Thursday, December 28, 2017

Problems leading to churches becoming unhealthy

My best selling book continues to be The Healthy Small Church. Published in 2005 it continues to outsell all my other books and the seminar I lead from this book is the one still most requested. Although the principles and concepts found in the book relates to all churches, the focus throughout the book is on the smaller church.

Every church leader wants his or her church to be healthy. Unfortunately, not every church is healthy, and many leaders do not know how to turn that around. After serving as a bivocational pastor for twenty years in one small, rural church and later serving as a Resource Minister in our region with immediate responsibility for over 130 churches, I've seen more than my share of unhealthy churches and the frustrations of those trying to change them.

It's important to note that there is no quick fix for an unhealthy church. Your church did not get in its current condition yesterday, and you're not going to change it tomorrow. It can take years to help an unhealthy church regain its health. Even though you cannot change your church tomorrow, you can start the process tomorrow.

That process begins by identifying what has led to the church's poor health. As I mention in my book, there are several possibilities.

  1. Unresolved conflict will always lead to a church becoming unhealthy. Conflict cannot be avoided in churches, but it does not have to lead to a lack of health.
  2. Many smaller churches are focused more on themselves that on the needs of others. Such inward focus will lead to poor health.
  3. Some smaller churches struggle with cultural indifference. They don't understand today's culture, and may not even want to, so they are unable to minister to it. This causes them to become even more ingrown and unhealthy.
  4. Poor leadership is almost a given. This may be pastoral or lay leadership, but a church will never be any healthier than its leadership.
  5. A lack of vision and purpose will always cause a church to become unhealthy.
  6. Many smaller churches struggle with poor self-esteem which leads to poor health.
I address each of these issues, and more, in the book with suggestions on how to best address them. In the final chapter I include diagnostic questions I encourage church leaders to use each year to determine the health of their church. The start of a new year is a good time to give your church a check-up to see if there are potential problems that can be addressed early. Just like in our personal health, an early diagnosis can lead to a quicker cure.

I am also available to lead my seminar based on this book for your denomination,your district or your individual church. I do limit the number of these I do each year so I encourage you to contact me soon if you are interested in scheduling a seminar.

I pray that 2018 is a great year for your church!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Preparing for 2018

As we near the end of 2017 and prepare to welcome 2018 it's important to make sure we do certain things. If you are a pastor I hope you have already begun sermon planning for the new year. When I was a bivocational pastor I tried to have my sermons planned out three months in advance. It's much easier to prepare sermons if, on Saturday night, you're not still trying to figure out what you are going to preach the next morning!

New Year's resolutions seldom accomplish much past January 3rd. Setting goals is far more helpful if you are serious about enjoying success in any area of your life. When you have written goals you have direction in your life. Like the old saying goes, if you aim at nothing you'll hit it every time. Productive, successful people have goals they work on every day.

In yesterday's post I mentioned one goal I have every year: to read 50 books that year. This year part of that goal includes re-reading some of the books that have had the greatest impact on my life. I have a bad habit of reading a book and never taking it back out of the shelf unless I'm using it for research for a sermon or a book I'm writing. If a book impacted my life once chances are it will again, so I plan to re-read some of them this year.

One other goal I encourage you to set is to schedule time with your family. If you are in a leadership position, or just busy like most people, it's very easy to try to work in some family time. That seldom happens. Set a goal for how many vacations you are going to take, how long each of them will be, and when you are taking them. Write those in your calendar now so those times are already scheduled.

I also want to encourage you to be intentional about your own spiritual growth in 2018. Persons in ministry often seem to think that their work will automatically cause them to grow spiritually, but that is not always the case. If you want a congregation of people growing in their faith, you also need to be growing in your own faith. Set aside time for regular devotions. Study material that will stretch your faith and increase your knowledge of God.

Some other practical things you should do includes checking your driver's license for the expiration date. In November of this year I began wondering when my license expired. It expired in August. The next day I made a quick trip to the license branch to get that little problem corrected.

The start of the new year is also a good time to clean up old records. Even though many of our records are now on computer, chances are you have some paper ones as well. Pitch the ones you do not need to keep and file the others. If you'll do that early in the new year it will make filing your taxes much easier later.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The day after Christmas

I hope your Christmas was as good as the one my family enjoyed. Despite some colds we managed to have a very enjoyable Christmas holiday with family. We ate way too much good food, exchanged some great gifts, and shared some wonderful stories.

I also pray that you've enjoyed our church's Advent devotions that were posted on this site during the past three weeks. Since the church does not currently have a blog of its own we used this blog to post the devotionals. We then linked the post to our church's Facebook page and invited our congregation to follow them. You got the benefit of some thought-provoking devotionals, some written by me and others written by members of our church. With today's post we return to our normal posts written by me.

Let's not lose the theme of the previous devotionals now that Advent is past. That theme was reconciliation. It was our church's theme throughout the Advent season because this is why Christ was born. He came into the world to reconcile us with God, with one another, and with ourselves. Some who are reading this post need that reconciliation, and I urge you to not let this year end without seeking the reconciliation you need.

We all need to be reconciled to God. Scripture is clear that we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. It is equally clear that our sins have separated us from the relationship with God we each were created to enjoy. It is only through receiving Jesus Christ into our lives as our Lord and Savior can our sins be forgiven and we are able to be reconciled to God.

The second area of reconciliation is between us and our fellow human beings. Some of us carry bitterness and anger towards other people. Reconciliation does not ignore the pain they perhaps have caused us, but it does require that we forgive them and seek to enter into a healthy relationship with them. Perhaps such a relationship is not possible. In such cases we still need to forgive them and move on with our lives.

The third area of reconciliation that some of us need is with ourselves. Many people today struggle trying to forgive themselves for mistakes they've made in the past. Some carry tremendous amounts of guilt for the past, and that guilt makes it impossible for them to enjoy the present or plan for the future. The devil has deceived some into believing they cannot be forgiven and they must carry their burden of guilt forever.

The truth is God loves us and is willing to forgive us of any sins that might be in our past, and if He can forgive us we can also forgive ourselves. We do not have to carry that burden any longer. We can lay it at His feet when we invite Him into our lives. If you need help in knowing how to pray to do that, please send me a personal message, and I'll be glad to lead you through such a prayer.

Christmas is over, and we are fast approaching a new year. Do not begin 2018 without seeking the reconciliation you need. It is available to everyone reading this blog.'s even available to you.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Seeing through the eyes of another

We finished our Christmas shopping yesterday. We haven't been this late getting done in years. Since the stores were opening earlier we decided to leave home early, eat a nice breakfast out, and, hopefully, get done early.

In one store, while my wife was looking at some things nearby, I sat down in the Customer Service area. A lady came out of the back and asked if I needed anything. When I replied I didn't she let out a big sigh of relief. She explained it had really been hectic the past few days, and she couldn't wait until this shopping season was over. We talked for a few moments before I rejoined my wife.

My wife works retail as well so I knew what she was talking about. Shoppers can get a little out of sorts, especially when they can't find the right sizes or the color they want, and Christmas day is fast approaching. They can get rude and quite obnoxious. So can the salespeople waiting on them. There's been a couple of videos  posted on Facebook recently showing store employees going off on customers. Love - Hope - Joy - Peace...These can be a little hard to find sometimes when people are scrambling at the last minute to buy presents.

Perhaps you've heard the phrase: Hurt people hurt people. It's a good thing to remember during the holidays and other times as well. Sometimes people get out of sorts and say or do things that hurt other people. They don't necessarily mean to do harm, but they are reacting to their own hurt and think or speak before they think. I've done that, and chances are you have as well. I've also been hurt by hurt people and so have you.

When people act this way towards us let's try to stop and put ourselves in their shoes. Let's try to understand what might have prompted such a response, especially if it seems out of character for them.

During this Advent season our church has focused on reconciliation. We want to build healthier, positive relationships with one another, with ourselves, and with God. An important piece of reconciliation is being able to put ourselves in the shoes of the other person. Trying to understand their life and possible pain can go a long ways to building a positive relationship with that person.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A baby changes everything

"And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.”  Luke 1:31

(Also, read Luke 2:1-40)

Have you ever fallen in love with a baby?  When was your first time?  I remember the first time I fell in love with a baby.  It was 2003 when my nephew made me an aunt for the first time.  I never thought you could feel that way over someone so tiny.  I was completely smitten.  Every time I thought of Nathan my face would light up with joy.  I had pictures of him everywhere, including my bathroom.  (Okay, I know that might be a little weird, but the cute little frame matched my bathroom decor.) 
I can’t imagine what Mary first felt when she laid eyes on the newborn King.  Did she ever feel inadequate, as many moms sometimes do? It’s hard enough to parent each special creation of God (as every child is), but I can’t imagine trying to parent the Savior of the world!  I would have loved to have been one of the shepherds, Simeon or even Anna who got to lay eyes on Jesus when he was just a baby.  How there hearts must have been ready to burst with such love, joy, peace and hope!

This Christmas, I invite you to fall in love with Jesus all over again. Imagine being there in the manger and what you might have felt.  Imagine what it would have been like to have been Joseph, Mary, a humble shepherd, Anna or Simeon.

“Simeon took him [Jesus] in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’”   Luke 2:28-32

Kelly Rector
Children's Minister
Madison FBC

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Be reconciled to God

In 2 Corinthians 5:20 we are urged to "be reconciled to God." During this Advent season our church is focusing on reconciliation. That reconciliation may need to be between you and another person, it may be within yourself as you struggle with past mistakes, or the reconciliation you need might be between you and God. Let's look at the latter one in today's devotional.

Scripture is clear that each of us have sinned against God, and that sin has separated us from Him. Jesus Christ came into the world to make possible the reconciliation we all need to experience with God. His death on the cross paid the penalty for our sins. Those sins can now be forgiven, and we can enjoy the relationship with God we were intended to have.

Recently, I spoke with a young man who was somewhat regular in attending church about his relationship with God. As we talked it became clear he wasn't sure about that relationship. Like many of us he was trying to do the best he could to be right with God, but he wasn't sure if that was enough or not. When I asked if he had ever asked Jesus Christ to come into his life as his personal Lord and Savior, he responded he did not and did not know how to do so.

After we talked a little more, I led him in a prayer asking Christ to come into his life. What a joy and privilege it was to see the transformation begin to occur in his face! Through that simple prayer, prayed from the heart, he had been reconciled to God.

Because the Bible says all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, we all need to be reconciled to God. The only way is through a relationship with Jesus Christ such as that young man experienced. If you are uncertain if you have such a relationship or if you want to know more about how to have that relationship, please DM me. I would love to talk to you about that!

Monday, December 18, 2017

The gift of joy

Joy is a precious commodity these days. There is so much in our world today to rob us of our joy. We live in very troublesome, dark times, and it's often hard to find much joy in what we experience. But, part of the reason for that is we often seek joy in the wrong places.

It's important to understand the difference between joy and happiness. Happiness comes from the root word "hap" which refers to luck or chance. If things are going our way, we are happy. If things begin to go in a different direction, we become unhappy. Happiness is completely based upon circumstances.

True joy is not based on circumstances but upon a person, Jesus Christ. Our circumstances will often disappoint, but He never does. A relationship with Jesus Christ provides us with the solid foundation we need to experience joy in every circumstance.

Yes, Christians get discouraged. We can become frustrated. We can be deeply hurt. There are many things that can bring us unhappiness in our lives, but if we maintain our focus on our relationship with Jesus Christ we can remain joyful in every situation.

The gift of joy was given to us on that first Christmas morning when our Savior, Jesus Christ, was born. It is a gift given to anyone who will receive it. All we have to do to experience that joy is to invite Christ into our lives as our Lord and Savior. It is my prayer that you have done that and know the joy of which I write.

Friday, December 15, 2017

God's cake

God’s Cake

Sometimes we wonder why we are experiencing some tough life lessons, or why God is allowing unpleasant circumstances to enter our lives.  Here is a wonderful explanation!

A daughter is telling her Mother how everything is going wrong; she's failing algebra, her boyfriend broke up with her, and her best friend is moving away. Meanwhile, her Mother is baking a cake and asks her daughter if she would like a snack, and the daughter says, "Absolutely Mom, I love your cake."
"Here, have some cooking oil," her Mother offers.
"Yuck" says her daughter as she rolls her eyes.
"How about a couple raw eggs?"
"Gross, Mom!"
"Would you like some flour then? Or maybe baking soda?"
"Mom, those are all yucky!  Why would you want me to have such gross things?!”

            The mother smiles and replies: "Yes, all those things seem bad all by themselves. But when they are put together in the right way, they make a wonderfully delicious cake!"

            God works the same way. Sometimes we wonder why He would let us go through what appears to us to be unjust or difficult. But God knows that when He puts these things all in His order, they always work for good! We must trust Him, and eventually, these life events and circumstances will all make a beautiful, delicious cake that we relish with deep appreciation.

            God is crazy about you! He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning.  Whenever you want to talk, He'll listen. He can live anywhere in the universe, and He chose your heart! Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we are here we might as well dance and enjoy the cake God is preparing for us!  Anonymous, as retold by 

Nita Scarff
Madison FBC

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A precious letter to you

Precious Letter to You

            Imagine you receive today in the mail a letter from someone you deeply love, who has passed from this world to the next.  You look at the envelope in disbelief as you breathlessly tear into the precious letter to make sense of such a gift!  You read every word of love, and savor each  word!  Your dear friend loves and misses you!  You re-read and take to heart the future plans and promises the letter spells out!  You place the precious letter near you, so that when you feel tested and stressed you can remember that what is now, won’t be forever!  Your friend has lifted your spirits and you look forward to seeing them again!  You can’t wait!

            The Precious Letter is your Bible and your friend is the very one who took the nails for us on the cross so that we can again, be together, in eternity.  Your Bible is a specific affirmation and promise of Christ’s love for you, yes you!  It is a personal letter from God to inform you in a thousand different ways of his plans for you; his lessons to keep you from dangers and harm, and His future spelled out with a promise of the work He is now doing to plan for your arrival!  Our Bible is a love letter penned just for you, reaching out of the grave, to point to a risen Savior and his crazy love for you!  

Nita Scarff
Madison FBC

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Forgiveness to reconciliation

 “If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.”  Matthew 6:14-15

Forgiveness is not easy, especially when the other person isn’t sorry, doesn’t change or refuses to change.  My story of forgiveness was a long journey which took many years.  I had a rough relationship with my father growing up.  He was abused as a child and had a lot of wounds from that.  He never experienced unconditional love or grace and he is not a believer so he has never experienced the true love of Christ or true healing from Christ.  I had my feelings hurt a lot and even wrote letters to him trying to improve our relationship.  He never saw that there was a problem or that he needed to change in any way.  So, any change had to be on my end.  Unfortunately, I grew bitter and resentful.  I got to the point where complaints of him consumed my thoughts and I couldn’t think of anything good about him.  It was then that I was aware of the hate that was in my heart.  As a Christian, I knew I didn’t want hate.  I knew it was poison to my soul and would prevent me from growing closer in my walk with Christ.  
I knew I couldn’t remove the hate on my own.  My first step was asking people to pray for me.  Then, I prayed for myself.  I prayed that God would remove this hate from me and teach me how to love and forgive my father. I asked God to teach me to love him as He loves him.  Slowly, I could say that I loved him.  I didn’t like him, but I did love him.  Then, prayed that God would show me my father through His eyes and not mine.  Little by little, I could see Dad’s little quirks that made him who he is.  Those quirks were pretty funny, I thought.  I saw how generous he is and I saw that he loved me and cared for me, even though he might not have been able to show it how I would have liked.  (Gary Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages helped with this.)  I forgave him and I let go of the high expectations of a father that I placed upon him.  I grew to like my dad and love my dad.  It took many years and I can say that my heart is now free of the bitterness and resentment.  We talk about every day now too.
Forgiveness is a choice.  We forgive, not because the other person deserves it, but because our Heavenly Father forgave us when we didn’t deserve it.  Is there someone in your life that you need to forgive?  Ask God to search deep within your heart and show you where you need to reconcile.

“Get rid of all bitterness, passion, and anger. No more shouting or insults, no more hateful feelings of any sort. Instead, be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ.”  Ephesians 4:31-32

Madison FBC

Monday, December 11, 2017

The gift of forgiveness

It was much easier to buy gifts for our children when they were smaller. As adults, we often struggle to know what to get them, and they tell us it's even harder for them to know what to give us. Most of us have that one person that's hard to buy for at Christmas.

Perhaps for someone on our Christmas list the greatest gift we could give them is the gift of forgiveness. I wonder if you paused when you read that as someone's name went through your mind. Chances are the next thought that entered your mind was that they don't deserve forgiveness. You're probably right, but then again, we didn't deserve God's forgiveness, either.

One of the most challenging verses in the Bible is Matthew 6: 14-15: "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."

The reason this passage is so hard for some people is that they have not come to grips with how much God loves them. We forget how much we have been forgiven. God sent His Son to earth to make it possible for our sins to be forgiven so we could be reconciled to Him. Now, He asks us to forgive others their sins against us so we can be reconciled to one another.

But, Dennis, that's tough! Yes, it is. Some of us have deep wounds caused by other people, and it's hard to forgive those who have wounded us. However, this is exactly what we are called to do.

What a special gift it would be if you could honestly forgive someone who had deeply hurt you. Not only would it be a gift to the one you forgave, it would be a wonderful gift to give yourself. Just think how freeing it would be to not have to carry that anger and pain any longer. The gift of forgiveness to someone who has hurt you might be the best gift you will give this Christmas season.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Are we grateful for the gift?

(Read: Luke 7:36-50)

“We often find it hard to get what we want, because we do not want the best; God finds it hard to give, because He would give the best, and we will not take it.” (George MacDonald paraphrase)

Like many people during the Christmas Season, I love to participate in gift-giving. Whether it’s delighting family members or friends with that “special something”, or celebrating Christ’s birth by giving to those in need through “angel trees”,  special donations, or other opportunities, such as Operation Christmas Child, which shares the Gospel and gives shoeboxes full of small gift items to children around the world. It’s always heart-warming to hear stories about the joy impoverished children have when they open their boxes – of course they like the toys, but they also get excited over items like soap, toothpaste, or socks!  But then there are the other people on the gift-giving list. The ones who are hard to get for.  Mostly because they seem to already have everything they want.

During Christmas, we celebrate the Ultimate Gift –  Jesus Christ. Through Him, God gave the world forgiveness and reconciliation. In Luke 7:36-50 we see two different responses to that gift -  the critical indifference of “Hard-to-Get-For” Simon, and the lavish gratitude of a woman aware of her spiritual poverty. Jesus tells Simon those who are forgiven little, love little and those who are forgiven much, love much.  But a notable point about their conversation is that while Jesus agrees with Simon that the woman has many sins, he never says Simon has few.

Could it be the separation between Simon and the woman, was not the number of sins, but the awareness of them? That Simon loved little, not because he had little to be forgiven for, but because he was oblivious to how much he needed forgiveness and reconciliation with God?

In what ways are we like Simon? Have we allowed God to open our hearts and minds to be aware of our deep need for a Savior? Are we one who loves much? Are we grateful for the gift?
 As we go through the Advent season and reflect on and celebrate God’s Gift to us through Jesus, may we grow daily more aware of our deep need for Jesus, so we too can be one who loves much.

India Cable
Madison FBC

Thursday, December 7, 2017

And God says yes

Recently my father underwent open heart surgery and had other health issues that resulted in a one-month hospital stay.  Following the hospital stay, in-patient cardiac rehab added 3 weeks to his recovery.

During each phase of his illnesses and recovery the next step in becoming well and self-sufficient was often unpredictable and unclear based on his health.  Initially there was the rush to the hospital to save his life; the question if heart surgery was an option; subsequent pneumonia following the surgery; and a consult with his pulmonologist where my sisters and I were told, “the next 24 hours will tell” in the midst of all medical measures to bring him back to wellness.

During all of this, there were four churches and a men’s small group praying for my father by name.  James 5:15 (NIV) states, “The prayers of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”  To this point in my dads’ recovery the answer has been “yes” to those prayers.  “Yes” to breath in his lungs, a beating heart, strength being recovered and “yes” to a sound mind.  “Yes” is such a powerful answer that is directly the result of prayer by God’s people!  Revelation 8:3-4 (NIV) tells us “Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar.  He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people on the golden altar in front of the throne.  The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.”  Our prayers are before God, are heard, and are in God’s almighty hands!  The unpredictable and unclear is best surrendered to our God who hears our concerns, petitions, and cries!  He is listening and in His perfect will, we may just hear “yes”.   

Nita Scarff
Madison FBC

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Trusting is a Leap of Faith

Trusting is a Leap of Faith

One of my favorite stories (and favorite operetta) is Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.  The main character, Jean Valjean served 19 years in a prison in France in the 1800’s for stealing a loaf of bread so that his sister’s son wouldn’t die of starvation.  Once he was on parole, he discovered the world to be as cold and dark as those prison walls.  Because he was an ex-convict, he wasn’t paid as much as the “honest” men who he worked beside.
Later, he stumbled upon a kind bishop’s house.  The bishop treated him like an honored guest, more than he deserved.  But when the bishop retired for the night, Jean Valjean grabbed some of the silver and fled into the night.  The police found him and dragged him back to the bishop’s home.  But instead of convicting him of his crime, the bishop kindly told him, “My friend you left so early.  Surely something left your mind.  You forgot I gave these [silver candlesticks] also; would you leave the best behind?”  He sent the police on their way and told Jean Valjean, “But remember this, my brother. See in this some higher plan.  You must use this precious silver to become an honest man. By the witness of the martyrs, by the passion and the blood, God has raised you out of darkness: I have bought your soul for God.”
Sometimes the world can be so cold and harsh that we may feel we have no options but to do all we can just to survive, as Jean Valjean did.  Consulting in God for direction and then trusting in his provisions may not seem practical for your life. 

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the LORD with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

I testify that God’s promises are true.  Trust God with everything.  Not only is it best, but life works a lot better when we get on God’s plan rather than our own.  What do you need to hand over to God?  What area in your life have you been holding onto? Perhaps it’s a relationship or the way you spend money. Perhaps it’s parenting, your social life or even what you watch, read, and listen to or how you speak.  Whatever it is, pray about it and hand it over to the Lord, for He will make your paths straight.

Kelly Rector
Children's Minister
Madison FBC

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Be reconciled to God

Throughout Advent this year we want to look at the theme of reconciliation. Jesus Christ came into the world to reconcile the world to God. 2 Corinthians 5: 18 tells us “Now all things are of God who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to use the word of reconciliation.”

The nation of Israel was chosen by God to be His special people. Unfortunately, there came a time when they turned away from God and began worshiping the false gods of the nations surrounding them. God sent prophets encouraging them to come back to Him, but they rejected the prophets and God’s warnings. Due to their disobedience God allowed invading armies to occupy the nation of Israel for 700 years before the birth of Jesus Christ.

Those were dark days for the people of Israel. They saw their beautiful Temple and the holy city of Jerusalem destroyed. The majority were led away to distant countries. All they had left were the memories of what used to be and a hope that one day things would change.

That hope was found in the words of the prophets. They had predicted that God would send a Messiah that would reconcile the nation of Israel to God. For seven centuries the people had looked for that Savior. One night, in a manger in Bethlehem, that promised Savior arrived.

There was a time many years ago I was going through a very dark time in my life. I kept telling my wife that I just felt if I had more faith that I might pull through that time. I began to read a Bible and talking to some Christian friends where I worked. One day, while alone in our home, I knelt down in our living room and prayed. I said, “Lord, I’ve made a mess of my life, but if there is anything you can do with it, I give it to you now. Would you please come into my life as my Lord and Savior?”

At that moment I was reconciled to God. My sins were forgiven, and my relationship with God was forever settled. No, all my problems didn’t immediately disappear, but in time God gave me the victory.

If you are going through a tough time right now, God will do for you what he did for me. All you have to do is invite Him into your life. If you would like to know more about that, please contact me. I would love to talk to you about this.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Book sale Day 2

Several of the books sold last week when I listed them in this blog, but a number of them are still available. Contact me if you are interested in any of them.

Today I will post more of my books for sale. Unlike the earlier post, I will not list the CBD price for these books. I'm not sure that's helpful, and some of these are out of print so CBD does not carry them. However, just because a book is out of print does not mean that it is not valuable.

 If I need to ship the book there will be additional charges in addition to the cost of the book. If you live near Madison, IN you may pick up your book(s) and avoid the shipping costs.

I do have a PayPal account and you may pay for your books through PayPal. Checks are fine and cash (if you are local) is even better!  I thought after the first sale it would get easier to let some of the books go, but it's not. I keep asking myself what I will do if I find need of the book again! Still, it's time to begin selling off my library, and I recognize that. Here's today's list.

Biblical Backgrounds    J. MacKee Adams    $3.00
The Bible Atlas    Charles F. Pfeiffer     $3.00
The Heart of the New Testament    H. I. Hester   $7.50
Talk Thru the Bible     Bruce Wilkerson & Kenneth Boa   $5.00
Foundations of the Christian Faith   James Montgomery Boice                       $7.50
Alive to God    J.I. Packer & Loren Wilkinson     $7.50
Eerdman's Handbook to the History of Christianity    $3.00
Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old Testament and New                Testament Words      $ 3.00
Archaeology and Biblical Interpretation      $5.00
Principle-Centered Leadership   Stephen Covey     $3.00
Platform     Michael Hyatt     $5.00
How to Manage Conflict    Peg Pickering         $2.00
Switch     Chip Heath & Dan Heath       $5.00
Team Leadership in Christian Ministry   Kenneth O. Gangel  $5.00
Pastoral Politics     John Gilmore      $3.00
Managing Church Conflict    Hugh F. Halverstadt    $5.00
Transforming Church Boards      Charles M. Olsen    $3.00
What Really Matters in Ministry    Darius Salter     $3.00
A Theology of Church and Ministry   Franklin Segler    $3.00
The Premarital Counseling Handbook   H. Norman Wright   $5.00

Let me know if you have any question regarding any of these books or if there is a particular book you are interested in buying but isn't listed. I just might have it!

Advent devotional

During this Advent season Madison FBC wants to bring you a series of devotions each weekday that focuses on the primary purpose for the birth of Jesus Christ. That purpose can be summed up in one word: reconciliation. The messages on Sunday morning will look at Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace and how reconciliation leads to each of these.

In 2 Corinthians 5: 18 the apostle Paul writes, “Now all things are of God who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”

The message of the Gospel is simple. Our sins separated us from God. Religion is sometimes described as man’s attempt to reach out to God, but religion will always come up short in that effort. The Gospel tells us how God reached out towards us through His Son, Jesus Christ, so that our sins could be forgiven and we could enjoy a relationship with Him. Because of Christ we can be reconciled to God and to one another.

Check back every day, Monday through Friday, during Advent to learn more about reconciliation.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Book Sale

A few days ago I mentioned in this blog that it was time for me to sell some of my library. Several responded they were interested in buying some books. I would have preferred that you had let me know what you were interested in, but I realize that isn't easily done. I've decided to list a few books that I would be willing to sell to see if there is any interest. These are a mere sample of what I have, so if there is a book you've been wanting, let me know. I might have it!

If you live near Madison, IN you are invited to pick up any books you want. If they need to be shipped I will have to add shipping costs to the order. Books will be mailed media rate to keep the cost of mailing as low as possible.

You will find the name of the book and author listed. I tried to see what these books sell for new at CBD, but some are out of print and not carried. If CBD does carry the book you'll find their price in parenthesis. Finally, you'll see the price I'm asking for the book.

Some of these books will have markings in them such as highlighting and, in some cases, possibly notes written in the margin. All of these are in good shape.

DM me if you have an interest in any of these books or if you have questions. Thank you for looking.

New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology 3 Volumes + Index     Colin Brown   Hard Cover and in like new condition     (35.00)   $15.00

The Word of Truth    Dale Moody    (46.35)    $15.00
The New Unger's Bible Handbook   revised Gary Larson  (26.99)            $5.00
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah    Edersheim   (14.99)                $5.00
Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free    F.F. Bruce   (21.99)  $5.00
Foundations of the Christian Faith    James M. Boice   (28.99)                 $7.50
Jesus within Judaism    James H. Charlesworth    $2.00
Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament   Harris, Archer                        Waltke    (32.49)     $10.00
Vines Complete Expository Dictionary    (11.99)    $3.00
An Introduction to the New Testament   Carson, Moo, Morris
Twentieth Century Theology    Grenz and Olson    $3.00
Theology of Word and Spirit   Donald Bloesch   (16.49)   $3.00
Success is not an Accident    Tommy Newberry  (10.99)   $3.00
Difficult Conversations    Stone, Patton, Heen   (15.30)   $3.00
Leadership and the New Science   Margaret Wheatley   (20.66)               $5.00
Raising the Bar: Integrity and Passion in Life and Business                      Gary Erickson      $5.00
The 10X Rule     Grant Cardone      $3.00
Creating Success from the Inside Out    Ephren Taylor     $3.00
Reinventing American Protestantism   Donald Miller  $5.00  (This         book is heavily marked which shows how helpful it was.)
Igniting Passion in your Church   Steve Ayers     $3.00
Journey in the Wilderness   Gil Rendle     $3.00   

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Not a chance we are here by accident

For four minutes last night my wife and I stood in our backyard and watched the International Space Station make its journey across the sky. At 6:24 it appeared in the sky 23 degrees above SW and made its way across the sky until it disappeared 23 degrees above ENE. The conditions were perfect for watching the space station with clear, dark skies.

We never get tired of watching it. Recently, on vacation in Panama City Beach, we had the opportunity to show it to our daughter and her children. It was the first time they had seen it.

There are so many things that fascinate me about watching the space station. One of those is the precision with which its journey is known. Regardless of where one is in the world, scientists can tell you exactly when it will be visible, where it will first appear in your sky, and the time and where it will disappear.

For me, this is just one more evidence of our universe being created by God. A world that comes into being through random circumstances cannot be so fine-tuned with such precise mathematical formulas that makes it possible to create an International Space Station much less be able to track it with such precision.

Non-believers have a difficult time addressing the fine-tuning argument for the existence of God. There are so many variables necessary for life as we know it to exist on planet Earth, and if any of these are off by such minute amounts as to be virtually unmeasurable, Earth would be just one more cold, uninhabitable rock floating through space.

The best they can do is to propose a multi-verse rather than a universe. In a multi-verse, they argue, there is the likelihood that at least one solar system would have conditions such as Earth has to make life possible. They often present the multi-verse theory as if it is a scientific fact, but it's not. There has never been any evidence of the existence of the multi-verse. It is a theory that can only be believed by those who have faith in the theory and prefer it to having a faith in God.

The fine-tuning argument, like all apologetical arguments, does not prove the existence of God. It can only point to evidence that makes the existence of God likely and the best possible cause of the universe and life as we know it.

This is where faith comes in. As I look at the fine-tuning argument and then look at this marvelous creation we call Earth I am convinced that there is a God. As I watch the sunset over the ocean, as I see the miracle of a child being born into the world, and as I watch the space station in the sky, I am convinced that there is not a chance we are here by accident. There is a God who created this marvelous universe we call home, and even more than that, there is a God who wants to have a relationship with me. To make that relationship possible, He sent His Son to be born into this world and to die on a cross so my sins could be forgiven and make it possible for me to enjoy an eternal relationship with Him.

I hope you believe that as well. You see, it really is a matter of faith. You can have faith in God or you can have faith in unproven theories. I have chosen to place my faith in God, and I invite you to do the same.

And because I have faith in God and the laws He set in place to govern this universe, I will go out in my backyard Thursday evening at 6:17 and watch the space station fly across the sky for four minutes.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Ministers on social media

I enjoy social media. I have accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN, and Google Plus. I use Messenger and IM more than the several e-mail accounts I have to send information to people. In addition I have two blogs and write on two other Facebook accounts. Social media is a great way to communicate to a wide range of people and an excellent way to share information with groups of people. During this Advent season the church I'm serving will send out a daily devotional to our church family on social media.

Of course, social media can present problems. It can easily consume too much of a person's time if we don't control our usage of social media. Persons who check their FB accounts and e-mails every few minutes will not accomplish very much.

While social media can enhance relationships if used wisely it can also disrupt relationships. I've read that social media has been the cause of numerous divorces as people have reconnected with old flames. People have lost their jobs due to posting something critical of their employer on social media. Bullying has become a major problem on social media, especially among young people and has even led to some taking their lives.

While social media can be a great tool for someone in the ministry it must be used wisely. I've known pastors who held strong political viewpoints and shared those on social media. Ministers must be careful here as some within their congregations will not share those same viewpoints. While I am more than willing to share my political views in private conversations I avoid doing so on social media. It's too easy to be misunderstood when discussing things on social media. There's no sense in getting people upset due to my lack of clarity on some political issue.

Social media is also not the place to lash out at people with whom you have disagreements. I wish our current president would learn that. Disagreements are best handled privately. Public outbursts seldom accomplish anything except to make the one being attacked become defensive which only makes the problem worse. It also makes the one who wrote the post appear immature. It helps to remember that once you put something out there, it's there forever for everyone to see. Remembering that has helped me stop before I posted something I thought I might regret later.

It's also not the place to argue. I am stunned to see how some Christians attack one another on social media over political or theological issues. We need to remember that many non-Christian people may be reading the comments we are making. It sends a very negative message to them about Christianity when they read our posts attacking one another personally because we happen to disagree. I may share my perspective once, and if someone begins to argue that I just back off and refuse to respond. (It might surprise some people to learn that if they read something on social media they don't agree with that it's OK to not respond to it.)

Social media can be a great tool to help you grow your church, but it can also create problems within the church. Use it wisely to build and not to tear down.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Books for sale

In my 35 years of ministry I have amassed a nice library. As is obvious from this blog, I enjoy reading and normally read 40-50 books a year. Most of these I purchase. Unfortunately, it's time to begin selling off part of my library. Having left active pastoral ministry I simply don't need many of my books, and I would not want them to be a burden to my wife in the event the good Lord called me home.

A few days ago I listed two books by N. T. Wright on E-bay. They are The Day the Revolution Began and Simply Jesus. However, it would take me a long time to list all the books I would sell, so I decided to advertise them on this site.

I wish I could list the books individually, but that would take too much time. If you have been interested in purchasing a particular book,  please let me know. I'll let you know if I have a copy of that book for sale.

I will tell you that I often mark in my books with a highlighter and sometimes write comments in the margins. Many of these books will not be in like new condition, but none of them are in bad condition either. If you express interest in a book I will tell you the condition of the book before you decide to buy it, and my prices will reflect that condition.

In addition to my theological and ministerial books I also have a nice collection of books on leadership and business. I also have books on personal finance, military, and self-help. I have both older and newer books so if you've been looking for one that is out of print, check with me. I just might have it!

I've been telling my wife for the past couple of years I needed to begin selling my library. The last time I told her that she asked why, if I wanted to sell my books, I got a box from amazon the day before? Well...I hadn't read those books! I really like my library so this is not an easy decision to make, but it's the right decision.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Exciting journeys begin by saying yes to God

Two years ago I retired as a Resource Minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. The Region held a retirement party for me which showed up yesterday on Facebook as a memory from the past. Looking at that picture brought back a lot of memories.

In 1981 I responded to God's call on my life by accepting the pastorate of Hebron Baptist Church, a small, rural church near my hometown of Madison, IN. As I've shared many times I went there with no experience and no education beyond high school. I only knew God had called me to the ministry, and this church needed a pastor. I continued working at Cummins Engine Co. and served the church as a bivocational pastor.

For 20 years I served that church before being called to serve as a Resource Minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. I went from having one church of about 50 people to serving around 80 churches in my Area. I continued in that ministry for 14 years before retiring.

During that 34 years my life experienced many interesting and rewarding transitions. I furthered my education by earning the bachelor's, master's, and Doctor of Ministry degrees. I published eight books focusing on bivocational and small church ministry. As a result of those books I've been invited to lead conferences and seminars for numerous denominations across the US and Canada. I've had the opportunity to work with many wonderful ministry leaders in our Region and across our denomination as well as others serving in other denominations.

Of course, for a minister retirement is merely a word that has little meaning in real life. For the past year I've been privileged to serve Madison FBC as their Transitional Pastor. It has been a joy to return to pastoral ministry, working with a great congregation and a very capable staff whom I've come to appreciate very much. I pray for the church's Pastor Search Team every day, but until God leads them to their next pastor I am enjoying working with this church during this transitional time.

No one knows growing up what life will look like for them. As a child growing up on dairy farms I never dreamed I would have the opportunities I've had. My life has been a journey that I could never have dreamed possible, and it all began by saying yes to God when called to that small, rural church.

I pray the same can be said about you. God has a plan for each of us, but that plan can only come to pass if we are willing to say yes to Him. Saying yes to God will lead you down paths you could not have imagined on your own. It will give you opportunities you never dreamed possible. At times it will seem frightening, and you'll not be sure where some of these opportunities will take you. Just're always safe in God's arms. The safest place anyone can be is in the middle of God's will for his or her life.

Has God been calling you to something that has caused you to be hesitant? If you'll say yes to that call you will find yourself on a journey that will be more rewarding than you can imagine.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

How will you grow in 2018?

We've all heard the warning: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Unfortunately, many of us still refuse to create plans to accomplish things that will impact our lives the most. For instance, few people create a plan that will help them grow personally or spiritually. We seem to think that personal and spiritual growth happens automatically. It doesn't.

In yesterday's post I mentioned the impact that Zig Ziglar had on my life. One of the things he did was to encourage me to set personal growth goals and then work on those goals throughout the year. I found that when I did that I became much more focused on how I spent my time and the activities I said yes to. I tracked my time every day to make sure I had spent some time that day working on my goals. Doing this enabled me to write books, develop seminars, and do many things I probably would not have accomplished if I had just drifted along hoping to accomplish something along the way.

A person committed to personal growth begins by identifying the areas in which he or she wants to grow. A Facebook friend asked the other day if a 60 year old man should be thinking about going back to school. I replied that I earned my Doctor of Ministry degree at 62 so if he felt this was something he wanted to do he should go for it.

Financially, I doubt I will get back the money I spent in earning that degree, but I didn't do it for the money. I did it to grow personally. BTW - I don't consider that I spent money. I invested money. I invested in myself. Another recession can come and take your retirement money away, but when you invest in yourself it's going to be there regardless of what the economy does.

Spiritual growth is just like personal growth. Only you can decide how much you want to grow spiritually, and only you can decide the best the way to accomplish that. You may want to map out a personal reading and study plan for the new year. You may want to check out upcoming conferences in your area and make plans to attend. You may want to be a part of some short term mission trips.

It doesn't really matter what you do. What's important is that you do something, and that you do it now. Today is not too early to begin planning for your personal and spiritual growth. Today is not too early to begin identifying the means by which that growth will occur.

If you fail to intentionally plan to grow chances are you won't. When the end of 2018 rolls around you will be exactly like you are today except a year older. Don't be that person. Determine the areas in which you want to grow, identify the means by which that growth can occur, and take definite steps today to make that happen.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

zig ziglar

My daughter called yesterday saying she had gone online to buy something from Zig Ziglar's company when a screen popped up on her computer stating that it would have been Ziglar's 91st birthday, and to celebrate they had all his merchandise 50% off. She called knowing I am a big fan of Zig Ziglar.

Several years ago Ziglar was one of several motivational speakers touring the country and speaking at various cities. Nearly every year I would get tickets for myself and our daughter to attend. His presentation was usually the longest and the best of any of the speakers. I heard him so many times I knew most of his stories before he would tell them.

During that time I purchased a number of items including a three-volume cassette series on success and goal setting. For four years I purchased his planner and used it to not only track my goals but to track my time. I literally recorded everything I did during those four years in 15 minute segments in that planner. It changed my life, and I became much more focused and goal oriented. Don't tell me you don't have time to do the things you claim are most important until you have tracked how you actually spend your time. Chances are, you have plenty of time to do those things that are truly important.

Ziglar was not always the success he was when I first began to hear him speak. In fact, he was very honest about how many different endeavors he was involved in before finally realizing success in sales and motivational speaking. I'm sure much of his wisdom was gained during those difficult years.

What endeared me to him was the way he shared his presentations. He was full of energy as he told story after story to drive home his points. He could relate to anyone and seemed genuinely interested in everyone he met. I bought the higher priced tickets that offered a number of perks at these events which included having a pre-conference breakfast with Zig Ziglar. He would be standing at the door of the dining hall to shake hands with everyone who entered. He didn't have to do that, but he was determined to make everyone feel welcomed.

Another thing I appreciated was his faith in God. He was very open about his faith and how it impacted his life. One of his most powerful books was Confessions of a Grieving Christian in which he told how he dealt with the loss of his oldest daughter after a lengthy illness. Of course, he credited the Lord with his ability to get through that painful period.

Few people have impacted my life more than Zig Ziglar. His books are well worth reading, and I have recommended his goal setting program to hundreds of people.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Tragedy in Texas

We were all shocked yesterday to hear of the shooting in a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas that resulted in the deaths of over 20 people with that many more wounded. The shooter later died, apparently in a shoot-out with a neighbor of the church although that has not been confirmed as I write this post.

What would possess someone to enter a church and randomly shoot people, men, women, and children, as they gather to worship? As yet, officials have not given a motive for the shooting, so I will not speculate here. Whatever the reason, it certainly does not justify this cowardly act.

Responses across the country have been varied. Some in the entertainment industry, well-known for its moral superiority to the rest of us, immediately blamed Republicans, called for more gun controls, and ridiculed faith and prayer. The vast majority of people, including many others in the entertainment business, called for prayers for the church and community.

No doubt, as the shock of this wears off, there will be more demands for gun control. As violence increases across the nation such calls are to be expected even though such restrictions would not reduce the violence. Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people and injured over 600 more using fertilizer. Jim Jones killed 909 people with Kool-Aid mixed with cyanide. Hopefully, we haven't forgotten that on 9/11 nearly 3,000 people were killed when aircraft were flown into buildings in the United States. Furthermore, millions of Americans own guns that have never been used to harm another human being. Those who argue that tighter restrictions on guns will reduce violence are simply presenting a red herring to avoid the real issue here.

It's not a gun issue; it's a heart issue. As a nation we have strayed far from God and the way He teaches us to live. Since we as a nation have determined that it is not politically correct to promote a Christian worldview we have to look for other means to control people's behavior. Today, it's restricting access to guns; tomorrow it will be controlling something else. No restrictions, no laws, will prevent someone determined to harm other human beings from carrying out their desires.

Until our vertical relationship with God is right our horizontal relationships with one another will never be right. As long as we continue to hate one another, carry bitterness towards others, envy one another, or feel superior to others we will see continued violence. As a nation, we need God.

Will such a spiritual awakening occur? I don't know. For now, we need to be prayerful. We certainly need to pray for our brothers and sisters impacted by this latest tragedy. We need to pray for one another, and we need to pray that America will see its need for God once again. I still believe in 2 Chronicles 7: 14, and it is that belief that gives me hope for our nation.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Sermon planning for 2018

Every year about this time I post an article about the importance of using the fall to think about your sermons for the upcoming year. Well, it's fall, and it's time to start that planning.

Some pastors are able to plan their entire preaching schedule for a year. I was not that good. I tried to plan at least three months worth, and I could often get six months of planning done before the new year started.

I always began by taking a yellow legal pad and writing down the dates for each Sunday in the left hand column. (Yes, you can use your computer. I'm old, and I like paper!) To the left of that I would write out if that Sunday had a special emphasis such as Mother's Day or the first Sunday of Advent. If you have to preach both on Sunday morning and Sunday night you will find that a legal pad will give you enough lines for one quarter of sermons. If you only preach on Sunday morning, just skip a line between each date.

The next thing I would do is pray about what I wanted to accomplish. Your church's vision should inform much of what you are wanting to do. I would then begin to think about themes. Soon these would lead to sermon titles with a text. That's what I would write down. The special emphasis Sundays would have their own special theme. (It really wasn't too hard to know what my topic would be on the Sunday before Thanksgiving!)

One thing I often did was plan a series of sermons on the family between Mother's Day and Father's Day. That was often one of the most popular sermon series I did each year.

The Sunday after Father's Day I would often begin a lengthy sermon series through a book of the Bible or a major portion of Scripture such as the Sermon on the Mount. This series would normally run through the entire summer and sometimes into the fall. This helped make sure I wasn't avoiding difficult passages, and it deepened our congregation's understanding about what the Bible teaches.

There are several advantages to planning your sermons months in advance.

  • It allows you more time to actually prepare your messages. Too often, pastors who go Sunday-to-Sunday in their sermon preparation actually spend more time trying to decide what to preach than they spend in the preparation.
  • It enables your worship planners to know in advance what your messages will be so they will be better able to plan the music and other elements of worship to coordinate with the message. This provides a better flow to your worship service.
  • It lets you have a good overview of your sermons. One year as I was looking back at my messages for that year I realized that I had become rather negative in my preaching. God convicted me of that in such a way I apologized to the congregation the following Sunday and made a shift in my sermons.
  • It makes sure you will have the necessary resources to prepare your sermons. For example, one year I decided to preach through the book of Romans for my summer series. At that time I did not have a lot of commentaries and other sermon helps on Romans. I made sure that problem was corrected before it was time to begin preparing those messages. 
  • It helps ensure you are not just preaching on your current interests. Right now, I am very interested in reading on apologetics. I have shared some of my learning with my current congregation, but it would be unfair to do that every Sunday. By planning my preaching I am more likely to offer them more balanced messages that includes more than just apologetics.
  • It also gives the speaker an opportunity to keep the church's vision before them. We are told that a congregation needs to be reminded at least once a month of its vision for ministry. Planning your messages in advance can help make that happen.
It does take time to plan a preaching scheduled, but after doing this for years I can tell you that the time you spend on the front end will be made up on the back end. It's a great feeling to sit down on Monday and know what your sermon text and theme is for the next week. You can go straight to preparing your message and not spend days trying to decide what to preach. Try it. Just plan one quarter and see how that goes.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Vacation and thoughts about a pastor's library

For the past couple of weeks I've been on vacation in Panama City Beach. I left there yesterday morning after sitting out on the beach and pool side the day before only to be greeted by a house registering 60 degrees on the thermostat. Although I was tired from the long drive, I was about ready to turn around and go back!

It was a great time away. We spent our vacation with our daughter and her family. I think the recent hurricanes down there had lowered the water temperature more than normal for this time of the year, but we still got to spend time in both the ocean and the pool and got plenty of nice Florida sun shine. I also enjoyed a nice round of golf and a couple of rounds of putt-putt with the grand kids.

We've been going there for vacation for several years and have several restaurants we enjoy. This year we did something a little different: we tried some new restaurants. Some had been around for a while, but we had just never gone to them while others had opened since we were there last year. I love fresh seafood and was not disappointed!

Surprisingly enough, I even had time to read. I took two books with me, and bought several more down there. I finished reading A New Kind of Apologist by Sean McDowell and read Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley. Some of the Goodwill stores down there always have a great selection of books and I bought several. The two I bought and read while there were The Time Keeper by Mitch Albon and The Radical Leap by Steve Farber. I really enjoyed all four books.

Books I bought there that have been added to my to-read list include Surprised by Hope by N. T. Wright, Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson and Fresh Air by Jack Levison.

I know I've mentioned this before, but my experience in the Goodwill stores made me want to remind you of something important. Many of you who read this blog are bivocational pastors or pastors of smaller churches who do not have a lot of money for your library. Each of these books cost me between 2.99 and 3.99. New books are expensive, but you don't have to spend a lot of money to build up a good pastoral library. For less than 20.00 I added six quality books to my library. BTW - These books list new for $115.90. They have no marks in them and each are in nearly new condition.

Your local library probably has an annual book sale. Flea markets and auctions are great places to find books. If you live near a seminary there may be a used bookstore nearby where students sell their text books when they finish a class. I bought a number of books in such a bookstore.

If you are in pastoral ministry or any leadership role in a church you need a good library, and it doesn't have to cost a fortune to own one. Oh, and don't forget to enjoy a vacation or two every year!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

When the church becomes a battlefield

Serving as a judicatory leader for 14 years allowed me to see things in churches that should never happen. In yesterday's post I referred to bullies in the pulpit who use their position as pastor to browbeat their congregations into doing whatever they want. These people are especially skilled at using Scripture to prove their point or to challenge anyone who dares stand against them. They misuse their calling, if they ever were called to the ministry, to promote their own agendas, not God's.

These individuals are skilled at dividing church members until it becomes "us" versus "them." Of course, the pastor's group is convinced they are right, and those who refuse to go along with them are wrong. Worse than that, they also are led to believe that the ones who oppose what the pastor is doing is defying God. "Touch not God's anointed" is a common rallying cry even when "God's anointed" is leading the church down a path of destruction. I've seen once strong, healthy churches decline to a pathetic shadow of what they once were, and I'm sure Satan is standing in the shadows gleefully laughing at what he was able to accomplish.

I've also seen church members who once worshiped together and enjoyed spending time with one another suddenly turn against each another. Just recently I heard of some comments one member of a church made to another that were shameful and degrading. These individuals had worshiped together for many years, but this unwarranted attack has led to a serious breakdown in their relationship. To make this even worse, the one who made the attack is oblivious to what he did. He has so little self-awareness that he does not understand the pain he has caused the one he attacked.

While coaching a small church pastor a few years ago I asked her what would she like to do in ministry more than anything else. She responded that she would like to begin a ministry to people who have been hurt by the church. I laughed and responded that if she found a way to do that her church would not remain small for very long!

In every community there are many, many people who have been wounded by churches they used to attend. In some cases, they were able to move on to other churches, but far too often the wounds are too deep, and they simply walk away from the church forever.

Scripture is very clear that shepherds are to love, care for and feed the sheep, not beat them into submission. We are to teach the truth in love, not use the Scriptures as a club to force compliance. The Bible is very clear that those of us who serve as leaders in the church will answer to God for how we served those entrusted to us by God. Some pastors will have much to answer for.

We also note that Jesus prayed for unity among His people, and Scripture gives numerous warnings to those who create disunity and disharmony among the people of God. The church is never to be a battleground. Our battle should be against the forces of darkness, not against one another. A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. Neither can it be an effective witness for God.

If your church is becoming a battleground, please call in support to help it address the conflicts. If you are part of a denomination, they will have people who can help you deal with conflict. If your church is independent you can call in consultants to address the issues. Whatever you do, don't let it continue thinking that maybe it will get better. It won't, and your church's ability to do ministry may well be affected for decades.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Bullies in the pulpit

When I served as an Area Minister a good friend of mine called one day saying their new pastor did nothing but beat them up every Sunday from the pulpit. My friend attended a healthy small church, but I had been hearing there were problems there since this pastor arrived. Their long-term treasurer had been removed by the pastor when he refused to pay a bill that was not budgeted and had not been approved by the congregation. Several members had already left the church. The church had stopped supporting its denomination because the new pastor didn't like the denomination. Evidently, as tensions escalated in the church the pastor was using the pulpit to try to beat the congregation into submission. I decided to visit the church.

My friend was right. I had attended this church numerous times in the past and always enjoyed the service. Not this Sunday! The pastor spent 45 minutes blasting the congregation. I almost walked out a couple of times and could not imagine why anyone would accept that week after week. Since I represented the denomination he didn't like, there was nothing I could say to him. I watched the church dwindle down to where there are now less than two dozen attending there now. Of course, he left some time ago. This once healthy church is in serious danger of not surviving.

I'm not sure why some pastors believe they need to beat on their congregations. As shepherds, pastors are to lead their sheep, not beat them. Something is seriously wrong with a pastor who feels the need to constantly criticize his or her congregation.

There is also something wrong with a congregation that accepts such pastoral leadership. Congregations are to respect their pastors and allow them to lead, but that does not mean they are to allow their pastors to abuse them. That is what this was: pastoral abuse. No congregation should have to endure that.

I'm sure my friend who called wanted me to intervene and either stop the pastor's misbehavior or have him removed from the church. In our tradition, we do not have the authority to do that. The congregation calls the pastor, and only the congregation can remove the pastor.

The problem in this particular church is that people would talk to the pastor individually. When he refused to listen or respond to them, they would leave the church. I suggested that if the bulk of the lay leadership were dissatisfied with this pastor's behavior that they confront him together and make it clear that they were not going anywhere and they were also not going to tolerate abusive behavior. Unfortunately, they did not do that which is why the church is in danger of closing now.

There is a fine line here. On the one hand, Scripture is clear that we are to follow those in authority over us. At the same time, Scripture is also clear that shepherds are not to abuse those placed under his care. When such abuse happens a congregation must be willing to confront the pastor and demand that it stop. There's been a lot of talk lately about stopping the bullying that goes on in our society. Let's also stop it in the pulpit.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Plan your own life

We are now at the start of October, and I've done something I've done for years. I ordered my 2018 planning calendar. For my younger readers who keep everything on their smart phone or tablet, this is an annual ritual you don't have to follow. However, I prefer paper over technology to schedule my life, so I have to order a new planner each year.

As a bivocational pastor I soon learned that time management was essential to being effective in the many roles of someone in my position. When I went on staff in our judicatory time management became even more important.

In our November staff meeting we would list all the things we knew would occur in our region for the coming year. I would write those down in my planner. I often referred to these items as the "pay the rent" requirements. These were things I needed to attend or do as part of our region staff. But, once those were noted in the planner, then the planner belonged to me. It was then that my wife and I could schedule vacations. I could then begin to fill the calendar with local events that would occur in the area I served. I could also schedule my days off and reading days. Reading days?

Leaders cannot spend all their time leading. We need time to take in new knowledge and learn new skills. We need time to sit and think. A pastor who spends every waking minute working on sermons, attending meetings, and visiting everyone in the church will soon wear out. If a pastor never takes time to fill his or her own tank, that pastor will soon be running on empty.

I have to admit that I learned about reading time later in my ministry. It was during my doctoral studies. I quickly realized that there was so much reading required for the program that I had to schedule blocks of time for reading. Once my "pay the rent" items were written in the planner, and I knew what reading was required for a particular course, then I could schedule 2-3 hour blocks during the week just for reading. If a request for my time was made during that schedule reading time I would just explain that I already had an appointment. It never created a problem. Of course, if it was a genuine emergency I had space to respond to it and would then schedule reading time for a later date.

My wife and I enjoyed a date night during my pastoral ministry. That was also put in the planner. We selected Friday evenings as our date time, so every Friday my wife's name was written in the planner for the evening hours. Again, if someone wanted to meet or call me during that time I would explain that I already had an appointment and would need to schedule them for a later time.

If you don't plan your life, someone else will plan it for you, and chances are they will not have the same priorities for your life that you have. By planning ahead and ensuring that your priorities are given preferential treatment on your schedule you will feel less stress, enjoy better relationships with those closest to you, and be more effective in everything you do.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Real life bivocational ministry

For my entire ministry I have been bivocational. Even while serving as a judicatory minister in our region I owned and managed a small business. People often ask what kinds of jobs are suitable for a bivocational minister, and I respond that almost anything that is legal, moral, and offers the flexibility that allows you to minister is suitable. I have found bivocational ministers doing everything from teaching grade school to universities, serving as policemen, running a business, working in a factory, sales, etc.

In my own life while serving as a bivocational minister I have worked in a factory, owned and managed a small business, and now own and operate an auction business.

I suppose one of the things I've enjoyed about being a bivocational minister is that it has kept me in the public. There's no danger of a bivocational minister getting caught up in a church cocoon where everything he or she does is surrounded by people who share your faith. In those environments I have an opportunity to not only be a witness for Jesus Christ, but I often have the opportunity to minister to people where other ministers would not.

For instance, a couple of years ago I was asked to sell some things at auction for a lady. When I went to look at what she wanted to sell I mentioned that I was a minister. She then began to tell me about how difficult her life had been for the past couple of years. Her boyfriend had committed suicide. Her son was having serious personal issues. It sounded like a soap opera. I asked if I could pray for her, and she agreed. After praying I asked if she had a church, and when she said no I was able to direct her to a good church in her community that would love her and minister to her. The very next week a similar incident occurred with another individual.

I had never met either of these individuals before, but they were willing, almost eager, to tell me of their personal pain once they learned I was a minister. Neither had a church and may have had little interest in spiritual things, but in the midst of their pain they allowed me to pray for them and direct them to good churches in their areas. And because both needed to raise money I was able to help them do that by selling some things they no longer wanted at my auction.

Next Tuesday I have another auction. Several consignors have brought items for me to sell. Some need the money; others need to downsize and get rid of things they've had for years. It is an opportunity to minister to people. On Sunday I will preach at the church where I serve as their Transitional Pastor, and on Monday I will begin moving things to the site where I have my auctions. Tuesday night I'll sell the merchandise, and by the end of the week the people will have their money. This is what bivocational ministry looks like in the real world, and I love it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Taking responsibility

By now you've probably heard that Hillary Clinton has published a book that explains why she lost the recent presidential campaign. In the book she evidently blames just about everyone for her loss: Bernie Sanders, Matt Lauer,  James Comey, the Russians, WikiLeaks, President Obama and VP Biden and even female voters. For some reason she seems unable to take any responsibility for her loss herself.

Since the election I've been amused at how the Democrats have been in a panic over the results. Even before the new President was sworn into office there were talks about impeachment. After all, they had rigged the primary so no one but Clinton could get the nomination, and when Trump became the Republican nominee I'm sure they thought they had the election won. Trump wasn't a politician. He said some really stupid things at times and was certainly not politically correct in most things he did. He had very low trust rating. The problem was, so did Clinton.

After the election I believed that if Democrats had ran anyone other than Clinton they would have probably won the election. People did not trust Clinton. There were too many unanswered questions about Clinton's handing of Benghazi and the blatant lie she told about what incited the attack. There were other questions about her truthfulness such as the time she claimed she landed in Bosnia under sniper fire when video clearly showed just the opposite was true. Many people rightfully questioned the vast wealth the Clintons amassed after leaving the White House, and of course there were the missing emails, some of which contained classified information. The Democratic party had many people who would have been a more viable candidate. People may not have liked Trump, but they had even more concerns about Clinton.

One of Clinton's problems is illustrated once again in this book. She simply cannot accept responsibility. Even when she says she is responsible that statement is always followed by a "But...," at which time she shifts the blame to someone else.

What does all this have to do with persons in ministry? None of us enjoys admitting when we've made a mistake. Taking responsibility for our mistakes isn't easy or fun, but it is the adult thing to do. Trying to shift the blame to someone else just compounds the problem. And, when we try to avoid responsibility we really aren't fooling anyone.

A key element of leadership is admitting when we're wrong, and we will be wrong many times. That's the nature of leadership. If you never make mistakes you're not leading, you're managing. Leading dares to venture into new territory, and not every venture works out the way we want.

Zig Ziglar used to say "Failure is an event, not a person." Failing at some task does not make a person a failure. It simply means the individual did not succeed at that particular effort. The wise thing to do is to admit the failure and begin to look for a better way that will succeed.

People know when we've messed up. The good news is that many of those people are willing to forgive when they see us take responsibility for our mistakes. Few people expect us to be perfect, so they are often willing to forgive us if we are willing to admit those mistakes and take ownership of them. Admitting responsibility for our mistakes will actually cause people to trust us even more which is essential to a successful ministry.