Jesus Is NOT For Sale

img_0243I watched a presentation last week where the presenter was talking about how times have changed in the church and how we must change with it. One of the things that stood about about what he said was that people aren’t going to respond to the Gospel if they see it as a ploy to get them to come to our church. That was NEVER part of the Great Commission. It seems that today too many ministries and churches are trying to “get people saved” in order that they can build their church and get more people coming to their brand of Jesus. We need to stop selling Jesus because people aren’t buying it.

Years ago I was associated with a minister who was attempting to start a church. It should have been a red flag to me when he told me that he had to be a leader and that he wasn’t meant to be just a member. Just a member? You mean like me? When the church didn’t take off, he moved to another state.

So what are we selling here? Some people want to start a church or ministry and when it isn’t big, they lose interest. They think that God is only interested in the big things or the mega church.  We think that large numbers means that we are successful.  We treat God’s work like a business and think that the bottom line is the measure of success.

I’m always suspicious of peoples’ motives. Why are they REALLY doing what they are doing? Why does it need to be big?

Since I left the church I have had some who have come along to connect with me but when they see that I am not going to come to their church, their interest in me fizzles out. So that would lead me to think their interest in me isn’t in ME but in what I can do to be a part of their church or their ministry. Jesus didn’t start this thing so that preachers could have a pulpit to preach from. In fact, if you study the Bible, you will see that Jesus didn’t have a church and many times when He went into the synagogue it was to preach to the religious people. When Jesus went out to the people, He had compassion on them and their needs. He healed the sick and He spoke words of peace to them. The only people He asked to join Him was the disciples.

In Matthew 25, Jesus speaks to the righteous people about how they ignored Him when He was hungry, thirsty, needed clothes, was sick or in prison. When they asked when was it that Jesus was this way He said that whatever you did for one of the least of these that you have done it for Him. So today we should be more than just an advertisement for a church organization. We need to meet people’s needs. If we see someone who is thirsty we need to give them something to drink. If they are hungry we should be willing to feed them. If they need clothes we should help them with clothing and so on. Never once did this say that we are supposed to witness to them. I know that’s a shock to a lot of people out there but witnessing alone won’t get it done. Today if you talk to someone about Jesus and they don’t see action behind the words then they aren’t going to accept it. just saying “God Bless You” doesn’t quinch their thirst and giving them nice, glossy witness card isn’t going to do them much good.

In my years with the church I was always opposed to knocking on doors. To me it was too much like being a door-to-door salesman. That was never a good way to get people to come to church. In fact, I had never seen that method of evangelism – or whatever you call it – work. If it did, it had to be a low percentage. Yes, I know if you reach just ONE person it was worth it but I never saw that selling Jesus that way was very efficient.

Have compassion on people. Meet their needs. You’re not going to do it by having a perfect attendance in a mega church with air conditioning, padded seats and singing songs from high tech visual presentations.

You may be thinking that I’m against church. In some parts I am.  This kind of talk makes us uncomfortable.  We get defensive and protective about our church.  We would rather stand in our Jesus arenas and clap for the Lord than to do something about it.  I lived a miserable life going to church and nothing changing. When you leave church feeling worst than when you came then there is something wrong with church. Sure, I think church is important for instruction and teaching but I think there has been too much emphasis on that than going beyond the four walls of a building. The church still must go out and – not add to their numbers as a church organization – but add numbers to disciples of Jesus Christ. That’s it in a nutshell. I think we’re just often too chicken to do that. It’s easier to stay in the church and TALK about doing it or even giving money so other people will do it.

There are people in need and hurting around us that need help. They need compassion. They don’t need a sermon. If it’s really good news then they need to see why it is good news. They need to see us being an example in actions and not just words.

It’s up to each one of us to do our part. It’s not always fun and it’s not always easy but helping others as if we are doing it unto the Lord is the attitude we should have.

I worked in churches for most of my life. I worked with youth, I taught Sunday School and Bible Studies and I even tried to preach but that left me awkward and miserable. Why is that? Talk wasn’t getting it done. The only thing that really ministers to people is to meet their needs and SHOW them. You show them by doing.

Let’s stop selling Jesus. People aren’t buying it. Jesus doesn’t need us to sell Him, He needs us to BE Him to others.

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@#$%! I Was Just Praying!

E15191-mug15oz_1024x1024This week I walked across the street during my lunch break to a church which was open for prayer.  I walked inside.  It was quiet, air-conditioned and no one else was around.  Perfect. It was the perfect setting for prayer.  I spent a while there praying and sitting quietly.

Wait before you think I’m bragging on myself here. Keep reading.

It was a nice break from the daily work routine.  I was at peace as I got up to leave.  I walked out of the church and was getting ready to cross the street when a driver blew through the red light and nearly mowed me down.  I waved my arms wildly and uttered some flowery language.  As I regained my composure, I looked back at the church and wondered if I should go back inside again.  The peace from my time of prayer barely lasted past the church doors.  I was more upset that I had lost my composure more than the stupid driver rolling through the intersection.

Yeah, this wasn’t a shining moment for me and certainly nothing to brag about.  Some Christian I am right?  Believe me I shake my head enough at myself in these moments more than you would think.  I honestly try not to give Christians a bad name but my human emotions get the best of me just like anyone else.  Hey, I’m human.  I am not one of those who thinks I walked out of that church perfect or that I had done something great by spending some time praying. If you are a believer, you aren’t going to be perfect.  Sorry to break that news to you.  You’re going to have moments of flowery language, you’re going to have a flat tire and stuff will happen to you just like it happens to everyone else.   If you are a believer, you are going to make a lot of spiritual boo boos along the way too.  I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I have had to ask forgiveness to God for my emotions getting out of control.  It happens.  I grew up in a church which was a little crazy about perfection.  If someone from the church had witnessed my flowery moment in the crosswalk, they would have likely brought charges against me before the men of the church.  I would have been counseled by the brethren.  For sure I would have to repent all over again because I would have been viewed as a backslider.  I even heard some teaching that we are supposed to be perfect.  Really?  When do you stop becoming human?

How is it possible that someone could ever be perfect?  That thinking alone is totally flawed theology.  We all have weak moments.  In fact, the Bible says that we have ALL fallen short.  How can anyone think that believers should be perfect beings while having the same physical body in a world of pain and imperfection?  It’s just not possible.  I can tell you – and I think anyone with physical ailments can verify this – when you have illness or pain in your body, it certainly makes it difficult to be perfect.  Pain is humbling and as long as we have this human bodies, nothing will ever be perfect.

Yeah, I felt bad for losing it for a moment and giving that driver a piece of my mind but I also didn’t let that moment erase the time I had just spent in prayer.  An emotional lapse isn’t going to cancel out a solid time of prayer.  I just said a prayer of forgiveness to God and asked Him to help me to do better in that situation next time.  Maybe I blew it then but maybe I learned a lesson from it.

Don’t worry, I’m not one of those “cussing Christians”.  I’m just a believer who strives to do better.  The worst thing I could have done – which I have done in the past – was to just throw up my hands and just wallow in my frustration.  Believe me, it is a lot easier to do that than to just acknowledge my imperfections, ask forgiveness and move on.  I think it is difficult for people to understand that we are all human – even people who come out of the church after praying.  There have been churches where people are flipping each other off in the parking lot after church.

So what can you do if you are a believer and you slip up – maybe cuss a little?

  1. Recognize you are human and ask forgiveness immediately.
  2. Try to avoid being in the situation next time if possible.
  3. If there are witnesses, apologize.  Don’t let pride defeat you too.
  4. Pray for that *special* (insert your city here) driver.  Bless their hearts.

Hey, it’s a crazy world out there.  Let’s not be surprised when this kind of thing happens.  It’s not the end of the world.  Yeah, I know, people will be quick to judge you but you just have to let it go.  if not, that people will find something else anyway.  And if you’re in a church that tries to say you can be perfect – RUN.  Get away from that church.

My grandfather was preaching one time and a man in attendance walked up to adjust a fan and accidentally got a finger stuck and was clipped by the fan.  He uttered a cuss word.  My grandfather didn’t miss a beat.  He said, “Well, it looks like we’ll have one in the altar at the end of the service tonight.”

Stuff happens.

I have seen a bumper sticker that reads:  “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.”   Some folks look at that as a cop out for bad behavior but it is truthful.  No one – not even people rolling in and out of church buildings on Sunday mornings.  We all have our flaws and we all have things we need to work on.

Don’t let those imperfect moments knock you down.  If anything, it should humble you and show you that you have something to work on.  God isn’t going to smite you for it.  He already knows we aren’t always going to get it right.  I have seen people walk around and all they ever do is quote Bible verses and use King James English all the time as if that will make them perfect and a part of God’s disciples club.  God doesn’t fall for that.

Nope, we’re not perfect.  We blow it sometimes but we can use those times as a lesson and learn from them.

Trust God: He’s Got This

Trusting in God and His timing is one of the hardest things for me to do. I am pretty sure that I am not alone. We are impatient people. We want what we want when we want it. We don’t want to wait. I’m sure it drives God nuts in how impatient we can be.

My wife has been planning a trip for us and she will routinely tell me that she’s got this. It is her way to keep me from stressing out about it. When someone says “I’ve got this” it means you don’t have to worry about it. They are handling it so don’t stress about it

Worry is such a nasty word. I hate to worry yet I often find myself there. When we pray, we are presenting our desires to God but many times we walk away and continue with stressing about the very thing we prayed for.

God knows us and knows more than anything we could. This is a God who knows the very details of how many hairs we have on our head. Nothing that happens to us surprises Him and you won’t hear Him say “oops”. He’s got everything under control.

Okay, let’s be honest here. It sure doesn’t seem like He does. I know I will even look up in my despair and ask Him does He even see what’s going on. The fact is that He does and He’s not under any obligation to share every little detail of His plan with us.

Just this past week I offered up a prayer about a particular need. It wasn’t one of those on-my-knees-crying-out-to-God prayers. It was a rather weak request but it was sincere, honest and from my heart. I talk to God just like I would talk to you. I presented my request to Him. I would like to tell you that I had all kinds of faith that God was going to do something. I did have a measure of faith but certainly nothing you would be impressed with. The very next day God not only answered that prayer but He did above and beyond anything that I expected. I was totally overwhelmed. I spent the rest of the day thanking Him for it. It was incredible.

I also asked God to help me to remember that moment. Remember how it felt when a prayer was answered. I want to always keep moments like those on my mind when prayers aren’t being answered or when it seems God isn’t listening.

I assure you they God had a plan. Timing with God is important. We pray things and we expect to get them right away. I’ve been doing this a long time and I can tell you that it is very rare for a prayer to be answered right away. Most of the time, it takes time.

There are times when God had to answer prayers around the free will that people have. God isn’t going to force people to do what He wants them to do. He’s moving the chess pieces around to get things in place to answer our prayers. God will often work in ways we cannot see and get our prayers answered in ways we would have never thought of. It can come from totally unexpected places. I know because I often find myself trying to visualize how God is going to do it. Sometimes I will even try to help Him with His plan which I am sure amuses Him.

I’m glad that God is in control and I can have faith that He’s got this.

Waiting To Be Remembered

In the story of Joseph in the Old Testament, Joseph found himself in prison after he had been falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife of rape. When the baker and the butler were in the prison Joseph interpreted their dreams. The baker didn’t have a good result but the butler did. When the butler was restored to his position Joseph had asked to be remembered but he was not and he spent another two years in the prison before he was remembered.

I don’t think we can fully comprehend what he went through because we already know the end of the story. Two years is a long time to be forgotten.

I have spent many times in the forgotten place. Those are some of the hardest times of your life. It is difficult when you are waiting. It doesn’t matter how many times you have gone through this it is just as hard the next time. Experience doesn’t make it any easier.

At this time in my life I am waiting. I hope that I will be remembered. I will have to confess that I am have been discouraged. It is difficult being Joseph in the prison. The hardest thing is to refrain from forcing something to happen. Yes, here we go with that dreaded patience word again. I have already established the fact that I am not very good at waiting but I have also learned how important that patience can be from my own experiences.

I have always heard the cliche that “God is good all the time and all the time God is good”. He is and I don’t dispute that one bit; however, that cliche has always sickened me. Yes, God is good but I’m a little less interested in some Christian cheerleader chant during these forgotten times. When it seems that you are forgotten or your prayers have been forgotten you really don’t want to hear a cliche and it certainly doesn’t seem God is good at the time. I know this doesn’t sound very holy like but I’m being honest. Yes, maybe some people can whistle their way through being in the prison but most of us cannot.

It is hard to continue to go each day without an important prayer going unanswered. Each prayer seems empty. The energy dwindles with each word.

This week I was struggling with the discouragement of being forgotten by God. It seemed that nothing was happening. I was honest to God about what I was feeling. I simply asked for a little encouragement. I didn’t need anything big just a little something to give me a lift. Yesterday, Steven Curtis Chapman released his latest music video for the song “Remember to Remember”. The song reminds us to remember that God had been there when we’ve been on the mountaintops and the times we’ve been in the valleys of our lives. That song hit me right where I needed it. I am often amazed how God can work through a song but He does. No, it wasn’t a huge thing but something I needed and something that will push me on. I may still be in my prison of unanswered prayers but I am not forgotten.

If you are like me, we have to hold on and keep the faith. It isn’t always easy but it is always worth it. Always.

When God Is Silent

manSilence isn’t always golden. Especially if you are a believer. I don’t care who you are, there comes those times in our relationship with God when things get stale. It happens. It’s one of those dry spells everyone goes through. Even the most religious person goes through it. When I was in the Pentecostal Church they had folks who were “on fire for God”. So what happens when that fire isn’t so hot?

One of the most important things I have learned about going through times like these is to keep talking to God. Silence is dangerous and leaves you open for temptation if you aren’t careful. Keep talking to God even if it feels like a one-way conversation or if you feel absolutely nothing. Whatever ritual you have in praying, keep it up.

During these silent times you simply have to push through. It is difficult and very frustrating – believe me. I totally dread the times of silence. If you go to church you hate it or you look for reasons to miss. It’s not an easy time.

Another thing that always seems to work for me is to find a new song. I usually go to the latest Christian music releases on iTunes and see what song touches me. I love it when I find that favorite new song or a new artist. Music is something that will stir my soul.

The times of silence aren’t fun but you can get through it. I have often wondered why we even had these times. Sometimes God withdraws himself from us on purpose to help us to focus more on Him or on an area in our lives that needs some improvement. He doesn’t necessarily leave us but at times He may not be as present with us as He is at other times. Do I always understand it? Not really. Can I adequately explain it? Hardly.

Sometimes it’s just the fact that we are human. Can I be brutally honest here? Frankly it gets boring. We talk to God and we hear nothing. It can get to where we feel like we are talking to ourselves. He’s God and we’re human. We aren’t on the same level so we can easily get out of synch. When things get boring or when our human emotions temper our relationship with God, we have to push our way through it. Change things up. Study the examples in the Bible when people went through the same situation.

The final thing that always seems to get the spiritual mojo again is thinking of others. It could be volunteering or simply being kind to someone. Reach out to someone who is hurting. Be the Jesus in human form to someone else. It doesn’t have to be religious to make a difference to someone. Quite honestly it is rare in today’s selfie world to find someone that is kind and thoughtful to others.

Maintaining a relationship with God isn’t always easy. The silent times are hard work but it is so important to get through them and make your relationship with God worth the effort.

In the old days, we used to wait for a week of revival meetings to get energized again. Sadly it sometimes was nothing more than a spiritual pep rally to stir up emotions only to leave when the revival was over. We shouldn’t depend upon a dynamic evangelist to do it for us or to be hoodwinked that we should “sow a seed” into someone’s ministry. Contrary to what they may think, a relationship with God can’t be bought. It just takes some inner strength and discipline to do it.

As I am writing this, I am going through the silent period. I have been around long enough to recognize it. I hate it too. When it happens, I want it to be over as quickly as possible. I annoy myself with how inconsistent things are right now. I still keep the faith and keep doing the things I know to do to get through it and I will. You have to be determined.

Yesterday I was sitting in the car waiting for my wife when I heard the song “Broken Prayers” by Riley Clemmons. The chorus says:

You want my tears, every messy word

Every scar and every fear

You want all I have

With no holding back

When I’m hurt, at my worst

You meet me there

‘Cause you see the beauty

In my broken prayers

In my broken prayers

You can watch the lyric version of this song here.

It is tempting that when things are silent in our relationship with God that we feel abandoned by Him. This couldn’t be further from the truth. He may be testing us by allowing us to see the things in ourselves that we need to work on. The silence exposes our fears and gaps in our faith. Life always has a lesson for us. The only way we get better and grow is when we learn from those lessons.

Does this make me feel any better about the silent times? No, not really. I may understand it better but it still doesn’t mean I like it.  Regardless, we still have to push through it.

Mother’s Day For The Rest Of Us

As I prepare myself to see all the loving tributes to mothers today, it is a painful day for me and it always will be in some way. My mother passed away in December 2015. Things did not end well for us. I deal with it the best I can and take comfort that she no longer has to experience any of the pain she had.

The transition of going from a child to a man was difficult for our mother-son relationship. Sometimes it’s hard for a mother to accept it when another woman comes into her son’s life. I am sure that was at the core of a lot of our issues.

I had to make some difficult decisions both good and bad which put a lot of strain on our relationship. I won’t lie. It was very difficult. I’m a lot like my mother in that I won’t just let things go and I am a fixer. I want to fix things. This created more problems than it helped. There were many times of strife and separation between us. Even with all of the differences and periods of silence at least she was always the one who would make an effort at some point to reconcile. We would often find ourselves back to the place of starting over again. Unfortunately, something would happen to bring us back to the same place of separation once more. We were never able to sustain any consistency in our relationship.

It’s easy in a strained relationship to see the negative. I was not always good at looking past the negative. That has been a difficult lesson for me.

In remembering the good things – my mom had a awesome sense of humor. She always found humor in any situation. I definitely see that part of her in me. We had a lot of funny moments together. My mom loved going to garage sales, yard sales and any rummage sale she would definitely brake for. One time we went to a yard sale and suddenly a dust devil touched down and took a flimsy card table several feet into the air tossing everything on it into every direction. We laughed for a long time about that one.

I treasure the good times. That’s what I hold on to now. Yes, there were some ugly times but I choose to remember the good – especially today. Do I have regrets? Absolutely. I’m sure we all have them but you take the good with the bad. When it’s too tempting to focus on the bad you push that away and cherish the good times. That’s the way I deal with it.

I have thought a lot about my mom since her passing. I relive things in a different way and try to look at them from her perspective. Her life was affected a lot by physical pain. She had some awful episodes with migraine headaches. She also had many other ailments which I am sure made life difficult for her. In addition to the physical pain she also had to endure the harsh life as a preacher’s wife. People are cruel and judgmental in the church. Perhaps the thing that really dealt her the most difficult blow of all was when her father passed away in 1989. I don’t think she ever recovered from that and life was never the same for her. She was indeed a daddy’s girl and she missed him terribly. I don’t fully know all the details of what she went through in the years after that. I’m sure that pain contributed to the strain of our relationship too.

I believe in heaven and I believe she is there. I take comfort and knowing she’s no longer in any pain and she’s right where she has wanted to be. She’s reunited with my Pa-Pa. I hope one day I will be reunited with her and the past problems we have will fade away.

I wish things had been different between us – especially in her final days. Most of my family sees only one side of the situation and have made up their minds without walking in my shoes. That’s fine. I deal with it. I don’t waste my time fretting over what they think. I have heard the saying that there is always three sides to a story – my side, your side and the truth. They haven’t walked a day in my shoes so they don’t know what they think they know.

Sure I have regrets. If you have a good relationship with your mother I am happy for you. Hold onto it. Do want you can to work through the difficult parts. If you are forced to make decisions to set boundaries – keep them. Don’t flip flop about it and don’t wimp out. If you’re a man, be a man. Not a mommas boy. If you find yourself in a strained relationship suck it up and deal with it. Life isn’t always fair. Not everyone is going to have the Hallmark Card relationship with their mothers. You just do the best that you can.

It may have ended tragically for me but I live my life hoping that I will be the son she could be proud of. That is how I honor her on this day.

Awesome Songs of Easter

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Easter Sunday was always my favorite day to attend church. It was a tradition for me which started at an early age. When I was a child it was about wearing new clothes to church and the Easter Egg Hunt after church. As I grew older, I learned to appreciate the positive message of the resurrection. It has always been exciting to hear about that morning when Jesus walked out of His tomb. Good Friday became an even better Sunday.

During a period of my life, I was a church youth leader and my favorite activity was to direct the Easter program at church. I was always one who was a bit eccentric and liked to do things different. Each year when I planned the Easter program, I would pick a powerful Easter song and have our young people to play roles in acting out the song. These programs were a lot of work but they were always very fulfilling when they were performed. I always had a wonderful group to help me. We had fun but they were all also very committed to what we were doing.

My early productions were rather basic but I found ways to improve each year. The year I discovered the effects of dry ice was an awesome discovery as I learned how to create fog or smoke effects, especially when the stone was rolled away from the tomb. Another year I managed to save tubes of fake blood from Halloween to use them for the productions. The blood was so lifelike that one elderly lady didn’t like it and left. I’m not sure what she was expecting from us acting out a song called “This Blood Is For You”.

Since I would always use modern contemporary Christian songs, there were always the traditional people who would express their dislike for our “worldly” music. In other words, we weren’t acting out songs from the church hymnal.  That’s okay because everyone’s tastes are different, I just liked using songs that were effective to stir the emotions of people and understand the importance of this day.

It was exciting to bring life to some awesome Easter songs. When I refer to Easter songs I am referring to songs about the resurrection.

Here is a list of some of my favorites along with a link to a performance of that song:

  • “He’s Alive” by Don Francisco (Listen)
  • “Arise my Love” by Newsong (Listen)
  • “The Champion” by Carman (Listen)
  • “He Lives” by Lakewood Church by Cindy Cruse Ratcliff (Listen)
  • “Rise Again” by Dallas Holm (Listen)
  • “Was It A Morning Like This” by Sandi Patty (Listen)
  • “Jesus Is Alive” by Ron Kenoly (Listen)
  • “Celebrate Jesus” by Don Moen (Listen)
  • “Because He Lives” by Bill and Gloria Gaither (Listen)
  • “I’ve Just Seen Jesus” by Sandy Patti and Larnelle Harris (Listen)

It’s very difficult for me to pick a favorite from the list above.  I can only say that they all have their own ways of bringing out hope and maybe cause a few goose bumps to appear when you listen to them.  I think the first one that I remember which really stuck with me was the first time I heard the song “He’s Alive”.  My first time hearing this song was not the Don Francisco version but one sung by a man that has meant a lot to me.  He was my first counselor in Youth Camp many, many years ago.  He is an awesome banjo player and he performed a memorable version of this song.  I have never forgotten it.

So if you are looking for an awesome Easter song today, I highly recommend any of those on the list above.

Although not an Easter song, the final scene from the movie “Passion of the Christ” is perhaps the best movie scene which depicts the resurrection.  I think it’s pretty powerful.  You can view the scene below: