Personal Update: Looking in the Window

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This morning I sat down and planned some more blog posts but as I have turned to write them I decided it was time to be more personal today instead of a reflection or teaching post.  It has been a busy but good week so far this week.  We had our family pictures taken on Monday including the kids getting their pictures taken with both Sarah's parents and my mom.  It was neat to have them all here for the weekend, but it did make me miss Dad.    Monday afternoon, my #3 child left with my Mom to spend the week at Nana's.  He was so excited when he found out that he jumped up in the air! :)   We miss him but we are glad that he is getting this special time.  It has made things a little quieter here since #2 & #3 play together a lot normally and sometimes struggle with agreeing on the details of the play.   #4 is really getting good at solid food and its fun to watch him sit and munch on a piece of toast.  He's talking a blue streak too!  If only we understood the language!

I have been over to church more than usual this week between a Deacon's Meeting on Tuesday and going over to check in or help with the directory work.  I have a pile of directory work to do here at home too. But, the sermon is done, notes and powerpoint typed and kids quiz done.  Recorded a couple of radio shows and got one sent to the station.  With that and two blog posts plus several meetings with church people and getting the next series (sneak peek: its in Judges) outlined, it has been a fulfilling week of accomplishment.  Tonight is the SEM Team from NBBI at youth group.  That was so great last year.

Nick's got the lawnmower fixed so I am hoping to get the lawn mowed today before three different meetings ahead of youth group.  Then I'm sneaking out with a couple friends to see Star Trek: Into Darkness!   Fun little diversion for this Trekker after a busy week.  Tomorrow we are taking all the kids (Nana & #3 too) and joining with others from our Homeschool Coop to visit the Elephant refuge over in Hope, Maine.  It will be a good time together as a family and should prove to be both exciting and educational.

So, that's the drama at the Hall House this week.  I've probably left out plenty but when you only work one day a week, its hard to keep this type of news interesting!  :D  I'm very thankful to God for the blessings He has filled my life with, especially my wife and children, but also such wonderful ministry opportunities at church.

Give the People What They Want

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I was reading an article this morning about the failure of the Facebook "Home" Phone.  This was a software cover that took over your home screen and made it all about Facebook.  It was launched with much fanfare and anticipation.  They designed a new phone to be especially good at it and sold it through AT&T.  Well, it has turned into a complete failure.  AT&T first reduced the price from $99 to $0.99 and now is discontinuing it.   It has mostly one and two star ratings in Google Play.  Turns out, people just don't want it.  They are now redesigning it into what they think people do want.  Good luck to them.

This is a cornerstone of American Buisness.  You give the customer what they want.  We will spend money and time on the things that we want.  Make it good for us, easy for us, better for us, and we're there.  Make it harder for us and we're out. " Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door."  The thing is, sometimes that mousetrap is for the customers!  So many adds on the internet promise things people want to try to get them to click.  Secret paths to success, fitness, or low prices.  Secret pills that will make us thinner, longer, hairier, prettier.  Many people know that these adds are not to be trusted, but they work enough that they still cover many pages that I go to, including some respectable sites (Here's looking at you WCSH6).

Giving us what we want and what we perceive ourselves to need is always a good way to attract us.  Frito-Lay, Coca-cola, Burger King, and their corporate rivals didn't become big by making us eat healthy food.  Economically and physically, we really don't need that food, but boy do we want it.

Satan is the ultimate salesman.  He knows that we need a saving relationship with Jesus Christ but he also knows that that's not what we naturally want.  He knows that we are driven by a self-centric desire to be happy, comfortable, pleasured.  So he has come up with an endless variety of lifestyles and approaches to attract us.  Even if we have a greater understanding of needing to move toward God, the Great Salesman has that covered too.  Come to God, say these words, offer these prayers, and all your pains will go away, your debt will diminsh, you will have the life you want right now.  It sounds good.  I get the God I feel I need as well as still get to have what I want.  Bonus!   In other words, christians who are smart enough not to click on the obviously shady promises of a sketchy "miracle pill" ad are instead lured by the respectable that still just promises the same thing, just with better production values and more skillful presentation.

The simply truth is, the Gospel is about Jesus.  When the Gospel is "sold" as being about us, it is not Jesus selling it.  Jesus said,

"If any of you want to be my follower, you must stop thinking about yourself and what you want. You must be willing to carry the cross that is given to you for following me. Any of you who try to save the life you have will lose it. But you who give up your life for me will find true life. (Matthew 16:24-25)

Its pretty clear.  When we come to Jesus because we are trying to get stuff for us, we are not truly coming to Him.   There was a man who watched the power of the Spirit in the apostles and he saw the clear attraction.  This would draw people!   What a buisness opportunity.  He tried to get in on the ground floor.

Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying, "Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." But Peter said to him, "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! "You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. "Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. (Acts 8:18-22)

Notice that this issue isn't simply his money, its his heart.  Simon wanted power but he needed repentance (which he avoided, keep reading his story),  Simon, even though he wanted to gain the power to help people (do good) was in it for himself, not for Christ.  When we approach God with the idea that we are going to prosper as a result, we have turned the Gospel on its end and perverted it into something that is about us, not about Jesus.

BUT, doesn't God want to bless us?  YES!, but not for us, for Him.  And that blessing is not always material.  Material only matters to God when it leads to the eternal.  God is no fool and He is investing in a glorious future, not a temporary situation.  When we are focused on NOW instead of THEN we are following Satan's thinking not God's.  Paul makes it clear that anything God had given him was only good for knowing God and causing others to know Him.  Since the salesmanship is so slick and uses the Gospel, how can you know if it is Jesus or Satan?  One big test: REPENTANCE.  We require repentance to come to God because we are sinful.  When repentance is left out, it is because that doesn't make us feel good.  Here's a few of quotes to consider.  Look for whether it focuses on self or on Christ and whether repentance is mentioned.

“It’s vital that you accept yourself and learn to be happy with who God made you to be. If you want to truly enjoy your life, you must be at peace with yourself.”
“You may think there is a lot wrong with you, but there is also a lot right with you.”
“You can take pride in yourself without comparing yourself to anybody else. If you run your race and be the best that you can be, then you can feel good about yourself.”
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. (Romans 7:18)
Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)
I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)

I'm very troubled by the number of teachers who spend a lot of time trying to lure people to "Jesus" by offering them self improvement and personal advancement without a clear teaching of repentance.  No matter how altruistic, a "sales pitch" that focuses on us rather than on Christ is a misguided and ultimately satanic trap.  The Gospel is not about us.  It is for but not about us. Its about repentance and Jesus Christ.   It is about how much I can surrender to Christ, how I can know Him, His suffering, and His death so that I may know His resurrection.

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)

If you want a clear, non-salesman, view of truly coming to Christ, read Hebrews 11.  It will show that for His glory, God gave some material blessings, but that many, for God's glory, experienced some pretty rough earthly circumstances and they were joyful and eager for that because it wasn't about NOW, it was about THEN and it wasn't about THEM it was about HIM.

So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. (Mark 6:12)
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:1-5)

May we work on coming to Christ each day and leaving behind all our wants and perceived needs and instead make our life about Christ.  May we live lives of repentance, sacrifice, and the joy of His kingdom coming.  HE is what we need! Check out this wonderful song by Laura Story called "Blessings."

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Impatient Christians (Perils of Shepherds)

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Its a tough and scary world these days for many who consider themselves Christians.  The world is celebrating sin more and more while being less and less tolerant of biblical morality.   In the past, Christians enjoyed a favorable place in society with laws that reflected Judeo-Christian values.  A five decade slide away from those values has picked up steam in the last few years as our culture has completed a transformation to a largely pagan basis.  On my Facebook feed I see a lot of handwringing and sense a lot of upset-ness.  Christians are outraged, upset, motivated.

It is not a bad thing to be distressed by the sin that continues to overtake American culture and sin should certainly distress us.  It is also normal to be concerned at the signs of a growing persecution toward Christ-followers.  I feel our reaction as the church could use some work, though.  We are sometimes all too eager to get to the end of the story, to see justice done, to see things set right and to escape all the sin and the hostile sinners.  We find ourselves frustrated with the fact that it is so hard to be a Christian in a hostile culture and we wish "those people" would finally face justice.

That day is certainly coming.  The problem is, that's going to be a very bad day.  As followers of Christ, we more than most should be aware of the terrible judgement of God that all of our sins have earned.  Every one of us has been under the sentence of death and it is only by the grace and mercy of Christ that we are freed from it.  When the day of reckoning comes, it is going to be a terrible day indeed.  How do we look at this sinful world, blindly glorying in its sin?  Do we respond with anger and impatience for judgement or do we respond with fear and compassion?

When Jesus saw "the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd." (Matt 9:36)  Jesus wasn't angered or insulted by the sin and godlessness He saw around Him, He was moved in His guts with compassion.  Even on the cross, surrounded by those who were murdering Him, He asked God to forgive them because they were didn't realize what they were doing.  When confronted by a group of angry religious leaders who had a confirmed immoral sinner in custody and demanded the justice of God, Jesus instead emphasized the need of the woman for forgiveness rather than condemnation.    In fact, one of the things that really cheesed off the religious leaders of the time was the fact that Jesus was attracted to sinners rather than repulsed by them.

There is a great scene in the Lord of the Rings between Frodo and Gandalf about mercy, pity and justice;

“What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!'
Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.”

and then also,

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it. And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many - yours not least.”

Tolkien, a Christian himself, illustrates a point that is good for us Christians to remember, "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. "(2 Peter 3:9).

We also should remember this

But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:3-4)

These days too many of us Christians sound more offended by sin than concerned for the lost sinners. Instead of rescuing lost souls we are trying to rescue society from the lost souls. We have become frustrated and vexed by sin to the point of impatience with sinners. I see this especially in us pastors. We deal with sin even more than most and are charged with shepherding the flock. This stance has sometimes led us to become frustrated, impatient, and strident in a war suddenly directed at judging sinners (we now of course not being the 'real' sinners who are part of the problem). Yet as pastors we are especially commanded to have a different approach to those against us, which these days includes some powerful forces in our society.

The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26)

This passage is aimed directly at us in ministry.  It first says we are not to be quarrelsome.  The Greek word means to fight and includes this definition: "those who engage in a war of words, to quarrel, wrangle, dispute."  Yet how often do I find my Facebook feed filled up with fighting words.  Its ok, "they" started it.  Oh, wait, no its not.  The verse goes on to tell us that we are to be kind to all, patient when wronged (there's that word again), and correct those who are in opposition with gentleness.  Why?  because the goal is their repentance and salvation.

I am not condemning our impatience, I understand it and there are days when my own heart is vexed and I want to lash out against the unjustice, unrighteousness and sinfulness, especially when Christ and His people are under attack.  I cannot give reign to my impatience and frustration, however.  I am commanded to compassion, gentleness, and a love for those very enemies.  They have a very bad day coming and there is no joy in the justice they will receive.  May we have the heart of Christ as we find ourselves surrounded by sin and be moved in our guts with compassion, not frustration and rage.  Lord, may those who today revel in sin be shown the error of their ways before it's too late.

Perils of Shepherds: Chutes & Ladders

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There are men for whom being a pastor is the realization of a dream.   For me it was more of the realization of a nightmare.  :)  Ok, that is a bit dramatic, but it is true that not only did I not aspire to be a pastor, especially a senior pastor, but I actively avoided it.  At the age of 17, when asked what I wanted to do, I confidently declared, "I will never be a teacher, a preacher or work with teens."  You see how that turned out!   As I worked with teens and became a youth pastor, I was thankful that I wasn't a senior pastor.  They had more responsibilities, more work, more headaches, and less fun (from my perspective).  I got to play laser tag, mission impossible, and eat a lot of pizza.  I knew of other youth pastors who were putting in their time on their way to "having their own church."   Not me, I didn't want to move on to other things.

Over the years, God slowly expanded my vision and His ministry.  Turns out all those teenagers had parents.  They needed shepherding too.  Turns out the teens also turned into adults that still needed  discipleship.  To this day, God has not called me out of youth ministry but he greatly expanded the areas He called me to work in.   Despite even what some people have thought or assumed, I still have never wanted to be a senior pastor, but God pushed and thrust me into that role and has called me to try to be faithful.  Each day I am reminded how inadequate I am to that task and have to hang on to the Holy Spirit for dear life just to survive the ministry!

Ambition is still wired into me, as it is in all of us.  I still have a human heart that craves recognition, position, and power.  Being recognized and given a position feels good.  In fact, that is a problem.  The problem is that I have been made a citizen of a kingdom that works on a principle opposite of the world that I was born and raised in.   There is a kids game that I have played before called "Chutes & Ladders."  In the game you want to climb the ladders and avoid the Chutes which set you back.  To win you need to climb to the top.  Look at the game board; climbing a ladder makes you happy, going down a chute makes you sad.  Awesome.  Jesus said,

"So the last shall be first, and the first last." (Matthew 20:16)
Sitting down, He called the twelve and *said to them, "If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all." (Mark 9:35)

Our flesh is now wired in opposition to God's kingdom. This basic rewiring can really trip us up. We like ladders and hate chutes.Chutes are bad and are to be avoided.  Except that in Jesus' kingdom the quickest way to progress is the chute.  The ladder is a losing proposition.  It leads me away from Christlikeness, from servanthood, from love.   When I look up the ladder, I'm not looking toward heaven but away from Christ.

Satan's whole fall is linked to his desire to climb.  Jesus' greatest triumph was being reduced from an eternal God to a suffering, dying accused criminal.    Each day I need to walk away from the ladders that I am constantly attracted to and walk toward the chutes that I instinctively avoid.  I need to seek out chutes, those chances to humble myself and be lower than those around me.   I need to remember that the only good ladder is one that puts me in a position to go down a bigger slide.  I need to remember that as a kid, the best part wasn't the climb, but the slide.

"Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. "But the greatest among you shall be your servant. "Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. (Matthew 23:10-12)

My First Church (Perils of Shepherds)

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There are some who would call Bean's Corner "My first church" because it is here that I was first given the responsibility of being senior pastor.  Others might call Peru Baptist Church my "first" church because that was my first "job" out of college.  You might say Steep Falls Baptist Church was my first church in that it was where I grew up.   All these are perfectly fine definitions in their place, but I want to discuss my first church in terms of priority not chronology.  My first church is far more work than Bean's Corner and demands more time.  My first church is more aware of my weaknesses and failures than Bean's Corner is.  My first church lives with me.  They are my family.

There are many pastors who struggle with this idea.  The "job" of pastor eclipses the ministry of pastoring/shepherding and suddenly the priority of time and energy shifts to the building with the steeple and the people in it.   While I have a responsibility to my "job" and to the congregation, my responsibility to my "first church" is even greater.   Many pastors and churches sometimes look at the qualifications for shepherding ministry in Timothy and Titus and think that a pastor's family is held to a higher standard than everyone elses.  That is not what the Bible says.  My kids are held to the same standard as all children.  I, however, am held to a higher standard of parenting.  I have a greater obligation to my family than even the regular strong obligation of fathers.  My family isn't just my family, they are my first church, and if I can't pastor them, I cannot pastor the people in that building with a steeple.

I enjoy my first church.  We homeschool primarily for the relationship it provides us with the kids.  We do family trips, family times, family meals.  I am a busy guy with a demanding work load, but it has to give in to the demands of my first church because my work outside of my home is inextricably and biblically linked to the demands in my home.  Yesterday, in addition to meetings with Nate and Mac and study and work, I also had supper with the family and spent the evening reading with my daughter.  In fact, my goal (and need) is to be home for family dinner more than I am away.  I can't be there every night, but if I'm gone more than I'm home, I'm neglecting a vital church service at my first church.  The other day, when I needed to take a break from a demanding day, we packed up the kids and went for a hike on the railroad trail.  All pastoring my first church.  Pastoring my first church enriches the work I do at my "second" church.  It develops skills with people, it builds my patience, it reminds me I am a servant.  It also means that the parents at church can look at me and learn to shepherd in their homes too.

I'm thankful for my first church and I pray that I will keep focus on my home as my first priority amid the joy and rigors of ministry.  I hope that you will be able to look at my first church and observe the skills of shepherding that allow me to fill the role of pastor in the congregation of God.  "Pastor's Window" is not only me looking out on life and ministry, it is you looking in at my life and ministry.  I am accountable and responsible for my first church, first and foremost.  I will tell you that each day I must seek out God's guidance, wisdom, and especially correction that I might be the pastor that my wife and four beautiful children need me to be to them.

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