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.

An Encounter with the Lord

I came across this sermon outline I preached over 10 years ago. God’s word is still as powerful today, so I trust it will leave you longing for an encounter with the Lord.

In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah saw the Lord. This moment changed him. Anyone who has had an encounter with the Lord will testify of a changed life. When we see the Lord, how are we changed?

We see God for who He really is (Isaiah 6:1-4). In this scene, God is exalted above all (v. 1). Everything in Heaven worships Him (v. 2), recognizing His holiness (v. 3) and omnipotence (v. 4).

When we see God for who He really is, we see ourselves for who we really are (v. 5). We see that we are dead in our trespasses and sins without Him. We find ourselves speechless and without excuse in God’s presence because our righteous efforts are like filthy rags (later referenced in Isaiah).

In this revelation, we realize the price paid for our sin (vv. 6, 7). Isaiah’s price was the burning coal on his lips, showing him there is a price to be paid. On this side of the cross, we know that Jesus paid the price for our sin.

We respond in obedience and surrender (vv 8-13). Isaiah said, “Here am I.” God commissioned Isaiah at that moment to go.

As we reflect on Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord, it did not bring him tingly feelings. It came with difficult realizations, repentance, and surrender. While we do have those sweet moments, we must know that encounters with God are never contrary to Scripture. They lead us to a life of holiness.

My prayer for you is that you have daily encounters with God. May each day draw you deeper in your faith and understanding of our holy God.

State of the Church: Pre-, Mid-, and Post-COVID-19

This pandemic has caused me to think a lot about the state of the church. I believe much about the church has already been exposed, and much will be revealed when we are on the other side of this. Some of what I will share will be more of a hopeful forecast, but I will share it anyway.

I see the state of the church pre-COVID-19 as attractional. It is almost like each local church is similar to a dating relationship – look good to draw him in, do things in order to keep him, but not do the best job of being attentive after time passes.

I see that the state of the church mid-COVID-19 will be surprised. We have not had a prolonged time (in my lifetime) when we had been faced with missing a few weeks of worship together with the potential of more than that. We have not had to cancel rehearsals and meetings, pausing much of our way of ministry for a prolonged period. We honestly don’t know what to do. One pastor commented on Facebook that we have spent most days trying to find ways to fill the seats, while now we must focus on how to get the message to the people. We are at a place where we must figure out how to do the work of Jesus Christ outside a well-planned church service.

I see the state of the post-COVID-19 church as refocused. If we allow the lessons of this season to teach us, we will become much better at daily fulfilling the Great Commission rather than just trying to do it on Sunday. We will find ways to strike up gospel conversations and actually be the church. We will learn the value of making contact with people by phone conversations and video calls, making use of every possible way to connect. The church of the Lord Jesus will learn the value of the family of God once again and love each other the way we should have all along.

I would love to hear and read the thoughts of others about this matter. Some of you are much deeper in the trenches of church life than I am. We may disagree or have a different perspective on the matter, but I do believe we can agree on one thing – what we do now can change the trajectory of the American church. Let’s determine to change it for the better!

What We Should Have Been Doing the Whole Time

It’s amazing how difficulty directs our perspective. Our priorities are so distorted that it takes a very serious virus to make us do what we should have been doing all along. I should probably clarify what I don’t mean by that.

We should not have been buying hundreds of dollars in toilet paper all this time. I work with mostly women. They were in high panic mode that we might not have toilet paper this past Monday. The toilet paper hoarders about sent my office into a breakdown.

Now that I have clarified that…

We should have slowed down enough to spend quality time with our families. It has been nice this week not having to pick up kids from various events and not having to attend my own usual meetings. I simply work then come home. We eat together. We don’t have to rush through the evening rituals. It’s a beautiful thing!

God has been trying to get our attention for a long time. He kept saying, “Be still.” Each time, He got louder. Then it took a disaster to get our attention. Still, there are many who are getting out in the large crowds and disregarding the warnings. For those of us who are trying to slow down the spread of this, it has altered life. But, it has been refreshing.

Slow down. Take in the fresh air. Listen to the breeze and the silence. Look around at God’s creation. Let this time bring you to the place where you need to be. When the dust settles, may these lead to proper priorities that stick. Our overall health will benefit.

Responding to the Coronavirus

I must be honest. This virus is probably the biggest health concern I have seen in my lifetime. Many looked at this when it hit foreign countries and thought, “This will never hit the U. S.” It has. We have some who show no concern while others are stricken with fear. Where is the balance in all this?

Prayer is part of this balance. We should be praying for those who have been affected. We should be praying for each other that we make wise decisions in relation to exposure, etc. We need to pray for a miracle – a divine intervention. God is able, and there is no greater time to pray than now.

Consideration for others is part of this balance. I think of the verse in Romans 12 – “in honor, preferring one another”. I also think of the example of Jesus as reflected in Philippians 2 – focus on the welfare of others above self. Many are refusing to take precautions such as self-quarantine because of selfish reasons like toilet paper hoarding or just the desire to be out rather than trapped at home. Let’s think about the risk of us contracting something that would spread to those whose immune systems are compromised. This is a huge thing that could have helped matters a long time ago.

The extension of kindness toward others whose opinions differ is somewhere in this balance. I have read everything from intense medical facts to thoughts of this being a conspiracy. Now is not the time to be arguing.

It is high time we put ourselves aside for the greater good. It is not a time to panic. God is not caught off guard. Let’s trust Him even when many are scared. Our faith is a great witness, so let Jesus shine in the midst of this uncertainty.

Do I Really Love God?

I worked for a pastor several years ago who loved to assign me to visit people he didn’t necessarily want to visit. I always knew I was in for a treat when either he or the secretary contacted me to visit a particular person. I went to the local hospital to visit this lady, so I told her who I was. She was quick to say, “I’m a member at your church. I haven’t been in 20 years, but I love me some Jesus.” I couldn’t make a judgment call on her love for Jesus, but I asked myself if I love Jesus like I should and what Scripture I can use as a measurement. I have preached this message on a few different occasions, and I pray it will help you ask by asking yourself these eight questions.

  1. Do I serve God (Deuteronomy 11:13)? Love is an action, so I display my love through serving God. We must be careful that we always serve out of love rather than obligation. This eventually leads to burnout, and then we have to repent and repair.
  2. Do I rejoice in God (Psalm 5:11)? I didn’t ask if you and I rejoice in our circumstances. They waver, but God is constant. If we love God, we rejoice in Him and brag on Him.
  3. Do I love His presence (Psalm 26:8)? If we love God, we love to spend time with Him. 
  4. Do I hate evil (Psalm 97:10)? Hating evil does not involve hating the person who commits it. Our responsibility there is to love the evil person to Jesus while hating what the evil is doing to him or her.
  5. Do I love God’s Word (Psalm 119:97)? I’m not just talking about reading it to say you fulfilled your duty. This verse talks about meditating on it. It will not impact us unless we get all we can from it.
  6. Do I love others (John 13:35)? Jesus said our love for others proves that we follow Him. He didn’t say that impressive buildings, rocking worship services, and big giving to religious causes was the litmus test. The real proof is loving ALL people, even the most difficult ones.
  7. Do I keep God’s commandments(John 14:15)? Jesus made it clear by saying, “If you love Me, keep my commandments”. We won’t keep them perfectly, but a true child of God will want to honor and obey God.
  8. Do I invest in others (John 21:15)? Jesus asked Simon Peter three times if he loved Him. This was after Peter denied Christ leading up to the crucifixion. Jesus’ response to Peter’s affirmative answer was, “Feed My lambs.” In other words, invest in other people. God did not put you here for you. Your story can help someone else if you let it. The bigger picture of our life is us pouring into others who can do the same. That is when we find our greatest fulfillment. 

Love is not measured by the warm and fuzzy feelings we get when we think about God. Love is measured by how we strive to know and obey Him. So, how do you score in these areas? I think we can all improve as we strive to draw closer to Jesus.

The Power of One

Something got me thinking today. As I have been getting involved in a new ministry opportunity, I have had some good things happen. They have been slow, but they are good. But ONE negative thing caught my attention today, and I allowed it to bother me for a few hours. I really had to stop and pray for the individual, refuse to allow this to change my appreciation for the individual despite the action, and move forward. It’s crazy how ONE negative person among more positive people can kill the mood if we allow it.

Then I was reminded of another ONE in Scripture. This was ONE individual of ten who returned to thank Jesus after being healed from leprosy. Think about it! Leprosy was a disease for which people were treated as inhumane. Jesus healed 10 people, and only ONE came back to thank Him.

I’m also reminded of another ONE. This time it is the return on ministry. When Isaiah saw the Lord in Isaiah 6, God told Isaiah that he would only have a ONE-tenth return on his ministry. How discouraging! Ten percent! Yet Isaiah was willing to do whatever God said.

While these things can be discouraging, there is only ONE who really matters. At the end of the day, I have to be sure my Audience is ONE – the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible says I will stand before Him and give an account one day. He is not going to measure my deeds by the opinions of others. Jesus Christ is the Standard. He is the only ONE who matters. So I must consciously choose daily to focus on Him.

So, don’t let ONE person bother you. BUT, let ONE Savior satisfy you. His name is Jesus!

A Handwritten Note

This morning, we had a memorial service for a lady who had once attended our church until the last few years when she moved out of state. Her daughter and son-in-law faithfully attend our church. Because I participated in one of the musical selections, her daughter had a handwritten note of appreciation for my participation in the service. It led me to think about how such notes are rare today.

When I was in high school and college, I used to write such things. I would write letters to people back home. One of my favorite things was corresponding with my grandma. There was such excitement in receiving one of those letters!

Think about what a blessing you might be to someone if you took time to write a simple note of appreciation or encouragement. In my first full-time ministry, I was very discouraged. The pastor I worked for said one positive thing in six years, so you better believe I saved the few notes of encouragement I received. They stayed in my middle desk drawer. I would pull them out when I felt like quitting (and that was a lot).

I challenge you to write a note to someone – your spouse, child, pastor, friend, parent, or someone you appreciate. This practice doesn’t have to be obsolete. Let’s revive written encouragement. That’s what the Bible is, right? It’s written encouragement from Heaven with love.