Thursday, June 25, 2015

Do You Know Your Features?

I once heard a pastor say that everything is a sermon illustration. That may or may not be true, but I believe everything has a lesson to teach if we will take the time to learn. Let me illustrate:
I have a tablet that I carry with me every day. Not the pen-and-ink kind, but the electronic kind. I bought a case for it from Wal-Mart, choosing the one I bought for the color (purple) and the reasonable price. I also liked the contraptions used to hold the tablet in place. I got it home, ripped it open, put the tablet in, and never looked back.

I have carried this thing for months, day in and day out. I have propped it up on my desk at work for music and for break-time YouTube viewing. I have connected the tablet to the sound system at the church almost every Sunday. I have folded the cover a million ways. But one day I pulled my tablet out and it was different. It was at a slightly different angle inside the case – one I had never seen before.
As I began to try to straighten it out, lamenting that I had broken it somehow, I discovered something that I had not known all this time. The base the tablet rests on swivels! I can adjust the tablet to stand vertically or horizontally, and I never even knew it. I found out through experimentation that it is actually capable of a full 360-degree rotation.

It’s obvious that I missed that detail when reading the cover’s features. I can’t imagine the creator would leave out such an important detail. I never even tried to move it in a different way. Had it not gotten off balance, I might have never known.
Of course, that taught me a lesson. Some of us are not living up to our full potential because we have never thought we were capable of moving in a different way. We’ve always operated in a certain position, and have not grasped the fact that there is more to us than meets the eye. We are capable of moving in different directions, but we’ve never even tried. The one direction, the one move that worked for us at the beginning has always been enough. Or has it?

Maybe we missed the part, like I did, in our packaging that explains all that we can do. I think it was Dr. Myles Munroe who once said the best way to know the purpose of a thing is to consult its creator. Most things come with an instruction manual, or at least a listing of features. If we don’t consult it, we miss out on some of the benefits the creator built into the creation. In the same way, God left us an external manual, the Bible, and an internal guide, the Holy Ghost, to help us understand all the ways we were created to be used. When we fail to consult our creator’s instructions, we limit our usefulness based on what we can figure out on our own, or based on what others perceive we are designed to do. Worse than that, we open ourselves up to misuse and abuse because we don’t know, and cannot appreciate, all that we are meant to be.

We go about our daily business, thinking this is all there is to us. Our current job, ministry, or assignment is working for us. We are doing what we know to do. But some of us, I would dare say all of us, are capable of more. Believe it or not, it usually takes something knocking us off balance for us to find out what that more is, because it’s usually a problem that sends us scrounging for the instructions that we had all along.
I told you – it was not until I noticed my tablet off balance that I discovered it could move in a different way. For many of you reading this little note, let me say that your feeling that something is off in your life is actually God’s way of getting you to move in a different direction. He wants you to try something you have not done before. There is more inside of you than realize. But this time, instead of guessing your way through, consult your instructions. Go to the Word of God to find out the intent of your Creator. Ask the Holy Ghost to show you how to unlock your hidden potential. You are flexible and versatile! Dr. Munroe also said, I believe, that if you don’t understand the purpose of a thing you will always abuse it. I said that to say this: Don’t let anyone who has not consulted the instruction manual handle you!

Get familiar with your built-in features and the additional power available from your Creator, and prepare to be used by God in new and exciting ways.
[Isa 43:19-21 KJV] Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, [and] rivers in the desert. The beast of the field shall honour me, the dragons and the owls: because I give waters in the wilderness, [and] rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen. This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

What is this Noise I am Hearing?

It's amazing how the human mind works. I have a thing about pens. I love them – all styles and all colors. But I particularly like gel pens, and rollerball pens. Until recently, I had never met a pen I didn't like. But just a few days ago I bought a new set. They look good, and the colors are nice. But they make noise! And they don't write as well as I had hoped.

These pens are disturbing my peace. Some of them write well depending on what paper I am writing on, but every pen in the set makes a strange noise as I am writing. I don't like the strange noise. It sounds bad on notebook paper; it is even worse on printer paper.

I keep twisting the barrels, trying to tighten them up somehow. The noise is bothering me. I don't know if the pens are falling apart or cutting up my paper as I write with them. I don't like strange noise!

Thinking about that – my aversion to strange noise – got me to thinking about God. Why? Because nearly everything gets me to thinking about God sooner or later. God hates strange noise too! Strange noise is a sign that something is out of order, something is not working as it should.

I can think of at least two times in Scripture right off the bat where strange noise revealed a people operating contrary to God's will.

In Exodus 32, the noise coming from the children of Israel's camp was an indication of worship directed toward something other than God. While Moses was up in the mountain receiving God's instructions for the people, the people were down in the valley creating a god for themselves. Moses' first indication that something was amiss was the noise coming from the camp. He was so disturbed by what he heard that he broke God's law into pieces and tore the whole scene apart.

Exodus 32:15-20 (KJV) 15  And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. 16  And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables. 17  And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said unto Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp. 18  And he said, It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear. 19  And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount. 20  And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.


In 1 Samuel 15, the noise coming from Israel's camp was an indication of disobedience to God's commands. God told Samuel that he was rejecting Saul as Saul had rejected Him. The noise let Samuel know that what God had said should die was still alive. Even though Saul claimed to have followed God's directions, the noise let Samuel know that Saul had not been completely truthful in his assessment of the situation. Samuel had to take the initiate to complete the work that God had assigned Saul to do and kill the king of the Amalekites. Saul blamed the people for his disobedience, which is really bad since he was the king!

1 Samuel 15:10-15 (KJV) 10  Then came the word of the LORD unto Samuel, saying, 11  It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night. 12  And when Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning, it was told Samuel, saying, Saul came to Carmel, and, behold, he set him up a place, and is gone about, and passed on, and gone down to Gilgal. 13  And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou of the LORD: I have performed the commandment of the LORD. 14  And Samuel said, What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear? 15  And Saul said, They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.


In the New Testament, Jesus very plainly discussed the kind of sound His people should be seeking to hear: His voice. He said that a strange voice would not get their attention. Jesus implied from what He said that His voice would lead His true disciples; a strange voice would not have the same authority.

27  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28  And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. John 10:27-28 (KJV)

So what is this noise that I am hearing? So many voices, all clamoring for attention and recognition.

Amy Grant sang a song years ago that said, "They're gonna hit you from all sides, better make up your mind, who to, who not to, listen to."

One problem seems to be that the strange noise is so loud these days. It's everywhere, inserting itself into all areas of life. And we like it because it gives us excitement. Because it is so loud, it seems important, vital.

Most of all, strange noise turns our focus outward. We don't have to work to hear it. We don't have to be still. We don't have to concentrate. We hear it and ignore the cries of wounded hearts and feeble souls.

The strange noise draws us to a place that we don't even know we're going. When we get there, we find out the truth, but sadly, it is often too late. We are trapped, caught up, and snared. The noise has us hooked!

The truth we find out is that the noise is just that – noise. There is no substance to it. There is nothing we can hold on to. We follow the noise over the edge and find out we are standing on nothing. Or worse, we are standing exactly opposite of where God wants us to be.

What can effectively treat our noise addiction before we have gone too far? Only the blood of Jesus. He died so that we could be healed, delivered, and set free from all bondage. He wants us to be unshackled from the noise and drawn into Him. He wants us to hear a sound that has meaning. He wants us to listen and truly hear. He wants us to focus on Him to the exclusion of all else. By becoming attuned to the voice of the Lord through the Holy Spirit, we learn to allow Him to filter the rest of the world for us.

What are you hearing? Is it the media, popular culture, society, or the opinions of mere men? If so, you must begin to silence the noise! These are strange noises that drown out the voice of God. As an act of your will, push aside anything that does not sound like God; remove any noise that is not reflective of Heaven. You cannot do it alone, but if you belong to Christ, you are never alone. The Holy Spirit is with you, He is in you, and He will help you.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Nothing Else Matters

Christ is All in All

I am sitting here trying to understand how to operate my new laptop.  The TV is on, the air conditioning is humming loudly, and I am sitting here alone.  I have two spiral notebooks at my side, and a variety of colorful pens.  That’s how I usually blow off steam – writing about what is on my mind.
Today, I have been pondering my ministry.  I am the Pastor of Eternal Word Fellowship Church. It is a great church, but it is not yet thriving as I hoped it would be.  I am praying that I not be controlled by numbers. I am praying that I will do all the Lord has put in my heart regardless of how others respond.  I used to worry a lot about the people that I felt turned their backs on me.  Sometimes I wondered if they actively opposed what I was trying to do.  Can Christians actually be blackballed? As you can see, my mind is racing, thoughts flowing, past, present, and future all ripe for consideration.

But today, sitting here, I realize that nothing else matters.  Marvin Sapp sings a song with that title that often speaks to my spirit in times of stress.  It is so true.  Nothing else matters besides seeing Jesus.  I long to sit in His presence and hear what He has to say.

Got to Be There

Turning off the electronic eyes that seem to be everywhere, and shutting myself off from the rest of the world, I often find it necessary to sit. And listen. And wait.  Many times we are tempted to spend our prayer times doing all of the talking, but sometimes, we should be quiet. Intimacy is often found in what is not said. Psalm 46:10-11 (KJV) reminds us, “Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.” It is in the stillness of life that God speaks – He speaks right in the middle of it. As the Scriptures tell us, He is WITH us! And when He speaks, it is always what you need to hear, even if it is not what you want.
Our human relationships suffer in this bustling, busy world from lack of presence.  We sit in the room together but our minds are a million miles away.  Each one has their cell phone, tablet, TV, or pc to keep them company.  We have forgotten how to relate face to face. 

But face to face intimacy is exactly what is needed in order for our relationships to be strong.  We have to talk to each other, look at each other, and touch each other.  That’s what happens in real relationship.  I love technology and all that it does, but I am so afraid that we are more connected than ever, and less connected than ever, all at the same time.
Like many of the raffles we love to take a chance on, we must be present to win.

The Honor of Your Presence is Requested

“The honor of your presence is requested,” a line normally only seen on formal invitations, finds its way into my thoughts. Jesus requests the honor of our presence, no matter how worn out and weary we may be. The invitation is extended in Matthew 11:28-30 (KJV):

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

All we have to do is accept the invitation – to come as we are – into His presence.  Why is that so hard for us? We are willing to give Him almost anything – money, service, talent – except our presence. The sad truth is that all of our sacrifices for Him are useless without the sacrifice to Him – our presence, our lives, us! 
After all, our living sacrifice is God’s greatest desire. Intimate relationship between Him and us.  This is why Christ died – to absorb the sin that separates us from God. Nothing else matters.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Six Things Every Small Church Wishes Their Pastor Knew

I have only been a member of a few churches in my lifetime, and most of those congregations averaged less than 100 members (which, by the way, experts say is true of the majority of American churches). While attending one of those churches, I wrote this list, without the commentary that follows each number.  Now that I am pastoring a small church, I am trying my best to take heed of the following in leading my small congregation. It is written from the members’ perspective, because that is the one I know well. This is strictly an opinion piece – one woman’s opinion.

1.     Being small does not make us inferior

Being small only makes us small; it does not make us inherently better or worse than any other church. Our size can be an advantage because it lends itself to intimacy.  Every time you berate the church or even speak harshly against other churches for being large, you are giving in to the spirit of comparison. That spirit will keep you from giving your absolute best to whatever number of people the Lord has given you to serve.  Even though Jesus taught multitudes, His faithful congregation averaged from 12 to 70 members until his crucifixion.  At one point, he had as many as 500, and that number dwindled down to 120 on the day of Pentecost.  Not once did he complain about not having enough people following Him. And He did not excuse His disciples from the work they were called to do because there were only a few of them.

Granted, those few impacted the world and gave birth to the first megachurch when 3,000 souls were added to the church, but it was the leader’s faithfulness to the few that opened the door for that to happen.  As a pastor, how do you know whether one of your faithful few will one day impact the entire world?

2.     We don’t all have to do everything

We are a small church.  That means that every ministry will be proportionately small.  It makes no sense for everybody to be expected to participate in every ministry.  We have different gifts, different abilities.  If every member is on the praise team, who are we leading in praise? If we are all in the choir, who are we edifying through our songs? By all means, assign everyone to something; but please don’t assign everyone to everything. Pick out those of us who are anointed for particular ministries and allow us to share our gifts with the others.

On that note, cut out ministries that are unnecessary or which we do not have the personnel to support.  If we do not have enough people for a choir, what’s wrong with a praise team or ensemble? If we do not have enough children and teachers for various age groups to be separated, why can’t we try a multi-age children’s church/Sunday school format?

3.     Treat us like we matter

Whenever you are frustrated by the small size of the congregation, it comes out in your preaching. You act as if we are merely a stepping stone to your mega-ministry and that ministering to us is not worth your time. The bible says that he that is faithful over a few things will be ruler over many.  It also says to despise not the days of small beginnings. When you are seeking to become great (meaning numerically large – something about the church is already great to us or we would go somewhere else), do not forget that we are part of the foundation on which your future ministry will be built. Just as the parts of a natural body are not all the same size, the parts of the body of Christ are not either.  That does not mean that any one of them is unimportant to God.  Don’t make the mistake of letting us become unimportant to you. We will not invite others to a ministry that does not value the people that are already there.

And on that note, please seek God and ask Him if you are called to “mega-ministry” or a “mega-church.”  It could possibly be your assignment, even if only for the moment, to pastor a small church. You will frustrate yourself, and us, if you try to move outside of God’s assignment and timing.

4.     Tell us what you expect

Cast a vision that shows us what we can do where we are. Paint a picture of what the Lord is telling you this church should be.  We are small, not stupid.  And frankly, you get what you expect.  If you communicate to us that we cannot do outreach because we are small, we won’t do it.  If you make us feel like we are not capable of giving, we will live up to the level of your expectation. As the Pastor, you set the tone for the church. The minute you give up on us, you open the door for us to give up on you. Don’t do that – keep hope alive!

Try giving us something to look forward to; something to reach for.  Maybe the reason that we are small is because we don’t see where we’re going. Maybe we don’t know the vibrancy of the vision.  When was the last time you talked about it? Where is your enthusiasm? You are our leader; we will only go where you take us.

5.     Ask us what we expect

Please don’t assume that we don’t have any vision or that we don’t want to see the church go forward. We do. The reason we don’t offer suggestions or ideas is because it feels like they are not wanted. When we become grasshoppers in our own eyes, the spirit of defeat takes over.  We want to be able to take ownership in the ministry as well as you do. We know we can’t be the pastor, but we can help you if you let us. Just because the church is small doesn’t mean it has to be a one-man show.

Ask us what we are hearing from God. Ask us how we can help the ministry. Ask us how we can help you and how you can help us. We need to know that our thoughts count; that they are at least considered. If you are ministering to us faithfully, we are growing spiritually, and should be given opportunity to exhibit Christian maturity within the local church. It may not always work out, but let’s at least give it a try sometime.

6.     Plan for growth

If you truly believe that our church is supposed to be a mega-church one day (and even if you don’t), please prepare for growth.  Equip people to lead and teach us how to follow leadership. Determine how you will deal with newcomers and set the systems in place not for some mystical mark in the future (when we reach 500 or 1000), but now.  Strive for excellence now. Engage new believers now. Follow-up with visitors now. Clean up the website and make it more professional now. All the things you are saving for your mega-ministry, try them out on a small scale now. If you do that, you will have them perfected by the time the multitudes come and you will have people ready to help execute your plans.

Make contingency plans and be prepared for problems.  The more people you have in your midst, the more trouble will arise. And remember that growth does not always look like what you have in mind.  You may need to release some of us into ministry. Those ministries are outgrowths of yours.  If you establish someone in ministry and they draw in numbers that eclipse yours, take courage! You are a part of that ministry. Let the Lord determine what form growth will look like in your ministry.

Dear Pastor, never forget that God placed you in His ministry because He had confidence in your ability to lead. He knows how much (and how many) you can handle at any given time.  Teach us, your faithful few, how to pray with you and for you. Teach us how to pray for increase, and how to minister so that we can grow together. We want to see you reach your God-given potential, and we want to reach ours too.

What would you add to this list?  Take away?

(Keep your comments clean or they will be deleted)