The end is near!

bergens.jpgThe other night I sat with two year old grandson Elijah and watched the movie Trolls for the who-knows-how-many-th time. And we heard Branch warn everyone, “The Bergens are coming!” “Ahhh!”

Guess what? It’s that time again. The end of the world is coming. September 23. OMG in just a few days the planet Nibiru will collide with earth and it will all be over, according to David Meade!

Here are a few things to do in preparation:

Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:28 ESV).

Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes”(Matthew 24:45,46 ESV).

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith (Philippians 3:8,9 ESV).

You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming…since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him (2 Peter 3:11,12,14). 

The end is near? I say, “Finally. Come Lord Jesus! Bring it!” But I know it’s not the end. Just a few birth pangs. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).

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It’s time for confirmation classes!

ringing-alarm-clock-28496894It’s that time of year again. There must be some sort of internal alarm that goes off in the minds of parents who have children entering 7th grade. It’s not a bell or a chime, but a voice which insists, “You better get your child to confirmation class!”

Parents who were somewhat raised in the church, who attended classes leading up to their confirmation, may not have been especially faithful in bringing their own children to church or Sunday School. But come hell or high water, “You are going to confirmation class.”

So here is what I’ve been wondering. What does it do to a young person’s faith when Mom and Dad suddenly make you go to confirmation class? Or youth group. My youth leaders started off their year by asking those who came to the first meeting, “So why did you come tonight.” Some youth answered, “My mom made me come.” What will be their memories of youth group?

Do you have any idea what it’s like to face a room full of middle school youth whose faces broadcast, “I would rather be anywhere but here”? I have to get and keep their attention, earn and keep their trust, and build a pastoral relationship from scratch.

So basically, parents brought their kids to be baptized, stopped in from time to time to worship at Christmas and Easter, and now hope that I will be able to prepare their children to confess their faith and commit to being faithful unto death. That is a daunting task. To tell you the truth, I don’t know if I’m up to it.

Weeping and gnashing of teeth follow when I tell them they need to do sermon reports. Which means you have to come to church and listen to a sermon. Suddenly mom and dad have to get up and come for worship, too. Ouch. And there is memory work to do. What? Are you serious? Yes, I am.

This is when I am humbled and discover exactly where I rate in this world. If the coach says, “You have to be there,” you are there. If the band director says, “You have to be there,” you are there. If the scoutmaster say, “You have to be there,” you find a way to get there. If the dance teacher says, “You must be there,” you go. If the pastor says, “You must be there,” you say, “Well, the [coach, director, scoutmaster, teacher] said I have to go [to practice, to rehearsal, to class]. Sorry, I can’t come this week.”

Sigh. You have spent eleven years teaching your children by example that your faith is not really all that important to you. I thank you for your confidence in me. But I am also sorry; there is little I can do to undo that.

OK, this is not always the case. In fact, this year my three second-year students come from families who have been faithful in worship for years. I have known these young people since they were very young, and it is a joy to teach them, encourage them and learn from them as they boldly confess and live out their faith.

It’s not a perfect process, but I am so blessed to be a part of it!

 

“We don’t have any shakes.”

McDonald's Same Store Sales Up 7.1 Percent In JanuaryA few weeks ago I went to visit one of our members (and my friend) David, who has been homebound for a while dealing with aches and pains and cancer and some tough decisions. Before I headed out the door, someone said, “Take him a milkshake.” He hadn’t been eating well, liked shakes and could use the calories. Works for me. I like shakes, too!

There was a McDonald’s on the way to David’s house. Perfect. The drive-thru lines looked short, so I pulled in. One car ahead of me. Five minutes passed. No movement. One car. Patience is a virtue, I’m not in a hurry, no problem. Finally they move ahead and I pull up to the speaker. Continue reading

Call me, maybe…

chatting-tin-can-stringYesterday, as many pastors do, I was out visiting people who were in the hospital. It was a busier afternoon than usual, as I had five people to visit in three different area hospitals. I drove about a hundred miles getting around to everyone. The good news: everyone was recovering and improving and looking forward to going home soon. The not-so-good news: the effort it took to find out who needed a visit and where they were. Spoiler alert: this is a rant, so you can decide if you want to read further or not.
Continue reading

Don’t do anything!

A few weeks ago when I too a walk through the Indian Trails Sports Complex with my dog, Samson, I couldn’t help but notice how negative all the signage is. Take a look and see if you agree.

No pics collage

Not very welcoming, is it? It’s all negative and frankly, a bit depressing. I know you have to have rules and people need to know the rules and follow the rules, but are’t we getting carried away? I only too a few pictures. My tax money was used to purchase many, many more signs like these.

I’ve walked through the complex many times and never really noticed the signs. Do you think anyone really pays attention to them?

Appreciation

 

It's that time of year again. pastor appreciation month. In a little over a week, it will be pastor appreciation day, October 13. I am not sure who started this movement, but I suspect it was someone in the greeting card business.

I'll be frank. I've got mixed feelings. Of course I like to be appreciated. Who doesn't? Yet at the same time, I'm conflicted. There have been many Sundays when I have fervently prayed that people not be impressed with me, but with God and all He's done for us. The very nature of a pastor's job means being in the spotlight, but the whole time, I am trying to get you to appreciate the Son of God to whom we say we ascribe all the glory and honor.

Plus, the whole idea of appreciation is expressed in some very unusual ways. Cards, gift cards, keychains and the always popular religious themed tie. There are some other lists out there with ideas, but most still miss the mark.

Want to make your pastor feel appreciated?

  • Show up. We pastors spend a lot of time preparing sermons and bible classes for you. It kind of defeats the purpose if you aren't there to hear them.
  • Suit up. When you are asked to take a position of leadership in the church, head up a ministry, or help out, say, “Yes.” We pastors spend much time equipping you for ministry. It's not encouraging at all when person after person says, “No.”
  • Speak up. You have something on your mind? Tell me. Ask me. Challenge me. Don't assume I know. I am terrible at reading minds. And don't try to get to me through someone else, especially my wife. I'd really appreciate that.
  • Look up. Hey, I am a pastor, so I have to throw out a bible passage. How about Colosians 3:1 “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Develop a vibrant relationship with Jesus, and I will feel like my work has not been in vain.

I know that not everyone will appreciate these comments, but it's my blog and I'll rant if I want to. It's just some food for thought. I'll try and be a little less cynical tomorrow.

 

“Why I quit my church.”

I quitThat’s the title of a book, article, blog post or email you will rarely if ever read. And that’s just a reality pill I sometimes have to swallow.

I began thinking about this just a few months ago when I got a one line email from members of our church reading, “We will not be attending anymore.” That’s it. No explanations. No conversations. No warning. And I had just seen them in worship a few Sundays before.

Earlier in ministry I would have gone into panic mode, thinking, “What did I say? What didn’t I say? What did someone else say? What if all the families start leaving?” But with a few years experience under my belt and a calmer spirit, I simply picked up the phone, called them, and left a message, saying that I’d like to talk to them. Their response? They resent the email, thinking that I hadn’t gotten it. I guess there wouldn’t be a conversation.

Hmm. Just like that. As I mentioned above it happens from time to time. Sometimes there is a little more information, like, “Well, we wanted to try something different.” Or “We really feel led to look for another church.” Once I got a “I’m not ready to talk about it yet.” But usually all you get is silence.

So to get some perspective, I thought about some of the members we’ve gotten from other churches. One family came because they wanted a later worship time. Another needed a cooler room. Another had friends at the church. And I know that none of them had a conversation with their pastor. They just started shopping at a different store…I mean, worshiping at a different church.

I also had some good friends tell me that sometimes, God wants or needs that family at a different church. They were being prepared at your church to be a much-needed blessing elsewhere. I kind of like that.

If I weren’t a pastor and attended a church, what would I do in their shoes? I might want to explain my decision. I might avoid a conversation. I might hide behind a generic email. I might want the freedom to walk away, to try something new, or make a change.

In any event, I’ve learned not to take it too personally. The church is fluid around the edges, with people coming and going all the time for all sorts of reasons. If I miss them, then they will be a blessing to someone else, and that is a good thing.

What’s the best way to quit your church?

Repost: I’m not giving up anything for Lent

(Originally posted February 20, 2010)

That’s right. I”m not giving up anything for Lent. Zip. Zero. Nada. Zilch. Over the last few years I’ve heard much more about giving something up for Lent than ever. For some reason it has seen a resurgence not only among Christians, but in the secular world as well. On one popular afternoon talk show in Orlando, an avowed atheist and an individual from a Jewish background were discussing what they would give up for Lent. It seems that the practice has gone viral.

I have a problem with the practice on several levels. First of all, if you are going fast, even if just from one particular food or activity, you aren’t supposed to advertise it on social media or talk about it among your friends. Jesus said that if you were going to fast, it was something between you and God. You were to go about your day as if everything were normal. If you’re going to give up something for Lent and then whine about it for the next 38 days on Facebook, I’m going to block you until after Easter.

Next, God’s not impressed when people fast but then turn around and treat each other like dirt. Read Isaiah 58. The kind of fasting God’s interested in is one that helps other people, especially those who are hurting and going without some of the basics of life. When people who have little interest in church or ministry decide to fast, it means nothing. Why bother?

What do you think of this Lenten prayer by Christian Sine?

We have chosen to fast

Not with ashes but with actions

Not with sackcloth but in sharing

Not in thoughts but in deeds

We will give up our abundance

To share our food with the hungry

We will give up our comfort

To provide homes for the destitute

We will give up our fashions

To see the naked clothed

We will share where others hoard

We will free where others oppress

We will heal where others harm

Then God’s light will break out on us

God’s healing will quickly appear

God will guide us always

God’s righteousness will go before us

We will find our joy in the Lord

We will be like a well watered garden

We will be called repairers of broken walls

Together we will feast at God’s banquet table

Rather than giving something up, maybe we could start doing something new for Lent, something that makes God’s love real. Who knows? After forty days, it might become a habit.

 

It’s harder to come back than I thought

Ed Stetzer has written an interesting article for Q ‘How Christian Consumers Ruin Pastors and Cheat the Mission of God’. I have often struggled with those folks who simply come to church for a product or service, not unlike taking your car to an auto mechanic or hiring a contractor to work on your home. It could be a baptism, wedding, funeral,counseling or some other type of inspirational entertainment. We pastors step in it all the time, willingly providing what we think people are looking for, fearful of what will happen if we do not continually attract and retain an influx of new people at church. How effective and healthy can ministry be if that’s the model?

In retrospect, it was so good to get away to Haiti for nine days. Even though it was an intense, tiring week, the only expectation was that I be a pastor. “Do justice…love kindness…walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Help people, show compassion, pray and preach the word. No meetings, few demands, and countless opportunities to proclaim the gospel in words and actions.

You get spoiled real quick. It’s freeing to not be hounded by time and schedules. So when you get back to the real world, it’s hard — real hard — to take seriously some of the things you used to spend time and energy on. Like meetings that accomplish little if anything. Complaints and concerns about our facilities. Shopping and travel plans for Christmas. A whole bunch of people who live in tents in Haiti, including many of our friends, are now in the path of a hurricane in the Caribbean. Suddenly, it’s real hard to focus on that other stuff. And maybe that’s a good thing.