Friday, October 2, 2015

I am Done

I am officially ending this blog. Short of a big story that I must share...this blog will now remain dormant. Thanks to everyone that read and supported this means a lot.

I have begun a new blog since I have begun life with Multiple Sclerosis this past March. It will be more about physical fitness, what I am dealing and thoughts for others dealing with the same thing.

Feel free to visit for postings there.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Little Help From the LGBTQ Community Please!

No matter what walk of life one comes from, inevitably there is an introduction to the golden rule "Do unto others as you would have done unto you."  Not only is this a scripture verse found in Matthew chapter is just a solid moral teaching to live by. 

Unless you have been living under a rock or simply have no contact with the outer world, you will know that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) narrowly ruled in favor of same sex marriage for the entire country. It is not my desire to dive into personal opinions or biblical convictions with this blog. One does not have to Google very far to find those types of blogs. There is something that does baffle me however, please take a moment to read and let me explain. 

When the ruling came down from SCOTUS there was the typical upheaval in churches. This was happening even prior when individual states were legalizing same sex marriages. Some churches and Christians were up in arms about it back then. No doubt they are entitled to their opinion and interpretation of scripture. We have everything from "GOD HATES FAGS" protestors to those that simply will not talk to someone living an alternative lifestyle. This is sad as Jesus has called us to love one another. Again, I will not dive into any other deep discussion on that matter. 

There was, however, a large group of Christians who, though let down by the ruling, decided to say, "We are going to love our brothers and sisters regardless." These are people who truly live out the fact that if there is something needing to change in a persons life, the Holy Spirit is going to take care of it. This group of Christians, rather than protest, pray. Rather than trying to make enemies...they try to make friends. These people believe we are all entitled to our opinions. The bottom line is that there are those who are heterosexual but still look at the LGBTQ community as human beings just as deserving of God's love as the person next door. Many have even shown their support on social networking sites and with blogs. 

I am wondering when the support from the LGBTQ community is going to go to bat for the heterosexual person/couple and their strong convictions? For the heterosexual person living out the truths of the Golden Rule, it would be great to be treated by the LGBTQ community the same way they would want to be treated. There are many MANY defending the choice of people living an alternative lifestyle, where is the vocal support from the LGBTQ community defending the choice of those choosing a straight lifestyle? This seems like a fair question. We have many people respecting one another's choices and am simply wondering where those outspoken ones from the LGBTQ community are to show support for those choosing to live a heterosexual lifestyle. I think one has to respect someone who, despite what popular majority is, still strives to live out their own personal conviction. I just have not seen blogs, posts, etc. supporting this crowd.

I must admit that it is never very appealing to support someone who is coming across in a very crass way, it does not matter which walk of life you are coming from. If you are treated with a low level of respect, it is understood that you will not be the most zealous to pay that person back. However, I can show you a lot of well deserving heterosexual Christians that ought to be supported by the homosexual community. It only seems fair. 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Blog Hiatus: Please Stand By

Did you know that I have written and published two books? I’ve had a great experience with both of them. The first book entitled, “My Life in a Blog: Real Thoughts from a Real Pastor in the Real World” was just a book of random thoughts through the eyes of a pastor. My next book, “Mutiny Aboard The Good Old Gospel Ship,” talked about the dysfunctions I have seen inside the institutional church. Both books are available for purchase today on Amazon and have lead to some great speaking engagements at large Christian music festivals and churches. On occasion I even receive a random deposit from Amazon for book sales! With all that said, I have been inspired to write again and will be focusing my attention on this new book for the rest of the summer.

Unfortunately, that means I won’t be blogging for the next few months so I can be totally focused on this project. This book is coming from my deep and seemingly contradictory inner feelings of blessing and feeling like God has deserted me all-together. Sounds crazy doesn't it? Well, I’ve come to find out that I am in good company with many people found in Scripture. It is a book of transparent feelings and I hope it will prove to be a blessing to all who read it. No doubt it will be available in paperback and Kindle as well. 

It is humbling to know that this blog receives over 2,000 reads per month. That alone is great motivation for me to keep going once the book is done. People from all around the world read and comment on my ramblings. Believe it or not, but the most viewed blog is one I wrote recently regarding how much a pastor should charge to officiate a wedding. What is even more impressive is that most comments are not from pastors but rather from couples who are getting married and don't know what to pay the minister. 

My blog is undoubtedly a menagerie of thoughts that cover a wide range of topics. I look forward to getting back to it after this book project is done. Please stand by...

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

My Ministry is Better Than Your Ministry!

This week, I witnessed some Christians doing some things that got me a bit disgruntled. I didn't say anything to them about it because I don't really like it when people offer unsolicited opinions in social networking land. However, upon further reflection I think this is something that should be discussed. The situation in question involved a person who posted a picture of a Christian event they were attending. The caption read, "This is what I did...what did you do?" This rubbed me the wrong way because I believe there is an underlying pride and snootiness amongst some Christians in regards to what they do or which church they attend. Perhaps it is one Christian talking about what their church did only to be met by another saying, "That's so nice! This is what we did..." While it would be great if believers could simply share the good things they are a part of, things like this usually turn into a contest over who's steeple is bigger. 

This can also happen in regards to Christian rallies. I have even dealt with this first hand when working with missionaries. Somehow holding a dodgeball tournament for teens in Istanbul is better than offering the same tournament for teens in the gym down the road. World missions is fantastic and very much needed, but not at the expense of reaching out to our own communities. One isn't better than the other. Telling everyone about your group's rallies can be a good thing and really fire up a community, but it's all about the heart and motivation behind it. All too often the message being sent is: "Because we prayed louder and with a larger crowd we are better than you and doing more for God." Honestly, I have always wondered how large prayer events in public places reconcile themselves to Matthew 6:5 which states, "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full." But, I digress. My concern is that when we, as churches or individuals, make these kind of boastful statements, we minimize what other believers are doing. 

I love Christian music...or should I say "did" love Christian music. Over the last decade and especially over the past few years there has been a heavy and unspoken competition between Christian singers and bands. I believe this has been brought on by the Christian music scene having a "Top 20 Countdown" each week on the radio and is further encouraged by the Christian publications that promote this as well. This kind of competition within the body of Christ can be very harmful and may even discourage some people from ever trying anything at all. People are left feeling like they could never measure up to the supposed greatness they see around them. To them, their efforts seem worthless. This is not the case at all! 

Colossians 3:23 states, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters." Churches should never compare or compete with each other. This is also true on an individual level. What you do for God should never be used as a weapon against someone else. You not only diminish what you are doing but also discourage other believers from stepping out as well. Turning living a life that is pleasing to a God into a means of placing yourself above other people is not only foolish, it stops you from doing the very thing you set out to do in the first place. So what had I been doing that day the person posted a picture of themselves at a big church event? I spent one-on-one time with my spouse. I suppose it's not something people would usually brag about, but I think the Lord smiled on that just as much. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Caesarean Sections, Wrestling, Extra Weight and the Game of Life (Not necessarily in that order)!

Have you ever noticed that a change in your life's circumstances tend to make you look at the world differently? Even if it is a good change, our circumstances can still color our perspective. If someone were to win the lottery, their life would never be the same again. Soldiers coming home from their latest tour of duty have also faced life changing circumstances. While defending our freedom, they may have suffered a debilitating injury or at the very least seen some terrible things they will probably never forget. While there is a great sense of purpose to what they did, the reality of dealing with a physical, mental, or emotional wound is something they must face on a daily basis. 

This reminds me of countless stories from Scripture, but I’ll stick to three. First, I think of Jacob wrestling an angel in Genesis 32. Jacob had struggled with his identity his entire life. He was born hanging onto his brother Esau’s heel and eventually we see Jacob steal his brother’s birthright. When Jacob wrestles with the angel, he says, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” (v. 26) The angel responds with, “…What is your name?” (v. 27) It is at that point that he responds with, “I am Jacob.” (v. 27) This was the moment Jacob claimed his identity and finally got comfortable in his own skin. While it was a glorious and dramatic event, Jacob left that altercation with a permanent limp. He was forever changed by that wrestling match with the angel. 

Next, look at Job. Scripture states in Job 1:8 that he was, “Blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Yet his life was not without trouble. Far from it! Everything was taken from Job but it was restored back to him at the end of his story. This is a difficult situation to wrap our minds around because on the one hand, you want to praise God and are pleased that Job has his health and wealth restored, but the fact remains that he still had ten graves with his children buried in them. One does not forget burying their child (let alone ten). Those events inevitably changed Job and the way he saw his life and the world. 

Lastly, look at Jesus at the tomb of his dear friend, Lazarus. Scripture tells us that “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) Yes, Lazarus was brought back to life but he also had to die again, though we do not know when. There is no doubt that there was sadness again after that second death. 

The takeaway message? Life hands us great blessings but the results may be something we just are not comfortable with. Every limp and every scar have a story behind them. I say all of this because I deal with wounded people almost every day. While this next thought may seem off-topic, I truly believe it isn’t. It makes me sad to see young mothers trying to lose their “baby weight” right after giving birth because they don’t like it or their significant other doesn’t find it attractive. I have even heard them talk about how ugly their c-section scar is! So many women want to go back to how they looked before they had their baby. Sometimes that just isn’t possible. The fact is that life moves on and things change. As we jump over the hurdles that come our way, we quickly find that things are never how they were yesterday or ten years ago. Being blessed with a baby is a beautiful thing! After a person goes through something major there is always a story, a scar, a limp, or as I like to put it...a badge of honor. It is so important for mothers to understand that the after-effects of having a baby is nothing to be ashamed of. My wife and I have not yet been blessed with the opportunity to have children naturally (we are proud adoptive parents). If we ever are given that chance, I don’t want my wife to have those fears or anxieties. I have often told her that I, as her husband, would always see her c-section scar, baby weight, or whatever as a badge of honor. She will always be beautiful in my eyes. I don’t think this should ever be something a woman is ashamed of. Sure, there are some women who are able to lose the weight quickly. And of course there are the celebrities who spring right back after having a baby, but that is with the help of an entire team of nutritionists, trainers, and who knows who else. 

1 Samuel 16:7 is a reminder of how we ought to view ourselves and how our significant others should view us: “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” We must learn to look beyond what is seen and instead focus on the heart. If you are a mother and have a “badge of honor,” know that you only have it because God has blessed you immensely. Let it serve as a reminder of the gift that has been given to you. Sure you can look back at how your life was before…that’s what memories are for! However, don’t look back and lament what you have lost. Instead, think about the honor that has been placed upon you and rejoice knowing that you brought life into this world. Your child and others owe you a multitude of thanks. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Weddings or Funerals?

“Weddings or funerals? Which do you prefer to officiate?” As a pastor, this is a question I get asked on occasion. Pastors have the privilege to do both quite often. I have personally officiated almost 40 weddings. It wasn't until I moved to Waupaca in 2004 that I began to officiate many funerals. One of the local mortuaries actually keeps my name and phone number on hand in case someone with no religious affiliation passes away and the family needs someone who is easy to work with and would make them feel comfortable. That is a high compliment indeed.

Back to the question at hand. Would I rather officiate a wedding or a funeral? I suppose if you were to focus on the “fun factor” I may have to go with weddings. However, the whole “bridezilla” thing is very real and some weddings aren’t as fun as they should be. Let’s just leave it at that. But for the most part, weddings are a pleasure to be a part of. They are celebrations of love, joy, and promise after all! I especially love officiating weddings when a wedding planner has been hired. People may not realize this, but when there isn’t an official wedding planner the pastor generally takes on the duties of organizing the ceremony’s events when he shows up for the rehearsal. This is why I personally charge a fee to officiate a wedding (you can read that blog by clicking here). 

Are weddings a great opportunity for ministry? Sometimes. This may be considered old fashioned but I make couples go through pre-marital counseling before I agree to officiate their wedding. This is when I can have the biggest impact as a pastor. When the big day arrives (and certainly by time the reception begins) half of the wedding party is buzzed and the rest of the night becomes a blur for them. Also, the pastor is usually friends with the couple and will remain their pastor for many years. This changes the dynamics of the situation. Likewise, let’s be honest: the pastor is often just viewed as a means to an end. The pastor provides the signature necessary to make the marriage license official. I have had people find me on Facebook a few weeks before their wedding date and ask if I would officiate their wedding. Not surprisingly, they “unfriend” me the moment they get back from the honeymoon. Of course I do have the chance to coach the couples during their counseling sessions, talk to people at the ceremony, and offer advice when asked, but I find that most people are focused on the party and not the religious aspects of the event.

What about funerals? The opportunity for ministry is much more prevalent when officiating a funeral. People's hearts are so soft and open to encouraging words and life changing or thought provoking questions when they are dealing with grief. Now, I suppose there are times when the pastor is again simply seen as a means to an end. The family feels bad about just burying Aunt Ruth “who had a beard and it felt weird” (Sorry for the “Veggietales” moment) so they ask the local pastor to say a few kind words, read the Lord's prayer, and give her a proper send off on a day that’s convenient for them. The coldest funeral I have ever officiated was when the parents of the deceased stayed in the car while I did the graveside service. Thankfully, those situations are few and far between. From a ministry perspective, the conversations with the families and lessons learned during this time of hurt are invaluable. Unfortunately, like weddings, once the funeral is over the “unfriending” on Facebook or in person begins. That is why I take whatever opportunity I get, short as it may be, to make an impact on the people who ask me to officiate their ceremony. 

At the end of the day there are ministry opportunities at both weddings and funerals. My answer when asked which I prefer? Funerals. I find that I’m able to have a bigger impact on the people I interact with as they grieve a lost loved one than when I’m working with a happy couple with stars in their eyes. As much as it warms my heart to see couples get married, I am much more moved by the chance to heal a broken heart. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy though. Being a pastor is my vocation. Regardless of what you do for a living, it’s easy to imagine how it might feel to form a friendship with a person when planning their wedding or arranging for a funeral only to be tossed aside after providing my service. It doesn’t feel good to be used for my credentials. 

I’m sure there are many of you out there who have never thought about this before. That’s not surprising since it’s not commonly talked about. This feeling is no different than any other situation when a photographer, doctor, or even insurance agent are being manipulated by the people they think are their friends. The realization that the friendship is based only on what service they can offer is tough. It’s not fun to realize that a bond you thought was real and genuine ends up to be “strictly business.” Yet, we keep on keeping on because there is still a large group of people who are genuinely blessed by the ceremonies we officiate. At times like these, the pastor is just as blessed as the people being tended to. Real bonds, real relationships, and real impact. That’s what life should be about.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Prais....Dirge and Worship

"They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your greatness." (Psalm 145:7 NIV)

I realize it can be a dangerous thing to base an entire blog off one Scripture. Focusing on one segment of Scripture out of context can lead to misinterpretation. In this case I feel confident because this entire Psalm is about praise. Apparently, we have caught David on a good day. Let's face it: David is very much on again off again with his joy. Perhaps it is the artistic melancholy side of his personality but it’s more likely that it can just be chalked up to the human side of him. David’s story is our story because we too go through all kinds of mood swings and emotional upheavals. None of this changes the fact that we love the Lord. 

I focused on this Scripture because I love the two words, “joyfully sing.” The music in the church during the 80’s and 90’s was dominated by the songs that got the drums going, feet tapping, and hands clapping (something similar to what you often find in black gospel churches). Much of this kind of music was ushered in via the Hosanna/Integrity Music label and what came out of the Brownsville Revival with Lindell Cooley at the musical helm. Morris Chapman was another man that was a breath of fresh air during this time. Think what you may of this kind of praise and worship but there was something very cool going on in this movement. While there was something very refreshing and even energizing about it, I will be the first to admit it could get a little corny at times. Songs like “Celebrate Jesus Celebrate” were a little over the top and I’m not sure the extra double claps from people like Sister Papoofnik helped it a whole lot. Like almost all popular music, it ran its course and got old after a while. It’s just like hearing your favorite song on the radio - you may love the song but when it is played every hour you just get tired of it.

Lindell Cooley brought together a mix of classic blues, modern praise and worship, and old hymns, which led to some true praise. People clapped their hands and  were genuinely excited, which made even those who lack rhythm to stay on beat with the music. People truly enjoyed the songs and happily sang along. Sadly, things have changed. I have noticed a trend in modern worship that I find to be disturbing or even worse…boring. The European comedian Eddie Izzard was so right when he said that white people can make anything amazing sound boring and lifeless, including the hallelujahs we sing. Meanwhile, the black gospel church can let it rip and even though they have a past of hurt and despair they shout with joy and celebration. I do not necessarily endorse Eddie Izzard in general, but it may be worth your time to watch this clip (please know there are some vulgarities). 

What I see going on in church today is more of a dirge than praise. I realize this is awfully opinionated but the word praise defined according to Merriam Webster is, “To say or write good things (someone or something): To express approval of (someone or something)."  To me, true praise is embodied by David in the book of Psalms when he was having a good day. I would specifically equate it with the time he danced out of his clothes while praising God as the Ark of the Covenant was brought into Jerusalem. This might be frowned upon in most churches but you get my drift. To praise something means you get excited, clap, and cheer! You just can’t help yourself because you are so filled with joy. Sadly the trend in praise and worship music today is nothing more than a “Woe is me, I am awful in God's eyes” dirge. Don't get me started on how theologically unsound some of these songs are. We have artists who sing “open up the heavens, we want to see you” meanwhile they forget the unchanging words of Scripture that says “No man can see my (God's) face and live.” (Exodus 33:20) Remember the song "In The Secret"? These kind of lyrics are harmful to Christians because people often beat themselves up when they make this their duty in devotions and it never happens. I often wonder why musicians get a pass when critics are all too eager to pick apart any Christian author who puts out something that they feel is theologically unsound. Why should it get a pass just because there’s a beat behind it? I worked in the Christian music industry long enough to know that unless there is a vulgarity, it will probably be deemed to be okay. Often, it’s more about the sound than the message. The lyrics go from majestic and thought provoking to words like “I wanna get my worship on.” That is a far departure from the poetry and majesty of words that leave us in awe.

It is important that the church gets back to the true meaning and celebration of Praise. Get excited and praise the Lord! Look at what the Lord has done in your life and realize that you are blessed. My kids got excited when I told them that we’ll be going to the Mall of America in Minneapolis, MN in April. They got EVEN MORE EXCITED when they found out they will have all-day passes to go on the rides. I will never be that pastor who compares praise and worship time to cheering for the Green Bay Packers. Quite honestly you would get thrown out of the church for causing a disturbance and the elders might frown on you yelling, "HEY SATAN! YOU SUCK!" And let’s not even imagine someone coming to church without their shirt and the church’s logo painted on their big belly! However, it is true that we should at least be equally as excited about praising God as we are about a game or vacation. Celebrate! Take time to think about God’s faithfulness and goodness and let that fill you with joy! Show him your love and gratitude by offering your genuine praise and worship. Look beyond the troubles in your life and the areas you wish you were better and just focus on God and his perfection. That’s when you will be able to truly take part in praise and worship rather than just a self-centered dirge.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Attack of the Meme

Let me just get this out there: I love memes. You just cant go wrong with a funny and witty meme. I am not sure how or when this fad began but at this point, Facebook should just change its name to meme book. While many of them are entertaining, Ill admit that there are times when they annoy me. It seems like people would rather post a picture of Rob Burgandy with a catchy phrase rather than actually express their own original thoughts. Regardless of that issue, I think some memes can be downright hilariousIm bringing this up because I am seeing a disturbing trend emerge and it quite frankly makes me fear for society.

I have long believed that people are far too bold when they are behind theirkeyboard. They say things online, in emails, and in text message that they would most likely never say to someones face. The funny thing is that this boldness is truly a sign of being cowardly. My basic business principle is that when people send me a nasty email or message I respond with a phone call or a face to facemeetingThis catches a lot of people off-guardand thats the point. In our technology driven world, people are now hiding behind their keyboards and meme generator appsSomehow people have accepted the idea that if they say something nasty via a witty meme that its not as damaging as just posting their actual opinions. Or worse, they actually put in the effort of creating the meme but express themselves that way to create a sort of division between them and the opinion. Let's talk about this for a moment. 

believe many people have forgotten the basic rule their parents or even grandparents taught them: If you do not have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. Usually memes have a sharp truth to them. The person posting it is often too socially inept to say something like that for themselves and think they can diffuse the situation by posting a funny little picture. And dont think this doesnt affect people in the church. It is so easy to do hit and run posts with memes that even Christians forget a basic nugget of wisdom found in Proverbs 15:1 NIV that states, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” 

If you look back at my blog posts since 2010 its no mystery that I was a bitter person who was hurt by things that have happened since Ive entered the ministry. I think it shook me up because its something I never would have imagined would happen. I won't go into all of the details. If you are interested just begin going back through my archives. I have not taken them down because they are part of my past and who I am. Those situations were real and they mattered. However, I can tell that writing those blogs did not do me a whole lot of good. The true healing came when I began to send out emails of apologies to those I have hurt and those whohave hurt me. Thats right - I apologized to the people who hurt me. They may have mistreated me, but in the end I was no better than them. I realized that I may have hurt them from behind the keyboard as I wrote about the incidents. Receiving forgiving responses back from them was very therapeutic and I literally felt like aweight had been lifted off my shoulders. 

I have only been on staff at two churches over the past 20 years (not including the time I ran children's church at the church I grew up at). My first youth/associate pastor role in Milwaukee lasted 8 years. My time here at Radiant Fellowship began in 2003 and this August marks my 10 year anniversary as lead pastor. Ill admit Im kind of proud of that. I truly believe this is all because of my Dad who taught me to be loyal, hardworking, and to value stability. This kind of longevity blows the ministerial statistics out of the water and I thank God for giving me the strength to endure itWhether theyre a church staffer or attender, the people who bounce around from church to church every few years should look at themselves and realize there is a problemCould it be that if the church has been there for years and they have a solid group of attendees that have been coming for years that the church isnt the problem? Could it be that you, the person bouncing around from church to church, are the one who needs some correction? 

I compare this to the person who cant seem to keep a friend for long. Things go well for a while but isnt too long before they begin to burn bridges and drift off to the next group of friends. I am going to go out on a solid limb here and say it is not the friends who have the issue but rather the one who keeps going through friends like crazy. Lately, it seems to be the American way to pass the blame and take the easy way out. This kind of self-protection makes sense because it is difficult to step backtake a look at yourself, and ask yourself, What is wrong with me? It took a few years for me to get the point where I could ask myself that question but am glad I did itTaking a sober look at myself and being honest about my condition put me in the position where I could have the stability in my family and ministry that I enjoy today. I am so thankful for the healing process that began when I looked at my own behavior and realized I had to change. It has even allowed me to look at other people differently. When I have a disagreement with someone or feel like someone is picking on me, I now realize they are simply hurt and I pray one day they will find healing as well. There are too many other ways to live life than to make broad generalizations about things that have happened to us. Life is too beautiful to live in bondage to the people who have hurt us or have let us down.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Minimalist Approach to Church (Breath of Fresh Air)

In a time in America where churches tend to equate a sovereign move of God with how big or small the offering is, it is refreshing to see those churches, big and small, that are taking on a more minimalistic approach towards ministry. The tiny house/minimalist movement is becoming more and more popular throughout society and I am thrilled to see it trickle over into a remnant of churches. It seems in modern church culture people are more encouraged to respond with their wallets than their hearts. This affects church relationships and friendships on many levels. 

It is no mystery that it takes funding to run a church. Funding will be needed as long as there is a building rented or owned and kids are taking home coloring sheets. Likewise, funding is needed if you are going to go out as a full time missionary overseas or at home (I will save my thoughts on that for another time). The people who love to take advantage of the things their church offers them but squirm when it comes to giving support to their church need to get over it. Outside of a few denominations, the church body itself is responsible for funding the church. Plain and simple: if there is no funding coming in, the church is stifled in what it can accomplish and provide. If people are supporting missions through prayer and encouragement but the funding is not there, it certainly hinders what that missionary can do or how long they can stay out in the field. Demanding money to operate begins to feel no different than a pyramid business scheme. If a party is thrown and a few people buy some products, no one really goes home with much and the consultant is left wondering if the business is really providing a livable or reliable income. Without the steady flow of give and take, both ends of the transaction leave feeling unsatisfied. The same is true of the church. When there isn’t a steady flow of income, programs and ministries cannot flourish. And without flourishing programs and ministries, the people of the church suffer.

Allow me to hang out on the church issue because it is near and dear to my heart. In case you didn’t know, I am a pastor and therefore I will speak to what I know best. Whenever a church makes the main thrust of each meeting the amount of money they receive in an offering, something is seriously wrong. To me this focus on money is the personification of what it means when Scripture says, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) This might seem like a broad generalization, but I have been in far too many of these money-centric meetings to just let this issue slide. I can tell you that it is when money becomes the central theme, everything else falls apart. With this kind of mindset, church leaders begin to say things like, “Yes it’s great that the music was good, the speaker was on point, and there were only mild soundboard issues, but what really matters is putting on a good show so we can pull in a big offering.” These kind of conversations stem from ministries and churches that are operating on a larger than life budget. Living beyond your means really does put you in a desperate situation. These churches are usually neck deep in debt themselves, but offer their congregants Dave Ramsey classes during the week (again in hopes that it will inspire them to give a good offering that Sunday).

When churches operate this way, the problem is that the main thrust of each meeting and most conversations circle around money. How could it not when a church needs to bring in thousands of dollars a week just to stay afloat? This can become exhausting and really wear a congregation out. Just like your relationship would wain with a friend who becomes a missionary and suddenly centers every conversation on supporting their dream and vision, you just get tired of it. Once you have finally succumbed to supporting that dream and vision, they begin pushing for more money and more support. Their need, like the church that has stretched beyond its means, is a bottomless bit. 

Let me give you another example. Imagine a friend of yours becomes an independent sales consultant for a company and suddenly all of your conversations with that friend circle around how your life would be so much better if you bought their product. No matter what the topic at hand is, it always comes back to the product they're selling and how they think you need it. 

I don’t know about you, but I want to see the proof of something’s effectiveness before I buy it. If a person is selling products that are meant to improve your health, they ought to be the picture of optimal health, right? Similarly, a person should have a difficult time accepting life teachings when a church is massively in debt. It’s just contrary to Scripture.

I admit that Radiant Fellowship is not a perfect church. We are small, there are sound board glitches, and occasionally the pastor looks goofy. We do not have a whole lot of activities going on and that is somewhat purposeful. Peoples lives are so busy outside of the church, and we believe they probably don’t need a whole lot extra activities going on within the church building. Nevertheless, we love people and there are many other churches that do as well. We offer our standard Sunday morning service along with a kids’ program. Our regular midweek activities consist of family night on Wednesday evenings, which provides something for everyone. Once a month, our men's ministry and women's ministry meet as well. The second Sunday of each month we have a Communion potluck meal. On those days we have our regular church service, take Communion, and have lunch together. We feel this is a pretty solid Biblical way of doing Communion. There are some random events here and there along with outreaches, but that is it. Really, when I list it all out, we have a lot going on! There’s no need for more at this time. What’s most refreshing to me is that we have a solid church community and are growing together in our faith and our friendships but our weekly operating budget is only about $900 per week. Could we do more? Sure. I will admit that it would be great to hire a children's pastor but at this point we are doing fine with volunteers. It is freeing to know that if we do not bring in enough one week, we will more than likely be fine. This allows our ministries and what we are actually doing for the people to remain the main thrust of what we talk about. Our attention is given to reaching people and touching their hearts rather than putting on a show that will entice them to give us money. 

Now, I admit there have been times I had to send an email to the church as a whole because giving was down and we were struggling to pay our bills. But to me, there is a difference between reaching out when there are genuine needs that must be met  versus constantly seeking to fill the bottomless pit of debt accrued over time.

Yes, we have had a couple of people leave because the show they had come to see (I mean church service they attended) had a few hiccups with sound or lyrics. Quite honestly if someone is going to leave because of those things, I am okay with it. These are usually people whose only contribution are critiques “because they care.” The main emphasis of any church ought to be to simply serve through their services, kids’ programs, and outreaches. Any time these things begin to cost lots of money, their budget should get looked at. Moreover, a church should never base whether or not they help someone on what they give to the church. As crazy as it sounds, I’ve heard of this happening. We have to remember the central purpose of the church: to teach, build up, and support each other. Again, it comes back to give and take. Give what you can and take when you need to. Then, when you’re able to give again, do so. It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that.

The bottom line is this: A church can function more effectively if they stay well within in their means. Perhaps the only debt a church is carrying is the mortgage, which is something modern society sees as “good debt.” But if the mortgage payments stretch the church too thin, there has to be a better way. But it doesn’t stop with building expenses. Spending $10,000 to upgrade the computer system so the church can provide streaming services via their website is a bit excessive don’t you think? There are ways to provide streaming services at a much lower rate. It may not be as fancy, but it gets the job done. Personally, I would much rather see that $10,000 provide relief for a hurting person or family within the church. When money gets in the way of ministry and money is talked about more than caring for the people, there is a problem. Service must always be our main objective and therefore must be our main focus.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Stability In Life, Family and Ministry

The other night my wife and I ended the day as we usually do by reading a devotion together. Currently we have been working through "Night Light For Parents" by Dr. James Dobson. This week’s study is focused on fathers. Dr. Dobson set up the book so that the reader goes through the devotion and then is faced with three questions about the topic at hand. One of the questions was, “How did your dad influence the person you’ve become today?" I simply responded to Tracy with the word stability. My dad is not a college educated man or even a high school graduate. However, he valued education. I cherish the memories I have from when I was 7 or 8 years old and watched as he worked to get his GED so that he would have a stable foundation if his job situation would ever change. 

My dad was a polisher at one location in Menomonee Falls, a suburb of Milwaukee, for decades. They made all kinds of things for doctor’s offices. If it had chrome on it, he was probably the one who polished it. He was there for decades until customers decided to get the equipment shipped in from overseas. I remember him being a bit frantic because his job was part of who he was - it was how he defined himself. For 20+ years he worked at this one place and did the same thing. Thankfully, it wasn't long before he found a new employer in Milwaukee that had a contract with Harley Davidson Motorcycles to do all of their chrome work. Despite the fact that my Dad was in his 50s, they hired him shortly after he applied. They knew the value of experience and hard work. He proceeded to work there until he retired in his late 60s. My Dad built a strong work ethic in my brother and I. He showed me how to provide for my family and build a strong future. I am thankful for his strong work ethic and the way he displayed the value of stability. It’s one of the things I most admire about him even today.

I have only applied for two jobs in my entire life. My first job was at a toy store in Mayfair Mall and my second job was at a factory after I graduated from high school. This provided me with insurance and a livable income so that I could work for free as a youth pastor and associate pastor. The jobs in-between those two main jobs were simply because the managers asked me to join their team, which included working in a bookstore and a few software companies. When I was hired as a youth pastor for the first time it was an unpaid position. The church was unable to offer me a salary but the pastor offered me the job and it seemed like a good fit. I stayed at that one church for eight years, which goes against all statistics regarding youth pastors and their longevity at a church. The position went from free to part-time pay and eventually to a livable income for a single guy (which I was at the time). My role evolved and I ended up pastoring the youth, children, elderly, and every age group in-between. This is what’s expected of a staff pastor at a small church. You know: see a need and fill it. Of course there were times I got disgruntled but there were many more times I simply loved what I did. In the words of Reggie Dabbs, “I cannot believe I am getting paid to do this!” I loved the place. If circumstances were different, I would still be there.

During this time I had three offers to go on staff at other churches. One in Kansas, another in a now huge church in Germantown, WI and the third at the church I am currently pastoring in Waupaca, WI. Tracy and I came to Waupaca each summer as we grew up. We loved the area and decided to accept that offer. I was once again an unpaid youth pastor and had to commute to Milwaukee each week. This transitional time was difficult, but thankfully I was soon given a small part-time salary and the youth group began to explode. We had 80+ kids coming to our outreaches and 30+ attending youth group every week. This is incredible because this church only had 5 or 6 teens as regular Sunday attenders! After an unexpected problem arose in the church, I was asked to become the senior pastor. This was a crazy time in my life and I was bombarded with job offers to leave and go here or there. I had an Assembly of God district official ask me over and over again if I would come on staff at his church. 

Opportunities were everywhere, but I had the values of stability and loyalty deeply seated in my heart from my father. I knew God called me to be a husband first and placed me in this church in Waupaca, WI for a reason. Despite the turmoil in the past, the church was doing well. I knew I had to stay where I was, regardless of how alluring the other offers were. Fast-forward to today and I have now been a part of this church for 12 years! August of 2015 will mark my 10 year anniversary as senior pastor. I have been in full time ministry for almost 20 years and have only served at two churches. I believe this is my Dad's strong work ethic reflecting in me.

What kind of traits are you passing onto your children? Kids grow up fast and we need to set a good example. We cannot selfishly do what we want to do at the cost of our kids not having the upbringing they deserve. What is your work ethic like? What do you value and give your time to? Sometimes I wonder about social networking. It is safe to assume that this semi-new way of communication will not be going anywhere anytime soon. When our children are able to have their own accounts, what will they see when they scroll back on us? You do realize they will be able to do that, don’t you? Will they see parents they are proud of or will they be shocked or disappointed by what they see? I hope to leave a legacy like my Dad did. One to be proud of.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

When The Novelty of Death Wears Off

It’s interesting how death has a way of awakening our senses to what is really important. I remember when someone's aunt called me a few years ago to tell me that her niece had just passed away. She said, “I realize now I need to get back to church because life is just too short and I want to set a good example for my children.” The great thing is that she ended up coming with quite a bit of her family! Sadly, within a couple of weeks the novelty of death wore off and they stopped coming to church.

I never understand people who call me, email me, text me, message me on Facebook, tweet me on Twitter (shall I go on?) and tell me, “Pastor Bob, I really need to get back to church and will begin this Sunday!” This happens so frequently to me that I am quite confident this is a regular conversation pastors have with people all across America. The good thing is that people do actually show up that Sunday when they say this to me. However, it’s often the people who have this sudden burst of inspiration who end up coming for a week or two but quickly disappear after that. Often, the desire to come back to church wasn't brought on by a need to be in the institutional church to hear from God, but rather to be with people who love and support them. It is when we’re in crisis that we realize we need friends to help us. What these people are looking for is to have a feeling of belonging.

Think about the people at the doctor’s office who hear, “Things are not looking so good” or receive a diagnosis of some life threatening or terminal disease. Once again, I am amazed by the way that the desire to come to church takes hold of them so quickly. A bad diagnosis is all many people need to fire them up to become a devoted church attender. This really is a crazy roller-coaster that leaves those who make church attendance a lifestyle decision scratching their head. Now because the doctor told you something you didn’t want to hear you are finding yourself in need of support and hoping to find it? That’s convenient.

Let me clarify by saying I have no doubt these people in need will find the support they are looking for in a church, but why stay away so long? Why be forced to create new relationships and bond with people you hope will understand your plight when you’re in the midst of a crisis? Had you stayed plugged into the church you would have known exactly who to call or talk to. The bonds you would have already formed would be there and you would know you had people around you who would lift you up.

The deal is this: if you stay plugged into a church and make it a lifestyle decision rather than a weekly choice, you will have the support system you are hoping for. Some of the strongest friendships I have ever seen were formed in the church. It is easy to understand why you think it’s easier to not go to church when times are good. Perhaps you had a late night at work, or the kids are cranky, you are cranky, or sleep just feels like a better option. I get that. However, the benefits of being a part of a loving community of believers is priceless. It cannot be bought and it’s not something that develops overnight. Finding your place in your church community when times are good gives you access to help and support when the tough times come.

My greatest concern about this roller-coaster of treating church like a weekly choice rather than a lifestyle decision is, when will it end? Inevitably another loved one will die, you’ll receive bad news from the doctor, or some other calamity will come at you in your life…and then what? Will this cycle just start over again? Why put yourself through that emotional upheaval when you can stay plugged into a support system that knows you well?

Obviously, there are many good reasons to find a great church. It may be a struggle for a while to find the right place but when you do find it, stick with it. You will be glad you did.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Simplicity Is Tough

I have long believed that a pastor ought to be careful about what he or she chooses to speak on because God will often take you through a trial that is meant to give you a deeper understanding of the topic at hand. He wants to make sure you legitimately know what you are talking about! At Radiant Fellowship, the church I pastor, we are in a 31 week series entitled “THE STORY.” It is a fantastic series that is taking us through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. This past Sunday we were wrapping up the story of Exodus and how the people complained the entire time. Well, let me tell you that last week proved to be a test in this very area in my life. 

Wisconsin can get cold in the winter. Stupidly cold. On Wednesday I woke up to my house at 65 degrees. Now some people might think that is okay but we usually keep the temperature of our house at 70 degrees. This makes my wife happy and when she is happy, we’re all happy. Well, it turned out to be a problem with our furnace. After successfully fixing two furnaces for other people this winter I thought I should be able to fix my own. This proved to be very unsuccessful which ended in a visit from the furnace repair company. While I’m glad to say things turned out better than they could have, it was still unexpected. 

The very next day I had to take my wife's car into the shop to get it looked at because it had developed a clunking sound. Shortly after dropping the car off, I received a phone call from the mechanic who told me that the clunking sound was the least of my problems. There was a massive oil leak coming from the cam seals. This was another unforeseen repair cost. 

What I found most interesting about both scenarios is how much of a throw away society we really are. Regarding the furnace, after two days of working on my 20+ year old boiler the two technicians told me that I should just purchase a new one. Even though the cost to repair it was under $1,000.00, the technicians thought it would be better to just replace it with a new $7,500.00 system. The same applied to my wife’s car. It has less than 100,000 miles on it but one of the mechanics told me I should trade it in and get a new one. He truly believed it was time to dump our car and get a new one when the repair cost would be a fraction of the cost of a new car. 

I can’t help but reflect on the words of the apostle Paul who said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:12) We live in such a throw away and debt driven world that we have forgotten what it is like to be frugal. In times like these I am reminded of my trips to other countries where the idea of throwing away a furnace that just needs to be repaired would be crazy. The furnace repair technicians were thinking I should buy a new system while I was fully prepared to limp the house through the rest of winter with just a couple of the Eden Pure space heaters we have. Why go into debt over a furnace? As for the car, we have had no car payments for over a year now and I was not about to trade in such a nice car for something I would be making monthly payments on again simply because a few seals needed to be repaired. 

Contentment is something that is not always popular. It may mean driving a car that has a couple rust spots on it. Contentment might mean living in a house that is just a bit smaller than your neighbor’s house but you stay because you are happy there. Society is always yelling, “More! More! More!” at every turn. Bigger is better and the more something costs the more desirable it becomes. At the end of the day, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Train Up A Child

Yesterday at church I made reference to Proverbs 22:6, a classic verse that states: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”

I chose to talk about this verse because at school, my kids are now at an age that they get commended when they succeed and behave themselves, and well…not so much when they do something wrong. It’s times like these that make a parent look at this verse and realize how much work they have to do. The King James Version says, “Train up a child…” Don’t just steer them, train them. While I would love for this to be an intense one-day training, I realize that’s just not possible. Training takes a long time and is filled with moments of victory and moments of feeling completely defeated (for both the person being trained and the trainer). However, no matter what challenges you face, you press on knowing that the outcome will be worth it.

Now I will be the first to admit that it is difficult when your child is not heading in the direction you anticipated. In fact it can be downright deflating when you, as the parent, get lectured by a teacher because of your child’s behavior. And there is no doubt that it can be twice as defeating when the “ADD talk” begins. As a Christian, a father, and the head of my household I have to make choices to better my family. God has to direct change in our homes. It cannot come from any teacher, doctor, or any other authority figure in your child’s life. It starts at the top. When problems arise, as a parent you officially switch into “Coach of the Year” mode because you realize there is some intense training that needs to take place. May I share a few steps from my playbook with you?  My hope is that through my transparency, you will be able to take away a few things and apply them to your families. 

First, we simply need to pray more. It goes without saying that we need to pray often. We should pray together with our families around the dinner table but we must, as husbands and fathers, take the lead and pray for our families on our own. Just the other night I was frustrated and stayed up until midnight just walking up and down the hallway of my house praying over my kids and my wife. I have faced enough attacks from the enemy to know what needed to be done and let me say, the next morning my intense praying had paid off. We began to see things change for the good and knew that we had turned the corner. This cannot be overstated: we must be people of prayer.

Second, stop playing the “I’m too busy” game. What is so important that you cannot take a little time away to just be goofy with your kids or go out with your spouse on a “date night”? I realize life comes at us hard but the fact is that we can and must make time for what we really want to do. Even if they can be challenging, our kids need us. And spouses need each other too! Those dirty dishes can wait. We must take time for each other. 

Most importantly, we must have times of prayer and reading together. I guess you could say the old church would call this “Family Altar.” It has gotten to the point that if we do not pray before a meal or before going to bed, my kids call us out on it! I love that. We have always prayed with our kids each night and I think that sets a good standard. I am so thankful that my wife comes alongside me and makes this happen. We take it a step further and read to our kids 98% of the time before they go to bed. Occasionally it is something that won't directly help their spiritual walk, but it is important to stay up on Curious George and his antics! The love, time, and thought behind the act of reading with our children is what matters. That is what they will remember as they grow older and eventually raise families of their own. Recently, I came across a family devotional entitled “Grace For the Moment For Kids” by Max Lucado. It is a 365 day devotional for the whole family that is easy to read and great to discuss. We now read the devotional, talk about the questions or thoughts posed at the end of each message, and pray for each other. It is vitally important to do these things each and every day to promote the development and health of our families. 

Going back to the original Scripture from Proverbs, I have noticed an assumption that needs to be addressed. As parents we cannot train a child in the way he/she should go unless we know which way he/she should go. Many of the things we do to train our children must also come with understanding of our own. We must start from the ground up and lay a strong foundation of the basics before we can expect our children to be like mature believers. We fail our children when we try to make youngsters think and act like adults. Remember, God delights in small beginnings (Zechariah 4:10).

We ought to always do our best as parents to lead our families well. Is Proverbs 22:6 a promise? No. It is what theologians would call “wisdom literature.” If we are willing to put our selfishness aside, things ought to turn out well as we honor God. We cannot control what will happen in the future, but if we do our best to give our children solid ground on which to stand, they have a much better chance at succeeding as they grow older.