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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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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Tattoos, Rock Music, and Relationships: Are You On Mission?

I’ve written about it a few times in the last couple of weeks because it is something that is completely changing the way I look at the world.  It’s something that I’ve actually known for a long time, but my perspective is changing.  In other words, it is becoming more real to me than ever before.  Instead of just “head knowledge”, I am starting to see real world application for my own life…and it’s a game changer.

I’m talking about our current sermon series that we are going through at Central Christian Church.  I wrote yesterday in part about the idea that you never learn more than when you are actively trying to teach something to someone (read that here).  And that is what is happening to me right now.  We are going through this series that I pray will be a game changer in the lives of our faith family, but it is definitely changing me.  It’s called Life on Mission (based off of the book Life on Mission by Tim Harlow) and you can check out recordings of this series here if you’d like.

The basics of the series up to this point is this; if you are a Christ follower, you have a mission of sharing Jesus with others, that should be done by building relationships with new people (having a meal with someone new is a great start), finding a way to serve those people (because you truly care about them and they are not just a project to you), and then, once you’ve built that relationship, start sharing your story of how Jesus has impacted your life.  That’s where we’ve gone so far with two more sermons to wrap it up.

I want to try to live out what I have been teaching/preaching, and am actively trying to figure out ways to start getting to know people in my neighborhood that might not know Jesus yet.  As a preacher, I am generally around Christians for the most part, so I have to put effort into finding non-Christians to interact with. 

I did something yesterday that reminded me that I already have the beginnings of friendships/relationships with people outside of my normal sphere of influence that I didn’t even think about.  I got a tattoo to help represent what I am all about and what I call myself.  You realize my nickname on here; Crosseyed Jesus Freak.  Well, I finally got “Jesus Freak” tattooed on me.  Actually, I am surprised that I didn’t get this one earlier.  “Jesus Freak” by dc Talk has had a huge impact on my life and how I want to show my faith to the world, so it is a natural idea to me to have it in my tattoo collection. 

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Here is the chorus of the song, and why it means so much to me:

What will people think

When they hear that I’m a Jesus freak

What will people do when they find that it’s true

I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus freak

There ain’t no disguising the truth

The truth for me is that I love God with all of my heart.  There may be days that I don’t live up to that, but Jesus is the best thing that has ever happened in my life.  And because of that, you can label me whatever you would like.  I don’t care what other people think of me in the sense that I try to follow Jesus.  Now what that doesn’t mean is that I am just going out there trying to ram Jesus down other people’s throats.  That isn’t what Jesus would want.  Again it is about building relationships and then presenting how Jesus has changed your life, not standing on the street corner yelling at people.

So why the color scheme that you see in the picture?  That’s another reference to the song itself.  Here’s another part of the song:

I saw a man with tat on his big fat belly

It wiggled around like marmalade jelly

It took me a while to catch what it said

‘Cause I had to match the rhythm

Of his belly with my head

“Jesus Saves” is what it raved in a typical tattoo green

He stood on a box in the middle of the city

And claimed he had a dream

The reference of the “typical tattoo green” led me to want the green color scheme.  When I told the tattoo artist about it, he came up with the idea to do the black outline and then start with the dark green (typical, old-school tattoo color) and fade it into the bright green on top.  That sounded awesome to me, and we went with it.

Enough about the actual tattoo.  And if you don’t agree with getting tattoos, that’s great.  We don’t have to agree on it because it is a personal decision in my opinion.  But the reason I am writing about this experience is it ties in with Life on Mission.  You see, this isn’t the first one I’ve gotten from Robby.  He did my 1-1-Six tattoo that I got a little over a year ago, and a former apprentice of his did an ichthus (Jesus fish) and cross for me a few months ago as well.

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In other words, I have started building a relationship with Robby.  He grew up with a Catholic background, but I think he would tell you straight up that he is not a Christian.  There is always loud rock, hip hop, or a combination of both pumping through his shop.  It’s filled with profanity.  In fact, when I sat down in the chair yesterday, he looked at me and apologized for the music and I reminded him that it wasn’t an issue for me.

Do I like the music?  Not particularly.  Does the profanity match what I consider to be good language?  Absolutely not.  But like I explained to Robby the first time, and reminded him last night, I don’t expect him to follow Christian morals when he doesn’t claim to be a Christ follower.  If I did that, and caused tension as a result, I would never get the chance to meaningfully present Jesus to Robby at some point.  He knows what my life is all about, but we aren’t to the point where I can really present Jesus in that meaningful way yet.  I don’t want to do anything at this point to cause that to never be an option. 

So we talked music, movies, and other general entertainment as he worked, just continuing to get to know each other a little bit.  Do we have a lot of the same interests?  I wouldn’t say a lot, but we have some bands in common (he actually knows of Skillet and some other Christian groups).  We’ve gotten to the point that he values me as a repeat customer (in fact, he gave me a great deal on this piece), and we respect each other. 

Through all of this, I’ve been able to just get to know someone that is very different than I am, and different than most people that I get to interact with on a regular basis.  I pray that one day I am able to share my complete story with Robby, showing him what Jesus has done in my life, and that he sees what a life with Jesus could actually be in his own.

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My point, however, is this.  Do you know people that are a lot different than you?  I’m sure we all can think of someone.  Do you just immediately write them off (judge them because they are different), or do you look for ways to get to know them, build a relationship with them?  There is a lot of arguing and tension in the world today.  If you are a Christ follower, how can you live on mission and share Christ if you are constantly arguing with those that don’t know Him yet?  Like I said to Robby last night, just because I don’t agree with or like something that someone else does doesn’t mean that I can’t be civil with them.  In fact, it doesn’t even mean that I can’t build a friendship with them. 

Paul writes in Romans 12 that if possible, when it depends on us, we are to live at peace with everyone.  You can read the full text here.  What are you doing to actively live on mission? 

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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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Thick Skin

Every time you turn around anymore, someone somewhere is being “offended” over something.  I put that in quotations because I think we have lost sight of what is truly offensive in this world anymore.  It seems that you cannot even express a difference of opinion with someone without someone taking offense at the fact that your opinion is different than theirs.  And i am honestly sick of it.  I am tired of feeling like I have to “walk on egg shells” because someone might not like what I have to say.  It sickens me that I start to write something on here, and talk myself out of it because I might “offend” someone.

Don’t get me wrong, I want nothing to do with purposely going out of my way to write something offensive.  But I am tired of feeling like I cannot have an opinion on something because if I differ with someone then they might get their feelings hurt.  Since when did everyone have to agree with you for you to like them? 

If you know my mother-in-law at all, then you know one thing.  She is one of the strongest Christians I know, and tries to live that life as well as she can.  I have never heard a “cuss” word out of her mouth, and rarely hear anything negative come out of her mouth at all.  I bring all of this up because the other day she shared a photo on social media of a pun.  There are a few of us that like to share puns between us.  It is just something that we get a laugh out of and a way to stay connected during our busy lives.

What she did not realize at the time was that the group that originally shared that particular photo had the acronym “lmaof” in it.  I will not spell it out here, but if you are not familiar with that acronym, some of the letters stand for cuss words.  She did not see it before she posted it, I did not see that after she posted it.  That is until she commented on the photo apologizing if she offended anyone.  I saw that comment and started asking what was offensive, because it was just a clever little pun that did no harm.  She pointed out the acronym and said that someone else pointed it out to her.

In other words, because of a little acronym that she obviously had not typed or posted herself, someone else was offended by it and pointed it out.  Like I said earlier, if you know my mother-in-law at all, you know that she was not the one that posted the acronym.  She shared the photo because of the pun, and that was it.  But because someone was offended by it, she felt the need to apologize about posting a funny photo.

Guess what Christ followers.  We live in a world that does not know Jesus, and because of that we cannot expect the world to live by our morals.  There is going to be things going on around us that we do not always agree with.  People are going to use language we do not like.  People are going to drink, listen to music we do not like, watch things we do not agree with; and that is ok.

Stick with me for a minute here.  Yes, we are called to try to live righteously, and that is something that we should strive for.  But the way we do that is through a relationship with Jesus.  If someone does not have that relationship with Him, or is very new in that relationship with Him, then they are not going to have everything in their life cleaned up.  Guess what?  I have been a Christian for over half of my life at this point, and I still do not have everything in my life the way it should be.  This is a daily struggle, and a decision we have to make daily to trust Jesus and let Him clean us up.

If we, who are trying to follow Jesus and be Christ followers, do not have it all together yet, how can we expect the world around us to live it out.

Here is what I am getting at.  Instead of being offended by the foul mouth neighbor who seems to cuss every other word, why not get to know them.  Build a relationship with them.  Learn to love them because Jesus loves them.  Then, once you have a relationship with them, maybe, just maybe, you can introduce them to the one that has changed your life and taken away your sin.  I am not saying that we have to agree with and condone bad behavior, whatever it might be, but if we are truly living our mission out on this earth of introducing others to Jesus, then getting offended every time we turn around and see something that we do not agree with cannot be the best way to share Jesus with someone.  Let us all get on and stay on a Life on Mission.

Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak

Life on Mission (1-21)

Have you ever asked the question, “What is my purpose in life?”  Or maybe you have asked what you mission in life is.  That is a common question, but there does not seem to be an easy answer to that question sometimes.  If you are a Christ follower, however, the answer to those questions becomes a little easier to answer.  Unfortunately, even as a Christ follower, we can get distracted and not realize that we have a mission in this life.

That is why we are starting a new series this Sunday at Central Christian Church, called Life on Mission.  It is based off of a book by the same name, written by Tim Harlow.  In his book, he lays out a very simple premise.  Basically, Harlow says that if you are a Christian (or Christ follower), you have a mission in this life.  But it is up to you whether you accept it or not. 

What is our mission?  It is simply building relationships in the community, in an effort to earn the right to tell others about who Jesus is.  In Acts 1:7-8, 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

Jesus stated that we would be His witnesses.  A witness is simply someone who observes something, and then tells other people about what they saw.  The problem is that we take another message from Jesus and think if we are going to tell others, we have to go somewhere overseas.  Matthew 28:19-20 states, 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Yes, there are some people that might be called to go overseas to spread the name of Jesus, but we are all suppose to spreading the name of Jesus somewhere.  Take the passage from Acts above.  Jesus said that we would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  In other words, we need to start in our own back yard.  Our community here in Carlsbad become our “Jerusalem” if you will. 

We all have a mission in life.  Are you going to choose to accept or ignore the mission as a Christ follower?  Join us at Central Christian Church as we dig into this series over the next six-weeks.

Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak

Sermons That Stick

Back in October, I had the opportunity to do something that I had never done before.  The guys at RookiePreacher.com were in the process of having their first book published, and were asking for preachers to review the book, and be on the launch team.  It was going to be a book about improving your sermon prep and delivery, so they were looking specifically for a group of preachers to promote the book.

So, I was given an advanced e-version of the book.  This is the first time that I have ever been able to read a book before it was published.  Let me tell you, I was honored to be able to read the book, but once I got into it, it got even better.  I was blown away by the practical information contained within the pages of Preaching Sticky Sermons.

The chapters are short, specifically designed to be an easy reference guide for specific topics, meaning that you can easily turn to a chapter and quickly find the information that you were looking for, without having to scan through a lot of information.  The whole premise of the book, however, is what really intrigued me.  It is about developing sermons that stick with people.  In other words, it is about finding a way to preach memorable sermons.

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The book is finally available as of today.  You can pick it up here.  The great thing about it is that it does not matter how long you have been preaching.  There is something in this book for everyone.  Different chapters will resonate with different people.  What has helped me the most is the chapters about utilizing Evernote for sermon prep.  I am still in the process of implementing that in my own prep, but I know that it will be very useful in the future.

I do not get anything out of promoting this book, but I think this book will help you develop your sermon prep and delivery.  Preaching is a calling, and it is something we should all strive to improve in no matter how long we have been doing in. In “Preaching Sticky Sermons”, Brandon Kelley and Joe Hoagland do a fantastic job of giving practical information on how to improve your sermon prep and sermon delivery. I highly recommend this book for anyone who preaches, whether you’re just out of Bible College, or have been preaching for years. Give it a look.preaching-sticky-sermons-final-cover-copy