Cross-Cultural Ministry Thoughts

A few weeks ago, I was invited by a pastor in Kenya to speak on the subject of “Team Leadership” to some of the leaders in his church via a Zoom call. I typically don’t turn down an opportunity to speak and teach God’s Word, especially when I can actually speak on a subject to relates to one of my masters degrees. I fulfilled this opportunity today at 1:00 pm (8:00 pm in Kenya). We finished about 10:00 pm their time. I was blessed by a few things (actually more, but I will mention these).

These people were much more interested in learning Scripture than many I have observed in the American church. I spoke for approximately 50 minutes from a biblical and practical perspective, and they were not in a hurry to go. We continued for nearly another hour with questions and discussion from the people involved. I was disappointed to see the time end.

They were more eager to be biblical than “relevant”. I’m honestly tired of hearing these cliche American church phrases like “relevant”, and I have been guilty of using them. We discussed things like conflict, confrontation, correction, and church discipline. Most churches I know won’t touch these things because they’re scared. These topics won’t pack the house, but they’re 100% biblical. It wouldn’t hurt us to be a little more biblical.

They are people of prayer. One by one, they mentioned how they pray for America. One man mentioned how much other countries look at America because they see us as a beacon of hope. They are praying for our presidential election in November. How many of us who live in America are praying for our election and see how serious it is?

These brothers and sisters challenged me. Some people may not have taken 2 hours of their Sunday afternoon to accept an invitation from a pastor he met on Twitter to teach people he doesn’t know. I saw it as an opportunity from God, and I’m so thankful for this open door. God moved through me as He always honors His word. I haven’t taught like that in a long time, but I would do it again and again if God so opened the doors.

To my brothers and sisters in Christ, never think for one second you are too good for a certain opportunity. People need the gospel, and you may be the only one who will deliver it. Don’t be disobedient and miss a God-given opportunity!

Thoughts on Pastoral Suicides

In light of what has been reported by some as another pastoral suicide, I have received quite a few messages about why this might happen. I will give you a glimpse into the pastor’s mind. Hang with me for a moment.

It is easy for a pastor to find his identity in his job as a pastor. I did. As a man, I allowed success to be determined by how many were in attendance, how many people were actively involved in various ministries, etc. When my work was criticized, I took it very personally. Often, I took it way too personally. I allowed myself to believe I was failure. That spirals into long bouts of depression. You begin to question if you do anything right. You feel an intense responsibility, wondering if you have failed the people God has entrusted to you and that you have ultimately failed God.

Some might read this and think, “A pastor should be more spiritual than that. That’s what a pastor gets for taking his eyes off Jesus.” Meanwhile, that same pastor will walk through fire with you and withhold such judgment toward you when your world is falling apart. Pastors are human…they are people JUST. LIKE. YOU.

What do I recommend to those who are not in church leadership? Extend the same grace to pastors and staff that God extends to you. Speak words of affirmation to your pastors. You may think, “They have been called to give.” Here is my question – How will they give from an empty tank? Your response might be, “Well, Jesus should be filling His tank.” The truth is, Jesus should be filling yours too. While Jesus is all we need, God also designed us to thrive in community. Let your pastors in to be part of that community too. It could make a difference between life and death.

Leftovers, Anyone?

Some of you who read this are finicky and would never eat leftovers. I am not included in that number. I grew up with a grandmother who wasted NOTHING! The artist in her found a creative purpose for EVERYTHING! I picked up on some of that…at least not wasting leftovers.

What does God think of leftovers? Is He blessed and pleased when you slap something together and say, “Here God! I hope you like this half-hearted sacrifice”? Here is what one verse says, “Then King David said to Ornan, “No, but I will surely buy it for the full price, for I will not take what is yours for the LORD, nor offer burnt offerings with that which costs me nothing.”” (‭‭I Chronicles‬ ‭21:24 NKJV)

Malachi 1 addresses this more in depth. ““A son honors his father, And a servant his master. If then I am the Father, Where is My honor? And if I am a Master, Where is My reverence? Says the LORD of hosts To you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?’ “You offer defiled food on My altar, But say, ‘In what way have we defiled You?’ By saying, ‘The table of the LORD is contemptible.’ And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, Is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, Is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?” Says the LORD of hosts. “But now entreat God’s favor, That He may be gracious to us. While this is being done by your hands, Will He accept you favorably?” Says the LORD of hosts. “Who is there even among you who would shut the doors, So that you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain? I have no pleasure in you,” Says the LORD of hosts, “Nor will I accept an offering from your hands. For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; In every place incense shall be offered to My name, And a pure offering; For My name shall be great among the nations,” Says the LORD of hosts. “But you profane it, In that you say, ‘The table of the LORD is defiled; And its fruit, its food, is contemptible.’ You also say, ‘Oh, what a weariness!’ And you sneer at it,” Says the LORD of hosts. “And you bring the stolen, the lame, and the sick; Thus you bring an offering! Should I accept this from your hand?” Says the LORD. “But cursed be the deceiver Who has in his flock a male, And takes a vow, But sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished— For I am a great King,” Says the LORD of hosts, “And My name is to be feared among the nations.” (‭‭Malachi‬ ‭1:6-14‬ ‭NKJV‬‬) 

These people were bringing God unacceptable sacrifices, and God was not pleased. He does not want your junk; He wants your best! Leftovers might be great for me, but God demands and deserves a higher standard. If you have been giving God your junk, today is the day to change it all and begin giving Him your best.

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.