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.