July 30, 2012
As a pastor of many years and a church person of many more, there have been a lot of things that have stuck with me. One of them is how church people can get stuck in ruts of complacency. I did a blog last week about getting in a comfort zone. It is a dangerous thing for people who claim to know God to get to the point to where they expect the same ol’ stuff from God. But this is not a blog about being comfortable, it as about expecting more.
This morning I was talking with someone at the church and we were laughing about how busy we have been. At our church it is common to have stuff happening every day of the week. We like to use our building and let others use it. But there are a few things that are unique to our church and that is what we were talking about. In the last week we have not only had our regular schedule of worship and classes, but we have had a wedding, a funeral, baptisms, communion, baby dedication, and salvation. On top of that, we have recently been on missions trips, raised money for other churches, hosting exchange students, helped church members who needed it, helped homeless in our area, and regularly do counseling. This year we have had outdoor movies, tailgate parties, motorcycle rides, scuba trips, and of course the ever popular church work day. All of this leads to bunches of people visiting us for the first time and many deciding to stick around. So much that we have almost reached our capacity on Sunday morning at 10:30am and are preparing to start a second worship time the first Sunday in January 2013. Not to brag too much, but we have had the privilege of seeing over 60 people make a decision to trust Jesus and over 30 of those have already been baptized this year, 2012.
All of this makes for a crazy pace and it often feels like we never know what to expect next. I love it. It sounds crazy at times and would be overwhelming if it weren’t for all the people who help make these things happen. I believe it is all in line with what God wants us to do because of all the ones who come to know Jesus. Far to often churches are fine with the same faces in the crowd every week. We get very uncomfortable if we don’t see strange faces in our crowd.
It is exciting to see what God can do using a bunch of strange people like us. He never asked for us to be better than anyone else, but rather God asks us to admit that we are sinners in need of His help. Then He forgives our sins, if we ask, and helps us to make changes in our lives that please Him. Most importantly, God wants us to love people, just the way they are. When that happens, people get curious and God gets the glory when they get to know Him, through His people.
I am expecting more from God. He never tires of blessing His children. He never gets bored and is never boring. If you have gotten that impression of God, you have been in the wrong place. The God I know and see working in my church is incredible and loving and far from boring. He has plenty of room in His family and in His church for you. Sure, you may have to change your mind on a few things, but that is the same with all of us who call ourselves Christians. Jesus said that He came to give us life and give it more abundantly, and He does not lie, I am expecting more!
July 27, 2012
I asked you guys to pray for my friends the other day and I am grateful to all who did. I have to give you an update, and at first it seems sad. James died of complications of his illness last night. Because of this, I ask you to continue to praying for his wife and kids. As much as this sucks for them right now, I know that time and God’s grace will allow for things to get better.
James was a Christian. That means now he is better. No more sickness or pain, for him. That sounds great and is true according to what the Bible teaches and in that case I am jealous. But on the other hand, family and friends are left to deal with the sorrow and heart-break of his death. Nothing but time will help that and it is easy to begin to doubt God. That is okay though; God can handle that. He knows what it is like to have someone close die.
God knows that death is an enemy and we are told that the last enemy to be defeated is death. It is a momentary hiccup in the fabric of time that separates what we know and what God knows. Eternity is that close, and wow, in times like this, it is closer than I ever thought. But we are not left to guess what happens after someone dies. For those who believe in this stuff, God says if you have asked Jesus to take your sin penalty for you, you go to heaven. James made that decision several years ago and handed death over to God and accepted the gift of life.
James and I were really getting to know each other in the last year. I thought I knew him, but didn’t. He was really an intense guy who had a wacky past like me. He was funny, while at the same time kept it real. I found out that his faith was stronger than I thought and that was so refreshing.
While we didn’t have enough time with James for my satisfaction, God has promised us an eternity when this life is over. Now, his faith is no longer about what he believes. He has seen it for himself that God is real. He understands what we don’t; the answer to the question, why? He is laughing at our doubts and if I know James, laughing at me and some of the ways I struggled giving answers to things in the Bible that make no sense to us, but now make perfect sense to him. He has seen the beginning of life and knows that there is now no end. He is probably not worried about whether the chairs in the worship center are lined up straight or not. He knows the words to songs that Wanda tries to get us to sing louder and knows the words to songs that only those in heaven can sing. He even knows why that stupid video system doesn’t always work that drives me and Sheila crazy. Somehow I don’t think we will let it bother us as much anymore. (Hey James. Could you at least ask God to let it all work together just once for us?)
There is still a need for prayer. There is still a need for time and for sure, a need for God’s grace. I thank you all for your part. I thank God for the grace and for the time we had with James. I will straighten the chairs this week James, I am sure you have more important things to do.
So long my friend.
July 25, 2012
I like being comfortable, don’t you? My bed, my truck, my way. All of these make me comfortable. I don’t like sleeping in strange beds, riding in someone else’s car, or doing things someone else’s way. That being said, why does God always seem to be getting us out of our comfort zones? I think He has a weird sense of humor and likes watching us say things like, “I will never do that”, or “God would never ask me to do this”. I learned years ago to not say those things very often and thought that I had gone unnoticed for a while. But…NOOOOoooo. I had to tell someone who getting an exchange student was not for me and I didn’t think that God would want me to do that.
So, a friend, and I use that term loosely now, told me that she needed someone to take an exchange student for a month until she could find a longer term family for him to stay with. My first response was not what I wanted to say. I told her she could talk to my wife about it. Remember her? She is the baby addict who loves all kids and would have 100 of them at my house all the time if I would let her. I know what she is going to say.
Now don’t go freaking out yet. It is not final. God could change His mind. And the point of this is not to tell you about us getting an exchange student. It is about not getting comfortable with God. It is about making yourself available to share the love of Christ with anyone, anytime, even at my house, even if you don’t live there.
Last month I went to Cuba. I had just told someone, a few months prior to being asked to go, that I did not think that God wanted me to go outside the country to serve Him. God had me just where He wanted me and I knew it. So, off to Cuba He sent me and it was one of the most incredible times I have ever had. About 11 years ago I was very comfortable in my hometown of Spartanburg and knew that God wanted me to stay there forever and serve in churches there. I have been living in Rock Hill now for 10 years and it is amazing. 33 years ago I was perfectly happy living the life of a bachelor and now I just celebrated my 32nd wedding anniversary…happily.
As a pastor I am constantly challenging people to listen to God and hearing them say that God is telling them to stay with what they are doing and remain comfortable. I laugh at them, on the inside, and tell them to be careful because God is always listening. Comfort is not God. Peace is God. Comfort makes you go to sleep. Peace makes you able to stay focused even though the storm is raging around you. Comfort is doing the same thing week in and week out and not seeing much different happen. Peace is not knowing why things keep happening all around you but wow, people’s lives are being changed by the presence of God.
About 20 years ago, I felt like God was calling me into the ministry. I was a few months removed from being a complete drunk and self-centered jerk. Very few people believed that God would call me to be a pastor, but I knew it was happening. I did not like it. I did not want it. I just knew it was happening. Today I have been the pastor, for ten years, of a church that is unbelievably growing with folks that are a lot like I was 20 years ago. They are not sure of why, but are sure of Who is calling them to be different. Some are facing the call to trust God for something more. Some are stepping out in faith and finding that they really can trust God to do everything that He says He will do. Some are just getting the courage to invite a friend who is still struggling with life’s constant bombardment of crap to visit this place that will accept them without judging them. It is so exiting to watch.
So let me encourage you to get uncomfortable with God for a while. If you call yourself a Christian, you should not be comfortable around God, you should be at peace. There is nothing comfortable of being around perfection when you are so far from it. But it is mind-blowing to be considered the child of God who is using you to do something that you never thought possible and finding out you love it.
Meanwhile I am still hoping that God is only messing with me about this exchange student and soon I will hear Him say, “PSYCH!”, ’cause this has me way out of my comfort zone.
July 24, 2012
God brings people in and out of our lives all of the time. Rarely do we have those super special people who stay around a long time. God has been very very good to me and has not only brought me a wife that has stuck around, but has brought me several friends too. A couple of these friends, needs your prayers. I am only doing this because it is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission and she would probably tell me no if I asked her if I could post this.
Sheila and I met at church in a very strange way. Her and her family lived just a couple of doors down from the church I worked at and she was using us as an occasional baby sitters for her children. Her and her significant other were not church people and did not plan on becoming church people. If the truth be known, they still aren’t church people; they are amazing people who know Jesus and have blessed our church by making it theirs now. I will condense this part quite a bit, but it is an amazing testimony. After a few weeks, she started coming, then James, and the next thing you know we are baptizing them and performing a middle of the week wedding. Over the next 8 years, they have become friends to the point of being family.
Here is the prayer need. James in the hospital ICU with a weird lung problem and the doctors are not optimistic about his recovery being quick nor full. I personally believe that God has other plans. Sheila has to work and many of our church folks are helping where we can. She is hard-headed and stubborn, but we are working around that. But I am asking you to pray for her specifically because the love of her life is very sick and she is hurting from it. She has amazing patience and stamina for persevering through tough times, but this is different as you can see. Pray for her to be strengthened and for patience and for God’s grace to be overflowing in her life at this time. She is by far one of the best people God has ever sent to our church and to me as a friend.
Pray for her two boys, both teenagers. That in it self is a need for prayer when everything is going just fine. But now they are faced with uncertainty and I am sure their faith is being tested. Pray that they will find extra patience with mom and that they will see just how awesome God is, even in the hard times, which is when we all need it most.
Pray for James. That his recovery will be faster than the doctors can ever explain and that the recovery is full. He recently quit driving a truck and has been home for the last few months and because of that has been in church regularly ever since. He has grown in his relationship with God and was really getting to find his place with friends and in serving at the church. It goes without saying that he loves his family and loves the Lord. But when something like this happens, even the strongest faith can be challenged.
Yep, every so often we get blessed with someone special in our lives and when they are hurting, you hurt. So I am asking everyone who reads this to take a minute to pray for my good friends. I will keep you updated as we hear the good news start to happen. Thanks for taking this time to read about this special need and thanks most of all for taking time to pray.
July 23, 2012
Do you remember that annual elementary school paper that you had to write as soon as you got back to school each year? What I did on my summer vacation. I hated it. My summers were usually filled with top-secret stuff that my friends and I did that we could never tell a soul. So I made stuff up that sounded cool and left out the really good stuff. Well this is my first blog after getting back from my summer vacation and I can’t tell you everything I did or I would have to kill you, and that would get complicated, considering the recent events in the news.
My wife and I celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary and her birthday, which happen to be the same day. I am the gift that keeps giving. This year, her sister let us stay in her lake house for the week and I took my boat, golf clubs, and motorcycle, and yes, my wife. She took books and sunscreen. She is so easy.
Day one: I played golf and set a new course record. Everyone was amazed at my skills and the fact that I had never played that course before. My score would have been much better, but I realized that I was playing so well that I was not getting my money’s worth, so I started playing left-handed with my right-handed clubs and using only half of a golf ball. After golf I went home to watch my wife tanning and reading. It was the highlight of my day. We ate dinner at a 5 star restaurant that evening where I left a $1000 tip and impressed my wife so much that I did not have to sleep in the spare bedroom that night.
Day two: We rode the motorcycle and when we got back I went fishing. I bought a used jon boat before we left and a used trolling motor and a new battery. Although I had fished this lake before, I had never been on this part of the lake. Fishing is all about knowing the lake and knowing where the fish are. There is a skill factor involved, but I never worry about that. On my first cast I hooked a monster of a fish. I was only using a small tackle that most people use for catching pan-fish, but I like to use it for larger fish to give them more of a chance. It took hours to get the fish close enough to the boat to see what is was. After an hour, there were boats from all over the lake watching what was happening. Some came close enough to offer help, but when they saw that I was only using one hand, they knew that I had things under control. Once I got the fish to the boat it was almost dark and because I only had a trolling motor, I did not want to run out of daylight, so I rigged line to the boat and to the fish and had it swim me back to my dock which was several miles away. I am sure that this was a state record, but I did not have the fish officially weighed. With all of the reports from others who saw the catch, I was awarded the unofficial world record by the president. That night in honor of the fish, I cooked a world-class meal for my wife and did not have to sleep on the couch.
On day three, I played golf again. This time I was not going to take it lightly. So I broke the course record again. I went home earlier to watch my wife sun-bathe and read a book. Again I prepared a world-class meal for her and watched a movie with her and did not have to sleep on the couch or in the spare bed room.
On day four it was our anniversary. Our custom is to go on a long ride together on the motorcycle, so we did. We went to see our daughter and have lunch with her then to see my wife’s parents and then home early enough to go out to a 5 star restaurant where again I tipped generously and wooed the wife enough to not have to sleep in the spare room or on the couch.
Day five I played golf and fished. It was amazing how many people on the golf course were asking me to go fishing again so they could watch me catch another unofficial world record and while I was on the lake, how many people wanted me to go play golf again so they could see me break the record again. Best part of the day was going back to watch the wife tan and read her book. A new record was made that night when I did not have to sleep in the spare room or on the couch for the 5th night in a row.
Day six, we loaded up and came back home and I did not have to sleep in the spare room or on our couch. It was a great vacation.
July 13, 2012
Next week my wife and I celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary. That means I may not be blogging next week because we always take the week off and go somewhere. It is really strange saying that I have been married for 32 years. Most people my age have been married several times and few have that many years with the same person. I still remember when I thought that 30 was old. Now I have been married longer than that. I use to say that my wife married me when I was 12, but that still makes me older than I feel like I want to be.
I have been very blessed. I wish that everyone could experience the type of marriage that I have. I can honestly say that I love my wife more today than when we got married. We are still passionate and fun and learning each other. We love being together and trust each other when we are apart. We laugh, cry, and pray together and have no fears of dying with any regrets of what we could have done together. Our marriage is that special.
Now I don’t want you to think that we don’t have tough times. I tell everyone that my wife is the best of everything for me, including my best fight. No one can make me as angry as she can. But that is because we are passionate. But when we fight, we fight to make us stronger, and when that goes wrong, we forgive to make us humble. In our 32 years we have been on the brink of divorce twice. We have been in marriage counseling and we have been separated. We have been tempted to call it quits, but by the grace of God have never followed through with it. We have suffered through alcohol and drug abuse and self centeredness. We have had plenty of money and great careers and we have both been unemployed and dirt poor. All of these things have worked together to make us stronger.
We use our experiences to help others every chance that we get. We can look young couples in the eyes and tell them that we understand where they are and what they are going through. It brings us great joy to see a couple about to call it quits, turn things around and become stronger than ever.
As a husband, I can honestly say I am the best husband my wife has ever had. She knows this and will be the first to tell you that she has never married anyone that is as good as me. Of course, since I am the only husband she has ever had, I rank number one without any competition. That doesn’t change the fact that I am the best husband she has ever had though.
My wife is incredible. She is extremely smart and has the most incredible patience. She has worked her way to the top in corporate America, ran her own business, and helped to build our church. She has people skills that make her the type of friend that people dream of. As a mom, she is compassionate and nurturing and as a grandmother, or Mimi, she is the one responsible for spoiling the kids beyond repair. Add to all of this, she is unbelievably beautiful and sexy. Yes, I am truly blessed.
So next week, we are heading out to spend a week away from work and church and family and friends. We are going to ride the motorcycle, dine out, watch movies and read books. We are going to forget about the stresses of life and enjoy being together and reflect on how awesome it is to be married to each other. This will mean, no blogs, no Facebook, and no phones.
When we walked down that aisle and said our vows 32 years ago, no one thought that we would make it. Our dads even made bets about how quickly it would end. They said that we would never make it because we were too young and I was too messed up. They were correct about me, but God does work miracles. I was so happy to get married that day. It was the best thing that I could have ever done. I am happily and joyfully married and can’t wait to see what is coming in year 33 together and beyond.
Happy Anniversary to my bride and girl of my wildest dreams. Thanks for loving me and letting me love you.
I am still married and wanting more!
July 12, 2012
Most of them are good attitudes, but from time to time, some attitudes get negative, including my own. This is the third line from yesterday’s blog. Why did I start with it today? Because I have been blasted from people telling me that it was inappropriate to talk about other people like that. DUH…It IS about me. I was saying that even a beloved pastor can get self-centered and if I can do it, I bet you can too. (Not a good thing)
I consider myself to be the most blessed pastor in the world. My church is full of people who “get it”. They love everyone that walks through the doors regardless of how the look, color, age, or any other descriptive characteristics. They make our church a great place for people to come and feel loved and relaxed and that leads to many people coming to know Jesus. That is the most important thing in the world, not how you or I feel. And that was the purpose of the whole blog yesterday.
It is so easy to get our feelings hurt or feel like someone is stepping on our toes. As a very confident pastor, I have a vision and a direction for my church that I truly believe God gave to me. The reason I believe this is because people come to our church and then come to know Jesus every Sunday. We don’t do a show of wealth or fluffy, feel good sermons. We are modern and our band is awesome and yes, we use some lights while they are playing, but other than that, things rely on God using us to love others. For those of us who have been in church a long time, we can often get our feelings hurt if we feel like we are being neglected or our territory is being invaded or our leadership is being questioned. That is often the time of the much-needed attitude check. And so, I had to check mine.
Sometimes we need to trust that the leaders that God has put in our lives are not only thinking about themselves when they have to put their foot down about a situation. Just like CEO of a company, the pastor is overseeing the big picture and every day is thinking about how to stay heading in the right direction. Sometimes those who work in a specific area, miss how the big picture is effected by what they do. Sometimes the pastor must be firm in staying a course and when that happens, this pastor, can be less than tactful. The old saying, “It’s not what you say but how you say it” comes to mind in this case. I don’t feel like I said anything wrong, but I sure wish I had checked the attitude sooner and said it better.
God loves His people, even those who screw up. He knows that we will never be perfect and therefore, He gives us grace. I love that and need that and I try to model that. But God also does not put up with our inappropriate behavior and will be blunt and to point in correcting us. It is at that time that we can either check our attitude and learn or we can continue to be self-centered and lose sight of the big picture. I am far from being God, but I am sure of the vision, this big picture, that God has given me and the direction our church is going. Too many people are coming to know Jesus for us to be doing too much that He does not like from His church.
It is about me though. I love me and you know it. I am one of my favorite people. But I am not perfect and I admit it. For those who just had your bubble burst, I am sorry. Perfection was Jesus, I am only His servant. If someone took yesterday’s blog to be about you, then maybe you should look in the mirror. If your mirror is foggy, it is not my fault. I am looking in mine and trying to find the Windex to clean it off; ’cause when I look in my mirror and its dirty, it IS about me.
July 11, 2012
I am in the process of doing some organizing at our church, mainly with staff and volunteer leaders. This means meetings and reminders of what our vision is and what we are trying to achieve and, of course, attitude checks. Most of them are good attitudes, but from time to time, some attitudes get negative, including my own. Positive attitudes are vital to success and way to often we forget this. Sometimes we think that our negative attitudes are the most important in the room and, that may be so in your own mind, but usually is the farthest from the truth in the minds of others. And…in the church it is supposed to be more about others than ourselves.
I saw a sign over the entrance to a bar one time that said please check firearms and attitudes at the door. I love that. Maybe we should hang that sign over the church door. But then I would have to leave my firearm outside and if you forget to check your attitude one day I would be left defenseless. But it would be nice to leave our attitudes at home when we come to be servants like Jesus. Jesus had a right to have an attitude. He was getting accused of wrong doing when in fact He was innocent. I may come close, but the rest of y’all are far from innocent. We are fortunate that God retired the old ways of just killing everyone who had a bad attitude. Church attendance would have dropped by several after my last meeting if He was still dong it that way. Why in some churches they would even have to find a new pastor every other week or so. But that is not how God chooses to deal with us. Instead He let Jesus take the death for us and then constantly reminds Himself that His death was in our place and therefore He shouldn’t kill us, yet.
Listen, church people have it tough. We are supposed to be “good” and yet we are stuck in these bodies that scream out, “ME! ME! ME!” No not the singing, Mi Mi Mi. The “me” factor is what causes people who don’t believe in God to think that they don’t need to believe in a God that lets His people act like some of us do. So no matter how hard we try to be good, we screw up and act selfish and forget about checking our attitudes at the door. I think that we should check them at the door both coming and going.
The Apostle Paul said in one of his writings that he died daily to self so that he could live better for Christ. Most people don’t even want to think about dying themselves and certainly don’t want to live under someone else’s guidelines, especially when they go against “what’s in it for me”. But that is exactly what being a Christian is supposed to be about. Giving up selfish desires and thinking about what is best for someone else. Far too often we fail, but that is what grace is for.
Attitudes are often a great indicator of what is in our hearts. If our hearts are full of me stuff then our attitudes are going to quickly become negative when someone asks us to do something for others. If our hearts are full of God stuff, then it is harder to have a bad attitude when we are asked to serve others. So, checking our attitudes often is important, especially if we are going to tell others that we are Christians and even more so if you are going to assume the role of a leader in a church. I may print a sign for this weekend to check the attitudes at the door. But maybe it should read, “attitude checks can not be mailed, they must be made in person”.