Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hard to Figure Out ...

Let me give you a glimpse into the thinking of pastors, or at least this pastor. I believe from conversations with many pastors that my thinking in this area is fairly common. We pastors do a lot of evaluating. Of our sermons and lessons, of worship services, of all ministries in our church and of our church as a whole. We are constantly replaying messages, statements and meetings over in our minds. We are seeking to determine if we could have done anything differently.

One area that is a steady drain on us is asking how is our church, which means the people in the church, progressing spiritually? Here is the kicker, if things are not going as we believe God wants them to go what does that say about us?

What do we need to do differently, or is it just that people are not following? If they are not following are we the wrong person to be leading them? Are we leading them in the right way? Is there a different method we should be attempting? Is it just a lull, or are we going backwards?

I find these questions hard to figure out. Just a glimpse into a pastor's thinking, at least this pastor's.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Humbled ...

On Monday I had the tremendous responsibility and honor of interviewing several people who are in the ministry process of moving toward being ordained. In our system they come for a review every year until they are ordained, after that a different system is in effect. So the group of 6 that I was a part of (there were 3 other groups doing interviews) met with a dozen or so individuals. I enjoy being on this committee and take it very seriously, it is a really big deal. The people we met with were all over the place in their journey. Some were coming in for their very first interview, some are half way through and some were in their final review before being ordained. Some were relaxed and some were a nervous wreck. Some were laid back and some were animated. Some were children of people I know and some were older than me. Some were well spoken and some struggled to articulate their thoughts. All of them love the Lord and desire to serve in whatever way he has designed for them.

One interview in particular really got to me. It was fairly early in the day and it messed me up. The person is half way through their educational process and having to do it part time. They are volunteering as an Associate at a small church in the meantime. This person was very emotional while sharing what God is doing in their life and what they hope for the future. This person even asked us to interpret a recent experience they encountered while praying.

I was so moved by this person's humble desire to do what God wants them to do. I was struck that they have not had many advantages but they are still moving forward for the Lord. This person even recently became unemployed in their secular job, as so many others in our state. Yet that has not deterred this person at all.

I sat there with tears in my eyes (like I have now as I type this post) and thought how this person puts me to shame. With all of the advantages I have I didn't feel like I measured up to this person's humble service.

The day was different than I expected. I was impacted in a much different way than I anticipated.

Help me to really rely on you for my ministry. Help me to be truly humble in my service. Help me to be a lot more like that brother who sat before me on Monday.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Monday Morning Musings (on Sunday afternoon)

I am writing this on Sunday afternoon because I will be gone all day tomorrow (I will be interrogating, I mean interviewing, licensed ministers who are working toward being ordained) and my computer at home has a broken enter button so I can't do it tonight. Also, my wife is returning from her trip tonight and I don't want to be on the computer ... I want to spend time with her.

Today was less than spectacular, that is a kind way of saying it was a dud. I hate that, and I am doing some major evaluating. Our attendance was the lowest it has been since I don't know when. Weather, travel, and illness all combined killed us today. With the attendance so low the atmosphere was flat. A bright spot was a teen girl who sang a special song and really ministered. I really struggled with starting this sermon. I didn't have a good way to engage everyone at the beginning. The big thought of the message was that God is greater than anything you will face. Dependence on Him is the only way we can live in "Whatever" he wants. The focus is on him, not us.

I was encouraged by some newer people who were in attendance and appear to be connecting with people in the church. Was able to have a good conversation with one of them in particular.

I am off to a youth activity for a couple of hours, then back to teach in our evening gathering and then home to squeeze my much missed wife. Man I am going to look really pale in comparison to her after her 5 days in the sun.

Here's hoping you have someone to squeeze.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Answering the Questions ...

Last night I continued with answering the questions the youth submitted a few weeks ago. It was the second half of "Why Believe In God?" It was interesting and I could see a few light bulbs go on as we discussed things. Our attendance was down because of 3 seperate events at school. It was obvious some of them had actually thought about our discussion before they arrived. I wish I could get the adults to do that once in while. (oops, did I really type that?)

The questions they have selected are not easy to answer and are requiring quite a bit of research on my part. I am learning a lot whether they are or not.

One quote I used was from Augustine, "If there is no God, why is there so much good? If there is a God, why is there so much evil?"

When it comes to pain and suffering one of the greatest needs people have is to have someone with them through the pain. To have someone who will listen and acknowledge the pain. If that someone who listens also understands pain then all the better. When you think about it, that is what God did in sending his son Jesus Christ into the world. Through his ministry, his death and resurrection he certainly understands pain and suffering.

Look for someone who is in pain and be that person for them. It will make a world of difference for them and in you.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Solo Act ...

My wife left this morning for a 5 day getaway with 3 other friends. Some fun in the sun and to just get away and relax. She deserves it and I am thrilled for her. But I am not near as good as a solo act. I know that the next few days I will not sleep as well and will stumble through a few things in which she would normally help. That is not whining just being honest. Even worse is the fact that she will be in a place where the cell phone doesn't work, so we will go 5 days without talking. That is a killer. Normally whenever we are apart, no matter which of us is gone, we talk everyday. After more than 33 years it is difficult to not talk with her each day.

I will have plenty to do to keep me busy, but it will not be the same.

Here's hoping the love of my life has a great time. That she relaxes a bunch, laughs a lot and misses me some.

I wonder what movie is showing at midnight?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Monday Morning Musings ...

Yesterday was not a stand out day, but did have good moments. Saturday night we had a Valentine's meal and showed the movie Fireproof. We offered a meal, the movie and child care for $10 and made it free for any firefighter. We had 70 or 80 in attendance, with about 40% from outside our church. The meal was good and the movie was very good. We are also offering some small groups that follow up with the Love Dare that the movie was based around.

Sunday morning we some really good discusssions in my Sunday School class as we have continued to look at where we might be missing the point in our church regarding needs in our community. We have really been vulnerable and open during this study. I have loved it.

My stomach decided to have a party Sunday morning, the ensuing chaos made for a stressful morning. Running to restroom just before Sunday School, running their between Sunday School and worship, running their again during singing in Worship and then worrying about while preaching. (Aren't you glad I shared?) Music was a little off, not sure why, just how it seemed to me. Maybe it was because our attendance was the lowest it had been in quite a while. Not sure why, other than a little illness and some traveling. Also some evidently substituted attending the Saturday evening event for Sunday morning. I really think the smaller attendance had an impact, when you look around and see that many extra empty seats it messes with your head at times, for those upfront and those in the seats.

I believe the message went okay. The big point was that the greatest place for "Whatever Living" (current series) is where love never fails right out of I Corinthians 13:8. We looked how that is evidenced and where we need to show it. This is a tough concept and not possible on our own, but only through the love of Christ. We must be stubborn in our love (persevere is the proper term, but I think we can relate better to the concept of being stubborn) and not giving up. Love is more choice than feeling. So I asked "How are you expressing your choices?" and "Are your expressions truly reflecting what you claim are your choices?"

How are you doing in this area?

Have a great week expressing love to someone who needs to know that you are not giving up on them.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Valentine ...

Happy Valentine's Day to my beautiful wife, Jody. This is our 35th Valentine's Day. This August we will celebrate our 34th Wedding Anniversary. I am more in love with her today than I was 35 years ago and more than I was on our wedding day. She has definitely gotten better with age. I hope I have as well. Oh, it is true that some things may not be as good, we go to sleep earlier than we used, we don't do all night road trips anymore, but the total package is better.

Our experiences together are part of why it is better today than ever. What we have endured, what we have conquered and what we have forgiven makes it much better. Now we have so many cherished memories as well much to look forward too. In the beginning all we had the looking forward. I much prefer the combination of memories and hope for the future.

She has been, and still is, an incredible wife, mother and grandmother (I believe this one is her favorite). She also has been, and continues to be, an amazing ministry partner, I could not have done what I have done without her.

She still brings a smile to face and makes me feel all tingly when she is near. (Is tingly a word?) She still laughs at my jokes. She looks at me like I am special.

I have no idea what the future holds, but I do know who I want to hold as I face the future.

Thanks Jody, I love you!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Tearful Celebration ...

Today was the what is normally called the funeral service for my friend Kip. Instead of calling it a funeral service today's event was rightly called a celebration. The music was encouraging and uplifting. Each of his boys shared, as did a foreign exchange student who had lived in their home, a missionary friend, a brother in law and his current pastor. But was not drawn out and I didn't see anyone looking at their watch. The boys sharing was awesome. Each of their personalities came through in the style in which they shared and Kip's personality was evident in each of them. I laughed and cried through all of them, my suit coat probably needs to be dry cleaned from the salty residue now present as the tears flowed. They were tears of rememberance, of sadness at the loss and sadness at what others will miss with Kip passing before the time we would have chosen.

As I sat in the sanctuary today I also remembered other funerals from the years I pastored there as I did I saw many who had sat where Kip's family sat today during those other funerals. Some more tears flowed. But I also noticed the majority of a worship team leading us in worship who had either been college or high school students while I pastored in that place. Now leaders. Some more tears flowed. I looked around and noticed many people I recognized. Children had grown considerably, youth were now adults, newlyweds were parents now, parents were grandparents now and some more tears flowed. These tears were not of sadness but of awe. I was awe at the realization of how blessed I have been to have been impacted by so many of these people. I was in awe at the possiblity that I may have impacted some of them.

Back to the celebration and I began to wonder if the footprints of my life will have half the impact that Kip's life has had and will comtinue to have in the years ahead.

It was a great, though tearful, celebration for a great guy. I am better for having taken in the celebration and especially for knowing Kip. Thanks Kip and remember keep a hoop open for me, we will shoot together again some day.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Amazing ...

The past few days I have been overwhelmed in thinking about God's grace. It truly is amazing. When was the last time you were overwhelmed by God's grace? Seems like I should be overwhelmed by His grace daily, but I must confess I am not. How about you?

To think that God loves me, period. He loves me. He doesn't love my faults, fears, failures and fumbles, but He love me anyway. He loves me period. That is amazing.

That he has chosen to use me to further his kingdom, to be his hands in the community he has placed me in, is amazing. I have to admit that from a human standpoint that would be evidence against him, but in his grace it is amazing. He loves me, and He has chosen to use me.

To realize that God continually gives me opportunities to show his grace and love to others is amazing. I don't always handle those opportunities well, but he keeps sending them my way. Amazing. Talk about humbling ... wow! He loves me, He has chosen to use me, and He keeps giving me opportunities.

To notice God in my life, in my world, in my community and that I can always sense him at work in my life. Truly amazing.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound. Amazing Grace how awesome the fact. Amazing Grace how can I share it more?

Monday, February 09, 2009

Monday Morning Musings ...

Yesterday was a good, yet difficult, day. As I shared in my previous post a tremendous man went to his reward yesterday. I am grieving with and for his family.

We had a great time of discussion in my Sunday School class, I love it when things start to click and people start asking the difficult questions that really matter. In worship we had a small worship band thanks to work and vacations, that had something missing from the sound but not the spirit. We had a reasonable attendance for February. The message was very simple. In our series on "Whatever ... It Takes" I shared that the bottom line is we need to "Put it into Practice". Beyond words, slogans, cliche's and mottos, but actually living it out. Philippians 4:9 tells us that whatever we have heard, seen or learned "put it into practice". It doesn't get much clearer or simpler.

I asked people how their practice was going, and what were the results of their practice. Allen Iverson caught some flack (deservedly so in my opinion) when thought he didn't really need to practice all that much. In a press conference he ridiculed the criticism saying, "practice, practice, we are talking about practice here, not a game, but practice". What Iverson failed to grasp at that point was that you practice so that you can play the game well. Anything gets better with practice, especially practice done the right way.

So how is your practice going?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Homegoing of a Friend ...

I got word yesterday of a friend and parishioner from a former pastorate had been in an accident and had severe head injuries. I received word just before church tonight that he died. He will continue to give life through organ donations and that fits him perfectly. His name was Kip. I met him when I was a teacher, we taught in the same building, in fact in the same hall of the building. He was brilliant. He was funny. He was a huge basketball fan. He was a true man of God. I later had the honor of being his pastor and he served as church board secretary. He was a great churchman. He will be missed.

He was an english and literature teacher. He truly loved to read and learn. He was a great husband, father and grandfather. I have loved seeing pictures of him with grandchildren, especially ones of him reading to them. He has left a tremendous legacy.

He could multi-task like no one I have ever known. In fact he needed to be focusing on more than one thing at time or he was prone to do intriquing things to entertain himself. I am smiling as I type this and remember some of those times.

He loved the Lord and wanted what was best for his church as well. I loved his thinking as a board member.

His boys are evidence of his love of education and the Lord. One is a lawyer, one a college professor at a Christian College and one is a youth pastor.

Pray for his wife, kids and grandkids. I realize the boys had some tough conversations explaining that grandpa was now with Jesus. But I know that is also a great comfort to know that we will see him again.

I agree with his youngest son that he is probably already organizing a free throw shooting contest in heaven. Odds favor Kip against the field.

You will be missed my friend. Your legacy will live on in your sons and grandchildren. Your influence will continue in those of us who were fortunate enough to have worked, lived and worshipped with you. I will see you again, in the meantime take good notes and keep a hoop open for me.

Pray for his wife and family.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Monday Morning Musings ...

I am having some trouble concentrating on yesterday since we have 200 or 300 elementary children in our building. Their school is without water so we opened up our building for them to use. I am glad to be able to do this and love working with the community and school. It does mess with my plans for the day, but hey if you aren't flexible you will explode as a pastor.

Yesterday was another very good day. We had a good time of sharing and discussion in Sunday School. Our time of singing was really good in worship. We even had people clapping on one song. That is a big deal for us. There was a great spirit throughout the service. Our prayer time was very moving. My son-in-law really ministered during his special in song. The message went well and seemed to have people very engaged. I finished the sermon with a music video by Casting Crowns and their song entitled "Slow Fade". It fit perfectly. The message was on thinking on the right things from Philippians 4:8. There were many people who indicated they needed prayer and help with thinking on the right things. Part of the message addressed our need to monitor our reading, listening, watching and fantasies in order to think on the right things.

Our attendace was decent, especially given the drifting that took place on all of the roads outside of town.

Last evening we encouraged people gather in groups during the Super Bowl and have a great time of fellowship. We usually host a group, last night we went to someone else's home with 25-30 people and had a good time. The food was good, there were games being played, children having a good time and the game was very good. I was rooting for the Cardinals though I expected the Steelers to win. What a finish!

Well I better go see what is needed by our guests. Here's hoping you get the chance to help someone out this week.