again by responding to these comments in a sarcastic or defensive way.  It does not work - nothing works.  That person will stand before the Lord for their resistance and hurtfulness to the ministry and God's servant.  Plain and simple - let God deal with them and give them no energy.  You are not the problem pastor - they are.  It is not "lording" to know that God did not engift or call those people to lead and teach the flock - He called YOU.  You must own and embrace this authority and service and like Nehemiah, ignore the Sanballots and Tobiahs to do God's great work.

I am certainly not condoning deflecting or ignoring valid complaints or concerns.  I am talking about the guy who thinks his spiritual gift is "criticism".  He oozes negativity and discouragement like a nasty burn oozes puss.  Deflect and do not engage.

7.  Don't worry about results.

Now, some will disagree on this point, and I am willing to allow them to be wrong.  One of the great joys that I have had in ministry is not to look at "the numbers" week by week.  We only publish the average attendance once a year at our annual meeting.  Why?  Because being results oriented is a HUGE distraction to actual God-ministering.  It is trellis work and not vine work.  When the numbers are up you think, "Well, look at that - I am really doing something for God."  When the numbers are down you think, "That's it, I'm a failure, I want to quit."  Man of God, listen to me - that is garbage.  Stop looking at the numbers.  *I must credit Dr. Dan Davies with this thinking.

The same is true with responses to the invitation.  Let me blow your mind a moment.  I live on the North East coast and hardly anyone responds physically to the invitation.  When I go preach at different places - people come forward in plenty.  I really don't know if it is our geographical location or the mindset of our church - but people don't usually walk the aisles.  This really troubled me for some time and I even had a pastor recommend that I use the deacons to come forward and "prime the pump" so others would come.....Long sigh here for Arminian manipulation.........

Men, the work of sanctification is not "decisionism", but rather the change in hearts and lives as the work of God "untwists" people's minds long-term to conform them to Christ.  Sometimes, invitation calls (as emotional as they can get) are really replacements for the true repentance of the heart that  isn't the business of any person seeing you walk forward to an "altar".  Over the years we have seen real and lasting growth spiritually in our people though they are not big on walking an aisle.  We must believe in God's living work of changing the heart, and not put our trust in the physical response/ result of seeing people come at a man-method invitation.  But...we are just men and want to see those results for our own validation that we are a "good pastor".  We must focus on faithfulness and the final "well done" rather than present results.   When I can free my mind from those man-made expectations - then I can enjoy preaching the life-changing Word of God without trying to make more people come forward to please my immature heart or the voices of my critics.

Well, I have written much but I hope this will be a blessing to some of my pastor friends and enlightenment for laymen.  Let's get back to enjoying our church services again and engaging with the living God who occupies the pillar and ground of truth.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Wait...Jesus said what?

Luke 21:16-19  And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death.  (17)  And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake.  (18)  But there shall not an hair of your head perish.  (19)  In your patience possess ye your souls.

I believe I first heard Tim Keller  reference this passage.  It was an "aha" moment for me in understanding the mind of God concerning bad things that happen to believers.

The context is Jesus revealing to his disciples what would happen as they stood for Him.  I have not studied in depth the eschatological timing of the paragraph, but it seems prophetic to the last times - perhaps the beginning of the Tribulation.

What is shocking here is v.16 that says "some of you shall they cause to be put to death", and then v.18 says "But there shall not an hair of your head perish."  If ever there seemed to be a direct contradiction, it must be "put to death" and "not a hair of your head perish."  However, in some very strange, deep, Spirit of God way - it makes sense in God's sovereignty.

I am learning that bad things, really bad things that happen to believers are also the "servants" of God.  To be clear, I am talking about people that are doing you harm, illness, calamity, tragedy, car accidents, etc, etc, etc.  Somewhere in my 40's conversations about "all things work together for good" moved from theory to stark reality in a harsh way.  It's great to say that, to preach it, to encourage people with it - but do we really believe in our hearts that "calamity" is an employee of God?

I am presently reading Jerry Bridges on Trusting God when life hurts.  I have been illuminated to the working of God to use our enemies to ultimately work His will and our good.  Bridges lays out irrefutable Biblical proof of this.  I have "known" that for years, but somehow it is really sinking in.

So, back to the verse -- how can we be executed, but not a hair on our head perish??  The way to understand this is that physical/emotional/financial harm to us cannot be truly defined as "bad" considering that we have a Sovereign Father that refuses to allow anything to ultimately prosper that would destroy, irrevocably injure, or annihilate the "real us".  In fact - everything that is allowed to happen to us is occurring for our good and blessing.  Let me say that another way - even the most evil evil is the emissary of God to work sanctification, blessing, and the perfect will of God to us.  This includes dying at God's appointed time by the hands of an executioner.  When we are "dying" - not one of our hairs is perishing.  We are well, we are better than well.  

Now, don't get me wrong - we don't "feel" well.  But, even that pain of anxiety, fear, distress, etc. is working the experience of patience and hope in us that leads to realizing the love of God.
And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.  Romans 5  
There is then, a euphoric liberty that comes to the child of God that really believes that God is so committed to him in the love of grace that He will never allow anything to ultimately harm him.  

1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love

So, in the strange workings of the Sovereignty of God - we may be killed, but not one of our hairs can be harmed.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Have you struggled with the swine?

This morning I read the story of Jesus sending the demons into the 2000 swine. (Matthew 8)  I admit that I have not done a long or deep study on the passage, so that may account for my present confusion.

My confusion is this - did Jesus destroy the livelihood of the owners of the swine as a result of doing a righteous thing for the two demon possessed men?  I know that is not the heart of the story, but I do wonder.  What does this event tell us about the working of God?  Does the ownership of the swine not matter to God?

I love these sort of questions because they usually lead to a deeper thinking and understanding of the character of God.  I love Biblical questions that challenge my view of who God is because they normally sharpen the understanding of who God is after meditation.

We should not just skip through thinking about such tough questions.  We should not be afraid of such challenges, or try to "re-form" God into the person we have imagined Him to be - but rather clear our minds  and in faith look at what Christ concerning the pigs and say:  Lord, teach me about your character through this Word of God.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Gospel>Confederate Flag=Remove racial offense

I just want to make a quick comment for the hearts of believers that perhaps grew up in a racially charged environment such as I did.  It is very hard to leave the traditions of racial bigotry behind and move forward in the truths of the Gospel that lavishes love on every tribe, kindred, and nation.

However, we must move on and grow in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ that died for Jews and Gentiles alike --- He died for blacks, whites, Indians, Middle Easterners, etc., etc.  Heaven will be filled with people from all earthly ethnic origins.  God is both the Creator of all races as well as the Redeemer of all races.

Racial thoughts of superiority, "Cain's curse", "tower of Babel curse", etc. must be rejected and condemned under the loving truths of Christ's Gospel.

And so we consider the *Confederate Battle Flag flying over South Carolina and on the license plates of some believers.  Is it offensive to those Christ loves?  YES.  Does it erect a barrier to give and live the Gospel?  YES.  Can it divide me from my black Christian brother?  YES

Years ago, a black man came to me and expressed hurt over a confederate flag displayed on another believer's car.  He explained to me what that symbol means to the black community.  He could not understand why a believer would display it on their vehicle.  As followers of Jesus Christ - we have been born again to live the love of Christ.  The Gospel is greater than any nostalgic Southern symbol.  We are first Gospel believers before any other allegiance to this fallen world.

*The Flag that is often called the Confederate Flag is not the flag of the Confederacy; the design was actually rejected as the Southern Confederate flag and became the battle flag of the armies of Virginia under General Lee.