23 September, 2016

Just What Do People Think A Pastor Does Anyway?

Recently I've come under a pretty severe attack because someone was offended at what I said to them. I've lost a family from my church for it. So... what was so horrible that someone could become so offended? Did I call them an ugly name? Did I insult their family lineage? I mean it had to be pretty bad... Right? Well, let me say upfront it was none of those things. Before I tell the reader what I said, let me lay the groundwork to this situation. This family had been very faithful in church attendance and in their giving for years, but about 6 months ago I began seeing a major shift in both areas. So I was chatting with the wife one night and I told her that I was becoming quite concerned because of the pattern I was seeing. She assured me that there was nothing wrong, but I told her that I'd seen this pattern so many times over the years I have been a pastor. I told her that I've watched family after family begin to slip in their faithful attendance and every one of them, without exception had said to me that everything was fine and that there was no need for me to be concerned. I explained that I'd watched literally 30-40 families go down this road and gradually drop out of church and then backslide and that nearly half of those families are now divorced.  She again told me that I was worrying over nothing. So... months later, their attendance has not improved, but had in fact grown worse. So I again tried to reach out to her and I sent a message saying that I was very concerned because they were becoming more and more removed from the church and God.  That's it. That's the horrible offending statement that I made that offended her so much. In her view, I implied that she did not know God and was going to Hell. I never said that. Let me use this story to illustrate just what I was saying:

A member of a certain church, who previously had been attending services regularly, stopped going.
After a few weeks, the pastor decided to visit him. It was a chilly evening. The pastor found the man at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire.

Guessing the reason for his pastor's visit, the man welcomed him, led him to a big chair near the fireplace and waited. The pastor made himself comfortable but said nothing. In the grave silence, he contemplated the play of the flames around the burning logs.
After some minutes, the pastor took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth all alone. Then he sat back in his chair, still silent. The host watched all this in quiet fascination.
As the one lone ember's flame diminished, there was a momentary glow and then its fire was no more. Soon it was cold and "dead as a doornail."
Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting.
Just before the pastor was ready to leave, he picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Immediately it began to glow once more with the light and warmth of the burning coals around it.
As the pastor reached the door to leave, his host said, "Thank you so much for your visit and especially for the fiery sermon. I shall be back in church next Sunday."

This is a perfect illustration. When someone (or family) begins to isolate and withdraw from the church, much like this piece of coal, they begin to lose their fire, their glow and ferver. Why? Because they have become removed from their source of refilling and energy. 
This person and countless others think it is awful that a pastor would say something like that to a person. They all say the same things... You can't judge me! I don't need to go to church to serve God! Funny... the only people who ever say those things are those who have removed themselves and they know in their heart they are not where they belong but it's always a whole lot easier to point fingers and blame someone else.  The outcome? They leave the church... just as I'd warned 6 months prior.  Go figure.  But of course, the pow-wow begins with others saying "I left the church for the same reason! He's too judgemental. He wants to tell others how to live" and so on. Guess what? THAT is the pastor's job! He is the shepherd. He tends to the flock. When he sees one wandering, he goes and gets it. If it continues to run away, he will break it's leg, if necessary, to keep it from running off and getting hurt.  Well, we cannot break legs, but the point is that we are to do what is necessary to cause the wandering sheep to stop...  before it's too late.

19 September, 2016

How Much Do You Have To Hate Someone?

I have shared this before, but felt it needed to be shared again. Pen Jillette is an atheist, yet he gets it so clearly. If you truly believe in God and a Heaven and Hell, and you don't share that news, then you must hate people. To believe that Jesus is real, that people who do not accept the gift of life offered through Jesus and not tell your friends, neighbors... everyone... Penn says you are filled with hate. Seriously... how much do you have to hate someone to call yourself a Christian, and yet entice people to sin by condoning their sin and even helping them to go deeper into sin? I know many "Christians" who provide the alcohol for others to drink in their homes and think that they are showing an example of Christ by not participating in drinking. It's like... "here, let me help you go to Hell."

I just don't get it.

09 September, 2016

A Great Example of True Love and Commitment!

When a couple gets married, they make a vow to one another before a Holy God to love and cherish each other, In times of joy and of sorrow; In times of plenty or of want; In sickness and in health; As long as they both shall live. What they are saying is, YOU are my priority, and I will always be there for you, no matter what.   
Sadly... many people don't even have a clue what they are saying as they put parents, children, friends, careers... you name it... before their spouse.

That's why I loved reading about Jrue Holiday, a player in the NBA who plays for New Orleans and how he took this vow very seriously. 
When his wife Lauren, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, he immediately told the NBA that he needed to leave to take care of his wife! Her health was of the utmost importance to him... more important than his career, fame, money... it just did not matter. What mattered was his wife and her health!
That's how it is supposed to be!
Biblical love is when we prefer others over ourselves. When you put other things before your marriage vow, you are sinning and driving a wedge between yourself and your spouse... a wedge that may end in a divorce.

I don't even know if Jrue is a Christian or not... but I can tell you he understands the meaning of the marriage vow.  Way to go Jrue Holiday! What a wonderful example you are!

10 Commandments of Marriage

Lynne Z. Gold-Bikin, a divorce attorney for many years wrote a very good article entitled "the 10 Commandments of Marriage. Because of the length of it, I'm only going to share the first commandment here, but I will provide a link to the rest of the article. It was published on the Hitched Magazine website at http://www.hitchedmag.com/article.php?id=539

After years of being a divorce lawyer and watching couples grow apart and divorce, I became frustrated watching couples lose their dreams of a permanent marriage due to their lack of basic skills that we should have learned in kindergarten. Over the last 35 years, the statistics remain the same: 50 percent of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. Many of these marriages are good people who have grown apart and look across the dining room table (if they even eat together) and do not recognize the person who sits in the other seat. How does this happen and what can we do about it?

Over the next number of months, we’re going to make some suggestions for avoiding my office and staying "hitched." Try these, and you may put me out of business! 

After a short time in a relationship, many partners take each other for granted. We take phone calls when we’re having dinner, break dates with our spouse for a kid’s soccer game, come home late for dinner (without the phone call) to get that last item off the desk, and even choose to play golf with the boys after a six-day work week. Sure, "she’ll understand" or, “he knows the kids come first” is easy to say and, even, understandable. Here’s the problem. People tend to grow apart when they stop sharing their life with each other and assuming that their loved one will always wait for everything else to come first.

Here’s the suggestion; prioritize the spouse first. Sure, business work is necessary, kid’s games are important and golf is fun. Somehow, however, there is a way to make your spouse number one. Don’t take him/her for granted. Treat them as you did before you married, when you were dating. 

It’s so easy to take advantage of our partner. But I want to argue on behalf of the marriage as something to prioritize. This means explaining to the guys that you’ll play golf every other week, because this is the week you have a date with your wife; it’s saying to the boss, I’ll get to that report tomorrow because my husband and I have plans for dinner; and it’s communicating to your partner, Jack has a soccer game tonight, and let’s go together. Sure, there are times that delaying certain things won’t work, but making that the exception rather than the rule is an important step in prioritizing the relationship. 

You chose this person because you loved him/her and wanted to spend your lives together. Why, then, does everything else come first? Like water closes over a rock that is thrown into the pond, others fill in when you are unable to do the work. No one can fill in when you ignore your partner and take him or her for granted. There are only so many hours in the day and if we expend them in too many directions, there really is no energy left for our spouse. If you want a marriage, it takes work, and making your partner number one is the key to a good marriage. 

Here's the link to all 10 Commandments: http://www.hitchedmag.com/10commandments.php

07 September, 2016

When NOT to Say "I Do"

Over the years I've been in the ministry, there have been very few times I have refused to perform a marriage ceremony. Today was one of those days. I had a couple ask me recently to marry them so I scheduled time to talk with them, as I always do.  So, I met with this couple this morning and as we were talking I started picking up on something. The man was clearly being threatened and manipulated. He was changing this, changing that, promising this; because she threatened, "I can't be married to you if you don't do 'x,y,z'."  After about 35 minutes of this I asked him, "are you sure you want to marry this woman?" He said, "I'm making all these changes for her, ain't I?" So I asked him if he was willing to spend the rest of his life bowing down to her threats. Then I told them both; "You have no idea what love is." I told them that love is not expressed through threats, nor is love expressed by complying to threats. I told them that if they went forward with this marriage I gave them less than 2 years before he had enough and walked out. I thanked them for their time, wished them well and left them sitting in the restaurant where we met. 

I cannot imagine how anyone thinks this is love. If you are dating someone who uses threats of leaving you to control you... let them leave and thank God they are gone. If you are already married... then you'd better start standing up for yourself and learning to talk about issues rather than caving into the threats, or your marriage is doomed. If you are the person making such threats, you had  better figure out real quick how controlling you are being or you're going to make one threat to many and find yourself divorced. There is hope... but you both have to be willing to talk honestly about your feelings and most likely you are going to need counseling to keep this marriage intact. 

05 September, 2016

I'm Done

I've been doing a lot of soul-searching over the past few days and I've come to a very difficult reality and a decision. I finally admitted to myself that there are some people in my life who are there only for what they can take, what I can do for them and I only hear from them when they need a favor or are in a jam and need me to bail them out. I've grieved over these people to the point that I've been stressed out trying to keep them involved in my life (and in some cases, the church). But enough. I'm tired of not sleeping. I'm tired of being let down again and again and given all sorts of empty promises. There are people out there who genuinely care, who really want help in changing their life and growing in their walk in the Lord, and I've decided that it is really poor stewardship on my part to give of my time, talents and abilities to people who are only going to use me then push me away. The reality is, that's what they do with God too, and I know that there will be those that tell me I can't make such a decision... but I can, and I have. I'm done chasing people, worrying over people and I'm also tired of being used and abused. No more. It's too much on this tired old preacher and I'm walking away from some folks and closing the door behind me, believing that God will send someone else who just might get through to them.

27 August, 2016

What Has Happened to the Church?

Last Sunday in my sermon I mentioned some trends going on in the "church world" today and ask "what has happened to the church?" It seems as if the church is trying to become just like the world. A couple of people asked me since then if I was being serious or if I was exaggerating.  I was completely serious and not a bit of exaggeration. I'll provide some links to back up some of what I said, in particular, the topics which people had a hard to believing that it was true. 

First, one trend is drinking beer in the "worship" service. They call them "Beer and Hymns" nights. Here is one link, but if you google it you'll find more. Beer and Hymns 

The second thing was smoking pot as a part of worship: There are numerous of these, and I could not decide which to post, so just use google and search, "churches using pot in worship."

Then there's "Naked Church." Yes, I'm serious. Don't believe me? Click here.
There are churches having casino nights, and we could go on and on, but the point is that the church is becoming more and more like the world all the time, leaving me to ask, "when did we lose our collective minds?" God's Word tells us to come out from among them and be separate. We are called to be holy and peculiar people. No, that does not mean we have to be "freaks" but we should stand out, not blend in with the world. It's not so much about how you dress, but in what we do, where we go, who we hang with and the light of Jesus shining through us. 

Just today I was discussing this with one of my church members who also is a former alcoholic/addict. We were talking about "dry drunks" who although they are no longer drinking, their behavior and habits have not changed. That is a picture of so much of the church world today as people profess Christ but do not LIVE Christ.  This modern teaching and preaching of grace has caused a lot of serious damage to the church. When I was younger, I often wondered about the scripture where Jesus is separating the sheep and the goats and there are those who say they called him Lord, spoke in his name, prophesied and so on, but he says, "depart from me... I never knew you".  Now that I'm older, I get it. We are living in a generation where so many go to church, do good works and such, but they have never been to the foot of the cross and had the blood of Jesus applied to their lives. They are not saved. They THINK they are saved, but they are not... and this is exactly who Jesus is talking about in Matthew 7:21-23. The church needs to wake up... and fast. 

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.