Take the First Step

Have you ever looked at your life and wished you had something you didn’t? That’s true for all of us but I think it’s an important question to consider especially in regards to what we wish we would have received from other people. For example, maybe you have wished for a close friend who we can share everything with. Or maybe you wish for someone that you could ask any question to without fear of being judged. Every single one of us likely has relationships that we wish were different. We long for someone to connect with. We want someone we can share anything with or someone that can help us navigate the things we aren’t ready for.

As I thought about this wish today I realized something. The very things that I wished I had from others are so often the same things I’m not doing for anyone else. I want someone to be a mentor to me and yet how am I investing in someone else in the same way? I want someone who I can confess sins to but how willing am I to listen to the struggles of others? It’s easy to want something without being willing to do the same for another. It’s easy to want something forgetting the entire time that if it was so important to you, maybe it would be good for someone else too. What if instead we start doing for others things that we wish we had done for us?

Those words strike me as similar to the words of Jesus himself when he said to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Part of Jesus’ point, and the way we normally take this, is that we don’t do something harmful to someone because we wouldn’t want it done for us. That’s true and important. But there is another side to this. Doing to others as we would have them do to us can also be seen positively in that we do for someone else what we hope someone would do for us.

In this particular instance that would mean that if I would want someone to mentor me, I should be willing to mentor someone else. If I want someone to be comfortable confessing to me, then I must be willing to begin by confessing to them. If I want someone to be the closest of friends, I need to start being someone who does what close friends do.

Personally my great struggle is waiting for others to take the first step. Instead of doing something, I wait for someone else to act; to initiate something. What if I decided to act first? What if I decided to do the thing that I believe  would bless me so that someone else is blessed?

I want to challenge you today to think proactively. Look for opportunities to bless other people. If you know of a new Christian, do something for them you wish would have done for you. If you know someone who is hurting, don’t wait for them to ask for help, show up with food or cookies or coffee and just let them know you care. Simply put: take the first step. Do for another what you want someone to do for you.

Thank You

The older I get the less I put stock into generalizations. While they may often be true, that isn’t always the case and in those instances, that makes all the difference in the world. I think for some the general view is that ministry is a thankless work. While I know that can definitely be the case it isn’t true every time and it hasn’t been true for me. I have been richly blessed to have been able to work with two congregations who have continually and regularly built me and my family up. It’s made ministry that much more enjoyable and given me a greater motivation to serve.

Now that may sound a bit self-centered at first. Appreciation motivates me. But it’s not about being motivated for more appreciation. It’s about being motivated because what I’m doing matters. You can be doing the most important work in the world but if all you hear are negative things, it’s hard to believe that. Encouragement helps solidify the importance and need for something. Encouragement isn’t only a blessing to the soul but it is a blessing to the work of the one receiving it. The congregations I have been able to work with, the Mannford church of Christ and, now the 41st St church of Christ, have blessed me far more than I deserve. Yet their blessings are a reminder of the impact of the work of ministry. It truly does affect the lives of people.

If you are in ministry today, I hope that you have had a similar experience. If you have, show equal appreciation to the congregation that is so richly blessing you. If you haven’t, I am truly sorry. Ministry should be filled with encouragement and I pray that one day, you will be blessed with that. In the meantime, know that you are not alone and know that God cares about the work you are doing.

If you are a member of the body of Christ reading this, be an encourager. You have no idea the impact it has on those leading and serving within the church. From my own experience, the amount of encouragement you provide your ministers will be returned to you as you bolster their spirit and help them maintain their drive as they seek to bless you as much as you have blessed them.

I don’t deserve all the appreciation I have received but I am grateful for it. For those that have encouraged me throughout my time in ministry I want to say thank you. It is your kind words and encouragement that have allowed me to continue and be where I am today. Without those small blessings I’m not sure I would be accomplishing much for God’s kingdom at all. So, once again, I say thank you. Thank you for the kind words. Thank you for the gifts. Thank you for the encouragement of working with me for the glory of the kingdom of God.

I Love You

 

About a week ago I had the opportunity to listen to a man who tried to take his own life. His name is Kevin Hines and he tried to kill himself by jumping off of the golden gate bridge. By the grace of God he survived and now spends his time going all over speaking to the value of life; to the need to fight against thoughts of suicide and to choose to live instead.

In the middle of his talk with us he did something I always dread: he asked for us to participate in something. Now I will admit he said only if you are comfortable but peer pressure is real so I didn’t have a choice. He asked us to connect with someone near us that we didn’t know. Give them a hug. Maybe a handshake. It was at this point I thought he said to tell them “I love you.”

At the time, this made perfect sense. He wanted us to see the value in others. And so next to me was young man, maybe late middle school or early high school age. We both did the awkward “we don’t want to do this but what can you do look” and hugged each other. At which point I said I love you. I think he said it back as well but it was not very loud so who knows.

Anyway, I turn around and other people started shaking my hand and saying things like “nice to meet you.” And now I felt foolish. I love you is a whole lot different to say than nice to meet you. Maybe I heard wrong and said the wrong thing. I have no idea what that young man was thinking when he heard me say that. Hopefully he thought we were all supposed to say it too and doesn’t think I’m crazy. Either way, I sat down feeling a little embarrassed about how that whole situation went. (For those of you who know me, my ability to make an awkward situation even more awkward should come as no surprise to you.)

Ultimately I felt a little foolish for saying I love you to that young man. Yet, as I sit here today, I meant it. If that young man had said he wanted to talk and share something going on in his life, I would have listened. If he said he needed something, I would have tried to provide it. Though I might be embarrassed about what happened, I truly do love that young man. I think the problem for me, and maybe many of you, is that we struggle to truly share those things with others.

Saying I love you is super personal. You don’t just walk up to anyone and say it. Saying it too quickly likely leads to people never talking to you again. People think you are weird. After all, who loves someone after just meeting them? Who cares that strongly for people outside of their family? People they may not even know.

Well, me. Or more specifically, Christians should. We talk all the time about how we ought to love like Jesus. That we are loved by God and so we love others, 1 John 4:19. That God loved the world (John 3:16) and as his children we love others as well. All true but something we see in more vague and general terms than we might care to admit.

But, in truth, we really are called to love people. Real, individual, specific people. Saying I love you to that young man shouldn’t have been awkward because it was true. But as I mentioned, we aren’t used to saying those kinds of things. Sometimes even in our families we struggle to say it.

At this point you might expect me to challenge you to tell someone you wouldn’t normally say it to that you love them. But if I’m honest, I’m probably not willing to do that myself. It’s just too awkward. So how about we both start somewhere else: I care about you. You are important to me. I really appreciate our friendship. I enjoy getting to see you. I always have a good time when our paths cross.

Say whatever you want to let someone else know they matter to you. Let them know that they are significant. How will people know we love them if we never share it? I know, I know. Actions speak louder than words, and that’s true in many ways, but lets be honest; there is something special about hearing the words I love you. There is something significant about hearing that you are important to someone. Maybe they’ve shown it to you but it removes the doubt when the words come out of their mouths.

So let’s consider not just showing love to others but sharing our love for them through our words as well. With all of that being said, to each person who takes the time to read this, know that I love you. You are valuable and important. (You might also be a family member as my blog reach is rather small. Love you mom!)

Slow Down

How well do you work under pressure? Some people are geared for it. The tenser things are the more comfortable they become. They know exactly what to say and do, even when things go differently than expected. Unfortunately I am at the opposite end of the spectrum. Every time I run into a situation that I’m under pressure in, especially those I’m not prepared for, I find myself walking away thinking that I should have done things differently. I just don’t handle them like I would like to. It seems like in those moments everything speeds up and I struggle to keep up.

Why does that happen? I think for me it happens because I want to get past the situation as quickly as possible. Instead of assessing the best response, I do what is one of the quickest. This doesn’t mean I ignore the situation, at least not usually. I just try to handle it as fast as possible. I want to remove the discomfort. The problem is, this quick as I can mentality, often leaves me falling short of doing what is better. I think it leaves me falling short of doing what God could use me to do.

So what can I do? If you find yourself struggling in similar ways, what can you do? Be like Jesus. I know, I know. That’s the best and worst answer. It’s true and yet often so hard to do. But it still is best. One of the things that I love about Jesus’ work with people is that he never hurried. I don’t mean that he never moved quickly. I’m sure he did. I mean Jesus handled each situation thoughtfully.

Consider the situation with the woman at the well (John 4). For most this would have been an uncomfortable situation. It likely was for the woman. For a Jew and Samaritan to interact much at all seems to be outside the norm and yet Jesus doesn’t rush through a conversation but truly takes the time to talk to the woman. Because of this, an entire village learns about Jesus.

Or consider the many times Jesus was put in a seemingly uncomfortable position by the questions of the religious leaders. Jesus always thoughtfully responds. Often he does so with a question which indicates how thoughtful he really is. Responding with what you think is easy. Asking questions takes a little more thought.

I hope one day to be more like Jesus in how I respond. Today I had the opportunity to meet a couple of new people and in both situations I normally would try to move through things quickly but at least in one instance I was able to consider things a little more. I asked some questions and gained more from the experience. I don’t know what you may encounter today but I hope that if you are someone like me, who struggles to handle the unexpected well, that you will trust God to work in your words and actions and that you give him an opportunity to use you.

Have a blessed day and slow down and let God use you

One Bad Experience

A few years ago I was out hunting with my dad and brother-in-law when we stopped at a gas station for lunch. Now, like most of you, a gas station isn’t my first choice for lunch but my dad is of a different mindset so to the gas station we went. I bought a corn dog and as I started to eat it, I realized that something was very wrong. My corn dog hadn’t been completely cooked. As I bit into it the batter came oozing up.

As you can imagine I didn’t finish the corn dog and I haven’t been back to that gas station. Sadly this corn dog fiasco still comes to mind when I eat corn dogs. It almost ruined them for me. Thankfully I’ve powered through and still enjoy the occasional corn dog. You can probably share a similar story.

One of the unfortunate truths about life is that one bad experience can entirely ruin something for us. Get sick after eating at a restaurant and there is a good chance you will never go back. Have a horrible time taking a ride in a plane and you will likely never give it another chance. Get poor customer service from a company and you will likely take your money elsewhere. What makes it even worse is that sometimes, the thing we quit on wasn’t even the problem. My bad corn dog experience shouldn’t have made me wary of all corn dogs and yet it did.

I want you to take that struggle and apply it to how people’s interactions with the church can go. Imagine having a horrible experience your first time attending a church. Imagine having a horrible interaction with someone who says they are a Christian. How likely would you be to give God another chance? I think if we are honest many of us wouldn’t. We would tack it up as something not for us and go about our lives.

As Christians we want to respond that not all Christians are that way. We want to say “try the church again.” And while I would urge the same thing, I think it is important for us all to realize how strong those feelings of aversion to the church can be. Bad experiences leave us wanting nothing to do with those things ever again. The church is no different.

So what can we do as a church about this issue?

First, we ought to be in the loving people business. Though it won’t solve every problem and though some of our teachings will still turn people away, when we love as Christ loved us, we show people that Jesus really is worth considering one more time. Jesus told the disciples that they would be known as His because of their love (John 13:34-35) and the same should be said of us. It is likely only by truly caring for people that the aversion they have to the church can be overcome.

Second, we cannot dismiss the bad experiences that others have had. Again, go back to the food illustration. If you had gotten sick from eating at a restaurant, do you think someone telling you to try it again because they like it is simply going to erase the problem? When Christians have turned others away from the faith for reasons that aren’t of God, we need to be willing to apologize and seek to show them a different picture of God’s people. It doesn’t happen by dismissing their issue but by recognizing it shouldn’t have happened.

Finally, we need to be churches that take every opportunity we have to relate and interact with non-Christians very seriously. This doesn’t mean that every conversation has to be serious but it does mean that as the church, we are creating a connection within each person we interact with that is good, bad, or neutral. Let’s do our best to leave them with a good impression of Christ and His people.

The hope is the ultimately those who have had a bad experience will see all the good and decide that maybe it won’t be that way this time. When someone takes that step, realize how difficult that is and seek to be a blessing to them.

“That’s Apples to Oranges” And Other Discussion Ending Statements

 

The older I get the more and more I realize that people can find any and every reason to disagree with one another. It is likely true that as many people exist, there is an equal amount of different viewpoints. Because each of us is different and have our own perspective, it’s easy to see why we disagree so often.

Yet disagreeing isn’t a bad thing. As I type that I have to realize that I struggle to believe that. Individually, I’m often one who doesn’t like to disagree with anyone on anything for fear of causing friction. Regardless of that struggle in my own life, I do believe that disagreements can be beneficial. It is through those disagreements that we can really dig into our own views and really consider what we believe. Disagreements often push us to really make a strong case for our beliefs and sometimes, in seeking to strengthen our case we find that our case isn’t all that strong at all.

While disagreeing has the potential to lead to greater understanding of ideas, it often gets derailed. Instead of really digging in to the issue at hand, there are things that stop this process and nothing is often gained. I want to encourage us to be mindful about how we discuss things and consider what best leads to true understanding. Here are some things that I believe derail discussion from being productive:

“That’s comparing apples to oranges”

I would guess you’ve heard that phrase before. It is a phrase that makes a lot of sense. If you are going to compare something, you need to be comparing things that are related not unrelated. At times we can find that arguments devolve into things that really aren’t connected at all and we aren’t really making any progress toward a solution. In those “apples to oranges” moments, we do need to step back and consider if what we are comparing really makes sense. The problem this phrase can bring though is that it is easy to say something is apple to oranges and then dismiss the argument without actually explaining the difference. In essence, the phrase becomes a stopping point in the conversation simply because you believe the two things aren’t related and yet have provided no evidence to prove it. If we really want to disagree and seek a greater understanding, we should only use “apples to oranges” when we are willing to explain why that is the case. Otherwise all we are doing is saying I’m not going to listen anymore.

Name calling

You’ve likely seen this as well. It seems like disagreeing naturally leads people to take another person and make them into a one-dimensional wacko. So instead of actually talking, we will just call someone a liberal or conservative; a Democrat or Republican; a crazy Christian or a militant atheist. Once again though, this only serves to say that we are done talking about an issue. This happened to the apostle Paul when he was speaking before King Agrippa in Acts 26:24. In the midst of Paul’s teaching Festus cried out that Paul had been driven mad by his learning. Festus did nothing to challenge Paul’s words. He didn’t have any rebuttal other than: you are crazy. While someone may in fact be crazy, most aren’t and instead of name calling or stereotyping we would all benefit from addressing the issue specifically at hand and not lowering ourselves to childish words.

“Obviously or Clearly”

This is an easy word to say. What we often mean by it is that what we believe is clear as day and you don’t want to believe it. While there are instances where that may be the case, there are also times where people may genuinely not see what is so obvious to you. When we are talking about disagreements as Christians this is particularly true. It’s so tempting to believe that if someone was genuinely looking they would reach my conclusion, but that may not be true. I’m not suggesting that everything is confusing and all truth is relative. I’m suggesting instead that we be willing to consider that we may be wrong in the discussion. Or that the other person genuinely doesn’t see it that way. These kinds of words tend to end discussion. If either party approaches believing that they cannot be convinced to change their mind then the whole discussion is a waste of time. To truly discuss a disagreement in any meaningful way, each party has to be willing to see the others point of view.

I’m no expert on this but just in considering how disagreeing so often works, I believe these ideas are important in order for us to have legitimate discussion together. So, whenever you find yourselves in a discussion with someone, I hope you will consider these things.

Tips For Bible Class Teachers

One of the things I love doing is teaching. I believe that if I ever changed roles in life, I would end up doing something teaching related. There is something exciting about sharing information with people and guiding thoughts as we seek to learn together. Now in my almost 8th year of ministry I have learned a few things in teaching that I wish I would have known from the beginning. It would have made life a lot easier. Hopefully these tips will come in handy for you if you have the opportunity to teach. Though I don’t do them perfectly I have found them to be helpful. These are particularly relevant to Bible class but would be useful in other situations as well.

 

Value the thoughts of others. It might be tempting to view comments as distracting but strive to view them as valuable. Let the people commenting know that their comments matter; that you appreciate their input. I try to talk a little bit about what each person has to say and not just move on right away. Having sat in classes enough, I don’t enjoy having something that I think is valuable treated as if its worthless or unimportant. When someone spends time relaying a comment and we simply move on without regard for it, we easily give that impression. Let people know their thoughts are significant.

 

Be willing to say I don’t know. As the teacher there is a tremendous pull to have the answer to every question. After all, people are looking to you for the answer. If you have one, give it. But if you don’t, don’t just make something up. It will likely do more harm than good. It’s tempting to think people will look down on us if we don’t come up with something but I don’t think that is true. I have found that people have respected me when I’ve told them I don’t know the answer.  The truth is, you will never be able to study every angle of every part of every lesson and inevitably there will be something said that you weren’t expecting. There will be something focused on that you missed. Just admit you don’t know and your teaching will be better for it.

 

Don’t worry about covering everything. In teaching there is always a tremendous temptation to stick to the script and cover everything you want to cover. You’ve planned and prepared and you want to get to everything. Yet, when you start asking questions, that schedule is hard to maintain. People will share their thoughts and before you know it, you’ve gone down a direction you hadn’t anticipated. Because of the delay we want to get back on track and make sure we get through everything. What I’ve come to realize though is that trying to cram everything in, and going fast to make it happen , is unlikely to allow for any of it to stick. You may have covered more but they will probably remember less. In that scenario, we are better off covering what we can and figuring out when to teach the rest later.

 

Be prepared. This is likely old news for you but the preparation of the teacher has a big impact. When you know your material, you are better able to flow with it and whatever other things may come up. You can connect thoughts that you didn’t see initially and you present to the class a confidence that is visible. Preparation techniques vary but mine often involved practicing my class all the way through at least once. I find that in practicing and rehearsing I might notice things or ideas that I didn’t while writing. When you are prepared not only are your listeners blessed but you are as well.

I’m still learning and in a few years will likely have more to add to this list but for now this is what I’ve realized. If you are a Bible class teacher, what tips would you offer others?