Going through the motions

This weekend Diane and I went to church somewhere else.  I spent the weekend with some other pastors and their spouses at Canaan Valley.  There was a pastor there that I don’t know, but I know of.  I came home and checked the UMC conference journal and found out that he will be 62 next month.  He has served the same church in a rural West Virginia community for the last 10+ years.  And as I sit in my office and reflect on the weekend, I can’t help but wonder how he feels about his last 9 years as a pastor.  This is on my mind because, Lord willing, I will be his age in 9 years and I will have been pastor here at Wesley Chapel Short Gap for 11 years.  And that day will be here in the blink of an eye.

In his book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire Jim Cymbala writes,

“I despaired at the thought that my life might slip by without seeing God show himself mightily on our behalf…I longed and cried out for God to change everything – me, the church, our passion for people, our praying.  One day I told the Lord that I would rather die than merely tread water throughout my career in the ministry… always preaching about the power of the Word and Spirit, but never seeing it.  I abhorred the thought of just having more church services.  I hungered for God to break through in our lives and our ministry.”

How many church people and pastors spend their entire lives arguing over things that make no difference?  How many people go through life just trying to maintain the status quo?  And this isn’t just a reflection for pastors.  Do you want God to show Himself mightily in your life?  Do you hunger for God to break through in your life?  Or are you satisfied that you have enough of Him in your life?

It’s going to take more than going to church (all the time of half the time).  It’s going to take more than complaining about the way things are or lamenting for the way things used to be.  It’s going to take prayer.  It’s going to take humility.  It’s going to take risk.  Are you willing to call out to Him, asking Him to change everything, including you?

“Lord, I want to dance with the Holy Spirit”.

And I want to look back one day and say, it’s been a great dance.

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The front line

I read an email this morning from someone and they were talking about Haiti.  They said they longed to be on the front line.  To quote them, “…my mind racing with images of the children in my mind and the constant longing to be back there (in Haiti) on the front line.”

It reminds me of a quote by Rick Warren (purpose driven life author), “The strength of an army is not determined by the number of people who sit and eat in the mess hall.  It’s determined by the number of people willing to go to the front line.”

We often think of the front line as a far away place.  And it occurred to me that many of us were on the front line at the Union Rescue Mission last night as we served Jesus’ love in the form of pork bbq (there were so many people receiving it that we ran out of Jesus’ pork bbq kind of love and had to resort to His lasagna kind of love for the last few people).  I was on the front line as I had the privilege of preaching the Good News before the people at the mission last night after the meal.

The front line in God’s army is not necessarily a far away place.  It’s wherever we are, because He is with us and satan is always battling us.  So wherever you are and wherever you go, remember that you will be on the front line today.  Be prepared.

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When you can’t GIVE it away

“The best dinner available in the Cumberland statistical area is in Short Gap tonight.  No offense to the local restaurants, but you cannot beat the simmered pork loin, that is then cut against the grain and mixed with the perfect BBQ sauces to make our pork bbq sandwiches.  Add to that, if you wish, an award winning homemade cole slaw that you have to taste to believe.  And who doesn’t like cheese covered fried potato cubes?  I hesitate to even mention this because it will go so fast, but there is also brownie cheesecake!!!   Don’t worry, we will have plenty of other desserts.  This is all free and not just for our church. It’s open to the entire community.  We love seeing first time guests!  We do put out a bucket that you can toss a couple of dollars into that helps pay for the food and also helps support our feeding ministry at the Union Rescue Mission.”

Tonight we will have our weekly community dinner at the church.  And we will have somewhere between 60 and 100 people for dinner.  I am not exaggerating that if we were in some parts of the world and made this known, there would be people who would walk 10 miles to get a meal like that.  There would be thousands of people who would show up and we’d need Jesus to pull a “fishes and loaves” miracle to have enough.  And that’s the truth.

The average person around us doesn’t need a free meal.  We have food.  A free church dinner doesn’t excite us if it’s at our church, let alone if it’s at someone else’s church.  We’re doing just fine, thank you.

And that’s the way the Good News of Jesus is received in our communities and our country.  Who NEEDS Jesus?  Give the Good News to someone who needs it; we have everything we need.  We have more than enough.  We are doing just fine, thank you.

And they have no clue what they’re missing.

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The trip of a lifetime – making memories with Jesus

Today I just got an email from Cabela’s that beckons me to book my “trip of a lifetime”.  It’s a bird hunting trip to Italy, a special shotgun, a tour of the Verrazzano Winery, and overnight accommodations in an Italian castle.  It does not sound like a trip of a lifetime to me.

lobster1I’ve had a lot of vacations that some might consider a trip of a lifetime.  I’ve stayed at the rainbow Hilton at Oahu in Hawaii, stayed at the Atlantis at Paradise Island in the Bahamas, watched Diane eat lobster (lobster’s not for me) along the seashore in Maine, taken the whole family to Disney, eaten pastries at a cafe on the French side of St. Marteen, taken a 2 week trip out west to Yellowstone and Bryce and Zion Canyons in Utah (thanks Jeff and Lisa – if you’re going to Montana, stay here), and just this year my wife and and adult sons went sailing, snorkeling, and kayaking in mangroves in Key West.  Diane has dreamt of going to Italy (not to go bird hunting), and we may try to do that next year for our 30th Anniversary.

But I can honestly say that none of those trips have been life changing.  It’s not that those trips hold no value.  Vacations are great for being refreshed and spending time with loved ones.  Diane and I have great memories.  But mission trips change lives.  And it amazes me how many churches have never taken a mission trip.  Diane and I attended Sistersville First United Methodist Church for 21 years and the church had never gone on a mission trip until Doctors Gary and Amanda Nichols offered the church the first opportunity to go on a mission trip.  Diane, Matt and I went with them to Buckhannon, WV for a week to repair a roof.  We did that in 2006.  And that trip changed our lives.  Since then, I have been on a trip to Dayton, OH, two trips to New Orleans, three trips to Long Island, NY, two trips to Haiti, a trip to Oklahoma, and to Ghana in Africa.

sendmeWe who have been on mission trips try in vain to speak words that reflect their impact on us.  Mission trips are like making memories with Jesus.  If you go to church here at WCSG, I hope that you will consider going on a mission trip if you never have. If you go to church somewhere else and you want to lead a mission trip, but have no clue how- contact me.  I will put you in touch with the right people.  If you go, it will be the trip of a lifetime.

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Seeing lives changed – From death to Life

For me, the most exciting part of being a pastor is when God allows me to be involved in a dramatic life change – witnessing God bring people from death to life.  And I am always mindful that it is God who is responsible and He is not limited to working through pastors.  Pastors just get paid to focus on it full time and have a pulpit from which he or she can be used.

  • I love seeing pictures of someone who gets saved and goes on a mission trip, and then 3 or 4 years later seeing a picture from the trip show up on someone’s Facebook page and see them write, “One of the best things I ever did”.
  • I love seeing someone who was addicted to drugs and on the verge of suicide now saved and raising their children in a Christian home.
  • I love seeing someone who has been in church their whole life finally “get it” and receive salvation.
  • I love seeing someone who believed the devil’s lies that they were unlovable finally realize that they are made in the image of God, precious and beautiful to behold – and to begin living the Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Remembering You” lyrics that say

…when I heard Your name (Jesus)
Something in my heart came alive
You showed me love and no words could explain
A love with the power to
Open the door
To a world I was made for
And I watch as the cold winter melts into spring…
Oh and I’ll smell the flowers and hear the birds sing

And I never know when God is going to act.  So I just keep trying to do what God calls me to do, always keeping watch for the next person that God is going to allow me to see brought from death to life. And you never know who it’s going to be.

I pray that as you are going through your life, that God allows you to see some growth from the seeds He has you plant.

Thank you Jesus for allowing your children to sow seeds and, on occasion, letting us see you provide the growth.

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You are the rich person Jesus was talking about

Hillary Clinton is running for president.  She tells us that she relates to and will fight for us in the middle class.  She says that she and President Clinton were broke when they left the White House.  That was obviously before her 12 million dollar book deal and receiving $200,000 for each speech she gives.  And before you get happy or upset over my Hillary illustration, let’s move on.

It’s easy for us to pick out rich people and view ourselves as poor.  It’s easy for us to pick out people who have done very bad things and see ourselves as a good person.  We rarely pick out a very good person and compare ourselves to them.  We rarely pick out a very poor person and see ourselves as the rich person.  Someone at the mission the other day said he doesn’t come to church because of all the hypocrites.  People rarely say, “I don’t go to church because I’m not worthy to be in the same room with those people in church who live out their faith.”

When Jesus said it is so hard for the rich (materialistically) to get to heaven, most of us do not understand that He was talking about us.  We pick out the people with more material wealth than ourselves and insert them in the story as the rich.  We put people like Hillary Clinton and Bill Gates in the ‘rich’ category.  I only make $– a year, I’m not rich.  We think because we have a difficult time paying our cable bill or paying to fix one of our cars, we are not rich.  We think because we have credit card debt, we are among the poor.

But we who have been to Haiti understand who the rich are and who the poor are.  The truth is, if you have a bed to sleep in and food to eat, you are among the wealthier people in the world.  And living in relative comfort makes it difficult to turn your life over to Jesus.  When you have nothing, you have nothing to lose if you turn your life and possessions over to Jesus.  When we have comfort and possessions, it’s much more difficult to become a follower and to be obedient because Jesus may call us to sacrifice some of our comfort and possessions.

And God help you if you live in America, have finished reading today’s blog, and still want to argue that you are not rich.  That’s the talk of the devil. There’s nothing wrong with being rich.  Just be aware that you are and understand how difficult that makes it to have a close walk with Jesus.

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An open letter to the Haiti mission team

I want to thank you for trusting God as you followed your call to travel to Haiti.  I also want to thank you for trusting Adam and I to lead you there.

trailYou are part of a very small group of Americans who will ever go to a foreign land to show the poorest of the poor the unconditional love of Jesus.  You are one of the very few who will ever cry over seeing the joy of one child receiving a hot dog, a hug, or a pair of sneakers.  You are one of the very few who will stand in front of a home constructed of sticks and tarps and bow your head to pray a blessing upon the people who live there, knowing that the situation is so desperate that Jesus is truly their only hope.  You are one of the very few who will ever bag up beans and rice, carry them in your backpack, and/or walk a trail delivering them to people who, without them, would have gone to bed that night without any food to eat that day.  And you are reading this knowing that I am not being dramatic.  Many of those who have never done so will read this and think I’m exaggerating.

And you are a part of a small group who can never see things the way you used to see them.  God has given you a better understanding of what really matters and who Jesus was talking about when He said “whatever you do for the least of these you do for me.”  Truth be told, we don’t have too many “least of these” in our country.  And the majority of people who have never stood in an impoverished village in a third world country will disagree with what I just wrote.  And I understand their viewpoint.  They have not been exposed to what God has allowed us to witness.  And I wish there was some way we could explain it to them.  One person who just returned from Haiti wrote this:

…you can not truly tell others. You do have to see it through your own eyes. I myself did not know till now. I feel I lived a complacent life, but I do not want to any more. I want God to use me.

So the question for we who have been blessed by this revelation, on this trip or a previous trip, the question becomes, “Why did God call me to go and what now?”  One person in church Sunday kept pressing me on the mission/purpose of our trip.  And we must have patience with people who have these types of questions because they cannot understand.  The truth is the answer is different for each of us.  What I know for sure is your trip was not about making you feel guilty for what you have.  It was also not about making you feel inferior to those who have been called to sacrifice and serve long term, or make you feel superior to those who have never gone.

I pray that you were blessed by the trip and that it has changed you. I pray that He uses you to give others whom He calls the confidence to go themselves. I pray that day by day, month by month, and year by year, God continues to use the trip to draw you closer to Himself and trust you with more.  And perhaps most of all, I hope you will pray for the people of Haiti and the long term missionaries serving there and around the world on a regular basis.

Thanks for being obedient.

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