Thursday, April 30, 2015

Feeling Burned Out? Take Heart - There is Hope

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not to men.  –Colossians 3:23

A character in one of my favorite sitcoms, Seinfeld, once remarked that his mind was, “As barren as the surface of the moon.”  He was speaking of the burnout and exhaustion he was going through and as part of the genius of the show, this serious sounding description of his condition was humorous.  In real life, of course, there is nothing comical about burnout.  The condition known as burnout affects people from all walks of life.  Burnout is the condition of being so tired, exhausted, and overworked that all energy for going forward and thriving in one’s position is gone.  I have known many pastors affected by this and I have experienced it myself. 

However, the condition is in no way limited to the pastorate.  Anyone can suffer from burnout.  While depression affects our entire being, burnout is typically centered on one area such as our career or current job.  You may be reading this right now and thinking, “Yes, that’s me; I so dislike my job that it’s all I can do to make myself get up and go to work each day.”  When suffering from burnout, we have no problem getting up on our day off to take a trip somewhere or perhaps enjoy work around the house.  But when Monday comes, we’re feeling pretty low.  Our employment is no longer bringing us any fulfillment.

Take heart, because if your career has you burnt out, revitalization is possible.  Consider again that attitude makes all the difference.  The following suggestions may prove useful.

Seek to view your work as a calling rather than a job.  God has strategically placed you where you are for a divine purpose.  Whether you are a janitor or an executive, give your all to your work, because you are in the position of influencing peoples’ live around you for the better.  Your employment is your mission field.

God is using your work for providing basic necessities.  Consider that without that dull job you go to each morning, you and your family would be homeless, which is a condition affecting countless people right now.  Take on a new attitude of thanksgiving for all your work has allowed you to possess, such as a place to live and provision for your family.

Unclutter your life.  Getting rid of clutter from our homes and workplaces is one of the most energizing practices we can pursue.  While you’re at it, getting rid of car clutter makes us feel great as well.  Is your desk at work buried in junk mail and other stuff?  Resolve today to have the most organized desk in the office.  You will be amazed at the result.

Seek to encourage those around you.  What is your attitude at work?  Are you sullen and critical?  Do you complain about the boss and fellow employees?  Do you gossip with coworkers about others?  These attitudes fuel burnout.  Resolve to cease from speaking ill of others.  Make a commitment to say only kind words about your manager and fellow employees.  Rather than cut others down, seek to build up people around you with gracious, kind, and encouraging words.  Practice this every day and burnout begins to dissolve.

Get some exercise.  I know I keep harping on this, but it’s just that important.  Moderate exercise or daily workouts do wonders for our overall outlook.  Give it a try.

Recommit your life to God.  Resolve to daily pray and meditate on God’s Word.  What a wonderful difference this practice makes. 

I trust this is helpful.  Should you desire to comment on today’s post, please feel free to do so.  I would love to hear from you and pray for you today.

God bless you, my friends.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

God's Word on Happiness and Joy

Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; Therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty. –Job 5:17

When you eat the labor of your hands, Youshall be happy, and it shall be well with you. –Psalm 128:2

Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in the Lord his God, -Psalm 145:6

A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, But by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken. -Proverbs 15:13

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. –James 5:13

But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You; Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them; Let those also who love Your name Be joyful in You. -Psalm 5:11

Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains! For the Lordhas comforted His people, And will have mercy on His afflicted. –Isaiah 49:13

Whatever trials you are facing today, trust God, keep going, look to His Word, strength and power, and keep moving forward in faith. God has a plan and He will bring you through whatever difficulty you are facing.

God bless you today.

Friday, April 24, 2015

More Thoughts on the Power of Words

Pleasant words are like a honeycomb,
Sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.  –Proverbs 16:24

I am continually amazed at the power of words.  What we say can cut like a knife or heal like a soothing balm.  Many of us recall what we were told as children about words and their power; “Stick and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”  Ah, if only that were true.  I remember painful words spoken to me decades ago.  Sometimes those memories swim to the surface and we relive those sore moments.  To be fair, we remember nice words spoken to us as well, but those negative words carry sinister power.

Allow me to challenge you today to take to heart what God’s Word says about the words we speak.  Good words are indeed sweet when spoken to a friend or family member in need.  Consider also that the pain someone is feeling may not be visible at all.  No doubt we will encounter hurting people today, and yet their pain is all inside.  What we say might encourage them in ways we cannot imagine.  Your words today could hold life or death to another person.  Unkind and negative words fall effortlessly from our lips.  We hardly have to try.  However, the uplifting, helpful, kind, and healing words require energy and effort. 

Need a few examples to assist you today?  Try some of these:

I am praying for you today.

Don’t give up – God has a plan.

Life is worth living, so keep going.

You are a wonderful person and I am thankful for you.

Thank you.

Call me if there is anything I can do.

You get the idea.  Resolve to speak only good words today.  What we say helps others and even as we speak them we feel better.  Negative, hateful, critical, and mean words bring us and everyone around us down. 

Have you been hurt by words lately?  Need to get something off your chest?  Let me know how I can pray for you today.  As always, you may post anonymously. 

God bless you – it’s going to a great day.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Rainy Days and Mondays

You love righteousness and hate wickedness; Therefor God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions.  –Psalm 45:7

What is it about Mondays?  People I encounter on this particular day of the week are sometimes going through the day a little reservedly and hesitantly, as if waiting for something bad to happen.  I am certain you understand.  I have heard pastors refer to this day as “blue Monday.”  We have been going all weekend, we gave ourselves fully to leading in Sunday worship, and then Monday comes.  Yes, it can be a letdown.  For others, the day follows an enjoyable weekend where the realities of work, bills, and real responsibilities return in earnest.  Don’t be surprised if you ask someone on a Monday how he or she is doing and the person replies, “Well, it is Monday.”  It certainly is.

The best advice I can offer for handling Monday is to face it full on, head on, and come out swinging like a prize fighter.  Begin the day by taking time to pray and seek the Lord.  Give to Him the burdens and fears you are facing.  Take time to meditate on God’s Word by allowing its truths to penetrate your mind and heart.  Come up with a workable plan for the day.  Get moving and keep going in God’s strength.  Here are additional strategies that might prove helpful on Monday and any other day, for that matter:

Stop dwelling on past mistakes and failures.  We have all failed in some area, probably miserably.  Seek God’s forgiveness, seek the forgiveness of someone you may have wronged (if this is appropriate), realize you are only human, and move forward.  Do not allow past mistake to define who you are right now.

Get outdoors.  Sunshine is extremely therapeutic. Get outside on a sunny day and breathe in the fresh air. Be thankful for the moment you have to enjoy a clear and beautiful day.  If it’s pouring the rain, be thankful for that too.  Parts of the country are facing drought that is wreaking havoc with crops and water supplies.  The sun will come back out soon.

Get some exercise.  Even moderate exercise such as taking a daily walk works wonders.  Be sure to check with your doctor to make sure you are physically able to handle whatever exercise routine you choose.

Smile.  Smile at people you know.  Smile and say hello to strangers you pass at the grocery store.  Smile while talking on the phone (the other person will sense it in your voice).  Smiles are indeed contagious, and even if not reciprocated, you will feel better.

Let others have the glory.  Take time to listen.  Don’t interrupt others to tell your story.  If someone is telling about a trip to Florida, just listen.  Resist the urge to tell about how you also went to Florida last year and how great it was.  Let it be about the other person.  People will love you for this.

Be positive and encouraging at all times.  Five years ago, my wife Andrea was in a life and death battle with cancer.  I recall having a conversation with someone about her condition.  The person said, “Oh, that’s a shame.  I had a friend who had the same kind of cancer.  She died in about six weeks.”  That wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear.  Trust me on this; if someone tells you about a loved one who is battling cancer or some other illness, speak only positive words.  “I am so sorry to hear this.”  “I’ll be praying for him.”  “Please let me know if there is anything you need,” are all appropriate responses.  Offer to bring a meal, drive the person to his chemo treatment, or babysit if there’s small kids around.  These acts of kindness are always appreciated. 

I trust this is helpful to you.  Please let me know how I can pray for you today.  As always, you may comment anonymously.  It’s going to be a great day.

God bless you.    

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Confronting and Overcoming Bitterness

Looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.  –Hebrews 12:15

Numerous people succumb to the dark forces of bitterness and I have encountered many such persons over the years.  One lesson I have learned from them is I do not want to ever become bitter. My goal in this post is to encourage you if you are struggling with bitterness and also to provide strategies for handling bitter people.  God’s Word warns us of the danger of bitterness.  It begins as a root and then springs up into our lives creating negativity as it grows.  Bitterness taints our outlook and causes us to see only the dark side of life’s challenges.

The following are traits of bitter people, which I have personally observed.  I’ve also provided strategies for dealing with them:

Frequent and loud complaining.  Bitterness has a voice and it comes out in complaining.  Ask a bitter person how he or she is doing and the answer will typically involve complaining about something or someone.  One method for deflecting this is to not join in the complaining.  Seek to steer the conversation toward a more positive discussion.  In a recent blog post I wrote about the benefits of resolving to speak only positive words about others (Strategies for Coping with Hurt Feelings).  This works well in dealing with bitter people as well.  This requires effort and is at times exhausting, but if the bitter person is someone we love and desire to help, then the energy is worth it.  We also grow personally and spiritually though the process.

Resentful of the successes and accomplishments of others.  Bitterness results in an inability to rejoice with others when their lives go in positive directions.  Bitter people often have a hard time being glad over someone else’s accomplishments.  Rather than rejoice, they may even feel jealousy because it did not happen to them.  Lecturing or preaching at a bitter person might only serve to make the situation worse.  As Jesus’ followers, we are to set an example of what true thankfulness and rejoicing looks like.  All us of know people who make more money than us and don’t seem to have the struggles we are facing.  Seek to focus on our own blessings and we will be able to rejoice over theirs.  The bitter people around us will see our Christ-like attitudes and hopefully follow our example.

Highly critical of other people.  Bitterness leads to a critical spirit.  This demonstrates itself in constantly pointing out the faults of others.  Not only is this exhausting to those who hear it, but it is also contrary to Jesus’ teachings on grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness.  Again, make a conscious effort to not take part in a conversation where someone is being verbally skewered.  Encourage the person to seek out the one he or she is speaking of and talk about their problems or differences in an adult manner, as Jesus said we are to do in Matthew 18:15.  Unfortunately, it’s always easier to speak unkindly about people behind their backs than to lovingly and calmly confront them.  Remind the speaker that if Joe is being run down that it isn’t fair because Joe isn’t around to defend himself.  Also, encourage the other person that it’s better to pray for Joe rather than speak ill of him behind his back.  Again, you are setting a Christ-like example in the presence of those who need to see it.

Firm belief that bitterness is justified.  Bitter people are often self-righteous and cynical.  They have been hurt or burned by past experiences and relationships, therefore they believe they have the right to be angry, negative, resentful, and critical.  Such attitudes are damaging to the home, workplace, and the church.  Follow Jesus’ example and deal with such persons lovingly and gently, while setting a positive example of what a Christ-like spirit looks like.  And pray for such persons that God will touch and change their hearts.

Bitter people are difficult to be around and they will often drain the life right out of us. They are toxic to the bright outlook Jesus calls us to possess.  This is why it is so vital that we maintain our own personal walk with God and stay in daily prayer and meditation on God’s Word.

So how about you?  Has bitterness crept into your heart?  If so, recognizing it is a step forward to overcoming it.  I welcome an opportunity to pray for you today.  As always, you may comment anonymously in the comments section.

Life’s too short to be bitter.  Rise up and claim a better, brighter day.

God bless you.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Rising up to a Better and Brighter Day

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.  I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.
–John 10:10

I mentioned last week in another post how that when I returned from my Ohio visit, the spring season seemed to have come alive.  A week later spring has exploded; everything is in bloom, the days are getting longer, the weather is warmer, and everyone around me seems as delighted about all of this as me.  The yard around our house is surrounded by trees and an abundance of plants.  All this plant life had been left unattended for at least a few years.  This was one of the challenges of this great house we bought last year and we still have a tremendous amount of landscaping we hope to do in the coming years.  But that’s okay, as we are enjoying the process.

I now understand why many retired people I know spend so much time doing yard work.  Working outside around the house is relaxing, relieves stress, and gives a feeling of accomplishment.  We do what we can, but mine and Andrea’s work schedules only allow us to work on the yard as time permits.  Yes, I could see myself puttering around the house all day tending the plants, bushes, shrubs, and flowers.   Often when we are out in the yard, our two dogs, Ada and Leon, look at us with expressions that seem to say, “Isn’t all this wonderful?”  I agree with them wholeheartedly. 

All of us need something to get our minds off the stress and difficulties we face.  As time passes by, I am learning the value of taking time to cherish life’s simple, quiet moments.  Consider the blessing of just having the health and strength to rise out of bed and face the day.  I frequently minister to people who are physically hindered from getting out of bed because of illness, but I also encounter emotionally paralyzed people as well.  The burdens of life become so great that even the simplest of tasks such as getting dressed and going outside become nearly unbearable.  Depression and anxiety become overwhelming, robbing people of the peace and happiness they would otherwise be enjoying.  If this describes you, do not delay in seeking treatment. 

You may not be clinically depressed as I was for a number of years, but you have ceased to enjoy life and all its blessings.  If this is where you are, then let me encourage you to trust God for a fresh perspective and renewed outlook.  Life is meant to live, not survive.  Stop right now and think of all the blessings in your life.  If you are reading this, then you have shelter, electricity, and most likely food in the house, which makes us far better off than millions of other people in the world.  A vacation is nice, but so is a quiet time of communion with God at sunrise on your back porch.  Rise early tomorrow and breath in the wonder that is another day of life and an opportunity to live it to the fullest.

So, how can I pray for you today?  Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.  Your story will encourage someone else.  Keep going, my friends.  It’s going to be a great day.

God bless you

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Strategies for Coping with Hurt Feelings

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?  -Jeremiah 17:9

We all know what it means to have our feelings hurt.  It’s that negative sensation of knowing our emotions are damaged to some degree.  The hurt may be superficial or it may cut deeply.  All of us are susceptible to getting our feelings hurt.  Some may deal with it perhaps better than others, but it happens to everyone.  It does help to have what we refer to as a “thick skin,” but even then the hurts still make it through.  Another problem is that with the thick skin approach we can become calloused and hardened to the world around us.

One problem with getting our feelings hurt is we rely too much on second hand information.  We often take at face value what we are told was said about us.  If the comments or observations are negative, the results can be hurtful.  It is also uncomfortable to discover people have been critically discussing us, possibly in harsh terms.  We have all had this done to us, and well, let’s admit it; we have all participated in such talk. 

God’s Word is correct when it says the heart is deceitful above all things.  One moment we feel great, and then we hear how someone, maybe someone we think of as a friend, has allegedly been speaking unkindly about us.  Our emotions then plummet.  Yes, the heart is tricky.  So, what should we do when our feelings are hurt?  How we respond is crucial to overcoming hurt feelings.  The following suggestions may prove beneficial.

Be cautious of taking another person’s words at face value.  Stories are often changed, altered, and misinterpreted in translation.  As a pastor, I am used to hearing the words, “A lot of people are upset about this.”  I often reply to the messenger, “Why don’t you go back and tell those folks to come and speak with me about it.”  “A lot of people” could easy be one to three people, or 10 to 20.  Hopefully, you understand my point.  Such language is extremely subjective.  When someone comes to you and says, “Bill is really angry at you,” remember that is one person interpreting the feelings of another.  Bill may not be as upset as you were told.  And if that is true, then Bill needs to have the courage to come and speak with you face to face in a mature and adult manner.

Beware the knee jerk reaction.  When told something negative that someone else allegedly said, be careful about thinking we have to jump up right then and do something about it.  Or worse, be careful of going to Facebook and writing an essay on how rotten people can be and how upsetting it is when old friends turn on you.  Give it time.  Pray about it.  Allow your emotions to simmer down.  Resolve to say nothing about the situation for a period of time.  If the alleged slanderer is truly your friend, then your friendship will survive it.

Resolve to handle conflict in a mature, calm, and Christ-like manner.  Adults aren’t supposed to yell, scream, and curse.  Get a handle on emotions before they rule and consume you and possibly do irreparable damage.

Have the courage to deal with conflict directly.  Proverbs 27:6 says the wounds of a friend are faithful, but the kisses of an enemy are deadly.  A true friend offers sound advice to our faces.  He or she is mature enough to only deal with us directly.  If someone is creating drama and conflict for us and it is always bringing us down, it may be time to reexamine if the relationship is worth it.

Resolve to only speak positively of other people.  This will place you in a small minority.  You will gain a wonderful reputation of never speaking an unkind word about anyone.  That’s a tall order, but well worth the effort.  It is also biblical and God honoring.

Keep your heart and mind focused on God and His greater plan.  As we grow in grace, we grow in our ability to cope with life’s hurts.

I trust all this is helpful.  How are you coping with life’s hurts and heartaches?  Feel free to leave a comment.  I would be glad to pray for you today.

God bless you.

Friday, April 10, 2015

What a Bird Taught me About Overcoming Discouragement

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.  –I Corinthians 15:58

I was doing a little work around the house the other evening, and my wife came home and found me checking fluid levels in my old 1982 Chevy C-10 pickup.  A man’s love for his truck will have to be the subject of another blog post, but I confess I do love that old truck.  In fact, I treasure it more than any vehicle I have ever owned.  This explains why I was so alarmed when my wife noticed the bird’s nest in the truck grill.  I stooped down and looked and sure enough, an industrious bird had built a fine nest right there in my truck’s grill.

This must have taken place while I was away last week visiting my parents in Ohio.  The truck sat in the driveway for 5 days, and a bird must have thought it a perfect place to raise a family.  Thus, the bird’s nest.  The nest was built right in front of the radiator behind the grill, and I had to crawl underneath the front of the truck and reach up and pull out the nest.  I pulled out handful after handful of twigs, pine needles, grass, pieces of straw, and a perfectly formed nest.  Fortunately, no tiny eggs were found, which would really have made me feel like a heel.  I felt bad enough just tearing out the nest, and wow, but did that bird construct a nest.  After a few minutes, I had removed all the material and it was quite an amount. 

As I removed the nest, I considered how hard the bird, and maybe her mate, must have worked to build the nest.  I cannot imagine the number of trips they made as they foraged in the yards and trees around my truck to gather their materials.  How many hours did they spend?  And here I was in a matter of minutes tearing it all down. 

Have you ever had the experience of giving your all to something only to believe it was a failure?  Perhaps you gave your all to a project, an endeavor, or even a relationship, and in the end it all fell apart.  You may have felt as though all your labors were in vain.  God knows the discouragement of feeling our work was for nothing.  We have all experienced the hurt and frustration of wondering if what we so poured ourselves into was in vain.  God’s Word reminds us that our labors in the Lord are never in vain.

God looks upon us in mercy and compassion.  The Lord is always forgiving.  And he offers strength in the midst of our discouragements and disappointments.  Beware the feeling that all we have done was for nothing.  You are having far greater influence than you realize.  The Lord gives grace for healing the hurts we feel and strength to carry on.

I have no doubt that little bird will find another place for her nest, and even now is probably busily working on her new project.  That’s a nice thought; just because the first try didn’t work, she relentlessly and boldly trudges ahead, even in rain, wind, and whatever else comes her way.  If birds can move forward with such determination, surely we can as well. 

So, how about you?  Have you faced disappointments lately?  Are you discouraged?  If so, I welcome an opportunity to pray for you today.  Leave me a comment below.  Remember, you can post anonymously. 

God bless you.  It’s going to be a great day. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

More Thoughts on Coping with Worry

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.  –II Timothy 1:7

I have dealt before with the issue of worry, but it appears so prevalent in peoples’ lives that I felt compelled to address it again.  I often talk with people who are battling some problem involving health or family and what I hear them saying is they cannot find any peace during this struggle.  So difficult is the present situation that it is right before them, front and center, all of the time.  They go to sleep thinking about the problem, and they sleep badly, and then they wake up with the worrisome situation staring them in the face.  The ebb and flow of a new dilemma is exhausting.  It robs us of sleep, appetite, happiness, and times we might otherwise have enjoyed.  Sadly, we all will face such troubles.

There are no magic solutions to overcoming the stress of worry.  Yet, there are strategies we can employ.  Here are a few suggestions that might prove helpful as you face a new crisis.

First,  take time to pray and meditate.  As a Christian, spending time in prayer and meditation on God’s Word is my first response to a problem.  I can only speak for myself, but this practice has brought great peace in the middle of personal storms I have faced.  Resolve to spend time each day alone praying and seeking God’s help.  The results may surprise you.

Secondly, consider what you can or cannot do about the situation.  For example, if you are sick, listen to your doctor, gather information on treatment, and move toward a cure.  If the problem involves a loved one, resolve to help the person in any way possible.  If the problem involves another person’s behavior and it is causing personal anguish and pain in your life, try to accept the hard truth that we cannot change or control other peoples’ behavior.  However, we can control our response.   Someone has said, what we allow will continue.  You may have hard decisions to make about your response to what is happening around you.  However, beyond the hard choices may be wonderful peace. 

Thirdly, practice deep breathing.  I cannot explain how or why this helps, but it does.  Just breathe deeply, in through the nose and out through the mouth.  This is especially helpful during meditation and prayer.  Throughout the day, as you find yourself going back to the problem and reliving it in your mind, just breathe.  Cease from practicing what you will say or how you will reply.  Instead, just breathe slowly and deeply.    When you realize you are worrying and getting all worked up again, just breathe instead.  Again, the results may surprise you.  There is no shame in giving yourself frequent breaks from the stress of worry.

Finally, stay active, exercise, eat healthy, and get adequate rest.  You are only human.  Without proper food and rest you will weaken.  Exercise is a wonderful stress reliever and confidence builder.  A brisk walk works wonders.  And while you are at it, get out in the sunshine and breathe fresh air. 

The problems of life will come; there is no stopping them.  But how we respond is within our control.  You are stronger than you think you are.  I trust this is helpful.

So, how about you?  How are you coping with worry?  How can I pray for you today?  Feel free to leave a comment, a prayer request, or just get something off your chest.  Remember, you may comment anonymously in the comments section.  I’d love to hear from you.

God bless you. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Thoughts on Springtime

Ask the Lord rain, in the time of the latter rain.  The Lord will make flashing clouds; He will give them showers of rain, grass in the field for everyone.  –Zechariah 10:1

Last week I spent a wonderful time visiting with my elderly parents in Ohio.  400 miles between us causes me to cherish and make the most of those visits as possible.  Those of you reading this who have faced similar situations with aging parents know what I am talking about.  I could write about taking time to appreciate parents because they will not be around forever, but I will save that for another post.  Indeed. I was saddened to leave them, but grateful for our time together.  Each visit grows more special with the passing years.

When I returned home yesterday to Virginia, I was greeted by not only my wife and our dogs, but also green grass.  When I left a week earlier, the grass was brown and winter looking.  But upon my return, the grass had exploded in color and growth.  I also noticed various buds beginning to burst from plants, trees, and bushes around the house.  I am also excited to see the family of hawks has returned to the neighborhood.  These are a kind of chicken hawk, beautiful, large predatory birds that sore through the neighborhood with wing spans that rival eagles.  Is anyone else as excited as me about springtime’s return?  I certainly hope so.

Springtime reminds me that God preserved us through a dark, cold, and difficult winter.  Wintertime for me is symbolic of the personal struggles we often face.  Life is cold, difficult, and on the dark days we must somehow find strength to go forward.  This past winter there were many days when I found myself longing for longer, warmer, brighter days.  Now that those days are here, I can barely contain myself.  I feel a little like the character of Red in the movie, “The Shawshank Redemtion,” who said, “I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head.  I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.” 

Like Red, I too am so excited I can barely hold a thought in my head.  Yet, unlike the fictional character, I know the conclusion of my journey; some sweet day I will see the Lord face to face.  This blessed thought gives me hope and strength to better appreciate life and to walk forward in godly boldness and confidence.

So, what is on your mind today?  How can I pray for you or what would you like to get off your chest?  I would love to hear from you.  Feel free to leave a comment.

God bless you.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

So, Why Don't You go to Church?

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.  -Hebrews 10:24, 25

Here is a question I almost never ask non church goers; why don’t you go to church?  As a pastor, I want people to attend worship services, and if they are not attending anywhere, I would love for them to attend the church where I am pastor.  However, I realize this is a personal question.  I do not wish to pry into peoples’ private lives.  Neither do I wish to back them into a corner, pressure them, or put them on the spot.  If you have ever met me, you probably know I am an easy going person.  You talk, I’ll listen.  You want to tell me why you do or do not attend church; I am all ears. 

Worship is an expression of our faith in God.  It follows if we profess faith in Christ and we desire to worship the Lord, we will attend church somewhere.  However, church attendance in America has been in decline for decades.  Believers and non-believers alike are avoiding church attendance in record numbers.  There are all sorts of surveys and studies going on as to why this is, but let me share with you what people have told me over the years.  These are in no particular order.

I got my feelings hurt.  This may be the most common reason I hear.  Someone spoke an unkind word, expectations were not met, the person felt underappreciated or neglected, or the people were just not very friendly.  Remember that congregations are composed of flawed and woefully imperfect people. 

There are too many hypocrites in church.  Believe me, I understand.  But for every hypocritical, mean, hateful person I have met in a church, I found countless others who were sincere, kind, genuine, and concerned people.  My personal experience has been that the nice folks way outnumber the ornery ones.  Sadly, the ornery ones often leave a lasting, negative impression. 

The church only wants my money.  Most churches leave financial contributions to the individual and his or her conscience.  Unfortunately, many people have observed televangelists or a pastor plead for contributions only to later find the preacher built a million dollar house (See my post on this issue at The Preacher's Million Dollar House).  Most likely, many congregations in your community are handling funds with greater accountability than this.

I don’t believe in God, or I quit believing in God.  To the non-believer, I invite you to have another look.  Great comfort and peace are found in a relationship with God.  And to the one who says he used to believe, God would welcome you back. 

Church is boring.  Countless congregations are striving to make worship time an uplifting and inspiring experience.  I am certain there is a church in your community that is an exciting place to be.

I work on Sundays.  I understand and I know the Lord certainly understands.  You have a job, your company requires you to work on Sundays.  However, most churches offer worship times other than Sunday morning.

Sunday is my golf day. I’m chuckling as I type this; Saturday works well for golf too – as well as all sorts of other great stuff.

Did any of the above reasons for avoiding church resonate with you?  I welcome your thoughts.  Or, share a prayer request or just get something off your chest.  I am glad to pray for you today.

God bless you.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

When Life Isn't Fair

Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart. 2 But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. 3 For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. –Psalm 73:1-3

Let me tell you a story about a brother and sister I once knew. To protect their identities, I will refer to them as Jenny and Don. Jenny, the younger of the two, was a parent’s dream. As a young girl, she was bright, respectful, never got into trouble, and she was a straight A student. In high school she excelled in sports and school clubs and activities. After graduating from a major university, she went on to a successful career. She married, had children, was active in her church, and was loved by all who knew her.

Her brother Don, who was a few years older, was opposite his sister in every way. By the time Don was 13, he was smoking cigarettes and marijuana, drinking alcohol, fighting, having run-ins with the law, and teetering on the edge of permanent school expulsion. Don somehow finished high school by the proverbial skin of his teeth. He moved on to fast cars, faster motorcycles, and a carefree life of partying and roaming the country.

A few years ago, I found out through an old friend that Jenny had died after a prolonged battle with a rare form of cancer. At last report, Don was still living hard, drinking harder, smoking a pack or two a day, pursuing his risky lifestyle, and by all outward appearances thriving. I sat down and wearily tried to absorb the unfairness of it all. Jenny had done everything right, including seeking God and living an honorable life. Don, on the other hand, had to the best of my knowledge, never darkened the door of a church, and continued with his reckless ways. At that moment, I understood the frustration of the psalmist who said his feet almost slipped from the true path because against his own will, he envied the prosperity of the wicked.

The practical realist in me looks at Jenny and Don’s lives and declares, life isn’t fair; do not expect it to be. Yet, my heart says, I want life to be fair, and when it isn’t, I get my feelings hurt, big time. Can you relate to this? I shared with my wife, Andrea, the disparity of Jenny and Don’s lives and how I was struggling with it. And my dear wife, in her wonderfully positive, yet brutally pragmatic way said, “Jenny was ready to meet God. Maybe God in His mercy is giving Don more time to change his ways and his heart so he will be ready when his time comes.” I thanked her, because this is inspired truth. And as a follower of Christ, who believes God has a divine plan for everything, I must trust that He knows what He is doing.

Like the psalmist, I too felt better and my faith strengthened when I went into the sanctuary of God, sought Him, and found peace (v 17). Like the psalmist, I declared, “But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works (v 28).” When life seems unfair, as it often is, seek God and continue trusting Him in faith.

Have you struggled with the unfairness of life? Have life’s trials and difficulties brought you down? I welcome an opportunity to pray for you today. Feel free to share your thoughts about today’s blog post. Please know that God cares, has a plan, and faith in God is a wonderful resource in troubled times.

God bless you today.