There is a lot on my mind and there is a lot off my mind. Does that even make sense? In the past few months I have experienced excitement, fulfillment, and absolute frustration, sometimes at the same moment. Ministry is tough. There is a battle going on for the souls of man and when we jump in to be a minister of the Gospel, well you know the devil is not going to just stand by and watch. I find myself wrestling with the Church — what is it and why don’t we look like it? I find myself looking at my own sinful heart and the hearts of those around me who claim to be followers of Jesus and I wonder — really? Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to set myself up as some spiritual giant, I just wonder if when Jesus said “they will know you are my disciples by your love” what exactly He had in mind. It is true I see people loving each other — at times. It is true that some of the most amazing examples of this I have seen in the lives of some of our missionaries who have gone to difficult places because they love the people there. Is that what it looks like? What if the church really loved like Jesus?
In the past three months I have seen some really difficult things in our community. I have seen people die suddenly, people attempt suicide, people drink themselves to sleep at night, and others just trying to figure out what it takes to make it through one more day. Where is the church in all of this? Is the Church standing on the corner shouting at the world saying “you must change and be like us” or do we really have the love of Christ in our hearts overflowing to our communities. I believe that the Church is in each community for a reason and must actually engage in the mission there. I also am constantly challenging those around me to look at this community and consider how we as the Church might make this community a better place. It seems to me that when we start loving people where they are, then maybe they will want to hear what we have to say. The walls need to come down and we need to go to the world.
Recently I was at Council for the Christian and Missionary Alliance. During that time we sang a song many different times. So often I found myself unable to sing it because I was so moved by what it was declaring and in such agreement with the prayer for the work of Christ’s Church worldwide. The line was this:
“There is no power in hell or any who can stand. Before the power and the presence of the Great I AM.”
That image comes from an interaction God had with Moses. Moses wanted to know who would authenticate his message and God said “tell them I Am sent you.” That is so simple and so powerful. We don’t need any fancy methods, techniques, mission statements with clever words — we need the power of the living God. The gates of hell will not prevail.
The same is true when in our own personal lives we can’t seem to breathe. Who is it that has given me breath? Who is it that I submit my life to? The Great I Am. And I know I long to see the Church be the Church again as a living testimony of the power of the Great I Am. That means you and that means me.
Here is the song — Maybe it will minister to you like it has to me
I was listening to talk radio yesterday on my way back from a meeting. The content of the conversation was revolving around the recent snow we received and the debate over when to cancel school. On the one hand you have people who say that it makes more sense to cancel it than to have a day of school with only half the students — this one man said that he felt like it was a wasted day. That got me thinking about Sunday morning here. We had our worship service in the midst of a snow storm. There were about 20 people here; was that wasted?
In the framework of life there are many things that feel wasted. I feel like I might say something to my kids all the time and they still miss what I say. I know in youth ministry I would have phone calls that would make me want to throw my phone against the wall. It is frustrating to see someone go so far in their faith only to turn so far backwards in an instant. It is in those moments that I wonder how effective my ministry really is.
When there are deep issues to deal with in any arena of life, it can make us weary. Even Paul in the book of Galatians got a little frustrated with the people. They had heard the Gospel and had receive it. So, why were they living in the old way again?
“I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.” Galatians 4:10
I think we all have days like that. Whether it is with my ministry or with my own family, I sometimes look at all that goes on and wonder “what am I doing here?” “Why do I even bother with this?” But when the dust settles I always end up landing right back where I began; with a deep sense of purpose in this life. I know that things won’t always go my way — in fact, if they do go my way I start to wonder if I am missing something. What I do know is that there is no such thing as “wasted efforts” if my efforts are done under the empowerment of God.
So what does that mean for you today? You will never have this day again. So let’s not waste it. If today is not a good day from your perspective, perhaps it is time to look for ways to praise God. I know I have a hard time being grumpy when I stand before the God who knows my heart. I know for me I will continue to press on in the challenges I face knowing that God is not wasting anything — including what I perceive as my time.
Every year we get to this time of year and two things happen: People start playing music and other people start complaining about it. It generally strikes me as funny how Christmas decorations start to whip people in a frenzy. It is as if they have suddenly realized that this holiday is now coming and there is so much to do. I am one of the people they are annoyed with because I have embraced fully the season of Christmas. In fact, I look forward to it all year. I do this because it brings such excitement to our home (and also there are cookies) At the same time, I tend to keep it simple when it comes to Christmas. We set a budget and we stick to it. We do not use credit cards for gifts. We don’t waste time trying to impress people because they know better anyway. We just enjoy the season. There is no reason getting stressed out and maxed out in debt in order to celebrate the birth of Jesus. In fact, I think it misses the point of the whole season.
Jesus Christ came as a baby in a most humble way, to extremely ‘insignificant’ people and the world has never been the same. What are we to learn from that? I think it comes down to two salient truths: 1) Focus your heart on gratitude and worship and 2) Take time with people over time with stuff.
Focus your heart on worship and gratitude
The point of our lives is God’s glory. We exists for His glory. When we remember this, it makes each day significant for us. I realized that my life is in His hands and my heart leaps with joy. This is the heart of this season. God did not just leave us alone in our sin; He came so that He would die for the people (even me and you) that rejected Him. It is amazing that Christmas actually has very little to do with pickled herring. (and that is probably a better thing than I would like to admit)
Take time with people over time with stuff
We have spent time over the past few years helping family and friends not buy us gifts. We would much rather spend time doing something with people than receive a package in the mail. Sure we get our kids a few gifts, but we save more money for things we can do throughout the year as a family. This actually creates a better overall family atmosphere and sets up our family time as important and an integral part of our entire year.
So Christmas is coming and yes it is a good thing. Who knows maybe your humble Christmas might be the one Christmas you remember for the rest of your life and aren’t paying off for the same period of time.
It involves a change of attitude, which comes from small, intentional steps. That is what I keep telling myself with the attitude toward some people in the church toward children. I have been in churches where they actually said “let’s get the kids out of here so it is quiet” Sometimes the church brags about having children’s church for the kids, but it really is for the adults. In my own ministry, I have fought the notion of “keep the cookies in the basement” and “children should be busy during worship so they are not bored.” That drives me crazy because if you give a kid a cookie, he will ask for a glass of milk, sure, but just let them eat it wherever he wants and if you are encountering God in worship, kids will not be bored. We must go beyond children’s church! I often talk with the kids during the sermon or intentionally share something that will connect with them as well. But then again all of that only comes because I take time to be with the kids relationally. More adults need to do this. Talk with kids. Have a snowball fight, go fishing, throw a football around — whatever it takes. Show interest in them and remember their names. It makes what you say much more meaningful to them.
One of the big shifts has been creating a small group that is for families. What I mean is not that we have kids there and they do some sort of craft on their own away from the adults, but we have the kids and adults together the entire time. We play games together, eat a snack, pray together, and talk about what God is doing in our lives. This past time we spent time making notes for the shut-ins in our church and have ministered to them through that. The group teaching is geared at the kids, but the adults find the time to be encouraging for them also. Their kids are talking about God’s Word together! Is this not what the Church is supposed to be?
Perhaps one of the most telling events was our baptism service. We used a water tank for cattle and set it all up outside. This tank was a nice looking pool. That day was a hot day so keeping the kids out of it was very difficult. But after we were done with the baptism, the kids went in, some of them in their clothes. We maintained the respect for what baptism is and made sure we exalted God in it. But once that was over with, it was time to get wet. This is just another piece, I feel, that makes what we are about as the Church authentic and inviting for kids. This is important because if it isn’t authentic and inviting for kids, they will most certainly check out. But if we can get them to understand that the Church is them, now, then perhaps they will grow to be an active part of it.
So, I wonder — are there specific ways your church has tried to connect with children beyond children’s church?
I have not done a Lego Jar post in a while simply because my time has been limited. The who idea of the Lego Jar was to design a post that gave me a chance to write about all the various random events that take place. There has been no shortage of random around here, I assure you. I thought I would share a few pieces of the summer, mainly the fishing that we did. The problem is that I did not catch too many fish when I went with the kids this year. I wonder why?
The summer season has wrapped up, school has started, and the nightly battle for homework has begun. Don’t you just love the fall? Thankfully with the fall weather comes even more time for fishing, since I am trying to get my fishing day count up. I feel like I am making up for the years on Cape Cod that I didn’t get to fish too much. Yes, there was water on the Cape, but I had younger children. Taking younger kids fishing is as fun as tying knots all day long because that is what you do. Take a kid fishing and you will know what I mean. For an extra amount of fun, take a couple of kids fishing in a canoe! Thankfully we have done that this year many times and have had pretty good success with it.
Our most recent trip was on a canoe trail that took us onto the Mississippi River and then back. After my boys got over the fact that there were big boats out there, they enjoyed the time. There were a few fish and very little complaining. Usually no fish means a lot of complaining. My kids are growing up!
The thing about fishing with kids is that they want to keep every fish that you catch. In their mind every fish is a keeper. Now that I think about it, I do have a Northern Pike head in my freezer yet. That was not to be eaten, but to be shown around as proof that we actually catch more fish than the little ones.
This is the time of year when apples are starting to be more available. We were able to press some cider recently. The problem we ran into was that there were two bulls in the field that we did not know were there. All of a sudden there they were. It was a dramatic time for my 7 year old son who screamed “I’m too young to die” Needless to say, they don’t want to go pick apples in the pasture anymore.
Some people have asked me how the kids have done with the transition. I would say after a full summer of fun and a new school year that is underway, they have adjusted well. I was at a cafe for breakfast with the two older boys and they said to me “dad, I feel like I know everyone in this town.” I wonder how many people they will know after we have been here an entire year. Such is life in a small town.
As I wrap this up, I have been asked twice if we can go fishing today. Is that not what it is all about anyway? Each season has its own unique rhythm to it, but all of the seasons have fishing attached to them. Time to get on with it. After all, the only way you catch fish is by fishing.