Confessions of a Flawed Preacher

There is so much on my mind right now as I sit in my office getting ready for our Sunday services.  First, I’m tired.  I don’t know why, but I just feel worn out this morning.  Maybe it’s the fact that I didn’t make any coffee today.  Do I have everything ready that is under my control?  Did I put enough prayer, thought, and time into my sermon this week?  How many people will be here this morning?  Will that semi truck that keeps parking in our lot without permission be back next week (fortunately he pulled out of the parking lot about a half hour ago)?  Is this new series that we’re starting today, and leading all the way up to Easter, connect with our people?  Are all the families that I know of that are hurting in one way or another finding comfort in the arms of Jesus, or are they trying to do it on their own?  Have I done enough or could I be doing more?  Am I enough?

Am I enough?

That’s a lot to have floating around in your brain, especially just an hour or so before you are going to preach.  With that much on my mind, it’s hard to be clear headed and focused on faithfully preaching the Word.  This doesn’t happen every Sunday, but it happens more often than I would like to admit.  It would be nice if I could come into my preaching duties completely clear-headed, focusing on God and God alone as I preach His word.  That’s the goal.  That’s the way it should be.  But in my brokenness as a flawed human being, I let those worries above creep into my mind.  And realizing that, it puts even more worry on my mind because I realize how much I truly resist relying on God’s all sufficient power. 

I realize how much I truly resist relying on God’s all sufficient power.

I’ve mentioned on here before how much I listen to music when I am in the office.  This morning is just like the rest.  My Pandora station is playing, and there has been a great mix of worship music pumping through my speakers.  Most of the time, music goes to the back of my mind, meaning I don’t always focus on what is actually playing.  That was the case for most of the morning as all the questions and worries above were just rolling around almost uncontrollably.  That is until songs like “This I Believe (The Creed)” by Hillsong Worship, “My Victory (Feat. Crowder)” by Passion, “Your Grace is Enough” by Matt Maher, an “How He Loves” by the David Crowder Band came on.

These songs helped me focus in like normal, but I was paying attention to the lyrics as well.  I know all these songs by heart, and found myself singing along.  And something clicked.  I remembered that in Jesus, I am enough.  I can rely on Him and His grace.  Through the relationship I have with Jesus and my belief in Him as my Savior, I am free.  All those questions and concerns listed above may or may not go the way that I want them, but God is the One that is in control.  It’s not up to me anyway.

It’s not up to me anyway.

We don’t know what Paul’s so-called “Thorn in the Flesh” was, but it could be that it was something like the concerns and worries that I listed above.  Maybe not, but I think the response that Paul received when he pleaded to have the thorn removed can be applied to us today.  II Corinthians 12:1-10 is where Paul records this event in his life.  Here’s what he wrote to the church in Corinth;

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I don’t have all the answers to my questions above.  And I may never see the answers to all the questions above.  But I realize that it’s not all up to me anyway.  I feel inadequate as a minister on many occasions because I always feel like I could do more or do better.  Or I could find a way to bring more people to the church.  This morning, I was reminded, however, that I am just called to do the best I can do, and be faithful to God and His call in my life.  So, let me echo the words of Paul.  First, the response he received is a great comfort to me.  “My grace is sufficient to you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 

I am just called to do the best I can do, and be faithful to God and His call in my life.

That has always been my prayer.  To glorify God.  His grace is sufficient because His power is shown through my weakness, meaning that anything I accomplish in ministry is through His power anyway.  Paul goes on writing about boasting in his weakness because Christ’s power rests on him in those times.  In his weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties, he can delight.  That is the opposite of human nature, but then again, so is just about everything in trying to follow Christ.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.  That doesn’t make sense to most of us.  But we have to remember that we live on God’s power and grace, not our own.

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Busyness as a Badge of Honor

I could not believe what I had just read.  In a lot of ways, I still can’t.  As I was getting ready for my day this morning, I was scrolling through Facebook on my phone, and an article popped up from “Church Leaders” that lead to the actual article hosted on churchplants.com.  They title of the article got my attention, but I never thought that it would actually read like it did.  The article was titled “Do Christians Spend Too MUCH Time Studying the Bible?” 

Do Christians Spend Too MUCH Time Studying the Bible?

I opened the article, fully expecting to read an argument for more Bible study, or maybe a little different approach to Bible study.  What I read, however, was an argument from a minister claiming that we study the Bible too much.  An argument that early Christians didn’t even have the Bible as we know it (which is true), and because of that, we shouldn’t waste as much time studying scripture as we do.  I’m still in shock over what I read.  If you’d like to read the article, you can find it here. Continue reading “Busyness as a Badge of Honor”

Ministers: Better Yourself for the Kingdom!

There was a simple question asked on a page that I follow on Facebook in the past few days.  It’s a page that is mostly for preachers, but anyone in ministry or leadership of a local church is welcome.  The question came from a youth minister who was getting ready to preach in the main service at his church for the next couple of weeks due to the main preacher being out of town.  Let me just use his words. 

“I am a youth pastor and I’m filling the pulpit the next 2 weeks while my SP is on vacation. I would like to take advantage of the opportunity to be formally evaluated on my delivery. If anyone has a form/survey they use to evaluate you speakers I would love to see it.”

I’m going to leave names out of this, but that is a very good question.  It seems to me that this gentleman is genuinely trying to improve his preaching skills by having others evaluate him.  Then he’ll take the information that they give him, and can make changes to his delivery, preparation, and anything else that he finds that he needs work on.  This is the sign of a person truly wanting to better themselves for the kingdom of God and I applaud him.

There was some good advice given in the comments as well.  Evaluation sheets were purposed, either content, delivery, or a combination of both.  Someone suggested videoing the sermon so that the person asking the question could actually self-evaluate by watching himself later.  All of these are great suggestions and can be beneficial to all of us who are trying to improve (which should be any of us in ministry). 

“Let God be the one to evaluate!”

Then came the last comment.  Actually I was expecting it, but hoping that it wouldn’t show up.  Someone suggested, “Let God be the one to evaluate!”  I’m sure this person was well-meaning.  At least I hope they were.  But they have missed the whole purpose of the question.  Yes, God can and will evaluate, but we won’t necessarily get that feedback.  It just seems to me like it ties into the statement that we hear all to often; Only God can judge me (I wrote about that here).  In this sense, it seems that the person making this suggestion that only God can evaluate our sermon or teaching time, and no one else that is listening to us should have any bearing on if/how we try to improve.

Think about that?  If we are preaching or teaching, God has given us a call to faithful preach His word.  Yes, we need to handle that call with respect, and stay faithful.  But one of the ways we need to stay faithful is by trying to improve how we put lessons together, and how we deliver them.  How can we do that if we aren’t evaluating them ourselves and asking others what we did well and what we may need to improve on? 

You can ask my wife, almost always, after our Sunday morning service is over, I ask her if my sermon made sense.  And sometimes I even ask about particular parts of my sermon if I get a sense that maybe it didn’t come across the way I think it did.  I don’t have the luxury of videoing my sermons each week, but I do record the audio.  I don’t go back and listen to them as often as I should (just something about hearing a recording of my own voice), but I have them at my disposal to listen to, and critique myself.

How can we do that if we aren’t evaluating them ourselves and asking others what we did well and what we may need to improve on?

“Let God be the one to evaluate!”  Again, there is value in that.  What the person is getting at, I hope, is that God is the one that we need to stay faithful to.  In that sense, I agree.  But I also think that God allows others to speak into our lives, and into our teaching/preaching.  Constructive criticism is something that we should all value.  Don’t be afraid to let people give you some constructive criticism in your preaching.  Think about it.  We are charged with handling the Word of God and presenting it to others.  If we don’t evaluate the way we do that, and let others speak into it as well, we can get way off course.  Stay faithful, preach the Word, and continue to improve.

We are charged with handling the Word of God and presenting it to others.

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Need help to improve your preaching or leadership skills?  Go over to RookiePreacher.com and check out their resources!

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Celebration or Competition?

We are in a competition.  At least that’s what most of us think if we are really honest with ourselves.  It’s not a good or God-honoring competition either.  What I mean is that Christ followers look at churches that they don’t attend as direct competition.  Even ministers look at other ministers and other churches, mostly local but sometimes anywhere, as direct competition.

We compare ourselves to what the church down the street, across the state, or even around the world is doing to win souls.  If we seem to be more successful, at least in the eyes of the world, we look down on these other ministers and churches, asking, “Why don’t they do more?”  Or, if we don’t measure up to what another church is doing, we get down on ourselves.  Maybe we even turn a little green with envy.  In other words, jealousy rears its ugly head.

Christ followers look at churches that they don’t attend as direct competition.

When this occurs, we end up hurting the efforts of the Church in presenting Jesus to the world.  Others are aware of the jealousy and competition that we like to pretend doesn’t exist.  And it hurts our ability to successfully share Jesus.  Even if it doesn’t show publicly, this competition among ourselves hurts more than it helps.  When we compare ourselves to another church or minister, we are forgetting two very important truths.

  1. God has placed us in the context that we are in to do His work (that context is unique, and what we accomplish is unique to that context.

  2. We are all in this together.  This should not be a competition.  Instead, we should be willing to help each other out.  We shouldn’t look down on that church down the street that does things different than we do.  They are hopefully reaching a group of people that we wouldn’t even know where to begin with.  As for churches that we consider being better than us, instead of becoming jealous of their success, why not celebrate the souls that they are bringing into the kingdom!

It’s easier said than done.  I get that.  When you’re serving in a church and other churches seem to be having baptisms every week, and it’s been a while for you, that jealousy creeps in without us even realizing it sometimes.  It can be frustrating, and that leads to us wanting to compare ourselves to another church that is in an entirely different context than we are. 

I write this on a Tuesday morning, coming off of a normal Sunday a couple days ago at Central Christian Church.  We had a few people out of town or sick, so our numbers were down a little, but not the lowest I’ve seen.  It would be easy for a little depression and jealousy to creep in though.  And it almost did.  But I caught it early, and turned that jealousy into a celebration.  That’s why I write this to you today. 

I’m asking you to celebrate with me.

What am I celebrating?  A ministry friend of mine in Kentucky, who went to Cincinnati Christian University with me, had a baptism last Sunday that he posted about this past Sunday.  On top of that, another ministry friend, who is a college age minister at University Church of Christ in Las Cruces, NM was at a retreat this past weekend.  They had at least 10 people that gave their lives to Christ and were baptized during the retreat.  Another minister that I know, whom I also went to Cincinnati Christian University with, is the campus minister at Trader’s Point Christian Church’s new downtown campus in Indianapolis.  They launched the new campus this past Sunday.  Not only did they have over 1,600 people attend the opening of this campus, 42 people gave their lives to Christ through the obedience of baptism.  Now each one of those 50+ lives is worth celebrating whether you know them or not.

And here is the great thing.  I just wrote about 50+ people coming to faith in Jesus Christ over the last couple of Sundays.  Those are just the ones that I know about through social media.  I promise there are more that we can celebrate.  You see, we are all a part of the body of Christ.  There should be no competition among us.  No jealousy.  Only support and celebrating wins for the kingdom!  Because, again, we’re all in this together!

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Only God Can Change a Human Heart

We just finished a six-week sermon series at Central Christian today called Life on Mission.  This may have just been my favorite series that we have done to this point, and it has completely given me a new perspective in how we should be striving to live this Christian journey that we are on.

There was a thought that I presented today which is critical in how we live our lives as Christ followers.  It was straight from Tim Harlow’s book, Life on Mission, and it is something that we all need to understand for our own lives.  You see, our human nature gets in the way and we often try to do things on our own, instead of learning to trust and wait on God.  This even creeps into our lives when we are trying to share Jesus with others.  We think that we can save them.  In reality, however, if it depends on us, we’re in trouble.

Only God can change a human heart.

Only God can change a human heart.  In other words, it’s not really up to us in the end.  We are to partner with God on this life on mission, but it is only through His power that we are successful.  So how do we partner with God in this mission?  We pray.  We develop a prayer life where we are consistently praying for individuals that we know of that do not know Jesus yet.  And we don’t give up when we think we aren’t seeing results.

Harlow told a story in the book about a lady that prayed daily for 40 years that her husband would accept Jesus.  It would have been easy to give up after praying daily for someone for that long, but she didn’t.  And after 40 years of prayer, her husband accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior and was baptized.  Wow!  But what happens if she had given up after 35 or even 39 years? 

The problem we face today is that we don’t always see God’s timing.  We want things done the way we see fit, and in our timing, but that’s just not reality.  God sees the whole picture, so sometimes He answers those prayers in ways that we don’t see coming.  Maybe, just maybe, when that happens our faith weakens sometimes.

The question was brought up today about strengthening our faith.  How do we strengthen our faith in God?  How do we develop a prayer life that we can honestly say that we “pray continually” like I Thessalonians 5 tells us to?  Without going into a lot of detail, there are a few things that I think we can do to strengthen our prayer lives and our faith at the same time.

First, we just need to pray.  How do we strengthen our prayer lives?  We pray. 

First, we just need to pray.  How do we strengthen our prayer lives?  We pray.  Often.  It needs to get to the point where we we might not even realize that we have started praying over a situation, yet we are.  Prayer needs to become second nature and a habit in our lives.  And the only way that that happens is by doing it more and more.  Trust me, I know that that is much easier said than done, but it is something that we can all attempt to improve.

Second, we need to be grounded in the Word of God.

Second, we need to be grounded in the Word of God.  We need to be studying scripture on our own and with other people.  If we aren’t connected to scripture on a daily basis, then it is going to be hard for our faith to be strong.  You want to strengthen your faith?  Study and meditate on the Bible.  That’s a great place to start.

Finally, don’t try to do all of this on your own.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, don’t try to do all of this on your own.  Get connected to a community of Christ followers that are willing to walk beside of you and help you make prayer and Bible study a bigger part of your life.  Not only do you need to have others in your life that are more mature in their faith to help you grow, you need to be investing in others that haven’t been at it as long as you have.  There is a principle that works here; you never learn more than when you are trying to teach someone else. 

We are made to live in community with each other.  How do we strengthen our faith and our prayer lives?  Getting connected to a group of Christ followers and making sure that we are staying connected to Jesus through prayer and Bible study.  We can live this life on mission, but we have to keep our priorities straight.  We are not going to save anyone.  Only God can change a human heart!

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The Faith of a Child

My wife has been babysitting for a young mom in our church over the last few months.  It’s just a couple of hours a day in the afternoons.  If you know much about me, I usually don’t deal well with little kids.  I just feel awkward around them.  Jr. high and up is usually the age groups that I seem to work well with.  So Kelley babysitting in our home has been a growing experience for me. 

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This is my buddy Aaron.  He’s around a year and a half old.  He has a smile that will just melt your heart at any time.  Like I said, him being around has been a growing experience for me.  I’ve actually gotten to the point now where I miss him being here on days that he’s not at our house.  His little personality is so awesome to watch develop, and he is on the verge of talking, which I’m sure will just be a whole new experience.

He’s taken to me, and loves when I take him outside.  The other day, we had a pretty funny exchange.  It was one in which I realized just how much he really understands, even when he can’t fully speak yet.  He had woken up from nap time and Kelley was in the other room for a minute.  I asked him if he wanted to go outside and you could just see his face light up.  But then he really blew me away.  He walked over to his diaper bag and pulled out his jacket that we normally make him wear when we take him out.  He didn’t need it that particular day, because it was actually pretty warm, but his comprehension amazed me.  I couldn’t help but laugh at how excited he was to go outside as well.

The best part about having Aaron around though is just watching his joy and wonder taking shape as he discovers new things around him.  Watching him trust others without a care in the world is refreshing.  As he is around us more, the more he trusts us.  And like I said, his smile can just melt your heart (It doesn’t matter how upset he is, me trying to do a Daffy Duck impression brings this huge grin to his face).

Being around his curious and trusting personality has brought life to a passage of scripture.  Jesus talks a lot about children throughout His ministry.  There is a story in Mark 10, however, that really shows how much He cares about children.  The story is found in verses 13-16,

13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

I’ve always known about Jesus saying that no one will receive the kingdom of God unless they do it like a little child.  But something clicked when I was reading through this again recently.  Did you notice Jesus’ mood when His disciples were trying to keep the children away from Him?  It says He was indignant.  Not a word that we use much anymore, so let’s take a look at its definition.  Indignant: feeling or showing anger or annoyance at what is perceived as unfair treatment.  Jesus was angry at His disciples. 

The faith of a child is a wonderful thing.  Aaron has shown me this in a very personal way.  Watching the way he learns is just incredible.  You tell him something and he believes it.  The faith of a child is what we need when we are pondering the kingdom of God.  And that is why Jesus valued them so highly.  Children can teach us how to learn.  They can teach us what it means to have faith in Jesus.  And according to Jesus, we have to have faith like a child to inherit the kingdom of God.  May we all have the faith of a child.

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What Do You Want From Me?

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Day 10.  I have been writing a minimum of 500 words a day for the last nine days.  Really there hasn’t been a day yet that has been under 600 words.  And that is just what I am recording here.  On top of that, i’ve been writing sermons and Bible studies on top of my 500 word challenge.  For example, I wrote over 1,000 words for a blog post yesterday, and then wrote my sermon outline that I had been thinking through all week.  That outline ended up being almost 1,000 words as well. 

I’ve confirmed something through these last nine days (ten including today) that I have said for a long time.  I love writing.  This is the first time that I have been able to be this disciplined writing, however, and I am finding that I love it even more than I thought.  There have unexpected things that came up (you can read about that here) that in the past would have caused me not to make the time to write.  Yet, I have written every day (if you look through my website, you might say there is a day missing; I wrote that day, but kept that writing private), even when it wasn’t easy or convenient. 

So, why do I write?  Better yet, why do I love the process of writing?  That’s part of it.  It’s a process.  I love getting my thoughts out there.  Thinking through an issue and formulating a response to it is actually soothing to me.  And it’s addictive.  I also love having the possibility of speaking into someone’s life and helping them through a problem.  That’s why I write mostly about Christianity and trying to better our relationships with Jesus and one another.

I love it as well because it helps me learn and understand things better for myself.  Think about it.  When you are teaching someone else how to do something, or how to understand something, you learn more as you are trying to teach them.  If you don’t understand something, how can you teach someone else to do something.

As much as I love it, there are things that are difficult and/or frustrating.  It can be time consuming, especially when you don’t have a whole lot of motivation at the time you are trying to write.  There are so many grammar rules that can make things complicated and frustrating, especially when you have been out of high school/college English and writing classes as long as I have.  When my writing starts flowing, I can really get bogged down if I concern myself too much with the grammar side of things. 

Sometimes the most frustrating thing about writing for me is actually coming up with a topic to actually write about.  That is one of the reasons I haven’t pursued writing a book in the past.  That’s one of the main reasons that I haven’t been as consistent in my blogging as I would like to be.  And that is the MAIN reason I am writing this post today.

I need your help.  I want to know what some topics related to being a Christ follower that you would like me to write about.  Give me some ideas.  I have a few topics in mind for the next few days, and I am committed to reading more as well, so that will also give me ideas for the future.  But I want to write about things that you want to know about as well. 

So what questions do you have?  Is there something that you are struggling with, and want to see a different perspective on it?  Do you have questions about scripture or doctrine?  Are you a non-believer at this point, but are curious and want to know what following Jesus is really all about?  Comment on this post, or click here to contact me if you’d rather ask your question in private. 

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Disclaimer: I am not guaranteeing that I will be able to answer, or attempt to answer every question.  There is the possibility I respond to your question privately as well.  If there is a question or topic that I do not feel comfortable writing about, I will contact you privately as well to inform you of my decision.

Can God Forgive Me?

I had a great time at our Wednesday night Bible Study last night.  In fact, the last two times that we have met (we missed last week due to too many people out because of illness) have been two of my favorite times of our Wednesday night adult Bible study since I moved to Carlsbad almost a year and a half ago.  Why?  Because we have actually had some great discussion and questions going.

There is a guy that has just recently come back to our church (long story, and not something I can get into on here), and he is trying hard to get his life back on track.  He is asking questions, trying to better himself and better his relationship with God.  But he also is dealing with things from his past and not being able to let those things go.  He just can’t get to the point where he can forgive himself.

I get it.  There are things that I have done in my past that were hard to let go of.  This was where some of our discussion went last night, and it was very productive.  The whole thing has caused me to think through some of this over the last few hours, and I want to put my thoughts down.  Where do I start?  We need to start with this question: Why is it so hard to forgive yourself when you have asked God for forgiveness and gone through the process of repentance as well?  I have a feeling that there are a lot of us that have trouble forgiving ourselves. 

We tend to compare ourselves to other people, but what we don’t understand is that we do not see everything that those other people have done.  If we look at someone, we may only get to see their “highlight reel” for lack of a better term.  Then we see all the negative and bad things that we have done, and that causes us to think we are horrible.  So the lenses we see the world through can give us the incorrect perspective.  Don’t get me wrong.  We are all bad.  We have all sinned.  We have all done things that we probably wish we had never done.  We’ll get to what Paul has to say about that topic in just a minute.

One of the other people attending the Bible study last night asked our friend if he trusted God.  His answer was yes.  Then the question was posed, “if you trust God, then why do you not believe Him when He says that grace has covered your sins”.  In other words, Jesus’ blood, shed on the cross, was freely given and covers all sins if we accept Him as our Lord and Savior.  Does that mean that we will instantly and forever be able to live perfect lives.  Absolutely not!  But what it means is that we do not have to do anything other than have a relationship with Jesus to receive forgiveness.  As we get to know Him more, however, we grow and change through His guidance.  That doesn’t mean we won’t still mess up from time to time.  This is a lifelong process.

Now let’s get back to Paul.  I said earlier that we are all bad, that we’ve all messed up and done things that we wished we hadn’t.  And Paul would agree with that.  That’s why Paul writes in Romans 3:23 the following, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.  We have all sinned, and on our own we cannot repair that relationship with God that we broke through our sinfulness.  When you just look at Romans 3:23, this life looks pretty bleak.  It is easy to get down on yourself because you have sinned, and because of that sin you have broken your relationship with your Creator.  And that’s why context is so important when studying the Bible.

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Let’s take Paul’s writing in Romans 3 in a little bigger chunk.  Paul writes in Romans 3:21-26;

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  Man that sounds ominous.  But then Paul follows that up with the hope that we all have; An all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus!  There’s our hope.  There’s how we lay things down and forgive ourselves.  We receive forgiveness and atonement through our faith in Jesus, and if you can’t lay things down and forgive yourself when God says that it’s covered, how strong is your faith? 

Stop trying to think that you are worse than others.  We have all sinned, and if it wasn’t for Jesus, none of us would stand a chance of forgiveness, because we can’t do it on our own.  God’s grace is freely given through Christ’s sacrifice, and we receive that through our faith.  Then, as our faith continues to grow, Christ’s presence in our lives changes us more and more into His image, as we choose daily to walk with Him!  Don’t cheapen Jesus’ sacrifice by believing the lie that it can’t cover over the things you’ve done.  You’re no worse than anyone else, but you’re no better than anyone else either in regards to how grace works.  Forgive yourself, because God has if you’ve asked for forgiveness and repented.

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Priorities!

It is 10:30 PM on day six of “My 500 Word Challenge” that I wrote about a few days ago.  This is my first attempt at writing anything today.  I really should be in bed right now, because this is also the week that I committed to trying to get up at 6:00 AM every day to be able to write in the mornings.  Unfortunately, I have not met my goal of getting up that early to this point yet, although Sunday I did get up at 6:15.  This morning I stayed in bed until 8:30, but that is kind of the point that I want to write about today.

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You see, after preaching yesterday morning, eating lunch with some friends from church, quickly packing an over night bag and booking a hotel, my wife and I headed out of Carlsbad on a spur of the moment trip to El Paso, TX.  It is just a two and a half hour drive from Carlsbad, but it is not a trip that we make very often.  We went because one of our faith family members from our church here was in El Paso because his mom had to be flown there early Friday morning due to some major health concerns.  We knew about the situation, but found out Sunday morning that things may be even worse than we originally thought.

Kelley and I decided that we needed to be there for our friends, knowing that we would probably not be able to see his mom in the hospital.  Checking on, and being there to support our faith family is something that we hold in great importance in our lives.  We were right, we never even actually made it to the hospital.  We got to our hotel and contacted our friend.  He said that his mom was not up for visitors, but that he would let us know when he was heading out from the hospital in a little while so we could meet up with him for some coffee.

So we heading out to dinner (Chipotle, one of our favorite restaurants that we do not have anywhere close to here), and then just explored El Paso a little while waiting on a phone call.  We were able to meet up with our friend and spend some time just making sure that he was alright (his wife had to head back to Carlsbad before we met up with them).  Just being present with someone when they or a family member is going through something unexpected is sometimes the best thing that can be done.  Even better than that, we found out that the situation with his mom was not as severe as once thought (and that she would probably be discharged in the next couple of days, though we have not received an update since then).

Hospital visits, or visiting with people who have loved ones in the hospital is part of the job in ministry.  I am not writing this trying to say that I did something special.  I would have done the same thing for anyone of my faith family or any of my friends for that matter.  But the whole situation got me thinking about something else.  It is a goal of mine to start getting up earlier.  I want to be more productive and build better habits in my life.  And those are all good goals.  Life does not always live up to those goals and expectations though. 

Driving to El Paso right after church caused me to miss my usual Sunday afternoon nap, and then my wife and I were up late just decompressing from the day, and trying to relax.  It was after midnight by the time I laid down, and after 2:00 AM before I fell asleep.  So I gave myself a break and slept until 8:30 (which is still an improvement, because in similar situations in the past, I would have stayed in bed until 10:00 probably).  I also did not try to write while we were at the hotel.  The motivation just wasn’t there at the time and I decided not to force it. 

Here I am, however, past what should be my bed time as I write these words.  There are times in life that things are not going to go the way we think they are.  I left our house for church yesterday morning not planning on making a trip to El Paso.  In fact, I had planned on just relaxing in our living room for the afternoon, trying to get in bed at a decent time, and getting up at 6:00 AM this morning.  Did any of that actually happen?  No.  So goals that I wanted to achieve just did not materialize.  But I am still getting my 500 words in today.  And more importantly, I was able to be there for someone that needed support. 

What am I getting at?  Goals are important.  Routine is important.  But friends, family, people in general are more important than any of those things.  And I also learned something else that is really important for me.  While I want to write in the mornings, making it a priority in my day, since I have committed to this challenge, I will make time for it.  Even if it means writing late at night when I can barely keep my eyes open as my fingers fly across the keys. 

So what about you?  What do you prioritize in your life?  Is it your goals or yourself?  Or do you make it a priority to be present for your friends and family?  Is it your routine, i.e. your comfort?  Or do you let interruptions happen and make the best out of them?  Enough for tonight, I’m going to wind down and head to bed!

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One of the Best Days of My Life!

August 12, 2007.  Nine and a half years ago to the day.  A day that I will never ever forget.  Sure, there are details that get a little blurred with the more time that passes, but I would be hard pressed to find a more important day in my life, at least in regards to my calling in life.  My wedding day would probably be the only other day that I would consider as more important overall, as I got to marry my best friend and the person that has agreed to walk beside me through my calling in life.

What was August 12, 2007?  It was the day that Crossroads Christian Church in Gray, TN ordained me for full-time ministry.  In other words, the leadership of my home church “set me apart” for my calling of ministry.  They had watched me grow up, and even with the mistakes of my youth that they knew about (I had some wild years, even while going to bible college), they saw the calling that God had put on my life.  On top of that, they also saw my commitment to follow God’s calling on my life to go into vocational ministry. 

The summer of 2007, leading to this memorable day in August, was a very impactful time in my life as well.  I had just finished a 3-month internship at Georgetown Church of Christ, and had been able to start correcting some of the mistakes of my youth.  It was also the summer that I met my wife.  In fact, August 11, sometime in the early morning hours was when Kelley and I finally made our feelings known to each other and agreed to start dating.  She was still in Ohio, and I was back home in Tennessee for a week before going back to school in Ohio. 

So leading into my Ordination service, I had also just started a relationship that would prove to be something very important as well.  To say that I was on a “high” would be an understatement.  Crossroads is the church I consider my home, and a place that has helped prepare me for ministry over the years.  For the leadership from Crossroads to see something in me enough to “set me apart” for ministry means more to me than I think I could ever really express through words.

Let me set the scene a little for you.  Most ordination services that I have heard of over the years usually take place on a Sunday evening.  But for some reason, Clint (the Sr. Minister) and everyone else from Crossroads decided that they would hold my ordination during both Sunday morning services that day. 

My best friend (and eventually best man in our wedding) was able to be there that day to lead the worship service.  Nick Tomeo, the professor of youth ministry at Cincinnati Christian University, where I was studying youth ministry, made the five hour drive from Cincinnati to Gray to be a part of the service.  One of my best friends from college drove in from Louisville, KY to  be there as a support to me.  My extended family that all go to different churches around East Tennessee showed up at Crossroads to be a part of the service as well.  Ryan Bader, the last ordained person from that church before me came and spoke as part of the service. 

Clint Andrews and Curtis Booher, mentors and men that I respect highly preached and challenged not only me, but the congregation to run the race of this life with our eyes fixed on Jesus.  And then maybe the most special part of the whole service happened.  The elders of Crossroads surrounded me, and with me on my knees in an act of surrender to God’s call in my life, laid hands on me, confirming my calling, and promising to support me in my efforts to be a servant leader in the Kingdom of God.

After the service was over, my mom, along with the rest of my family, hosted a luncheon in celebration of the day.  To say that I was blown away with all that took place is definitely an understatement.  It was a humbling moment, one that I never want to take for granted.  There is nothing special about me.  That is not why I am writing this.  In fact, I will be the first one to admit that I am a very flawed person, and I do not always feel worthy of the calling that God placed on my life.  But I also absolutely love getting to preach full-time.  There is nothing else I would want to do with my life.  And honestly, I don’t really think that I am qualified to do anything else.

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I am humbled by the fact that men that watched me grow up saw enough in me to set me apart for a life of ministry.  But it is also sobering.  Not only do I have a calling from God, I have the support and recognition from other servant leaders that I am set apart for vocational ministry.  What if I fail?  Do I have what it takes?  Am I going to make them look bad?  If I try to do this all on my own power, then the answer to those questions is an emphatic YES!  But that is one of the reasons for an ordination service like this.  It shows that we cannot do ministry on our own.  We have to support each other, but more importantly, we have to rely on God’s power to do what we are called to do. 

That is why this day, nine and a half years ago is so important to me.  It reminds me that I have a support system, even 1,400 miles away from where I am living now.  But it also reminds me that God has called me to this life, and it is through His power that I am able to do what I love. 

A friend of mine in ministry posted a picture of his ordination program the other day on social media, and that is what got me thinking about all of this today.  It is a great reminder of those that have gone before us, but also surround us and support us in our calling.  I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life, even when ministry is tough and beats me up a little.  But more than that, I can’t imagine walking through this calling without the support system that have surrounded me through the years, even when I wasn’t really living the way I should have been. 

What about you?  I would love to hear about a day that you will never forget or about the support system you have in your life.  Don’t think you have a support system or feel like you need more?  Let me know how I can try to support you!

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