I’VE BEEN EVERYWHERE

As I approach the one year anniversary of stepping down as Pastor of Discovery Christian Church I am reminded of the Johnny Cash song “I’ve Been Everywhere.” Jan and I have worshiped with a variety of churches across the country in Tennessee, Texas, and California. I have preached as a guest in several churches ranging from a cathedral where I wore a robe to a rented classroom where worshipers sat in chairs behind tables. Admittedly I have missed two Sundays—one when I was so sick I couldn’t get out of bed and one when we were traveling and couldn’t.

People go to church to worship the Lord, hear His Word, and spend time with His people. We were in churches with thousands and churches with under 30 and all sizes in between. There were a variety of styles of worship, and Jan and I were able to truly worship every place we have been. We discovered we could do that regardless of the setting, the style of music, or the preacher. Our worship has been enriched by the variety. But there were a few things I have been thinking about with regard to my own preferences.

Some worship leaders think you have to be standing to worship through singing. I love worship singing even when I am not singing, but standing the whole time doesn’t contribute to my worship. After standing for a song or two my preference would be to sit down and sing and stand again later. And all the songs don’t have to be loud and upbeat. We can worship meaningfully with a quieter and slower song—preferably sitting down.

Some pastors think they have to preach longer and say more than as a worshiper I want. I want significant Bible teaching applied to my life, but I don’t want to sit and listen for more than 40 minutes and would prefer around 30 minutes. Some Bible teachers try to cover too much material or in their teaching keep repeating themselves. It’s better to quit with the people wanting more than to go on and on with people wondering when it will be over.

Refreshments after worship add to the time of fellowship for those who are interested and enjoy them, but not everyone is interested in hanging around. Some people have plans and others simply do not like to eat what is provided or particularly want to talk. Invite worshipers to stay and eat, but don’t twist any arms as it may be counterproductive.

It has been a great 51 weeks for us and we have enjoyed everywhere we have been. We look forward with great anticipation to what the Lord has in store for us this next year in terms of where we worship and where I will be privileged to “guest preach.” And I’ll be fine if we stand the whole time we sing, if the pastor preaches for 40 minutes or more, and even if we are pressed to stay for donuts!

If you think others would enjoy this post share it and I welcome comments below.

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DON’T YOU CARE?

In Mark 4:38 Jesus’ disciples asked Him a stunning question: “Don’t you care?” The actual question is longer than that, but that’s the gist of it. “Don’t you care?” is a question a lot of people still ask the Lord today. Even if you have never verbalized it, I’m sure there have been times when you thought it.

This question was asked in the evening following a day of teaching. In the midst of a trip crossing the lake a severe storm hit raising concern with the disciples that the boat might sink. But Jesus was asleep because He was tired. If you ever wonder if Jesus can identify with your fatigue the answer is yes.

Mark tells us they woke Jesus and asked, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” There is a subtle tone of irritation and reproach in what they ask. Jesus’ response to their question was twofold. He calmed the storm and then asked, “Why are you so afraid?  Do you still have no faith?” Jesus wasn’t miffed that His disciples woke Him, He was disappointed they didn’t have more faith.

This exchange between Jesus and His disciples challenges us to think about our faith. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of faith in the Christian life. Hebrews 11:6 declares, “It is impossible to please God without faith.  Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him” (NLT). Not only are we saved by faith, we are also to live by faith.

I don’t think it is a stretch to suggest that storms are a part of life. Pastor Rick Warren notes storms “are inevitable, they are unpredictable, and they are impartial.” Being a follower of Jesus does not guarantee cloudless skies or smooth sailing in life. We are going to face storms.

Just like the disciples we sometimes wonder if Jesus really cares. We feel Jesus has let us down. God does not always perform miracles to rescue us from life’s storms. And there are false teachers who wrongly suggest that if we had more faith we would be saved from the storms; we would be healed, our marriage would not fail, our financial woes would be resolved, or our child would not suffer.  But that is cruel and not what the Bible teaches. Real faith trusts God in the storm no matter what the outcome.

How much faith is enough? I’m not sure. Probably like you, I’m still trying to cultivate and increase my faith. One thing we might note, there is no record of Jesus ever telling anyone they had too much faith! I suspect you and I both could use a little more. The point is that Jesus can be trusted; especially in the storms of life.

I read that one day Mark Twain and a friend walked outside in the rain.  The friend asked him, “Do you think it will stop?” Twain responded, “It always does.” That’s true with any storm. You’ve got to go through it, but it’s not going to last forever.  Eventually, or ultimately, it will end.

Feel free to share this article with others and I welcome comments below.

(Adapted from Chapter 4 “Don’t You Care?” in my forthcoming book Questioning Jesus: Considering His Responses.)

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I DON’T KNOW

During my early years as a youth minister I didn’t have the maturity to say it, but it wasn’t long before I learned to answer some questions “I don’t know.” In the intervening years I have become more and more comfortable admitting I don’t know everything some people think I should know. No Christian, whether a leader or not, should be embarrassed to honestly say “I don’t know.”

While this kind of honesty is appropriate in general, I especially have in mind biblical and theological questions. I was reminded of this recently when I read a bold statement by Eugene Peterson, “Sometimes the Bible raises more questions than it answers!” That’s true, and it should not surprise us. After all, we believe the Bible is the Word of God. We will never completely understand God. Theologians call it the incomprehensibility of God.

I always smile when I am reminded of the standard graduate theological degree many Christian leaders go to seminary to earn. It’s called a Master of Divinity. If there ever was an example of an oxymoron in terms of graduate degrees, the Master of Divinity is it. To those who think they have mastered God and completely understand Him I recommend an old book by J.B. Phillips first published in 1952 entitled Your God Is too Small.

A couple of verses, one each from the Old and New Testaments, lend support to what I am saying. Deuteronomy 29:29a affirms, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God,” and II Peter 3:16b observes about the Apostle Paul’s writing, “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand.”

I am not suggesting there is not a great deal we can and do understand about God and the Bible. Nor am I implying we should not have firm convictions about what is clear in God’s revelation to us. I am simply saying that we don’t know everything we would like to know and it seems obvious to me that we should admit it when that is the case. Not only that, I have always thought that when we admit we don’t know something it adds credibility to the things we say we do know.

A quote attributed to Mark Twain makes a lot of sense to me: “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” We should certainly put into practice those parts of the Bible we do understand and continue wrestling with and thinking about those parts we don’t understand. And we should be willing to say “I don’t know.”

By the way, I not only have a Master of Divinity, I also have a Master of Theology and a Master of Arts in Religion. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask. And don’t be surprised if my response is “I don’t know.”

If you think others would enjoy this go ahead and share it. And I welcome comments below.

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HANG IN THERE!

In my interaction with others I often say or hear “Hang in there!” In that phrase I intend or receive a word of encouragement and hope. There is a verse written to believers by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 6:9 that essentially says the same thing, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). It must be possible to become weary in doing good or the Apostle would not have given this note of encouragement and hope. Right?

But realize the encouragement is not “Do not become weary.” All of us get tired physically, mentally, and emotionally. Jesus got tired, and Jesus rested. And when we get tired we need rest. The fourth commandment is about having a balance in our lives in terms of work, worship, and rest.

The encouragement is “Do not become weary in doing good.” The reality is that we sometimes get discouraged in doing good. And I don’t know which comes first. Do we get discouraged and then become weary? Or do we become weary and then get discouraged? Probably both at times. Satan’s favorite tool may be discouragement.

It’s possible that discouragement will lead to giving up. The danger is to think, “I am tired of trying, nothing seems to be happening, I’m not making any progress—I should quit.” We either think it is too hard or taking too long and we are tempted to throw in the towel. And that’s when we need to hear “Hang in there!”

Paul gives us an exciting promise in this verse: “at the proper time we will reap a harvest.” The law of the harvest says we will eventually reap based on what we have planted. If we plant seeds of doing good we can look forward to and expect a harvest. This verse is not the promise of a problem free life or wealth and riches if we do good, but a promise of God’s blessing.

To “hang in there” we need the quality of perseverance. In his book Holy Sweat Tim Hansel writes about perseverance, “Most of the time it involves an amount of courage that we would never believe we could have. It’s a unique combination of patience plus endurance. It’s what makes life worthwhile in spite of adversity.” And it calls us to lean on and draw strength from the Lord.

We may be facing some challenges right now that are making us weary and discouraged. Some may have even considered giving up. But God hasn’t given up on us. “At the proper time we will reap a harvest.” Hang in there!

I welcome comments below. (Also, if you think others would enjoy this article share it.)

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