Broad or Narrow?

When I decided to blog again, I was faced with some questions I had to answer. Was I going to change the focus of the blog? Was I going to target a specific audience, or was I going to paint with a broad brush? After having over 1,600 followers on the old blog, was I going to try to rebuild and regain a large audience like that or be content if the audience was smaller? I decided to go broad and narrow.

My writing style tends to lean on the encouraging side with the occasional rant that challenges status quo Christianity. If you want someone who will crusade on preferential issues or controversial doctrinal stances, you don’t have to look far to see them. In my broad-narrow approach, you will find me crusading one thing – the Lord Jesus Christ.

Some may ask why I don’t spend time hard-hitting some of the hot topics in evangelical Christianity. I will be glad to tell you. It is not that I don’t hold conservative stances. I have friends on both sides – some who see me as too conservative and others who see me as not conservative enough. I would much rather develop relationships with people and have civil discussions than dogmatically get in someone’s face and lose my chance to share the most important thing of all – Jesus loved you enough to die for your sins and give eternal life to all who would place their faith and trust in Him. I would call that broad and narrow. I’m not going to limit myself to only those who believe like me, but I will be driven in what I do by the great love of the Lord Jesus.

As I close this post, I want to ask some questions and make a plea to you. The question: Does proving yourself right or strongly conservative mean more to you than the souls of people? Jesus never said that a lost world would know we are Christians by how we will vote at the next denominational conference or whether we will boycott what we don’t like. He said they will know we are His disciples if we have love for one another (John 13:35). My plea is this – make Jesus the most important thing! He promised to draw people to Himself if we lift Him up. Let’s get to our real job – lifting up Jesus (narrow) for all to see and know (broad).

Sunday Crash and Burn

It didn’t take me long as a guy in ministry to learn what the “Sunday crash and burn” is. Twenty years ago, I typically led a Sunday morning service, afternoon choir rehearsal, and Sunday night service. Back then, Sunday night was almost as involved as the morning except with fewer in attendance. Even with the nap on Sunday afternoon, the crash still hit. The worst I ever experienced it was in my first ministry here in the area where I currently live. I would get to the church at 8:30 to do a sound check, 9:45 Sunday School (sometimes I taught), 10:45 worship service, eat lunch, get the kids down for a nap, return to the church around 3:15 to unlock the building, 4:00 choir rehearsal, 5:00 Life Group (which I led), then 6:00 evening service. At that time, I rarely had time for a nap. By 8:00, the body ache was kicking in. Ibuprofen was my friend. Even with one service now, I still crash. Why is that?

I believe everyone experiences a certain rush in a level of intense work. Those in the medical field feel the rush and pressure of saving lives and doing all they can in emergency situations. Those in law enforcement experience a similar thing. As people in ministry, we too feel a sense of urgency. We want to help rescue souls. We invest our blood, sweat, and tears into prayer and preparation. The adrenaline kicks in on Sundays or at other times we minister. But what happens when we come off that mountain? We crash!

I believe this is what happened to Elijah on Mount Carmel in I Kings 18. Here he was with all the prophets of Baal. Elijah was receiving instructions from God that would lead to a major miracle in Scripture. He was surrounded by these prophets of Baal who were desperately cutting themselves to prove who was the bigger power – their god or the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God revealed himself there, and Elijah crashed.

Some are so quick to criticize Elijah for this. His weakness after this victorious moment led to his fear of Jezebel. Many preachers are quick to tell Elijah to put on his big boy pants and be a man, when Elijah was demonstrating the weakness that all of us have when we expend our energy.

The work of those in ministry is an intense spiritual work. I don’t know that I can explain it well after two decades of it. I don’t know that my friends in ministry can either. But I do know that we can relate.

So, what do we do? It is important to care for ourselves. Get rest. Stay hydrated. Savor family time. Stay spiritually fed. Be constant in prayer. Stay in awe of Jesus. Don’t isolate. Everyone needs a Sabbath day of rest. EVERYONE! Rearrange your schedule and take it. If you don’t take proper measures to care for yourself, you could so easily become another ministry casualty. Stay close to the feet of Jesus and allow Him to restore your soul over and over again.

Church Direction: Will of Man or Will of God?

The direction of the church is a sensitive topic. If 100 people attend, you have at least 100 different opinions about how the church should function. Should it have pews or chairs? Stained glass? Contemporary, traditional, or blended music? Sunday School or small groups? Then comes the bigger schism – should the direction be set by committees, the congregation at large, or the pastor? I can already sense the steam rising with some of you who are reading this. While God should be setting the direction for His people to follow, this is not always the case.

This post is sparked by a church that recently exercised its will over God’s. The church has a history of heartless tradition funded by old money. After years of a pastor who pacified the people, it voted to be ushered into a new era. With lip service, they vocalized their desire for change. When change arrived, it was resisted to the point it decided to vote out one of its staff members.

This story is all too common. The worship of Christ is tossed aside over a preference to go through the motions that have been done for years. The commission of Christ is ignored for the “let’s-hire-somebody-to-do-what-we-are-commanded-to-do-then-complain-about-it-and-exercise-our-lame-committee-authority-to-go-back-to-business-as-usual” mentality. Too often (considering once is too often), I see this over and over again. I gets the calls and the messages for prayer from the ones who gave their lives to answer the call of God, only to be slapped in the face by those who profess to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This must end!

The will of man is ruining a lot of churches. It is being exercised by pastors and church members alike. It is so much easier to exercise than taking the biblical method of seeking the Scriptures and praying for the Holy Spirit to reveal the specific plan of God for HIS church.

To those who have been wounded by the will of man, I weep with you. I have been one of the wounded because senior leadership wanted “better” or “the powers that be” couldn’t stand that Jesus was going to call the shots and they did not like the fact that I was going to execute God’s will.

To those who love the power, please repent! Christ didn’t die so you could vote down progress in your church. The will of man has deterred many souls from being saved. I would hate to think my disobedience kept someone from walking in God’s will.

By nature, we are selfish people. Choosing our will is easy. Discerning and implementing God’s will is tough. The bottom line is we will have to answer to God for our choices. Let’s be guilty of striving to do God’s will no matter the resistance.

Trailblazers

Today, I attended the funeral of a man in our church who had Down’s Syndrome. He was 67. Some of you may read this and think, “Lots of people have Down’s Syndrome, what is so special about this guy?” When you factor in that he was born in the 1950s in a rural area without the advancements of many places, you will find that the story of his life is one of a trailblazer.

Brent Powell was not satisfied to be left out or not do things everyone else did. His brothers went to school, and he asked why he could not. His parents were not willing to accept that’s how things were. These trailblazers were instrumental in the development of a place where those with special needs could learn. Brent also wanted to see the Special Olympics come to this area. His efforts were instrumental in making that happen.

It is easy to sit back and accept that things are a certain way, but it takes someone special – one with tenacity and persistence – to challenge the status quo and push until things change. Brent did that. I can only remember seeing him a few times, but I wish I would have known him. This man made it easy for those who spoke at his funeral. He blazed a trail and delivered a challenge to us all. Thank you, Powell family, for giving Brent all the love that could be given and allowing him to set precedents in our area. God bless you!

Does God Instantly Smite and Rebuke?

Many of us were raised with an extremely judgmental view of God. We were told all the stories of God smiting this person dead and rebuking another with fierce anger. While God did do those things in some cases, they always followed warnings from God. God didn’t just wake up one morning and say, “Who am I going to smite today?”

I know some of you are already thinking I’m a compromiser and don’t believe in the full counsel of God. How quick we are to base an opinion on an isolated statement rather than receiving the full intention of a statement! I believe in God’s justice and judgment. He does punish sin. Now that this is clarified (at least for some😀)…

The book of Job really does give a good thought process relating to God and life’s difficulties. Job had it worse than most of us ever could. He lost everything but his wife who told him to “curse God and die”, his three “friends” had it all wrong, and he was left with a lot to process. Did you ever notice that God gives Job chapters and chapters to process and does not speak until the last few chapters of the book? Think about it.

God is gracious to allow us to process our pain and then speaks when we are in a place where we are ready to receive. Beware of those who “have the answer”. They will be quick to come along with their bandaid sayings and verses. While they may mean well (or not), let God speak into your life as you process. You’ll find that God isn’t always the mean guy in the sky. He does have to punish sin, but He also rewards right and heals the broken-hearted. Let Him heal you today!

Rebuilding Strength After a Setback

Photo from Men’s Journal

If you and I are honest, each of us has had at least one setback in life. It may have been a financial setback, a flight delay, or a sickness. Setbacks don’t have to be very detrimental, but they often are. How do we rebuild strength after a setback? The biblical prescription might shock you.

When we experience a setback, most of us don’t want to stay where we are. We want to make a comeback. In fact, the quicker the comeback, the better. We get so discouraged in our setback, but many of us don’t want to do the grunt work or follow the “doctor’s orders”. When you read the biblical prescription, you will most likely want to do something different.

Isaiah 40:31 gives the prescription. Many remember the part in the verse about soaring like eagles. Who doesn’t want that? Some remember even more of the verse that talks about running without being weary and walking without fainting. Sounds great, right? But the first part is key if we are going to soar, walk, and run.

Here is what the verse says:

“But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.”
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭40:31‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Who are the ones who renew their strength? Those who WAIT! (Mic drop) All of a sudden, strength renewal has lost its appeal. You mean I have to wait in order to renew my strength? Yep!

Here are a couple of things to note about waiting:

Waiting still requires active obedience. What do waiters in restaurants do? They serve. We still continue to obey and serve the Lord while we wait.

Waiting sometimes requires stillness. The psalmist said, “Be still and know that I am God.” In that stillness, we exercise faith. We still trust and believe (know) that He is still God and that all His promises are Yes and Amen. Isaiah refers to this as quiet confidence. Isaiah 30:15 says, “In quietness and confidence will be your strength.” Sometimes, God says, “Shut up and trust Me.”

This prescription goes against the philosophy of the day. We are accustomed to instant gratification. God says we have to wait and trust. As we build these necessary patience-building skills, we will find supernatural strength.

Friend, give up your little formulas to prove to everybody you’ve got it together. Your plans are gonna mess you up like Abraham screwed things up. God promised him a son named Isaac, but the timing of his birth wasn’t quick enough. Abraham’s wife told him to have sexual relations with their handmaid, Hagar (stupid move). She conceived a child, and the drama began. What happens when you try to rush God? Chaos!

I guarantee you want to rebuild strength if you have experienced a setback. The thing is you must do it God’s way. God has been so gracious in giving us direction. Let’s receive it and obey it.

IN Everything Give Thanks

The last almost 24 hours have been action-packed. Last night, my mom called with a medical concern and ended up in the ER. We got her back home at 11:00 pm, and I was in the bed at 11:50. I was awakened by a 1 year old at 3:45 am, and I could not sleep after that. I got out of bed at 5:50 am to meet someone for breakfast at 6:30. As I was driving, I got in the way of a buck who was trying to cross the street, and the picture above shows you some of the damage he did. There was a mixup with the person I was to meet for breakfast, so I ate alone (which was probably best since I was a little shaken). I will leave work to spend time at the church getting ready for Sunday, so I will probably crash tonight (no relationship to the accident with Bambi’s husband this morning).

As I reflected about these events, I began to give thanks IN the circumstances. Notice I said IN not FOR. There is no way I will thank God for the $500 of my tax return I will have to pay for car repairs. But I will thank God that the damage done was not worse. I will thank God that I was not injured. I will praise God that my mom’s scare was nothing major.

Although I am tired and ready for the day to be over, I see God’s hand in this. Things happen. How we respond to those things will make or break us. Choose to give thanks IN your circumstances.

Coming Back to Life

Tears easing out the corners of my eyes, I sat there and listened to a man who had given his entire life to ministry speak passionately about his love for the Lord and serving others. Something awakened within me that had been buried for quite some time. I had allowed life’s circumstances to suppress the fire that once burned within. For the last several years, I have been in survival mode because striving to get back up might cause disappointment. Have you been there?

Such is the story of my life. The year 2012 was a year of struggle and victory. It was the most passionate year of ministry I ever had. I went into 2013 with that same passion, but the circumstances that lurked around the corner were some for which I was not adequately prepared.

The demise of my family had been long in the making. It was in 2013 that everything came to a head. By mid-December, my wife (now ex) and the kids were out of the parsonage, I was unemployed, and I was alone in a parsonage with a few of the church people who were bold enough to vocally be on my side. I was alone in a town of 117 people, and I was unsure who I could trust.

Move forward a month. I was back in South Carolina, still unemployed, and wondering who would hire me since I was told that my years of church experience and education were either too good or not good enough. Because of my circumstances of kids living 4 hours away, along with my broken heart, full-time ministry was nowhere in sight.

After a few attempts at part-time ministry and a church plant, I walked away with no desire to serve in a church again. Oddly enough, a few interview processes began with churches in our area shortly thereafter. After each one, I was relieved it didn’t happen. They weren’t bad churches, but I did not see myself serving in those capacities. I had no calling nor desire. I returned to my home church after the last one, determined I really didn’t want another church vocational role. The vocational church scene had changed so much from 2013 to 2019 that I did not see myself fitting in at all. The thrill and passion for ministry were gone. It was obvious.

This past October, our home church asked me to serve in an interim role with the traditional service music. It has been a good experience. I know it will be for a season, but it has been refreshing to serve in a different denominational context.

Now…why all this history? I sat there yesterday, realizing my passion for ministry was buried beneath years of disappointment. I don’t think I’m the only one feeling this way.

Let’s connect to your life. It may not be ministry, but your marriage has been in survival mode and you’re longing for renewed life. Your kids have broken your heart, and you have put up a wall to keep from more heartbreak. You’ve experienced another financial disaster, and you just can’t take another one. You’ve received another bad health report, and you just don’t want to live like this.

God is the God of resurrection! He wants to breathe life into the dead places of your life. He wants to heal your broken heart. But remember it is a process!

I’m still God’s resurrection project. But I rest in His promise that He who started the work WILL complete it (Philippians 1:6). Let’s believe God together that we will rise again.

Why Friends Come and Go

Friendships are much like a revolving door. I have had a ton of friends come in and out of my life. Think about it. It’s going to happen when you serve 11 churches in 24 years. (Gotta love when the nature of your ministry is short-term!😂) I made some pretty close friends that I wish I could have held onto moving into the next season. Most of those now are acquaintances at best, or we no longer communicate. Why is that?

Location – Out of those 11 churches, 4 of those are in the area in which I live now. So 7 of those are in other states or other parts of this state. Unless you have plenty of money to travel, most of these friendships will decrease in intensity. That’s just how life goes. Other people close in proximity are more convenient and can better provide a depth of friendship you no longer can. Don’t take it personally!

Life stage – I had friends during the stage of singleness that did not fit into the married phase. They didn’t relate. Add kids to the mix, and they really didn’t relate. Their exodus or lack of prominence in your life is not because they hate you. They just don’t connect with where you are in life now, and that’s okay!

Seasonal change – Some friends are only meant to be in your life for a season. They, or you, will serve a specific purpose. When that purpose is fulfilled, one or the other moves on.

The busyness of life – I understand this one. I wake up in the morning, I go to work, I come home, I deal with 4 of the 7 kids (all when it’s their time to be here), put them in bed, try to enjoy some down time, and go to sleep. Repeat cycle the next day. I won’t be in this cycle forever, although it feels like it. I do get in phone calls with people when I am traveling. I have a dear friend from Georgia who has withstood the test of time and life phases. Also, a dear couple from my first pastorate stays in touch. Then, I have people in ministry I stay in touch with. Although I strive to be on the giving side, the encouragement is mutual.

Once again, don’t take it personally when these friends go away. That’s life! Some go, and new ones replace them. When the old ones go, pray and ask God for you to have grace to accept that. Don’t try to hold on to something that isn’t meant to be! God knows what He is doing. Trust Him!

Passion, Love, and the Holy Spirit

Each of us is passionate about something. For some, it’s sports. Others are passionate about yard work, hunting, or fill in the blank with one of your favorite things.

Today, I had the privilege of attending the Creative Evangelism Summit at Southern Wesleyan University. It included three generations of the Clyde Dupin family. Clyde is the patriarch. His two sons (both are pastors) and three grandsons (two pastors and one who is not in vocational ministry) were all on stage. My friends, Pastors Mark Wilson and Heath Mullikin led the discussion. They shared several things about this often dismissed subject of evangelism. Many pastors and churches have emphasized discipleship to the point that they fail to remember that disciples share the gospel and led unbelievers to Christ. There were three key elements that kept popping up to me in this event: passion, love, and the Holy Spirit.

Passion is contagious. When someone is passionate about something, you see that in the way he or she talks about and actually does anything related to it. Clyde Dupin was very passionate about the times he shared the gospel. This man who is in the latter years of his life is so passionate about sharing Jesus with those who don’t know Him. Passion is key to a thriving ministry.

Love is also a key ingredient in a thriving ministry. As Clyde Dupin shared about the times he shared the gospel, you could hear the love for the souls of people as he spoke. He did not share the gospel out of obligation. He shared because he wanted to see unbelievers cross from death to life. No matter how wicked someone had been, Clyde Dupin lovingly and relentlessly shared the gospel with people.

The Holy Spirit is the One who does the work. We are obedient vessels, but God’s Spirit moves in the hearts of people. One of the Dupins spoke of the need for us to seek and invite the work of the Holy Spirit into the work we do for the Lord.

I know I need these three ingredients in what I do. I want to be fully passionate about my service for the Lord and for people to pick up on it. I want to love people so much that I will relentlessly share the gospel until they are saved. I want to be full of the Holy Spirit and see Him working at every corner. May we all long for these things and see God’s power at work through them.