Tuesday, July 3, 2018

When You Feel Alone...

Grandma James and I
Two years ago today started what was to this point in my life, the hardest thing I ever had to go through.  It was two years ago today, that my Grandma James, (whom I lived with and helped care for) was admitted to the hospital in a series of events that would end with her passing 12 days later.  At first, it didn't seem too serious.  Grandma was quite ill, but she was admitted to the hospital and seemed to be improving.

Then Everything Changed.

It was so sudden.  She went from doing ok, to literally she could die at any moment and I didn't know what to do.  Though it wasn't normally the case, at that point in time, much of my family was out of town.  My Aunt (who had Grandma's power of attorney and medical proxy), Uncle, and Cousins were out of state on vacation, my brother was at his home in Ohio, my parents were at their home in West Virginia.  All the Doctors and Nurses were looking to me for answers to questions that I simply couldn't answer and I really thought I was going to fall apart.  So much had been happening up to that point that I had literally told a friend the day before that I didn't think I could handle one more thing.  I was as far down as I had ever been and didn't know what to do.  I felt utterly alone.

But I wasn't alone.  The day before I had contacted one of my Aunts on the other side of the family and asked if she would come sit with me, which she gladly did.  So when Grandma took a turn for the worse, she was there.  Right there...holding me up so I wouldn't fall.  Other family and friends started helping however possible.  People from my church showed up via text, in person, on the phone, on facebook, and let me know that they were praying for me.  And then within 12 hours all the family who had been out of State was also with me.

Psalm 94:17-19 (NIV) says:
17 Unless the Lord had given me help,
    I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.
18 When I said, “My foot is slipping,”
    your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
19 When anxiety was great within me,
    your consolation brought me joy.

Those words speak to me in a very special way because that is exactly how I felt two years ago.  I felt like "my foot was slipping", but true to his Word, just when I thought I would fall apart, God made sure that the support I needed would be there.  

Those next few days are a bit of a blur.  As we sat and waited for the end that we knew was drawing near for Grandma, we looked to the Lord for strength and to those around us for encouragement.  So many people...from literally all over the world, stood with us during that time.  Some were in the room with us, some were holding us in prayer from all parts of the globe, but all were with us and we felt their prayers.  

So, why write about this?  Because we all go through times where we feel alone.  Ministry is tough and while Pastors go visit their parishioners when someone is in difficult circumstances, when we Pastors are in difficult circumstances sometimes we don't know how to reach out for help. We sometimes feel like we are "just supposed to handle it" because we are the Pastor.  But I want to encourage you to remember that no matter what is happening in your life, you are not alone...and you are don't have to "just handle it" when times are hard.  Not only will God walk those difficult paths with us, if we will allow it, He will send others to walk with us as well.  But we have to be vulnerable enough to accept that help.  

Having been in the depths of confusion, frustration, sadness, and helplessness, I can attest that it's not a place I want to go to go back to, but if life takes me there again, I will continue to lean on the One who made me, but I won't be afraid to reach out for help from those He sends to walk with me.  

Have a blessed week everyone! 

Friday, May 4, 2018

Build One Another Up...

I Thessalonians 5:11 says, "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing." (NIV)  This week, I was able to attend the CM Conference sponsored by CM Connect and this Conference is the epitome of that verse.  I always walk away encouraged and am blessed to be able to encourage others as well.   This was my fourth time at the conference and I love it more and more with each passing year.  I have been to several national conferences, but this one is special and for those of you who haven't yet attended, let me share a bit about what makes it so amazing.

It's Small.
Corinne Noble and I
Though there are several hundred people that attend the CM Conference, it still has the feel of a family reunion.  People quickly get to know each other and you make friends with lots of folks before you know it.  There are wonderful resource tables where you can pick up new curriculum, learn about music options, meet awesome Children's Evangelists and so much more.  And because it's a smaller conference, you can actually stop and chat with the people at the booth or share a meal with them at one of the After Parties so you really get to know the people behind the products.  It's a unique blessing that simply isn't easy to do at a conference attended by thousands of people.  Plus you get to meet so many amazing people in ministry.   I have friends across the country and in many denominations that I met at the CM Conference and while I keep connected with them online, I look forward to getting to see them in person every year at the CM Conference.

It offers Workshops led by Folks Just Like You

Sheree Lee, Sabrina Williams, and I
The people who are leading the workshops are sharing their expertise from the "trenches".  Most of the presenters are on staff at churches from all denominations and all sizes.  Everyone is very approachable and the information very practical.  And there are so many to choose from...seriously.  This year the workshops included topics like, Interactive Family Worship (I was honored to lead that one),  Emotional Concussions, Seasons of Ministry, Discipline, VBS, Urban Ministry, Special Needs Ministry and so much more.  If you had a ministry question, I bet there was a workshop on it. Michael Chanley and his phenomenal team do an amazing job of lining up helpful and varied workshops for this Conference each and every year.

It's EXTREMELY Budget Friendly 
Lunch with Amber Blake and Brittney Wellman
I dare you to try and find another four day conference offering more than 100 workshops that is less expensive than this conference.  Though prices haven't been published yet for next year's event, generally if you register early, the cost for this conference is less than $150.  That is unheard of.  Even if  you wait until the very last minute to register, it is still less than $250.  Plus there are  scholarships available if the cost is too much for your church.  You really can not find another Conference offering as many opportunities for learning and networking for less money anywhere.   

If you work with children, I can not encourage you enough to check out this conference next year.  It is amazingly well done, allows you to make connections with people all over the country who understand what it means to be in Children's Ministry,  provides a wealth of practical workshops, and is budget friendly.  It really has everything.  Hope to see you there next year!  

Until next time...


Friday, February 23, 2018

Sometimes Ministry is Just Hard...But Don't Give Up!

I love being a Pastor.  I love my Church Plant and the way I am allowed to do services differently, enabling all age groups to be engaged and involved in the services.  I love when we have visitors and when their kids are excited because they will be sitting at a table together and there are things on the table for them to play/learn with.  And I love when I see someone understand a Biblical truth in a way they never had before.

But Ministry is not easy.  In fact, sometimes it is just hard.  Sometimes the people don't come.  Sometimes the weather causes you to not have service (which can make funds tight).  Sometimes there simply isn't the money you hoped would be there.  Sometimes our events are well planned, but poorly attended, and our plans to build the church fail.  Sometimes we can get discouraged.

I love the book of Philippians.  It has been my "go to" Book of the Bible whenever I needed encouragement for many years.  Philippians 1:6 says, "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will be faithful to carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."  In this passage Paul is talking about our personal spiritual walks, about how we should continue to grow in our walk to be like Jesus, but it applies in times of discouragement as well because on our journey with Christ, things will not always go smoothly.  There will be times of trouble and pain.  But this verse reminds us that God is still faithful during those times as well and that HIS work goes on in our lives if we keep following Him.

As I think about it, Paul was sitting in jail as he wrote those words.  To those outside the church, he probably looked like a failure because he was sitting in a jail cell instead of being out doing "church work", but God used Him in mighty ways while he was in jail and gave him opportunities to reach others for the Lord that he would not have gotten any other way.  Paul continued to grow in his walk with the Lord and went wherever the Lord led him on that journey and in doing so, God used him to reach countless others for the Kingdom, but probably not through the avenues Paul might have envisioned for himself...but it was never about what Paul might have envisioned.

It is important for us to remember that just because things are not going according to OUR plans, doesn't mean that God's plan has changed.  If God calls you to do something and you know that God has put it on your heart, then do it.  You must go where He sends you and do what He leads you to do.  Don't be discouraged because the results don't look like what you thought they would look like.  What looks like failure to you could be the exact steps God needed you to take so that HIS plan could flourish.  Keep going.  Keep believing.  Keep praying.  Keep working.  If HE gave you to plan, then HE will make the results come on HIS timetable...not yours.  For us, this can be very frustrating because we want to see God working.  We want results!  But God is very often working behind the scenes in ways that we could never dream and when HE is ready, then we will see results.  Our job, is simply to follow HIS leading.  Whatever He asks, wherever He leads, through whatever difficulties might come our way...we keep going.  We keep trusting. We keep following the path that He sets out for us.  And we can rest in the knowledge that HE will walk with us and when we get to the end of the road, we will be able to look back and say, "Wow...Look at what God did.  I'm so glad He let me be a part of it."

Until next time...

Friday, July 28, 2017

Ministry in the World of Social Media

     I went into full time ministry in 2005.  When it comes to social media, it was an entirely different world then.  MySpace was the popular site and it was a bit of a big deal to choose who your "top friends" were.  Facebook was new and you had to have a university email address to use it so it wasn't nearly as easily accessible as it is now.  Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter were not even much on the radar yet if at all.  So, to connect with the world around you, it was necessary to actually go out into that world.  Email was an easy way to communicate, but folks did still send actual letters from time to time.  However, in order for people to really get to know who you were, they generally had to talk to you face to face.
     Today, it is a different story.  Now, most people (though not all people) are on some form of social media.  They use it to connect with people all around the world and it is now a necessary tool for many types of jobs...ministry included.  However, the thing about Social Media is that you have a platform from which to talk to the world...the whole world.  And our circle of influence for the Kingdom got a lot bigger.  We "like" or "share" posts we find interesting or funny.  We comment on world events.  We cheer on our favorite sports teams or promote our favorite entertainment choices.  We are pretty transparent when we are online.  And, that is a good thing...but it is also something we need to be aware of.  Because our witness can be damaged by the choices we make online.
     Now, I am not saying that we should not be authentic when we are online.  Hypocrisy is not good in any form, but when we sit behind a computer screen, sometimes the filters that we use in our real life, seem to disappear.  But living a life of Holiness, doesn't pause when we sit down at our computers.   We, as Christians, are meant to live all the parts of our lives in such a way that everything we do points people to Jesus.   Here are a few things to remember when it comes to our online witness:

     1)  Be Christlike in your online speech. 
          This is maybe the biggest thing I see online.  Can I tell you how often I have seen something that a fellow Christian has posted and been disheartened?  From politics, to sports, to family interactions, it is important to look over what you are posting and ask yourself: 
   A) Does this really need to be said?   And if it does, is this the proper forum in which to say it?
   B) Am I venting simply because someone else thinks differently than I do?
   C) How would I react if my child/grandchild/neighbor kid were talking like this about a classmate? 
   D) Is this building up the Kingdom of God?

     2)  Don't Steal
          Do you own the rights to the picture you are posting online?  If not, you are stealing.  It is very easy and inexpensive to create photo graphics for your church or blog through sites like www.canva.com.  If you share a picture online through a share tab, that is fine...after all, that is what the share tab is for.  But if you save it to your computer, then share it as if you created it, that's not ok. You wouldn't steal it from a store, so don't steal it online either.
    3)  Do a quick social media check on yourself from time to time
         Every so often, go through the items you have posted online.  Do they reflect who you want to be?  What would your impression be if you saw those same posts on the social media account of someone else? 

    4)  Fact Check
         If you see a news article, warning, or alert about something, check it out before you share it.  There are a ton of bogus "warning" articles and lots of inaccurate news/stories out there.  Before you "share" at least check out the story on snopes.com or some other fact checking site and find out if there is any truth to it. 

Living a life of Holiness is not something we turn off and on.  If we really want to be like Jesus, then we have to include our online world in that journey as well.  After all, in today's day and age, the first place someone may meet you could be online...and as they say, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression."  

Until next time!

Friday, June 30, 2017

We Are A Part of Something Bigger...#GA2017

I just got back from General Assembly.  This event takes place every four years in the Church of the Nazarene and it is when delegates come together from all parts of the globe (we are in 162 countries and minister in more than 200 languages worldwide) and do the business of the church. During these days, changes are adopted to our Manual (this contains the bylaws of the Church of the Nazarene) as well as looking at policies and procedures for the global church.  I talked quite a bit about what goes on at General Assembly in a former post so I won't spend a lot of time now, but if you want to learn more about what General Assembly is, you can read about it here. Today, I want to share a couple of highlights from General Assembly 2017.

First, there were amazing worship services.  It is hard to put into words what it is like to worship with so many brothers and sisters from around the globe, but it is amazing.  Since I am trying to learn Korean, I decided to get a translator headset so I could listen to the services and the some of the business meetings in that language.  That was an experience all its own.  I don't know enough to be able to follow along solely in Korean, but it was cool when I would be able to pick out the things I did know.  On Saturday night, they brought out on stage dozens of people to sing "The Revelation Song," and it was broken up into multiple languages.  What a moving experience that was.  You can watch the video below if you'd like to see it.  Wow!  In fact, you can find videos of all the services as well as this week's business meetings on YouTube.
Second, not only did I get to meet and/or catch up with friends from all over the USA, I was blessed to meet and get to know Nazarene Brothers and Sisters from all over the world. I met an amazing group from Nassau, Bahamas during the first couple days of Assembly and then was blessed to see them several times throughout the event. They brightened my day each time we got to see each other. Then another day, I met two women from Taiwan, one of which was the pastor of her church and had been pastoring there for many years.  What an inspiration she was.  I met the District Superintendent's wife from one of our India Districts as well as the General Assembly Delegate from another India District, both of which were amazing women of God.  I was blessed to chat several times with the fantastic woman, named Sun, who was manning the booth for Korea Nazarene University and I got to see the show their Tae Kwon Do Team put on.  It was jaw dropping.   It was great to get to catch up with the people Mom and Dad had worked with at Africa Nazarene University as well.  There were literally people to meet from all parts of the world and I tried to meet as many as I had the opportunity to do so.

Finally, I was there to witness the election of our two newest General Superintendents.  For those not familiar with the Church of the Nazarene, we have six General Superintendents who lead our church globally.  It is a huge job and not one that any of us take lightly.  They have the responsibility of chairing every District Assembly worldwide, ordaining all ministerial candidates each year from all parts of the world, as well as many many more duties.  This year, we elected Dr. Filimeo Chambo from our Africa Region and Dr. Carla Sunberg who has been the president of Nazarene Theological Seminary.  Dr. Chambo's election brings our Board of General Superintendents to three from within the US and three from outside the US and Dr. Sunberg in our second ever woman to be elected a GS.  It was an incredible honor to see these two wonderful leaders in our church elected to our highest office. 

General Assembly reminds me once again that we are bigger than just our local church.  Bigger than our Districts and even bigger than our countries.  We are a part of a global team all working together to reach the world for Jesus.  And when we include our brothers and sisters from other denominations that team just gets bigger.  It's important to remember that we are not alone.  It's important to remember that there are others working for the Kingdom in places we may never get to visit ourselves.  And it's important to remember that we are indeed all ONE team, pursuing ONE goal and that is the share CHRIST with the world.  I'm honored to be a small part of this global team.  

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

General Assembly 2017...

It happens every four years and it's my favorite event in the life of my denomination.  It's General Assembly and it is happening later this month in Indianapolis, Indiana.  What makes it so special?  Well, there are many things that I look forward to at General Assembly, but here are my top 3 reasons why I love it:

1) It is very much a family reunion...
I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene.  In fact, I joined the church when I was about 10 years old.  I have been on staff in 6 churches across three states, been the Preacher's Kid in 11 churches (ranging from infancy-now) since my Dad is a Pastor, went to a Nazarene University ("On a hill stands old Trevecca..."), and the list goes on.  To say I have Nazarene friends around the world is not an understatement and the only time I have opportunity to catch up with those amazing people is when we all come together for General Assembly.  It's a time to see how God is working in the lives of people across the world.  And there will literally be people there from all parts of the world (except perhaps Antarctica...I don't believe we have any churches on that continent...yet. 😁)  At Assembly we get to encourage and learn from each other in ways that simply are not possible at any other time.  It's amazing.  This year, I gave myself a challenge and I have been learning Korean.  I'm not even remotely fluent, but I can hold a short conversation pretty well now. I'm excited to be able to greet the participants who speak Korean in their own language this time.  Why?  Well, why not?  They are a part of my global family and not many of us in the States had the opportunity to learn any Asian languages in school, so now as an adult, I'm trying to learn.  Eventually, I plan to learn a little Japanese, Chinese, and even Vietnamese as well and then at the next General Assembly I'll be able to greet them properly too...but this time...I'm focused on Korean. We shall see how well I do. 

2) We get great training for ministry...
There are tons of workshops covering every area of ministry throughout the first few days of General Assembly.  This free training is available to anyone who wants to attend and is an amazing resource for those who want to grow in their faith, add to their ministerial toolkit, or simply learn more about the Kingdom of God.  Plus there is a large exhibit hall where you can get more information about ministry tools, learn about the work God is doing around the globe, check out the large number of Nazarene Educational Institutions that are represented, or even shop for a souvenir.  There really is something for everyone.

3) The Worship Services...
There are amazing church services in the evenings of Assembly.  They are dynamic, they are fast paced, they are really cool to be a part of, but more importantly, they are filled with the power of God as we hear His Word brought from one of our General Superintendents.  It is amazing and it really is something that you have to experience to fully appreciate.

There is also a huge service project that takes place leading up to General Assembly called "One Heart, Many Hands" (See the video below) and the work they accomplish is highlighted during one of the evening services.  It is always amazing to see just how much can be done when everyone bands together.  Hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of people will come early to participate in this amazing outreach.  

If you have the opportunity to come to General Assembly, I hope you will come and see all that God is doing in the life of the Church of the Nazarene.  And if you will not be attending, please pray for all those who are.  We appreciate it.  I'll share some highlights from the event next month.  

Until next week! 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Memories and Ministry

Memories are important in our lives.  All the pieces of our past make us who we are currently.  The good, the bad, the painful, the fun, the humorous, and the heartrending....all of those memories help make us who we are.  While some are more pleasant than others to remember, none are more or less important because without even one of them, we would be different than we are now.
     Memories are important in the life of the church as well.  I have been in literally hundreds of churches throughout my life and all of them have their own stories and their own history that brought that particular church to where it is today.  However, just like in our own lives, our churches can not live in the past if they want to keep moving forward.  That being said though, we never want to forget what brought our churches to where they are today.  And it is a great idea to find ways to highlight special memories in the life of our churches.
     We often have members in our churches who have been a part of the congregation for dozens of years longer than the current pastor.  They like to share what it was like in the church when they first arrived or the changes they have seen take place over the years and it's important that those perspectives are not lost.  So, how can we celebrate the past without clinging fiercely to it?  Here are a few ideas:

     Create a memory video to share on a special anniversary or other celebration of the church.  This allows members to share memories and pictures as well as allowing new people to see a brief history of the church.  For me it's always fascinating to see the changes in churches over the years.  Plus seeing the fashions change as well as familiar faces from days gone by is sure to bring smiles to the faces of all those who watch it.

     Make a small church history display in the building.  Many churches have gone through building changes or additions over the years.  A small display of pictures that shows how the church has changed is always an interesting way to remember the past.  My home church in Middletown, IN has gone through major physical changes in the last 30 years.  Since the current building began construction around 30 years ago, there are few people who attend now, who also attended when it was in it's previous building.  (I remember loving to ring the church bell in the old church.  The rope would practically lift us kids off the ground when we rang it.)  Then that new building was added onto twice over the next 20 years and there are many people who attend now who didn't begin attending until after the 2nd or 3rd addition was built.  So seeing the visual changes over the years just in the building itself is an amazing testament to how God has worked in that church over the years. 
Current Middletown Church of the Nazarene

Original Middletown Church of the Nazarene

     Highlight a long term member on the church website.  Most churches have a website now (and if they don't, they should) so why not use one page of it to highlight the memories of those members who have so faithfully attended and supported the church over the years.  You could choose one person or couple every month and interview them.  Allow them to share how they have seen God work in your church.  Their memories can be such an encouragement to others, but they are rarely asked to share what they have seen God do.  Then sadly, so often, the stories of those who went before us are lost after they pass away.  This gives your church an easy way to record their thoughts and memories so that they can be shared for many years...even after they have gained their heavenly reward.  

     Seeing how God has moved in the past can be a great encouragement to us today.  While we never want to "live" in the past, we also never want to forget it.  If you have other ideas for celebrating the past in your church, I'd love to hear about them, so feel free to drop me a line and tell me about them.

Till next time...