Friday, November 29, 2013

Different Styles, Same Point

Since stepping down from pastoral ministry last year, I've had plenty of opportunities to worship in different settings.

Some Sundays I worshipped at traditional, liturgical churches.  To be specific, I visited Methodist and Lutheran congregations.  The dress was more formal, so I wore a coat and tie.  There was a good bit of responsive readings, candles, robes, organs, and choirs.  It was really reverent and special.

Other Sundays I worshipped at more contemporary churches.  To be specific, I visited Southern Baptist and non-denominational churches.  The dress was more casual, so I wore nice jeans and a polo shirt.  The music was led by a praise band and technology was used to enhance the experience for everyone (PowerPoint, videos, etc.).  It was very liberating and passion-filled.

As I reflect on this past year with these two different styles of worship, I think the following:

1) I could easily worship with either style.  My focus was on connecting with Jesus, so the musical style just did not matter too much to me.  I was fine either way.  All that mattered to me (and still matters now) was having a meaningful encounter with God.  

2) I saw that there was room enough in God's kingdom for different styles of worship.  Some services were more old school, and some were more modern.  But all glorified God, encouraged worshippers, and made a positive impact.  No style was superior or better than the others.  They all had various ways of accomplishing the same thing.

Different people worship God in different ways.  And that's ok.  As long it's carried out in the name of Jesus, and done with respect and sincerity, I've become fully convinced that either style is just fine.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Give Thanks

On this day, let us give thanks to God with glad hearts.

Thank Him...

For His provision in the midst of life's needs,

For His comfort in the midst of life's hurts,

For His peace in the midst of life's storms,

For His empowerment in the midst of life's challenges,

For His guidance in the midst of life's confusion,

For His love in the midst of life's cruelty,

For His forgiveness in the midst of life's failures.

God is good.  

God is gracious.  

God is deserving of our heartfelt gratitude on this day, and on all the days to come.

Let us all give thanks.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Rejoicing In The Jailhouse

In the New Testament, we read these words of Paul:  "Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again:  Rejoice!"  He wrote this to a group of Jesus followers in the city of Phillipi centuries ago.  And what an important reminder it was!

But there is something vital to know about these words.  Paul did not write them from a sandy beach while on vacation.  And he did not write them from a cozy mountain cottage with a warm blaze in the fireplace.  The truth is, Paul wrote these words while under arrest.  Yes, Paul was imprisoned and he was still able to write about rejoicing.

Paul was much more interested in his Savior than his circumstances.  His relationship with Jesus mattered for more than anything else.  And that is why he could rejoice.

Always remember this:

You may be in perfect health, or you may be in the advanced stages of cancer.  Either way, you can rejoice if Jesus is your Savior.

You may have a ton of close, meaningful relationships, or you may have nobody to talk with at all.  Either way, you can rejoice if Jesus is your Savior.

You may have a big pile of money in the bank, or your checking account may have cobwebs in it.  Either way, you can rejoice if Jesus is your Savior.

You may be free as a bird, or you may be sitting in a jailhouse.  Either way, you can rejoice if Jesus is your Savior.

Joy is not found in surrounding circumstances.  Short-term happiness can be, but we are talking about something deeper and better than that.  Joy is actually found in knowing Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord, and Friend.

Our circumstances are temporary and will inevitably change along the way.  But the goodness and grace of Jesus is eternal.  He is here to stay, and He is filled with love for us that will last forever and ever.

Of course, we will always be aware of our circumstances, and we will want them to be as favorable as possible.  There is nothing wrong at all with trying to be healthy, financially secure, and surrounded with positive relationships.  Those are good things.  But ultimately, we must realize our deepest joy is not found in them.  Why?  Because they can be here today and gone tomorrow.  Our deepest joy is instead found in a connection with Jesus.  Knowing Him and making Him known is really what life is about.  And it is in that "sweet spot" you and I can rejoice day in and day out.

I can picture Paul now.  Chains on his ankle, a smile on his face, and joy in his heart.  All because he focused on what mattered most:  Jesus.

Rejoice today, my friend, if you know the Lord.  No matter what, you're going to come out on top with Him when it's all said and done.  And all will be well.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

When We Are In Need

God met one of my needs yesterday.  And He did it in a cool way.  I woke up this morning still buzzing with excitement and gratitude.

So that inspired me to write this a few moments ago:

Are any of us in need right now?

If so, let's think on these two Bible passages:

Psalm 24:1- "The Earth is the Lord's, and everything in it"

Psalm 50:10, 12 - God says about Himself, "every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills ... the world is mine, and all that is in it"

So let's think this through.  If we are in need, and if God owns this entire world, including all that is in it, then what should you do?  I'm not a rocket scientist, but I'm thinking we should go to Him and ask Him to please meet our need.  

The apostle Paul, who was an AMAZING missionary years ago, wrote the following about God in Phillipians 4:19 - "And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus."

God can, and does, meet our needs.  He loves us and wants to take care of us.  Looking out for us is a big deal to Him.  No, God may not always grant us our WANTS.  At times He does.  But not always.  And that's a good thing in some cases.  Sometimes what we want is really not good for us.  It's understandable that God is not going to lavish us with everything we want.  But when the chips are down, and we are in need, God takes care of us.  How awesome is that?! 

God is good.  And He is more than generous.  So when we are in need let's just go to Him in prayer, thank Him for what He has already done in our lives, and humbly ask Him to please meet the need we have at the moment.  Then let's have faith, be patient, and wait for Him to come through on our behalf.  That is what we ought to do, and I have a feeling that is exactly what He wants us to do.

May God bless you today and meet your needs.

Friday, November 15, 2013

They Don't Care

I was a pastor for 16 years.

Currently, I am not.

When I was a pastor, all I did was hang out with church people.  That was the bubble in which I lived.  Nothing else outside of church mattered much to me.

Then I stepped out of pastoral ministry.  I still went to church on Sundays.  But during the week I began working regular jobs and spending much more time around unchurched people.

I began to see the way those outside the church felt and talked about those inside the church.

Do you know what I learned?  They don't care about A LOT of things that church people get worked up over.  They really don't.

They don't care if you use Lifeway materials or some other brand.

They don't care if you wear a suit or jeans to worship on Sunday.

They don't care if you prefer AWANA or RA's and GA's.

They don't care if you put your offering in the middle or the end of the service.

They don't care if you sing the doxology.

See my point?  The things I've seen church people get all worked up over really don't matter to those who are outside the church.  Not much at all.

The reason this is important is simple:  Jesus called us to reach those people who are outside the church.

I've realize that people outside the church care about things like...

1) Will you welcome and accept me in your church?

2) Will you live during the week what you talk about on Sunday?

3) Will you show me practical ways that God is relevant to my every day life?

4) Will you be real and authentic with me?

5) Will you let me ask you questions and express my doubts?

6) Will you constantly preach about what you are AGAINST, or will you tell me what God is FOR?

See my point?  Folks outside the church are thinking about things very different from what church people obsess and even fight over.  It's a different world out there, folks.

I know this:  If God ever lets me step back into pastoral ministry, I'll focus on things a lot more important than what I used to care about.  I'll focus on preaching Jesus, loving people, and reaching out to those who are hurting.  I've got a feeling and a hunch that's what ought to be happening inside the church anyway...

Thursday, November 14, 2013

When You See Them Wander

It happens.  People sometimes wander away from God and their convictions.  In the process, they make a real mess of things.

When you see people do this, here is how you can respond....

1) Stay humble.  Remember you are no better than them.  We all are sinners and we all are capable of wandering away.  So don't get cocky and say, "I would never do what he did!", because you don't know that for sure.

2) Pray, and then pray some more.  Ask God to grab their attention and change their heart.  Ask God to rescue that one who is caught up in sin and not thinking right.  And don't give up on praying.  Just keep lifting that person up to the Lord.  Amazing things happen when people pray.

3) Reach out in love.  Contact that person, and let them know you still care about them.  Obviously, you don't like the sin.  But you should still like the sinner.  Tell them you are concerned.  Tell them you are willing to help them make changes.  Just go after them and try to help.

4) Celebrate their changes.  When they come back to the Lord and get their life back on track, be happy for them.  Rejoice!  One of your brothers or sisters has returned, and that's a wonderful thing.

5) Be their friend.  People who wander away and then return do need relationships, just like you do.  They need people who care about them.  So if at all possible, be a friend to them and give them some of your time.  That will be a wonderful gift they treasure

May God help us handle properly those who wander away...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

When You Hit Rock Bottom

When you mess up and hit rock bottom, remember these things...

(1). You're not the first person to make a mistake.  Lots of people messed up before you did, and lots more will do the same after you're gone.  It happens.  Everyone has some bad days.  Read the Bible and you'll see story after story of people who royally blew it.  The world is full of sinners.  So don't think you're the first one, or the only one, to make a mess of things.

(2).  You're about to find out who your real friends are.  It's easy for people to like you and hang out with you when you're doing well and riding high.  But when you hit rock bottom, just accept the fact that some folks will disappear from your life and have nothing more to do with you.  They will declare your life too messy and your sin too bad.  And they will no longer reach out to you or spend time with you.  It's sad.  It's wrong.  But it happens.  Your real friends will stay with you.  Just be thankful for those who stick around, and invest in those relationships.  It's a good thing to have people who stick with you through thick and thin.  Hold on to them!

(3). You're in a position to learn now.  When you hit rock bottom, let it be a time to grow in wisdom for your future.  Learn from your mistakes.  Figure out what to do different down the road.  Ask God to teach you how to do a better job in the days, months, and years to come.

(4).  You're not done.  God still has a life for you to live.  There are people for you to love, projects for you to complete, areas for you to serve, and places for you to go.  No, your life is not over.  There are still things for you to do, and differences for you to make.

(5).  You're loved by God.  On your worst day, you still are precious to Him.  God's love is unconditional.  It will be there regardless of what you do right or wrong.  As someone once said, "There's nothing you can ever do to make Him love you less.  Nothing".  Some people may not care for you anymore; however, God loves you tons and bunches.  And there's not a thing you can do to change that.

(6). You're supposed to forgive yourself.  There's no need to beat yourself up forever.  Once you've felt the shame and learned the lesson, you need to let it go.  Don't keep punishing yourself.  When God forgives you, it's over.  So forgive yourself and move on.  Leave the past in the past.

If you or someone you know is at rock bottom, hold on to these truths.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Heart Filled With Thanks

If you have a roof over your head ... Give Thanks.

If you have food to eat and water to drink ... Give Thanks.

If you have clothes you can wear ... Give Thanks.

If you have at least one friend or family member who loves you ... Give Thanks.

If you have God's amazing grace poured into your soul ... Give Thanks.

Be grateful for the basic, fundamental blessings of life.

If you have these things, you are fortunate.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Governed By Feelings

Here is one thing I've learned:  it is a mistake to be governed by feelings.

If we base all our decisions solely on how we feel, we are setting ourselves up for disaster.

Why?  (1) Our feelings may not be based on what is true or right.  People can lie to us or manipulate the way we feel.  (2) Our feelings can change in a split second.  They are not always reliable.  (3) Our feelings can become misdirected when circumstances are not good.  When we are tired, lonely, beat down, or suffering, we may feel like doing some things that we normally would not feel like doing.

Sometimes we may feel like doing one thing, but we have to make ourselves do something else.

I may not FEEL like exercising today, but I will go walking anyway.
I may not FEEL like apologizing to someone, but I will man up and do it anyway.
I may not FEEL like listening to someone's story, but I will be kind and hear them out anyway.

It seems to me that we all would be better off if we lived by PRINCIPLES instead of feelings.  Principles are truths, guidelines, and ideals that ought to direct our lives regardless of how we may feel.  Principles are right, regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Examples of principles are:  Be loyal.  Be productive.  Be forgiving.  Be kind.  Be good.

All I know is this:  When I look back on the best decisions of my life, I ultimately followed my principles.  And when I made the worst decisions of my life, I ultimately followed my feelings.

Yes,  God wired us with feelings.  We are emotional beings.  And our feelings should be acknowledged and considered.  How we feel DOES indeed matter.  But, our feelings can not have the ultimate, final say in how we live.  Principles handed down to us from God must be the guardrails used to direct our lives.  And when we allow these principles to govern us, our lives will be much better off as a result.