Favorite Pastor Appreciation Gifts

October is Pastor Appreciation month!  It is an incredible blessing.  My church is especially good at appreciating its pastors.  We get everything from monetary gifts to meals to cards to toys.  I feel tremendously blessed to have received the extra blessings from the people of First Baptist Church of Brazoria.  Seriously, they are awesome people who love us as staff.  There are however a few gifts that have brought tears to my eyes when I have received them.  While I feel more loved with each card/gift/affirmation I have received, there are a few that I thought you might be encouraged to hear about.

The All-Nighter:

I don’t know if this person intended this to be a gift to me, but it certainly was.  They came to my house at 9pm on a Sunday night, and asked me to teach them straight through Genesis.  We sat at my kitchen table and I taught this young person straight through Genesis.  At 1:55am we were in chapter 41 and were both quite tired.  So we went as fast as we could to chapter 50.  We finished at about 2:15 Monday morning.  This was truly a blessing to me!  To know that people care about the Word of God and value me as a teacher is both a tremendous joy and a great honor.  Further, that someone would sacrifice sleep to let me have the privilege of studying with them was amazing.

The Sermon Notes:

I once had a student give me copies of their notes of my sermons through a book. (I teach through books of the Bible verse by verse, so you can literally just follow along through a book.)  This gift touched my heart in a way that few others have.  To know that someone took this great amount of time to be so attentive to the efforts I had put into preparing the sermons was a true blessing.  One of the cool things in those notes was the application parts.  The person had added personal application that I did not necessarily state out-loud.  Little notes like, “call so and so to confess,” and, “remember the cross when faced with death.”  (If you weren’t aware of how we teach the youth here at FBCB here’s a link to the sermons in 1 John, Exodus, I Corinthians, and Romans: fbcbrazoria.podbean.com.  Just click the book category on the right of the page.)

Everything Already Set Up:

I remember coming in on a Wednesday and finding the entire room set just like I wanted on a Wednesday night!  You see, there are little things that I like to have set up a certain way.  Things like a clean stage, all excess papers thrown out or hidden, sometimes tables and chairs, microphones in the right places, power-point presentations done.  One Wednesday I walked in and everything was cleaned, tables and chairs were set out with bowls on the tables for chips (that were in the bag on each table ready to be poured in) and smaller bowls for salsa, the salsa was ready, the lights were set up correctly, even the power point was done!  I remember thinking, “it’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon, who beat me here!”  That person then brought me a sonic coke and told me, “just chill before teaching tonight.”  I remember thinking, “wow, this must be how famous speakers feel.  To get to just walk in and teach, wow!”

The Random Books and Teas

I drink about 5 cups of hot tea a day.  This wouldn’t be an odd statement were I a British national.  However, I am a United States national who lives in Texas.  So for me to drink tea that is not 90 percent sugar and wrestling with about 2 pounds of ice is abnormal.  People who take the time to know me often buy me teas.  I love the thoughtfulness!  (Just for future reference, I love black teas… not crazy about fruity stuff but still can enjoy it.)  I also love to read.  I read about one book a week, they’re not always long or deep books but about one a week is right.  People sometimes find a book they think I would like, and they give it to me.  Sometimes the book is great, other times… not so much.  But, I really appreciate these acts of love even the books that are not so great.

Beautiful Bibles and Artwork:

One thing that most people don’t know about me is that I love art!  I was an art minor for a time in college and I delight in beauty.  I have had people give me art works that they have completed and books of beauty that they have purchased.  These gifts speak to a knowledge of me that is uncommon.  Not everyone knows how much I enjoy art and I don’t often get the opportunity to display my own creative bent.  I have also received two Bibles that are just beautiful.  Both were unique translations that I did not already have (a rare thing to find for a pastor and a feat that takes extreme effort) and both were personalized by the people who bought them for me.

Random Anonymous Pizza on Wednesday:

Just a few weeks ago, someone randomly blessed our students by buying pizza for them on Wednesday night.  I felt tremendously blessed to see the act of love toward our students!  No one knew who did it!  Sometimes your pastors can feel alone when they are trying to love the people.  So this random act of love reminded me that others share the load with me for loving these students.  It was as if someone said to me, “Hey John… we got your back bro!  Have a slice of pizza on us!”

Time:

I remember when I was exhausted and someone in the church knew I had to do a bunch of busy work to do before a particular event.  They called me and told me, “stay home with your wife, I’ll take care of ______ busy set up work.  You don’t need to be here until the event starts.”  This simple act gave me about 3 hours with my bride that I would have sacrificed.  It was tremendous.

Chats:

I have been given time with busy people just to chat.  That has been a blessing.   I know people are busy and it is difficult to carve out time to grab a coffee with your pastors… but you will bless them by saying, “hey lets go grab coffee,” then tell them what you have been learning from the Scripture.  Then follow that up with, “so what has been exciting you about God lately?” or “what have you been learning from the Bible?”

My church is amazing and blesses me like crazy, not just one month of the year.  There are countless other ways in which they appreciate the pastors of the church.  Lunches, Gifts, Cards, Money, Affirmations, donations to Gospel for Asia, etc…  The above mentioned ones are just a few that have blessed me.  I cannot talk about all of them, or this would become a 20 part blog.

 

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My Children see Jesus Everywhere!

2006-08-22 - Road Trip - Day 30 - United States - Texas - Groom - Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ Ministries - Telephone Poles - Sepia

Riding in the car yesterday on the way to grandma’s house (granddad is just a resident there evidently), my two year old proclaimed loudly, “OOHHHH look!  Mommy!  A cross, that Jesus died on!  A cross that Jesus died on to save us from our sins!”  I was tremendously perplexed.  You see, we live in Texas, so it is not uncommon for us to pass some church sign or billboard with a cross on it.  However, it is also not unusual to be driving through vast open space with nothing but telephone poles and big Texas sky.  Had I missed the billboard?  Had I missed the church sign!?  Was the sign hiding under one of those large bushes we like to call trees in Texas?  I was truly shocked.  I never miss reading a good church sign!  Church signs are a staple of comedic entertainment to me! How could I have missed it!?

My wife shifted in her chair, took note of where the precious girl’s concentrated gaze was aimed, and exclaimed, “that’s right Ellie! The telephone poles look like crosses!”  My little 2 year old daughter saw the telephone pole with its exalted cross bar and connected that image to the image of the savior of the world dying on the cross!  I tell you this: children see Jesus everywhere!

My beloved children have taught me this one great maxim: if you are looking for Christ, He is easy to find.  In Romans 1:20 Paul explains that God is knowable through natural means.  In Deuteronomy 30:11-14 God explains that He has come down from the heavens and brought His law to your hands…  you need not accomplish great feats to reach God.  In Ephesians 4 Paul explains that Jesus has come down to the lowest parts of the earth.  The reason my children can see Jesus everywhere is because He IS everywhere.  It is not as though Jesus is silent.  In 66 books you can find the LORD of Heaven proclaiming loud and clear who He is!  Evidently you can also find him in telephone poles, grocery stores, bugs, play sets, bath tubs, and countless other places my children have proclaimed “that’s like Jesus!”

So why don’t I see Him as easily?  It is not as if our God is silent and hiding.  He has placed Himself where everyone can see Him.  For goodness sake, you can look outside and behold His glory and you can open a book (the Bible) and feast on His word!  He is constantly speaking.  I think the problem is that I don’t look for Him.  My children are always on the lookout for Jesus.  They want to talk about Him, they want to ask questions about His hair and feet, they want to know everything about Him and they want to see Him.  I, on the other hand, feel like I know Him already and perhaps that I have already seen Him.  So maybe I could learn from my children.  While I may know Jesus, He is still teaching me things about Himself.  Look for Jesus, He is always there and He is always telling you things about Himself.

Isaiah mowing

 

grass

You ever notice that when the ground is left to itself, it grows weeds, thorns, and briars?  When the earth is left to itself, it runs wild and provides only thorns and weeds.  I know, annoying right!?  It’s as if God gave humanity some sort of responsibility to work the ground!?  Sheesh!  (I realized after re-reading this, that that joke is only going to be funny to about 4 people, but seeing as how I sometimes only a few people read this blog, I’ll just leave it.)

 

I remember the first yard I had to mow.  I don’t mean the first yard I mowed.  I mean the first yard that was “mine.”  It was not rented, it was not someone else’s.  It was mine and is to this day my yard!  This yard barely had a sprig of grass in it.  When we moved in, there was a 3 foot perimeter of grass around the majority of the house.  Beyond that, most of the yard was weeds and dirt.  But we seeded that ground, and watered, and mowed, and weeded, and used grass feed, and weed killers on repeat.  I can remember trying to follow the lines when mowing.  You know what I mean?  You mow trying to keep a straight line next to the line you’ve already mowed.  However, if you have weeds and dirt over most of your yard, you cannot always see the lines.  It takes a great deal of patience to mow weeds and cultivate grass.

 

In the book of Isaiah, God speaks about the need to work the ground.  He talks about His vineyard.  He says in chapter 5 that He is going to let His vineyard become overwhelmed by the thorns and briars.  What is remarkable is that God is restraining evil from over running His people.  So, He need not destroy the people Himself, just leave them alone and let them to their own devices.  Much like a yard, weeds will spring up when it is left untended.  God says that briars and thorns will grow up in it.  Even without the nourishment of the rain, these choking instruments of death will grow!  (Isaiah 5:6-7)

 

Why is it that the vineyard has become so abased?  It is because they have forsaken the Lord and they lack the knowledge of the Lord. (1:3, 5:13) So, the Lord states that He will let the earth overrun His garden.

 

I believe that the American Church has been overrun by the world.  Though there are exceptions, many have forsaken the word of God for the consumer driven lusts of this world.  this personal belief is why I work in the church, but that is beside the point.  The cares of this world have risen to choke out many who would otherwise love the Lord and devote themselves to Him!  Many have forsaken the Word of God and are blind to their own doing so.  And many more are aiding the slow steady death of the churches in our country, albeit unwittingly.  The message of Isaiah 1-5 is an extremely apt description of the state of the American church.  (Just a disclaimer: The church in America is NOT ISRAEL, while the description is similar, it is not the same.  The true church has the indwelling Holy Spirit and is therefore able to do some mowing and mission, Israel did not.)  So…  it is to those who are on the mission of God to mow the weeds.  (No need to quote the wheat and the tares parable, the illustration is just an illustration, read on)

 

How do we mow?  Well, I’m glad you asked.  The first thing to do is to return to the study of God’s Word.  The people of Israel were cut down because they had no knowledge of God and they had did not follow His word.  God has given us His word; we must feast on the word!  The second is a fierce devotion to obedience of that Word!  You can read the Bible, or you can Study the Bible.  It should be assumed that “studying” the Bible has an objective to it.  The objective of a Christian who studies the Bible is to become more like Jesus.  Study of the Word must be transformative or it is a waste of time.  Finally, it takes time.  No one gets to be an old Saint overnight.   In the same way, the church (a collection of saints) will take time to get there.  It takes years of labor to mow weeds and cultivate grass, but Isaiah 4 promises us that the Holy Spirit will redeem and make His people beautiful.  So we can rest in the confidence that our labor is not in vain, though sometimes it is difficult to see the lines that we have been working so hard to follow.

 

My wife and I mowed our weeds for seven years now.  The grass is beautiful and our yard is lovely.  It didn’t start that way…  We only had a few feet of grass around the immediate perimeter of our house.  But given time, diligence, and patient work, the grass has grown and now much of what we do is maintenance.  Weeds still rise and we still must remain faithful to tend the garden.  But the constant tending has resulted in a beautiful garden in a fallen world.  Likewise, the churches in our country must dedicate themselves to the diligent study and obedience to the Word of God.  Otherwise, the warnings in Isaiah 5 will soon beset our churches.

 

Some encouragements for those who mow (spread the Word of God):

 

  1. The grass WILL grow.  You may not see it, but hold fast, it will grow in time.  The promised redemption of Isaiah 4 is just as true as the condemnation of Isaiah 5.
  2. God gives the growth!  A truth from 1 Corinthians 3:7.  It is not your mowing that makes the grass grow!  God gives the growth.
  3. Make your mowing fun!  Remember to rejoice in the sprigs of grass that God gives you to tend.  When you see some growth, delight and rejoice in it!
  4. Finally, remember Jeremiah verses Jonah.  Jeremiah did not get to see the grass grow, but it was his joy to mow and trust the Lord.  Jonah saw grass grow but did not delight in mowing and had no joy.

John 12

In John 12, some Greek believers seek out Jesus almost immediately after the triumphal entry. Now, it is no surprise that some Greeks might find the message of Jesus appealing or that some of them might seek Jesus out. What is surprising is what Jesus responds with. John 12:21 The Greeks ask Phillip if they can go see Jesus. Phillip goes to Andrew and asks him and then they go to Jesus to tell Jesus.

Let’s clear some things up here first. All of the named disciples were Jewish. Jesus was Jewish. Jesus was claiming a messianic position in the Jewish religion. So it is only natural for them to be skeptical about non-Jews wanting to see the Messiah of the Jews. Second, Jesus had already had an awkward conversation with a Samaritan woman at a well and that made all the disciples uncomfortable, but they went along with it. Here the two disciples are not certain whether they should turn these Greeks away. Everything they have ever been taught in their religious practice has trained them to explain to Greeks, “you can come to the outer court, but not to the inner court, and certainly not to the holy place.” But here Jesus is the Holy Place. So where is the line supposed to be drawn? They don’t know where the line is. Further, each time they try to draw a line, they get taught a lesson. Remember John 9, the blind guy on the side of the road. They ask a goofy question because they have been taught some bizarre form of cosmic karma. Jesus reproves them, tells them to get on board with the mission, and heals the blind guy. Third, the Greeks recognize the disparity as well. They don’t go directly to Jesus as we see so many others do. They ask the disciples to get them access. Even the Greek believers were living under the assumption that Jesus was for the Jews only and that they would have to be second class. Jesus, however, has constantly demonstrated that He has a rescue for ALL types of men, women, and children, regardless of ethnicity or religious background. For all must be surrendered to Him anyway.

So, verse 20-22 already presents us with an awkward situation in which Jesus must make a decision. The truly odd nature of this portion of the story is what Jesus says to Phillip and Andrew. (The Greeks may be standing right next to them, but we don’t know for sure because the Bible doesn’t say.) When Jesus is approached with the news of these Greeks coming to see Him, He launches into a cryptic sermon about needing to die in order for life to spring up. He explains that a seed must fall to the ground and give up it’s life in order to bear fruit. So the call of Jesus arises to the surface. “Die that you may live.” Surrender your life so that you may find life. These Greeks are confronted with the message of the Cross: it’s not about who you are or where your from or what religious underpinnings you have. All these things must be counted as nothing and forfeit for the sake of following Christ. So the call lands on us. Will we surrender all our preconceived notions of what it means to be good and follow Jesus? Will we break fellowship with the systems that hold us captive in a false since of religious righteousness to follow Jesus? Will we serve the Father and die to self?

But Jesus isn’t finished here, you see He is about to have a conversation with God that everyone is going to get to hear. It’s a freaky, amazing thing. Jesus admits that He has come to lay down His life and says He wants God to glorify His name. A that moment God speaks!

The best I can describe my feeling as I read this is through a cartoon I watched recently with my daughter. Some bugs were playing in a garden and one thing leads to another and they say, “lets ask the Lord!” (yes, I am that hokey Christian parent.) The lady bug bows its head and asked God the question. I was expecting a moment of silence and then the lady bug should have a bolt of inspiration and know what was right! The moment of silence was there, but the cartoon suddenly boomed a voice answering the little bug. I was floored! God spoke outwardly. It was only a cartoon, but it was AWESOME! So… I get the same since here. Everyone must have felt a sudden jolt of “what was that!”
Jesus explains that it is the Father and that He is about to die… of course no one understands because we are told in verse 16 that even His disciples aren’t going to get it until He is glorified.
Reading this story makes me wonder if I come to God with the expectation that He would actually speak. Jesus did. The Greeks clearly overcame their own awkwardness to address Him. Even Phillip and Andrew approach Him expecting to be rattled a little. Do I? Do you? What are you expecting to receive from Jesus?

There is a whole lot more in this text, but I think I’ll leave it there for now.