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Satan Thrives in the Past

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Satan does some of his finest work in our memories. Well, at least in my memories. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m sort of unique in that I am constantly hitting the rewind button and replaying my failures and mistakes. God knows that there’s plenty to choose from. It’s those solitaire moments when Satan is at his best, and I’m at my worst.

Of course, we’re talking about regret here. What I wish I would have done. What I wish I hadn’t done. What I wish I would have known. What I wish I wouldn’t have said. What I wish I would have said. It seems like I’ve got a long list for each category. Just in case you’re a little more like me than what I figured, maybe the short version of my list will encourage you a little.

  • I wish that I hadn’t taken so long to mature emotionally.
  • I wish that I would have taken my undergrad college years more seriously.
  • I wish I wouldn’t have borrowed so much money to renovate that house.
  • I wish I could have stayed longer at the churches that I’ve served.

Okay, I think that’s enough. I’m sure you get the idea. As I sit here thinking and writing, I’ve begun to realize how troubling living in the past is – especially the past that we wish we could take a mulligan on. I can only think of one good thing that comes out of reliving  my mistakes and failures: learning from them. Sometimes thinking about an event, conversation or decision just one time (right after the fact) doesn’t give us enough of an opportunity to process it and learn from it. Sometimes we need to let some time pass before we’re able to accurately reflect on the past. But other than this one benefit, I can think of nothing else positive that comes from laboring in the past.

On the other hand, I can think of more than a few bad things that does to me.

  1. Pulls my attention away from what’s most important right now; like my relationships with God, my wife, my kids and all the people in my life that love me. The more time I spend on the negative means I am devoting less time to what could be positive in my life.
  2. Satan uses these thoughts to eat away at my self-esteem and self-confidence. That’s important to and for everyone – regardless of your work or family situation. But I can say for certain that as a minister/church leader, it’s an absolute career killer. If I lose confidence in myself then it will reflect in my teaching, preaching and relationships in the church. Very few people are going to be interested or able to follow someone who isn’t convicted, passionate and sure of what he’s “selling”.
  3. Not only does it pull my attention away from God (like I mentioned in the first point), but it also wears down and strips away the fabric of my relationship with God. This is kind of a no-brainer, it’s not scriptural to live in the past. Take for example the teaching from the Prophet Jeremiah.

31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. 33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will allknow Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34

It’s not real hard for me to see that this timeless scripture applies to me as well. It such a refreshing thought to consider how I spend A LOT more time considering my failures and mistakes than what God does. Knowing that his is the only opinion that really counts, that seems kind of silly.

It helps me to admit that I have walked through more valleys filled with self-doubt than I care to remember. I know many others have as well. So I write this with the sincere desire that you would come to understand with just a little more clarity that God loves you dearly, forgives the penitent and longs for all his children to find the peace that comes only from knowing him.

May God bless and keep you in his warmth of his arms. Amen.

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Dealing With Criticism

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I rarely feel totally comfortable and qualified to share my opinion on a subject. But if I was ever going to feel like I has something worthwhile to offer it would be this on handling criticism. That’s not because I’m an expert either. I’ve just gotten this one wrong so much that I’m able to spot when somethings off. Not being able to handle criticism and conflict was the cause of my failure in ministry on my first go around. It took six years of work by God (through secular management) to get me to the point where I could be most effective for Him in the Church. I’m now able to look back on those three years of failure and six years 0f growing and see His hand-prints all over my life. Here’s a few things I’ve picked up along the way. Though they are not in order of importance, they really do flow in order from one to the next.

First, even if the criticism is meant to be personal, don’t take it personally. NOTHING positive will result from that, ever. If you receive criticism (especially as a leader) it’s most likely that you’re being criticized for what you stand for or a decision that you’ve made. That’s not personal. That type (of criticism) is directly related to your role or position that you occupy.

Second, don’t get defensive. Another way of saying this – don’t build up a wall, set up camp behind it and start tossing hand grenades over it. This will lead to immediate conflict and potential damage to the relationship. Defensiveness is really a sign of immaturity and lack of accountability. Those are traits that we should definitely avoid.

Third, LISTEN to what the other person has to say. By actively listening to the persons’ concerns (nice word for criticism) you are validating them and communicating to them that their opinion matters to you and that they matter to you. And in the process you are earning respect and building trust.

Fourth, sit in their seat and see it from their perspective. Chances are, you’ll realize that they really do have something to offer you in terms of improving and growing. It’s rare that a person is just blowing hot air, wanting to be difficult and really has nothing valuable to offer. Most of the time, people have valid concerns and by listening to them you can learn, grow and improve yourself and likely the situation or organization that you’re both involved in.

Fifth, be grateful that the person chose to bring their criticism to you. Don’t think for a moment that Satan wasn’t encouraging them to take it to everyone else but you. Now, instead of just being part of a problem that you may know nothing about, you can be part of a solution to one. That’s definitely something to be grateful for. Don’t forget to express your gratitude to the person. If the person is there with pure motives, this type of reaction will win them over. If their motives are questionable, this type of reaction will blow them away (because they are probably ready for a fight).

Sixth, and most important, pray together. For all my deficiencies and failures, I’ve never once made things worse by asking the other person to pray with me.

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Churches and their Bank Accounts

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The more I learn about God’s revealed will, the more I realize how little I know. Every day I am overwhelmed by the depth of God. It seems like an everyday occurrence that I come across an issue or question that stumps me. Sometimes I think I’ve got a line on figuring it out and other times I just sit and scratch my head. Here’s one that has me puzzled: congregations, their bank accounts and net worth. That’s such a complicated and difficult subject, mostly because there’s so little specific direction or information from the Bible.

One thing about this topic that seems a little “strange” is how one-sided it is. I’ve seen many congregations that held large amounts of land and a substantial amount in their bank account. But I literally can’t recall a congregation that purposefully kept a specific low amount in their bank account.

I’m no wise old sage on this subject (or any other for that matter) but I’ve got to say it seems a little “off” for a congregation to hold on to a high net worth just for the sake of having it. Don’t get me wrong. I completely understand why this is the case. Take my congregation for example. I wouldn’t say that we’re sitting on a lot in our account, but we’re not hurting. And it seems like we tend to lean towards a more conservative approach with our money. That’s not a bad thing. But I think we’re more likely to err conservatively because there have been some awfully lean years in the past. I once heard one of our older members refer back to months when we had to choose whether to pay the electric bill or the mortgage. That was probably an exaggeration. But you get the point.

On the flip side of this (in terms of motivation), there have been congregations that bought land adjacent to theirs just because it was for sale. They didn’t have a specific need for it. Nor did they have any plans to use it. They just bought so that they wouldn’t be boxed-in or landlocked. Now, I don’t mean to give my congregation a pass and be judgmental of on another one. But in a case like this it would seem like  the motivation does matter. Is that being a good steward with God’s resources? I struggle to say yes. Is it even being strategic? No, not really. If there was a reason to make the purchase and a plan behind it, then that would be something else. But to do it just because . . . that feels wrong.

So, there’s a couple of examples. Both happen to be actual real-life examples. You’ll have to make your own determination. But here’s my take on the issue. First, I think it’s necessary to spend money wisely. When the decision is made to make a purchase or support a ministry, do your homework. Know what you’re buying and what kind of return on investment you expect. Second, it’s foolish not to keep some emergency reserve money in the account. Rainy days do come. And it’s certainly nice to own an umbrella. Third, we’ve got to be purposeful when we plan for rainy days. At some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, faith needs to rear its head and be a deciding factor on decisions. What do you think would please God more: a congregation that has been able to save and accumulate 100k in their account, or a congregation that stopped saving when they got to 25k and started giving the money away to further the cause of Christ? You decide.

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What Should I Wear to Church?

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Help! I don’t know what to wear to Church. Ever said those words? I have, and I’ve heard them plenty of times. Why the hang up with clothes? I ask that sincerely and not trying to be sarcastic. Why are we so dysfunctional when it comes to what we’re going to wear to Church? That’s been on my mind lately. Probably a little more than it should.

There’s two answers to that question, although there might be others I haven’t thought of. First, we worry about how we look all the time! We worry about how we look too much of the time. We are constantly worrying about how we look. We idolize looks! It would be only natural then for us to act on Sunday morning the same way we act on Monday morning, Tuesday morning, Wednesday morning, etc., etc. Is that too harsh? Is my paint brush a little too wide? Maybe. But not by much if it is.

Here’s the second reason, as far as I can tell. We’ve been trained and programmed to “dress up” for Church. Every society has cultural norms. And one of our norms is that we get dressed up for weddings, funerals and to go to Church. But why? That’s the question I’m most curious in. Here’s a more specific question. If everything we do when it comes to our faith is supposed to come from the Bible then where does it talk about what we wear to worship? Well, it doesn’t actually – at all, ever. What’s more, there’s really no substantial examples in the extra-Biblical literature dealing with it either. So if it’s not in the Bible, should we (the Church) be upholding cultural norms? Hmm . . . yes and no.

Let me go ahead and let my cat out of the bag. This issue has become a sticking point for me. I am biased on this one. And as much as I try to stay objective, I’m not. I am strongly biased and slanted . . . towards the Bible. So that having been said, here’s a few thoughts on this issue (and it is an issue, at least in some churches). Because God never came down on one side or the other then I have no right to either. In life I always try to stay on God’s side – even when He doesn’t pick one. And since He said nothing about it, then I won’t either. That means that I don’t have the right to tell someone else how to dress, period. Of course there’s a common-sense caveat. This is assuming we’re not talking about sin (modesty, being a blatant temptation for others, etc).

Now let me switch sides and talk out of the other side of my mouth. As a preacher, I realize that there are culturally norms out there. And one of those cultural norms is that we dress up for Church – especially the preacher. If it were up to me, I would wear sandals, jeans and an un-tucked button-down shirt with sleeves rolled up. Why, because that’s what I wear every day. It’s what makes me comfortable.  But the catch is, it’s not up to me. It’s up to my Brothers and Sisters who I love more than my personal freedoms. It’s up to the non-Christian that I have never met who might step into a Church building for the time in years.

When I became a follower of Christ, I chose to become a slave to Christ. I also chose to die to myself so that I can truly live for Him. So when it comes to issues like this (issues that don’t matter to HIM), I can’t afford to forget that I am still His slave, called to do His work and help as many of His children find their way home. See this whole thing is a matter of spiritual maturity. (Put your big boy pants on for a moment). Anyone who demands that someone should or should not wear particular clothing is adjudicating their own personal opinions and preferences and as a result are demonstrating a lack of spiritual maturity. Likewise, anyone who says, “I can wear whatever I want” is also demonstrating a lack of spiritual maturity. In both instances, the person is demonstrating that they are slaves to themselves by seeking after their own interests – instead of the interests of the one who they claim to be a servant of. So, I suppose that also makes both people a hypocrite.

While in the middle of his argument on principles of conscience, Paul writes this:

For not one of us lives for himself, and not one of us dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord; therefore, whether we live or we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God . . . Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this – not to put an obstacle or stumbling block in a brother’s way.              – Romans 14:7-10, 13

So here’s my bottom line on all this. I’m going to wear a tie and usually a jacket when I preach. Not because I like to or want to. But because there’s a chance that it might bother someone if I don’t. And I am committed to never knowingly taking a chance on being a stumbling block to a brother in Christ. Likewise, if someone chooses to wear jeans and a t-shirt to worship, I’m going to shake their hand, give them a hug and thank God that they made the decision to be there with me to worship of God together.

More of Him and less of me will take me to where I want to be.

Which Side Should I Choose?

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I often find myself thinking about and consequently writing about topics that have frequently been divisive and a source of arguments and contention for Christians. In many cases I have lived on both sides of many of these issues. When I was younger, I leaned toward “conservative” principles just for the sake of being “conservative.” I was taught by well-intentioned men that being conservative meant being right and being liberal meant being wrong.

As I’ve gotten older, my thoughts on that have changed. I haven’t “flipped” over to the “other side.” It’s just a matter of changing the bullseye that I was aiming for. I think I was just aiming for the wrong one. Now, I just try to be Biblical. That’s the bullseye I’m trying to hit now. If that turns out to be “conservative” – then great. If it turns out to be “liberal,” well that’s fine as well.

I recently heard a man boast from the pulpit that he was proud of being conservative. I wonder why? That’s a man-made term with man-made inferences. God never said to be conservative, or liberal. He just said to be Godly. To be Holy. To be Christ-like. For some reason we have twisted that somewhat and added our own 2 cents into it. It’s those 2 cents that we argue about and divide ourselves over.

I was recently thinking about the meanings and definitions of these two terms. I think it’s kind of funny the way all this plays out. I could be wrong, but the way I understand it is that the term conservative came from people trying to conserve the original text and practice of the Bible. And on the flip-side, the term liberal came from the idea that people took liberties with the text with the Bible and made it’s net wider than it actually was. That makes sense. And in that way, (in my opinion) being a conservative is right and liberal is wrong. But you know what’s ironic about that, based off that definition some of the more conservative brothers and sisters I know are the most liberal.

Here’s what I mean. I know Christians who will insist on a dress code for worship. Yet the Bible says nothing about what we wear. Others will condemn their Christian family for not meeting on Sunday nights in a building. Yet the Bible says nothing about meeting for a second time on Sunday night. Others get dogmatic about which translation to use, yet it’s absolutely perfectly clear Jesus and Paul used both versions of the OT that were available to them. (I’d love to explain this if you don’t know what I’m talking about here).

Isn’t this taking liberties with the Bible by adding our 2 cents in when God never asked for our loose change? It’s kind of funny that the people who would proudly boast of their conservatism are actually undercover liberals. As for me, I’ll let others decide what label I should wear. I’m just going to focus on hitting God’s bullseye.

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The Shame of Sin

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Where’s the shame of sin? It seems like it keeps becoming harder and harder to find. Know what I mean? How often do you see people involve themselves in sin, in behavior that alienates them from God, and not so much as wink at it? Paul really warned against this when he wrote his letter to the Church in Ephesus. Notice what he said in chapter four.

17 With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

It can be real discouraging to see this so frequently, especially with younger Christians. And it really seems noticeable in settings like Facebook. I can’t remember how often I see kids use bad language or take God’s name in vain (0n FB) – just as a common part of their language. It makes me wonder where the shame is? These are kids who have been taught to honor God and know that type of behavior is wrong. So why is it so easy? Well, Paul gave us the answer. When our hearts become hardened against God we lose our sense of shame.

So what’s the answer to this? Well, sin is never an easy problem. But us Moms and Dads have got to become more involved in the lives of our kids. Each of those same kids who constantly use bad language on Facebook have parents that are frequently on Facebook. Do they see what their kids are doing and not respond? It certainly appears that way. Perhaps the parents are struggling with hardened hearts as well. Let’s be on the look out for each other; and not afraid of holding each other accountable when soul’s are in danger. Would you rather take a chance on hurting someones’ feelings or take a chance on Satan gaining control of their life? You choose.

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Vision and Church: Is it Important?

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I have often heard the saying that “if you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.”  Vision is 110% , must have, crucial for any organization. It’s not that you’ll fail without it – you just won’t succeed because you won’t have a target that you’re aiming for! All successful companies understand this idea extremely well. For example, look at Target and Wal-Mart. Both companies are in the same industry. Both companies appear to be competitors, but neither internally considers the other as a competitor. Why? Because they have a specific vision that they are trying to attain. The leaders of each company understand exactly what they want to look like. That’s their vision and there is 110% clarity. They don’t want to look the same. Look at the customers who shop in each of those stores. They don’t look the same, and that’s not an accident. Those companies know what they want to do and they excel at doing it.

Now what about your Church? What’s your vision? What are you aiming for? What do you want to look like? Have your leaders ever talked about it publicly? If you’re a leader do you know what you’re aiming for? If so, have you told the people who are doing the aiming and shooting? It would be good for them to know, don’t you think? These are great questions that, for too many Churches and Church leaders, have not been asked.

Here’s what happens when a Church doesn’t have a vision – when a Church doesn’t know what it’s aiming for. First, it becomes a self-serving group of people. In other words, it becomes a group of people who maintain the aquarium instead of fish for men. Why? Because as humans our natural tendency is to look inward instead of outward. If we’re not pointed in a specific direction then we’ll simply choose our own; and it will be inward. Second, a Church without a vision is one that goes through the motions and gets buried into deep spiritual ruts that are terribly difficult to get out of. Without a vision, organizations simply look to maintain the status quo. On the other hand, there is one huge plus for a Church that has a vision (other than knowing what you’re aiming for). It’s simply this, the people are motivated and energized. When you walk into the building or are around the people there’s an energy and excitement that wouldn’t otherwise exist. When the Church leaders actively and proactively communicate with clarity the group’s vision then people get excited; and excitement is contagious!

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