Unconditional Love Can Change the World

This is a guest post by my good friend Ben Stroup. Ben is a writer and consultant. His latest project with former American Idol finalist Danny Gokey will be released by NavPress in October 2013. Ben and his wife, Brooke, have two boys, Carter and Caden, and live just outside Nashville, Tennessee.

Unconditional Love Can Change the World

Unconditional love is not necessarily the first topic that comes up for ministry leaders. There are much more important things to do. Events to plan. Bible studies to lead. Sermons to preach. Staff to lead. Yet for a topic many are quick to comment on from the platform, we rarely give much thought to its significance in the ultimate juggling act we call ministry leadership.

Love without condition may be the most impossible thing we can imagine. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t add up. And some might even question whether or not it even exists.

But we must believe that it does.

If it doesn’t exist, then we must also question our own motives and intentions. If nothing can be done out of self-less care for another human being, then everything is done for our own gain.

That means our life commitment to ministry leadership is nothing more than a hat tip to the people we claim to serve and an all-consuming act of self-directed worship of ourselves and our talents, skills, and abilities.

I choose to believe that love without condition exists because I can’t live in a world without it.

Unconditional love is one of the most powerful forces of change given to God’s people to carry out through God’s church. It is the fuel that will bring about not only revival but also total transformation.

Unconditional love heals the broken, empowers the timid, affirms the hesitant, and elevates those who have been overlooked, forgotten, and silenced. There is a power that comes to those who show and to those who receive unconditional love. Those who show this love are released from being consumed with themselves. Those who receive this love are released from limitations others have placed on them.

The challenge for those who lead God’s church is to find ways for Christ-followers to show and receive the kind of love that exists without condition. This is hard to do in a world full of broken promises and shattered dreams.

But this is the gift we have been given and the role we have been called to play.

Too often we excuse ourselves from opportunities to embody unconditional love because we are convinced we aren’t smart enough, mature enough, experienced enough, or rich enough to make a significant impact. That simply isn’t true. You have everything you need right now to show unconditional love toward someone else

Unconditional Love is not a challenge for the future but now. It is not something we can wait to do but is something we must initiate right now. You can be an agent of change.

Choosing to recklessly share unconditional love with others in the same way God has done for us will change you and the people you reach.

How can you help the people in your church discover love without condition?

Buy the book HERE. Read a sample chapter of the book HERE.

UNCONDITIONAL LOVE TRAILER from LifeWay Films on Vimeo.

A Word to the Pastor’s Wife…From My Wife

Cheryl

A Word to the Pastor’s Wife…From My Wife:

I love being a pastor’s wife. It truly is whom God has called me to be in this season of life. Everyday is not easy, but when I’m serving as God intended for me to serve, I’m never more fulfilled in life.

That’s why I decided to share this advice to pastor’s wives. (I understand my husband has lots of pastors who read his blog. I hope they will share this with their spouse.)

Here is my advice:

Don’t try to be something you are not…and…Don’t be afraid to be yourself

So often we have a picture in our head of what a pastor’s wife is “suppose” to look like. I did before I was one. Of course, she plays the piano and/or sings in the choir…she bakes the most wonderful desserts…and she is active in every ministry the church and community have to offer…she can quote scripture in every sentence…her marriage is always perfect…and…oh yeah…she is the mother of 2.5 PERFECT children. And the sad thing is…often we (as pastor’s wives) beat ourselves up if we don’t meet all or at least several of these (self-imposed) expectations.

I’m not sure if it is because Ron and I surrendered to the full time vocational ministry later in life, but I soon realized if these were the expectations then I was in big trouble. People closest to me have never suggested I join the choir…I played a bassoon in high school which very few churches have a use for these days…I don’t cook (blessed to be married to a wonderful husband who does!)…I have typically worked full time outside the home…and I still have to use the table of contents in the Bible occasionally (That’s the result of coming to Christ as an adult. Praise God for children’s church.) Yet, God still called “me” to be a pastor’s wife! (And, I’m still wondering why some days.) BUT, I do have to say I do have 2 pretty amazing sons! Nearly perfect as they appear to me. (Can I count my amazing Yorkiepoo puppy as the .5??)

At first, when we were church planters, I wore many hats as a greeter, preschool teacher, baby rocker and clean up crew…just to name a few. Thankfully as the church grew, I was able to invest my time in the areas I was most passionate about…such as greeting and welcoming…and attending services to support my husband. (He says he preaches better when I’m in the room :) ) No matter the church we serve in, my heart’s desire is to interact with as many people as possible to help all feel welcome. And I love hugs…both giving and receiving! Oh yeah…and I love to hear my man preach…even as many as 3 times on a Sunday!

God gives different gifts to different people and I needed to remind myself of God’s truth…that I need to be the person God called “me” to be! It is not always easy saying no to all the church expects me to be, but I have learned that by saying “yes” to what God is calling me to do and…not being afraid to say “no” to other things…allows me the freedom to follow my passions. It also allows God to use others to fill roles they should be doing…that they do better than me. Finally, it allows me to be the best supporter I can be for my husband. (Again, I don’t understand it, but he claims he’s a better pastor because of me. BTW, he asked me to put this line in here.)

Remember…don’t try to be someone you’re not…be the person God has called you to be!!

God’s Word says HIS yoke is easy…don’t let the world convince you otherwise!

Things That Happen Only With Time

hourglass

Some things take time…

Building trust

Making a true friend

Bonding with a child for life

Listening well

Creating a solid marriage

Recovering from a major loss

Ingraining personal discipline

Overcoming the power of an addiction

Becoming an expert

Developing a close walk with God

In our fast food, microwave world, some things can’t be rushed. Take time for the things that matter most.

What else takes time?

When They Talk About Your Husband

Ron.Cheryl

This is a guest post by my wife Cheryl. She’s an amazing pastor’s wife. Every church where I’ve been pastor has loved her…probably more than me. They line up on Sunday to give her a hug. By popular request, she’s written a few guest posts for me (and other pastors and pastor wives.) I’ll share some of them in the coming weeks.

When They Talk About Your Husband

I am frequently asked by other pastor’s wives how I respond when people talk bad about my husband…either to me or to others who repeat it to me. (And they do.) I’ll have to admit…this issue is a tough one for me.

No matter what I was taught growing up-sticks and stones may break your bones but words WILL hurt your heart.

And let’s face it-some people are just mean…even IN the church.

This has been one of the hardest things for me to deal with as a pastor’s wife. It became even more evident when we surrendered to full time vocational ministry and became church planters. Our biggest critics and spreaders of untruthful things were people within the church. My husband has to remind me often that these people aren’t the “church”…the church is the body of Christ…He wouldn’t hurt my husband that way…they are just people doing a poor job portraying the church. It is still hard at times for me to understand…after all…aren’t all Christians…those who profess Jesus Christ as our Saviour…on the same team with the same end goal?

But, it happens in the established church too. I know when people are complaining about changes the church is proposing that many times they are ultimately complaining about him…my husband. My best friend. And, it seems so many times they misunderstand his intentions, they don’t know his true heart, and they say things out of their own personal bias, that have little or nothing to do with Biblical truth. (Wow! That was hard to admit…but so true.)

As hard as it is…when others speak negatively about my spouse…even to me…which I’ve never really understood…I have to step back…take a deep breath…maybe two…and remind myself of TRUTH. Every one has an opinion…I don’t have to agree with it or even like it…but it is “their” opinion. My first instinct is to lash out and defend my spouse…and I think there are times when we need to speak truth if the person is willing to hear it…but more often than not I think we are called to realize we live in an often sad world…where it is sometimes easier to be critical of others than consider what might be the motivation in our own heart.

I’ve learned the hard way, I can either focus on the negative and hurtful things said OR I can take the high road and as difficult as it may be at times…choose to forgive and release this person (s) to God. Choosing unforgiveness has a greater hold on me and honestly I’d rather spend my energy elsewhere. I’m not saying it is always easy…I’m just saying I’ve learned the hard way that I am only accountable for “me” and how “I” respond.

Romans 12:18

Random thoughts on spanking or not spanking as a parent

family lifestyle portrait

To spank or not to spank…that’s probably one of the most frequent debates I have heard about parenting. Parents ask me frequently for my opinion on the issue. It is an important, but seldom talked about by those who teach on parenting. Many think the government should address the issue. Others think this is only a matter left for parents.

I suppose I should not be surprised when I am addressed with this question, since I frequently teach on issues such as parenting, marriage and the family, but I never know exactly how to address it. This post addresses some of those reasons.

Here are a few of my thoughts about the issue of corporal punishment:

  • This is a personal issue, a difficult one at that, and one I do not feel comfortable solving for parents. A parent can and will only enforce consistently those discipline strategies he or she agrees with personally.
  • This is an important question, but not at all the most important question about parenting.
  • The bigger issue is having an overall plan for parenting. I know too many parents trying to solve this question, but they have never fully thought through a strategy for where they are leading their children and how they are going to get them there. I would rather we spent more time talking about the adults we want our children to be someday and how we can better steer them in that direction. Discipline deals with the issue of discipleship. Building character in our children.
  • The goal of parenting is far more important than the methods used in parenting. In our parenting we tried many different methods; some worked and some didn’t. The key of our parenting experience was that we were intentionally thinking through the goal and working towards realizing that goal in each of our boy’s lives.
  • Each child is different. The strategy and methods for disciplining each child must be different.
  • You should never spank, or do any discipline, in anger. Cool off first
  • The child should never be able to question your love after the moment of discipline has passed. That’s with any discipline.
  • I did spank, but it was rare and always intentional. It seemed to work at the time. At a certain age it was the best method for one of our boys to discipline him through a strong-willed period. The cliché “this hurts me more than you” was really true for me, but it worked with this child. It wouldn’t have as well with the other.
  • The Bible verse that is often questioned is Proverbs 13:24, which says, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” This verse is often interpreted as referring to spanking, thinking the Bible uses the imagery of the rod and staff of a shepherd. The shepherd’s methods to train the sheep were always for the sheep’s best interest, and always what worked for the sheep and its predators.The verse, however, as are all the Proverbs, is a principle, and, therefore, I think it refers more to the principle of effective parenting than it gives us a mandate to spank.
  • The mother and the father should agree on the form of discipline. If they do not, they should perhaps get help to come to a sense of agreement. Mothers and fathers should recognize that each plays a unique role in the process and one handles discipline differently than the other. I was much sterner on my boys than Cheryl was and she was much more of a nurturer than I was, but both were necessary.
  • For me the end goal of my discipline was spelled out in the Bible, in principles such as Proverbs 29:17 which says, “Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul.” I was less concerned about process and more concerned about progress. Discipline is to disciple the child…prepare them for life and adulthood.

Again, I don’t have all the answers here. Most parents are doing the best they know how. My best advice is to be intentional. Have a goal and have a plan. For each child. What parent would not want to see the principle of the verse above come true in their child’s life some day? Good parenting should do what works best to accomplish the goal of parenting.

Those are my random thoughts. Anything to add?

(Last thought. This is the kind of post, dealing with controversial issues with strong opinions on both sides, that seems to bring out the mean people. Let me be clear I’m not looking for a fight or argument. And, if you’re mean…be nice here. :) )

4 Steps to Rebuild Trust

couple in distress

I wrote a blog post on winning back the heart of a wife several years ago. (Read it HERE.) The post was written in reponse to the dozens of times I had given the same advice to men who had hurt their wives in some severe way…mostly affair type situations…where it seems the wives heart has left the relationship.

When men find themselves in this type situation they feel hopeless. When the marriage begins to unravel around them…when the wife is ready to quit…even when it was the man’s fault…he often is finally broken and willing to do whatever it takes, but doesn’t know what to do.

That post has been Googled thousands of times. It is obviously a needed subject. As a result of that post, I have heard from dozens of other men and women (mostly men) who have done something dumb and want to win back their spouse’s trust. (Some of them even still comment on the previous post.)

Building on that original post, I want to address how to regain trust in general. This is advice I would give to any relational setting. It could be a marriage, a family, friend or even a business relationship. Regaining trust is difficult…just being candid…but the process usually follows a similar path.

Here are 4 steps to rebuild trust in a relationship:

Ask forgiveness – If you did wrong…apologize. If your aren’t sure…apologize. Even if you don’t think you were completely in the wrong, the other person may…a sincere apology is a great place to start. Being humble enough to admit fault is a trust-building characteristic. (Some are experts at saying “I’m sorry”, but it stops at that. That’s not enough to rebuild trust…keep reading.)

Do the right things – Whatever you did to offend the relationship. Stop. Stop now. Quit. Never again. Get help if you need to, but you have to do the right thing to counteract the wrong things. You may need to learn how and don’t be afraid to ask the person you offended or get professional help. Relationships are too important not to take them this seriously. Do the right things.

Keep doing the right things – Over and over again. Trust builds over time and experience of doing things which are trustworthy. This will require discipline on your part, and may not even be received well at first, but doing the right things is still the right thing to do. A mature response to life is to do the right thing even when wrong is easier or even expected.

Be patient – Trust always takes longer than the one seeking to rebuild trust thinks it should. Always. Trust has to work through emotions that have been severely injured. That doesn’t happen in an instant unless God intervenes. Most of the time He seems to let them heal naturally. Be patient with that process. It’s worth it. (By the way, this appears to be the hardest step for people from whom I hear.)

Now I realize the obvious next question. What happens if the offended party doesn’t reciprocate? That’s probably the subject of another post, such as 7 Things Forgiveness is Not, but know this: You are not responsible for the actions of another. You are responsible for your actions. And, attempting to rebuild trust is the right thing to do.

Any testimonies of how long it took someone to rebuild trust? Share and help others.

10 Tips for Visiting a Church

Church Congregation

I love visitors at our church. Thankfully we are in a season of seeing dozens of visitors each week. It excites me.

Through the years I’ve observed church visitors and how they go about discerning the right church for them. There isn’t a “system” for doing this…and I don’t think there should be…but I have developed some suggestions for people based on what I’ve observed.

With that in mind…

Here are 10 tips for visiting a church:

Check out the website – Most churches now have a website. It’s the first place people seem to go to when checking out our church. Look through it as your discerning whether or not a church fits your family’s needs. The pages that seem to get the most attention are the staff page, age-graded ministries and anything about what we believe or what to expect when you arrive. Pay close attention to the schedule of services or activities you plan to attend.

Plan your route – On a first visit, you’ll feel uncomfortable being late, so figure out ahead of time how long it will take you to get there. By the way, it’s more uncomfortable for you if you’re late than us, so come in anyway, but avoiding doing so will make for a better first visit.

Arrive early – Plan to arrive at least 10 to 15 minutes earlier than the service starts. You’ll want to find the best seat. You may need to get your family situated in their respective areas. You may want to read some of the printed information made available before the service starts. You will be better acclimated to the room and more comfortable when the service begins.

Pre-register if an option – Lots of churches now allow you to register your children before arriving. It saves time and makes the check in process smoother once you arrive.

Don’t leave immediately – Some of the most dedicated volunteers and usually the staff are still hanging around. You’ll get a chance to interact on a deeper level and ask questions. Plus, you can learn a lot about the fellowship of a church by whether or not people linger.

Dig deeper – Hopefully the church is conscious of their first impression and trying to put their best foot forward for visitors, but this is not always true. Some great churches miss it with first time visitors. Give them a chance beyond that. Who knows? You may be there to help them improve that experience for others in the future.

Make the most of your visit – It can be uncomfortable, but if you really want to experience the church, attend a Sunday school class or Bible study if offered. Find out about discipleship opportunities if they happen elsewhere. Figure out how people get plugged in and serve. You’ll need these activities for any church to ever truly feel like home.

Ask questions – Don’t assume. Ask. Many times something you don’t understand has a valid reasoning behind it.

Consider where you can grow and serve best – Church should be selected based on more than whether you liked a worship service. That’s certainly part of it, but where can God use you and your family best? Where will you best grow?

Consider a second visit – Don’t mark a church off unless it were obvious why you’re doing so. Sometimes it takes several visits before you know if a church is right for you.

Those are my suggestions. What suggestions do you have when visiting a church?

Legacy…My Grandfather

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Legacy

It’s what we leave behind.

Mostly after we’re gone.

The memories…

The witness…

The example to follow…

My grandfather died last night. He left a legacy.

It’s sad, but I’m having a hard time seeing it as a heavy loss. Not that I won’t miss him. I will.

But he was 101 years old. Few live that long. He celebrated that milestone last week. He had a party. He had a good time. Everyone talked about how well he looked. This week, he went down fast and peacefully passed from this life to the next. In an instant.

Death always comes that way.

But, sad? Sad for us, but so happy for him.

He lived a long, good life. He worked hard. Harder than most people I know. He worked, as a matter of fact, until he was nearing 90 at the church where we all were raised. I think I inherited my work ethic partially from him. I used to accompany him on second jobs when I was little. I watched him work. Work hard.

I watched him love too. And, he loved well. He loved deeply. He loved Jesus deeply and would tell you that if he ever met you. He loved his family. He adored all 5 children and he got giddy at the mention or sight of his many grand or great or great great grandchildren.

He loved Gospel music and singing in the choir. He loved his garden and he loved his cats. And, he loved his tractor. He loved Big Lots and Dairy Queen. (He loved the times I took him there when he stopped driving.)

Not all with the same kind of love of course. But, he seemed to love life. And everything in it.

He was humble. Perhaps the most humble man I know. He was strong. He was loyal. He was steadfast. He was honorable. He was gentle. He was a peacemaker. He was sincere. He was joyful. He was kind. To everyone he met. Everyone.

He loved my grandmother with such a passion you couldn’t help but smile when he referenced her. It was obvious to everyone. I got to renew their vows once. They were married well over 70 years. You can read about their marriage HERE. My grandmother is still living.They were soul mates. At his 101st birthday party he wanted to hold her hand and have his picture taken with her. (He didn’t realize how many pictures were being taken with people’s phones.) Pray for her.

Granddaddy. You did well. Great legacy. Easy to follow. Well done good and faithful servant. Well done.

Party with Jesus! I hope they’re playing some of your favorite songs right now. Either way, I’m sure you’re smiling. And probably dancing. Say hello to my Daddy…your son…whom you were talking about up until the time you passed.

We will see you on the other side.

(Read a more humorous post I wrote about him a few years ago HERE.)

5 Steps to Discern a Change in Ministry Assignment

Time for Change - Ornate Clock

How do you know when God is closing one door in ministry and opening another?

I get this question a lot and have previously addressed that, but recently I have received it more frequently so I decided to update this post. (I always note that this post is written about my experiences for people who may currently need it.)

Several times in my ministry, first as a layperson and since then in vocational ministry, God has called me to leave one ministry and begin another. It can be a scary place to face the unknown, yet know that God is up to something new in your life. As with most posts I wrote, I share out of my own life experience. That’s the best framework of understanding I have.

I think it is important, however, to realize that God uses unequaled experiences in each of our lives. Your experience will likely be different from mine. There was only one burning bush experience we know about in Scripture. At the same time, there are some common patterns I think each of us may experience, while the details remain unique.

This has been the process that I have experienced as God has led me to something new.

Here are 5 steps in discerning a change in ministry assignment:

Wonderful sweet success – Each time the door of a new opportunity opened it began opening (looking back) when things were going well in my current ministry. In fact, people who don’t understand the nature of a call (and some who do) have usually wondered why I would be open to something new.

Inner struggle – I usually have not been able to understand what God is up to, but there is something in me (and usually in my wife at the same time) where I know God is doing something new. While I do not know what it is, and not even if it involves a change in my place of ministry, I know God is doing a new work in my heart about something. Almost like the king in Daniel 4 who needed an interpretation, I know there’s something out there but at the time I can’t discern it. (I’m glad I have the Holy Spirit though to help me.)

Closeness to Christ – Brennan Manning calls it a Dangerous love of Christ. During the times leading up to a change of ministry assignment I will be growing in my relationship with Christ, usually in new depths of trust and abandonment. Again, looking back and I can see this clearly, but at the time I usually am just enjoying the ride and the closeness to Christ. Many times God is giving wisdom to share with others and (looking back) I can see that some of it was actually meant for me.

Opportunity presents itself – The opportunity often seems to come from nowhere, but with multiple experiences now I can see the pattern that has occurred each time. It is only after these first three experiences that God brings a new opportunity my way. That is probably because my spirit must be totally aligned with His Spirit in order for me to trust the new work He calls me to, because, again, it usually comes as a surprise. I have yet to be completely “ready” for the next step in my journey with Christ, because it always involves a leap of faith on my part, but this process prepares me to be ready to say “Yes Lord…Here am I…send me.”

I surrendered to God’s call – After I receive confirmation in my spirit, review the journey God has had us on, and Cheryl and I agree on where God is leading, I have yet to refuse the next assignment. I have certainly delayedy response, wrestled through the difficulty and comsulted many advisors, but never refused. That does not mean it is easy to leave my current ministry, but it has always been most rewarding to know we are in the center of God’s will for our life.

A special word to the spouse:

Cheryl has never been “ready” to leave friends in our current ministry, but she has always lined with me in knowing God was calling us to a new work in our life. I wrote about that tension from the spouse’s perspective HERE.

Have you shared these experiences? What other experiences have you had that have led you to step out by faith into a new adventure with Christ?