Thursday, July 28, 2016

Dinner, Dessert and the Right Outlook of Happiness

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

Isn't God Enough?

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

Finding Happiness, Make Peace with your Past

I have been talking to my wife about the happiness thing. Before I go much farther, I should point out there is a reality that my unhappiness and my depression may be a medical issue. I am going to an endocrinologist in a few weeks to see if I have something off in my glands or organs or endocrine system or something.  It may be all the searching for answers may simply be a medical deficiency. I'm actually hoping so, because I don't know what else to do.

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

Not Suffering, Just Unhappy. How Do We Cope?

I have read a lot of books on suffering, some are great and some are just ok.  I'm re-reading one right now and I am reminding of the importance of pain and suffering. That's for another blog. The reality is that I'm not really suffering. I have some health problems, issues with my blood sugar and some weakness and I'm seeing an endocrinologist in a few weeks. Compared to people with cancer and life threatening diseases, I'm not suffering. I have a house, a truck that is falling apart but still runs. I have a job and a decent income. My wife and kids are healthy and we are safe and secure as anyone can be. I have food, clean water, a comfortable bed, no one wants to hurt me. All in all I have things pretty good, but emotionally I am not in a good place. I'm unhappy.

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

Why the Church is Failing

The topic of the shrinking church in the United States, and really in the Western World has been a conversation and topic of many who are much smarter than  I am. As I have thought and lived through the issues, there are a few things I want to point out. Some of these I have addressed before, some are new. In my opinion, they are all symptoms of a disease that is killing the church in the west.

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.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Quick to Disqualify

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (I Timothy 3:1-7 [ESV]

These are familiar passages, Paul writing to Timothy and telling him guidelines for who should be a pastor. I have served in, around and among churches who have used these verses to various degrees. One thing I have found disturbing is those who seek diligently to disqualify those who are called to serve. I want to share with you what I think Paul meant and how we use and abuse these verses.

In the church, men who feel called to being a pastor should have a certain character. They should be good guys, love people and behave well. Paul lays out some good guidelines, Pastors should be examples of good Christian men. We have taken the verses in the modern church and turned them into a litmus test. We scrutinize every area of life that we want too, ignore others. We have scores or rude and pride filled pastors who have never been divorced, so they are fine. Pastors that ignore their families, but he has a doctorate and a radio ministry. Lead pastors who devour staff, but are "respectable" because those with money and power get what they want.

In many churches today, Paul himself would be disqualified because of his past. In other churches, they would cut Judas down, give him cpr and put him in the pulpit. We have lost our minds. We disqualify a man who was divorced 35 years ago because his wife left him for another man, then hire a tyrant.

Here is a newsflash. If you applied the letter of this passage across the board, no man could serve. No one is above reproach, each pastor has areas of shortcomings. All have lusted, lied, hated, been prideful and arrogant and rude. Some hide it better than others. Instead of creating a legalistic program of hiring pastors, ranking sins and mistakes and looking to disqualify, use some sense. Find a Paul, a Peter or a John instead of overlooking them in scrutiny.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

How I Would Fix America

So the slogan seemed to work, Make America Great Again, and Donald Trump is our republican nominee for President. Love or hate the Donald, it looks like we will be hearing from him a lot. On the other side, it's probably going to be Hillary, which in my opinion is even worse. It's not good news politically, and many on my FB post are sharing their disappointment in many ways. I figure since many won't vote for either candidate, it's time to put in my 2 cents. If you are going to write in a name, how about me? Why you ask? Here is my plan to fix America.

First, I'm going to make a law that a store cannot be larger than 2500 square feet in space unless it sells hunting or fishing gear. That's right, the giant stores have to go. No more big box store, no more giant parking lot, no more row of check out lanes with no one working them. You sell your item, you sell shoes or dresses or watches or jewelry or meat or fruit. We are getting rid of the Super Center and we are bringing back the mom and pop shop. Next, we tax higher the stores that have an out of state cooperate office, so locally owned shops can be more competitive. Tax breaks and tax incentive for the small business owner. We are also going to give them options to own their building and stop flushing so much money away renting commercial property and being priced out.

We get the mom and pop stores back, then we limit the size of school buildings. There has to be a school for a neighborhood, no more of this giant school building business. We stop pumping money into the bureaucracy behind schools, we begin to limit things above the local school level. We ditch the buses and the national staff that puts out mandates that make no sense. We send the federal money to the state level, the state cuts back and then funnels that money to the local level and school get smaller and teachers teach with more play and better resources. We support our kids in our community schools and actually have a community.

The last one is tricky, because you can't get a law to make this one work. We need to convince the mega church to go away and become a church planting church. Better to have 5 community churches of 200 than one giant church of 1,000. I know, you can get cooler stuff with a thousand people, but if you have 5 solid community churches that work together, you can actually make an impact in your community. Let's meet people where they live instead of having a giant church across town. Bring back the church that everyone can get to know everyone, and the church grows by planting a new work in another part of town. You get to be 350 people, you take 100 people who live close together and you start another church. You don't build a bigger building, you don't get a bigger parking lot, you plant a new church.

All of these things have one main thing in common. I believe them to be the foundation of community. We have lost community, and have become so individualistic, so selfish and self entitled that we are tearing this country apart. People don't care about others, they only care about themselves. Marriages break apart because people are selfish. Families are torn apart, communities break down and society as a whole begins to decay because people are selfish. We end up with Donald and Hillary because people are selfish. Not only that, but we have become so self-focused we don't see what we have lost. Community made us better, made us stronger wiser. We did great things together. We built an amazing country that we are now flushing down the toilet. Without a strong a vibrant community, the nation has no cohesion. Bring back the community markets, bring back the community school, bring back the community church. We need that more than a wall, an increased minimum wage, a ban on Muslims or expanded Obamacare. We need each other.