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How Giants Fall: Identify Your Giant

Antoine Yates, a resident of Harlem New York, said his ownership of exotic pets was his way to escape the “hell on earth” environment of Harlem.  His passion for exotic pets seemed strange, at the best, and illegal, at the worst, until one day he was attacked by his pet tiger.  Amazingly, Antoine survived, and checked into the hospital for “dog bites”.

For a split-second, I wanted to feel bad for Antoine. But I also thought what most sane people are thinking right now, “Why would anyone have a pet tiger?

Here are the series of events that led to a man in Harlem down the path to owning a 500-pound Bengal tiger: Antoine bought his pet tiger, Ming, when it was a just a small tiger cub.  No doubt, the furry little cub was small and playful, entertaining, and very endearing.  Antoine even suggested that he and Ming began to form a “bond”.

Then Ming grew up.  The cute and cuddly tiger cub became a 500-pound predator.  And this predator eventually did what it was created to do—attack.  Antoine is fortunate to have survived.

PET GIANTS

It’s not much different with our giants—the habits, behaviors, and the same old broken ways we’re accommodating in our lives.  Our giants start out as cute, cuddly habits.  They’re harmless, small, and easily manageable (or so we think).  But these same pet sins have a tendency to grow.

The day will come (if it hasn’t already) when they show their true colors, and they will no longer be cute and cuddly.  They will become giants in our lives—savage killers that threaten our testimony for Christ and seek to enslave us—just like the renowned Philistine in the valley of Elah.

IDENTIFY YOUR GIANT

Here’s the dangerous thing about our sin: some of us have yet to realize the threat it poses to our life.  Our bond with our sin has clouded our judgment.

I think that’s one of the mistakes Israel made with the Philistines: God had told them to wipe out the inhabitants of the Promised Land, but they disobeyed Him.  Maybe they were scared to fight the advanced military of the Philistines or maybe they thought that they were a contained threat.  Regardless of their motive, they still disobeyed God’s command, and their freedom as a nation now hung in the balance.

Regardless of where you’re at in your walk with Christ, chances are that there is a giant that is seeking to enslave you.  There is a sin that you are tolerating in your life that, left unchecked, will destroy you.  We do well to take heed to 3 principles to help us identify our giant:

YOUR GIANT IS AFTER GOD’S TERRITORY

The Philistines already had strongholds in Judah by the time 1 Samuel 17 took place.  Naturally, they weren’t satisfied with the ground they already had, and they were seeking after more.   Their battle in the Valley of Elah would have put them one step closer to securing key cities in the Southern part of Israel: Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Hebron.  Here’s the problem with what they were doing: they were taking ground that belonged to God! God had already set the boundaries for His people, and any external threats against that were threats directly against Him.

Whatever sin you struggle with, it is after territory that already belongs to God.  The giant of discontentment calls you hoard more when God says that we should live with enough.  The giant of lust wants you to seek sexual gratification outside the boundaries of marriage when God has already established the boundaries for that territory.  The giant of fear wants you to worry about what may be, causing you to totally disregard the trust and faith you ought to have in God’s sovereignty.  The giant of approval wants you to find approval in how you dress, how you act, and in what people think of you on social media, when the Bible has already spoken that Christ has “made us accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6).  No matter your giant, it is after God’s territory.

What if you struggle with more than one of these sins? How do you identify your giant?

YOUR GIANT IS THE ONE SIN THAT THREATENS YOU ABOVE THE REST

I find it interesting how most Biblical accounts of war are very careful to note the size of the two competing armies, yet Samuel’s attention in 1 Samuel 17 pivots toward the single behemoth that challenged God’s people.  Goliath’s height of 9 feet, his 125-pound coat of mail that covered his vital organs, his 10-foot spear with a 20-pound brass head, and his massive shield carried by his armor-bearer would have been enough to frighten the most battle-tested soldiers in Israel.  The same army that had their swords drawn, ready to fight the entire army of the Philistines (v. 2), was now cowering in fear at the sight of just one Philistine.

I identify with the fear of the Philistines.  Like you, I struggle with many sins, but I know that there is one sin that threatens me above the rest.  It’s the sin I most often confess on my knees to God, and it’s the sin that seems to haunt me with guilt more than all the others.  Perhaps you know what I’m talking about: you find yourself intimidated by the power of that one sin that seems to have a unique grip in your life, and you’re not sure how to get rid of it.

YOUR GIANT IS THE ONE SIN YOU’D RATHER RUN FROM THAN FIGHT

In the valley of Elah that day, Goliath issued a challenge: a one-on-one fight where the winner would literally win the war for their country.  The stakes were high, and the reward from King Saul was even higher to the man who could successfully defeat Goliath.  Despite the incredible rewards, nobody dared step down into the valley to challenge Goliath.  Rather than fight Goliath, they decided they’d rather camp out for 40 days, hoping that somebody else might take care of the Giant.  At the sight of their giant, they went from being in battle array to camping out on the safe side of valley.

I’ve found that my giant is the sin that I’d rather run from than fight.  It’s not that I have forgotten the importance of the battle: I just can get discouraged because it’s been so long since I’ve tasted victory.  Consequently, I run.  I try to do whatever I can to avoid confronting this sin, and I eventually begin to wonder, “Maybe a life enslaved to my giant isn’t so bad, after all.  Maybe this is just a part of living in a fallen world.  I guess I’ll just have to wait until heaven to be done with this battle.”

Don’t believe the lies of Satan! Your giant may be big, but it’s not more powerful than Jesus! Your giant may be a product of your own disobedience, but that also means a life of obedience, empowered by the grace of God, is all it will take to rid your life of this giant.  You. Can. Live. Free!

I hope to explain in two future posts how 1 Samuel 17 gives us principles to help us defeat our own Giant.  Until then, don’t give up.  The freedom God offers is far greater than the life enslaved to your giant.

*There are some messages we hear that we can’t help but allow to shape our life-long perspective of the passage they were based upon.  While many of the thoughts in this post and the message it’s based upon are my own, some of the wording and principles were shaped by a powerful message from Wayne Hardy at a men’s conference I attended years ago.  I can only hope that my attempt to preach this passage provided the same kind of help I received from it back in 2012.*

 

 

Book Review: Crucial Conversations

Do you ever come away from a conversation thinking, “I wish I would have handled that better”? I think we all do at times. When tempers get hot, most of us tend to say things we shouldn’t; sometimes we even begin to fight about things that don’t really matter to us! Communication is not always easy; sometimes it’s just downright hard! It can seem impossible to have open, honest, productive communication with certain people; maybe it’s a spouse, boss, or family member. When the conversations are crucial, it becomes even harder!

A group of researchers wanted to find a way to help people with these problems; they wondered if there was a way to help people learn to communicate more effectively. In particular, they were interested in what they termed “crucial conversations”: conversations that were highly important in terms of their ramifications; possibly even life-changing! They noticed that a few highly influential people seemed to handle these conversations with great finesse, and after careful study, they wrote a book to help the rest of us blockheads communicate more effectively.

I have no idea where I heard about this book; I got it for Christmas, from someone who saw it on my Amazon book wishlist. I suppose I must have heard it about somewhere, but I can’t recall where for the life of me. So I was nonplussed when I opened the book; I had no idea where it came from; I wasn’t immediately interested in it, and in fact, I started reading it simply to help pass the time on my long flight back to Seattle.

That being said, I’m incredibly thankful that I read this book when I did! I have found it to be one of the most helpful books I have read. I got engaged shortly after reading the book, and the lessons and methods I gleaned from it have been of immense value in my burgeoning relationship. I’ve said some really dumb things, and used these methods as damage control; and they’ve also helped keep me from saying even more dumb things!

Crucial Conversations is not about cheap tricks to get what you want; you can’t use these methods well if you’re intent is to be deceptive. Rather the goal is to help you come to positive, mutual resolution and agreement on things that truly matter to you. In fact, the very first section of the book is about the necessity to “start with heart”; get out of the headspace of simply trying to win the argument. Think about what you really want instead! Find mutual purpose, and seek to be honest while also maintaining your relationship with the other person.

With a book titled Crucial Conversations, you need to know when a conversation actually becomes crucial. That requires learning to recognize when others, or yourself are resorting to silence (withholding information) or violence (forcing their meaning). When you learn to recognize these signs, you are positioned to guide the conversation to something healthful and beneficial. One of my takeaways was learning to identify the unhealthy methods I tend to move toward when conversations get heated.

My personal biggest lesson from the book was “changing your story”. When we begin to react emotionally, it’s often because of the story we are telling ourselves: “I can’t believe they did that! What a selfish idiot!” It’s very difficult to control your temper when you think someone is a selfish idiot! Instead, focus on identifying where the story you’ve created is wrong. For example, is that person who inconvenienced you really a selfish idiot? Or do they just need your help? It’s much easier not to be angry with someone who simply needs a helping hand.

If you want to have fruitful conversations, I would highly recommend you pick up a copy of Crucial Conversations. It’s been incredibly helpful to me; I think it will be to you too!

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Living Life Open-Handed

“Give and it shall be given unto you.”  I don’t know how many times and in how many contexts I’ve heard those famous words of Jesus repeated.  I’ve heard them in missions conferences, messages on tithing, and basically any sermon on financial generosity.  Usually, it was in one ear, out the other.  I heard it, I knew what they were saying, and, yes, I knew givers didn’t go broke.  But what good is a generous giver if they are tight-fisted with the other areas of their life?

Oops, what about the context?

What’s interesting about the principle in Luke 6:38 is that it wasn’t really given to encourage people to be financially generous.  While material generosity is certainly a part of Jesus’ commands in Luke 6, there’s much more to the chapter than that.  This section of Luke is more focused on generosity with our lives.  Jesus commanded his disciples of all ages to be generous with their love, generous with their forgiveness, generous with their prayers, and generous with their mercy.  He has called us to live life open-handed.

This is hard for us to do because we are born with a mine mindset, aren’t we?  We are always looking out for #1—my money, my time, my wife, my kids, my food, my priorities, and my life.  We live life with a scarcity mentality, with fists clenched tight around the illusion of our possessions.  I don’t think that Jesus looks on our giving with appreciation if he sees the remainder of our life flowing from selfishness.

Generosity that goes beyond the offering plate

Here’s the truth: Jesus isn’t after your money.  He’s after your life—all of it.  Jesus is still calling His disciples to live lives of irrational generosity.  There are so many ways to carry out generosity beyond the offering plate.

Generosity is often irrational in the world of business, where the primary goal for most business owners is profit margins and sales goals.  Irrational generosity is setting aside the pie charts and focusing on making a difference.  Steve Jobs was no disciple of Jesus, but a simple reading of his philosophy was that his main focus was not for Apple to be a valuable brand.  He wanted to make a difference with his products, and it turns out he created a valuable brand in the meantime.  It should be no surprise how Apple has been the beneficiary of “give and it shall be given.”

Unfortunately, generosity is even scarce in the one type of relationship where it should be exhibited the most—marriage!  No wonder so many marriages are crumbling.  You know what the real problem is in most marriages? One (or both parties) stop thinking about what they can give to the relationship and start thinking about what they can gain.  Turns out Jesus was right again.  You get more from your marriage when you give more to your marriage.  Give and it shall be given.

Strangely enough, Jesus even seems to pay our generosity back with the currency of time.  I often struggle with the temptation of putting the needs of others aside because I can feel so busy and seem to have so much to do.  But I’ve found that the greatest enemies of my time at this stage in my life are not needy people around me; the greatest enemy of my time is the flesh within me.  Usually, when I take care of slaying my own dragons of distraction and disorganization, I have enough time available to live life open-handed.  And, as it turns out, people are more than happy to return the favor when the time comes.  Give and it shall be given.

I’d like to hope that 2018 is the year of many things for me.  But, more than anything, I hope it is a year of living life open-handed.

 

 

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Count Your Blessings

One hymn I really love is “Count Your Blessings”. At my church, we typically sing it at Thanksgiving (for obvious reasons). It may not be a hymn we sing very often, but I love how the words communicate how much we really have to be thankful for:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,

When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,

Count your many blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord has done!

Count your blessings,

Name them one by one,

Count your blessings,

See what God had done!

Count your blessings,

Name them one by one!

Count your many blessings,

See what God has done!

Very practical advice; biblical, too! Psalm 100: 4-5 says,

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving,

and into his courts with praise:

be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting;

and his truth endureth to all generations.

As sinful people, we all have a tendency to dwell on what goes wrong. I know I do, at least. I sometimes find myself focused on one or two negative things so much that I ruin my whole day! I should do that more often with positive things. Wouldn’t it be nice to master an attitude of thankfulness, so that you can whether the most stressful day by focusing on just a few of the hundreds (if not thousands!) of blessings God has given you?

Practicing thankfulness has an incredible number of benefits! Here’s a list of just seven, from PsychologyToday.com:

  1. Opens the door to more relationships. Studies show that people are drawn to thankful people.
  2. Improves your physical health. Grateful people tend to take better care of their health, and report feeling better.
  3. Improves psychological health. Thankfulness reduces negative emotions like envy and frustration, increases happiness, and reduces depression.
  4. Enhances empathy and reduces aggression.
  5. Helps you sleep better.
  6. Improves your outlook on life.
  7. Increases mental strength.

Hopefully you look at that list and say, “Wow! I want all those things in my life!”. Me too! The problem is, how do we practice thankfulness on a consistent basis?

Practicing Thankfulness: A Simple Excercise

I was given a very practical method as a college student. During my time at college, I struggled intensely with anxiety and depression. Eventually I sought help from one of my professors, and he suggested a simple exercise: write down three things per day that I’m thankful for. That’s it. Just write down three things! I didn’t see how that would help me, but I took his advice; and you know what? It really helped me!

The simple act of writing down three things I was thankful for helped me to change my mental focus and see the benefits of thankfulness in a very real way! In fact, I still take time to do this exercise when I’m feeling frustrated or stressed. I should note that writing it down is important; get a notebook, or an app that you like, and actually write out the three things. There is something about writing that helps you get something off your mind in a very cathartic way. So, if you want an easy, simple way to practice thankfulness, get some pen and paper, and do like the song says: count your blessings!

The Unbusy Saviour

We’re all busy.  I don’t know about you, but anytime I ask someone, “How’s it going?”, the default answer isn’t usually “fine”.  More often, I hear others and myself saying, “Busy”, “Crazy busy”, or “I’ve got a lot going on”.  We live in a time when busy is worn as a badge of honor, don’t we?

When I speak of being busy, I’m not referring to a full schedule.  I’m referring to the fourth definition of the word in Webster’s dictionary—full of distracting detail.  Isn’t that convicting by itself? Sometimes we get so caught up in the distracting details of life that we forget about what is most important.

But I wonder how busy Jesus was, according to our definition? I think we all know that Jesus had a full schedule.  But can you see Jesus speed-walking to his next healing appointment, head down, hoping that nobody tried to talk to him, going on and on about their problems? I doubt it.  In fact, I would submit to you that Jesus was the unbusy Saviour.  Though Jesus had a full schedule, He was never too busy to give attention to what was most important.

We have a lot to learn from how Jesus managed the constant demands of his time from the feeding of the 5000 in Mark 6, and it my hope that you and I will never be too busy to give attention to these three tasks in 2018.

  1. Jesus was never too busy to meet spiritual needs

As Jesus’ disciples boarded the ship with Jesus to cross the harbor, they expected to embark on a relaxing spiritual retreat.  How horrified they must have been to see the crowd of people that followed them to their destination! Jesus and His disciples had to have been physically and emotionally exhausted: they had just finished an exhausting ministry trip that was cut short by their heart-broken trip to retrieve and bury the beheaded body of their beloved John the Baptist.

At a moment like that, I would be far from ready to minister.  Yet Jesus was.  He saw the people’s spiritual need in a moment when he would have been fully justified to become fixated on His own physical needs.

Here’s the truth that I’m beginning to realize in my life: the moments of my most profound spiritual impact rarely occur at moments of convenience.  The times in which you feel the most busy will likely be the times when you are presented with opportunities to lead people to Jesus, preach an impactful sermon, or sow seeds of kindness to a neighbor.  Yet Satan would love nothing more than for us to become distracted by other priorities and miss out on ministry opportunities.  We must never become too busy to step outside of our schedules and minister to the spiritual needs of those around us.

  1. Jesus was never too busy to meet physical needs.

The feeding of the 5000 is inarguably one of the Jesus’ landmark miracles.  It had to be an impactful moment if each of the 4 gospel writers chose to include this miracle in their account of the life of Jesus.  Yet, Jesus’ greatest miracle simply sprung from his desire to take care of the physical needs of the people. According to Mark, Jesus was just trying to follow common courtesy and avoid sending the people home with an empty stomach! If Jesus was willing to overcome the impossible to minister to the physical needs of people, don’t you think that meeting physical needs ought to be a regular part of the lives of believers?

Though meeting physical needs often feels more mundane and routine than meeting spiritual needs, God is delighted when His children unselfishly meet the physical needs of others.  He’s delighted by the care of a mother or father for their children.  He’s delighted by the care of an adult for their aging parent, and He is pleased when He sees His children reaching out to the impoverished in America and around the world.  Sometimes, meeting physical needs is one of the most spiritual things you could do.

  1. Jesus was never too busy to spend time with the Father

What I find interesting about this account in Mark 6 is that this day began by Jesus and His disciples missing out on the opportunity to take a spiritual retreat.  Most of us would say, “Oh well, maybe I can try again tomorrow.” But not Jesus.  Even after a long day of teaching and performing a great miracle, Jesus broke away from the disciples to spend long hours of time with His Father.

In fact, this is something we see throughout the life of Jesus.  What did he do before He began His public ministry?  What did He do hours before He was arrested and crucified? It didn’t matter how full His schedule was: Jesus regularly took time away to spend time with His Heavenly Father.  Jesus realized that the only way He could continue to give and give of Himself to others was if He regularly invested in His personal relationship with the Father.

It’s time to stop the excuses for missing out on Bible reading.  It’s time to stop cutting our prayers short because of a full day ahead of us.  The greatest investment of your time in 2018 will be in a healthy discipline of regularly spending time with the Father.  I believe you’ll find, like Jesus did, that it will increase your ability to minister to other people.  Before we can pour into the lives of others, we have to make sure that we give God the opportunity to pour into our lives.

When we get a look at the unbusy Savior, we get a sense of how our lives are busting out the seams with distracting detail.  It’s almost a guarantee that 2018 will feel busier than 2017: but by the grace of Jesus you can still make sure that these 3 priorities become unmovable parts of your life in the upcoming year.

 

 

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When Jesus Interferes

whenjesusinterfers

I knew a guy named Crazy Bob. Well, I didn’t really know him; I knew of him! He was a sort of local legend in my hometown of Stillwater, OK. Crazy Bob hung out at the library and liked to jump on people’s car (hence the “crazy” moniker). Supposedly, he was a Vietnam vet, but my knowledge of him really came from my fellow middle-school kids, so I can’t say how much of what I heard was actually true.

Crazy Bob was considered kind of a funny figure around Stillwater; but in Matthew 8, we see some local legends that probably inspired a lot of fear in their town. Matthew 8 records Jesus’ ministry as he heals those that are sick, and even calms the storm as He and his disciples are in a boat. When he arrives in the country of the Gergesenes, two demon-possessed men come out to meet Him. The Bible tells us they are “exceeding fierce” and come out of the graveyard…similar to the maniac of Gadara, who terrorized the townspeople. I can only imagine that these two men acted much the same way; in fact the Bible says they were so fierce that “no man might pass by that way”; these demoniacs were so feared and dangerous, that no one could even walk in their territory! In a darkly hilarious account, Jesus allows the demons to leave the two men and possess a herd of swine…which they promptly kill by causing them to careen headlong into the sea and drown.

Now imagine what these townspeople were thinking; Jesus is here, who has been healing and helping those in every city he comes to. Surely there were people who needed healing in that town! Would they not be glad to see Him? Wouldn’t men be grateful that someone had come who could heal their infirm wives, mothers, children, and fathers? Not only was Jesus healing, but He had just cast demons out of these men who had been terrorizing them. Surely they gave Jesus a grand reception!

Well, no. They didn’t. Matthew tells us that after the first and last Annual Swine Swim, the whole town comes out and asks Jesus to leave! What about the good he had just done the town? Doesn’t matter! What about the sick who needed to be healed? Don’t care! They just wanted Him gone!

What a strange response! Why would they react in that way? Perhaps because Jesus interfered with them. After all, that herd of swine was owned by somebody, and they probably weren’t happy to lose them. Maybe the rest of the town was afraid of what Jesus could do, and certainly didn’t want to be the next to lose something. They were probably used to the demoniacs and had learned to live with it; and I suppose being rid of them wasn’t worth it if it caused them some inconvenience. They were perfectly happy the way they were, thank you, and they really didn’t need some preacher coming and messing everything up.

Sounds familiar to me; in the area I live, that’s the attitude of a lot of the people here. They have a good job and a nice home, and they just don’t have room or time for Jesus. Do they have problems? Sure. Spiritual needs? Yes; but they would rather just live with them than let Jesus shake up their lives.

Sadly, we as Christians can be the same way; we can get comfortable with where we are, and become unwilling to draw closer to God. Do we want a relationship with God? Sure! Do we want to grow and see victory over sin in our lives! Yeah, of course! But not if it means spending more time praying and less time watching TV (guilty); or if it means giving up money, or potential career advancement by going to church instead of putting in a few more hours at the office.

Maybe we’ve gotten used to our sin and confronting it would be painful; so we would rather Jesus just keep His distance while our relationships fall apart around us. Maybe we are comfortable with our level of service, and drawing closer to God just flat out takes more commitment than we are willing to give!

Well, like the townspeople, we can ask Jesus to leave; or to keep His distance, and He will probably oblige; but we will miss out on the amazing things He can do in our lives. He can give us victory over sin, if we’ll let Him; He can give us joy and peace, if we are willing to let Him interfere. The townspeople could have seen Jesus do amazing things; but it came at too high a price for them. Let’s not let the same be said of us!

Reach More with your Church Facebook Page

For centuries, every culture has had a central place for people to socialize, buy and sell, and share ideas. In ancient Greek culture, it was the agora. In 2017, most commerce, socializing, and idea-sharing happens on Facebook. Entire companies and industries stake their success on the ability to connect with customers on Facebook (I’m referring to the people who are trying to sell you makeup or Plexus…) Facebook is also unique in that many of those who add you as “friends” or accept your request to be their “friend” have little to no knowledge of who you are!

Facebook isn’t something that we, as ministry people, should buck against or avoid. Facebook is a major part of 21st century life and so there is a legitimate place for the church to be involved. By now, many church leaders have come to understand that social media is a legitimate platform for outreach in most areas of the country. While many churches are seeing the need to have a Facebook page to help spread their message to their community, there aren’t so many that are effective at doing so.

I want to share a few principles that can help you reach more people in your community with Facebook. While I don’t claim to be a social media expert (there are too many of “those guys”), I have tried my best to learn from others and have seen these principles work for the Facebook pages I manage

Know your platform

If you want to reach more people with your church’s message on Facebook, it only makes sense that you personally experience the platform for yourself. You can never excel in a hobby by simply reading books and articles about it, so why could you expect to understand social media marketing without being a regular user of the platform?

While I understand that the majority of people who are reading this blog are Facebook users, I also understand that many people who have Facebook pages don’t regularly log in. As you use Facebook with a discerning eye, you’ll quickly pick up why some pages are able to reach people with their message and why others do not. And if being a regular user on Facebook goes against your standards or your personality, then perhaps there is someone else who should manage your church Facebook page (just a thought).

Keep it professional

Imagine handing out an invitation to your church that had a typo (or several) in it. Even worse, imagine handing someone an invitation to your church that forgot to mention the time you had services! Wouldn’t that be embarrassing and ineffective? If content that is in print form deserves to be professional, then it stands to reason that the content you share to represent your church on social media should be held to the same standard.

While a simple policy to double-check your spelling before posting should be easy (just google “covfefe”), it might take a little extra intentionality to make sure the graphics you share are professional. Let’s be real, if your latest church event post was made in Publisher with 5 different fonts, then it likely won’t help you reach your community. Luckily, for churches who lack a graphic designer on staff, there are several alternatives that offer pre-made, professional images for sharing on social media (Graceway Media, Share Faith, and many more).

Create content that people will interact with

This point is key! Due to the standard privacy settings, I see posts on my Facebook feed simply because other friends commented on them. Obviously, if a friend shares a post, that will show up on my feed too. So the way to gain more exposure for your church on Facebook is to post content that people will comment on or share!

For example, my pastor posted a simple post recently that asked our Facebook followers to comment what they were most scared of as he was preparing for a sermon on fear (35 comments with over 1,000 people seeing the post). I’ve also found that some of the content that gets shared the most at our church has been: sermon quotes, videos of special music, and testimony videos. Before you post, just ask yourself, “Would I want to share this if I saw it on my Facebook feed?”

Keep the content coming!

Every blog I’ve ever read or video I’ve ever watched on social media marketing includes this suggestion. The more you post on your page, the more often that people will see your (hopefully good) content. The more people see good content coming from your Facebook page, the more likely they are to follow your page to make sure they see everything you post. No matter what social media platform, I usually wait to see a few good posts from a page before I decide to follow it. It seems like most people follow that pattern, which is why the social media “gurus” suggest that you post often.

Creating good Facebook content and gaining more followers on Facebook is a means to end. We don’t want people just to follow our church Facebook page. We want them to become so familiar with the good reputation of the church we love that they decide try it out for themselves. And who knows? Maybe that person who followed from a distance will meet Jesus for themselves when they decide to attend your church

When you meet people where they are with the message of your church on social media, then it opens up the opportunity for Jesus to meet them where they are with the message of the gospel. So go out and do what you can to engage more people in your community!

 

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Don’t Forget the Congregation!

Changing My Focus

Going from a large church to a small one can be a jarring transition. I grew up in a church of about four hundred people; not a mega church by any means, but not small by any means either. When I was at Heartland Baptist Bible College, I attended a church that ran over two thousand people on Sunday mornings!

The church I have served in since graduation is small; we run about fifty people. There are definitely a lot of changes to get used to when you start serving at a small church; and as time has gone one, I have begun to appreciate those differences; not just the bad ones, but the good ones as well! One area where I have had to have a paradigm shift is our focus in the music ministry.

We have six singers total that are involved in any way with our music program; that’s far fewer than the churches I grew up in. We also only have one piano to practice on…and it has to be set up and taken down every Sunday and Wednesday. Because we rent out building, we sometimes simply don’t have any time to practice between setting up, tearing down, and getting out when our rental is up. These challenges can make it difficult to have a lot of vocal groups singing on a regular basis.

When I first started at Foundation Baptist Church, I brought my “large church” mindset with me. I wanted to have as many groups singing as often as we could; I wanted to do the same songs larger churches were doing with five times the people, and twice the available practice time. I saw great choir and group specials going on at other churches, and I wanted to have that at our church!

Mostly I felt frustrated. It seemed like there was never enough time to practice everything (and it still does). It was difficult not to stretch busy people too thin by scheduling them to often (it still is). Things didn’t always come together like I hoped they would. Don’t get me wrong! I am incredibly blessed by the people we have in our music ministry; they are talented people who love the Lord, work hard, and have excellent spirits; but there is only so much a small group of people can do with limited resources (and a music director who struggles to stay on top of everything that needs to be done)!

I gradually began to have a paradigm shift; I began to realize that my large-church mindset was keeping me from capitalizing on the opportunities I have! For example, I have lots of adults, teenagers, and kids who want to learn to sing better. I was putting so much effort into matching what larger churches were doing that I was not making time for them. I also failed to put proper emphasis on the congregational singing. I gradually began to shift my efforts in that direction; focusing on training and developing people, as well as making our congregational singing great. I am still trying to do those things, and still struggling quite a bit with handling everything that a music ministry entails, but here are a few things that have helped our congregational singing flourish:

  1. Make it real

It’s so easy to come into church, sing the songs, and let your heart be a million miles away! Even as the worship leader, I often find myself thinking about other things. The congregational singing can easily become mundane and rote; or it become an extra ten minutes to get to church, get your coffee, and mingle with your brothers and sisters.

But it should be so much more! Congregational singing is an amazing time that comes once or twice a week. It’s a time for us to gather as a church family and praise and worship our God! I’ve tried to make it a point to encourage 100% participation through exhorting people to sing. I may also emphasize the words by commenting on them, reading some applicable Scripture, and having one of our members sing a verse as a solo.

2. Keep it Fresh

There are some truly great old hymns that minister to our church and communicate great truths about God! I don’t ever want to stop singing great hymns like “How Great Thou Art”, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “There is a Fountain”. I do try to keep our song selection fresh, though, by introducing new hymns to our services. By “new”, I don’t mean they have been written in the last twenty years (although some have). I simply mean hymns we have never sung before. After all, why should the age of a song matter? Age has nothing to do with the quality of a hymn. There are some hidden gems that I’ve found in our hymnal. This year, our theme has been “The Just Shall Live By Faith”; I have loved seeing our congregation rally around the hymn “By Faith” by Keith and Kristen Getty. The excitement and heart are palpable every time we sing it!

3. Learn to Sing Parts

If you use screens in your church, you’re a liberal! No, just kidding. There’s nothing wrong with screens at all! They would certainly make my life easier; I often print out music for hymns that aren’t in our hymnal. It’s a real pain keeping up with all those papers, and reprinting when needed! But we go through the hassle because we want to teach our congregation to sing parts!

I don’t believe I’ve ever been to a church where the congregation has been trained in part-singing. Normally it would be the choir members and other singers who may sing a part, but most in the congregation wouldn’t know how. Both my pastor and myself have a burden to truly engage our people in singing praises to God; we believe a significant way to engage people in singing is to teach them to sing parts.

I’ll admit, I didn’t know where to start when we first decided to start teaching parts. In fact, we are still learning! But we have already seen some great success; we simply took a hymn and spent several weeks learning the different parts, much as you would teach a choir song. I explained how to read music, and then we would practice just the sopranos, then altos, then the men.

We also learned an actual choir song and sang it together as a special! Our pastor (who has a great voice) sang the first two verses as a solo, and the congregation joined in four-part harmony on the chorus and last verse. It was the most exciting and worshipful our church has ever sung! It has also sparked an interest in singing among our people. Some who thought they could never sing suddenly found that they could, and that they enjoyed it! I have had some of those come to me and express interest in working on singing one on one!

This is still very much a journey I am still on; but as we head into another year, I am looking forward to focusing more on encouraging and training our church to all take part in praising and worshipping God through singing!

 

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Why Every Couple Needs a Spiritual Retreat

This past weekend, my wife and I were able to attend the first annual Better Together Couples Retreat in Amarillo, Texas. The church we serve at had a small part in helping put on the event, but Arden Road Baptist was the church that did such an incredible job hosting the event with their facilities and their volunteer team. Even though I had a few responsibilities at the event, I walked away refreshed and revived. I was surprised at how badly my wife and I needed a couples retreat, and I was blessed by 3 specific ways the retreat ministered to our marriage.

No matter how long a couple has been married, they need these 3 things that a marriage retreat can provide.

“Just Us” Time

Shelby and I are still new to parenting (our daughter isn’t even a year old), but I am realizing more and more how difficult it can be to have quality time together with Natalie around. It takes a bit of planning and investment to ensure that we can have a couple hours together for a date night, but trying to arrange a night or two away from our kid has proven to be a really difficult task. As much as I love our little girl, it was so refreshing not to worry about hauling a Pack-and-Play and the many necessities to care for her on this out of town trip. Having this event on the calendar forced us to create time just for us.

One thing I really appreciated about the Better Together Retreat was that the schedule allowed couples to have the entire evening free to themselves on Friday night. Having free time, combined with time spent around God’s Word, is a great investment for any marriage.

But, on the other hand, if couples can get “just us” time by taking their own vacation, why should they attend a couples retreat? That’s where the next two benefits come into play.

Tailored Biblical Instruction

On a week-to-week basis, if a Pastor is trying to “feed the flock of God”, he won’t always have the opportunity to deal with topics related to marriage. On top of that, there are some marriage topics that are less appropriate to cover when a pastor is preaching to a mixed demographic. The Better Together Retreat featured breakout sessions that covered areas like conflict, communication, biblical roles, and even sexual intimacy. As married people, we need to be taught those things and reminded of some of principles that we’ve failed to obey. A couples retreat is also a great place for a husband and wife to respond to God’s Word together at the altar.

Fellowship with Other Christian Couples

This reason may sound strange when you consider that most good churches do everything they can to facilitate friendships between Christian couples. But just as my relationship with my wife is improved when kids are not around, fellowship with other couples is improved when neither has to worry about taking care of their children. Think about it, how often during your interaction with a couple, do they have to break the conversation to correct their child or look around them to find their child? A couples retreat is a great place for married Christians to strengthen friendships with other couples in their church or other churches.

Let me encourage you to make the effort to invest in your marriage by regularly attending a spiritual retreat with your spouse. If you’re within a couple hours of Amarillo, mark your calendar for next year’s Better Together Couples Retreat–November 2-3, 2018.

 

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Lessons from Woodworking

“That’s going to be a table?”
These are the words my wife uttered in disbelief this past weekend during our trip to Lowes in Amarillo. I had a project to build two end tables for a coworker and I was picking up some lumber. After planning out what I would need, I only needed three pieces of wood, so my wife’s surprised reaction was somewhat warranted. The next day I went over to my friends house who had a couple of tools I needed and I finished the tables that I had set out to build.

Through the whole process, I was reminded of a wise and loving Master builder- Jesus. Ephesians 2:10 reads: “For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Not only is Jesus our Master builder, but we are a workmanship or masterpiece. As I reflected over the events of this past week, I was reminded of a few truths about our Master builder.

  1. God has a plan. 
    My wife didn’t know how three pieces of wood was going to become to end tables. While they weren’t ornate or extreme my complicated to build, they weren’t simple either. However, I knew exactly how three pieces of lumber would turn into what I wanted.

    Sometimes in my life, I think to myself: “What is God doing? I don’t see how He is going to use me.” But it is in that moment that I forget that God is a Master builder, and while I may not know how everything is going to turn out, He has a plan for my life.

  2. It might take longer than expected.
    I have to admit something: I’m somewhat new to solo woodworking projects. I’ve helped a lot of people and have watched others, but this was my first. Because I was going to my friends house to borrow some tools, I communicated with my wife what time I thought I would be done due to having only one car and needing to be picked up. I told her a time and got to work while she went home. Fast forward a couple hours: Crystal comes back, and I’m no where near being finished! Fast forward a couple more hours: I finished one. The last one came together fairly quickly after the first, but the entire process took a lot longer than I expected.

    While the illustration somewhat breaks down at this point, because I as the constructor should have expected it, There is never anything that takes God by surprise. While we think that what He is doing is taking longer than we thought, it is taking exactly the amount of time God wants it to.

    My brother in law waited for a long time to get married. He waited while all his friends were getting married. He went on staff as assistant pastor as a single guy. It wasn’t until he was 32 when God brought along the lady he would marry. All through the process, He knew that God was in control. It took longer than he expected, but it happened at the exact right time.

    Maybe God has called you to pastor, but He hasn’t opened the door yet. Maybe you’ve been praying and praying for children, but your family is still only two people. Perhaps you’ve planted a church and the amount of people is not going very quickly. Don’t forget that God’s timing is perfect.

    He has a plan for you. It might seem that God’s plan doesn’t make any sense. You lost your job that provides well for your family, allows you to be involved in giving much to missions and be a blessing to those around you. God calls you to move states to start a church where you know nobody and your family is no where near.
    The last lesson to learn is this:

  3. God’s plan has a beautiful finish.
    While I am thrilled at how the tables turned out, I would be lying if I said they were without flaws. One of the three pieces of lumber I chose was far less than perfect. (I’m told that is part of the learning experience.) While God’s plan doesn’t always make sense and takes longer than expected, His plan is beautiful (and perfect) when it’s completed. Those who wait to marry who God wants find God’s plan is beautiful. It might seem like it takes a long time, but the church God leads you to will be the best church for you. New people will hear the Gospel and be discipled at the church plant that took you from everything familiar. God’s plan is wonderful when it’s completed.

Remember as you go through this week that He is a wise and loving Master builder. You can trust His plan.

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