Tuesday, August 9, 2016
Some men made bad decisions, like Hezekiah who showed all the treasure of Jerusalem to the representatives of Babylon. When he was told by the prophet Isaiah that Jerusalem would fall into ruin, his reaction is "as long as there is peace in my lifetime." Men who began well who fell away later in life.
This phenomenon is not just found in the scripture, but in history. We hear for evangelist, missionaries and pastors who begin well, but later in life turn from God and fall away. Some fall into temptation or sin, some have a crisis and some just walk away. I struggled to understand how men can experience God in amazing ways and then turn and walk away. How Israel can see God at work and then doubt and grumble and complain.
I started in ministry while I was in High School. I was excited and gung-ho. I went to college, I went to Seminary and I served in church. Time and the realities of life can be hard on a calling. It can be hard on a faith. It can cause lots of damage. I'm not in church work right now, even though I would love to be. I don't see it happening again anytime soon, probably never again in a local church setting. There are some things that happen in older faith, things I think we should all watch out for.
We say things like "if people make you lose faith in God, then your faith is in people" and that is true. Never the less, the church is the Body of Christ, it's the incarnational representation of Jesus on the earth. The Body of Christ in America needs a doctor, because it doesn't often listen to the head. Most churches run more like a business than a ministry. In church work, I was judged by my "business attire" and I was treated like an employee. Jesus told his disciples not to lord their authority of people, but people with authority in the church today act more like business leaders than disciples. Dealing with leaders who take the name of Christ but act like Donald Trump in the board room can hurt your faith. (Aside, I have some personal experience, but much of this critique is not from my experience alone, but many, many individuals I know who are no longer serving at the local church level because of these exact situations).
As we get older, we find more and more and more things that don't seem to make sense. I know that God is eternal and has understanding far beyond that I'll ever have. As I get older there is a statement I can intellectually combat but emotionally struggle with. "If God is all powerful, He cannot be all good, if He is all good, He cannot be all powerful". Of course this is referring to injustice and suffering in the world. On an intellectual level, I know this statement is crap. Suffering is essential, we must suffer. Job didn't fully understand God and therefore his relationship and worship was incomplete until he suffered. Without hurt and suffering, we would never mature. We would be selfish, prideful and lost. Suffering has a job, a purpose and a function and if God took away all suffering, he would be crippling mankind in so many ways. That being said, I don't like it. I don't like pain, loss, hurting and things I don't understand. I don't like trying to explain to someone how illness, death and tragedy plays into a greater plan in life. It takes a toll.
The reality of constant criticism and judgement is hard to handle. We live in a world that will throw every stone at faith it can. People will tell you that Christians are judgmental, hypocritical, naive fairy-tale believers. The atheist will tell you how much of a joke your faith is, but if you mess up, screw up or do something wrong, you are going to get martyred. Satan will use every non-believer to mock you, tempt you, judge you and condemn you and it takes a toll on your faith. You can overcome, but it takes a toll.
What do we do about this issue? How do we overcome? First, it's important to not be arrogant and prideful. Saying ridiculous things like "I'm not going to lose my faith" or "i'm stronger than that" is just silly pride. I can promise that individuals who are strong, smarter and more faithful than you have stumbled. Don't believe me? Solomon was wiser, he built the temple, he was blessed by God and anointed king. He blew it. Are you better than Solomon? Oh, but you have the Holy Spirit? It doesn't take long to find a long list of men who started strong in ministry and fell away. Temptations, pain and doubt, suffering took it's toll.
Once we have some humility and realize that we have the ability to fall and walk away, we have to find a way to deal with it. The best way is to have some real friends. Most of us have church friends who are friends as long as we attend the same church. If you change churches, you end up changing friends. It's horrible and disgusting to realize that our relationships that are suppose to be the closest are so superficial. When I moved out of my parents home, I was still their son. If you leave a church, however, you are no longer part of the family. Toss those relationships to the back burner and find some real connections. People who will be there for you even if you move 1,000 miles away. That's not a made up number either, I lost relationships with people who live 5 miles from me when I changed churches, but guys 1,000 miles away from me still keep in contact, still invest in me and still care. Find friends like that.
Stay in the Word even with it's hard. When you are questioning God, questioning your faith and the promises its' easy to drop the Bible in the corner. Don't, keep in it. The Word is powerful and you need the power in your life. Do NOT substitute the Bible for Christian music and sermons and podcasts. They can talk about the Bible, but you need the Bible. I have found I have had to cut out a lot of Christian music and sit in silence in the car, because the lyrics at best are bad theology. Many are heretical garbage. Too much TBN influence. I don't care if you like Joel Olsteen, Joyce Meyer or Pat Robertson, it's bad teaching mixed with heresy.
Good friends, God's word, add to that lots of prayer. It's going to be hard, and you have to be honest on those days you don't want to pray. Those days I tell God that I'm mad and hurt. I hear all the little saying like "give it to God, turn over your anger and bitterness." Ya, that's a nice saying, but my anger and bitterness is stuck in my like a barbed fish hook. I can't just hand it over, I have to work it out. Ignore all the stupid, non Biblical platitudes that people make up, like "God won't give you more than you can handle" because they are not helpful. In the end, it will damage your faith more than help.
I'm knocking at the door to 40, meaning i've been saved for more than 30 years. I've had victory and tragedy, I've done great things and I have blown it, badly. I struggle with my faith more now than ever before. I have about 40 years left, give or take. I'm going to hold to my faith like a little kid holding to his mom's leg on the first day of preschool. I'm going to fight by admitting i'm weak, seeking help and being honest. I'm going to write things like this, risking the anonymous commenter is going to come on, pick out something I said and rebuke me, ignoring the bulk of the article. (When you find people like that, they are more in love with being right than with other believers. They are clanging cymbals). I'm a 40 year old ex-pastor who is struggling every day to keep with faith above water. I'm really out of things to lose, so maybe being honest and real and trying to help encourage you will be a blessing. Maybe God is letting me struggle a little more so I can help you struggle a little less.
Like Red Green says "I'm pulling for you, we're all in this together".
Saturday, August 6, 2016
Thursday, July 28, 2016
I’ve been writing about happiness, and I want to point out one thing. I’m not talking about joy, I’m not talking about a spiritual fruit, but about being happy. Chasing happiness should never be our first priority, but happiness is nice. Happiness is dessert, our relationship with God is dinner. Let me unpack that.
Dinner is necessary. We shop for, plan and put a lot of work into dinner. Dinner is important, we should all sit down and enjoy dinner as a family. Dinner is a main focus of an evening and every culture seems to have a solid concept of having dinner. We put lots of focus on dinner. Resturants, markets, famers and ranchers, all these industries are focused on dinner.
Dessert on the other hand is great, but not necessary. We don’t have dessert every night. It’s not a staple, it’s not an event it’s just a little extra for those special times. Resturants have dessert for a little extra experience and a little extra revenue, but they are not the focus. Dessert is great but not life sustaining. Dinner is life sustaining.
I want to be happy, but it’s not my focus in life. I want to be happy but I need to have a relationship with God. I need to grow in my faith and in my holiness. I would like to have happiness, but I’m not going to have it all the time. My hips has been hurting lately, I’m not happy about it. When my back hurts, when I get a sunburn, when Im out of water and very thirsty, I’m not going to be happy. I can have joy and I can have a good relatonship with God, but I can’t always be happy and that’s ok. It’s ok not to be happy.
We will continue to talk about happiness again next time, but I think it’s important to put happiness in it’s proper context. Let’s make sure we have a good dinner in our relationship with God and have some dessert on a regular basis.
Monday, July 25, 2016
So when you struggle with being unhappy, the constant struggle is a mental struggle. The question haunts me "why isn't God enough" ? Shouldn't I be ok on my own in the desert with just my Bible and prayer? I know the Apostles Paul said he was content with having plenty or little. What's wrong with me? Why can't I be happy with where I am and what I have?
I think the answer is in my in my ability to be happy sometimes. When I'm doing what I love and teaching or leading or sharing I'm happy. When I'm developing people and helping them use their skills and gifts, I'm happy. When I'm doing what I feel called to do, I'm happy. So the simple question arises, why don't I do those things more? Well my problem is mostly time. I work a lot and I have a family. Not a lot of time to pursue outside ministry times. I have been limited in opportunity as well. I don't have the resources to really do all I feel I'm capable of.
I think Paul struggled during times or inability to minister. In prison he found his outlet in letter writing. Right now blogging is most of what I have. You all as my readers and friends bring me happiness. I feel isolated those times I work long hours with long drive times. I am just not motivated by the idea of making lots of money. Being in a sales motivated world and being driven to want to help people is hard. I am not driven to sell, making lots of money isn't my focus. I like the ability to help people and teach people how to deal with life's pests.
So, isn't God enough? He made Adam and said this isn't good, he needs someone. Jesus took some followers and told them to share and make groups of people called to be together. The Greek term we use for church is basically a group of people called to come together. We are told to be together. We are called to help and minister together. I think we will find more happiness when we serve together and serve each other. I'm going to keep working towards that goal.
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
That being said, there may be an issue or issues in my past that I just haven't dealt with. Growing up, I was picked on a lot, cause . . .well I was a dork. It's just how I roll I guess. My mother was also very critical of me, which was difficult. I went from being a pretty sensitive kid who cried easily and had a soft heart to being stoic and emotionless. It wasn't by chance or accident.
In college, I lost both my parents to cancer. I did manage to graduate and go on to Seminary, and then I had the heartaches of ministry and church work which I don't wish to rehash. Let's just say there is some lingering hurt. I know there are many who the hurts and others pushing them down just motivates them harder. I had a comment (which I greatly appreciate) about wanting to prove the critics wrong and succeed despite them. That's just not how I'm wired. Criticism does not motivate me at all. I have lots in my past that I drag around, I think the technical term is baggage.
So Elaine, who is so much smarter than I am, pointed out that much of my problem is the baggage that I carry around. The hurt and the wounds and the pain that follow me around like an imprinted duckling. The problem is that I have no idea what to do about it. I have talked to others, including counselors, I have prayed and written about it. I have read books and listened to sermons and lectures and even taken classes. Maybe I am just being overly sensitive, or maybe I am so desensitized and I have crammed the stuff so deep it will take a surgeon to remove it. Maybe there is little to no hope for me.
Or maybe my thyroid is out of whack and I need to get it back in balance. Maybe, but I want to be happy and I want you to be happy too. Here is my suggestion. Let's make peace with our past. Let's forgive those who wronged us, and this might be a process. I am still working to rid myself of some anger and it takes time. Let's focus on being joyful (which can be hard) and being strong. Let's deal with emotions and feelings as they come and focus on being emotionally well. Let's keep looking for happiness.
Sunday, July 17, 2016
It's stupid and I can't stand it but I don't know how to fix it. My dream died, I began a path towards full time vocational ministry when I was 15. In 2012, that dream was broken and it has been smashed into smaller and smaller pieces. I attend a good church, but I don't really do anything with my gifts, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. I'm on the outside. Sure, I attend Sunday School, Worship, we go to a small group when we can. I attend the men's breakfasts sometimes, I'm in a men's huddle group. My wife attends stuff, my kids are active and involved but I'm still pretty much on the outside, at least compared to what i'm use too. I use to teach, preach, lead and serve and now I just sort of attend. It's fine, but I'm not happy.
I like my job, it's challenging and enjoyable. I trap raccoons and squirrels, I get rid of bats and bedbugs and termites. Most people are happy to see me and I get to help people. There is a lot about my job that appeals to who I am, things like problem solving. I have a good deal of Independence and I'm pretty good at what I do. It's not what I want to do though. I want to teach and lead and develop educational ministry programs. I want to start Christian organizations on public school campuses and in places of business. I want to plant network churches that move away from the purchase property and build a building model that can reproduce more rapidly and have more capital for ministry instead of overhead. I have all these ideas and dreams and goals and I am doing nothing to move towards them.
I love writing and I dream of writing and having books and articles written. I have so many ideas but if you follow my blog you know that writing is something I haven't done much of lately. I work long hours in the summer, and we just moved into a new house. Right now I should be putting the new starter in my truck. I have so much to do and I don't have time to do it all. I haven't been camping this summer and I've only been fishing with the kids twice. I don't have the time to do what i want to do, and I can't afford to do much of it. I work long hours because there is so much to do. I get home and do what I can around here, but physically I run out of energy.
I feel torn down. I have never really been a super successful individual and I have experienced a lot of criticism and discouragement. I'm not trying to do the "oh, poor me" thing, just throwing reality out there. My mom was critical, many peers have been critical, I was told when I left ministry that I wasn't cut out for it. I have been rocked over and over with criticism and rejection. I've had a lot of doors shut in my face and been told I'm not worth a whole lot. You hear that enough, you tend to think it's pretty true. I have never really been the best at anything, I've always been average or below. I have found myself giving up on a lot. I have stopped trying, stopped pushing forward and really stopped caring. I feel like my critics and detractors have steam rolled me and I have just given up. My wife tells me that she knows how defeated I feel. I have lost the will to get up and fight back. It's become a "what's the point" sort of thing. So many who claimed to be my friends, my brothers and my support have betrayed me and lied to me. There have been so many times that people have told me they love me, but don't hesitate to turn on me when it suits them. I have discovered the church is full of politicians and it's hard to know who to trust. It's hard to trust.
Life is going ok, but I am unhappy. I don't know why, I don't know how to fix it. I wish I could have things different, I wish I could change and rearrange a few things. The Apostle Paul says we need to be content in all things and be joyful and patient. I'm not, I am not joyful and I'm not patient and I'm not happy. I want to spend some time over the next handful of posts to explore this phenomenon because I don't think I'm alone in this. I see people doing all sorts of radical things in their lives because they are not happy. We make bad decisions in search for a good feeling. Some people try drugs or drinking or bad relationships, become addicted to something and find ways to escape. I have tried several escapes in an attempt to just feel happy. It's failed.
Together we can walk through this process and try to find a way to be happy without breaking the law, disobeying God, leaving our family, getting divorced, quitting our jobs, losing our money and destroying our lives. Too often, people have gone to these extremes to be happy and I don't think it works. We need to find a way to be happy that truly makes us both happy and obedient in Christ. There has got to be a better way.
Wednesday, June 8, 2016
I am currently reading Lessons from the East by Bob Roberts Jr. I am not very far into the book, and he is hitting me in the face with what I know. The Western church stinks at cultural transformation. We don't know how to change a culture or impact a culture. American was settled and colonized by Christians. It was founded by Christians with Christian ideas and principles. We have never been the minority, yet we now live in a Post Christian nation. Even the Republican Party has moved away, nominating Donald Trump for our candidate.
When it comes to impacting society, we want to just change laws, keep our traditions legal and outlaw everyone else. It doesn't work and we know it doesn't work. Homosexual marriage is probably here to stay. Transgenderism is on the rise and we won't make a dent in the legal area, we have to learn how to be salt and light. Unfortunately we are not very bright or salty. I'll come back to that. There are more issues with the church.
With the rate that pastors are quitting, being fired and leaving the church, there is going to be a real shortage of pastors in a generation. Reality is the millennials are not going to act the the Baby Boomers. Bridgers (WWII generation) worked hard, long hours for low pay and built things and never said much about it. Boomers work hard, long hours and low pay and wear it like a badge of honor. They march around parading the long hours, low pay and suffering for the job. My generation, the Xers and Busters, we don't like long hours and low pay, we do it and complain. We whine and moan about working long and hard, but we do it. Millennials, they won't complain, they just won't do it. They are not going to put up with low pay, always on call, whiny and demanding church folk and increasing societal pressure. They aren't going to live in the fish bowl, be gossiped about and judged by people who commit the same sins. Until church members figure out they can't treat a pastor like a minimum wage employee and a doctor at the same time, the number of qualified pastors will drop. The church will decline as it's filled with uneducated men who just want to be in charge.
The other issue is the pastors who just want to be in charge. They want to honor, the notoriety and the respect. They want people to pay attention so they can fix all the worlds problems 30 minutes once a week. The ego of the pastoral ministry continues to grow, and the mega church model has made it worse. You get a church over about 175, the pastor will need help keeping his ego in church. You break 250, he needs lots of prayer. Growing churches ruin good pastors, the temptation to pride is too much for them. We stopped planting community churches and grow mega churches and it's going to kill the church in the West.
I heard a bit of a Tony Evans sermon tonight, and he said that churches need to exist for the sake of the kingdom, but instead churches exist for the sake of the church. He is so right, most of a church budget is for stuff for the people. If your church buys nice land, builds a nice building and decorates it well, they can say it's to reach the community, but that's garbage. The people want a nice place to come to church, and they want others to come and join the church so it can grow. You want to help the church, rent an old warehouse, meet there Sunday morning and do homeless outreach 6 days a week. Feed them, give them clothes and clean socks. Instead, it sits empty most of the time, and the pastor has a nice office to talk to the church members who just want to be comfortable.
This brings me to the main point. The reason the church is dying in the west. There are a thousand little things I can list, lots of things i can point out, but it comes down to one thing. Church members in the West are incredibly selfish. We sing praise songs about ourselves, we go to church so we can get fed, we want and we demand. We talk about being a body, but we only care about ourselves. If you had your arm cut off, would you miss it? So why when people leave a church but stay in the same town do we pretend like they never existed? I left a church after serving there for 4 years, pouring my life into it. The years after I left where the hardest and darkest times of my life. I struggled, I fell, I suffered and with the exception of a few, most people never reached out to me. They knew I was struggling because so much of the gossip got back to me. They were talking about me, whispering and snickering. It's not just me either, it happens in almost every church. People leave, people fail or fall or get hurt and we gossip. Pastors and leaders gossip, and it gets back to people. I have been devastated to hear the things said about me by leaders in social situations that wasn't true and just hurtful.
Let's get to it, the church is messed up and we are the church, so it's your fault. Yes, I said it, it's my fault and your fault. We can't just blame this nameless, faceless thing called the Western Church. We are selfish. I am selfish, you are selfish. Are you willing to give up what you have to reach people? Would you let new people in your little circle? Would you divide your Sunday School class so more people could come? Would you move the time and location of your small group? Would you give up your fancy building to worship at a homeless shelter? Would you give of your time and money to help the less fortunate? Would you call that guy who use to come to church but really blew it and now no one seems him? You know the guy, the one everyone says is a screw up, can you love them, even through they left the church?
We don't. We don't change, we don't do things that hurt or are hard. We don't do the things that really make the church what it's suppose to be. My body doesn't fight with itself, when it does I go to the hospital and make it well. I don't cut off my limbs if they don't do what I think they should. If my arm is broken, I take care of it. I don't fire legs when they give out, I nurse them. The western church is a business, not a body, it's an organization and not an organism. The focus has become maintenance, comfort and control. It may not be long before we lose our lampstand.