Category Archives: Church

How we Address Error: 3 problems, 5 requests

In recent days famous Christians (particularly in the SBC) have been arguing about various issues within the church. Issues range from the nature of the atonement to the role of women in the church to how much poetic license we should allow in worship music. Before you read any further, I have no intention of solving those issues in this blog post. I only want to address the manner in which we are discussing these things. To be clear, I do not always do these things well.

Necessary disclosure: Sovereign Grace Fellowship of Brazoria (the church I serve) is a member of our local SBC Association (the GCBA) and we are a part of the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention (the state convention.) We associated when we planted in 2016 with the confidence that God was leading us to do so and we have not regretted that association. As a church that strives to be a healthy gospel-centered church, we believe this to be a valuable association to enable us to do more Kingdom work than we could accomplish on our own.

But, as of late, I have personally been disappointed by our famous representatives. They have given into snippy argumentation rather than loving engagement with one another. So, in this post, I intend to line out some bad habits we have developed as a Christian culture in America (this is not exhaustive, I promise I’ll keep it brief). Then I’d like to lay out a few ways I hope people would approach me when I write something or preach something that people believe is in error. You can feel free to skim as I put stuff in bold for easy reading. Ready: let’s go!

PROBLEMS:

  1. We lack charity: In response to each other, there has been little charity. Sadly, it has become a rare occasion to grant someone the benefit of the doubt. Rather than asking for clarification, we lash out in twitter-storms at our accusers or post passive-aggressive comments on our social media platforms. This is not helpful. In this way, we are behaving much like junior high students who have yet to learn how to engage in honest, thoughtful dialogue. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 admonishes us to “stand firm as men” AND to “let all be done in love!” The mark of a Christian is love, or charity, (John 13:35) particularly “agape” love – love that is self-sacrificing. We must consider what we say and do in the context of this defining marker.
  2. We’ve embraced sound bites: Much of what has been spoken is based on hearsay and short comments captured in sound bite formats. This should not surprise us as our culture thrives on the sound bite. Our news is boiled down to 145 characters and much of our opinions are formulated on the basis of short pithy phrases caught on cell phone video. The problem with this is that sound-bites lack clarity. 1 Peter 3:15 admonishes us to “be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us!” The word here for “answer” can be rendered defense or the classical definition – apology. It implies a well thought out response. Sound-bites are rarely well thought out.
  3. We don’t finish books: One of the most troubling realities I have witnessed in my work as a pastor is that most leaders do not finish the books they start. This is troubling in the sense that it indicates a lack of full engagement with the author’s ideas. Most pastors I know have copious books on their shelves and seldom finish or read all of them. In the same way, our Christian culture seldom investigates the sound bites in a thorough manner. Yet Paul exhorts Timothy to “consider all that I am saying, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim 2:7). The exhortation to “consider ALL” seems to indicate that you should listen to the full argument before formulating your response. In our culture, however, the sound bite is accepted as if it is the complete and authoritative response of the speaker. This leads to tragic misunderstandings and demonization of ideas. Finish the book!

How I would like people to respond to me (take note- each of these assume that I have communicated poorly or I am actually wrong. I am placing myself as the errant brother in these examples.) –

  1. Assume that I am simply not clear enough or that I did not mean to express heresy. I have yet to meet a Christian teacher who purposely accepts heresy. The genuine believers that I know are trying their best to teach well. More often than not, if they are shown in Scripture where the error of their teaching is, they often do a 180. If you ever catch me in error, please assume that I did not intentionally venture into error. I may be utterly convinced that I am right, but I also may have just failed to communicate clearly.
  2. Ask for clarification: As a pastor, clarity is something that is extremely important and I am sad to say that I am not always clear. Sometimes that is because I don’t have the grasp that I should on linguistic nuance. Sometimes it is because I have not been able to crystallize the concept in my head. Sometimes it is because I am wrong. But, it is NEVER because I am intentionally trying to be false. Ask me to clarify the position I am taking and then go from there.
  3. Grant that I can be a Christ-follower and be wrong. Christians don’t always get everything right. Peter had to be confronted by Paul in Galatians 2, Paul had to be confronted by Barnabas in Acts 15, and even Timothy required some admonition from Paul! Christians do not always do what is right and they do not always get everything correct. I can be devoted to Jesus and still get some things wrong. Please consider this before condemning me as anathema.
  4. Present to me a thorough argument from Scripture and trust the Spirit to open my eyes if I’m wrong. Being a pastor invites critique from theologically minded brothers. Indeed, often people who have started to study at a deep level are quick to critique the pastor’s work and sermons. When you need to challenge something I say, please do so thoroughly. Many people ask a question with a larger/underlying question hidden behind the first. (Example: one man asks, “what do you think about famous Christian X?” Famous Christian X just wrote an article endorsing avocados. What they really want to know is what you think about avocados. But they didn’t ask about avocados, they asked about famous person X, who just endorsed Avocados… their real question is about avocados but I have no way of knowing that.) Give the entire context of your argument and grant me the privilege of struggling with a complete discussion.
  5. Be willing to accept that I may not be ready to go where you are yet. I may be the weaker brother in this discussion (as I have assumed I am for all these examples). Please grant me grace and recognize that I am still growing in Christ. I may not be ready to accept your position as viable or Biblical. If your view is correct, then the Spirit will work in me (potentially through your discussions) to correct my error. Be patient, I may not be where you are, but we’re following the same King and He will lead us.

Are there anythings you would add? How would you want someone to confront you if you were errant?

Photo by Frida Bredesen on Unsplash

Galatians 2:11-15; brief thoughts

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Conformity is a common unspoken demand of any society. When someone joins a community that community has a defining set of social norms. Sometimes those norms are explained and clearly articulated. More often those expectations are unspoken and are not so clearly defined. In order to truly integrate into the community, the adherent must submit to these demands in order to be considered a legitimate member.

As in any group, Christianity demands a conformity of sorts. The problem is that sin often corrupts our ability to discern the difference between what Christ demands and what we demand. As a result of sin, we demand that people conform to us. We have an unwritten expectation that people who come to share in Christ must behave and look as we do. They must submit to the same societal norms in which we have been immersed. When we insist on such an ethnocentric legalistic expression of Christianity, we miss the Gospel. The Gospel reaches across cultural and societal norms to establish life through the pursuit of God and His life! Indeed, Jesus does not require the Pharisees to surrender their religious customs of hand and foot washing when he goes to have a meal with them. Neither does Jesus require his fishing buddies and tax collecting friends behave as the Pharisees. He opens His arms to both groups and rescues any who will believe. He lays no additional law upon His followers.

In obedience to the Gospel, the early church opened her arms to anyone who would trust in Christ for righteousness. Peter and the disciples spoke a variety of tongues at Pentecost. They did not demand everyone learn Hebrew. God showed Peter that the Gentile, Cornelius, was admitted to the Kingdom, giving Peter a vision that defied the dietary restrictions of the Jew. He did not demand Cornelius become a Jew. Further, the model we have from Paul and the apostles at the Jerusalem counsel is one of reasoning together to understand overt Scriptural commands and exercising freedom where Scripture is silent.

Still, Peter and the apostles were just men and, even they, fall to hypocrisy at times. When Peter was worshiping with the gentile brothers at Antioch, there came a moment of such weakness. The “Circumcision party” came to join in the worship and Paul witnessed the shaming of the gospel message. Peter, desiring to be approved by these brothers, withdrew from the gentile believers.

Why did Peter withdraw? It is not common to see this particular apostle seek to accommodate the whims of men. He has a reputation as headstrong and often taking the leadership role. Perhaps Peter thought he could win over these Jews to the Gospel by showing himself to be disciplined in religious affection as they. Perhaps he was simply afraid that he would lose his prestige among the Jews, maybe even rationalizing that a loss of prestige for him would be the same as a loss for the gospel. Whatever his reasoning, Peter shows favoritism and Paul addresses him directly.

Paul’s response to Peter seems brazen and very confrontational. Indeed, Paul addresses Peter “to his face,” but he does so only because “he stood condemned!” Paul’s response to Peter was bold and forward for three obvious reasons. First, Peter was obviously in contradiction to the gospel and was in danger of God’s discipline. Paul states that Peter “stood condemned.” In saying this, Paul is framing the scene as one in which Peter is in danger of God’s intervention. He is guilty of wrongdoing and it is an act of mercy to confront him. Confronting Peter as an errant brother spares him from being disciplined as a disobedient son. Second, Peter was leading others away from gospel community. Gospel community includes ALL tribes, tongues, and nations. It is not restricted to Jewish people alone but includes gentiles as well. When Peter showed favoritism to the Jewish brothers, he was acting in contradiction to the gospel message itself. So Paul publically addressed Peter in an effort to clarify and defend the gospel witness as he states, “their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel.” Third, Paul is concerned with defending the reputation of his brothers in Christ. When Paul saw that Peter and the brothers were living in hypocrisy, he recognized a need to preserve them through a minor error that could have massive implications. Hypocrisy is a dangerous poison that can damage the testimony of even the most devout believer.

Through Paul’s example, we can see the proper way to confront one another in gospel community. As we strive to walk in gospel obedience together we must first check our motives. Paul confronts Peter because of a gospel motivation. He does not desire power, he seeks to honor the gospel and preserve his brother’s integrity. We must consider the implications of what is being confronted. Paul addresses Peter publically because multiple people were actually being addressed. He recognized that his true target was a large group of believing brothers who needed to be corrected. Finally, when we approach each other we must strive to pose the question, and not simply demand correction. Questions allow for introspection and self-examination. Paul challenges Peter and poses the question, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” His point is well made. Yet, in posing it as a question he leaves room for rebuttal. Pose your confrontation in the form of a question and you are offering grace to the person you are challenging.

Oh, that we would always confront one another with such grace!

Where Are You?

At first, the question “where are you?” seems a mere geographical inquiry. As though the only value in the question relates to a compass and a map. Yet, the question bears some deeper, nuanced consideration. It begs a sort of self-examination. Not unlike, “How are you?” or “Who are you?” These simple introductory questions can often be overlooked, but ought to give us pause.

Where are you?

To be fair, I’ll answer first: Where am I?

I am in that place where I wouldn’t be surprised if the glorious blazing ball of fury that seems so determined to destroy Texas in the summer, was revealed to be nothing more than a large light bulb. I have been exposed to the majestic reality of the Omnipotent Being, thus the great sky candle serves only to stand as a dwarfed microcosm of His greatness. The more I learn of my King’s glory, the less I am impressed by the things I am given to compare to Him.

I am settled in the mud, ever pressing up-hill. Life may not always be wonderful or grandiose, but it is life, and it is real… and it is great! I have discovered an abundance from which I can draw freely in Jesus. A well-spring of full-life with unimaginable graces. I’m in the place where life is real and delightfully full.

I am on the cusp of fame, resting securely and peacefully in my obscurity. That place where my voice is heard by any I impose it upon, while simultaneously remaining in the confident silence of a shadow in a world of searchlights. I am spinning round the mountain of God laughing freely with my King over the spoken voice of self-proclaimed rulers who have no power over my soul.

I am in the hands of a mighty King who declares love for me in spite of myself. A place where I can be “not ok” and know that I am not going to remain in such a state forever. Walking with the King of Glory through bramble patches and clear pastures only rarely needing Him to carry me (though I am sure it is more often than I imagine.)

I am in a community of faith that exalts our Lord and faithfully pursues the mission of God. We labor side by side, though imperfect in our expressions, exalting the King and advancing the gospel. We care little for the trivial concerns of this life and are consumed with the next. We are here, but we are not here. We build our castles in the eternal sky where no rules of architecture constrain! We are in the heavens with our feet planted firmly in the promises of God.

I am in that place where music is sweet and full. Where melody fills my days and evenings as songs of grateful praise echo in the throats of my children and flow from my own heart as well. Where every morning brings beautiful songs of creation and creativity as each new day brings more reason to sing. In that place, I feel overwhelmed by the song of my Creator. The song that is changing my soul to be more like Him and more like who I was created to be.

So, that is where I am… where are you?

Four Things Seminary Did Not Teach Me.

Before you read this list, I want to say Seminary was wonderful and I learned a ton from seminary! My professors were amazing and I was prepared for ministry because of Seminary. Further, this post is my own experience and is not intended to be a criticism of Seminary. Others may have learned these things in Seminary, I did not.

I am a 37 year old pastor of a small church plant in south Texas. I have been in vocational ministry for over 15 years and have served at some level of leadership in a variety of churches since I was 14 years old. When I began in ministry, I recognized my need to learn. I entered Seminary with a deep desire to learn everything I could and I did so with a fierce and steady methodology. I took seminary slowly and strove to soak up everything I could from my professors. I coveted opportunity to learn from older pastors and professors who had proven track records.

I learned a great deal in Seminary. Necessary Biblical training and historical understanding of the church has served to shape me and improve my own life. I believe my seminary studies taught me much of what I need to know to serve and lead a church well. That having been said, I did not learn EVERYTHING I needed to know from seminary. There were some things that I had to learn on the job.

  1. How to plan for church events and yearly schedule.I’ll never forget the first time I was asked to present a schedule for a youth group for the year. I was informed that the staff had a meeting on Sunday night with the other leaders of the church. I began to panic. I walked across the hall to the associate pastor’s office with as much composure as I could muster and asked him to clarify what I was supposed to present. He graciously walked me through a basic understanding of what to do. Over the next 8 years in that position I developed a pattern of planning in advance. I would prepare sermons months in advance, events were planned almost a year ahead, and the general calendar of the youth ministry was completed in September. My fellow pastors suffered as a result of not being able to sit down and plan. So I resolved to be ahead and as a result I was often available to run events for them as well.

    Now, I am always about 4 months ahead in planning for worship. I can usually tell you what I am going to teach and where the teaching is headed 8 months in advance. I can preach the sermons about 4 months ahead of time. I plan events months in advance and I have a pretty good grasp on how to schedule and plan in general.

    Seminary did not teach me how to plan. I had to learn on the job. I was fortunate to serve with ministers who knew what they were doing and had experience in leading organizations. In short, here is how you plan. Pray, lay out a calendar, put your schedule down with some flexible dates, start with the easiest event to plan (most often something you’ve done before that does not need to change), then work from most common to most unique. Don’t fall into the trap of doing the soonest first. If you will plan the most common event first and then work your way to the most uncommon (or new events), then you will find momentum and you’ll enjoy the work a lot more.

  2. Conflict resolution.Being a pastor means that you are a shepherd. Funny thing about sheep… They bite. People are sheep. We bite, jockey for position, shove, and butt heads when we do not get our way. Seminary does not teach your pastor how to deal with Mrs. Contentious when she has upset Mrs. Overly-dramatic. The difficulty of these conflicts is that it rarely ever works out in a room with all parties present. Most of the time, conflict resolution involves talking to each party individually and slowly leading them to make decisions that help to grant grace.

    To be honest, I’m still not an expert in conflict resolution. I know what the Scripture says, and I try to follow those principles. But conflict resolution is rarely an issue of HOW I read Scripture and often an issue of getting others to READ the Bible. In my inadequate amount of knowledge on conflict resolution I’ve learned four things that help me in dealing with others.

    First: Remember, unless it is genuine heresy, it is not as important as we think. Do not make a big deal over secondary issues.

    Second: Address confusion, gossip, and rumors immediately from the source. This is sin. So when gossip or rumors surface, address them immediately. Grant grace and be casual about the address, but do not leave sin unaddressed.

    Third: Accept that some conflict is just going to be around and you’re going to have to learn to live in that tension. In a church that I served in for several years there was a particular man who just did not like me. I would try to be polite, earn favor, and do a good job in effort to somehow garner his approval, but to no avail. Eventually I just accepted that he was not going to like me and I moved on. There was no overt sin to address and he stayed in his area of ministry without causing issues elsewhere. Once I accepted that I was not going to be liked by everyone, this particular conflict stopped bothering me. I wish I had some great reconciliation story for this one, but as I said above, “Sheep bite.”

    Fourth: Give people the benefit of the doubt. Seldom is anyone just being selfish or rude. Most of the time, in the church, people believe they are doing what is right. They don’t mean to be hateful or malicious. Recognize that and treat people accordingly.

  3. Humility.I love seminary students, I really do. They are filled with zeal and they often know the right answers. I love seminary students… especially AFTER they graduate. When I was in Seminary I was trained in how to find the answers I needed in Scripture! I know the languages of the Bible and I love to study old dead guys. I went into ministry with a tremendous grasp on theology, ecclesiology, eschatology, and every other ology! I felt as though I had answers.

    While my professors worked hard to teach me that I did not know the answers to every problem, the critical environment of Seminary inadvertently taught me that I am right! I was taught to identify problems in the church and offer theoretical answers to those issues. Seminary was intended to produce a servant who would labor to display the character of Christ in the midst of fellow Christians. The result of my own arrogance produced a young man who needed some chips knocked off his shoulder.

    It took me several years to realize that I am not. It took me years to learn that I needed other leaders who could walk with me through difficult circumstances and give counsel. It took me years to learn that I needed the voices of other leaders to call me out when I was in error.

    The church I serve now has a plurality of elders who hold me to account. They know me well and I loose a lot of battles to those guys. I trust them and as a result, my confidence is bolstered and humility is honored.

  4. How to define successI was one of those students who could read the book in a day and write the report that evening and make an A on the paper. If a professor favored content over grammar, I was going to make an A+ in the class. I could make a B with little effort and found seminary to be a long, but enjoyable experience. With all my work in seminary, I never learned how to define success. I learned how to fail and what it meant to work your way back from the bottom. I failed Hebrew twice and worked hard to overcome failing Hebrew 1 eventually make an A in Hebrew 1, Hebrew 2, and Exegetical Hebrew. I knew what failure way, and I knew how to press on to overcome failure. But I did not know what success was.

    Seminary does not teach you how to measure success in ministry. I did not know if I should measure myself according to the numbers in attendance or if I should find another metric. Eventually I landed on another method of judging success, you can read about that here. (article also linked below.) Whether you judge success in numbers, or life transformation, or personal devotion, strive to learn how to judge success in your ministry. It will be the catalyst for purpose and your ministry directives.

When I first began to seek a full time position at a church my first question for every church was, “can I learn from your pastors?” I was fortunate to meet a man who had been in ministry and was serving as an associate pastor. He was not a seminary grad or a wise old seasoned pastor. He was a genuine pastor who knew some things I didn’t. I credit him for much of what I do in ministry. We sharpened each other. If you are considering ministry. Find a guy that is a little further down the road from you and learn what you can from him.

HOW TO JUDGE SUCCESS

We Hide From Conflict; Ways we Rob Ourselves of Joy, Part 2

The time had come to address the issue. My stomach seemed to drop beneath the ground and my head began to spin. The weight of conflict landed heavy on my shoulders and made my fight or flight reflexes begin to wrestle with unrivaled fury. I knew this issue must be dealt with and I also knew I did not want to do what was necessary.

As I entered the room and sat across from the man I needed to speak with, my legs felt like jello and I could see on his face the same weight was heavy on him. Small talk and light banter covered over our awkward attempts to dance around the issue. Then, one of us spoke of it.

This sort of encounter is normative in communities. People are fragile. Relationships break and fracture. Often these confrontational meetings are necessary. However necessary they may be, we don’t like them and we often try to avoid them. We convince ourselves that we can just sweep the issue aside and persist in a false sense of harmony. Overwhelmed with the prospect of effort it will take to overcome the conflict, we run from the opportunity for joy! You see, when conflict arises, we are given a rare opportunity to press hard into the community and find joy. We are granted the grace to test our faith community and see the grace of God. We are given the chance to trust God in the midst of our failures. We are given the opportunity to love and know God more fully.

Yet, given the opportunity to walk through difficulty and feel the grace of God, we often deny ourselves the joy in favor of complacent comfort. There are numerous reasons for this avoidance, here are four common reasons why I have avoided conflict:

1. I was afraid of the outcome. Indeed, the end result of conflict terrifies us. We convince ourselves that vulnerability will result in our own self-destruction. We look across at the other person as though we are in a contest that must result in the death of someone or something. However, death is not required in conflict. Indeed, if you have trusted in Christ, death is not on the table. Conflict will not result in your demise, only your betterment. Romans 8:28 is true! God works all things for good. In the midst of conflict, we need to remember death is not on the table.

2. I don’t trust God’s grace and sovereignty. In general, it is safe to say that most people believe that God is all powerful and CAN do what He desires to do. While some may argue over the self-imposed limitations or the preservation of free agency, Christians agree that God is actively playing a role in the world and in our individual circumstances. If it is true that God is actively involved in the world and that His involvement is good (Romans 8:28), then it stands to reason that the conflicts we face can be used by God for our good and His glory. When we avoid necessary confrontations and difficult discussions we deny the truth that God is good and we fail to trust that God is at work in our circumstances. We fail to trust God.

3. I fear I will be fully known. Most people do not have close personal friends. Indeed, many are living rather lonely lives even in the midst of crowded spaces. In truth, we don’t want to people to know who we really are. Self-identity and thorough self examination are terrifying to our sensibilities. We want people to think that we are perfect and that we have everything together. However, there is great comfort in being known. When someone knows us, we need not fear that we will fail to live up to expectations or disappoint through conflict.

4. I misunderstand the value of conflict. Conflict is inherently valuable. It is through conflict that we grow and produce valuable means of grace and maturity. It is often through the greatest conflict that God develops the greatest soldiers in the Kingdom.

Here are three ways to press through conflict and grow.

1. Remember this is not the end, take the long view. My dad used to say, “don’t sweat the small stuff and if you back up far enough, everything is pretty small.” Remember there is a great deal more to life than this one issue. Gain some perspective and realize that this is not the end. Indeed, for a believer, none of this life is the end. Heaven awaits and this is merely a training ground. So, if this is not the end, then press on towards action. Instead of dwelling on and dealing with past offense, move forward. Make plans of how to move forward in the relationship. Ask forgiveness for wrongs committed, offer forgiveness when wounded, and make plans to advance the Kingdom of God. (A truly practical way to do this is to make specific plans to hold eachother accountable for gospel work. Commit to pray for specific gospel opportunities for one another. This way we turn conflict into conquest!)

2. Remember grace given to you, Jesus overcame the ultimate conflict for you. Often, in times of conflict, we forget the grace that has been given to us. A “woe is me” mindset begins to set in and our ability to see the reality of our circumstance is skewed. But God has granted us grace beyond our own ability and has rescued us from certain death! In Jesus, He has taken the punishment for sin upon Himself and forgiven you. You who were an enemy, He has made His child. Can you not extend grace to someone else? Is this conflict going to result in your literal crucifixion? If not, I think you can bare a little tension and struggle for the betterment of your community. Extend grace to the other person. Don’t take things personally, even if they are and go ahead and let yourself die for the other person. After all, if Christ is in you… then you have the power to do so.

3. Remember to cherish life. Through storm comes life. The aftermath of storms is devastating. Houses are destroyed, lives are lost, and even nature seems to be crying out in despair after a hurricane or tornado. However, when we return to the sight of a storm years later, houses are built stronger, lives are restored, and even the ground seems to have blossomed with a life-ferocious. Storms may bring pain, but they also strengthen the resolve to live. When conflict comes, do your best to preserve life, remembering that you will be stronger on the other end. Confess your wrongs, own your faults, take the blame (even if you’re right). Let the storm land on you so that you can preserve and protect the other. IN this way you will be stronger and the other will be loved.

Are there things you do to press into conflict? Share them in comments!

See part 1 of this post here

We Rob Ourselves of Rest; Ways we Rob Ourselves of Joy. Pt. 1

We avoid rest. Often we find ourselves tired and in need of rest. We need reprieve from the world. So we seek rest in passivity, or entertainment, or even just sleep. Our work makes us tired, both physically and mentally and we seek to refresh ourselves by “resting.” The trouble is that we have a fundamental misunderstanding of rest. We think “rest” means “doing nothing.” We think “rest” means escaping reality. Rest is so much more.

In my first church position I served as the janitor/youth pastor/set-up team/technical ministries head. It was my first position and I worked hard to learn how to do ministry. A pastor had taken a chance on me as a 22 year-old fresh out of college and I am forever grateful. Well, now I’m grateful. I grew into that.

As part of my job, each Sunday I would set up the church starting around 5:00 am. Church started at 10, the band arrived between 8 and 8:30 to practice. Our building doubled as a dance academy each week, so set up could be rather extensive. I would set up 100 chairs, a full sound system, and anything else that was necessary. During my near 2 year tenure at the church I had several volunteers come and help on occasion. They would help for a season and then might be too busy or too tired to continue and they would drift off. For the last year I was there, one man stood out as more faithful than the rest… Will

Will was a man who was basically homeless. He lived in a trailer/camper that most people would claim condemned. He smoked like a chimney in winter and looked as though he did not know how to shave. What most people would never have guessed is that Will was dying of cancer. He had a hole in his back shoulder blade and you could literally put your hand inside the hole and pull it out clean. At some point in my time as all things “setter-upper,” Will became a believer in Jesus (through conversations with my pastor) and began to show up every Sunday morning.

Each morning I would begrudgingly open the church, complaining about how early it was and how no one ever saw the work that was done before church started. Will would arrive just before or just after I unlocked and would go to the back room, clean and re-dress his cancerous wound, then he’d come out and start to set up the chairs. Often he would begin to cough up blood and have to go to the restroom to clean himself up again. Nothing was ever said. Often it was just Will and myself. Sometimes others would join us. The pastor was kind and would occasionally join us, if he knew I was tired. We set the church up in near silence.

One particular morning Will had a coughing attack and covered his mouth with a white rag that slowly turned red. He went to the restroom to clean up and came back a few minutes later. I wondered why this man, dying of cancer, would arrive at church 5 hours early to set up chairs and be at church. Why would someone who was so tired and who seemed to struggle to stay upright consistently arrive at church early, wear himself out, and subject his body to such pain when he could sleep an additional 4 hours and arrive at church rested.

Setting out the last chair, I turned to see him stumble back into the room with a fresh rag hanging from his pocket. I asked, “Will, why are you here? You could easily show up at 10:00 and enjoy the service and get more rest at home!?” A moment of silence followed. Then his gravelly voice responded, “I’m here because I need the rest.”

“Rest?” What? Didn’t I just ask him why he was depriving himself of rest? Will knew something I had yet to learn – rest is not found in sleeping or doing nothing. Rest is found in Jesus. Will knew that his soul needed the rest of service. He knew that his mind and heart needed the rest of community. He knew what rest was and he knew where to find it. So he arrived early each Sunday to serve, to engage, to rejoice… to rest. He came each week, setting up chairs, running wires, setting up screens, moving speakers, and coughing up blood, all in order to rest.

Cancer would take his life two years later and usher him to true rest with Christ. It took me a long time to understand what Will meant. In fact, I’m not sure I completely grasp the depths of that simple man’s response. But I do understand a little more now. I know that when I am physically and mentally exhausted, I need to put in the effort to go to the Bible Study and find rest in the community’s study. I know I need to push through and do my personal devotions to find rest in study. I know I need to make that food for the sick brother or invite the needy one to talk in order to find rest in service. I know I need to attend church or go to visit that brother or sister and delight in the rest of community. I know that sleep or mindless entertainment will not answer my need for rest. Jesus is where we find rest. We find Jesus in two places, the Word of God and the community of faith (1 John 4:12). Seek out rest.

Some basic things you can do to find rest:

  1. Read your Bible instead of your phone.
  2. Attend church and Bible Study.
  3. Read other good books.
  4. Take time to talk with other believers.

When you are tired, seek rest in these things. Don’t waste the time you are given, seek out true rest.

A New Book! Expressions: Church Poems

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This year, as resolutions swirled in my head and evaluations of the previous year set me into a constant state of pensive self-examination, I wanted to challenge myself to write and complete a book of poetry and art in one week. I knew the difficulty that it would entail and I knew the joy of completing the process.

2018 seemed like a marathon through the mud. As a pastor, I trudged a great deal and OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwas often fighting my own depression and difficulties as I helped to shoulder the burdens of others. It was a good year, but it was a long and exhausting year too. We came through it tired but victorious and ready to run some more.

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As I sat, laboring to understand and process 2018, I found a need to express. I needed to express my love for the church. I needed to express the wrestling with depression in a real and spiritual manner. I needed to express the “striving together” that is the church community. I needed to lay down on paper the weight of what my community has carried together. All the imperfections and struggle to understand grace.

All the pains and joys of community and weight of self. I needed to express them all. I needed to express the song of the church. So, I set out to draw a few sketches and lay down a few verses.

“Expressions” is the result. (Credit to Logan Doak for the title.)

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Expressions: Poems of the Church is available for $7 on Amazon.com and Lulu.com

 

I hope you will enjoy this work. It is short, 48 pages, and is a square shape. It is intended to be a book of pictures and poetry that you will pick up and read once in a while. The art is simple and quick sketches that were drawn in a week (with the exception of “Halos of the Church” and “Death to Life,” which were drawn in 2018 when processing some difficulties). I have endeavored to exalt Christ in the church through this work. Please use it for the gospel ministry.

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Two quick encouragements:

Challenge yourself. Challenge yourself to do something. Something difficult. Last year I was enjoying my morning coffee while I watched the birds flit and flutter on my porch. Inspired I wrote a short poem and then started drawing some pictures. At the same time, I was working through the book of Ephesians for my second published work. I challenged myself to write a short book, complete with artwork and be ready to publish it in a 7 day period. The result was “The Bird’s Psalm.” This year I wrote a little more… next year I will challenge myself to do the same.

Use your talents for the Kingdom of God. I am not a great artist, but I have some talent. I am not a great poet, but I can write a poem or two. I am not a great writer, but I can write stuff down in an organized form. The Lord has blessed me with some ability, it is my responsibility to use that for the Kingdom. What are your talents? Are you using them for the Kingdom? I hope you see through my work that you CAN do something for the Kingdom. I hope you will be inspired to do something… something worthwhile. Something for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.