God’s Going To Carry Us Through

Times are tough. I have been overwhelmed in the last six months with the struggles of our people. As a pastor, I carry the weight of my people’s burdens. I know this is part of the call and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Still, sometimes I just need a little encouragement.

Thanks to Dave Barnes this song has been that encouragement. It’s first on my iPod right now and my running days have been sweeter because of it.

When I hear this song I’m reminded of Psalm 77:19.

“Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.”

Be encouraged. God will indeed carry us through.

I Broke All The Rules

I broke my own rules today. When it comes to issues of integrity and accountability concerning my relationships with other women I am strict on myself.

  • I never meet with women in the office when I am there alone.
  • I never eat alone with women.
  • I never visit a woman at home without Cheryl unless her husband is there.
  • This may sound strange, but when I’m talking to a woman, I try to keep my focus on a woman’s face, not her body frame. (Funny story: Recently Cheryl told me about a woman in our church delivering her baby the next week. I had just had a long conversation with the woman in the hall at church. I told Cheryl I didn’t know the lady was pregnant. She said, “She’s 9 months pregnant. How could you miss that?” Honestly, I had never looked beyond the woman’s face.)

In matters like this I do not believe men can take a chance or they will be inviting temptation.

Today I broke my own rules. I was working from a local coffee shop. A lady approached my table and sat down and started talking. The place was full, so I felt better about things, but normally I would have politely told her about my safeguards. Instead, we talked for over an hour.

The reason is that my rule, which I still believe I should have, was getting in the way of an eternal purpose. I am building inroads with her and soon may have the opportunity to share my faith with her. Do I still have to be careful? Absolutely. I made sure people were in the coffee shop that knew me. I sent a text to someone at the office. I made sure Cheryl knew about it. I felt it was a time, however, that was worthy of breaking the rules. And the fact is I only broke one of the rules above, the others I would still keep. (I’m reminded of some rules Jesus broke when He met the woman at the well…and other times.)

Do you struggle with issues like this at times? What other ways to you build integrity safeguards into your life? What advice would you give me?

Dr. James Dobson’s Resignation an Example for Leaders

Dr. James Dobson announced last week that he is stepping down as chairman of the board at Focus on the Family. He will continue to do his daily radio program.  You can hear him talk about it in today’s broadcast available at the site. It will be interesting how they will replace Dr. Dobson. For some of my thoughts in that area of leadership check out this previous post.

Recently I posted a criticism of some of the direction Focus on the Family has taken in recent years. You can read that post HERE, but basically I encouraged the organization to return to its roots of helping families and leave politics aside.

Today I need to compliment Dr. Dobson for his example to all of us to do what he feels is right for the ministry at this stage in its life. Many times leaders, especially founders, hang on too long to the reins of power and the succession of leadership becomes much more difficult.  I have had similar questions about leadership and when it’s time to leave in this post.

Dr. Dobson, I look forward to your continued investment in my family through your radio program.

Reflections From Sunday

Yesterday was another amazing day at Grace Community Church. In three and half years our church has seen many such days, but yesterday seemed extra special. We concluded our series “Am I The Only One?” considering how God’s grace can change a life. I was not speaking, so I stood in the back of the room as my co-pastor Chad shared about God’s grace in the life of Bible characters such as Moses and Paul. He then shared how God had poured grace upon his own life eight years ago when he felt ministry was over for him. God breathed new life into him. You can hear the sermon HERE. (I think one of the things which has made our church grow as fast as it has is because we have been open and honest with people about who we are and the struggles of life that we all face, including the pastors.)

Chad’s message closed with our own version of the cardboard testimonies so many churches have done, where you share your hurt, brokenness or failure on one side and flip to the story of God’s grace on the other. As I watched those familiar faces and stories walk across stage, and I looked at the packed room of people in the auditorium, I was instantly reminded of all the lives God has touched through our church in a short time. I saw couples reunited, men who others thought would never come to church, former alcoholics, and those who have been so beat up by the world. It was all I could do to hold back the tears.

We concluded the day with an afternoon baptism service and that’s where I couldn’t hold back the tears. Several hundred of our people returned to enjoy the time together. We had a full band lead us in a few songs; then took the Lord’s Supper together and then the baptism. Twenty-six people were baptized. One of our practices is to allow the father, if he wants to, to baptize his child. Seven dads baptized their children. Two of these were core members of our church. Two were people who have been a part of my ministry for years. I remember sitting with one of these men when we started the church and watching him tear up about being asked to be a core member. He didn’t feel worthy of such a task. Today these men are leading his family well and have played a significant role in the life of the church. I looked into the audience and saw the families represented by those being baptized. I knew that God had changed not just a few lives, but many lives. I couldn’t hold back…the tears flowed.

At the end of the day, another man said to me, “My tear ducts have been cleaned out today.” I could honestly say to him, “I know what you mean”.

Thank you God for your abundant mercy and grace poured out upon us.

Great Friends and Good Times…No Pressure

Ted and Robyn Randall have only been in our life a few months, but they will never know how much their friendship has already meant to us. Thankfully we have several friends like them, and Cheryl has even more of these friends than I do, but last night we spent some time at Richard’s Café in White’s Creek with the Randall’s.

The reason their friendship means so much is that when we are with them, the only business at hand is having fun. As a pastor, when I’m with someone, usually there is a perceived expectation that I’m to be “pastoral”. I’m supposed to be the one to pray. It is expected that I can provide answers, comfort, wisdom, hope, suggestions, insight, and condolence. I’m supposed to be the rational one. Some, not so much in my church thankfully, think a pastor should always be serious and certainly never silly. (Sorry, that’s not always me!) I realize the expectations and responsibilities that come with the calling, and I’m not at all complaining about it, but sometimes I just like to have fun, with no expectations on my part.

Ted is an Army Chaplain and pastor. They have been in ministry for years. They understand the stress of always being “at work”. They are both fun people. Hanging out with them is just that, hanging out. There is no pressure to be anyone other than a friend. Through that time with them they invest in me and help me unwind from the stress of ministry.

I value my time with friends like this.

Are You Surprised By The Path Of Your Life?

In working on an upcoming message on the Biblical character Moses, one observation about his life is that he certainly found himself in places he never expected to be. He was raised in Pharaoh’s home, although he was an Israelite. God chose him to lead the people out of Egypt, even though he was a murderer and a runaway.

I identify with how I suspect Moses may have felt, looking back at the path of his life.

1. I would never have thought I would be a pastor. (Most who knew me years ago wouldn’t either.)

2. I would never have expected others to look to me for leadership, considering my history.

3. I certainly didn’t expect our church to grow at the pace that it has grown.

4. I could never have imagined the spiritual growth I have seen in my wife and boys.

5. I could have never perceived the struggles life has brought to my family and me.

6.  No one could have described for me the grace God would pour out on my life.

Therefore, let me ask you to reflect with Moses and me by asking you a question:

If you look at your life and where you are today, has God taken you places you never expected to be? How has God surprised you with the path He’s had for you in life?

The Heart of a Believer: Love

This letter is from John the Elder. It is written to the chosen lady and to her children, whom I love in the truth, as does everyone else who knows God’s truth- 2 John 1 NLT

Let me ask you a question: How are you at loving others? Try not to think about those in your immediate family, your friends, or those who treat you well. Try to think about those who have hurt you the most. How are you at loving them?

If you know God’s truth, then you know that as believers we are commissioned to love…not just those who are loveable, but even the unlovely. Our decision whether to love is not predicated on the other person’s behavior, but on God’s truth that we are to love.

What kinds of people are hardest for you to love?  

Building Right Foundation for Children

The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. (Genesis 8:21 Emphasis mine)  

This is another one of those posts that can make a lot of parents mad, but when raising children it is important to remember this verse.  The intent of person’s heart is evil from childhood.  We don’t have to teach our children to be selfish.  We need to model generous living, because selfishness will come naturally.  We don’t have to teach our children to covet what others have.  We need to model contentment for them, because greed will come easily on its own. 

As parents, we should recognize this fundamental truth about our children. As sweet as we think they are, and they can be sweet, they are born with a natural propensity towards sin.   As parents, we are to disciple them so that their bent towards evil is one day redeemed by grace.  Our job is to plant within them the desire for God and His righteousness so that they will have a changed, saved nature, with a desire to overcome evil with good.

Recently I heard a quote on a movie (don’t remember which one).  “Two things we give our children. One is roots. The other is wings.” I think that quote captures the essence of parenting.  We must give children deep enough roots so when their wings carry them away they are ready to face the world.  

Here’s a tough but great question for evaluation:  Is your parenting intentional to build the right foundation for your children so they will be prepared for life or are you simply feeding their “natural” tendencies?  In other words, are you more concerned about giving them what they want or leading them with what they need? 

(I told you…tough question. Someone needs to ask it.)  

Quick Strategy To Have a Less Stress-Filled Week

I have shared this strategy a lot.  When you are facing one of those stress-filled weeks try this:  

1.     Take index cards and write on each one what you are most concerned about this week.  (one concern per card)  

2.     Lay them face up on a table in front of you and share them with God.  He knows them better than you do, but do it anyway.  

3.     Pray something like this, “God, this is what I have before me this week and I can’t handle it all.  I’m asking you as my Father, who loves me more than I can imagine, to give me direction, success, wisdom, patience and understanding in every area of my life.  Lead me along the path you would have for me.  I’m trusting completely in you.  If this week is a success it will depend on you.  I love you Lord. In Jesus name, Amen”.  

4.     Do the best you know how to do, but leave the stress of the week in God’s hands. 

Please understand this is not a formula for success. I don’t believe those exist in any relationship and God is certainly not defined by my prayers.  This is, however, based on Hezekiah’s actions in response to receiving a letter that threatened his entire kingdom.  (2 Kings 19:14-19).  I have tried this numerous times and God always responds.

Sometimes that response has been to relieve me of all my stress.  Most of the time, however, this process has helped me refocus and feel a sense of calm among my circumstances knowing that my God is ultimately in control. 

Try this as you begin your week and see what happens.  

5 Ways To Help Determine if Your Plans are God’s Plans

I received an email from an Internet friend via my other ministry site (www.mustardseedministry.com) asking me how I determine if what I am doing is within the plans God has for me.  Here’s my quick reply to him for knowing you are within God’s plans for your life: 

1.     Does what you are doing (or planning to do) conflict with Scripture?

God’s will never will.

2.     Does what you are doing conflict with the counsel of others?  

God uses others to confirm His will.  (Don’t be confused though, because sometimes God calls us to go against the grain of life and walk by faith when everyone is saying we are crazy.  See Noah about that one.)

3.     Does what you are doing conflict with the spirit within you?  

God has sent His Holy Spirit as a helper.  He will guide us with an inner peace or a holy unrest.  

4.     Does what you are doing conflict with your life experience?  

God uses our experiences in life to teach us and mold us to His will.  Again, don’t be confused, because He usually stretches us out of our comfort zone also. 

5.     Does what you are doing conflict with your passion for life?  

God tends to work with the things that fuel our fire.  He loves when we are energized for the tasks He calls us to. 

Try those 5 together and see how they line up with your plans.