2020 Best Year Yet? I Want a Refund!

Many of us moved toward 2020 with great anticipation. We had these great plans and dreams we wanted to see come to life. What did we get instead? The most volatile political climate of my lifetime and a virus that has done so much heartbreaking damage to people. Everyone from those in quarantine to those diagnosed with COVID-19 would love to either rewind time or skip to us being on the other side of this.

I’m not going to speak prophetically and say this is God’s judgment or spew out the latest conspiracy theory. Over the last several years, I’m the one who has been the one providing empathy to those who are hurting. I can also be the cheerleader who is on the sidelines cheering on those who wonder if they can make it to the finish line.

One biblical promise comes to mind. I have clearly seen God at work in so many ways around me. I have seen people grow by leaps and bounds in their faith. I have watched others learned difficult lessons through major life transitions. They know God promised them He would do a new thing as seen in Isaiah 43, but it has yet to come to pass. It is so far in the distance that it almost seems to be an illusion. While it seems impossible, God promises to finish what He starts (Philippians 1:6).

I know you’re discouraged. I know you have lost hope. My prayer for you is that God will personally reassure you that He is working all things together for your good. Just keep walking in faith. The old songwriter sang it well: “The darkest hour means dawn is just in sight.”

Willing to Serve without Terms and Conditions

Over the last several weeks, I have really reflected on my willingness to serve God in various capacities. When I was younger, not divorced, and didn’t have some of the life circumstances I currently possess, I could be pretty choosy about where I served God. I could be more particular about location, church size, salary, and many other things. The bottom line is this – I gave God terms and conditions on where, when, and how I would serve. Circumstances don’t allow me to be so selective now.

You may ask why I was so selective. It was very much selfish. The biggest reason was my fear of experiencing church hurt once again. I told God I wouldn’t serve a particular church because it was notorious for eating pastors alive, and I knew they would have a good time with me, considering how much meat is on my body😂. Seriously…There was an arrogant part of me that wanted a church of a certain size, worship style, and mindset. Even then, the risk of being hurt still exists. Why? Churches are full of people who end up hurting people. Not everyone intends to do that, but it happens.

Here is my point of surrender. Several divorced and remarried pastors expressed this to me. They said that, on this side of divorce, only the troubled churches would call them to be their pastor. One pastor said of his first pastorate after his divorce that “they would have called Lucifer to be their pastor because they were so desperate”. I finally came to the point of being willing to serve these troubled spots if God calls me to do so.

As of now, I am fulfilling an interim worship role at my church and am in the support-raising stage for Standing Stone Ministry in addition to my day job as a hospice chaplain. If God would redirect me to pastor a struggling church, I’m now willing to do that. The terms and conditions I gave God are now out the window.

How would I apply this to you?

Don’t be so arrogant to think you’re above any particular assignment for God! God has a way of humbling us and showing us who is really the important one. Hint: it’s not us!

Don’t let the possibility of hurt stop you from doing God’s will! I’m faced with the reality of hurt feelings every day. Your spouse will hurt your feelings. So will your kids, coworkers, people at the grocery store, and so on. That doesn’t stop us from facing our family or going to work. Hurt is inevitable! We simply must learn how to process it.

Rather than giving God your terms and conditions, give Him a blank sheet of paper. Trust Him enough to direct your steps. He is loving and won’t leave you alone. It won’t be easy, but He promises His power and presence. I can assure you that you won’t regret obeying His plan. He knows best!

Is Partial Obedience Enough?

I was reading I Samuel 15 the other day, and something jumped out at me. It’s a principle that we see on multiple levels. Children are great at doing this. Adults have been known to do this too. The thing I’m talking about is “partial obedience”.

Partial obedience happens when we choose to obey one part of a command and disobey the other. The tendency of human nature is to try to find a loophole. There is a problem with that. We do not have the authority to pick and choose when it comes to the commands of God.

In I Samuel 15, King Saul was guilty of partial obedience. He followed part of God’s directives while blatantly disregarding the others. His thought was the end justifies the means. Does it really? Not if it violates God’s truth.

Truthfully, partial obedience is really disobedience. So is delayed obedience. What is God telling us to do that we picked only the parts we want to do? Is there something God told us to do that we have delayed? There are consequences to disobedience. Personally, I would rather experience the fulfillment of knowing I did God’s will in God’s way.

If you have been walking in disobedience, it’s time to seek God’s forgiveness and start walking in obedience. Don’t delay!

Thoughts on Recent Tragedies

These pictures are scenes from around our little town of Seneca, South Carolina. It seems that, at every turn, we are bombarded with disaster. A few weeks ago, COVID-19 began shaking our nation after affecting many lives in other countries. As we are still processing the deaths and life changes stemming from this virus, many areas like ours were hit with a tornado.

What can we say to all of this? We would be lying if we said this has not affected us emotionally. At the foundation of both the virus and the storm, these tragedies are about people. Forget the politics. Forget opinions. Forget anything else. Let’s think about people who are hurting from loss. While we do think about things like isolation and economic hardship, we think about something deeper. We think about people who are grieving loss. The loss of loved ones. The loss of property. The losses are innumerable.

One thing we haven’t lost – our great Lord! He is the One who brings us hope in the midst of our hurt. He carries us when we are too weak to move forward. He is seen as people in our community unite in heart though they cannot be close in proximity. He is seen as people are coming from out of state to help clean things up. We don’t have to look far to see Him, and we don’t have to work very hard right now to listen to Him. He is speaking! Does He have our attention?

Can I Edit My Life?

Have you ever wished your life was like a Microsoft Word document where you could cut parts of your story and paste them into someone else’s life or just highlight and delete portions and leave mysterious gaps so you wouldn’t have to face that those things ever happened? I have. You have maybe left certain places you lived off your Facebook profile because of the painful memories that are associated with that place or removed every memory of a painful relationship because it seems easier to pretend that the relationship never happened than to face the pain and trauma it may have brought to your life.

We all have our defense mechanisms. One thing I have learned – you will eventually have to process the pain and grief of those traumatic times of your life.  Pastors and families often take years to heal from being fired from churches. If they weren’t fired, many were treated horribly and left feeling useless in God’s kingdom work. Wives or husbands were dumped for “something better”, only to deal with the feeling that they were used and unwanted while the other spouse goes on without a second glance. The list goes on.

There is a Healer, and His name is Jesus. I have learned personally that the healing process never happens as quickly as we would like. That does not mean that God is absent. You may not be able to cut and paste or highlight and delete in real life, but I can assure you that there is a point where the hurt and the Healer collide. I pray that the song below will minister to you in your brokenness and give you hope and strength to move forward.

God Said That? About Moses?

“But since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, in all the signs and wonders which the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt, before Pharaoh, before all his servants, and in all his land, and by all that mighty power and all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.”
‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭34:10-12‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Have you ever heard someone say something complimentary about another person, and you didn’t think that person deserved such a compliment? It would almost be like giving Hitler a compliment. Well…not that extreme! But imagine you think about all the baggage a person brings, and you can’t seem to come up with a compliment for that person.

This could have been the attitude toward Moses. Think about it for a moment! Moses was a murderer. He got so angry that he broke the original tablet (not Apple or Android) on which the Ten Commandments were etched. This man could not see the Promised Land, yet God has such a wonderful thing to say about Moses as He ends the book of Deuteronomy.

Let’s go a step further! When we come to Christ for salvation, our sin is erased. I will never be able to fully understand this beautiful truth, but God the Father can look on us because the righteousness of Christ has been applied to us. The Father can make such a beautiful statement about us despite our horrible past.

If someone has been radically changed by Jesus Christ, we cannot spend our time dwelling on that person’s past. God has forgiven it, and He can help us do the same.

On the Air in 5…

I do not consider myself to be an on air personality by any means, but I was contacted a few weeks ago by a lady named Bridgett Banks. She hosts the “Ignite Your Purpose Radio Show” on Blog Talk Radio. Bridgett invited me to discuss the state of the 21st century church in relation to COVID-19. I saw it as a door God opened and did not turn it down. Despite some technical glitches, it was a good experience. Here is the link to the program: https://www.blogtalkradio.com/iypradio/2020/04/01/ignite-your-purpose-radio-show-the-state-of-the-21st-century-church.

I have been contemplating a podcast for quite some time too. Once again, I am a novice, but I believe there are some things that need to get out there. The podcast will be for both pastors and those in the seats. We will hit some hot topics that pastors need to address in addition to some things those who aren’t in leadership need to help them navigate through issues relevant to them. The title will be in keeping with my blog “Honest Thoughts from a Pastor”. Go like us on Facebook at Facebook.com/honestthoughtspodcast. The actual podcast will be up and running in a few weeks.

Anything God has done through me continues to blow my mind. I give Him all the glory. Please do not hesitate to contact me through the “contact” page here. I am here to serve.

Churchy Talk: “I’ve Got a Burden”

We’ve all heard it. There is a generic language we here in most places – home, Walmart, work, and on the ball field. Then there’s “Christianese”. It’s a special language only known to those in church culture. It varies from church to church, but much of it is the same across the board.

I asked my Twitter audience for thoughts on the subject, and you will be ready about my top picks from that as I continue the series. While we joke about the language of the churched, I will strive to explain these words and sayings that seem to make no sense (especially to those who are not so familiar with the church).

I remember hearing missionaries speak in churches about having a “burden for the lost”. It sounded horrible. Who wants a burden, right? We typically think of a burden as a heavy load or something oppressive. Why would pastors and missionaries go on and on about having a burden?

A definition that is often unconsidered is “duty or responsibility”. When pastors or missionaries speak of having a burden for the lost, they speak of the responsibility they have from God to share the gospel. While that can seem oppressive (or any other burden/responsibility for that matter), it also motivates us. I, to a fault, am duty-driven. I do things because they have to be done. It took me several years to move from duty to delight in Christian service, so being able to minister from joy rather than drudgery is liberating.

So, the next time you hear someone in church talk about having a burden for something that is a command from God, I hope you’ll understand it a little more.

Pastoring Through Pandemic

I wish colleges and seminaries offered a class called “Pastoring Through a Pandemic”. Unfortunately, there is no such class. There is also not a class for what to do when a female senior citizen shows up to the door dressed inappropriately when you go visit the home, but let’s stay on subject. Because we learn so much by trial and error, here are some of my thoughts.

Forget the Sunday show and give them substance. You might be tempted to record services with light shows and smoke, but I’m not sure how effective that will be when people want to hear a word from God during an uncertain time. You may also be tempted to spend hours polishing a sermon in order to deliver beautiful exegesis like you were taught in seminary, but people don’t need a performance right now. Be true to Scripture while delivering hope.

Pray like you’ve never prayed before. Pastors need guidance from God in these unnavigated waters. American pastors know little to nothing about this stuff. Let’s tune into Heaven so we know we have a word from God.

Reach out to people. Today’s pastors are trained more like CEOs rather than servants of the Most High God, so some are not prone to reach out personally to those within the church. It’s time to be humble, approachable, relatable, and pick up the phone to make a real call using our voice to show we care. In this period of isolation, make a concentrated effort to reach out to those who have no family. One call will mean the world to them.

Make your online ministry personal. Our pastor and staff did a remarkable job at this last weekend. We will need to go beyond the usual stream of the actual service and have live chats, small group meetings through things such as Zoom, and do whatever we can to keep people connected.

Maybe you have some other creative ways to minister through this. I would love to hear the thoughts of others. We are on the same team, so let’s get rid of the competition mentality that exists between pastors and churches. Let’s work together so that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is more united than ever when we are on the other side of this!

The Strangest Sunday Ever

For the last 4 1/2 months, I have been getting out of bed between 6:30-7:00 am to get ready to leave to lead worship for our 9:30 traditional service. Today was much different.

Because of my interim/part-time role at the church, I do not have the time invested into it that our regular staff pastors have. They work throughout the week at the church while I am a hospice chaplain. I felt disconnected, so I was thankful to have been asked by our pastor to be present in case anyone happened to show up. No one did, but I stayed around and watched the live stream.

As I drove to the church, I looked around at the businesses that have had to change plans. The shortage of cars on the road. So many things that were different. It was strange.

Do you know what else is strange? That it would take a thing like this to get our attention. God has been trying to get our attention in various ways, but this virus has us sitting up and listening a little better.

God has a strange way of doing things…strange to us at least! He knows exactly what He is doing. Scripture says His ways and thoughts are higher than ours. So while everything seems so strange at the moment, let’s lean on the One who loves us like no other.