No Pain, No Gain: the story of my first painful morning run, my weight loss and a few other thoughts.

No Pain, No Gain: the story of my first painful morning run, my weight loss and a few other thoughts.

(Edited on 7/16/2016)

The blog post below was written over 9 years ago (May of 2007) on my old blog. It would be an understatement to say that I was a different person then: spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally. This blog post is important to me because I wrote it at the beginning of a long season of transformation in my life.  The person who wrote this post was very different from the person editing it now.  I think the “old Eric” would be both afraid and proud of the Eric who writes this update.  -Afraid of him because he would eventually put most of the old Eric’s dreams to death… -And proud of him because he had the courage to do so.  This blog post is a watermark in my life.

It seems that as with physical activity, for any positive change that we attempt to make in our lives there are “negative” forces that come against us. –Often those “negative forces” are causes of pain, sometimes great pain. With weight loss and physical fitness, the pain is physical. However, there are other times when the pain can present itself in different forms. I truly believe that there is a lesson to be learned in “not running” from the pain. From my experiences, I have found that great benefit can be found by confronting, enduring, and at times even submitting to the pain created by making a positive change. I have lost track of the physical aches and pains that I have experienced over the past nine years as I attempt to stay physically active; something is always sore. BUT, the results that I see in my body and in the way I feel far outweigh any ache or pain that I have experienced as a result of working out and becoming more “healthy.”

I believe there is no “happily ever after” when it comes to our health.  Staying healthy has not been easy; especially since moving back to south Louisiana.  As of right now, I weight around 225 pounds -roughly what I weighted when I graduated high school.  I have been as heavy as 315 pounds and as light as 200 pounds.  This has been a journey; a journey of ups, downs and hard decisions. -A decision to get out of the bed at 5:45am in the morning to go workout, a decision to NOT go to the Chinese buffet for lunch, an overall decision to eat healthy food and live a more active lifestyle. -AND many, many decisions to get “back on the wagon” after I had fallen off.  But the “painful” decisions do pay off and the results are worth every ounce of pain caused by the “negative” forces that came and still come against me.

The most humbling realization that I have had to come to terms with is the fact that I STILL struggle in my relationship with food. I know that there is the potential for me to “fall off the wagon” at any moment and go back to my old lifestyle. I HATE that fact, but I am learning to come to terms with it and deal/cope with it. I wish I could say, “I have obtained total victory over my relationship with food.” But, I would be lying. This is probably a struggle that I will have for the rest of my life. I can honestly say that I think I have a “hint” of what it feels like to be an alcoholic, drug addict, etc. The alcoholics and drug addicts may get the most attention, but we all know there are a number of things that we can be addicted to; and yes food is ABSOLUTELY one of those things among many, many others.

-And do not be quick to judge me or someone else who is struggling with their vise because chances are, you may have your own vise that you need to keep in check OR that you need to get in check.

We live in a society that runs from pain. We intoxicate ourselves with “painkillers.”  Food is the potential painkiller for me; just as physical fitness, alcohol, drugs or even sex can be a painkiller for someone else.  In the midst of the pain, and all of our assortments of our painkillers, there is a Man named Jesus who commands us to pick up our crosses and follow Him.  Has it ever occurred to you that He commands us to deal with the “pain” of life by bearing “our own” crosses? But, maybe that is the whole point of taking up our crosses? If we stare the pain down, endure it, and face it, then maybe that is how we can overcome it. (When I first wrote this, I had no idea of the depths this nugget of wisdom would take me to.)

My weight loss is the most noticeable change in my life only because it is a physical change. God has made more profound changes in me in these past nine years that cannot be seen with the naked eye. ALL of those changes required me to deal with the pain of facing situations and coming against negative forces as I made positive changes. Often times the pain caused by those changes seemed simply unbearable, and I mean that literally. There were times when I wondered if I could handle the cross I was bearing… -the cross that God refused to take from me. In the end, when God finally weaned me off painkillers and refused to give me anymore, I faced the pain. I endured the pain. And then I overcame the pain. It was not pretty. It was not fun. –But I am so glad that I did it. –And He ***proved*** His faithfulness to me in the process. –No pain, No Gain.

We often look for a painless gospel; I have found that it simply does not exist. Therefore, when we attempt to fashion a “painless gospel” it is counterfeit and therefore a “cross-less gospel” and a “power-less gospel.” Then, we wonder why we do not see the power and hand of God revealed or lives transformed.  Our Christ-less gospel becomes empty and dead religion -full of judgemental people and lifeless rules.

My blog post from nine years ago is below. I weighed approximately 310 pounds at that time.  It is also worth noting that I first attempted this “change” in May of 2007. It was not until the end of that August that Amy and I made the health changes permanent. In other words, I FAILED and fell back into my old routine for 3 additional months after I wrote this post.  -The only person who truly fails, is the one who stops trying.

REPOSTED FROM WEDNESDAY, MAY 2, 2007
No Pain, No Gain…

During the past few weeks I have been making some lifestyle changes. My latest change that I added yesterday was jogging every morning. I got up at 5:15 (a.m. that is) and walked/jogged for 30 minutes. I was not naive going into this; I knew it would be difficult and painful at first. When I started yesterday, it was not that bad. I walked for about 1/2 mile to warm (and wake!) myself up and then I jogged for 1/2 a mile. I then repeated that routine again. My first morning jog woke me up and stimulated my mind and body. Then… this morning happened. When my alarm clock went off, my legs immediately made me aware of their condition. I had not jogged in over 10 years! Overnight my muscles must have went into shock or something. My whole lower body was very sore.

Even though my aching legs contested, I forced myself out of the bed. As I headed out the door, I was determined to at least walk for 30 minutes and stay committed to my new routine. After I walked my first half mile and painfully loosened my muscles up a bit, I decided to continue my jogging and repeated the same walking/jogging routine I had completed yesterday. By the time I made it to the second 1/2 mile of jogging, it was really tough and painful, but I made it.

After I finished, I completed my regular morning routines and went to work. When I got out of my truck at City Hall, I realized that my legs were very, very sore. To make matters worse, I had a large blister on one of my heels- I’ll spare you the gory details but let’s just say it was a bad blister. I found myself almost limping up the stairs to my second floor office, in pain the entire time. Every time I had to leave my desk today, it was very painful. Honestly, this was probably the most pain that I have felt in years.

However, a strange thing happened to me during the day as I limped around in pain. In an odd sort of way, the pain I was feeling fueled my determination to stay committed to my new routine. You see, I knew I was feeling the pain because I am out of shape. The very pain that I was feeling reminded me of the process that was taking place in my body. The muscles in my legs were being torn down and rebuilt- better and stronger, my metabolism was increasing, and my heart rate would begin to drop. The sometimes EXTREME pain I was feeling served as a reminder that I was on my way to being a healthier person- thus a better husband, father, and pastor. Therefore, I found myself driven by it.

Then, this thought hit me. “What if those of us who have committed to the journey of following Jesus viewed pain the same way?” What if instead of running from the pain and discomforts we sometimes experience as we follow Jesus, we embraced them. What if we realized that during the times of our pain, discomfort and sacrifice, he is actually crucifying our flesh, imparting life to our spirits, building our characters, and teaching us a different way to live. Though this process may be painful, it is necessary… and good.

What if, rather than running from this pain, discomfort and sacrifice, we embraced it? What if we allowed ourselves to be driven by it? Just a thought…

 

What Does a Healthy Church Look Like?

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Some time ago, I received a question via private Facebook message that made me stop and ponder.  The person said something like, “I think I might be in an unhealthy church environment right now.  But before I leave, how am I supposed to know what a ‘healthy’ church looks like?”  I answered her question the best I could at the time.  However, I still found myself pondering that important question.  I even threw it out at our local pastor’s prayer group.  I dare say that their response was very similar to my own.  As I was, they were caught a bit off guard by such a simple but direct question.

I think the hesitance of a seasoned pastor to quickly answer this question is caused by the need to reflect on past experiences and current situations.  As we reflect and evaluate, we find ourselves asking more questions like: What is the Biblical definition of a healthy church?  What does “healthy” look like? And probably the most important question for each of us, “Is my church healthy?”

I will be the very first to say that I certainly do not have all the answers.  However, I am willing to ask the hard questions and I am willing to wrestle with answering them.  I think there is definite value in the wrestling and reflecting.  So… in my wrestling and reflecting this is what I have come up with so far.  I have tried to keep my thoughts as simple and concise as possible.

Here are my reflections on what a healthy church looks like:

  • A healthy church is centered around authentic relationships that have real depth. These relationships extend beyond Sunday mornings.  Authentic relationships require time, trust, love, communication and grace.
  • A healthy church practices discipleship and realizes that discipleship is much more than a sermon, class, or a program. Authentic discipleship requires authentic relationships.  I like to say, real discipleship happens when “life rubs up against life.”  This is how Jesus did discipleship.
  • A healthy church experiences organic evangelism.  Organic evangelism happens because the Christians who make up the church are maturing and are naturally reaching out to those around them.  This is not because of a top notch evangelism campaign or a flashy church sign, it is simply natural.  Keep in mind, this growth does not need to be explosive -and it is probably better if it is not.  Some of the best church growth is… s-l-o-w.  That large oak tree in your back yard did not get there over night, -but the weeds around it may have.  Think about that.
  • A healthy church has a plurality of New Testament leadership.  Call them elders, deacons, or just “the leadership team.”  The label that is used does not matter.  What matters is: there is more than one or two of them, they are clearly biblically qualified, are gifted to be elders, take the role very seriously, are in authentic relationship with each other and are accountable to each other.  BTW, you cannot be accountable to someone you are not in authentic transparent relationship with.
  • A healthy church is diverse.  Diverse in its people. Diverse in age.  Diverse in opinions.  Diverse in experience. Diverse in it’s creativity.  And diverse in the expressions of the people who form the church.  God made us all different; if he wanted us all to be the same, he would have made us robots.  I believe a healthy church celebrates the diversity of its people rather than forcing everyone to be the same.
  • A healthy church is governed by Grace AND Truth.  If all we focus on is the grace of God, then “anything goes” and our sin nature reigns. If all we focus on is the law and rules, we become legalistic pharisees who are constantly casting stones at each other. I have seen both extremes and neither one is healthy or God honoring.  However, if we allow the Holy Spirit to govern us by grace AND truth a beautiful thing happens.  -We begin to be transformed into who God created us to be. The theological termed used to describe this process is called “sanctification.”  Sanctification naturally happens in healthy churches as well as healthy people.
  • And obviously, a healthy church is a group of people who are in relationship with God.  Meaning than that prayer, the Word and worship are practical parts of their everyday lives and continuously steer them along the journey of following Jesus.

 

What Does Authentic Love Look Like?

Superman

What does authentic love look like?  What does God’s love really look like?  What should our love for each other look like?  Does the Church actually have a Superpower?

The video below answers these questions and more.  In the end, I do believe that the Church possesses an unstoppable Superpower.  All we have to do is access it via our love for each other.

IT IS REALLY NOT ABOUT “THEM,” IT’S ABOUT YOU!

It's all about you

It is really not about “them,” it is about “you.

When you choose to return evil for the evil that was done to you, it is about you.

When you choose to slander because you were slandered, it is about you.

When you choose to hold on to bitterness and refuse to forgive, it is about you.

When you choose to commit petty theft because others are thieves, it is about you.

When you choose to hate entire groups of people because of the murderous actions of a few, it is about you.

When you choose to take unethical shortcuts because others are taking shortcuts, it is about you.

When you choose to judge -and show no mercy, it is about you.

When you choose prejudice, it is about you.

When you choose to remain ignorant, it is about you.

When you pass by an open door because of fear, it is about you.

When you choose to follow the crowd even though deep down inside you know the crowd is wrong, it is about you.

When you refuse to say, “I was wrong.” even when you know you were wrong, it is about you.

When you allow yourself to be negative because everyone else is being negative, it is about you.

When you refuse to show any compassion to “strangers,” it is about you.

When you walk away from an opportunity to make the world a better place -because others are walking away, it is about you.

When you say, “It is just too hard.” because others are saying the same, it is about you.

When you choose to not love your neighbor, it is about you.

When you make excuses -even very good ones, it is about you.

When you refuse to love the “unlovable,” it is about you.

When your children, loved ones and others with whom you may have influence watch you do the above things; it is about them.

And when I do these things, it is about me -and my loved ones.

The moment by moment choices we all make, make us who we are.  And the ripple effects from those choices make infinite impacts on those around us.

-May we choose to be wise, gracious people who truly embrace God’s Kingdom.

What Does God Look Like?

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I can remember being asked “What does God look like?” as a child in Sunday School.  Glimpses of the pictures we drew as children come to mind: an old man with a beard, crayon rays of light zig-zagging out of the clouds, lopsided crosses -and then a simple stick figure of Jesus.

So what does God actually look like??? -These question marks punctuate a profound theological question. As Christians, if we allow ourselves the freedom to respond with the simple child-like faith that God calls us to, we find the answer.  Our God looks like Jesus. Whenever we have a question about God’s character or His posture towards humanity, all we need to do is look to Jesus as our divine reference point. Famous preachers, our own religious preferences and even trusted denominational doctrines are not reliable points of reference for what God looks like; only His Son is qualified to show us the Father.

As St. John said in John 1:17-18:

“For the law was given through Moses; but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

Jesus has made God (the Father) “known” to us. In other words, we KNOW exactly what God looks like; He looks just like Jesus.

  • So… Jesus eating a meal at a DESPISED tax collector’s house, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus taking the time to speak to that MESSED UP half-breed woman at the well, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus confronting and REBUKING legalistic religious leaders, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus attending a wedding CELEBRATION and turning water into wine, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus WEEPING over Israel’s rebellion, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus chasing the MONEY CHANGERS out of the temple, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus REFUSING to stone the woman caught in the “very act” of adultery, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus being CONCERNED about the practical needs of people and feeding the five thousand, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus distancing Himself from FICKLE crowds seeking a sign, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus not being afraid to speak the TRUTH (in love,) was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus FORGIVING the Roman soldiers while they were crucifying Him, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus pursuing the disciples who DESERTED Him (at the cross) would also be, Jesus making the Father’s heart known to us.
  • And finally… “the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us” would be, EMMANUEL declaring God the Father and making His Kingdom known to us -by way of a baby in a manger.

Jesus is what God looks like. Do not make the tragic mistake of cherry picking versus from the Bible and then saying, “God said!”  NO; that is simply incorrect.  JESUS is what the entire Bible has to say, in perfect context with human history. The Bible tells us a vivid story of humanity desperately in need of a Savior. The sole purpose of the Bible is to point us to God’s Son; the True Infallible Word of God.  If we cannot reconcile a religious teaching directly to Jesus, caution flags should fly up in our hearts and minds.  There is no biblical character or contemporary religious figure with the authority to critique or tweak Jesus’ teachings and actions.

We must learn to reconcile ourselves back to Jesus and His teachings.  Jesus is what God looks like -and Jesus is what God has to say to us as we prepare to celebrate His birth.  Merry Christmas!

What does “Real Freedom” look like?

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“You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  -Jesus

While Jesus has never let me down on this “journey to freedom,” He has led me down some unplanned paths over mountains, through valleys and across rivers that I thought were absolutely impassable. And so, I have discovered this elusive thing called “freedom” to a greater extent -in the most unexpected places.  I am often pleasantly surprised when I catch a glimpse of what lies on the other side of the hill I have been climbing.  You think you are “free,” and then He takes you to that new place that He has never shown you because you were not ready to see it yet.  -Before “that moment,” you could not yet handle the experience and you did not have the capacity to truly appreciate it.  Just a few years before you would have sped over the crest of that hilltop -not fully appreciating the view and perspective He wanted you to see at that beautiful summit.

But now, you stop at the top of the hill and you inhale a deep breath. You take in God’s wonderful scenery and you appreciate the majesty of it all.  You savor all of the new insights that you gain from that view. -And then, from this view you are reminded that there are countless others who are struggling down their own paths to freedom and you feel a great sense of responsibility to help them.  So it is with the Kingdom of God.

So what does true freedom look like? Freedom from child abuse, alcohol & drug abuse, spousal abuse, divorce, obesity, a traumatic health event, a soured romantic relationship, sexual abuse, dysfunctional family relationships, spiritual abuse, abandonment… and I know I have to be leaving dozens of others off this list.  Freedom has many perspectives; it all depends on the chains that are binding us…

All of these wounding agents have at least two commonalities that link every single one of us together. -Regardless of where our place is in society, we all get wounded and we all need healing.  The “sickness of sin” has infected us all.  We all need freedom.

So what does freedom look like???  Well, I can tell you this: it is NOT a magic pill, a magic prayer to Jesus or a single session with a counselor, therapist or even your pastor.  IT’S JUST NOT THAT! And if someone tells you that, even with a well-meaning heart, they are simply wrong. Freedom is not found in those places. -At least not in those places alone.

To my wife and I, freedom has been a process. Though at times I desperately searched for the fast forward button to speed up that process, it simply was not there.  Real freedom is a godly phenomenon that takes place over time. Freedom has been a process of time and relationships for us.  And when I say relationships, I mean with common everyday people that God put in our lives. Some relationships are very short lived, -and some are long.  But regardless, as we follow Jesus on this search for freedom, He will lead us down paths that intersect with just the right people.  And sometimes we have no clue what is actually happening. -While we are busy focusing on the ordinary, the Spirit of God is working on the extraordinary the entire time.  You see, God knows that we need each other.

Then… that moment comes when we realize that we are indeed becoming more -and more free… We find ourselves experiencing a level of freedom that we never even knew existed.  We smile, a few tears roll down our checks and we think to ourselves, “This must be what ‘Real Freedom’ looks like.”

A Few Thoughts from the Wilderness

Hero Tweet

Above is a tweet I posted a few days ago. I really appreciate those people who are bold in speaking the Truth, but also humble and vulnerable in sharing their experiences, lessons learned and the mistakes they have made.

Wisdom, patience, the future and calculating the risks have been the elements of my contemplation for sometime now.  And just about the time I think I am dragging my feet in making an important decision, God sends a messenger my way to reinforce the reality that true wisdom is the fruit of patience; a lot of patience…

Here is what I am learning in this season: true wisdom, good decisions and God’s will often do not come quickly. Sometimes they do, and I praise God for those times. But often Godly wisdom is the fruit of patience.  Sometimes God will lead you into the wilderness… -And yes, while you might very well be in the wilderness, GOD is the one who led you there. He wants you there. Any attempt made to leave this foreign, uncomfortable place “early” negates the wisdom that He is imparting in you.

So we are back to patience… -and then contemplation. You see, being in the wilderness gives you time to think, time to wrestle… You find yourself at the feet of Jesus asking questions like, “Jesus, what is this following you thing supposed to look like anyway?”

“And what is ‘a call to ministry’ and ‘the pastor thing’ supposed to look like?”

“Jesus, what does it mean to practically love you and my neighbor? -And just exactly who is my neighbor??? -because I am starting to get the feeling that You might want me to love some people that I might not want to love…”

Patience… contemplation… wrestling… in the wilderness… And before you know it, you begin to see things differently. Your appetite begins to change… You begin to sense God’s heart and your prayers even change…

I am learning that I must lay all those “God Dreams” that I had at the foot of the cross -rather than chasing after them.  By “God Dreams,” I mean the dreams that I was absolutely convinced that God planted in my heart. For me, right now wisdom is the willingness to lay everything down -and to allow those dreams to die. -Then trust Jesus to resurrect what dreams were truly from Him. if any…

But this means I must take my hands off! No scheming, no planning, no “making things happen! No plan B.” Eric must stand in the back of his own end zone and punt the ball…

And I’m not even a good punter…

My intellect and emotions protest, “Who wants to be a punter anyway? I want to be the quarterback, a middle linebacker or free safety! Heck, I’d even be the fullback or an offensive lineman! Jesus, do you really want me to just stand here and hand the ball over to the other team?”

In the midst of my fear, rebellion and wrestling Jesus softly whispers, “Yes… Trust Me.”

I sense His loving soothing voice, so I submit. Yet, I am still fearful.

Patience… Contemplation… Wrestling… Wisdom… Trust… Faith… in the wilderness. I am learning that this is what it looks like for me to follow Jesus.

…I thank God for the wilderness.

Why Should I Forgive?

Forgiveness is much more about YOU -than whoever hurt you.

The act of forgiveness releases us from the wounding agent. I have witnessed countless people refuse to forgive. In turn, I have watched those same people repeatedly tear their own wounds open, time and again.  Forgiveness releases us from the wounding agent and allows the healing process to begin and continue. It is the well medicated bandage that is placed on a wound that has been properly cleaned and dressed.

Forgiveness is also the antidote for the infection of bitterness. I have witnessed bitterness eat people up like a vicious emotional and spiritual infection, causing even more damage than the initial wound. We have all heard stories where a person would get a small cut on a finger or toe and not treat it properly. Then infection set in. As a result, death and decay set in. The tissue around the “small” wound begins to rot away. If the infection is never properly addressed and treated, limb or life can be lost. Forgiveness is the much needed antiseptic treatment for deeply infected emotional wounds. While unthinkable to some victims, forgiveness is the ONLY way the pain will ever begin to subside.

In addition, forgiveness protects relationships. Some of the most miserable people I have met are bitter people who refuse to forgive. They become hard, calloused and simply difficult to be around. While they remain steadfast in the reasoning that justifies their bitterness, the fruit that it bears makes it very difficult for them to actively participate in healthy relationships. No one wants to be around them. Bitterness hinders and corrupts healthy relationships.

Forgiveness is NOT simply giving the offender a “pass” on their misbehavior and looking the other way. Forgiveness is God’s blueprint for enabling us to heal and begin the path towards emotional, spiritual and even physical health and happiness.  This is exactly why Jesus responded “seventy times seven,” when he was asked how often we should be willing to forgive each other.

Healthy living is impossible without forgiveness.

What Some Christians Have in Common with the Ancient Greeks and Trojans

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Am I writing a blog post that compares modern day christians to the pagan Greeks and Trojans who worshiped false mythological gods?  Why yes, I sure am.

Last night, my wife and I watched the movie “Troy” for the fist time.   For various reasons, we are not typically drawn to movies like this, but due to boredom, sleeplessness and curiosity we decided to watch it.  I found it intriguing when I noticed a few similarities between some of today’s christians and the ancient Greeks and Trojans -as portrayed in the movie.  Here is what I observed:

-Buildings, statues and other objects were held in very high regard and often worshiped as the gods themselves.

-There was no concept of “personal relationship” with the pagan gods; therefore determining the “god’s will” was simply a guess made by the priests, often with catastrophic consequences.

-The rulers used the gods to manipulate the armies and people in order to get what they wanted; more power, treasure and territory.

-When something bad happened because of the leader’s own stupidity, selfishness or poor leadership abilities, it was explained by saying, “It was the will of the gods.”

-Terrible things occurred, -and was justified in the gods’ name.

I am sure I am missing a few other similarities.  I was not actively looking for them while watching the movie. These are just the glaring ones that I remember as I reflect for a few moments.

If this post unsettles you a bit, good.  Maybe it will cause you to think about how people in today’s culture view Christians.  Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.”  This means that His Kingdom looks nothing like our pagan worldly kingdoms.  If what we sometimes call “God’s Kingdom” can be so easily compared to “pagan kingdoms,” perhaps we need to stop, reflect and ask God to search our hearts in order to make a few adjustments.  -After all, we are called to be DIFFERENT.

As always, I would love to hear your comments.

When God Leads Us to “Foreign” Places

Wilderness

Seven years ago, my family and I moved across the country to plant a new church.  While there were various practical reasons and factors for pursuing this new journey, in the end we felt like it was “God’s will” for us.  -So we felt confident that He would guide and provide for us.

Our new church plant did not work out anything like we thought it would.  In the end, we found that God had led us on a journey that looked completely different from what “we” thought it should look like.  God had led us to a very “foreign” and uncomfortable place…  In this message I share some of my experiences while planting HealingPointe Community Church.  I transparently describe that “foreign place” God led me and my family to.

But most importantly, I share why the “foreign places” that God leads us to are so important and how we can be in both a “foreign place” and “God’s Will” at the same time.

Click on the link below to Listen:

Why I Almost… left the Church

LeavingChurch

I almost left the church, the “established” church that is….  And sometimes, I still feel like leaving the church.  There, I said it.  Yes, Eric Starkey: husband, father, devout Christian and maybe most relevant to this post, “pastor” has seriously considered leaving the church, or at least “the church” as we know it.

Why???

I guess the answers to that question are both simple and complicated.  I am hesitant to publicly share many of my thoughts on this subject because I fear that I will offend friends.  Nevertheless, I feel this post might be a valuable exercise for me to write -and for you to read.  Perhaps if we wrestle with a few of these “reasons” you and I both might be better for it.  And perhaps, the Church could be better for it.  With that being said, I want to make it clear that my goal is not to insult or take cheap shots at anyone or any local church. My goal is to transparently share why I sometimes find myself nearing that point where I want to say, “Enough is enough!”

  • I got burned out.  I entered the ministry at age eighteen; I preached for the first time on Sunday morning at nineteen and experienced early “success.”  Sometimes I believe that early “success” was actually a “curse.” From that point forward, it was full speed ahead and no looking back.  I put the Church and ministry before everything –and I mean everything.  After doing that for over fifteen years, the inevitable finally… happened: I burned out.  I am surprised I lasted as long as I did.  I often wonder why someone did not stop me earlier.  Many people in many different churches had opportunities to grab me and put their arm around me and say, “Eric, slow down.  You have your whole life ahead of you.  Slow down and enjoy your college years.  Slow down and enjoy your young family.  Slow down and enjoy life.”  Very few people offered me that wise caution and still fewer leaders ever did.  Honestly, I cannot think of any other pastors who ever advised me to slow my pace.  It was not until “I” put on the brakes (at God’s prompting) that I finally got that message –independent of anyone within the Church.
  • I got incredibly frustrated with many of the people in the Church.  Religious people, legalistic people, “super-spiritual” people, mean people, hypocrites, needy people, manipulative people, leaders who worry more about themselves than the people who they are leading, highly educated people who are illiterate to the simplest Biblical Truths, insecure people, etc.  Everywhere I turned (in the Church) there seemed to always be someone who met one or more of the aforementioned descriptions.  These people sucked the passion, energy and life right out of me.
  • I began to notice the lack of authentic relationships in the church.  There is so much that could be said here but I want to keep this post short.  Let me just say that most churches that I have been a part of have shallow relationships with various undercurrents running through them.  Church leadership is more about politics than shepherding.  If you doubt my observation, just watch what happens when controversy or disagreements arise. Church relationships often (not always, but often) have little depth and are disposable   *This is not a loose accusation that I am making. I make it after eighteen years of being heavily involved in various local churches.
  • I am not comfortable inviting my un-churched friends to church.  Approximately four years ago, my wife and I made a commitment to purposely start living our lives OUTSIDE the walls of church buildings.  Part of this commitment was to begin building relationships with people who did not attend a church.  As we have slowly made this transition, we have realized that we are not comfortable inviting our un-churched friends to church with us.
  • Much of the contemporary Church is “dumbing down” the Gospel. In our efforts to grow and attract people to our churches, we have watered down and “dumbed down” the Gospel to where “following Jesus” is not following Jesus. We have forgotten what it means to “take up our crosses.”  We have made it too easy. We have made it too simple.  Sometimes I think we may even insult the intelligence of un-churched people when they attend our churches. Don’t talk to un-churched people like they are stupid. Share Truth! Challenge people! Preach the Gospel!  Teach the Word! That is what the people are there for; that is what they desperately need. Challenge them; that is what will cause them to see their need for Christ and authentic Christian community.
  • I have not gotten anything out of many of the church services I have attended.  Sorry, I am just being honest.  When we extricate authentic relationships and dumb down the Gospel, what do you think is going to happen? Church should be more meaningful than checking a box off on our weekly Christian “to do list.” And please do not try to attract me with just music, I can always find better on Pandora.
  • Most churches look nothing like the Church in the New Testament.  I am just being honest –again.  Why should I force myself to attend a weekly meeting that calls itself one thing and then has the characteristics of something completely different?  Most churches “Major on the minors” and “minor on the Majors” of the things that are important to New Testament Church culture. We invest our time and treasure in buildings and programs rather than people –and then we wonder why we are losing “people.”  Hello…..?
  • I was never good at “Playing the Game” –nor did I ever want to play.  I have no passion for the “the game.”  I have no energy for “the game.”  I find no life in “the game.”  Honestly, when I sense that “the game” is being played, I run fast and far from it. “The game” disgusts me now.  I am so tired of political games.  I am so tired of people games.  I am so tired of church games.  I just want to be a part of something real.  I am not looking for perfect, (I know it is not out there) but I am looking for “real.”
  • Because of the above characteristics, I find many of our churches to be full of under discipled, under utilized, immature, lethargic Christians.  I think that is the real fruit that our church marketing, flashy programs and flowery sermons have produced for us.  Frankly, this reality absolutely disturbs me.
  • I got tired of excuses.  You can come up with an excuse for anything, -if you try hard enough.  And we have become very astute at making good excuses in the Church.  Our excuses disgust me.

Why should I attend a weekly “celebration service” that has no real depth and screams “fake,” with other people in a community almost completely divorced of authentic relationships, where a watered down weak (and/or twisted) gospel is preached, in an atmosphere where I am not comfortable inviting my un-churched friends, with “church people” who often incredibly frustrate me?

 These are the reasons why I have had serious thoughts about leaving the established church.  *For the record, my family and I have not left the Church nor do we plan to; we still faithfully attend.  But, I have to wonder how many people have already abandoned the Church for these same reasons.  I would bet all of my earthly possessions that the numbers are far more than just a few…

Perhaps we should all take a step back, stop making our ridiculous excuses and wrestle with some of these areas of dysfunction while there is still time.  -Because the era of “going to church just because you are supposed to” is over.

I invite you to comment with “your reasons” below -or feel free to offer a rebuttal to mine.  Let’s please keep our comments as positive and productive as possible.   -Just an FYI, I plan to write a post next week entitled, “Why I did not leave the Church.”

The Basic Elements of the Church: Evangelism

evangelism 

So I hear there is a big stink going on down in Sullivan, Indiana; “big stink” is my southern slang for a fight. Apparently, there are a few high school kids, who call themselves “gay,” that plan to attend prom as practicing homosexuals.  I’ll let my readers gathers the facts for themselves regarding all the details, but obviously when the public expression of homosexuality goes to the high school prom in small town Midwestern America there will be a few fireworks in the community.   -And many of the “sparks” will be made by my fellow conservative Christian friends.  I am sure that most Christians in Sullivan have already been asking tough questions like:

  • How did we lose our Christian influence on the culture in “our” town? 
  • What can we do to reach those who are continuing to drift away from the church and our Christian values?
  • How can we make Christianity and church life “relevant” to people in Sullivan, Indiana –especially the younger generations?
  • What can we do to take back the ground that we have already lost?

I have been waiting for some time to finish up my latest series, “The Basic Elements of the Church.”  I had previously shared that from my study of scripture and personal experience, I believe that there are three basic elements that make up the Church.  The first element is Relationships: our authentic relationships with God and each other.  The second element that I identified was Discipleship: our embracing of and learning to live out the teachings of Christ -and helping others to do the same.  Pretty simple so far, right?  Well, the third element is the tough one.  To be completely honest, it is the element that I have struggled with for my entire adult life. (I will share why in a later post.)  The third element of the church is, “Evangelism.”

Evangelism is our sharing of the Gospel message, or the Good News.  When we attempt to evangelize others, we are “sharing Christ” with them and inviting them into our churches.  We are extending an invitation for them to become a part of the Family and to be “like us.” We are compelling them to repent of their sins, ask Christ for forgiveness and come follow Jesus with us.  We are in essence, making the argument that “our way of life is better.”  We are rightly stating that it is much better to willingly follow Jesus than to be swept along in life by the undercurrents of this world.

So why is it so hard for us to make our argument?  Why are we losing ground in our culture? Why is the Church in America shrinking?  I believe these are the questions that we should be wrestling with.  In addition, I think that if we would be completely honest with ourselves and each other we would have to admit that fear, manipulation and entertainment are often used in today’s Christian culture to compel people into the Church. -Not always, but often.  My earliest memories as a child in church services are of the preacher speaking about hell and God’s wrath waiting for those who had not repented of their sins and given their hearts to Christ.  In my adult church experiences, spanning across multiple denominations and geographical areas, I have observed various forms of slight, mild and even strong manipulation used to convert a “lost person” to Christianity.  I am sure I have even been guilty of doing this myself, unknowingly of course with a very sincere heart.  And then there is the “entertainment value” of our modern church culture.  I’ll save you the rant, but we all know that “church” needs to be entertaining nowadays. We use our talents, technology and treasure to bring the “Wow Factor” to our church services, all so that we can “win someone to Christ.” BUT, what happens to “our” converts when the fear factor is lost, when they become wise to or grow tired of the manipulation, or when the entertainment of the world trumps that of our church services?  We lose them, that is what happens.  We lose them because our “evangelism” and flavor of Christianity did not present them with the “substance” that they so desperately needed to become well grounded followers of Christ.

So let’s stop and think about this for a second.  God is good.  He loved us so much that He sent His Son to die on a cross for our sins.  He rose from the grave on the third day, conquering death, hell and the grave -and redeeming us.  God has given us His Word and His Holy Spirit to lead and guide us.  He gave birth to the Church so that we could have a family filled with others just like us who follow Him and who love and support us.  AND He promises to return for His Bride one day soon. – Not a bad deal when you stop and think about it.

So if the above statement is true, -and I believe it is.  Why do we have to use “Fear,” “Manipulation” and “The Wow Factor” to win people to Christ?  And why are we failing to effectively communicate the Gospel Message?  WHY???  I strongly believe that this is a question worth asking and a question worth wrestling with.

I also believe that the answer to this question will go a long way towards answering the questions that some of my friends and colleagues are asking in Sullivan, Indiana.  Furthermore, I simply cannot stop myself from asking this question:  “What would Jesus do if he was living in Sullivan Indiana and a few spiritually, emotionally and sexually confused kids were planning to attend the high school prom?”  How big of a deal would He make out of?  How many fireworks would He set off? How many bridges would He burn?  How many relationships would He sacrifice?

Well, this post has grown long enough.  I will finish discussing Evangelism and make an attempt at answering my tough questions in my next post.  However, I would love to hear your comments and thoughts below.

The Basic Elements of the Church: Discipleship

So I get home from work yesterday and we all take our seats in the dining room as we prepare to eat dinner together; this is our daily routine.  During the course of eating our simple meal, sandwiches,  my 13-year-old daughter asked a question; I am not sure of the exact question but it was something like, “Why is it wrong for a man and a woman to live together before they get married?” She then quickly followed that question up with “What if they are not ‘doing anything’ though?” I could have easily gotten angry at my daughter for asking a question that challenged my Christian values.  Believe me, she knows my position on that issue.  I could have told my wife, “That’s it, we’re home schooling our children or sending them to a Christian school!”  This question coming from my 13-year-old daughter should have threatened my wife and I, right?  -But, it didn’t.  We have carefully constructed an environment in our home where questions can be asked.  What occurred after my daughter’s question was a meaningful 30 minute discussion as we ate our meal.  We discussed boundaries, healthy relationships, why my wife and I instituted certain rules in our home and even why Amy and I have set certain limits for ourselves in relationships with others from the opposite sex in order to protect our marriage.  It gave us a relevent opportunity to share God’s plan in marriage, why husbands and wives are to cling to each other and unfortunately, what happens when they don’t.  While the initial conversation only lasted 30 minutes during dinner, there were follow-up questions that lasted until we went to bed.  You see, my daughter’s question presented the perfect opportunity to explain our Christian values and to express to her and our other two children why God’s plan for our lives is best.  -This is called parenting; it could also be called “Discipleship.”  And no matter what you call it, it requires time, it requires patience, it requires grace, it requires Truth and it requires relationship.  There are no shortcuts.

“Our pastor has decided that discipleship is not his ‘thing.’  We have just decided to focus on having a great Sunday morning service with a large crowd; this is what we are good at.”  -This comment was made by the senior associate pastor of the largest church in our two state conference of the denomination that had sponsored me to plant a church.  His church was a ten-year old church plant that served as “the model” for the other churches in the conference.  The conference leadership saw potential in me and offered to help mold me and my church plant into a “successful church.”  But, comments like the one quoted above caused me to pull away and question their recipe for “success.”  Before long, we realized that we were not on the same page and we parted ways.

Discipleship… the great failure in the modern American Church.  Why do we have such a hard time with this?  Sometimes when I think about it, it absolutely blows my mind.  How can someone go to church their entire life, sit under thousands of hours of preaching and teaching -and still be a baby Christian?  Why do so many Christians stumble in regards to the basic principles of the faith?  If Jesus really is the answer, why do most church people live no differently than those who are still “of this world?”  I want to be very clear here; I am NOT talking about being legalistic, religious or churchy.  I am simply talking about living a life where it is clear to those around us that we are not “of this world” and that our Father is not “of this world.”  If we would get brutally honest with ourselves we would have to admit that much of American christianity puts a “churchy” facade in front of a worldly life.  This is why people are leaving the church in droves.  They are simply not getting anything out of it and do not feel compelled to “play our game.”

So how does effective discipleship play in with all of this?  First off, I would be an extremely arrogant guy if I thought I had all the answers.  -I know I do not have all the answers, but I do feel like I have discovered a few clues to effective discipleship over the years.  The words of St John echo in my ears, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” and “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  So do Jesus’ last verbal instructions to us: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.”

If we were to write a mathematical equation for effective discipleship, I think it would look something like this:

(“Relationship with God” + “Relationships with Each Other”) X (Grace + Truth) = DISCIPLESHIP.

Healthy relationships are the foundation for discipleship.  No relationships, no discipleship.  How many healthy disciples have you met who were “not” in relationships with others?  I would venture to say, “zero.”  We were designed for relationship, we were created for relationship; calling yourself a mature disciple without being in relationship is like calling yourself a parent when you do not have any children.  The statement is simply absurd and foolish.  Jesus calls us to be in relationship with Him as we follow Him AND He does not call us to follow Him “alone.”  However, healthy relationships do need boundaries.

So… as we follow Jesus, and enter into a relationship with Him and each other, God’s Word gives us basic relational principles to follow.  God basically says, “If you want to be in relationship with Me and your fellow-man, here are the spiritual principles (-or the Truth) you must practice.”  Please note, Truth is not “the law,” John made a definite differentiation between the two. God’s Truth has the power to literally transform us; it is not a rule, but a gateway to life.  God also knows that we are incapable receiving Truth, yielding to it and following it on our own, so He graciously extended His grace towards us in Jesus.  As a result, Grace and Truth come through Jesus -as we commune with Him.  The transfer of Truth takes place via relationship, through our relationships with God -and each other.  It is a heavenly transaction that perpetually takes place as we all follow Jesus.

Jesus taught in the synagogues and to the masses, but most of His time was spent in smaller groups and in one on one atmospheres.  Thus, He gave of Himself more relationally than corporately. In addition, the example that Jesus set for us was just as much about the model as it is the actually words that came out of His mouth.  You will never catch Jesus saying, “Do what I say, but not what I do.”  No just the opposite, He served as a model for every single one of His teachings. He never asked us to do a single thing that He had not already done Himself.  He served, He gave, He trusted the Father, He sacrificed and He took the time for authentic relationship with His disciples.  He Knew them -and they knew Him.  This was the discipleship model that Jesus used.  It was not a program; it was a way of life.  Discipleship is just as much about modeling the Truth as it is about teaching the Truth.  We fail at discipleship because we do not follow Jesus’ model.

Therefore, our journey of discipleship unfolds as we commune with Jesus and each other & follow His teachings together.  Discipleship does not happen by sitting in a corporate service and listening to hours and hours of teaching and preaching.  I have nothing against the preaching and teaching of God’s word.  In fact, I like listening to God’s word preached and taught when it is done well -and I am actually pretty good at doing that myself.  However, I have realized that our best preaching and teaching is insufficient for discipleship when it is isolated from healthy relationships.  Relationships are key to discipleship, relationships in the home, relationships in the Church and relationships outside of the four walls of the local church building.

So then, why is the American church failing so miserably at discipleship?  I think the main reason is because we have believed the lie that we can make discipleship happen on Sunday mornings -in a crowd.  If the music is good enough, if the preaching is good enough, if the facilities are good enough, if the programs are tweaked enough, if the atmosphere is “just right” then discipleship will “magically” happen.  We can have our cake, eat it too and make it taste very good.  The problem is: discipleship is not happening.  The American church is shrinking and the people who call themselves “Christians” are less and less mature disciples.  Our mindset of, “If we can just get Sally to church on Sunday, she will be OK.” is flawed.  Most of the time, Sally is not affected by our church service alone.  Sure, she might get excited every now and then, but the excitement and emotionalism wears off.  What Sally really needs is Christian relationship; Sally needs to be discipled.  Furthermore, after experiencing what we have to offer on Sunday morning, Sally does not feel compelled to buy in to our churchy facade and “play the game” with us.  Sally has better things to do.  -I talk to people like “Sally” almost everyday.  Most of them are polite, but in a nutshell this is what they are saying.

If I really thought having a great Sunday service was the answer, I would drop everything I am doing, recruit a core group of talented people and plant an attractional church as soon as possible.  I would recruit, plug away and build.  We would have the best music, the best preaching, and the best children and youth programs; then we would build the best facility in town.  People would come, it is a proven model.  If done right, you can have yourself a mini megachurch in about ten years.  –Been there, done that, know how to do it -but walked away from it all.  Why, you ask?  Because I have seen the fruits of it first hand, in multiple environments.  I have become convinced that a Sunday morning performance in front of hundreds of people is not the answer to making disciples.  And Jesus called me to make disciples not build “c”hurches.  “Sally” will not be helped by this -and the hard statistics prove it.  Do we get that?  WHAT WE ARE DOING IS NOT WORKING!!! Can we get that through our thick skulls???  If we want different results, if we want disciples, if we want authentic Christianity as it was designed by God to be, if we really want to help people, we must do something different.

Our corporate worship services create the problem for us.  We want to use them as a foundation in the Church and stack everything else on top of them.  Our corporate services are supposed to be the big thing that attracts people to our churches.  We use them as the “connecting point.”  Therefore the majority of our energy and resources are directed towards this weekly event.  Do you see the problem? Discipleship comes with authentic relationships; discipleship happens in smaller groups.  You don’t get that in the corporate service.  If you attend a church that has more than 100 people, stop and ask yourself a question, “When was the last time you had a meaningful conversation with your pastor?” -Stop and think about it.  Not a quick question about an issue or detail in the church, not just shaking a hand at the back door with a few short comments, but a meaningful conversation about something in your life or theirs.  Then think about this, “the Kingdom of God is built on relationships.”  Does your pastor even “know” you?  Do the people at your church really “know” you? If the Church is supposed to be your spiritual family, shouldn’t more than a few people in your church really “know” you?  Do even a few people “know” you?

In addition, huge problems are caused by the money, power and personalities that are involved in most large churches.  I will save that discussion for a later post, if needed.  Just please notice, Jesus refused to accumulate power and money in His earthly ministry.  He refused to involve Himself in politics.  He knew the problems these foreign elements would bring to His Kingdom. Remember He said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.”  Money, power, politics and egos often create large religious institutional machines where the value of the individual person is lost and authentic relationships are under valued. It is very easy to “throw people away” in these systems. The institution is valued more than the individual person.

The symptoms of the real problem are all over the place, pastors throwing away church people, churches throwing away pastors.  Pastors throwing away other pastors. Church hopping is rampant.  Why???  I thought these people were family? The lack of accountability of pastors, church leaders and church members, failing marriages, corrupt leadership, secret agendas, positioning for power, begging and manipulating God’s people for money to pay salaries and build large elaborate buildings that we think we need because we compete with the world -all symptoms of weak dysfunctional relationships and shallow discipleship:  –Just because these dysfunctional elements have become “normal”does not mean they are right -or justified.  Christian relationship in the church has been replaced with politics; then we wonder why the unchurched are not interested in what we have to offer them.  Do you actually blame them?  Seriously, do you really???  Honestly I don’t; frankly, I am embarrassed for us. -And a good performance on Sunday morning does not make any of this ok.  WE NEED TO REPENT!

The current system does not promote discipleship; it promotes… -well, it promotes what we have now.  Call it whatever you like.  Relationship and discipleship go hand in hand and are the first two of the three core elements of the church; they are the elemental glue that holds a healthy church together.  If we are not getting them right, then we must stop and ask ourselves some hard questions -and then seek answers.  This is exactly what I am doing right now in my own life and on this blog.

-Again, constructive comments are welcomed and appreciated.

Discovering Indiana Gumbo: a few thoughts from my weekend retreat

From Wikipedia: “Gumbo is often used as a metaphor for the mix of cultures that exist in southern Louisiana. The dish combines the culinary practices of French, Spanish, native tribes, and African slaves, as well as Italians and Germans. In the 18th and 19th centuries, people from these cultures lived together within a fairly small area with minimal mobility. This fostered an environment in which cultures could influence each other and meld to create new traditions and cuisine.”

About once a year I spend a weekend hanging out with some people who have become very good friends. Years ago I would have never believed that I could spend an entire weekend with such a motley crew. These friends come from all walks of life, with various religious backgrounds, levels of education, occupations and personalities. When you stop and think about it you quickly realize that we are all very different, yet we are so incredibly the same. We all get together in a secluded area in west central Indiana. Not at a hotel or resort area with five star amenities, but at a campground with little more than the necessities; -we don’t mind it though.

We always invite new friends to come and join us on these weekends. As a matter of fact, the primary purpose of the entire get-together is to be a blessing to these new friends. They are often very apprehensive about attending our little retreat. They arrive nervous and curiously anticipating what could possibly happen during this pilgrimage. Many of these “new friends” have heard stories of those who have attended the retreats before whose lives have been changed and transformed. And just as I did on my first weekend, they wonder how this “transformation” could happen in such a humble atmosphere? And more importantly, could it happen to them? To complicate matters, those of us who are veterans of these weekend pilgrimages are not to quick to share all the details of what actually happens. We tell our “new friends” that the veil of secrecy is kept in order to make their weekend as special as possible. And on Sunday evenings, they almost always return to their lives different from when they arrived on Thursday evening. As a result, many of us return in order to help provide the same opportunity for others. And although those of us who return do so to joyfully serve and give, we actually receive much more than we could ever possibly give back during the weekend.

There is so much more I could say about these retreats, about this extended family and how God has used them in my life, however I seriously doubt that I could ever find adequate words to express their worth to me and thousands of others. In addition, it must be stressed that the people who participate in these weekends are imperfect and they know it. We are not anyone special, and we know it. Those who participate in this community are simple ordinary people who just happen to love God, each other and their neighbors -a lot. We are Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Catholics, Non-denominationals and any other Christian denomination in between. Yet we come together, set our religious differences aside and love one other. Participating in such a diverse yet unified community has profoundly affected me. God has revealed Himself -and His ways to me through these experiences and He continues to use these weekends to teach me what His Church is supposed to look like. -It looks so much different from what I once thought.

Those of you who follow this blog know that I am often critical of “the Church” in the U.S. I try hard to stay positive but my frustration often shows. Being a part of this community encourages me. These weekends give me hope. Again, I want to stress that this motley crew is full of ordinary imperfect people, just as I am ordinary and imperfect. But it seems that those of us who participate have made a conscious decision to love each other -and others despite their imperfections and differences. God honors that decision to love -and it creates an atmosphere that is simply indescribable. Being from southeast Louisiana, it has always been very difficult to find good gumbo here in central Indiana. However, I do believe I have found it here after all.

The Basic Elements of the Church: Relationships

We were created by God to know and to be known, -by Him and each other.

Matthew 22:34-40 But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Our Relationship with God:

“Legalism is not your answer, correct doctrine or politics is not your answer, a euphoric feeling is not your answer, a man on a stage -or a TV screen is not your answer, the answer you are looking for will only be found in having a relationship with God through His Son Jesus.”

Why did God create us anyway? If you haven’t, please stop and think about that. -Go ahead, I’ll wait………

Did God create us just to be His servants? or robots? or His pets??? I believe the whole of scripture tells us the love story of a God who “created us in His image” so that He could “know us.” -So that we could we could know Him. After all, Jesus once defined eternal life as “knowing God.” Yes! The God of the universe wants us to know Him. God created us. God loves us. Despite our sin, God has been very patience with us. God humbled Himself and became a man for us. Jesus died for us -to redeem us. The Holy Spirit pursues us. The Holy Spirit indwells and empowers us. And Jesus is coming back for us.

I think just about any Christian with good spiritual common sense and an elementary understanding of the Bible would agree with those Truths. All of these Truths point to a very simple theological fact: God wants an intimate relationship with us. And as Keith Green would say, “He wants more than Sundays and Wednesday nights.” God wants to be a vital part of our everyday lives. He wants His presence to be “real” in our lives, just as real as the presence of our spouses, children, parents and close friends. The foundational element of the Church should be our relationship with Him; this is exactly why Jesus calls the Church His “Bride.” Our Groom is passionate about His relationship with us. -And He wants us to be passionate about our relationship with Him.

Furthermore in regards to worship, authentic worship is born out of authentic relationship. How could we ever worship a God that we simply did not know? How could we ever fully give ourselves in authentic worship to a God who we refused to trust as our Anchor, -for everything in our lives? Music -and talented worship leaders can certainly facilitate a worship experience, but authentic worship demands the depth of a relationship. Therefore, as our relationship with God matures, how could we ever “not” worship Him? As a believer matures, worship should be an almost automatic response to God working in their lives. Authentic worship is a natural fruit of an authentic relationship with God. I fear we are, at times, attempting to “induce” worship in our church services -rather than facilitating it. My concern is that there is often a stronger connection to the music and those leading it, than there is to God.

In the end, the above Truth must escape our doctrinal statements, church website verbiage & blogs and be driven as an anchor to tether our church culture. Our churches should not be anchored with talented ministers, beautiful buildings, emotional worship experiences, the traditions of man, financial wealth, innovative programs or even well established “correct doctrine.” While all these things are “good,” we begin to worship them (rather than God) when they are used to anchor the Church. When our relationships with God are not anchoring the foundations of our churches, all types of perversions are possible -from extreme legalism, to ultra liberalism and almost any perversion in between; “balance” is lost. Unfortunately, this point can be easily proven by running a Google search on “church scandals.” Please note that these scandals are not limited to any particular denomination or doctrinal group; they are equal opportunity byproducts that appear across all veins of Christianity. Our churches must be anchored by living, breathing, authentic relationships with God through His Son Jesus. –Absolutely nothing else can replace this.

Our Relationships with One Another:

“How much visiting do you have to do?” and “I just want to preach.” -These are two phrases that I have often heard from other pastors over the years. I restate these quotes here because I think they illustrate our problem with relationships between each other in the Church. The Church in our culture has been reduced to sitting in large rooms and auditoriums, participating in corporate worship and listening to teaching/preaching for a few hours per week. I love to preach and I love hearing good preaching and teaching. I love to worship God corporately and I don’t mind listening to talented worshipers, worship God. I am even OK with there being somewhat of an “entertainment value” in a worship service; I do not think God wants church services to be boring. BUT, if we call a group of people seated in a building with worship music and preaching: “having church,” we have got major problems. Please pardon my bluntness, but calling that the Church is like calling a man and a women lying in bed together “a marriage.” While we should like and enjoy what happens in the bedroom, it does not make a healthy marriage by itself; -divorce statistics clearly demonstrate that sex is not enough to make a healthy marriage. I would never settle for a wife that just showed up at my house a few hours per week. Frankly, I am looking for something deeper; I want to share my life with someone. Jesus expects nothing less from His Bride. The Church is the people; the Church is people loving each other and participating in relationship. I am sorry friends, but that does not happen during a Sunday morning worship service in a large room or auditorium in the midst of a crowd.

Christian relationship happens when love, time, grace, truth, sacrifice and people intersect. When “life” rubs up against “life;” in other words, when we get to know each other. -And we make a decision to put up with each other, -even though we “know” each other! Another word could almost be used here, “family.” Seems like we may have heard that word used in the Bible a few times when God’s people are described. No matter how elaborate the building, how good the music or how entertaining the teaching and preaching is, it simply cannot serve as an adequate substitute for relationship. As messy as the process might be, there is no substitute for “life rubbing up against life.” Jesus modeled this principle HImself by sharing His earthly life with His disciples and spending much less time with the crowds. He could have catered to the crowds, but He knew better. Who are we to think that our strategy is better than His? Jesus focused on authentic relationships that had true depth. Therein lays the beauty of the Church; and therein lays Her power –when we learn to love each other as God’s love is revealed to us.

In addition, our pursuits for numerical growth and “success” in our churches often overshadow our pursuit of “relationship” with God and each other. Then when we become successful, we no longer “need” God or each other. Often times, we sacrifice these relationships in the process of becoming “successful.” As a result, at a certain point we belittle God to His place in our doctrinal statement, written core values and Sunday rhetoric and we throw each other away. (Please note my use of the word “we.” I include myself in these allegations.) I have been in the ministry for 17 years and I have personally watched this scenario play out multiple times, in multiple groups and in multiple denominations; it is simply the nature of “the system.” *This would not happen if “relationships” were the core element and deeply driven anchor of the local church. We do not “belittle” or “throw away” those who we dearly love and authentically care about. Do Jesus’ Words in Matthew 22 make better sense now?

And He said, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Relationship is not everything; but everything hangs on relationship. Without proper relationships, the Church predestines itself to be much, much less than what God designed Her to be.

We were created by God to know and to be known, -by Him and each other…

My Story of Spiritual Abuse

Spiritual Abuse

Hello, my name is Eric and I was a victim of spiritual abuse.

Writing this post is one of final steps that I am taking towards the completion of my healing in this long and painful journey. The abuse started when I was approximately twenty years old.  I did not fully understand that I had been spiritually abused until recently -in the past 12 to 24 months.  I am thirty-five years old now and I have decided to openly share my story.

To begin to understand what spiritual abuse is and how it affects a person, we must first define it.  The following definition and description came from Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritual_abuse

Spiritual abuse is a serious form of abuse which occurs when a person in religious authority or a person with a unique spiritual practice misleads and maltreats another person in the name of God or church or in the mystery of any spiritual concept. Spiritual abuse often refers to an abuser using spiritual or religious rank in taking advantage of the victim’s spirituality (mentality and passion on spiritual matters) by putting the victim in a state of unquestioning obedience to an abusive authority.

Spiritual abuse is the maltreatment of a person in the name of God, faith, religion, or church, whether habitual or not, and includes any of the following:

-Psychological and emotional abuse

-Any act by deeds or words that demean, humiliate or shame the natural worth and dignity of a person as a human being

-Submission to spiritual authority without any right to disagree; intimidation

-Unreasonable control of a person’s basic right to make a choice on spiritual matters

-False accusation and repeated criticism by negatively labeling a person as disobedient, rebellious, lacking faith, demonized, apostate, enemy of the church or God

-Prevention from practicing faith

-Isolation or separation from family and friends due to religious affiliation

-Exclusivity; dismissal of an outsider’s criticism and labeling an outsider as of the devil

-Withholding information and giving of information only to a selected few

-Conformity to a dangerous or unnatural religious view and practice

-Hostility that includes shunning, (relational aggression, parental alienation) and persecution

Despite the comparative frequency of spiritual abuse, those types of behavior and actions which are today classified as spiritual abuse can be seen to be prohibited in the major texts and scriptures of numerous religious traditions. Indeed, in the Christian Bible, spiritually abusive behavior is condemned as being one of the worst forms of sin due to its capacity to diminish or even to destroy an individual’s relationship with God.

As I think back on my relationship with the pastor who abused me, I can remember what should have been one of the first “red flags”.  I was 19 years old and the pastor was around 25.  I had just surrendered to my calling into the ministry in the church that he was pastoring.  We were having a conversation regarding someone who he considered to be “a problem church member” that was not submitting to his authority. It was one of his extended family members, this made the situation even more difficult for him to handle.  I remember him telling me, “Paul should respect me; Paul should honor me!  I am the pastor!  When I tell Paul to jump; he should just ask me, ‘How high?’” Paul was a retired man in his early seventies; the young pastor was in his mid-twenties.

When I began to follow the pastor who abused me, I would have bet my life that something like this would NEVER happen to me.  I have always had a strong and independent personality and I was convinced that this pastor was a sincere man who really loved God.  I still believe that, in his mind, he still loves God and people. -In a way, he too is a victim of his own spiritual abuse.  I was a faithful follower for well over ten years.  During that time he was the primary influence in my life.  Furthermore, I believe that since he took me under his wing at such a young and vulnerable age, I was impacted by the spiritual abuse in a more profound way.  

For much of my time under him, I hung on every word that he said. In a lot of ways he began to control my life.  For most of those years I was on staff at a church we had planted and had the “honor” of being considered one of his closest confidants.  The fact that I got so close to him is what finally allowed me to eventually realize that he was spiritually abusing me, and others.  Over time, I began to have trouble reconciling his behavior with what he was preaching and teaching from the pulpit.  His sermons sounded so good…  and so right, but what I observed from the fruits of his life began to contradict his sermons.  Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them.”  Keep in mind, drawing a large crowd and growing a large church was not the good fruit Jesus was talking about.  There have been many, many people throughout human history who were talented enough to draw large crowds, but whose lives were not producing the fruits that Jesus spoke of.  

The contrast between his actions and the entirety of the teachings of Christ is what finally brought me to the point of understanding what was actually happening.  I must admit that it was a very long and confusing process.  I can still listen to his sermons to this day and be tempted to think that everything is “just in my head.”  This is just part of the deception of “spiritual abuse.”   I have wrestled with writing this blog post for some time; the deception that surrounds everyone involved in a situation like this is what finally motivated me to complete this post and make it public.

It is very embarrassing to admit this, but my mind really got messed up while I was under this man’s influence.  I remember really wanting to leave the church multiple times but slipping deeper and deeper into it all at the same time.  By the time I was in my late twenties, I began to question this man to his face in private meetings regarding the decisions he was making. Reasonable questions mainly regarding the diversification of church government and the simple fact that I wanted to leave the church.  Every time I would question him the conversations would get more intense. We could never agree to disagree; he was adamant that I always see it his way and conform to his way of thinking.  And He would make me feel like I was going against God when I questioned him.  I loved God with all my heart and the last thing I wanted to do was rebel against Him, so I would end up cowering to the abusive pastor every time.  

In the last few years that I was under him, there were many times when I was in emotional agony; there are simply no other words to describe how I felt.  I would go for long walks trying to sort things out.  I would lie in bed at night and wrestle with why things were the way they were.  I would work very long hours at the church attempting to prove my loyalty to my pastor and God.  I guess deep down, I was still attempting to seek acceptance from him.  I was looking for a “pat on the back.”  I needed a “pat on the back” from him.  It all sounds so “sick” now as I think back on those days.

I tried to leave the church many times, but he always was able to talk me out of it.  I had been on part-time staff working full time hours.  Between the church and my full time secular job I was working well over 80 hours per week some weeks.  I almost always worked 60+ hours every week. I remember just wanting out. By that time, I had a career outside of the church but somehow he was able to keep me in the flock.  I never understood how he managed that until I learned about what spiritual abuse is and how it affects the abused person.

Finally in 2005 after a major building project, I was completely burnt out.  I had run myself down so much physically that I was literally physically sick.  I remember staying sick for well over a month.  I approached the pastor and explained that I could not keep working the schedule that I had been working.  I still remember the meeting; he was so emotionless and cold as I described my condition.  He agreed to “allow me” to back off.  By this time I was not a stupid kid anymore; I knew that if I took my hands off of all the things in the church that I had been doing that it would begin to unravel.  So, I did. After just a few months things were beginning to unravel and he was forced to put me on staff full-time.  Well, he got my wife and I both full-time at the full-time pay for one person -without any benefits or health insurance.  I left a promising and successful secular career to become full-time at this church.  Why? I think that decision illustrates what spiritual abuse can do to a person’s decision making abilities.  Looking back on it now I think, WHAT WAS I THINKING!?!  –But at the time, it seemed to make perfect sense.  I thought becoming full-time at the church would solve all of the problems.  And the sick fact was that I did desire to be closer to the person who was abusing me.  Plus, there was the glamor of being in full-time ministry, right? Somehow in my warped mind, my wife and I becoming full-time at the church made perfect sense, so I quit my secular job.

Within a few months it was obvious that I made an awful decision.  After we became full-time, he thought he owned us!  The abyss between what he said from behind the pulpit and what I observed by watching him became simply un- reconcilable.  During this time, I began to lose respect for him. BUT, my mind was still warped.  I did not understand what spiritual abuse was and I was not aware of the dynamics that were happening inside the church and inside my own mind.  I was hurt, confused and in emotional turmoil.  But, I still felt a need to submit to him, to honor him, to be loyal to him and most importantly to protect and defend him.  –Even though I was beginning to lose respect for him.  Yes, I was a mess!

The breaking point was in a meeting in late of 2005.  My wife and I (and others) had worked our backsides off preparing for a harvest festival that was to be held at the church.  We had literally worked 70 to 80 hour weeks in the few weeks leading up to the festival.  It was a BIG production that required a lot of work.  In addition, the board members of the church had decided to hold a pastor’s appreciation dinner to honor the pastor on the prior Sunday.  The other associate pastor and I coached the board members through putting the dinner together.  All in all, my wife and I thought the dinner went well. The following Monday the pastor held a meeting with the other associate pastor and I. He verbally wore us out.  I cannot remember all of the specifics of the meeting.  I remember him saying that he wished we would have just given “him” a check for the money that was spent on the pastor’s appreciation dinner rather than having the dinner.  He also said that he felt “dishonored” by the dinner.  In addition, he scolded the other pastor and me for our work habits even though we were both working over forty hours per week.  Even my emotionally warped mind knew something was terribly wrong with this unhealthy church environment.  I had never been treated so poorly by a supervisor, much less my pastor.  I went home that day and told my wife we were leaving.  From that day forward I began to plot our way out.

I knew when the pastor found out that we were leaving that he would do whatever he could to stop us.  I also knew that when he realized that he was not able to stop us that he would do his best to cut us off from our church family and He did.  There were meetings held behind our backs.  He told the staff and the church board that he knew we were going to fail on our next ministry endeavor.  The night that it was announced to the church that we were leaving, we were not even allowed to be in the room.  STILL, my mind was warped; I did not fully understand what was going on. He did everything he needed to do to make our departure look “OK” publicly, but what happened in private was a different story.   I went along with everything and never uttered a single negative word against him to anyone in the church.  I “honored” him throughout the entire process.

This man who had called himself one of my best friends, and “my spiritual father” quickly kicked us to the curb.  When he found out that we wanted to plant another church, he gave me six weeks to get out.  As a matter of fact, I was vacated out of my office within a few weeks and forced to use the sound booth in the youth building for an office the last month I was on staff.  He would have kicked us out sooner, but he needed us to wrap some things up and train others to do what we were doing. We also had a big Easter drama planned and I was the only one who knew how to operate all of the sound and video equipment.  Keep in mind that I had faithfully served him for over six years in the current church working full time hours at very part time pay for over five of those years.  None of that mattered; I was no longer useful to him.  On my last day in the office, he did not even get up from behind his desk when I left. No embrace, no handshake, absolutely nothing but coldness. Even after everything that had happened, I was still absolutely stunned and deeply hurt. –But still making excuses for him.

Our way out of the abusive situation was church planting.  We moved 725 miles away to plant a church in Terre Haute, Indiana.  Moving away was the best decision we could have ever made. We decided to move because I did not want to plant a church locally.  I knew it would be a mess if I did.  I also just wanted to get away from the situation; there was so much hurt and confusion.  Keep in mind even at this point, I still honored this man.  I still defended this man.  In the year after we moved to Indiana, people from my former church would call me and complain to me about the things he was doing and I would STILL defend this pastor.  I would still make excuses for him.  The reason why I would never publicly address the situation or acknowledge the problems were because I still believed that God was using him and directing him.  I did not want to have a rebellious spirit.   I was also still praying and hoping that he would see his errors and repent.  I truly believed that he eventually would.

How did I come to the realization that I had been spiritually abused?  That’s a good question.  When we left the abusive situation, we had no idea we were being spiritually abused.  In fact, we did not even know what spiritual abuse was.  I guess back then, if someone would have asked me what spiritual abuse was, I would have thought it happened only in extreme cult cases like David Koresh or Jim Jones. Obviously our situation was not nearly as extreme.  I would have never connected myself to spiritual abuse.  I was too smart and too strong to be a victim of something like that.  Yeah, right…  My first clue was a conversation that I had with the pastor of the church in Indiana that “mothered” our new church plant.  I remember telling him in a conversation that he was my “new “pastor and therefore I was submitting my ministry and church plant to him.  (Not submitting to the church, but to him personally.) I remember the look on his face after I said that.  He had a puzzled look and did not quite know what to say.  We moved on to other conversation, but I remember that awkward moment; it stuck in my head for some time.

As with all of us who follow Jesus, I was not perfect either and God was leading me through a process to break my pride and arrogance and to bring me to a place of deeper surrender to Him.  He used my church planting experience to break me down and to deliver me from my arrogance and pride.  In the midst of that process, I began to build relationships with other pastors at God’s direction.  I began attending a weekly pastors’ prayer group, having lunch with other pastors and attending and then working in spiritual retreats called “Emmaus Walks.”  The more I got around more experienced and healthy pastors, the more I began to realize that things “weren’t right” in me and in my past.  I began to address these things as God brought them up in my spirit.  

During this season of my life, I wanted nothing more than to completely surrender my life and ministry to God.  As I began to deal with my own spiritual “unhealthiness,” it became apparent to me that I had learned these behaviors from my former pastor.  After all, he had started “mentoring” me when I was 18 and he had declared himself my “spiritual father.”  I addressed him on a few different occasions; once by phone and another time by letter.  My hopes were for repentance (on both sides) and complete restoration; the results of my attempts were completely the opposite.  My attempts at communication were private; his responses were made publicly from behind his bully pulpit.

Through this process I realized that I still had an unhealthy emotional connection with this man.  After everything that had happened, I still yearned for the relationship to be reconciled.  I realized that my emotions and my spirit had been damaged by this unhealthy relationship and church experience.  I did not know what to call it, but I knew something was not right in me.  It only took about thirty minutes of research one evening to learn the name of what had happened to my wife and me, “spiritual abuse.”  

At that point I began to stop making excuses for my former pastor and I began to look at the reality of the situation. That process did not happen overnight. It probably took me a full year to completely come to terms with the fact that we had been spiritually abused.  The reality is that we were taken advantage of.  Our love for God and His people was exploited by a selfish incomplete man who manipulates people to get what he wants.  He does not truly love the sheep; he uses the sheep.  He may say he loves them; he may even think that he loves them, but his actions prove different.  Love is not proven by words; it is demonstrated in actions –as Jesus did on the cross.

Our former pastor took advantage of two young kids who loved God and him very much.  The problem was that our relationship with God grew to the point where we were able to begin to see what he was doing, to us and many others.  When we became a threat, he had to dispose of us as quickly as possible.  –After the first time I seriously questioned him in a specific but very respectful way without backing down, (on the phone from Indiana) he never made a single attempt to communicate with me again. I was focused on restoration and he was worried about disposing of us as quickly as possible.  I was still defending him and he had already started assassinating my character to protect his.

Obviously, I have had to work though un-forgiveness and bitterness with this situation.  I must confess that I experienced a season of deep bitterness.  When I realized the full reality of what had happened, I was very bitter.  I felt like the bitterness was eating me up on the inside.  I have never had cancer before, but bitterness has to be something close to it, an emotional cancer eating away at your heart.   I knew it was wrong to feel that way; I knew it was sin, but the bitterness was there anyway and I had to deal with it.  Thankfully, God, in His sovereign grace, had surrounded me with a wonderful wife & kids and new friends in Indiana who really did love me.  God used those wonderful people in conjunction with a Christian counselor to help me work through the bitterness.  I will not say it was easy, but we got through it.  And I am soooooooo thankful.  It feels so good to be healed and free; words simply cannot express how good it feels.

Our lives have changed so much over the past five years; if you have read prior entries in my blog I think it is obvious. We are almost completely different people.  Here is a quick summary:

  • We have become spiritually healthy; we have never been closer to God.
  • We have become emotionally healthy; we have learned much better boundaries in our relationships.
  • We have become physically healthy; I have lost over 100 pounds and Amy has lost over 50 pounds.
  • Our marriage and family life has never been healthier.
  • We have become financially healthy; long story, but just trust me!
  • We are free to be who God created us to be; we no longer strive to conform to what people want us to be.
  • We are enjoying fruitful ministry, on God’s terms as He leads and we love it!

So if everything is going great for us and we are no longer bitter, why write this blog post?

One of the primary characteristics of spiritual abuse is the fact that few people openly talk about it.  It is NOT a sin to talk about it.  It is NOT a sin to expose it.   It is NOT a sin to refuse to be abused.  It is NOT a sin to stand up for yourself.  The spiritual abuser is the perpetrator; not the person who is being abused.

I wrote this post because I wanted those of you who are struggling with this type of abuse to know that you are not alone.  My wife and I struggled with this, for so long.  We did not have anyone to talk to, for so long.  We thought we were the problem, for so long. We cowered in fear, shame and confusion, for so long. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

The complication and confusion associated with this type of abuse is simply amazing.  As I said earlier, I can still listen to some (not all) of this man’s sermons and doubt that the abuse ever took place.  He is such a gifted preacher and he sincerely means what he is saying in regards to loving God and loving people.  However, there most definitely is a disconnect between his sermons and some of his actions. If you look closely, his ministry is littered with the broken relationships to prove it.

As my wife says, “Lies are still lies no matter how loudly they are being shouted from a bully pulpit and no matter how many people in the audience believe them.”  You are not alone and there are godly loving pastors and godly loving churches out there that will love you and minister to you in the way that Jesus instructed. They may not present you with a dog and pony show every Sunday morning, but they will love you and minister to you. If you are one who has been spiritually abused, is being spiritually abused or is at risk of being spiritually abused, my prayer is that you would realize just how much God loves you.  He loved you so much that he sent His Son to die in your place on the cross.  And, the God who loves YOU that much does not want you to be taken advantage of or spiritually abused by anyone.  Spiritual abuse is not God’s will for your life!

A Few Thoughts about “My New Girl Friend” …and Community

Yesterday evening I wanted to get a lot accomplished after leaving work.  We have been working hard finishing up a kitchen and diningroom remodel on our new house.  I really wanted to complete the electrical work before the weekend as we had invited friends over this evening and tomorrow.  In addition, I wanted to get the grass cut before Isaac visited us.  Cutting the grass was somewhat more complicated than you might think as I was still waiting for my new garden tractor to be delivered.  So my “to do” list was as follows: receive delivery of the new tractor, (AKA “my new girl friend” as my wife has labeled it) mow the yard and complete the electrical in the kitchen.  -Completing the electrical in the kitchen would have made for a full evening by itself.

I had my evening all planned out and was on task.  I stopped at Starbucks and got myself a venti of Pikes Place to hop-up on caffeine and began working on the electrical -as I waited for the Husqvarna dealer to deliver “my new girl friend.” After half an hour or so the dealer arrived and I walked outside to greet him.  Now you must understand that the local Husqvarna dealer is a very friendly person, and his wife came with him as well.  Amy eventually came outside; I saw the perfect storm developing before my eyes.  A looooooong conversation broke out.  I think we identified the species of EVERY tree, shrub and blade of grass in our front yard.  AND he thoroughly informed me of everything I ever wanted to about my new tractor, plus a lot more. The conversation continued on and I knew “my time” was expiring quickly.

In the middle of all the conversation as I was thinking about my “to do” list, the Holy Spirit gently reminded me of something.  We are created for community; we are created for relationship.  As we all stood in our front yard, chatting and admiring God’s creation -and thus God Himself, we were literally fulfilling God’s purpose in creating us.  God did not create us to merely sell & deliver garden tractors, replace old electrical receptacles, hang new lighting fixtures and have “affairs” with yard equipment; He created us for relationship.  -To know, and to be known by Him and each other.  After that subtle reminder, I yielded to “my purpose” and engaged fully in the conversation. I am glad that I did.

After forty-five minutes or so, the dealer and his wife left.  It was already beginning to get dark so I quickly hopped on my brand new mower and quickly cut most of the yard using the headlights; I did not get much time to admire her “power and beauty.”  I then quickly returned to the kitchen to finish my electrical project. I finished everything but one light fixture.  It was late and I knew I did not have the patience left to tackle that final light fixture…  So, we gave in and went to bed around midnight.  Then, this morning I “miraculously” woke up an hour early.  As I laid in bed, wide awake and feeling refreshed, guess what I thought about? I had just enough time to hang that last light fixture.  ; )

I try my very best NOT to over spiritualize things; I think “church people”  are often guilty of that.  However I do believe that when we yield to “our purpose” and stop hanging out with “our mistresses,” we find new strength, refreshment and productivity.  God has reminded me of that Truth this morning.

The Power of “the Present”

I remember back when I was 19 and a freshman in college, I had a part-time job working in a supermarket distribution warehouse –in the produce & dairy area.  The job consisted of 3 nights per week working 10 to 12 hour shifts in a refrigerated building.  Sometimes the cold moist air felt like it literally cut to the bone, obviously making for a miserable work environment.

During breaks and lunch periods, the conversation usually consisted of a group of guys complaining about the cold, griping about management decisions and wishes from all of us that the night would quickly pass by -so we could all go home.  One night, a veteran employee made a comment that has vividly stuck with me ever since.  He said something like, “Guys, I have been working here for over ten years, and I have come to the conclusion that I come here five nights per week and I wish my life away.”  I found a tremendous amount of truth in that statement.  My coworker realized the simple but profound fact that he was indeed “wishing his life away” every shift that he worked in that warehouse.  I often take that nugget of truth and apply it to my own life.  So many times we are so focused on the “next thing” and getting to it that we wish “the present” away without any thought. Two giant problems jump out to me with the above mindset:

#1 A life spent “wishing the present away” in order to get to the “next thing,” is indeed wishing our entire lives away. –except for a few fleeting moments…  What a waste.  And with a mindset like that, we just wish the “next thing” away to get to the one after that.  How depressing, when you really stop and think about it.

#2 As uncomfortable (or comfortable) as our present situation might be, God is with us and He wants to work in “the present.”  He has a purpose for “the present.”  While planning and dreaming are very important, if our eyes are always on the future we will miss what God wants to do in “the present.”  So, it is possible for us to wish God’s will and purposes away as we wish “the present” away.  In addition, we could even totally miss the “next thing” because our attention is not on “the present.” -And, “the present” WILL lead to the “next thing.”

Because of the above truths, I have adopted the phrase: “The journey IS the destination.”  This simply means that I try to live my life in such a way where I refuse to wish it away.  I want to be present in “the moment.”  I want to be available for “the moment.”  I often ask God to remind me of the power of “a moment” given over to Him, focused on His ways and will.

As I write these thoughts, I am reminded of the lyrics to one of Chris Rice’s songs, “The Power of a Moment.”  I invite you to read them below. I have often made this song my prayer.  I pray that God would continue to teach us all “the power of the present.”

 

The Power of a Moment, by Chris Rice

What am I gonna be when I grow up?

How am I gonna make my mark in history?

And what are they gonna write about me when I’m gone?

These are the questions that shape the way I think about what matters

But I have no guarantee of my next heartbeat

And my world’s too big to make a name for myself

And what if no one wants to read about me when I’m gone?

Seems to me that right now’s the only moment that matters

 

You know the number of my days

So come paint Your pictures on the canvas in my head

And come write Your wisdom on my heart

And teach me the power of a moment

The power of a moment, the power of a moment

In Your kingdom where the least is greatest

The weak are given strength and fools confound the wise

 And forever brushes up against a moment’s time

Leaving impressions and drawing me into what really matters

You know the number of my days

So come paint Your pictures on the canvas in my head

And come write Your wisdom on my heart

And teach me the power of a moment

The power of a moment, the power of a moment

 

I get so distracted by my bigger schemes

Show me the importance of the simple things

Like a word, a seed, a thorn, a nail

And a cup of cold water…

 

You know the number of my days

So come paint Your pictures on the canvas in my head

And come write Your wisdom on my heart

And teach me the power of a moment

The power of a moment, the power of, the power of, the power of a moment…

Living Life with Blinders On

Living Life with Blinders On

A few weeks ago as I was enjoying a walk around my neighborhood, I heard intense screaming and yelling coming from one of the homes. The screaming was so loud that I clearly heard it from the street. My family and I routinely take evening walks and I had never heard yelling and screaming anything like this in our neighborhood. Something was happening inside of that house.

My first thought was to just keep staring straight forward, up the street. I did not even look towards the house. – I didn’t want to be a nosy neighbor. I then thought to myself that I needed to tell my children to stay away from that part of the neighborhood for the evening, -just to be safe. BUT, the yelling and screaming troubled me. It continued and was really loud. I also thought that I had heard some “thumps” coming from the home as well; I wondered what the thumps were. As I attempted to continue my stroll, I wrestled with rather or not to do something. Many questions ran through my mind: Was there some type of violence happening in that house? Was someone being hurt? Was an innocent person being taken advantage of? Or, was I just overreacting and needed to just “mind my own business?”

There are times in our lives where we are faced with dilemmas like this one. And it seems that, in the moment, there is no clear answer. No one wants to be the nosey neighbor, busy-body or the tattle tale. I sure don’t want to be. So, most of the time we look straight ahead, with our blinders on, and move forward. We just say, “It is none of my business.” After all, that is the easiest, simplest, safest and least painful path to take –well, at least for us.

The problem with looking the other way is that, by our own lack of action, we potentially allow others to get hurt. You and I can facilitate the “hurt” and “victimization” of “others,” when we refuse to take action. Our lack of action might be the easiest thing to do at the time, but it is only the easiest thing for us. It is only safe for us. It is only less painful for us. Our choice to take the path of least resistance could potentially permit the construction of mountains of pain and grief for others.

I have never been a huge follower of Penn State or Joe Paterno. Of course, I knew of the school and the coach -and I thought that Joe Paterno’s career was remarkable. But, I never had a reason to follow either one closely. When the Sandusky story broke, I was drawn to read about it because my heart went out to the victims AND because I wondered, “How could something like this happen on such a large stage?” I couldn’t help but wonder, “If the allegations are true, how could Sandusky have gotten away with this for so long?” As we see the true story unfold, we are beginning to be able to answer those questions. And one of the key answers is: there are bad people in this world and horrible things can happen when “good” people like you and me live life with blinders on and just look the other way.

I do not want to be a nosey neighbor, a busy-body or a tattle tale. But, I have made a decision to do my best to protect the weak and to speak out when I see wrong being done to others around me. In short, I have taken my blinders off. Some might think that the blog posts that I have written in the past are too critical of the Church or of events from my past. I am not bitter; I am not seeking revenge. I really do not have an agenda –other than to share my experiences with the hopes that others can learn from them, protect themselves from unsafe situations and grow closer to God in the process.

There is a lot that I could say about the Sandusky, Joe Peterno and the Penn State situation. There are a lot of parallels that I could point out in regards to spiritual abuse: thoughts about how we protect “a man” because we think he is someone who is exceptional, thoughts about how we protect “an institution” because we want to be a part of something bigger than us, thoughts about how we protect “a legacy” and thoughts about how “we” allow people to be victimized as “we” protect these things. I could remark about how an oblong piece of leather became more important than young boys. I could expound on how the roar of the crowd on Saturday afternoons drowned out the cries of various young men. I could attempt to rationalize how all the “good” people who knew wrong things were happening could possibly just keep their mouths shut. And yes, I could point out other things but wisdom dictates that I refrain from that line of thought. –Well, at least in this post.

That evening I decided to NOT keep my mouth shut. I decided to take the risk of being called a tattle tale or a nosey neighbor. I called 911 and explained to the dispatcher what I heard. They sent a patrol car out to check on everyone in the home. I never found out what was actually happening in the house that day. All we know is that the yelling, screaming and thumping stopped. –That outcome was enough to satisfy me –and my conscience.

I pray that the next time we are confronted with similar situations; we will all be brave enough –and wise enough, to take the proper actions.

What Have I Learned From My Mistakes?

What Have I Learned From My Mistakes?

Mistakes

A while ago on a windy day, I attempted to dispose of some boxes with packaging material in them. One of the boxes contained those pesky styrofoam peanuts. As I was walking to the dumpster, I dropped the box that contained the peanuts. Well, you probably know where this is going…. Carried by the wind, the light styrofoam peanuts scattered all over the parking lot concrete. Within a few seconds, they were taken by the wind and driven hundreds of feet down the road. There was no possible way that I could gather all the peanuts and cleanup the mess that had been made.

I have been a Christian for over eighteen years and have been active in the ministry for seventeen of those years. My heart and intentions have always been to help people be reconciled to God and grow in their relationship with Him. While my motives have always been genuine, there have been many circumstances where I lacked the spiritual maturity and life experience that I needed to be the minister that others needed me to be. I made the comment to my wife a few weeks ago that I thought pastors under thirty-five had no business being lead pastors. That thought is just my humble opinion. I will turn thirty-six next week.

Sometimes I think back to my earlier days in ministry and I say to myself, “What in the world was I doing behind a pulpit on Sunday mornings at nineteen and how could responsible church leaders put me there?” It is not about the ability, giftedness or talent of preaching well. It is about the maturity that life seasons us with. It is about years passing and your relationship with God being tempered. It is about the opportunity that living life offers to have your faith, as well as your character tested by fire. I was no where near having that experience at 19, 25, or even 29 years of age when I became a lead pastor for the first time.

A month ago I finished up a season of serving as interim pastor at a wonderful church. I filled the pulpit and helped guide the congregation through the process of finding a new permanent lead pastor. It was a wonderful experience for my family and I. As I reflected on that experience, I realized that this interim pastorate was the first time I felt comfortable, completely adequate and confident to lead a group of God’s people. I knew when to speak up, I knew when to bring correction, I knew when to facilitate healing and I knew when to simply be quiet and let God work. It is not just that I had more formal training this time around, nor was it that I studied harder for my sermons and other responsibilities. No, I had just grown up a bit more. I had been through a little more stuff that life had thrown at me. I had learned how to forgive, even when it hurt -really bad. I had learned that things did not always work out like I wanted; so I did not try to force it to. I had learned that Eric does not have all the answers, so I did not pretend like I did. Eric, -had been humbled. Eric, -had been broken. And Eric, -was a better pastor for it.

As I think about those styrofoam peanuts that got scattered in the wind, I think about my first sixteen years of ministry. I think about the very first church we served in. I think about the youth group that Amy and I left after only being there for six months. And I think about the two churches we helped plant, one now on the verge of becoming a “mega-church” and the other “the little engine that could” serving in a neighborhood that is much in need of the light of Christ.

I would NEVER say that God did not use my first sixteen years of ministry, that would be foolish. However, I am grieved when I think of some of the mistakes that I made and the people that those mistakes hurt. Mistakes caused by ignorance, mistakes caused by fear, mistakes caused by selfish ambition, mistakes caused by a young man’s immaturity, mistakes caused by inexperience. -All, mistakes that were made because I had not yet learned how to be a responsible shepherd of God’s people.

The day I dropped the box of peanuts in the wind, I quickly realized that it would be impossible for me to pick them all up; the wind had taken them, the damage was done. Just as with the styrofoam peanuts, I realize that there is nothing I can do to “fix” my mistakes from the past. Most of the mistakes were made years ago and I simply cannot go back. If I were to address some of those mistakes, I would risk opening old wounds and taking that risk for the sake of easing my own conscience would be selfish on my part. Life has gone on and the winds of time have swept all of us further along on our journeys.

What I can do is say that I am sorry to anyone who I may have hurt in the past who might read this post. -I am very sorry for hurting you. I want you to know that I have not forgotten about all those mistakes that I made. I have not laughed them off or blamed them on someone else.  I take full responsibility for them. I do not make light of those mistakes and I do not make light of the pain that I might have caused you. Actually, I think about them often. I draw from that experience so that I can be the best minister, and the best shepherd that I can be. I hope you have found it in your heart to forgive me. I hope you realized that those mistakes were made by a young man whose motives were right, but who was just “in over his head.” I want you to know that God has put that young man through a process. He has been broken and he is a better person for it.

I could not pick up all those scattered styrofoam peanuts, but that experience taught me to be more mindful of the wind and more careful with the cargo. “Experience” has branded that lesson into my mind and onto my heart for the rest of my life. I will draw from it often.

Why I Failed at Church Planting

Why I Failed at Church Planting

wrong way

I led a church plant in 2006 that did not make it.  I would not call the church plant a complete failure; God used the experience to grow me as well as many others who were a part of it.  He used our small church plant and the season that we spent together in profound life altering ways.  I am very thankful for the life long relationships that were built during the six years that HealingPointe Community Church existed.  -But in the end we closed the doors, we sold the building and we all moved on in life and ministry.

As a leader, pastor and most importantly, -as a potential church planter, I had to ask myself two questions: “Where did I fail?”  “What could we have done differently?”  Understand, my purpose in writing this post is not to beat myself up or make excuses, but rather ask “healthy” questions.  Wrestling with the answers to these questions is a worth while endeavor.  Answering these questions has helped me, and I pray these answers will help other church planters as well.

So, why did I fail?

 #1 -I lacked relevant experience.  I had helped plant a “successful” church.  I could preach.  I could teach.  I had solid secular and church experience managing people.  And I had a well thought out written plan and vision.  I felt well prepared, but I was not.  I had never been a lead pastor and I had no experience starting a church and developing a core group from scratch.  -And it showed.

#2 -I was wounded.  There were serious issues in my past church experiences that I had not fully dealt with.  You can not forgive and forget, -thinking you can just walk away from a bad situation without dealing with the “stuff” that went on inside of you.  I attempted to “forgive and forget” and it all came back and haunted me.  Severely.  Jesus certainly taught us to forgive.  However, we must process, then forgive, but we will never fully forget; we are all products of our past.  This means forgiveness is a “continual” choice that we must choose to make.  And this is part of the healing process.  I just said a whole lot here; some of you need to go back and “chew” on it for awhile…  Anyway, I did not give my wounds the proper attention or allow them to heal.  -And it showed.

#3 -I was arrogant.  I think to be a good church planter you must be confident and full of faith, but there is a line that can be crossed where you step into arrogance.  I believe I crossed that line at times.  -And it showed.

#4 -I was not financially prepared -and I did not have a sound financial plan for the future.  Our financial plan was “big growth.”  The church would grow, people would give and everything would be okay.  The church did grow, at a modest rate.  People did give, some.  But during the entire time, my personal finances and credit cards took up the slack.  By the time I had a reality check, slashed the budget and financially righted the ship, I had over $30,000 in personal credit card debt.  I had a mess to clean up.  -And it showed.

#5 -We attempted a cross country parachute church plant.  We dropped into town from 725 miles away on May 28 and started public services on October 15.  On our first Sunday, I had not known a single person in the room for more than six months.  I had no “history” in the area where the church plant was.  I had not yet earned a good reputation in my new city. -And it showed.

#6 -We had a weak core group.  We did not “select” a core group.  Because of the time restraints we were under, we just took whoever we could get.  The core group sets the tone for the entire church: culture, doctrine, personality, EVERYTHING.  Simply put, our core group ended up being weak and did not fully match our vision. -It showed.

#7 -We started public worship services to soon.  We did everything too quickly.  We were a mile wide and an inch deep.  We had no depth.  The backbone of our church was a marketing campaign and the excitement of planting a new church, -not relationships between people who shared common theological values.  -It showed.

#8 -I did not have a mentor or church planting coach.  Because of the financial restraints we were under, I did not go out and hire a qualified, tried and true, experienced church planting coach/mentor.  In time, I knew I needed help but I simply did not have the money to go out and get it.  -It showed.

#9 -I invested my time in the wrong places.  I invested my time in needy people, construction projects and my sermons.  I should have been investing my time in building strong relationships with the people -and teaching them to do the same.  -It showed, and I failed them.

#10 -I expected a miracle.  I honestly expected God to “wave His magic wand” one day and make it all work.  I kept telling myself that God knew my heart.  He knew how hard I was trying.  He saw the sacrifices we were all making.  Surely He would honor what we were doing and “make something happen.” God never “waved His magic wand.”  -And it most definitely showed.

#11 -I got very stressed out.  I was at a training recently and the instructor said, “When people are in high stress situations, they do very stupid things.”  At that very moment, a few things that I did as pastor at HealingPointe finally made sense for the first time.  I finally understood why I made such stupid decisions.  Before that training, I would think back to those few years at HP and say, “What was I thinking!?!”  “I should have known better than that!!!”  And now I finally understand; I was NOT thinking straight.  I was under so much emotional, financial, relational, spiritual and self induced pressure that it was impossible for me to think clearly and make wise decisions.  Furthermore I never developed that strong core group; I never made a strong connection with a planting coach or mentor.  There was no one there to save me from my own self induced stupidity caused by stress.  -And is showed.  Boy, did it show.

By the time I began to understand the eleven mistakes I have listed above, it was to late.  I was already burned out, the people we had left were wore out and the momentum of a new and exciting church plant had ran out.  I knew the best thing I could do was step down.  After I stepped down a pastor friend who had been a part of the church attempted to keep it going, but the damage had already been done.  Within a few years we disbanded the church and sold the building.

*The impressive thing is….  the church plant existed for six years and we almost made it.  I can’t help but think of what could have been if I would have not made just half of these bad choices.  If you happen to be a church planter reading this, please learn from my mistakes.

NSF Checks! A few thoughts on “reconciling” our spiritual checkbooks

NSF Checks! A few thoughts on “reconciling” our spiritual checkbooks

-For those of you who may have been wondering, “What in the world has happened to Eric in the past few years?” This blog post is your answer.

In the past, I would beat myself up because I had not read the latest books on the hottest topics relating to the church scene. I felt inadequate and insecure because I was “out the loop” and unable to drop the name of the newest author and discuss the “fresh” ideas from his or her book.

Over time, what I began to observe was a lot people who were quoting the latest author or speaker, but not quoting Jesus much. I heard all the buzz phrases; city-wide transformation, missional church, reproducing churches, house of prayer movement, multisite campuses, etc. –Again, I was hearing a lot of talk about the latest voices and their ideas regarding how to “do church” and “what the church should look like,” but not much about Jesus and even less about His simple, but foundational teachings.

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that the American church is losing its voice AND its effectiveness in our culture. I am not the smartest guy on the planet, but I have managed to figure out that if I continue to do what everybody else is doing, I am going to get what they have. –And I do not want what the American church has; I say that respectfully, but very frankly.

So out of frustration AND desperation, I have thrown away the buzz words and allowed all the books on my night stand to collect dust. For the last few years I have fasted from most “Christian content” and read wrestled with the raw and unapologetic teachings of Christ found in the Gospels.

Jesus’ teachings were different. By studying His actions, we find that He was not concerned about getting invited to the next speaking engagement, and He was not trying to sell His new book. He was also not worried about what the offering would be after service, so if He offended someone with His teaching… so be it. It was not that He did not love or care about those that He spoke to, it was just that He loved them enough to tell them the Truth. If He were graded by today’s metrics, He would have been a terrible church planter; He could gather a crowd but could not keep them. -And when the crowds left, it never seemed to even bother Him anyway…

Still, His words cut to the core of my heart. They echo in my mind; I wrestle with them almost always. In a lot of ways, Jesus’ teachings have ruined me. The more I focus on the core teachings of the Gospels, the more I feel that I simply do not fit in, in today’s American church culture. Sometimes I feel like an alien.

One of my responsibilities at my job is that of the accounting manager. One of the key tasks that I perform every month is a “bank reconciliation” of our company’s accounting data to data provided by our bank. It is just like balancing your personal checking account, just on a larger scale. If our data does not match the banks data, I have to find out why. -And if an error was made, it was usually made by me or another employee and not the bank.

Therefore, when accounting errors are found we do not get mad at the bank. We do not attempt to manipulate one of bank tellers into trying to reconcile their “true” data to our “false” data. Nor do we twist the policies of the bank to match our errant accounting practices. No, we humble ourselves and make corrections to “reconcile” our account balance to that of the bank.

In the past few years I have been attempting to “reconcile” my life and ministry to the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus. I had been “reconciled” to American church culture, but not directly to the teachings of Christ. I still have a long way to go but I am slowly wrestling through what it really means to be a follower of Jesus. It is more than just showing up for church. It is more than just learning to speak “Chrisitianese,” –the official language of the American church. It is more than saying a prayer or reciting a few “buzz phrases.” And for me as a minister, it is far more than just a good sermon with a few funny stories and pats on the back after a worship service.

I am learning that reconciling my life to the Gospels will change everything about me. My ambitions have been lost, my dreams have faded; honestly… I do not even know what to dream anymore. I have found that my dreams and ambitions from the past were empty and fruitless. Those dead dreams and ambitions have been superseded by a hunger for something authentic, real and genuine. I feel different; different from those who are merely religious and “churchy” and different from those whose minds are focused on the things of this world. I don’t care to discuss the latest church growth program and I am not interested in climbing the corporate ladder. I have discovered that neither will satisfy the hunger, -and the void, that is inside of me. Some would call me a hopeless idealist; I have just decided to stop playing “the game.”

I am sickened (almost daily) by the carnage that is left roadside by the actions of “the machine” we call the American Church. We preach “Jesus is the answer!” –Then when new Christians are introduced to our (sometimes) toxic churches we often chew them up and spit them out. We should all be haunted by these words spoken from the lips of Jesus, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” -I am sure that statement was “unthinkable” to the religious leaders of that time. -How arrogant are we to think that there is no possibility that portions of the American church have degraded to this state as well?

I know my voice is small. I know my influence is weak. But from the small weak voice that I have in the Kingdom, I beg you to read through the Gospels for yourself. And don’t just read through the parts you like. Read the Words of Jesus that put your stomach in knots. Read the teachings that if acted on would turn your world upside down. Read the stuff that fractures the foundations of “our” American dreams. If you call yourself a pastor, preacher, clergy or whatever, read chapters like Matthew 23 and wrestle with the Words of Christ. Be willing to ask yourself some very hard questions. Question everything that we call Christianity and reconcile it the Master.

Do not attempt to reconcile “your life” to “my life.” My data is corrupt. Do not attempt to reconcile “your church” to “the church down the road.” The data is corrupt. Do not attempt to reconcile “your ministry” to “my ministry.” The data is corrupt. Let us reconcile our lives, our churches, and our ministries to (the teachings of) Jesus. He is the only reliable Source of Truth and Life.

Inviting God into the Gray Areas

Inviting God into the Gray Areas

Psalm 131

Lord, my heart is not haughty,
Nor my eyes lofty.
Neither do I concern myself with great matters,
Nor with things too profound for me.

Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul,
Like a weaned child with his mother;

Like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
From this time forth and forever.

I wish that all of the situations that we faced in life were either back or white issues. I wish right was clearly right and wrong was clearly wrong. As I have grown and matured as a Christian I have learned that there are many times when things are just not clearly black or white. There are times when the situations that we are faced with… are a shade of gray.

I have been involved in some groups that attempt to make everything into a black or white issue. On the surface that sounds great, but what I have observed is that as soon as that mistake is made -legalism and religious pride begins. This mindset leaves little room for God’s grace and even less for different points of view.

I have also brushed up against other groups that would like to say there is never a clear black or white issue. Some in these groups say “there are no absolutes,” “anything goes.” All of us who believe the Bible to be the Word of God know that this group is believing a lie. Our God is a holy God and he has set boundaries for us. In addition, “the wages of sin is death.” Whether or not you recognize or respect the boundaries that God has set for our lives, there are penalties if you travel out of bounds.

So… we are left with the gray areas. While I know they do exists, I hate the gray areas. You see, sometimes “I” wish everything was either black or white. I wish I did not have to wrestle with moral decisions. I struggle when I have to set the markers for boundaries that are not clearly defined. I absolutely hate it when I am faced with an issue and I cannot pull out my Bible and turn to a verse that tells me exactly how to respond. What is the solution to the gray areas? Ha! Did you actually think I had a solution?

No magical solutions here, but I will share a bit of insight that I have gained over the past few years. I have learned to invite God into the gray areas with me. We have to live our lives. We have to go to work. We have to go to school. We have to face situations that happen within our families. And unless you live under a rock, you have to engage relationally with other people everyday. All of these activities present gray areas. When we venture into the gray areas without God, we will certainly find ourselves “out of bounds.” However I have found that when I face the gray areas and invite God’s Spirit to take the journey with me, things usually turn out okay. My success rate is not 100%, but I have found that I do much better in the gray areas with Him than without Him.

And when I find myself in the gray areas “with Him” and I still do not know what to do, I can at least lean on Psalm 131. I draw close to Him, remind myself that I do not need to understand everything, and trust Him to take me by the hand and lead me through no matter how “gray” the situation appears to be.

What Does “Healthy” Look Like?

Okay, I have not written a post in a while and have “lost” a lot of good ideas for posts because I have been pretty busy and fighting a STUPID sinus infection; -hence the inspiration for this post.  Be warned! If I ramble, do not make fully coherent statements or talk about “the pretty colors” I am seeing it is because I am heavily medicated on antibiotics, steroids, and my own personal concoction of over the counter meds to keep me going.

I am physically sick.  I know something is not right in my body; to be specific, something is not right in my sinus passages. I can continue to take over the counter meds to mask the pain, I can hop up on caffeine to keep me going and I can even strong arm my doctor into giving me more steroids and antibiotics to help keep the condition in my sinuses at bay.  –But the problem is; there is an infection in my body that has been there for over three months now.  It makes my head hurt.  It makes me feel fatigued all the time. It makes me irritable.  It makes me less productive at work.  –And frankly, it makes me NOT FUN to be around; just ask my wife, my kids and my coworkers.

The fact of the matter is my physical condition greatly affects me & it affects those around me.  So… rather than continuing to attempt to cover up the symptoms with ineffective measures, I drove to Indianapolis this morning and visited with a nice man who just happened to be an ENT doctor. He introduced me to some nice ladies who then placed me in a big sphere with flashing red lights that performed a CT scan. I was told by a another very nice lady that sometime in the next 48 hours someone with a few more zeros than her in their paycheck will evaluate my CT scan and hopefully we will get to the bottom of my problems and do whatever ever is needed to permanently resolve my issues –well, at least my sinus issues.

It was a real pain to go to Indy today.  I could have easily given multiple reasons (excuses) why I could not go.  First, I just hate going to doctors.  Second, I have been really, really busy at work. Third, we have major medical insurance and today’s activities will go a long way towards cleaning out our HSA for this year; as we all know, those nice people in the medical profession do not work for free.  -But still, I had a problem that was not going away until I dealt with it.  And in addition, I realized that I could not deal with it alone; I needed outside help.

By now I am sure you are wondering, “where are you going with this Eric???”    You see, I took these actions because I know what it feels like to be physically healthy, to be physically “whole.”  I know what it feels like to wake up in the morning and have energy.  I know what it feels like to “want” to go to the gym and workout in the mornings.  I know what it feels like to be at work in the afternoon and “not” feel like I need a nap.  I know what it feels like on the weekends to “want” to go do something fun with my wife and children.  And I know what it feels like to “NOT” have to take a handful of pills every morning just to get through the day. –I know what “healthy” feels like, so it drives me to deal with my sinus issues and become healthy again.  It is just that simple. *Knowing what good physical health feels like drives me towards taking actions to become physically “whole” when I am sick.

So here is the sermonette:  This morning as I thought about my physical sickness while waiting for my test, I began to think about emotional sickness and relational sickness and spiritual sickness.  I asked myself this question, “Do we even know what healthy looks like?”  In today’s western, money driven, individualistic, superficial success oriented culture, does the average Joe even know what it “looks like” to be emotionally healthy?  Or relationally healthy?  Or spiritually healthy?

Amy and I have a pet-peeve. We dislike being treated by medical professionals who are not living physically healthy lives.  Our rationale is, “why would we want to receive medical treatment from someone who is not doing their best to live a physically healthy life?” –Someone who is “not” a good “model” for healthy living by making healthy choices in their own lives.  In this age of prescribing meds to treat almost anything and everything rather than advising patients to make lifestyle changes, we think that this is a very valid point.  Sometimes medications are prescribed simply to counteract symptoms of other deeper problems that could be remedied with “other” changes.

I am not writing this post to attack the “heathens” of our society; they already have enough problems.  I am writing this post to challenge my fellow Christians, my friends who are pastors and church leaders and the Church as a whole.  We are supposed to be the ones with all the answers.  Or, we at least we claim to know Who the Answer is…  Are we emotionally healthy?  Are we relationally healthy?  Are we spiritually healthy?  Do we even know what “healthy” looks like?

If we cannot answer those questions with a clear conscience and peace flowing out of our hearts in the presence of our Father, I suggest that we take radical action as I did with my chronic sinus infection.  I admitted my condition, I refused to live on pain relievers and other Band-Aids and I humbled myself and sought outside help from those who had the ability to guide me on my journey towards healing and wholeness.

How can we be “salt” if we do not have any flavor? How can we be a shining “city on a hill” if most of the lights are dimmed? And how can we be models of emotional, relational, and spiritual health if we ourselves are sick? We all know the answers to these questions… we cannot, and it shows.

Born of God -my manifesto on being an authentic Christian

Born of God -my manifesto on being an authentic Christian

I have been a Christian for nearly eight-teen years and have been in the ministry for almost as long. I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, but was frequently exposed to the Catholic Church as my mother’s entire family was Catholic. Three or four years after I became a Christian (for real) my wife and I left the Baptist Church to help plant a non-denominational church. During the first years of that church plant, we “explored” outside the boundaries of our former SBC doctrinal beliefs. We ventured into the areas of charismatic and pentecostal doctrines and experienced both the liberty and potholes in those often untamed theological frontiers. Some years later, we moved to another state and planted our own church. It was a Churches of God General Conference church and thus we were exposed to CGGC doctrine and culture. A few years after planting our new church I became involved in a few ecumenical organizations in our area and was even further exposed to other church traditions such as the Christian Church, the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, etc. I am leaving out far more than one denomination from this story, but surely by now you get the picture. I have experienced many different “flavors” of Christianity and have gotten to know a lot of good people who love God AND participate in a different “flavor” of Christianity than me.

While there are many narrow minded groups out there who think that their “flavor” of Christianity is the only “correct” version, I would like to think that there are more than a few of us (hopefully, many, many more) who have realized that God works in many different Christian denominational contexts and cultures. Furthermore, I would also like to think that there are those of us who have realized that no Christian group has found perfection in regards to their theology and practiced values of authentic community. In short, I have discovered that there are many of us who dearly love God and have declared Jesus Christ Lord and Savior of our lives. We may call ourselves Baptists or Catholics, Pentecostals or Presbyterians, Methodist or Nazarene -but we really are all in the same boat. One day, we will all be in heaven and all those petty denominational titles will seem so childish and silly. Perhaps, in the manifest presence of God we will blush when we think of all of the trivial conversations -and arguments that we had during our earthly lifetimes… These thoughts are why I have adopted the following statement as my motto, “Some follow the Pope, some follow Luther, others follow Calvin, still others follow Wesley or Winebrenner; I follow Jesus with the understanding that God can use whomever He chooses to speak into my life.”I think the Apostle Paul made a statement similar to this in his first letter to the Corinthians…

It is my belief that we spend so much time thinking, debating, arguing and “silently positioning” over our differences that we often miss the most important and fundamental questions of the day, -fundamental questions that almost no one would argue over. These are probably the least controversial but most important questions that we should be asking: Are we in love with Jesus? Have we truly surrendered to God and His Word? Are we daily humbling ourselves and yielding our lives to the leading of the Holy Spirit? Do we have a practical daily relationship with God? -Not much controversy here; yet I think we have to admit that if we (all) could answer yes to these questions, the face of Christianity would look different than it does now.

I shared the message that is linked below a few weeks before Christmas. I never intended for it to be an “oral manifesto” for me or my ministry; but after sharing it and listening to it while editing it for my blog, I realized that it was just that, my manifesto on being an authentic Christian.

This sermon can be listened to or downloaded with the links below:

Born of God -to download .mp3 file

WARNING: Mature Content!

WARNING: Mature Content!

One of the most valuable lessons that I have learned in the past few years is that I do not have to agree with someone on EVERYTHING in order for God to use them to teach me something.   I feel that I have grown more spiritually mature and gained wisdom by listening to the point of view of those who I may disagree with.  It would be nice if all Christians shared the same opinions on all topics, but here in the real world that simply is not the case.  One of the most harmful side effects of the divisions in the Church is that we often rob ourselves of the valuable perspectives of others when we throw their input away because we disagree with them in regards to a certain non-essential doctrine or even a social or political issue.  God uses Democrats AND Republicans, Baptists AND Methodists, Pentecostals AND Catholics, Conservatives AND Liberals. Some of you might not believe that statement, but your opinion does not change the Truth.  I have often wondered if Jesus was with us today in the flesh, what political party would He join?  What denomination would He choose? Who would He endorse for president? Hopefully, we ALL know the answers to these questions.

I often read the thoughts of others who have opinions that I might not totally agree with.  I feel that I gain wisdom and even Truth by reading what they are saying.  I regularly post this information to my Facebook and Twitter feeds hoping that others will read and glean the same insight that I have. However, I must admit that I often wonder if some who might read these articles think, “Does Eric agree with everything written in this post?”  Obviously the answer to that question is, “No.”  But again, I find value in what they are saying.  I am secure enough in my own relationship with God and the foundations of my theological and political beliefs to listen to the views of others.  And, perhaps God might even use them to give me a different perspective; after all it would be very arrogant of me to think that I had a monopoly on correct theology and Christian living.

For the record, I consider myself to be a very conservative Christian.  Not conservative to the teachings of a certain religious denomination or even conservative to American church culture and tradition but VERY conservative in regards to the principles and teachings found in the Bible, as I understand them.  And, I do consider the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God.

In the past day, I have read a few interesting blog posts from Michael Gungor. While I do not agree with him in regards to everything he has said; I do believe he makes some good points.  If you are up for a wrestling match in regards to a few subjects involving American church culture, I invite you to read the posts that I have linked below:

http://gungormusic.com/#!/2011/11/zombies-wine-and-christian-music/

http://gungormusic.com/#!/2011/06/honor/

Laying Down Our Stones and Learning to Forgive

Have you ever been hurt by someone you loved and trusted? Have you ever been so hurt that you became bitter? Have you ever been so bitter that you felt the bitterness eating away at you like a cancer? Have you ever refused to forgive that person who wronged you? Have you ever wanted to forgive someone, but felt that you could not?

This sermon is a very frank and practical teaching on forgiveness. It answers questions like: Why do we have to forgive? How do we forgive? And, how do we trust again? The content of this teaching originates from both biblical principles and my own personal experiences. My goal in this message is to thoroughly explain why forgiveness is such an important part of the healing process as well as a vital component of healthy relationships.

This sermon can be listened to or downloaded with the links below:

Laying Down Our stones and Learning to Forgive -to download .mp3 file

Laying Down Our Stones and Learning to Forgive -to download .pdf of sermon notes

What Matters Most

What Matters Most

Amy and the kids returned home yesterday evening after being gone for nine days…  I was ready for them to come home, and they were ready to be home.  They enjoyed their time in Louisiana with our extended family and I enjoyed taking a seminary class in Ohio. But, we all missed each other very much and were ready to return to our normal routines.  I have been miserable these past few days without them.

Last night we just hung out together.  I picked up a pizza from our favorite pizza place to celebrate their return, the girls modeled their new clothes, we looked at pictures from last week’s adventures, and they all shared stories of good times and memories made during their visit to Louisiana. We left the television and all the other electronic distractions turned off and had a very good time simply enjoying each other.  Even though Amy and I were both exhausted, we ended the night by staying up well past our usual bed time just talking and sharing before we finally fell asleep.  And then this morning, even though I am usually well-disciplined in regard to getting up early to work out, I found myself turning the alarm clock off and just lying in bed with Amy while she slept, even though I was wide awake.  At that moment, it just seemed important to stay next to her for a while longer.

I missed my family last week.  I missed them because I love them dearly and their absence affected me.  I missed their presence, I missed their fellowship, and I missed communing with them on a daily basis.  Even the most mundane daily activities seemed devalued without their being there.  Absence does make the heart grow fonder; even fonder than you thought possible.

As I pondered these thoughts this afternoon I was reminded of a dynamic that I have often observed in Christendom.  I have observed that many of us pursue a relationship with God to use Him to get “what we want.”  I could easily build a list of various “things” we try to get from Him. “Things” like: eternal fire insurance, healing, fulfillment of our dreams, money, worldly possessions, etc.  This is especially noticeable in our western church culture, just flip through the religious channels on your television this evening and test my theory.  Many, if not all of us, have had conversations with God that sounded something like, “God, if you will do _____________________, then I will do ____________________ .”    –Fill in the blank with the phrases that fits your situation.  The sobering fact is: we often attempt to use God to get what we wantAnd sadly, for some people, using God is the basis of their relationship with Him. –If there is a relationship at all.

If I would have begun this post by saying that I missed my family last week because Amy was not around to cook and clean and my children were not around to wash cloths and do other chores around the house, most of you would have called me selfish and self-centered and might have even questioned the depth of my love for my family.  In the least, you might have said something like, “Eric’s love is an immature or selfish love.”  -And you would have been right to say so.  Why is it that we attempt to do that same thing to God?  God does want to bless us, just like we want to bless our own children.  But, He wants a genuine relationship first.

God created us in His own image to have a personal relationship with us, to fellowship with us, to share His presence with us, to commune with us and even sometimes to just “hang out” with us.  When we ruined this awesome opportunity with our sin, He sent His Son to die in our place, redeem us, impute His righteousness to us and transform us (back) into his own image, –if we are willing to allow Him.  The perfect and holy God of the universe did this all in an attempt to offer each and every one of us the marvelous opportunity to “know Him” and “be known by Him.”  Let us not pervert this wonderful gift by attempting to use or manipulate it.

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. –Jeremiah 29:13 

Lessons Learned from a Season of Rest: Lesson #3

*This is part three of the series, “Lessons Learned from a Season of Rest”

I Can Really Trust God. -Honestly, this is a 50/50 statement for me.  Fifty percent of me has seen God’s hand guiding my life over the past 35 years.  I have seen Him come through and prove Himself time and again.  That 50% is extremely confident that I can trust God and His Spirit’s leading. Then… there is the fifty percent of me that He requires to be in faith regarding the future, that part of me often struggles with the things that I have to leave in God’s hands.  Don’t get me wrong that part of me is still trusting God, but it is just not as confident as the other part of me that remembers how God has so obviously worked in my life and in the lives of those around me.

I am sure we have all wondered how the children of Israel could have doubted God’s faithfulness in the Exodus after the plagues, after their miraculous release from Egypt, after the parting of the Red Sea and so on; or how the disciples could have ever doubted the words of Jesus after seeing all the miraculous things that He did.  I guess I have realized that I am just as human as they were because even though I know I can really trust God, I have to admit and say that I still struggle with doubt.  So, I will reflect a bit in this post and remember how God has worked in my life to encourage and remind myself of God’s faithfulness and to encourage others who might read this.

We all doubt God’s direction.  Like everyone else I have often wondered, “Lord, what are you getting me into?”  I have left very good jobs at His direction, moved my family across the country at His direction, and even given up my ministry -at least ministry as I know it, all at His direction.  The fact of the matter is, God has led me to very few places that did not require me to trust Him. I remember when I was 28 years old, I had worked my way up to management at a juvenile detention center. I was hired as a computer technician and over the course of a few years I had gained the respect of my peers and those in authority over me.  I was eventually promoted to the “Director of Finance and Support Services,” boy did my young ego love that!  I oversaw 18 people and 4 different departments along with managing a budget of well over 4 million dollars. I earned the respect of my executive director and the governing board of the organization which included judges and other influential people in the community. If I would have remained there I could have built quite a career for myself and had a very nice retirement with the state of Louisiana, but God led me to leave for a season of full time ministry.  I will never forget the faces and words of some of my peers when they found out that I was resigning, “you worked your way all the way up, and now you are walking away?”  A few years later, the church my wife and I were serving as associate pastors was booming. It was (and still is) one of the largest and fastest growing churches in that area. We had helped start the church and had invested six years of our lives in it’s success.  Then, God began to speak to us about leaving and planting another church, in another part of the country, 725 miles away from our families and all of our best friends. Very few of our family and friends understood why we wanted to leave such a good situation.  We later found out that most of them thought we were missing God’s will for our lives in making such a big move. Again, I saw looks on faces communicating the thought, “what are you thinking???” Therefore, we were not sent off to Indiana with pats on the back and great encouragement.  I remember a moment when Amy and I were unloading a UHaul at the UHaul storage facility in Terre Haute. We were taking a piece of her favorite furniture out and it had been scratched.  It may sound silly now, but in that moment reality hit us.  It was as if we realized and said to ourselves, “We are 725 miles away from our family and friends; it’s just us and God. Boy, I sure hope God knows what He is doing AND I sure hope we are not missing Him on this…”   I could share other similar experiences but you should get the point by now.  In these instances God required me (us) to trust Him and Him alone.

I can look back at these “tests of faith” now and smile, knowing that He was really with us all along; He really did know what He was doing. But Truths like these are often seen much more clearly in the rear view mirror than when the tests are experienced in real-time. In the end, I believe His goal is to wean us off our trust in people, things, and position and teach us to trust in Him alone.  These are truly hard lessons to learn.  As this past season of my life comes to a close, He has brought me one step closer to the reality that I can really trust Him. He knows what He is doing.

Over the past two years, I have often been comforted by this whisper from the Holy Spirit I received via email:

SMALL STRAWS IN A SOFT WIND by Marsha
Burns — July 10, 2009:
Beloved, I have gone before you to make crooked
places straight and rough places smooth. It may not
seem like it, but the fact is that it would be virtually
impossible for you to navigate this spiritual terrain
without My help. I am not surprised by the things that
challenge you, nor am I worried that you will not come
through, for I am with you to bring you to new heights.
The path is narrow, and there is no other way to arrive
at this level of spiritual maturity than the way you have
come, says the Lord. Trust Me and keep pressing on.

I have read and re-read those words many times over the past few years; God has used them to get me through some fairly dark times.  The phrase that really leaps out to my spirit is, “The path is narrow, and there is no other way to arrive at this level of spiritual maturity than the way you have come, says the Lord. Trust Me and keep pressing on.”  It is contrary to the nature of our flesh to trust God; it is so much easier to put our trust in money, or people, or things.  Trusting God requires us to truly surrender our lives to Him, to take risks, to remove our hands from the steering wheel, and to constantly sit at His feet quietly listening for His still small voice when the world is racing by with all of it’s very loud voices and distractions.  -However, if we refuse to fully trust God, we will never become spiritually mature.

During this season of rest, I took a break from most ministry responsibilities and the “rat race of life.” I focused on hearing and listening to His “still small voice.” I reflected on how God has already worked in my life and then focused on discerning where He is leading me and my family to next. I took my hands off the steering wheel and said, “OK Lord, you drive.”  It is simply amazing to see how clear the murky water of daily life can become when I just sit at His feet, enjoy His presence and commune with Him.  -And in those moments, I have realized that I can really trust Him.  He knows what He is doing.  Where He leads, I want to follow.

Lessons Learned from a Season of Rest: Lesson #2

*This is part two of the previous post.

The Importance of Prioritizing My Family -Over the past twelve years, I have neglected my family -PERIOD. My wife tells a story about when I was the associate pastor at our first church plant. When our oldest daughter was four or five years old she asked my wife a very simple but eyeopening question, “Does Daddy still live with us?” I did sleep in the same house with her every night, but she never saw me. I would leave for work before she woke up in the morning and I did not return home until after she had gone to bed as I would stay late at work or the church. In addition, I usually worked at the church on most weekends. In her little mind she thought, “If I never see my Daddy, he must not live with us anymore.” My wife often tells me that after we had been married a few years she eventually came to terms with the fact that I would not be home much. My wife and children began to live their lives, mostly separate from me. My fondest memories of those times are a few two day “getaways” where we would go and stay in a hotel on the beach and just crash; it was our way of getting away from all of the “stuff” and actually getting to spend, at least some, quality time with each other. You see it wasn’t that I did not love my wife and children, on the contrary I loved them very much! It was just that in my mind at that time, I loved God more; therefore I was “expected” to sacrifice. Thankfully, I have a very patient and loving wife. Approximately eighteen months ago, I began to “wakeup.” I thank God for waking me up in time. -I began to realize that He never asked me to neglect my family, to that extent, for the ministry.

I understand now that when God called me to the ministry, He did not call me to neglect my family. I know some would disagree with me and that is OK; everyone is entitled to their own opinion and/or interpretation of scripture. However for me, I do not see how I can stand before God’s people and preach or teach with true authority without being a good example of a husband and father. Neglecting my family for the ministry does not qualify me for ministry, it disqualifies me. I have been way out of balance in this area since my children were born. Over the past ten years I have averaged 60 to 80 hours per week working on sermons, church building projects, and other ministry related duties. Much of my time in ministry has been bi-vocational so the ministry was added on top of a 35-45 hour per week work schedule. The people at the churches that I have served at have always praised me for my dedication and level of service, but when I think of how I neglected my family I am simply embarrassed. Another thought that troubles me is that very few of those people who “praised me” for my service to the church ever cautioned me to slow down and be a father and husband. My family is now one of my top priorities, only behind my own relationship with God. I will not prioritize ministry over essential family time. I know this will cost me ministry opportunities but I am determined to keep my priorities in proper order and I believe that I will be a better minister, not to mention husband and father, because of this decision. There will be plenty of time after my kids are grown to pursue those missed opportunities. And, if I am living a life yielded to the Holy Spirit, I believe I will bear just as much fruit in the Kingdom anyway; and perhaps this will be fruit that is more likely to “remain.”

A few days ago I was involved in a conversation with a few other people in ministry where a very famous evangelist’s name was mentioned. One of the participants was making comments regarding the great success of this person’s minstry, remarking how God used him so. I had recently read about this person’s family life and the condition of his children and what happened to them during his ministry and after he died. Without going into details, I will just say it is a very sad story. -I think I would rather be a famous Dad to my children and leave a heritage through them than be a famous evangelist where many people may know my name but my own wife and children do not know me. But again that is just my opinion; I know some disagree with me, if not in word, in daily habits and practices.


Lessons Learned from a Season of Rest: Intro and Lesson #1

When I resigned from being lead pastor at HealingPointe last fall, I simply could not imagine not being “active” in ministry.  To be honest, it was really scary to give up my church and my position in the ministry without having anything lined up for the future.  I knew that God was leading me to take a break from ministry and get some rest, but even though I knew this decision was His leading I found it very difficult to be obedient. What would people think? What would I do with myself? -These are just a few of the questions that I wrestled with.  However shortly after making that difficult decision, I quickly realized that I needed a season of rest. Ten plus years of church planting had cumulatively zapped me and I do not think I realized just how tired I was, -not just physical exhaustion, but emotional exhaustion as well. In addition to being exhausted, I had neglected my family. I made the mistake of prioritizing the ministry over my wife and children. Furthermore, I could sense God calling me to a new ministry and I was in no condition to clearly hear His voice in that matter.  I needed to take time to rest, readjust and get finely tuned-in to God’s will for me and my family. I have learned some valuable lessons in the past six months.  I would like to share a few of them (and have a written archive for myself so that I will not have to “re-learn” any of these lessons in the future!)

I was originally planning to share all of these lessons in a single post, but as I began to process my thoughts I realized that it would be better to break them up in different posts over the next few weeks. So, here is “Lesson #1.” Future lessons will follow…

Rest Brings Proper Perspective  -In order to hear God clearly, we need rest -PERIOD. In the past six months, I think I have been hearing God more clearly than I ever have.  Not just in the decisions that I have had to make, but also in His ways in general.  I read the Word and it comes alive; I think and pray about different situations and I obtain understanding.  In short, rest brings proper perspective. As I think about this dynamic that I have observed in my own life, it causes me to reflect on the words of Jesus, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He did not say, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you whatever you want.”  He said, “I will give you REST.” Maybe Jesus knew “rest” is what we really need.  As I ponder this, I reflect on all the times that I have heard messages on “Waiting on God,” the different Bible stories describing how the heros of old had to wait on God and the times in my own life where God required me to “wait on Him.” We are always trying to figure out a way to make the waiting end. BUT, maybe God requires us to “wait” because He knows that we need “rest.”  And when we refuse to “wait,” we are actually refusing to “enter His rest.”  In the end, we end up running around like chickens with our heads cut off getting very little done (of eternal value) while we are absolutely wearing ourselves (and sometimes others) out. Then in addition, our perspective of who God is, what He is doing, and His will for us (and others) gets totally skewed because we are simply “too busy” and “too tired” to see God’s perfect and holy perspective. I have come to enjoy rest and the clarity that comes with it. This is the most important lesson I have learned over the past few years and I hope I never have to “re-learn” it.


My Thoughts on Cake Baking…

It always troubles me to hear about people who are struggling with various issues in life. And obviously when they are people you know personally, it just brings the reality of those “life struggles” closer to home. In addition, the possibility that these “struggles” are self induced really frustrates me. As a pastor of a local congregation, these type of things would really frustrate me. Why would people make choices, time and again, that would lead them to a bad place in life?

As my wife and I were eating breakfast this morning, I thought of a very simple analogy to illustrate this. Life is like following a recipe while baking a cake. Lets say I told you I was following a recipe to bake a chocolate cake. BUT, I told you I was leaving out the flour and not going to use any type of cocoa or chocolate AND I decided that I would bake the cake at 650 degrees rather than the 350 degree temperature that the recipe called for. What would you tell me? I would hope that you would encourage me to reconsider what I was doing and to “follow the recipe.”

The fact that you would encourage me to “follow the recipe” would not mean that you wanted me to be “legalistic” about my cake baking. After all, it is not like I told you I was going to use 1 and 3/4 cups of flour instead of two or that I was going to use chocolate syrup rather than cocoa powder. You would know that I am missing vital ingredients for the cake; you would know that my baking temperature is far to high. Because you are a friend, you would inform me that I am not following the recipe properly. If I was open to a helpful word from a friend, I would take your advice and be thankful for it. I would not accuse you of “putting extreme cooking rules” on me or being a “legalistic baker.”

It really frustrates me when I observe people, who are struggling, that are simply not ” following the recipe” given to us by God. In my mind, it is not about breaking religious rules or legalism. It is not about them doing things that I personally do not agree with. It is not even about the fact that they may disagree with me on certain issues. In my heart and mind it is about the reality that they are attempting to bake a cake while not following the recipe. And I know that in the end, they will not be happy with the results. -Not because I consider myself to be a master baker, but because I have learned, the hard way, to follow the recipe.

Life is Good!

Life is Good!

I am laying in bed at 6am in the morning. I should be working out but I will throw a post up to express a few thoughts that are in my mind. Last night I returned from a few day business trip to KC, MO. When I walked through the front door of our home, I was greeted by three children eager to claim hugs while expressing that they loved me and missed me and a wife who truly is my best friend on this earth. After putting the kids to bed, we laid in our bed for at least and hour and talked about the events of the past few days and some of our plans and dreams for the future.

As we talked last night, a subtle but consistent theme in the conversation was the faithfulness of God in all the areas of our lives. From our family lives, to our ministry, to our plans and dreams for both our professional futures, life is good!

As I laid in bed last night and this morning, I could not help but think that I am the happiest I have even been in my life. For whatever reason, I am actually a little scared to come out and say that, but it is the truth. We have made a lot of hard changes in the past couple of years, and they are paying off. And as we learn to truly surrender our lives, our plans, and even our dreams to God, there is a quiet confidence that is building in our spirits that confirms in our hearts and minds that everything is going to be OK. We don’t have all the answers, to be honest, in regards to some areas, I have no idea of what the future looks like, but that’s OK. Life is good and we are going learn to stop and smell the roses and enjoy it.