Friday, October 13, 2017

October is Pastor Appreciation Month

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. The Apostle Paul first taught this concept in 1 Timothy 5:17, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching." Focus on the Family started recognizing pastors and encouraging congregations to honor their pastors in the 1990's. In 2002, the first greeting cards were printed in recognition of Pastor Appreciation. The practice of raising awareness about pastor appreciation now continues each October.

Pastor's don't enter ministry for recognition. True pastors enter ministry in response to God's calling. Serving as a pastor is rewarding, but difficult. Pastors and their families live in fishbowls with their congregations critiquing their every move. They serve people who often feel they know how to better manage the affairs of the church. The expectations are often unrealistic, the hours are long, the pressures are immense, they are expected to be perfect, and they deal with people... which can be both rewarding and very draining. An interesting and shocking article about reasons pastors leave ministry can be found here at EXPASTORS.COM. The article is good and the comments thought provoking. It's worth the read and may give you a greater appreciation for your pastor.

I'm finishing my 33rd year of ministry. I've had some of my greatest life's joys in ministry, as well as, some of my greatest life's disappointments. Both were directly connected to people. Even when people are cruel and unfaithful, pastors realize that God is faithful and He is ultimately the One we serve. God allows pastors the privilege of loving His people here on earth, and there is no greater honor than to hear someone call you by the name, Pastor.

I am blessed to have many men in my life that have served as my Pastors and friends:
- Dr. Verle Ackerman - took several "preacher boys" under his wing and taught us how to love God and love people.
- Dell Lindsey - Was my dear friend and ministry mentor. Faithful in the face of suffering.
- Jack Baskin - The first pastor I worked for and he gave me a heart for missions.
- Dan Burrell - A very dear friend, who taught me to do everything with excellence and showed me faithfulness through trials.
- David Nelms - Taught me to think outside the box and how to transition a traditional church into a vibrant church.
- Milton Frazier - Taught me faithfulness all the way to the end of his life.
- Jeff Huey - A brother (truly like family), friend, encourager, soulwinner, picture of Jesus! I don't have enough words to describe my love & appreciation for this man.
- Bill Monroe - Showed me that people are the heart of the ministry. My wife's family was saved under his ministry and he walked with Flora & I through a ministry valley.
- Clayton Simmons - A pastor and a true pastors' friend! He will go the extra mile (or two) to help others. He is the example of a pastor's heart.
- Tom Waggoner - A trailblazer that always sees the potential in men and ministries.
- Greg Hales - Encouraged me through one of the darkest points in my entire life. I owe this man so much!
- Ron Long - The greatest encourager of pastors that I've ever known. He is a pastor's friend and a lifter of my soul. Someone recently said that he has done more to influence modern-day Christianity than anyone they know!

These 12 men have influenced my life in ways they will never fully understand. They helped to teach, train, shape, stretch, help, heal, make and mold me into the pastor that I am today. You'll notice that most of these men are older, experienced pastors. They learned ministry in a generation that understood it differently. They aren't CEO's, clock watchers, slaves to their computer screens, counting their hours or looking for extra time off. These are ministers who prepare sermons; but they also serve, visit, teach, and train others. "God, please help me to be a pastor like these men and to apply what they poured into my life!" If you have a pastor who has made a difference in your life, take time to at least send them a note of encouragement. That small gesture will go a long way to help them keep on, keeping on.

Finally, I want to give a shout-out to the pastoral team with which I have the privilege of serving at Grace. Duane, Luke, Steve A. & Steve L.: I've served on, with and led several pastoral teams; but you are some of the finest men I've ever known or had the privilege of working with. Your commitment to Christ, love for his Church, compassion for people, attention to detail, commitment to excellence, heart for evangelism, tireless effort, and support for your Pastor is noticed and VERY MUCH appreciated. May God give us many years to serve Him together!

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

With a Little Help From My Friends

Many of you will remember the song, "With a Little Help from My Friends" produced by the Beatles on the album "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" from June 1967. The song was written for and sung by the Beatles' drummer Ringo Starr. The chorus states, "Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends; Mm, I get high (not endorsing) with a little help from my friends; Mm, gonna try with a little help from my friends. Barbra Streisand's song, "People," reiterates the need for friendships, "People who need people are the luckiest people in the world."

I read a sad post the other day that said, "Don't depend too much on anyone in this world, because even your own shadow will leave you when you are in darkness." I wholeheartedly DISAGREE with that statement! Through the years, my wife and I have been SO very blessed, but we have walked through some dark valleys in life and ministry. In the good times and the bad, we have been blessed to have MANY, MANY friends beside us. In fact, we have found that it was the dark days that "revealed" who our true friends really were.

Pastors have many acquaintances, but usually very few deep friendships. My wife and I have intentionally tried to remove the proverbial wall that is built between pastors and people. We get our hands dirty in ministry, we get into the trenches with people, and we get close enough to see through the facades. In doing so, people can also get to know us, too. They see that we aren't perfect, that we are real, that we have the same struggles they do. It's in these times of transparency that friendships are built. True friendships are built when we take off our masks and people see us for who we really are... warts and all.

Our true friends keep in touch with us regularly. Our true friends bless us with cards, notes, and words of encouragement. Our true friends have met a need and even provided financial encouragement when we needed it most. Our true friends knew when we needed rest and took us away for a weekend. Our true friends sat, listened, wept, and walked through the valleys with us. Our true friends are the ones we pick up with, right where we left off. True friends enjoy the sunshine and the darkness together. The truth is that it was in the darkness, that some of our deepest friendships were forged.

Sure you will (and we have) encounter a few fakes, phonies, and wolves in sheep's clothing along the way; but don't let that stop you from trusting people and developing true friendships! Barbra Streisand was right in that "people who need people are the luckiest (most blessed) people in the world." My life is richer and better because of those I call friends.

I'll close by reminding you that I even have a Friend Who sticks closer than a brother! One of my favorite songs is "Friend of God" by Israel Houghton. Ponder these lyrics and let them encourage your heart today:

Who am I that You are mindful of me
That You hear me, when I call
Is it true that you are thinking of me
How You love me
It's amazing
[Choir sings lead verse]

I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
He calls me friend.

Thank you Jesus for the way you love me, the friends who love me, and the people I get to love in this lifetime. My life is richer, fuller and better; because of the people I call friends!

Sunday, October 01, 2017

A Spiritual Lesson from Driving?

Driving in South Florida is quite the experience. We have an international population and plenty of snowbirds, thus drivers navigate our roads using international driving rules and blue-haired driving skills. The roads are crowded, using a horn is second nature, cutting people off is expected, a yellow light means "punch it," and scooters & motorcycles use the dashed white line as a 3rd lane.

The aftermath of Hurricane Irma made the S. FL. driving experience even that much more exciting. The lights were out at many major intersections. Imagine 12 lanes of traffic trying to work like a 4-way stop! When you approached these types of intersections, you prayed harder; because every man (and woman) did what was right in their own eyes. If a driver got tired of waiting, they simply broke the 4-way stop pattern and altered the process. If they felt someone else wasn't doing things right, they yelled obscenities and flipped them off. Every person believed they were doing right and it created chaos, when the proper system was not followed.

As I sat and watched this scenario playing out, I realized a spiritual truth, "This is what religion looks like." The Bible warns against every man doing what is right in his own eyes. (Deut. 12:8, Judges 17:6, Judges 21:25, Job 32:1, Prov 12:15, and Prov 21:2) Religion is the epitome of people interpreting, practicing and teaching the Bible according to their personal interpretations. Religion is people trying to make God fit into their box. I've known people to seek-out Bible verses to prove their points or justify their behavior. We live in a world that paints and portrays God to be whatever and Whoever they want Him to be in order to "fit" into their personal belief system. It boils down to people setting themselves up as gods and determining that they can redefine spiritual success and chart their own course to heaven.

When driving, we see instructional road signs. These signs are not suggestions, they are commands that carry the full authority of the law. Those who follow these instructions will usually arrive alive; but for those who choose to break these laws, there are often costly (even deadly) consequences. In the Bible, God has given us a road map (GPS) and instructions for our spiritual journey. To start any trip, you must know where you are going. On our spiritual journey, the destination is heaven and we can only get there through Jesus Christ -- He is "the Way, the Truth and the Life and no man comes to the Father except through Him." We are sinners in need of a Savior!

So, the choice is up to you. You can be religious, follow your own interpretations of the law and risk spiritual death; or you can have a relationship with Christ, live for Him and experience eternal life in heaven. Remember, God made it very clear: "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" - Prov. 16:25. So, will you choose your way or God's way? Will you choose religion or a relationship with Christ? The choice is yours, but choose carefully!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A Working Team is the Basis for Teamwork!

The following is from my recent post on the Highlands Christian Academy blog to brag on our 100+ Grace/Highlands employees:

As many of you know, I graduated from Hollywood Christian High School. Hollywood Christian School and Highlands Christian Academy were strong rivals when it came to athletics. Not only did I play against HCA, but I also later coached against HCA when I was the varsity baseball coach at Berean Christian School in West Palm Beach. You can’t even imagine the amount of ribbing that I have taken from fellow classmates/teammates and also former players since I started serving here at Grace and Highlands. It is all in fun, but also funny how life really does come full circle!

Athletics have always played a very important role in my life. I’ve had the privilege of playing in Little League and at the college level. I’ve had the privilege of coaching and playing on championship teams. I’ve also been on the other side of the wins. I cannot say enough about the lessons I learned regarding the value of teamwork and the vital role it plays in the success of any organization.

Listen to these famous quotes about teams and teamwork:
• “Talent wins games, but teamwork wins championships.” – Michael Jordan
• “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller
• “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” – Phil Jackson
• “Unity is strength… when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved." --Mattie Stepanek

I wanted to share these thoughts about teamwork; because during Hurricane Irma, I got to see our GBC/HCA team in action. I watched as 70+ employees, church families and school families came out to prepare our campus before the storm. People removed doormats, carried trashcans, removed the shade canopies, removed the high jump mats, installed hurricane panels, cleared playgrounds, and so much more! After the storm, I watched our team gather together and work on restoring our campus, while some didn’t even have electricity in their own homes. Our team members were here joyfully serving and helping to cut and haul fallen trees, to reattach fencing, to remove the shutters, and to reset all of the classrooms and playgrounds for school. It was a daunting task and initially looked slightly overwhelming; but it only took our TEAM about 5 hours to complete the majority of the cleanup and we were able to reopen school on Thursday. Together, we did in a few hours what would have taken one or two individuals weeks to do!

I want everyone to know what a great team of people we have in our church and school ministries. Our team consists of pastors, administrators, staff, faculty, housekeepers, maintenance personnel, cafeteria staff, support personnel, church families, school families, and more. I’ve had the privilege of leading and working with several teams through the years; but truly, this is one of the finest teams I’ve ever worked with!

I close by extending a simple, but deeply heart-felt THANK YOU to each of you! Your commitment to Christ and your commitment to His work were obvious to all who watched and worked with you. Even in the midst of a storm, you were a beacon of hope and joy to others. Again, thank you!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Missions Hypocrisy in the Local Church

Ask people in the community, and they will tell you that they don't go to church, because "the church is full of hypocrites." My response is always that "I would rather be in church with a few hypocrites than to be in hell with all of them." In this post, I'm going to take a position of agreement with those outside the church in an effort to point out a familiar and prominent form of hypocritical behavior as it relates to missions and evangelism in the local church.

I have always been part of local churches that are very evangelistic and have a heart for world missions. Several years ago, while pastoring in the Deep South, I was deeply bothered by a trend that I noticed... churches were giving money to support world missions; but those same congregations did not want to share Christ with their neighbors or build relationships with people of a different skin color. Since first noticing that issue, I've come to discover this practice occurs frequently. How hypocritical for white people to say they love black people in Africa, while refusing to love the dark-skinned people in their local communities (and vice versa).

Recently, I heard of a church that removed community outreach from its annual budget, but collected a special offering to assist the Hurricane Harvey flood victims in Texas. While that is definitely a noble cause, I suggest it is hypocritical to raise money to send to TX, when you refuse to reach those in your own back yard. In addition, how sad that churches are willing to raise money to meet social needs after a flood; but are not willing to spend money to share Christ with their communities.

I believe God places churches in strategic locations, with the purpose of reaching local communities. That said, the local church body should look like a cross representation of its local community! To preach that "God is love" and then refuse to love all people... to sing "Red, yellow, black & white they are precious in His sight" and then to build a church catering to people of only one ethnicity... to send money overseas to reach people, while ignoring those in our own backyard... to go on missions trips, but refuse to share Christ with our neighbor... THESE ARE ALL EXAMPLES OF HYPOCRISY!

So, I challenge pastors, parishioners, and anyone who says that evangelism is important to you; will you begin to share Christ with the people in your neighborhood? Will you include funds for community outreach in your church's annual budget? Will you strive to make your church look like a mirror of the races represented in your community? Will you strive to expand evangelism to a way of life, rather than a single, once per year event! When a congregation claims to be missions-minded, while letting those in their own community go to hell; it fans the flames for those who say the church is full of hypocrites. Let's make the changes necessary to refute that statement, rather than to represent it.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Does God Ever Lead People Wrong?

Does God lead people wrong? It may seem like a strange question, but people often imply it. Some say “God led us to relocate,” but that move resulted in my family falling apart. Others say, “God led me to change jobs,” but then I got laid off. For others, it was “God led me to break fellowship with a person,” but God commands us to love one another and to reconcile our differences. So why do so many insist on blaming God for their poor life’s choices by saying that He "led them" to make those choices?

This type of stinkin'-thinkin' carries over into the church, too. I recently heard of two different churches and pulpit committees that experienced the same calamity. In both situations, the pulpit committees said, “God led us" to call a particular pastor, but the pastors felt God had led them somewhere else. In both cases, it is obvious that someone was not listening to God; but used the phrase “God led” in an effort to spiritualize and "sell" their personal agenda. If God were leading, there would have been a perfect peace for both the church and the pastor. As it pertains to a specific issue, God will NOT tell one person one thing and tell another something different.

God’s leading will never contradict His Word and God never gets confused. 1 Corinthians 14:33 states that “God is not the author of confusion…” By default, we know that Satan is the one who causes confusion. So, let's give credit where credit is due! Those pulpit committees that went the wrong direction immediately lost credibility with the church and the next pastoral candidate will realize that he was the second choice--the “Plan B.” Pushing a personal agenda always wreaks havoc! The best advice is found in Isaiah 40:31, “But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.” It is imperative that we wait on God’s true leading, because He will never lead us wrong!

So, I pose this question, “Are you following God’s leading or sleeping with the enemy?” Godly people, seeking God’s direction, can count on God’s perfect guidance, and will experience God’s perfect peace in knowing that He will NEVER lead them wrong! On the other hand, carnally-minded people will run with the devil, seek their own desires, push their own agendas, and disrupt God’s plan as they follow the way that seems right unto a man. If you choose to follow God, you can expect His blessings. If you choose not to follow God and you decide to chart your own course; at least stop blaming Him for the self-made mistakes, messes and the mayhem you cause.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Six Traits of a Church Disrupter

Six Traits of a Church Disrupter -
Now being in my 33rd year of ministry, I've heard about and even seen this scenario played-out in various churches. Ask the majority of pastors and they have had to deal with disrupters. A mentor of mine, Dr. Ron Long, told me that church splits almost always start within the leadership; and mainly with pastoral staff and deacons. He works with pastors and churches across the country and around the world, so he should know. The biggest messes and most disruptive scenarios are usually initiated by people who have been in a church so long that they have come to believe it's "their" church, or novice staff members who think they know more than the senior pastor. Regardless of where the disruption starts, the Pastor better have the courage to take care of the problem as soon as it surfaces and before it destroys the body. As Barney Fife used to say, "Nip it in the bud."

If you haven't experienced a "Church Disrupter" it's only a matter of time. Tom Rainer "nails it" with this blog post and I encourage everyone to read it carefully. These people believe they are God's "watchmen on the wall," but they are really pawns that Satan uses to destroy the work of God. Time always reveals the disrupters, but usually not until after the damage has already been done.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Church Budgets Reveal the Focus of the Church

There are many reasons that churches die slow deaths, but I believe the root cause is a lost focus resulting in a lack of direction and loss of purpose. I believe the church is an organization that was specifically designed for those who are not its members. The membership gathers regularly to exalt the Lord, to train and equip believers for the work of ministry, and then the congregation goes out as an army to evangelize the world. Rather than an army, too many churches have been converted into social clubs. Rather than exalt, equip, and evangelize; too many are serving as little more than recreation centers for those who are religious, but not fully-devoted followers of Christ. The Church of Jesus Christ was called out and set apart to engage in spiritual warfare for the purpose of spreading the Good News and saving the souls of mankind from eternal damnation; but many congregations have been distracted by the things of this world.

How can a spiritual army, commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ, lose sight of the battle? I believe it is due to an inward focus and membership mentality that says, “Ask not what you can do for the Church, but what the Church can do for you.” One of the easiest ways to determine if your church is a “spiritual army” or a “social club” is to examine your church’s budget. Where the money is spent will reveal what is important to that church.

I recently saw a budget explanation sheet informing the congregation of the budgeting decisions being proposed by its church leaders. I've included some of the points below. Read this list and evaluate whether you think this church has an inward (personal gain) or outward (reaching the world) mentality. While reading, compare this list to your church.

Budget summary items:
1) Removed funding for community outreach.
2) Removed funding for evangelistic services & events.
3) Removed funding for an annual audit (accountability?)
4) Removed saving toward future expansion.
5) Increased money to send staff on missions trips.
6) Increased staff salaries… while cutting the previously mentioned funding for community outreach, evangelism, etc. (I would ask that with all those previous cuts, why do you even need a staff?)

It should come as no surprise that salvation, baptism and membership decisions are down in this church and the weekly attendance is also declining rapidly.

The Bible is very clear in Matthew 6:21 and Luke 12:34 that “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” When community outreach is defunded, at the same time the church leaders are budgeting for personal profits that pad their own pockets; the church is already dying a slow death. On the flip side, when a church realizes “the fields are white unto harvest,” and their funding goes into reaching the community with the Gospel, the church will grow and thrive!

So, where does your church spend its money? Is money spent on outreach? What does your church's budget predict about future growth? Does your church's budget reveal an inward or outward focus? If you find your church turning inward… speak up! If you see these budget trends in your church, it is either time to expose the problem or "get out of Dodge." To summarize Edmund Burke, “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

So, get a copy of your church's budget and begin to ask questions. Remember, the only ones who are afraid of questions are those who don’t know the answers or those who are hiding something. Your questions could be the first step toward making corrections and putting your church back on course!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Learning from Andy Griffith - "The Case of the Punch in the Nose"

One of my all-time favorite TV shows is "Andy Griffith." The wisdom and wholesomeness of Andy, coupled with the naivety and comedy of Barney, make for great TV. Not long ago, I was watching "The Case of the Punch in the Nose" and saw some great spiritual lessons. Barney was going through some old courthouse paperwork, only to discover an open case involving Floyd and Charlie in which a fight had broken out. Andy tells him it was over, in the past, and they had moved on; BUT Barney insisted on trying to close the books on this case. It turns out that Andy was right! Barney's efforts reopened an old wound and resurrected the argument.

This show revealed the truth and great wisdom to the old idiom, "It's better to let sleeping dogs lie." Sometimes it's better just to leave things as they are; especially, in an effort to avoid rekindling an old argument or making matters worse. I have occasionally witnessed the same thing in working with people. I've watched people open old arguments that seemed to have been healed and forgotten, only to have them flare up worse than before.

I can think of situations in marriage , church, athletics, employment, and other relationships that would have been served much better by moving on, rather than looking back. I'm sure you can think of your own illustrations. So, just for fun, take time to watch "Andy Griffith - The Case of the Punch in the Nose" by clicking the link below. I think we can all learn a valuable life's lesson at Barney's expense.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Identity Crisis #3 - A Generation of Anarchy

On January 30, 2017, President Trump fired the acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, for failing to carry out his instructions. You can call it disrespect, insubordination, defiance,or even betrayal (as Sean Spicer called it). Whatever you call it, Yates failed to realize: "The boss may not always be right, but he's always the boss." This simple and most basic concept appears to be lost across this generation. We saw it in the NFL as Mike Tomlin fired Legarrette Blount for his insubordination evidenced by walking off the field and taking off his uniform in 2014. We saw it with Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning (now Chelsea) who defied orders and their oath by selling USA secrets to Russian spies. We see the public defying law enforcement officers; students defying teachers; and employees defying managers. It appears we are living in a generation of anarchy.

Whether in the NFL, corporate America, the Church, the classroom, or Washington, DC; it's as though respect for authority is a thing of the past. It appears all semblance of loyalty and integrity have been flushed down the toilet. The church is in part to blame, because it has placed so much emphasis on feelings that it has failed to teach obedience to Christ. I also attribute some of the anarchy to the empowerment that Facebook has given cowards to criticize from the comfort of their couch and to base their beliefs on their feelings. President Trump is right in his belief that opinions now trump facts and fake news is running rampant. People often take firm stands on their opinions, whether they have any facts to back them. Sadly, this situation seems to be growing worse in both the church and the world. It is the basis for much of the anarchy that we are witnessing in our world today.

Call me crazy, but I believe this world is in chaos. Consider 2 Tim. 3:1-5 and compare it to the evening news: "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!" I believe the only hope for this world is Jesus! I believe 2 Chronicles 7:14, "If My people who are called by My name (the Church) will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." Our hope can only be found in bowing to the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and living obediently to Him.

If we don't begin to teach respect for authority at home, at work, and in the church; then how can we expect this generation to have respect for Divine authority! It boils down to the fact that when we don't respect God, we don't respect others. I respect President Trump for firing AG,Yates... I respect Jerry Jones (owner of the Dallas Cowboys), for saying that his players worked for him and if his players didn't stand during the National Anthem, they could work for someone else... I respect a Pastor who teaches people about the Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Omnipresent God; by Whose authority the world is sustained. I respect and function under the authority of God and genuinely believe that one day "every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!" The identity crisis of today's church has left it striving for numbers, but not teaching the most basic and foundational principles of Scripture. Obedience to God is not an option and our respect for God will reveal our respect for others. It is the obligation of this generation to teach that principle to the next. So, what kind of example are others seeing in you?