Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Overcoming Depression, Anxiety, and Regret

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? 
 -Psalm 8:3,4 

This June, I will turn 54, and I was contemplating how this makes me feel.  I recall being a teenager and people in their 50's seemed old to me.  Now that I am there, 54 doesn't seem old at all. In fact, 60 and 70 are beginning to look younger to me all the time.  The psalmist looked at his life and his seemingly insignificant status when compared with the vastness of the universe, and he wondered why God bothered to consider him at all.  From a purely human standpoint, we are merely specs in the incomprehensible expanse of time and space.  A faith stance is altogether different and was the psalmist's stated position.  

Without God and His power in our lives, we can easily grow discouraged, depressed, and questioning our place in the world.  Even people of faith struggle with such thoughts as well.  How much more if we are lacking faith in God as our solid foundation.  Consider the fact that we have all made mistakes.  We all have regrets.  We all have difficulties and problems of one kind or another. Somehow it can all build up until we grow exhausted with life and its stresses.  Let me challenge you to move forward in faith.  Seek a closer walk with God as a means of confronting life's challenges.  

As I type, I am certain someone reading this is struggling with depression or anxiety.  I have battled depression myself, so I have an idea of what you are going through.  So severe was my battle with this illness and so powerful was God's deliverance, I wrote a book about my experience, which you can order from this blog ("The Invitation: Embracing a Happier Life").  I hope you will read the book, but even if you do not, please know there is hope in Jesus Christ.  Life is hard, but the Lord is our greatest resource for spiritual power and strength.  God empowers us to move forward in faith rather than fear and spiritual power rather than the paralysis of regret.

Let me share with you what I recently told someone who was having problems with past regrets.  Do not allow past mistakes to define who you are right now.  Grace, mercy, and new life are found in Christ.  I trust all this is helpful to you.

So, how about you?  How can I pray for you today?  What advice would you give someone struggling with depression and / or anxiety?  I would love to hear from you.  Your testimony will encourage others.

God bless you today.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Grace or Tradition; Which Will We Choose?

4 And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. 5 And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. 6 And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.  -Mark 3:4-6

Jesus was vehemently criticized for His steadfast commitment to place grace over the letter of the law.  Let me explain this further.  Jesus was always more concerned with helping people and addressing their needs than upholding religious tradition.  The Pharisees, which were Jesus harshest critics, were so focused on keeping their traditions that they lost sight of the suffering that was all around them.  Jesus told them their attitudes were hypocritical because they were ignoring the weightier matters of the law such as grace, mercy, and faith (Matthew 23:23).  Most Christians will say they we are not like this at all.  But is this truly the case?  

What would happen in most churches if the people came in one Sunday morning and the pulpit furniture had been rearranged?  For countless congregations, such an action would result in a church split.  The outcry would be intense.  How dare someone move the pulpit furniture!  I once said in a sermon that many pastors could split their congregations with this one simple, seemingly insignificant action; remove the pulpit.  I then joked that when the ancient Israelites marched into battle they carried the Ark of the Covenant, not a church pulpit.  And this is only one example.  Should we tamper with anything that touches on tradition, such as the order of worship, where we place the announcements or offering, whether or not the pastor wears a suit and tie, and numerous other minor details, the resulting outrage would leave the congregation broken and fractured.  Perhaps we are more like the Pharisees than we think we are.

On the other hand, if you are reading this and you realize that such small details are not worth fighting over and there are greater and more important issues to concern ourselves with, such as worshipping God in Spirit and truth, feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, helping the needy, and shining Jesus’ light to a dark and hurting world, rejoice; you are, as Jesus said, not far from the kingdom of God (Mark 12:34).

How do we overcome Pharisaical attitudes in the church today?  I welcome your thoughts on the subject.  As always, I also welcome the opportunity to pray for you about whatever you are facing.  Please feel free to comment.  (Don’t forget, since my comments section is a new feature, all comments are moderated and will appear soon after you post them.)

God bless you today.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Your Attitude May Ignite the Needed Spark

Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. –II Corinthians 7:1

As a pastor, I try to stay current on issues facing Christians.  Here in America, we are seeing a slow decline in church attendance and baptisms, which has been happening for decades.  Present research indicates that 70% of churches in America are in decline.  To combat this, many congregations are adopting the seeker friendly form of worship, which involves replacing traditional worship with a more relaxed, informal, and casual style. 

Let me challenge you today to consider that whatever form of worship your church is practicing, and while I am at it, whatever denomination your church affiliates with, you personally seek a deeper relationship with Christ.  Your attitude might create a spark that could reignite people around you to also seek a closer walk with the Lord.  What I observe is discouragement and exhaustion.  I see this among believers and non-believers alike.  Never have I seen people so overwhelmed with the stresses of life.  If there was ever a time to seek personal peace through Jesus Christ, the time is now.

Perhaps your church is facing decline.  You may feel discouraged over this.  Take a moment and pray for your pastor today.  I assure you, your pastor needs prayer.   Pray also for your attitude that it will be a reflection of God’s grace in you.  Pray that Jesus’ light will shine so brightly in your life that it will positively affect those around you.  Resolve to be positive in the face of whatever challenges you are facing.  Pray for spiritual renewal in your congregation.  Pray that your church, whether it has 50 or 1000 attending, will be a place where Christ is exalted, lives are changed, and the community is blessed by its presence.

Why do you think churches all across the country are declining?  I welcome your thoughts on the subject.  I also welcome any other matter you would like to get off your chest.  Share your burden and leave it with the Lord.  I welcome the opportunity to pray for you today.  As always, you may post anonymously.  I hope you leave feeling better than before.

God bless you today.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Preacher's Million Dollar House

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work: -II Corinthians 9:8

I recently came across an article about a well known mega church pastor in North Carolina. I say “well known,” but I had never heard of him until the article. The article was critical of the pastor’s decision to build for himself a 1.5 million dollar home. The pastor later defended his actions saying that the funds used for the house were not from church salary, but from money made from his books, which apparently are selling very well. I will not mention the pastor's name because unfortunately, this sort of situation is so common that I would have to go after a long list of pastors and preachers to cover them all. However, the pastor’s million plus dollar home does raise questions about financial responsibility in the church and for Jesus’ followers.

All of us have wondered what we might do if we suddenly had great wealth. Countless people seek this, which explains why multi-state lotteries are so popular. For many people, though, winning the lottery created more problems than they bargained for, because they were bankrupt within a few years, which is common among lottery winners. I admit I too have wondered what I would do if financial wealth was available to me. I have written and self published three books, and while this has been a tremendous blessing to me and the feedback from the books has been overwhelmingly positive, it has made little effect on my personal finances. But what if I wrote a book that became a best seller and I made millions from it? I can say with all certainty I would not build a 1.5 million dollar house. What I would do is pay off the home Andrea and I have, lay aside funds for retirement, perhaps place funds in a trust for our children and grand-kids, and then I would strive to be a good steward of what the Lord provided.

Now, back to that million dollar house; why would a preacher, someone called to be God’s humble servant, need a million dollar house? My answer is, he doesn't. In fact, why would any of Jesus’ followers need such an elaborate house? Wouldn't we be better stewards of what God has blessed us with to build something more modest and use what we would have spent on a larger house to help those in need? This looks like a better use for the wealth God has provided. Consider the dwelling you have right now. You may not have a mansion, yet when compared with a large portion of the world’s population, you are living in luxury akin to a palace. A key to peace in Jesus Christ is finding contentment in what we have rather than resentment over what we do not have.

So, should God’s servants live in luxury? Is it okay if the preacher has a million dollar house? I would welcome your thoughts. Or, perhaps there is something else on your mind today. Let me know how I can pray for you.

God bless you.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Financial Transparency in the Church

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. –I Timothy 6:10

It’s a sad, but familiar story. Someone passes away, an estate is disputed, feelings are hurt, and relationships are damaged, often irreparably. I have witnessed this scenario played out many times as I have ministered to families in times of grief. Some of what I have observed falls into the realm of the unbelievable. The family who settles a loved one’s estate without hard feelings and legal disputes is rare these days.

One example that comes to mind is the estate of the late comedian / actor Robin Williams. I read recently how his family is in court contesting his will regarding various items of memorabilia and jewelry. It is painful somehow to read in news reports his family going to court to make sure they get whatever he left behind. And we all leave everything behind, don’t we? But, that’s for another blog post. The truly sad irony of Robin Williams’ death is the man who made millions of people laugh was unable to overcome his own inner demons, which drove him to an apparent suicide. I have no idea whether or not he was a person of faith and I have heard rumors he was an atheist, but I would never presume to know what’s in a person’s heart. Regardless, the desire for money is a dangerous force.

Money causes problems in families, but improperly handing money also causes problems in the church. Transparency is a term used in recent years well applied to churches. God calls us to do all things in the church, especially how we handle finances, well above reproach. Sadly it does not always happen this way. Most of us have heard the news reports of televangelists and their money issues. People begin asking questions about where the money is going, the televangelist is either unwilling to answer or provides a false answer, and a controversy erupts. Ultimately, Christianity is further tarnished. Transparency in the church means that we keep a careful accounting of how we spend donated funds. We then make those records readily available. This principle should apply to a church with membership of 50 or 20,000.

I can only speak for myself, but something I never do is stand in the pulpit and plead for money. In fact, I rarely mention it. My prayer is that churches and ministries everywhere would strive for financial transparency. This is a positive witness for Christ in the world. Sadly, mishandled funds in the church has left a bad taste in the mouths of many people. Has this created problems for you? Have you left a church or been disillusioned over money issues? I would love to hear from you. I would like an opportunity to pray for God’s grace and presence in your life.

Perhaps something else is bothering you today. Know that God cares and people will pray for you. Feel free to share your comments.

God bless you.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Let's Try Something Different

Let’s try something different.  I would love to hear from you.  Why is this?  The reason is I have a burden for whatever you are facing.  I desire to pray for God’s grace, healing, comfort, and strength for you.  I know these are powerful forces in my own life and I wish for God’s power for you as well.  God is able to do great works in our lives, but we must be faithful.  Life is hard, difficult, frustrating, and exhausting.  Jesus Christ offers hope and peace in the storms of life.

Over the last year, my understanding of four areas has expanded.  Let me briefly elaborate on each one:

First, I have discovered that people want to share their thoughts and ideas.  I have studied a number of blogs recently, and the comments sections are extremely active.  Relief and a measure of comfort are found in sharing from the heart, even anonymously. 

Second, I learned the hard way that comments in a blog must be moderated.  Some comments may be inappropriate for this blog.  Therefore, from this point forward I encourage comments in the form of thoughts, ideas, concerns, burdens, and ways I can pray for you.  However, all comments will be moderated for appropriateness. 

Thirdly, countless people have been hurt, and I hate to say it, but abused, by the church.  This includes laypersons and pastors.  They are hurting, and they need a safe place to share their fears and hurts.  Many of them may never return to church.  Many more have renounced faith in God.  If this is you, I want to hear from you.   

Fourthly, the next generation does not do church as we always have.  If we get them to attend a worship service at all, they have no interest in whether or not the pastor wears a tie, the color of the carpet, whether there is an organ or a guitar, how people are dressed, or strict adherence to a prescribed order of service.  These are issues congregations have vehemently fought and split over for decades.  The younger people among us look upon us in wonder why we would worry about such matters when people are starving and parts of the world are going up in flames. 

So, share your thoughts, your burdens, and tell me how I can pray for you.  Maybe I can be of some help.  I am certain God can help.

God bless you today.