The Christmas Gift That Everyone Needs

24293970_10155971182684214_1901089510484304777_nRegardless of how hard we try, the gift-giving season can create pressure. Whether it is trying to figure out what to buy that person “who has everything” or how to answer the question, “what would you like for Christmas?”, Christmas gifts can cause stress. This is so sad, considering the simplicity that is intended by the idea of gift exchange.

If we did not know better, we would ask for and try to purchase gifts that have real meaning. Peace in the world, an end to starvation and sickness, universal love and joy… none of us are naïve enough to even dream of such gifts. So in their place, we spend lots of money on gadgets and trinkets and ugly Christmas sweaters!

At the risk of appearing idealistic, I want to offer an idea for a gift that everyone needs. This gift is the purpose behind the concept of Christmas. This is the reason that God sent His Son, born of a virgin, into this world.

We all need the gift of a saved soul.

The baby Jesus came as a sacrifice. He didn’t come to earth at that time to start another religion or to set up His earthly Kingdom or to overthrow the government. Jesus came to die, to resurrect, to ascend to heaven and to eventually come back. The purpose of the incarnation was to redeem humankind and to reconcile us back to God. This process of the coming of the Savior is what provides the possibility of our salvation.

We all need the gift of a saved soul.

If we will be honest, it’s not the boxes of candy or Chia Pets or cheap cologne that we want and need. We need to see souls saved. If I could have anything I want for Christmas this year, it would be for friends and loved ones to come to know Christ. The problem is, asking my family for such a gift would be unfair. You see, they do not have the ability to wrap up this gift and put it under our tree. We can’t give the gift of salvation for Christmas. Or can we?

Salvation cannot be purchased online or in a crowded department store. There is only one source where forgiveness of sins and new life can be found – in a relationship with Jesus. So, is it possible for us to give the gift of a saved soul? Perhaps, if we learn how to focus on this most important gift throughout the holiday season.

Rather than scouring the store shelves for the perfect gift, let’s give the gift of a redeemed life. Instead of stressing out over the holidays, let’s model how a true Christian behaves. We can show and share the love of Christ with those we meet. We can focus on the salvation of lost souls in every event, church service, social gathering and family get-together.

You can participate in giving the gift of a lost soul for Christmas. If you don’t currently live for Christ, make the decision to do so today. If you do live for Christ, let that relationship show in every possible way this Christmas season.

Christmas 2017 has the potential to be the best ever, but not by spending a boatload of money for things we don’t need. Let’s invest ourselves in seeing people come to Christ this Christmas season.

We all need the gift of a saved soul!

 

 

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Dangers for Pastors (part 3)

24301207_10155971895294214_2209181443603559335_nWe will wrap up the theme of dangers for pastors with today’s post. I don’t for a minute think that we have covered every possible topic available. I simply need to move on to some new ideas.

The basic thesis is, the most dangerous thing in a pastor’s life and ministry probably has nothing to do with physical threats or the concern of someone coming into the church to hurt people physically. There are more subtle, sneaky ways that our enemy can destroy us.

In addition to the 24 things listed in the previous two posts, let’s consider these dangers:

Not evaluating. Whether out of neglect or intimidation, many pastors never stop what they are doing long enough to evaluate what is working and what is not. We may be left to assume that everything is going well and everyone is happy. We can even adopt the mentality that, “if it ain’t broke(n), don’t fix it.” I have real concern about this approach to ministry. First of all, pastors may not know if everything is going well. Simply because people tolerate something doesn’t mean it is working. Secondly, pastors are sometimes the last to find out when something is broken. I think it is very important for a pastor to lead the way in evaluating the effectiveness of every aspect of the ministry. Measure it. Get input from others. Create open dialogue about how to make things better. Do yourself a favor – don’t make others be the ones to ask for an evaluation.

Forgetting motives. Religion is known for ritual. While there is nothing wrong with ritual and, in fact, ritual can be very healthy for people, we should continually be asking why we do the things we do and why we do them the way that we do them. It is common to do things in the church without ever considering the “why.” We set our schedules based on history. We have particular ministry events because we have always had those events. We sing music, teach classes and provide training – sometimes because it’s the only way we know how to do ministry. But WHY do we do ministry that way? Why is Prayer Meeting on Tuesday night? Why do we pass the offering plate rather than ask people to come up to the front to give? Why does the Youth Group meet in the basement? Why do we sell fried chicken to pay the bills? Rather than becoming paralyzed by asking the “why” question, we may find ourselves liberated. Many traditions in our churches have no meaning. If they are significant, by all means do them. If there is purpose, be intentional about it. But if much of our ministry is being done only because that’s the way it’s always been done, well – there is a whole new world of exciting and effective ministry awaiting us! Remember the WHY!

Copying ministry. It’s only natural; we learn how to do things by observing others. In ministry, we can be exposed to a particular ministry practice that really seems to be working. It is tempting to try to duplicate that at our church. While I don’t believe there is anything morally wrong with doing this, we may be doing our church a disservice. Pastor, don’t try to preach like the well-know television preacher. Don’t steal sermons from other pastors. Don’t have a goal to be like the church across town. You are an original. Your church is unique. The people that God has entrusted to your care need and deserve something specifically designed by God for them. My friend Dwayne Harris said that we are in danger of, “losing the individuality of our calling. If not careful, we can find ourselves trying to mimic and duplicate the success of others, as opposed to discovering God’s individual and unique design for our personal ministry.” A pastor whom I respect greatly said, “I think one danger in every Pastor’s life is loosing His identity. Becoming someone else rather than what God would want him to be. There is a danger of one patterning their life after someone whom they deem to be much more qualified than themself.” (Harold Miller) While this may sound like intense pressure (who has time to come up with all original stuff?), if all you offer folks is what you got somewhere else, they don’t need you, do they? Seriously, this is not only about job security but don’t be a spiritual middleman (or woman). Hear from God directly for the people you serve. Know them and the issues they are dealing with. Find something fresh from God’s Word that applies to their lives.

Being Emotionally Needy: I must exercise care on this one. While Pastors are people too, and they have needs that must be addressed, it is a dangerous thing to lead a church so one can receive the affirmation they need. If we are not in a good place emotionally, we can find ourselves rising and falling, based upon the interactions we receive at church. Darrin Brown tells us, ”be careful of the pride of success and the discouragement of failure. Do not define success or failure by man’s expectations, but in obedience to God and His word.” We can sometimes feel successful because someone said we did a good job. And we can be defeated and feel like a failure when criticism comes. Pastors must be emotionally stable enough that they don’t require others to build them up, or allow others to tear them down. Get your affirmation from your family and from the Lord. Don’t allow your self-worth to be determined by those whom you serve.

Worshipping Success: My friend, Jason Daughdrill discusses this in an eloquent way. “Success… it’s a dangerous blessing. Passionate obedience, which usually is the catalyst for success, can quickly be traded for maintenance/performance pressure to keep up the successful image others around you are celebrating. Your production begins to overtake your person.” How true is that! We can be guilty of continually raising the bar of what others expect of us. The show must get flashier. People won’t respond unless you keep all the plates spinning. We create an atmosphere of performance, competition and showmanship. This will lead to a crash! Pastor, please recall, only God defines success. He’s our audience of One.

Thinking that People “owe” you something: The spiritual climate has changed in our culture. Like it or not, most people feel no obligation to attend church, support the church financially or be responsible for its operation. These things used to be a given in many churches; not any longer. And as a result, some pastors feel as though the people in their community should attend the church, regardless of what is offered. We’ve all dealt with the consumer mentality that has invaded our churches. While this is certainly a bad thing, gone are the days when we can offer up a subpar worship experience and expect people to support it. People have choices. There are many churches they can attend and some of them believe that church attendance isn’t even important. So, if and when people don’t come to church, don’t blame them. Don’t criticize them as “carnal.” Don’t get offended – just find a way to get them there. In my opinion, this is not by entertaining them; it is by providing an encounter with God.

Cultural ignorance: Pastors are priests. By this I don’t mean that pastors wear a clerical collar, take a vow of celibacy and give their life to the Catholic Church. I mean that we are to be in touch with the people. We are supposed to understand their lives, have similar experiences, and be able to identify with their struggles. When a pastor is unaware of the world around them, when they lose touch with current lifestyles and cultural trends, they create a distance between them and those they lead. Too many people think their pastor doesn’t live in the real world. Even things as simple as popular music, movies and world events are opportunities for pastor to show that they are aware of what’s going around them. My next point will deal with Pastors who go too far the other way, but please be aware that, if you want to minister to people where they are, you have to know where they are. You can’t live in an isolated cave and expect people to identify with you.

Cultural saturation: On the flip side of cultural ignorance is cultural permeation. This happens when a pastor spends too much time participating in things outside of the ministry. When a pastor knows all of the lyrics of the top 10 songs, when they can quote limitless movie lines, when they are absorbed with social media…their follows may have need for concern. Most of us have heard a pastor talk about seeing a movie that everyone knows is inappropriate. As previously stated, pastors must know the world in which their followers live. But too much exposure to secular culture can cause church members to lose confidence in their pastor’s spirituality. I think the goal here is balance. Don’t live in a cave but don’t live in the gutter.

Refusal to utilize social media: There are only a handful of pastors who still refuse to participate in Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram. While this may seem innocuous, don’t assume so fast. Social media is the communication method of choice for millions of church members as well as those we hope to reach. Pastors who refuse to engage in social media may be like the missionary who refuses to learn the language of the people group they are trying to reach. Of course, we all know full well the nonsense that happens on the Internet and we have heard a lot of stories of how social media has gotten people into trouble. But, in my estimation, social media is like relationships: some are good and some are bad. We must know with whom we should connect, we should exercise wisdom and we must practice restraint and discretion. Pastor, don’t eliminate a bunch of people because you don’t speak their language. Take time to learn.

Neglecting Self Care: For number 10 (my final point), I must discuss a huge danger for pastors. It has to do with neglecting one’s spiritual health while caring for others. So many pastors have burned out because they were so busy ministering to others that they forgot to take care of themselves. When helping hurting people, we sometimes pick up their hurt. Some expect us to be impervious to discouragement. Many times we don’t feel free to express when we are in trouble. All of this can lead to a very dangerous spiritual condition. We pray for others. We read our Bibles to prepare for ministry. We go to church often. None of these things guarantee our spiritual vitality. When discussing this danger, Mike Thompson said, “Doesn’t matter if we “transform” an entire city and remain personally unchanged. It leads to spiritual bankruptcy.” In my opinion, this is the most diabolical and subtle danger for pastors. I think it happens to everyone who serves in ministry for any length of time. I’m not sure it can be avoided altogether. So we must build safety nets into our lives. We must have relationships that hold us accountable. We need a safe place to confess weakness and sin. Avoid sliding backwards at all costs, but once it has happened, arrest it!

I trust you have heard my heart in this little series, Dangers to Pastors. 34 things made the list! And there are thousands more! Perhaps one day someone will develop this into a book – I think there is a great need. And a special “thank you” to all my friends and colleagues who pitched in on this effort. You folks have a lot of wisdom, I appreciate you sharing!

To any pastor out there: please don’t go this alone. If you need someone to talk to, let me know. If I can’t help you, I know someone who can. I pray that something that we said makes your life and ministry easier, more productive – and safer.

Hear the Word of the Lord:Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

 


Dangers for Pastors (part 2)

23915882_10155955440214214_6127062570614102048_nThis is round 2 of Dangers for Pastors. Part 1 got some great feedback so let’s move forward with more thoughts on what pastors should guard against. Once again, I believe that threats of violence in our churches are the least of our worries. We have daily encounters with more subtle, but just as deadly threats.

Here are eleven additional dangers to go with the thirteen from last time. Since I got a lot of feedback on dangers, I will try to name the source of the thought.

People pleasing: Unless you have some type of social disorder, you want to be liked; everybody does. Problems arise for pastors when they spend an inordinate amount of time and effort trying to get people to like them. Even worse is when a pastor fails to do the right thing in an effort to gain the approval of others. A desire to please people is an indication of an insecurity issue. If a leader feels inferior or if one’s job is on the line, trying to please people is a real temptation. The problem is, we can’t please people. My friend, Bill Isaacs reminded me of this. So not only do we fail at trying to please others, we fail at leading. The solution? Perhaps focus on pleasing God and making an effort to be at peace with others. Don’t you love the meme going around that says, “If you want to make everybody happy, become an ice cream salesman.”

Isolation: Depending upon your personality, you may prefer to be alone. Introverts sometimes make great leaders (see the article related to this idea). Alone time is necessary but too much alone time is unhealthy. There is a huge difference between alone time and being a loner. When one has been hurt, it is normal to protect oneself. When betrayed by a friend, the tendency is to trust no one. The problem is, a one-strand cord is easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12). Isolation is not a sign of strength; it is a sign of danger. Pastors need confidants. They need friends. Kevin Wells said, “The battles they face that they feel they have no one to talk to about. Maybe it’s that they don’t feel like they can tell anyone.” Pastors need people in front of them pulling them along and people behind them pushing them along. Don’t be an easy mark for the devil; don’t let him catch you alone in a dark alley.

Bitterness: Every person has plenty of experience being hurt. I think that Pastors are especially good targets for inflicting pain. In other words, some people think it is perfectly fine to take cheap shots at the preacher. Even when this is not the case, pastors are susceptible to become bitter and hardhearted. Disappointment, unresolved pain, and failure – all of these can lead one to becoming bitter. Pastor, be aware, your bitterness will lead you nowhere good and you will take those you lead with you.

Getting and staying stuck: It happens to most everyone. We find ourselves in a season of unproductivity, but we can’t seem to make the changes necessary to regain our productivity. For pastors, it may involve ministry practices. We have operated a certain way for a long time but that way doesn’t seem to have the impact that it used to. It takes real courage to risk changing a system. But if pastors refuse to adapt, they will get stuck for sure. Of special concern are the pastors who have a few years to retirement but they think they can do business as usual and survive until they quit. This can be a fatal error. God and His people deserve better than coasting. Get unstuck!

Conflict avoidance. My friend John Upchurch reminded me of this danger. Because we wish to be peacemakers, and most of us have never had any conflict resolution training, we are not good at conflict. Some even avoid conflict at all costs. While conflict must not become the culture of the ministry, pastors must not avoid conflict. We must be skilled at bringing calm into a troubled situation. We must be adept at managing conflict for the good of the church. It is literally impossible to avoid conflict altogether. If unresolved, it will eventually destroy ministries and lives. So pastor, get good at facing and resolving conflict!

Vision vs. Management: According to Jonathan Augustine, managing expectations rather than visionary leading can be hazardous to a pastor. There are times in every ministry where the passion of the vision gets watered down by the reality of what people expect out of the leader. Ministers have one foot in each camp: vision from God and the real life scenarios of those they lead. Where we get into trouble is when the vision grows distant because we are too busy managing what people say they want from us. If I always have my head in the clouds, being hyper-spiritual, I will lose contact with people. If I never have my head in the heavenlies, I will lose touch with God. It is vital that we stay focused on the vision that God has given us because it is by realizing the vision that we can minister to the needs of the people.

Greener Grass Mentality: My good friend, Pastor Chad Dunford speaks about “refusing to be where you are (current ministry assignment), love where you are (community and congregation) and serve where you are (equipping for works of service through example). It can be tempting to always look for the “next” place, people or opportunity. Some of the best advice I was given was from my mentor in the following statement – “Unless you have knowingly disobeyed the will of God for your life, you are where you are because He put you there.” I agree, Chad!! The danger of this kind of thinking is, we are never satisfied. There remains a deep unrest, we are disgruntled and always feel as though we are missing something. This is a trap and will lead to misery for us and for those we lead. Thanks, Chad for the reminder!

Fearing questions: Many pastors are afraid of questions. They equate people asking questions to doubting and skepticism. Some like to appear that they know all the answers – and questions complicate this ruse. Pastor, just because someone asks questions doesn’t mean they are attacking you or trying to overthrow your leadership. Of course, some are trying to do this but the vast majority of people just appreciate information. Today’s culture requires that leaders be engaged and willing to share important information. The “on a need to know basis” doesn’t work anymore. By the way, one of the things you can do to bolster your leadership strength is to admit when you don’t know something. Whether or not you admit it, everybody knows it. Pastor, genuinely invite questions.

Lack of transparency: Information is power. When a leader possesses information and doesn’t share it with followers, people think they are shady. We cannot expect people to trust us if we give them reason to doubt. Leaders – try something: offer up more info than your team requests. Share details that show you have nothing to hide. Then watch the level of trust increase on your team. And then watch how others begin to share openly with others. Transparency is a powerful friend.

Sex and money: When I asked colleagues for input on dangers for pastors, several mentioned some rather obvious ones. Bucky Ray Sitsler said, “It seems to me that sex and money are the two greatest dangers. Thus, the two most important areas of life to ensure accountability processes are in place.” Eric Rogers said it in a humorous way: “Sex and silver. Dollars and dames. Monies and honeys.” M.E. Woody commented, “Pride, Petticoats and Pennies.” And my friend, Dr. Hong Yang quipped, “girls, gold ‘n glory.” I think we get the idea. Few dangers have brought down as many ministers as sex and money. They are the oldest tricks in the book. So why do we not protect ourselves better?

Leading but not following: This smacks of arrogance, don’t you think? But in reality, there are a lot of leaders who unwittingly find themselves in this situation. Leading is a demanding task. Most of us are pretty busy. And busyness can result in a lack of connectivity. We don’t have much choice but to connect with those we lead. But connecting with those who lead us is another matter. Sometimes we have to pursue those over us, and to be honest, our pride can become a hindrance here. Pastor, you are too strong to not have a leader. Too many pastors spend all of their time showing others the way when they have no one showing them the way. Leaders, don’t be so busy leading that you forget to follow.

Well, that’s the next eleven on the list. I plan to add more in a week or two. In the meantime, if you have any feedback or ideas for our consideration, I’d love to hear it!


Dangers for Pastors

designRecent violent tragedies in churches around our country remind us of our vulnerability. This can be a frightening time to lead a church. I know a lot of pastors who have their head on a swivel right now.

In my opinion, it’s not an armed gunman that poses the greatest threat to churches and pastors. The odds of an attack by a terrorist at your church are miniscule. But on a daily basis, you are exposed to grave danger. Churches are scrambling to put security in place and they should. But be aware that there are 1,000 ways the devil seeks to destroy you and your church and none of them involve guns. While we should have a security plan in place, it is absolutely crucial that every pastor protect themselves against less obvious, but just as deadly attacks.

My original plan for this article was to create a list of potential hazards and write a paragraph about each. I came up with 13. As I dialogued with some friends, it became apparent that the topic deserves a little more. So, I’ll launch with the original plan and then proceed with more in-depth ideas.

Pastors, look out for…

Ministry becoming a business. Like any other job, ministry can be stressful. After years of dealing with highly important issues of eternal nature, we can devolve things into a bottom line – and that bottom line isn’t souls saved. We must pay the bills. Especially in larger churches, legal matters, real estate, tax laws and human resources concerns can blind us to the spiritual nature of our work. When this happens, we will soon find ourselves disheartened. God did not call us to run a business. Although the church must be viewed as a business that runs above reproach, ministry is spiritual at its core and must function that way.

Becoming hard-hearted. I am not aware of any ministry veterans that don’t struggle with this issue. Part of our work is dealing with trauma: deaths, crises, family turmoil, etc. can wear one down. If we do not intentionally focus on keeping our spirits tender before God, we will become cynical, jaded, and skeptical. I find that few things do more damage to a minister than a hard heart. It is necessary to stay tender before the Lord.

Accepting status quo. Keeping the ministry machine running smoothly and keeping church members happy can be a full time job. When most of our time and energy is expended simply to survive, growth can unintentionally become a back burner issue. God did not call us to maintain – He called us to make disciples. He appointed you where you are to advance the ministry. Maintaining is not good enough.

No strategic plan. Let’s be honest for a moment with this query: what is your plan to build your ministry? If your answer is, “have church services”, you may want to dig deeper. A strategic plan is a wonderful gift that God provides for us so that we can prepare for what He is about to do. I agree that the Holy Spirit must direct us but He does reveal His plans to us if we will pursue Him. Being Spirit-led doesn’t mean that we fly by the seat of our pants. Seek God today for what He wants to do tomorrow.

Selling out to money. It is a very deadly thing for a church and pastor to become money-focused. For many pastors, the members who tithe the most have the most influence. Ministry decisions are made, not based upon what the Spirit is directing but upon what can be afforded. I believe in budgets but I do not believe that budgets should dictate ministry. I wrote another article on the problem of churches amassing bank accounts with no plan to invest them into ministry. You can read that here.

Stop learning. Bible College and seminary are wonderful tools. Pastors should be well educated in matters of Scripture and ministry and leadership. However, there should be no such thing as a pastor who has completed his/her training. Pastor, if you haven’t read a book outside of the Bible for the last few months – I suggest you start.

Displacing family. Much has been said on this topic. Don’t neglect your family for ministry. Your family will fail as well as your ministry. Your family is your first ministry!

No plan to rest. It is a very dangerous thing for a pastor to have no day off – no Sabbath day of rest. Perhaps you think you can work week after week with no vacation, but the end is coming – sooner than you think. Those who refuse to retire because they are too insecure to do so are only hurting themselves and their flock. You are not superhuman – the church survived without you for generations and, if necessary, can do so again.

Doing all of the ministry. This is a real trap for small church pastors. No one volunteers to lead a much–needed ministry so the pastor does it. Rinse and repeat. I understand the dilemma. But if this becomes a pattern, the church is doomed to stay small and the pastor is destined to burn out. If you find yourself here – slowly wean your folks off of their expectations that you must do everything.

No personal, only professional spirituality. Time for some quick self-evaluation: do you pray and study outside of your ministry responsibility? If not, your personal relationship with God is suffering. Fix that and you may fix many of your ministry issues. Don’t fix it and you are in grave danger!

Comparing yourself to others. If you are remotely competitive, it is natural for you to measure your success as compared to others. My advice – just stop. God called you to be you and to do your work. You won’t be like anyone else.

No original ministry ideas. Why do you do ministry like you do? Odds are, you saw someone else do ministry that way. I would suggest you examine every ministry activity through this lens: God called you to do what only you can do. Perhaps God uses other people to give you good ideas but don’t get stuck there. God is quintessentially creative and He never runs out of fresh ideas. Just ask Him, dream big and take a risk.

Assuming a call is enough. If a stranger were to ask you about your qualifications for ministry, what would you say? Being called by God to do ministry is a foundational necessity but it is not enough. I believe that every Believer is called into some type of ministry but the vast majority of people never take the necessary steps to fully engage in ministry.

These are just a few simple ideas. We’ll be digging deeper on the topic in coming days. Please stay tuned. I’d love to hear your idea on other dangers for pastors.


Fight for Your Thanksgiving!

23316716_10155903720379214_4923807824414387164_nThanksgiving is a season when we can feel either very grateful or very guilty (we can feel guilty because we don’t feel grateful). We all know that we are supposed to be thankful for everything we have – all of God’s blessings – and the good things we enjoy in life. But what if we just don’t feel thankful? What if life is just too painful right now to express feelings of gratitude? If this is the case, I wouldn’t suggest that you share it with many people – they may not understand!

No one would argue that the Lord has been good. Even in difficult times, He cares for us, provides what we need and gets us through. When life is at its worst, God is at His best! So how can it be that anyone would not experience overwhelming feelings of gratitude for all that He has done and continues to do?

Let’s recognize the spiritual nature of gratitude and the impact that it can have. Thankfulness is more than warm, fuzzy feelings. Thankfulness is a gift from God that enables us to recognize blessings. He has provided this gift to every person who has reasoning skills – even unbelievers. But thankfulness is also a great spiritual weapon. For the Christian, an attitude of thankfulness serves the purpose of glorifying God. A truly grateful person is a spokesperson for the Lord. They freely share their feelings about all that the Lord has done for them. Others see and hear this praise and they are inspired to follow suit. So imagine the damage that can be done when a Christian loses their gratitude. Their voice of praise is silenced and countless other people are negatively influenced.

Thanksgiving is under attack. Clearly, the enemy of our souls has very effectively created an atmosphere of entitlement in our culture. He has convinced millions of unsuspecting souls that they deserve the good things that they enjoy. A partner to entitlement is greed. In our nation, it is common for people to, rather than being grateful for what they have, want more and more! If it were a mathematic equation, it may read something like this: Entitlement + greed = selfishness. It is nearly impossible for a selfish person to be grateful.

I want you to know the importance of your thankfulness. Gratitude is such a valuable weapon that the devil will do nearly anything to steal it from you. He has succeeded in many people. He wants to blind us to God’s goodness. He is trying to make us feel insecure. He attempts to make us hard-hearted. His goal is for us to become jealous, covetous, envious, and ungrateful. He knows this: Lack of gratitude means a lack of future blessings. The story of the 10 lepers in Luke 19:11-19 proves this fact. If Satan can make you ungrateful, he can prevent you from receiving many future blessings.

Thanksgiving doesn’t ignore the fact that we go through hard times. Certainly, we all suffer times of grief and mourning. Yet, these experiences do not negate God’s goodness. When a person expresses their sincere gratitude to the Lord, they are not in denial. They simply realize that the Lord has been good, and, in spite of their circumstances, He is worthy of our praise.

Allow me to encourage you – fight for your thanksgiving! Even if you don’t feel like it, express your gratitude. This is not hypocrisy nor is it simply positive thinking. It is your commitment to show appreciation to God beyond your emotions. Use the gift God has given you to thank Him! By doing this, you will: 1) Give praise to our worthy God, 2) defeat the enemy in your life, 3) influence others to be grateful and 4) develop the habit of thankfulness, opening the door to future blessings!

Happy Thanksgiving!


The Importance of a “Quality” Worship Experience

23316618_10155901198814214_4888853113538265950_nKid gloves: that’s what I’m using while addressing this issue. The risk is that readers will think I’m not very spiritual. Or perhaps they’ll think that I’m the self-appointed judge of worship. It may be said that I’m watering down the message of the Gospel. But please, hang with me.

I have the honor of visiting many churches. I’ve attended services in approximately 50 different churches over the last 15 months. So if you think I’m referring to your church in this post, odds are, you are incorrect. My unique position affords a great vantage point. I can observe the good and the bad and the in between in worship services in a variety of churches. I seek to make the most of the privilege that God has given me.

For the sake of clarification, I consider a “quality worship experience” as one in which God is glorified and worshippers are inspired to live their lives in a God-honoring way.

Let’s talk about the quality of our church music and the preaching and the flow of the service. What happens when the preacher loses track of his point? How about when the worship leader can’t carry a tune? Should the same lady who has been playing the piano for 39 years keep playing, even though she is a terrible piano player? Does it matter if the sound system feeds back or if the light bulbs are burned out or if the restroom smells? How about a dirty nursery or grass that needs to be cut or rude ushers?

When I visit a church and the person leading the service has put no forethought into it, it is apparent. A preacher that doesn’t prepare a logical flow in the sermon can’t hide behind enthusiasm. And singers that can’t sing are painful to endure!

Am I just being “carnal”?

How about this? God deserves our best! In worship, we perform for an audience of one – God! Unprepared preachers and musicians that can’t play do not qualify as our “best”. The Scriptures paint this portrait in Malachi 1:8, where worshippers were condemned for offering sick and weak sacrifices. The modern application involves us leading ministry with an “it doesn’t matter” attitude. Quality matters to God and it matters to other people. Therefore, it must matter to us.

Why should we expect people to support a worship service that is less than pleasing to God? I think that God may not be pleased by some of what we offer Him. If what we present at worship services causes people to want to plug their ears and run away, God may be doing the same thing.

Here are some practical ideas to improve our quality in worship:

  • Ask unbiased friends to offer suggestions on ways to improve. Don’t be overly sensitive. While people may be reticent to tell you what they think, they are thinking it for certain!
  • Watch yourself on video. If it’s painful for you, imagine how your weekly listeners must feel!
  • Allow plenty of preparation time. Procrastination is no excuse for poor preparation.
  • Discuss the service ahead of time with everyone who leads in the service. You aren’t programming the Holy Spirit out of the service; you are providing an atmosphere where He can move in an orderly fashion, as Scripture details.
  • Work on smooth translations. Jagged and awkward shifts between service elements are distracting. Basically this means, keep things moving without unnecessary dialogue and explanation.
  • If the music is lower quality than desired, utilize tracks or video worship. God can move through prerecorded music as well as through live music. In fact, removing the distractions of low quality music may free up the worshippers.
  • Train volunteers. Raise the standards. Don’t demand perfection but model excellence. People will follow your example.
  • Expect to improve. The longer you serve in ministry, the better you should be at it.
  • Most importantly, ask God to help you to get better at leading worship services.

You may assume that I am preferring large churches that have a lot of talent over small churches with fewer gifted people. I am not. But note, being small is no excuse for low quality. While smaller churches may require greater creativity, they can offer to the Lord something that brings Him honor – and edifies people.

Disclaimer: I am in no way referring to a performance-based approach. Church is not show business and we don’t need performers on the stage. We need women and men who are gifted, skilled and well-prepared to lead us in worship.

Think about it this way: Would you keep eating at a restaurant that serves bad tasting food? Would you let a stylist cut your hair if they don’t care enough to do their best? How about going to a doctor that didn’t prepare by studying medicine? Well, worship is more important than all of those things. Worship deserves our best!

Work to get better. Practice, prepare and pray!

It should go without saying, our best without God’s anointing results in nothing. But I believe that God desires to anoint our best, rather than our leftovers.

Church leaders: I challenge you – lead your next service through the eyes of a new worshipper or an unbeliever. Is there any reason for them to be inspired to return regularly?

Finally, the Bible focuses on leaders who were excellent. David was skilled. Ruth was recognized as a woman of excellence. Daniel possessed an excellent spirit. Paul was recognized as a great communicator. How dare we approach worship with a lackadaisical attitude?

Is it more godly to sing or preach poorly than to offer excellence to God? Then let’s give God nothing less than our best!

If I have inadvertently offended you, please accept my apology. In my attempt to increase our effectiveness I would prefer not to anger folks. But if I can inspire one person to raise the bar on their worship service experience, I will have succeeded.


5 Steps to Getting What You Want

22894146_10155869087324214_375210395447557660_nIf you find yourself thinking about meeting a goal or completing a project, read on.

While deciding what is a worthwhile goal in life can be difficult, it is oftentimes even more difficult to actually make that thing happen. This post is not intended to be a cure-all for people who are stuck in life. But if you need a boost to reach a goal, give the following a try.

  1. Identify: what is it you really want? Not something you think will make you happy, but what you want. This must be something that has meaning and value to you. (clue: What did God design for your life?) If you are wanting something that is damaging to yourself or someone else, your wishes are misguided. Try again.

Set a goal.

(Robert Rubin developed the idea of SMART Goals. Specific (simple, sensible, significant). Measurable (meaningful, motivating). Achievable (agreeable, attainable). Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based). Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive). You may read more here.

An example of a smart goal: “I want to complete a college degree within 5 years.”

  1. Pieces: what pieces must be put in place in order to make the above happen? These must be specific, action-oriented steps.

Example:

Enroll in college

Explore potential colleges and degree programs

Explore finances required

Graduate

Pay tuition

Discuss with family members who will be impacted

Talk to a college admissions department

Make application to the college(s) of choice

Start taking classes

List the necessary pieces, as best you can, that will move you toward your goal.

  1. Prioritize: decide which pieces are most important.

Example:

  1. Explore potential colleges and degree programs
  2. Discuss with family members who will be impacted.
  3. Talk to a college admissions department.

Etc.

You’ll never reach your goal if you can’t do the most important things first.

  1. Decide to act: when will you take the step? Until you commit to do it and follow through, everything is on hold.

Example:

I will explore colleges online today.

I will talk with my family tomorrow.

Talk to a college admissions department on Tuesday

Etc.

Until you take action, your goal is just a dream

  1. Now, repeat #’s 2-4 until you arrive at your destination.

Example:

Determine which pieces you must put into place

Prioritize the pieces

Act – put a piece in place and move forward

Continue this cycle until the goal is met and the degree is earned

We realize this is an over-simplification to reaching goals. However, it is a useful tool to get you moving forward. Give it a try with weight loss or spiritual development or a better marriage. I’d be interested to hear if it works for you.