What is your church doing?

1 Feb

We are almost one solid year into the Covid Pandemic and still trying to figure things out as a world, a nation, and in the church. What is your church doing about it?

I learned early on that we needed to strip out the politics and emotion of all that is going around us. That has been confirmed as I have seen friends (healthier than me) come close to being put on a ventilator… That has been confirmed again and again as I have seen and dealt firsthand with families who are struggling through Covid deaths. There is no doubt that Covid is real and it does massive damage to PEOPLE and LIVES.

I saw a social media post yesterday that broke my heart. A leader in our state was bashing an un-named church (but everyone in the comment section seemed to know who it was) because they demanded that he comply with their Covid rules. That did not end well. Then it ended up as a bashing session on social media. There are several things that break my heart about this:

  • Why didn’t this respected leader talk this over with the leaders of that church before taking it to the public? The North American church took on a black-eye yesterday because of this…
  • In the court of public opinion, emotions took over and judgment was made without even a peep of defense from the church in question. (Ironically, the church in question has both a masked service and a mask-optional service….)
  • People on this post questioned the lack of faith by this church. More on that in a moment.
  • People who mock Christianity had a field day with this. Without knowing or caring about both sides of the story, people of faith are being mocked.

I have been a fan of Carey Nieuwhof (church leadership guru) for some time now. When everything hit us between the eyes last March, I certainly had more time to read his insights. I don’t agree with 100% of what he has written, but I can guarantee that 100% of his writings have made me think! He has helped guide and nudge many churches in the right direction during this last year. Early on, he wrote something that has stuck with me. While this is not an exact quote, the heart of it is that “we churches need to work within our context. Do not criticize other churches for how they respond to this time because no two churches are alike!” The church staff at EBC talked about that a lot early on and have tried to do what God has led us to do and just bless and pray others who are doing more or less.

At Ebenezer, we are blessed to have a Health Team. Up until this pandemic their main job was to be first responders at church events. They have helped hundreds of people and probably saved a life or two with early intervention at church events. I am grateful for them. This team is made up of healthcare providers: Doctors, nurses, NPs, PAs, techs, all of whom are people who know what they are doing. And they are all too familiar with Covid and what it does. With all of my heart I believe they have worked hard with our church staff to create and navigate a landscape where we can worship and build the Kingdom, and do it in a wise way.

During this past year, I have often heard part of 2 Timothy 1:7 quoted, but I would like to share the entire verse:

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (NKJV)

Let that sink in for a moment. And, before you question the faith of your church, ask yourself what God might be doing in the midst of your leaders? Then, ask your leaders? And, even better, come alongside them and help them move things towards GOD’S VISION….. NOT YOURS.

And if you have a problem with your church, do the right thing and the Biblical thing, and go to them. They really are trying to do this in a spirit of power, love, and sound judgement that comes from God.

Don’t Wait for Normal

27 Jan

For almost a year now, most businesses have been in survival mode. Businesses, especially local ones, suddenly found themselves navigating a new and totally different landscape. Churches were in the same boat!!

You might make the argument that a church is NOT a business, and I would wholeheartedly agree with you!!! But, much like a business, we found out that our “normal” was no more and had to find ways to quickly navigate around the limitations of COVID to do what we do: Reach people!! Reach our people! Reach lost people!! You see where it all leads …

Back in 1991 I left a career with a small IT company in the Upstate to follow the call of God into ministry. We were a small company but very effective, because we learned that we would all have to wear many hats and figure out many things to make it in that world. We all learned that you have to think on the fly, that sometimes you have to change the direction of the canoe mid-stream and you had BETTER be careful doing that. When I look back on those days, there were some really good times.

The first church I served was Fairview Baptist Church in Greer. I served there while finishing my Bachelor’s degree in preparation for Master’s work. I was an intern in Youth Ministry at that church and my pastor was Dr. Lonnie Shull. He was a great man to work with and poured into me often. (I wish I could be more like him in a lot of ways …) He and I were talking about my past career and I remember telling him that I regret that I didn’t sense God’s call earlier and had wasted all of that time doing IT work. He looked me dead in the eyes and said “NO. God will use that one day. You just wait and see.”

I think about that often now since March of 2020. My experience in networking and other things I have picked up along the way helped me adjust and turn the canoe… (I certainly DID NOT do it alone. Our entire staff was paddling like crazy. But all of that experience helped!!) Another big help was found in leadership resources on the web from sources I trust. Some of it was church related. Some was business related. When they all started telling me the same thing, that was a wake-up call!!!

No matter if you are a church leader, business leader, or anyone else, we all really do have to embrace the fact that we CANNOT WAIT for things to get back to normal… It is time to adapt and overcome!! Our mission as a church has not changed. But we quickly found that we need to adopt new methods to achieve the mission. Most business leaders have figured this out too!!

Those who do not step up and figure out how to navigate the new landscape will not survive. God has given all of us tools to make it through. Trust Him and find those tools!!!!

Don’t wait for normal!!!!! Do what God has put you here to do!!!!!!!

Corona Stress Disorder

7 Aug

I am sure there is a scientific name for this, but this is the best I can produce. CSD. CSD impacts 99.999999999% of the people in the United States of America and a slightly smaller percentage across the globe. (Okay, I have no REAL statistics to back this up. Just play along.)

Corona Stress Disorder is the stress and anxiety we feel because things are not normal (at least as we know normal). The environment around us has completely changed and there is really no definite end in sight. In the beginning of this pandemic, I believed that we would be pretty much back to normal in a few months. Or, at least we would see some light at the end of the tunnel. We are not. We do not. It is quite hopeless.

In turn, even the coolest headed among us gets anxious about the smallest things being out of place. Our response to the situations of life is much more emotional, terse, and aggressive. We are very unsettled about the world around us and it filters down into everything: Misplaced socks…. a scratch on a car door … losing a five-dollar bill… Whatever events happen in life, big or small, seem mountainous. HUGE. And our responses are getting bigger and bigger. And we make things worse. And the hopeless cycle of it all drags us down a little deeper.

After we realize we cannot control the situation of our world right now, I believe there are two ways we can respond that will help:

  1. REALIZE WE ARE IN THIS STATE OF MIND and take a deep breath before we respond to ANYTHING. ANYTHING. Big or small. Realize that everything seems worse right now. But, the event you face might be no different that something you might’ve faced last year. TAKE A DEEP BREATH.
  2. GIVE GRACE TO OTHERS because they are in the same boat. Give grace in person. Give grace on social media. Give grace over the phone or in a text. Just give a little grace. Grace is favor that we do not deserve. If you are a believer in Christ, God extended His grace to you even though you did not deserve it. Go and do like wise. Cut others a little slack. Show them a little grace.

We cannot control the world around us. But God CAN and DOES. And we can control how we choose to respond to every situation around us.

Be smart.

Building Men and Women

7 Aug

I just realized it has been six months since I last posted to this blog. I am done listening to those who tell me “bloggers are just egomaniacs.” I have no idea what their reasons might be for believing that, but there is something burning inside of me and the only way I know how to get rid of it is to write this.

I guess a good portion of my job is to write. I write sermons, letters, lessons, articles, etc… (You’d think I would be better at it, huh??) This blog is perhaps the only place where I can heavily express my opinions. I hope and pray they are laced with God’s word and His thoughtlines. But the thoughts I write are mine, perfect or imperfect .

This morning I was thinking about something and I hope every teacher I know will read this and know that it is true. There are no doubts that my mom and dad built me into the man that I am They laid a solid foundation and lived an example. I wish every parent would make that a priority. My mom and dad were not perfect, but the more I think about them I am beginning to know they were closer to perfect than I ever realized. They laid the foundation and the structure. And there were many others who helped complete the details. I cannot stop thinking about two of those today.

Miriam O’Dell was a history teacher at the school I attended. Mrs. O’Dell was past retirement age but she definitely was one of the best (so she needed to be right where she was). She poured into her students as they would allow. She saw something in me that no one else saw. Many times she told me “you need to jump into computers.” In the early 1980s, very few of my peers were exposed to computers and neither was I. But this lady studied history, studied current events, and studied her pupils. She was one of those teachers who told me that I could do anything I set my mind to do. She is long-gone, but some days I still hear her voice.

Ruth Turner was an English teacher. In the beginning, I could not stand her!!! She was HARD!!! She expected so much!!! She called me out on my bull!!! Over the years, she pushed even harder but I grew to appreciate her. When I got to college, I really appreciated her. Although I have never fancied myself a writer, she built skills into me that I still use EVERY DAY. She, too, is long-gone. While I believe old age got Mrs. O’Dell, cancer took Ms. Turner. And I think about her every week.

I wish I could go back right now and thank both of those women. They would certainly not be the only ones: There are many teachers and pastors who have poured into me and helped shape me into the person I have become. And, while I cannot thank them, I can do this:

HEY TEACHERS!! KEEP DOING WHAT YOU ARE DOING!!! You are making LASTING impressions on your students!!!! Even if they do not seem to be listening. Even when they get mad. Even when your heart is overcome. KEEP DOING WHAT YOU ARE DOING!!

YOU ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE!!!!!!!!

And since I cannot say it to my two favorites, let me say it to you:

THANK YOU!! DON’T EVER GIVE UP!!!!!!

Brilliance Lost

6 Feb

Honestly, I haven’t been sleeping well this week.  And I don’t know why.  But that is another conversation for another day.  Two nights ago, I woke up around three with a BRILLIANT thought on my mind.  And, I mean, I recognized the “brilliance” of it so much that I almost grabbed my iPhone to post it on Twitter or Facebook so I would have a record of it.

The key word in that last sentence is ALMOST…..

Since then I have racked my brain trying to remember it, exactly how it phrased itself in my mind.  I can’t remember the exact words, but it revolves around the truth that EACH OF US is responsible for our level of satisfaction and happiness in life.  Modern society makes it too easy to blame others for our circumstances or our failures.  Granted, no one will ever succeed in every endeavor.  We will all fail and we will all fall short at times.  There will also be moments in our lives where we have absolutely no control of the circumstances around us.  And herein lies a worthy truth:  We cannot control the world around us, but we CAN control how we respond to it.  And we can control WHERE we place our faith for navigation!  Think about that.

It is way too easy to blame someone else when the going gets rough or the going never gets off of the ground.  Blaming someone else or finding an excuse alleviates our feeling of responsibility and allows us to escape “adulting.”  Too many people fall into that trap.

YOU are able to control how you respond to everything you face.  The wise man and woman will “trust in the Lord with all (of their) heart” and He will guide you through even the toughest paths.  Place your faith in Jesus Christ and just WATCH how God will work through it all!!!

Don’t be fooled!!

5 Feb

In the days before modern banking technology, how did a teller or bank employee spot a counterfeit bill??  Have you ever thought about that?  TODAY, there is all kinds of technology on that new, crisp $100 bill that enables businesses and banks to KNOW that bill is the real deal.  But how did they spot things like this 100 years ago??

Some of my long-time banking friends remind me that the human brain is the most complex computer on the planet!!  Spotting a counterfeit was something bank employees were trained to do, not only by learning the methods of those who produced false bills, but also (and mostly) by STUDYING THE REAL THING.  When they studied and KNEW the real thing, they could easily spot the counterfeit.

So … How can we keep ourselves from being fooled today by counterfeit theology?  By counterfeit holiness?

I have been at Ebenezer Baptist Church for almost 25 years now.  First as the Minister of Youth and Recreation (for 4 years), then as the Interim Pastor (for 18 months), and since then as the Pastor.  Honestly, I have struggled in the past few months for God’s vision in my life and ministry.  And then He gave me an assignment that has consumed me!!  My job is to make sure Ebenezer is ready to pass the baton to the next generation….  For years now, I have studied and received training on the next generation and how to reach them.  I have nudged Ebenezer towards a position to be ready to do this.  I have encountered resistance, but truthfully NO ONE likes change (so that is to be expected).

But I have uncovered another fact with which to struggle.  Something I believe will plague the American church more than others around the world.  We are too quick to judge a book by its cover.  We accept outward appearances as gospel truth and do not work to see what is on the inside.  In other words, we could easily fall into the world’s trap of judging others based on the outward instead of the inward.  If we cannot overcome this, the North American church will suffer terribly in the next few decades.  We MUST see past the outward and look at the inward.

Why are we in this place?

  • Because media has conditioned us to look for the appealing, sleek options rather than diamonds in the rough.
  • Because it takes more work to get to know someone.  Quite frankly, it is easier to accept an outward appearance or a social media image than it is to actually invest in a person and get to know them.  Investing in another person will take time, energy, and we might have to get our hands dirty.
  • Because we DO NOT like change, and if we accept those who do not think exactly like us, or act exactly like us, or dress exactly like us, it might just change our environment and we do not like that in the least little bit.  Changing will move us into the future, and we like the past.  It is comfortable and nostalgic.
  • Finally, sometimes we equate our programs, traditions, and habits with holiness.  We forget that holiness is found in the state of someone’s heart, not in their hair color or their choice of clothing.

How do we overcome this??  Simply by LOVING GOD with all of our heart, mind, body, soul, and strength and by LOVING EACH OTHER with Christ’s kind of love.  If we will just concentrate on doing those two things well, God will fill in the blanks on the rest.

Don’t be fooled!!  Look past the outer package!!!

Credibility makes or breaks a leader

10 Jan

I was reading the Blackaby Spiritual Leadership devo, and today’s entry hits a nail on the head for me.  The devo is taken from Exodus 4:1

“Then Moses answered and said, ‘But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice . . .”    Exodus 4:1

The devo states that “Credibility is one of the greatest challenges for leaders.”  It continues to explore the idea that it doesn’t matter what you say or to where you might want to lead if no one will listen to you.  Awesome thought…. Ominous thought …. It is powerful when you stop and think about it.

These words will certainly ring true for a pastor.  Everyone expects their pastors to be credible, and they should.  But it doesn’t stop there.  It branches out to deacons….  Sunday School teachers and small group leaders … Mentors … Really, it touches ANYONE who is a person of influence.  And you do not have to hold an official office or title to be a person of influence.  In fact, most of the people who will read this (who follow Christ) fit in this category of “LEADER.”

I guess that is why I get so frustrated when I see men and women casting their pearls before swine, sacrificing their credibilities and reputations on the altars of social media and personal interaction.  Who are selling themselves out for a laugh or a like or an argument… In the past few weeks I have been reminded there are people who thrive on the opportunity to start a fight with others just for the sake and entertainment of fighting!!!!  I have seen others fall right into their snare, too.  It greatly frustrates me when I see leaders, people of influence, who say things that absolutely burn their credibilities in the eyes of others.  They might not realize it.  Or, they might not care.

But the last time I checked, we who follow Christ were put on this world to reach those who do not know Him.  Regardless of who they are, what they do, etc.

We, the church, need to protect our individual credibilities above all else.  Because, collectively, our credibilities compile and impact the credibility of THE CHURCH.

Don’t cast your pearls before swine.

The Beware-itudes

25 Nov

Yeah, okay, I kind of made a word up for the title.

Doing the role in which I currently serve, I have many opportunities to observe.  To watch people.  To watch how they treat each other.  To watch how they accomplish their goals and how they do life.  I have come to the conclusion that, all around us, there are some pretty awesome people!!  There are also some for whom we need to BEWARE.  So … This is dedicated to them in all of their glory!!

BEWARE OF THOSE WHO PROJECT THEIR MISERY INTO YOUR LIFE.  That old saying, “Misery loves company,” is ABSOLUTELY TRUE!!!  And, all around us, there are some people walking in misery who want us to walk in misery, too!!  If their marriage isn’t so great, they find problems in YOUR marriage.  If they are lonely and afraid, they will give you 500 reasons to be the same.  If they cannot have happiness and peace, no one else deserves to have it, either (at least, in their minds)!!!!  You deserve better:  Surround yourselves with people who are positive and watch THAT spill over into your life.

BEWARE OF THOSE WHO PUSH YOUR BUTTONS.  Sometimes, they are just doing that for their own entertainment purposes.  I once had a friend who would do that.  He was so predictable.  He would tell Sally what Susie said about her, and then he would run to Susie and tell her what Sally was saying.  (AND HE WAS AN ADULT!!!!)  Then, when it would all hit the fan, he would stand off on the side and grin.  And laugh.  And enjoy.  If you have a “friend” who is constantly pushing buttons and stirring the pot, stand back and watch.  That “friend” might just be using you for entertainment value.  You deserve better:  When you discover someone in your life who is doing this, some separation might be good.

BEWARE OF THOSE WHO CONSTANTLY SHOUT YOU DOWN.  No matter what your ideas or practices might be, they constantly criticize and discredit.  Perhaps they haven’t DIRECTLY told you not to do something in life, but they say things like “I hate people who meet with other people at Starbucks …”  (NOT that I have ever heard that, but just an example.  By the way, some of the best ministry things I have done lately have been in the walls of a coffee shop.)  You deserve better:  While I agree that sometimes friends have a better perspective on our ideas and can lead us away from a mess, surely if you are listening to God and praying about life, surely at SOME POINT you will have a great idea.  If you have friends who are doing nothing but shouting you down, take note and after they shut down your 50th idea, ask them why???!

BEWARE OF THOSE WHO SEPARATE YOU FROM GOD AND/OR THE ONES YOU LOVE.  Yes, there are people IN YOUR LIFE who will attempt to separate you from God.  Or, perhaps they want to separate you from your family or friends.  BEWARE OF THESE PEOPLE!!  A proven abuse strategy is to separate someone from those they trust to make them easier to manipulate and control.  If you have someone in your life that is trying to pry you away from all of the positives in your life, BEWARE!!  You deserve better!!!!  Open your eyes and SEE what is happening!!!!

I am sure there will be more BEWARE-itudes to come!!!

We’ve lost it

8 Nov

Hello, blog, my old friend.  It’s been a long time.  And I’ve been thinking about some things.

I am becoming more and more convinced that we’ve lost it.   I have no idea if we will be able to find it again.  And, the world has changed forever.  It might never be restored.

From where I sit, I see a world that increasingly cares about ITSELF.  And that is all.  And, to be more specific, most people only care about THEIR world.  Their needs.  Their agendas.  There is very little empathy for others.  Very little consideration of what might be going on in the world of another.  Just their world.

Not all people are falling into this trap.  But, in 2019, most people are.  It seems they are believing that old idea of LOOKING OUT FOR NUMBER ONE.  “If you don’t look out for yourself, no one else will.”  Wisdom from the world.  Contrary to the Word of God.  Yet I see it in the church more and more.  It is discouraging.  Disheartening.  The kind of thing that could encourage a guy to walk away from it all.

It is completely contrary to the words of Jesus in Matthew 22 when He was asked “What is the Greatest Commandment?”  He answered, “Love the Lord your God with EVERYTHING that you are.  And, love your neighbor as you love yourself.”  We get the “Love the Lord your God” part (or, at least, we will say that we get it).  But the idea of loving my neighbor as much as I love myself???  Too many people choose the world’s version of life and are, quite frankly, unwilling.

In my humble opinion, this is why people are so vicious to each other.  This is why churches struggle to accomplish the mission that God Himself has given to them.  This is why there are so many hurting people in our world today.  Because we are so focused on ourselves that we do not take the time to look around and see those we might be able to help, who are all around us.

And, the answer to how to solve all of this, is YOU.  And me.

Welcome to Church! (We shoot our wounded)

18 Jun

Near the beginning of the movie “The Patriot”, there is a scene where British soldiers win a battle near Benjamin Martin’s farm.  They as they are clearing the farm, they find a number of wounded patriots who sought refuge at the farm house.  Martin (himself a war veteran of days gone by) and his family provide comfort and limited medical care.  As the brutal British commander rides through, he orders his men to shoot the wounded and burn the house (to teach Martin a lesson).  It is heart-breaking and infuriating at the same time.  It was a cruel act.

And, yet, we in the North American church are not so different.  Yes, we shoot our wounded.  All of my Christian life, I’ve been taught to live by God’s Word as best I can.  To love God.  To love each other.  These are the words of Christ.  But there is also an undercurrent … A hidden language.  The unwritten rules by which most churches function.

We, the Church, have some really bad habits.  We claim and freely embrace the mercy and grace of Christ.  We fully accept the fact that God Himself send His Only Son to die on a cross for our sins when we did not deserve it.  But, when one of our number stumbles, too often we push them to the side and keep moving.  We get caught in this idea of not wanting to justify the sin of others, so we ignore it.  We ignore them.  We ignore grace.

We don’t do this so quickly when a brother or sister among us makes a “little mistake.”  But woe be unto anyone who makes a BIG MISTAKE.  Instead of reserving judgment for God Himself, we put them on trial in the court of popular opinion.  In that court, one is guilty until proven innocent.  And even if they might be exonerated, once the damage is done to their reputation, they are done…. Untouchable …  Shot while wounded and left to die.

And those who judge don’t even realize they are caught in a self-made trap of judgmentalism and legalism.  Each and every day, they look at little more like Pharisees and a little less like Christ.  And they don’t even know it.

One of the things I will always love about my mom and dad is the fact that, no matter how bad I messed up, I would always be their son.  They would always love me.  They might be disappointed, but they would always love me.  They raised me this way, and this is what being a family means to me!  And, the last time I checked, we (the Church) are supposed to be FAMILY.

In Matthew 7:2, Jesus said “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  Read that a few times and allow it to sink in…  And, for goodness sake, please STOP shooting your wounded.