22 August, 2016

Do I Look That Stupid?

OK... Don't answer that.

Here's the deal. Today I had someone who had done a lot of harm to me and my ministry tell me they were coming back to the church where I pastor. I told them that they would not be coming back unless they were willing to stand in front of the church and apologized before the church body and told the truth about the lies and gossip they spread about me and the church. The person went fairly ballistic on me and told me that I was not fit to be called a man of God (and yet they want to come back to this church? SMH) because I had bitterness and unforgiveness in my heart. I told this person that I meant it when I told them a few years ago that I forgave them, BUT forgiveness does not mean that I am dumb enough to leave myself and my church open to the same sort of attack again and explained that if they stood before the church and confessed and apologized, it did two things. One, it gave the entire church the opportunity to forgive them and Two, it pretty well made it impossible for a repeat of the previous actions because all doubt would be removed as to just what the truth was before.  Well, suffice it to say this person will not be returning to the church. Judging by the things that were said as they left me, I'm guessing that the attacks probably started again... but that's ok. I've got broad shoulders.

Superstar or Faithful? Give Me Faithful

Over the many years that I've served as a pastor, I've noticed something that few people talk about. There is a segment in every church that is the unsung heroes. They are not the names that come up often in discussions, nor are they seen on the church platform or speaking in front of people. They are the people who quietly remain, year after year, decade after decade while the "big names" come and go from church to church making their splash and then move on again. It seems the teachers, the musicians, and vocal crowd get all the attention and recognition, but truth be told, the core of the church is that quiet group that appears to be insignificant. They are there week after week, month after month faithfully worshipping God and supporting the church and ministry. Their names may never be widely known on earth... but I guarantee you this much... GOD NOTICES!  After 30 years in the ministry and 25 years of being a pastor, I can say with a certainty that I'll take a church full of those "unknowns" over the most talented and charismatic superstar that will only be with you for a few years before they move on. I contend that God is not looking for the splash, the flash, or the bang... he is looking for those who are faithful. I'll take the same, please.

19 August, 2016

Being Weird Does Not Equate to Being Faithful

This morning I found myself thinking about how some people act and speak, thinking that their actions or response somehow displays to the world that they are a faithful Christian. News flash: Being weird does not mean you are a faithful Christian; it just means you are being weird. Years ago one of my friends was always one of those who was confused on this issue. This guy just did not get it. If I saw my friend and asked, "What's up?" His response was ALWAYS, "Jesus!"  If I asked him how he was feeling, his response was "Jesus!" I could ask him what he was going to do that afternoon and he'd say, "Jesus!"  I tried telling him over and over that these were really not appropriate responses and he'd respond by telling me "The only thing I know and do is Jesus."  I'd say, "You're just weird and you are alienating people, not only from yourself but also from Jesus, because you are giving them the impression that Christians are all weird."  He'd just smile and go on with being weird.   This guy was/is not alone. A lot of Christian people somehow think that the more weirdness they display, the more faithful they are.  Uh... NO! It does not make you more holy or faithful because you scream "praise God!" when you drop your tray of food at McDonalds. That just makes you weird. 

Jesus looked and acted so much like other people that when the soldiers came to arrest him in the garden, Judas had to point him out to them. He did not stand out by dressing weird, acting weird or speaking weird. He was just Jesus. God has not called Christians to be weird. No weird hair styles... no weird clothing... No weird speech patterns or catch phrases. Yes, we are to be peculiar people and separated people. But that is referring to the way we live and breathe.  I don't go bar hopping or drinking anymore. I don't lie, cheat and steal. I don't use profane words to try to look cool. I don't cheat on my wife. I DO get up early on Sunday and go to church. I do look for ways to be a blessing and display the love of Christ by denying myself and preferring others. THIS is what is meant by being peculiar. To many people that sort of living is "weird" and that's okay, but please understand that there is a vast difference between the two types of weird that I've discussed here. 

Be peculiar people... not weird.

13 August, 2016

Here ya go...

I posted this on my Facebook and some people were having trouble opening it so I told them that I'd repost it for them.
Here ya go...

Try the Steak

I had a very late night talking with someone who is just at their wits end. This person kept telling me that they were so tired of living the way they were, that they knew they had to change or their life was going to end in a tragic heap. They asked me over and over, "How'd you do it? How did you turn your life around?" I told them over and over that I had tried everything I knew, but only one thing worked.
We discussed my trips to rehab, psychiatric units, doctors, psychologists and counselors, and how each might have helped for a little while, I always ended up right back where I started... actually worse.
Deep inside, I thought I knew what I needed... that there was only one thing that would work. But I did not want it to be that "one thing."
There had to be another way... so I kept searching and trying.
But I was always empty. Always tired and depressed. I was only twenty-two years old, but my life was empty, worn out and had no meaning or purpose. I could be playing ball, which was the one thing I lived for... or at a party, or a disco, higher than a kite... with hundreds of people, dancing and laughing on the outside... but I was broken, empty and alone on the inside... to the point that I'd leave the crowd laughing, but by the time I got home, I was ready to end it all. Money did not work. Cars did not work. Crowds of people did not work. Sleeping with different women in different towns after a night of dancing did not work. I'd wake up in the morning disappointed that I had not died in my sleep. So, I kept searching.

A friend told me about the rush he got when he stuck a gun in someones face and robbed them. So I tried it.
He was right. There was an incredible rush... a sense of power and control. But it only lasted for a few minutes and it was gone too... so I'd have to do it again and again and again. Combining the drugs with the armed robberies heightened the experience, but still it was short lived and the guilt and shame of my actions was taking the depression to new depths. I just could not seem to find a way out. Suicide seemed to be the only answer and time after time I tried to take my own life.
I was hospitalized and forced into psych units repeatedly. Ironically, I began to find a sense of comfort in those places and drug rehabs, because I found others like me. The old saying, "misery loves company" is so true. Being around people who admitted they were miserable helped, but that meant staying in the psych unit... which I did for weeks at a time, only coming home for a few days before I'd end up in the hospital again and again. While it brought temporary relief, it was not an answer. There was only one thing that would work.

I thought I knew the answer all along. But I did not want it.
I hated it. I always thought that the answer was in church... but I was angry at God. I thought He had failed me. He'd robbed me of my dad and then my mom. He'd taken my brother from me. He'd caused my family to be broken apart and scattered... and I hated God for the pain He had brought me. My dad gave the best years of his life to the church and he died at 50 years old leaving mom with all of us kids to raise. The pressure was too much and she died just 7 months later. When I was 11 years old, I watched as my brother went into the church sanctuary by himself to pray one night. I peaked in at him several times as I heard him asking God to help him. The next day, they found my brother dead in his bed. He had died during the night in his sleep. And my anger at God grew. In my mind, religion was demanding and brought death... and I wanted no part of it.
Ironically... I was right.

I always thought that the answer was religion and going to church. But what I never understood was that religion was just another drug... a ball and chain to weigh me down. I had bounced in and out of "religion" for the last 10 years. I was very "religious" about going to church, even through the height of my partying days. The thing was, I went to church because I was trained to do that. Even more so, I went to church because if I wanted to play on their ball teams, I had to attend church. So I went. And at times, I really tried to live that life. But try as I may, I always failed. I kept falling back into the same old mess, the same pitfalls. In my mind, I determined that I was not one of the one's who would make it to heaven because I was filled with sin, so why try? I mean, I really tried... but I simply could not do it. I was not a "religious" person, and that simply did not work. It only brought more condemnation, guilt and shame down upon my head. But I was trying, so I'd pretend. I sang in the youth choir and did all the "church" stuff... but all the while, I was still drinking and using drugs. I'd leave church on Sunday night and head out to the disco to drink and snort the night away. And my depression and emptiness only grew. Religion was not working. I got to the point that I figured, "why try anymore?" and I stopped trying to hide and pretend.

As I told all this to the person on the other end of the phone last night, they finally said, "I'm confused. You're saying serving God is the answer... but it's not."  And I told them these words, "Religion and serving God are not the same thing. In fact, religion sucks!"
They cracked up laughing and said that I was really confusing them. I summed it by saying this:

Religion is going to church and hanging around church people and trying to become something which you are not. Going to church and hoping to learn how to change your life is useless. It's like hearing all your friends talk about a steak house and how good their T-Bone's are... so you start going to the steak house too. You see the steaks, you smell the steaks, but you never order a steak for yourself. You see how everyone else is thrilled with their steak, and seeing their enjoyment encourages you that you too one day will be like them. So, you go, week after week, month after month and you start becoming friends with the others in the steak house, and because you are around them so much, at times you smell like a steak. You might even order a salad, eat the rolls and a potato... but you never order a steak. So you leave the steak house, maybe filled for a moment, but still not satisfied, not feeling like you see others feel. You are hungry for something more. You cannot figure it out, because you are going to the same steak house as everyone else, but you are not happy. Before long, you'll quit going to the steak house, because it will seem like a waste of your time.

This is what "going to church" and religion do for you. If you do not "order a steak" you are never going to know what "the steak house" is all about. When you go to a steak house... order the steak! When you go to church...  try Jesus! The Bible says, "taste and see that the Lord is good" but most people, (like I did) never tasted of the goodness of the Lord... but merely observed what others did and tried to imitate them. When I completely surrendered my life to Jesus Christ, I "ordered the steak." When I "tasted" for myself what a relationship with Jesus was all about, I found what was missing in my life. I discovered that religion had deceived me... and that the answer was right before all the time, but I was trying to do it my way. Many people who have never tried a steak will go to the steak house, and order chicken or a salad... and they convince themselves they don't like steak. In the same way, a lot of people go to church and they try it their way... trying to hang around and hope something rubs off on them... but not willing to surrender their life to Christ. I discovered that going to church without surrendering your life and will over to Christ is mere religion. It might bring about some changes... but it will NEVER fill that empty spot. I'll say it again... if you are going to the steak house, you need to order the steak to understand what it is all about. Only then will you understand.

09 August, 2016

"It Ain't Over Til It's Over!"

Last night our family went to see the Cardinals vs Reds game in Saint Louis. The Cardinals have really been playing some "life-less" baseball for the past week and I will admit that even getting ready to go to the game I was thinking how that if they played like they have been playing we were wasting an evening and money. True to form, the Cardinals continued playing some horrible baseball. They were facing a pitcher who was 0-6 on the year, but the Cards managed to make him look like a superstar as they could not group together any hits and left runners stranded on base again and again. Part of me wanted to get up and leave early because the game was boring and it looked like yet another humiliating defeat. We stayed for the entire game and went into the bottom of the ninth inning trailing 4-0.  They managed to get a runner on base and bunted him over but then quickly got another out. So, it's the bottom of the ninth, 2 outs and I'm thinking "let's just go!"  But we stayed. Suddenly the unimaginable happened. A walk, a batter hit by a pitch, a base hit and we are in a tied game, 4-4 and Yadi at the plate. I'm sitting there thinking they are going to break our hearts again with an "almost" comeback, when all of a sudden, Yadi is hit by a pitch and the winning run crosses the plate and the stadium went absolutely wild. And I thought, "Wow... I'm glad I was not one of the fans who quit and left early!"  And then the thought hit me...

Life is often so much like that game. We get into a rut where nothing seems to be going right and we feel like "why even bother?" Nothing is going the way it should go, it seems like things are working against us... and it all seems hopeless. Then suddenly, God shows up and through a miraculous series of unlikely, completely unforeseen events, we find ourselves standing there amazed and asking, "Did that really just happen?"  It did not happen the way we would plan it. The script was written in such a non-traditional way, yet at the end of the day, we are standing tall and victorious. That's my God. He does things in ways that we cannot boast in ourselves, our education or intelligence or abilities because it really had nothing to do with us and we are left standing there with our mouths hanging open as we acknowledge, "this shouldn't have happened... but it did."   

I want to encourage the reader today to hang in there and not give up... even if it seems absolutely hopeless. God's not finished yet, and as the great Yogi Berra once said, "It ain't over til it's over!"

07 August, 2016

What's Your Lineage?

I recently had a conversation with someone who took a lot of time laying out their accomplishments, their awards and so forth. Truthfully, they laid it on so thick that I was thinking, "OK, does your family line descend from royalty or what?" They asked me about my family and I told them that my family history is quite "colorful" in that my family knew Jesse and Frank James and rode with the Younger Brothers and the story is that Pat Garrett, who shot Billy the Kid, is in my family line. The person asked me how he was related, and I told him that I did not know. He responded, "If that were true, I would think a person would have that lineage traced and boast about it!"  My response to him was that it did not really matter to me because my self-worth is not defined by family lineage, education, successes, fame or social recognition. He looked at me stunned and then asked what did matter to me... to which I responded, "what matters to me is that the blood of Jesus has transformed my life and I am now in the lineage of the King of Kings!" The conversation suddenly ended right there. 

03 August, 2016

Yeah, I'm Still Here

I've had a couple of people message me and email me wanting to know if I'd quit writing or if I was doing OK. The facts are that 1) I've been extremely busy working on the church building where I pastor, trying to get us ready ASAP because the mall where we are currently worshipping is going on the auction block and no one knows what will happen after next week. 2) My son sprung the news on us that he was getting married in 10 days, so we've been working feverishly to throw together a wedding while working some crazy hours at the church. But Daniel get's married tomorrow and we're at a point in the church where out of necessity, we need to slow down to get things done right the first time. I'll  be back to writing far more often in just a few more weeks. Don't give up on me!

19 July, 2016

Don't Be Deceived

A lot of people have fallen into the trap of saying, "I love God" and thinking that makes them in good standing with Him. But let's look at it this way: If you told your spouse that you loved them, told everyone else that you loved your spouse, but you never went to see him/her, never spent time with them, but instead offered excuse after excuse why you could not spend time with them, how long do you think it would be before people began to understand that you did not really love your spouse? Do you think your spouse would be fooled? Yet countless people try this same thing with God. The ONLY person being fooled is yourself and you had better wake up. Jesus is coming soon and only those who KNOW him are going to make it to Heaven. Not know about him, but actually, know him. That's just the way it is.

Wait... before you even think about the arguments
1) You can't judge me...
2) God knows my heart...
3) You don't have to go to church to worship God...

1) Let me just say that the Word of God tells us very clearly and plainly how we will know the followers of Jesus. Matthew 7:16 Jesus said, "You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?"
If Jesus said we can know/identify them by... then he clearly is telling us that we can judge if they are or are not followers of Christ. And in John 13:35, Jesus said, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." It's pretty obvious that he says we will KNOW them, (which implies making a judgment call) AND that if you love God, you will want to spend time with those you love... other followers of Christ.

2) God does know your heart, and he says in His Word that, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked..." (Jeremiah 17:9)

3) Again you want to spend time with those you love and who are like minded. Also, Hebrew 10:24-25 says, "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching."

So, your words mean nothing. Your actions show where you stand.
Time is growing short... VERY short. I don't want any of my friends or family miss Heaven and spend eternity in Hell. Before you come back with "I know I'm OK with God" let me share one more thought with you.
Jesus made it so crystal clear that many will think they were "OK with God" but the fact is they are deceived. How do I know this? In Matthew 7:21-23, "Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!"

Please... stop fooling yourself. Surrender your life completely to Jesus NOW, before it is too late. There WILL NOT be a second chance.

18 July, 2016

I'm Learning!

OK, so I’m 57 years old, and I’m still learning life lessons. Recently I’ve begun to notice some things about my behavior. For instance, I recently noticed how that at times, without really even giving any conscious consideration, I will find myself suddenly I’ll let out a big, heavy sigh. Maybe it sounds like a no-brainer to you, but I’ve just finally begun to realize that when I do this, there is something underlying in me that is bugging me. I mean, it might be a beautiful day and all in all, things are going well, but something is still there… laying hold of my subconscious mind… and that “something” is casting a shadow over my entire life. Wherever I go, there it is.… haunting me like yesterday’s garlic pizza. This is how it goes when you allow a negative thought to remain unchecked and not dealt with. As my favorite TV detective would say, “Here’s the thing…”  I’m learning that where the mind goes, the man soon will follow.  I really
My negative thoughts start causing me to feel anxious and unsettled… and soon irritable. So, I am learning that how I am thinking will affect how I feel physically. Can I tell you that this is not a recipe for having a prosperous and fulfilling day?  The Bible tells us in Proverbs 16:24, “pleasant words are as a honeycomb, sweetness to the mind and health to the body.” If we want healthy lives, then we can’t allow the thoughts that come into our head to dominate and dictate our life. I often tell my church members that you cannot help what thought comes into your mind… but you have absolute control over what you do with that thought once it comes. That’s why Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:5 that we should “take every thought captive.  He also wrote what to think about after we’ve caught those thoughts... whatsoever things are pure, just, honest, of good reports, think on these things (Philippians 4:8).
So, you ask just what is it I’m learning? I’m learning how to “set my mind.” What I’m discovering is that just like we have to reset our alarm clock when the power goes out, we have to reset our mind. You see, our mind can become unset, or unsettled and disturbed. We all MUST know this and have it settle within us… “God is for us and not against us. It is the enemy of our souls who is against us, but how we settle our mind determines how you settle your day. It may sound overly simple, but what we need do is kick out the uninvited negative thoughts and refocus your thinking on good things!
I share this tonight because I want my readers to be encouraged! The Bible is clear when it says “No weapon formed against you will prosper (Isaiah 54:17). Here’s a key point that we must know and understand. It does not say that weapons will be formed against you… BUT it says those weapons WILL NOT PROSPER.
Go out today knowing that God has spoken healing over you. He speaks peace and prosperity over you Go out and about your day today knowing that if God is for you, who and what can be against you? (Romans 8:31)

12 July, 2016

Where Is Your Hope?

Reading the Bible tonight before calling it a day I was reading in Acts when this verse caught my attention:
The terrible storm raged for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone. Acts 27:20
After reading this verse, I just sat there for a few minutes and thought about how many times over the years I've had people say to me that "all hope was gone." The thing is, the reason that all hope is gone is because people have put their hope in the wrong things. They've put their hope in a job, a doctor, the lottery, a friend, the government… and we could go on and on. But the simple truth is, unless your hope is in Christ, you're going to eventually be disappointed and disillusioned and find yourself uttering those words… "all hope is gone."

It's is a simple reality that life at times brings circumstances and situations our way that can rattle us, discourage us and cause us to want to throw in the towel. Yes, people, no matter how well meaning will often fail you. Circumstances arise that leave us feeling despondent and helpless. But I submit to the reader that it is during those very times of trying, frustration and discouragement that we can come to truly understand the rock solid hope that is found only in Christ. He alone can give us the calm assurance and peace that prevails through the midst of our storms. Many people misunderstand what it means to be a follower of Christ and think that it means life is just a bowl of cherries and problem free. Jesus never said that. What he did say is that we'd never face a problem, a trial or storm alone. He said he would never leave us nor forsake us. So when we walk through our mess… he is there. A friend of mine preached a sermon more than 20 years ago at my church that I've never forgotten. In it he said, "no mess, no miracle!"  To see the miracles of Jesus, we must of necessity walk through situations where those miracles can be unleashed! 

Let me encourage you today, if you're feeling empty, helpless and hopeless today, ask yourself what you've been putting your hope in, and then transfer that hope into the blood stained hands of Christ Jesus!

11 July, 2016

Strange But Sad Day

At times it is difficult to determine when we need to help someone and when to not. I've always tended to error on the side of helping someone who was possibly trying to take advantage of the church because I'd rather be taken advantage of than to leave someone hanging who really needs help. You have to use wisdom, spiritual discernment and experience when it comes to these sort of things. Still, we can make mistakes. Today I had one that was much easier to decide, but it has bothered me. Let me briefly explain.

For those who may not know, along with being a pastor, I also own and operate a small photography business. Well, today I received a call from a woman who asked me if I could do a video for her. I don't do videos, and I told her so, but she began to plead. She sounded a bit "out there" but I took a few minutes to talk with her and she told me that she had called several places and no one would help her. She told me she did not have much money and need this video to make a "Go Fund Me" account to plead for assistance. At this point I was considering going over to help her make the video until she said, "I don't have much time left." I asked her what she meant by that and she explained that "they" were trying to kill her. She said they had been putting chemicals in her house and she was soon going to die if she did not move. I did not say anything for a few seconds as I was trying to process just how to deal with her. She then said that she'd been to the police many times and they would not do anything to the people trying to kill her. I knew better, but I had to ask her if she knew who it was trying to kill her. She was a bit miffed that I'd ask, and told me that it was the people who wanted her dead. (Well, duh. How could I not understand that?) Anyway, she began crying and told me she had to get this video made so that she could raise the money to move. It finally got through to me that she wanted to make a video to put on Youtube and Go Fund Me telling the world that "they" were trying to kill her and that she needed money to disappear.  Decicion made. lol   But still, I felt sorry for her. The story is laughable, but the truth is, this is HER reality. Somehow in her delusion she is convinced that someone is trying to poison her and that they will succeed soon if she does not raise this money. That's just heart breaking. But for the grace of God go I.

07 July, 2016

Stay Alert!

We are in the process of major repairs and renovations to the church building where I am the pastor and today I had a little experience that got me to thinking deeply. The wiring in our building is absolutely atrocious, so while we are doing some of the renovations, I'm also replacing some wiring and running new wiring to some areas. In an old building like this, that is not always an easy task, especially since this building was built in three stages, meaning that getting wiring from one building to the next is often quite a challenge. Today was such a day. I was running three new lines into what will be our new bathroom and then wiring them into the circuit breaker box. Whoever had tightened the screws into the bars for the negative wires and grounds must have lived by the mantra that "tighter is better".  I tried for several minutes and could not get any of the screws loose. Two other men with me gave it a try and they could not budge them either. They were so tight that it was literally stripping out the heads of the screws. By this time, I've been through the ceiling in extreme heat and humidity and now working in a room with no insulation or air conditioning and I was dripping with sweat. I tried one more time to get one of the screws loose and when it busted loose I slipped and the side of my hand came across a live wire. It shocked me pretty good, shooting up my arm and jumped across and bit me on the lip. It was not what I'd call serious, but it stung me pretty well and was a wake-up call to pay better attention to what I was doing and to take the precaution needed. (I should have shut off the power to be working in the box.)  As the day went on, I kept thinking about this and the spiritual parallel that I saw. I was thinking about how many times we get so caught up in the rush and hurry of life and we drop our guard, maybe become a bit careless, even reckless and we end up getting stung. Just a quick word to my readers to remind you to stay aware of your surroundings, alert to lurking dangers and take the precautions. Don't fall into the trap of thinking, "Oh, nothing's going to happen if I do this just this one time." It does!