Heading Towards Burnout

I love preaching.  I really do.  I remember where I was when God first starting stirring up my soul to preach (Camp Wesley Pines) and I remember where I was when I accepted that call (Gulfshore Baptist Assembly).  There were times in ministry thus far when I wished God have released me, but He wouldn’t.  God has confirmed over and again to me His calling.

That said, 2014 was a tough year for me in many ways.  Now God did some great things in our church last year, we have had a several good years of stable, consistent growth, and we are seeing Asbury really begin to blossom and grow within our community and world.  Ministries are being established; individuals are growing, children, youth, and adults are being baptized, the Word is going forth.  God has been good.

But, last year was a tough year for me personally.  I had some issues from my past creep up.  Many of you may be familiar with my story of my biological mother being murdered when I was two years old and being raised by my grandparents.  My biological father (the man who murdered my mother) contacted me this past year.  This was the first time I’ve heard from him in my adult life.  I have spent so much of my ministry teaching and trying to model forgiveness and grace. I thought I had forgiven him.  But when he contacted me, that challenged so many things in my life, in my heart, in my soul.

I had to battle with a real hatred in my soul, that I wasn’t sure I could contain.  I’m better now than I was last year. But I’m still working on it.

So, that put me in a tough frame of mind going into the year.

And I always knew that the growth of Asbury would eventually outpace our resources and infrastructure.  Last year it happened.  I also, being a perfectionist, like to have my fingers in everything.  And as much as we’ve grown, as much as we do, I became totally overwhelmed by that.

I also struggled with how to communicate effectively with staff.  I so don’t want to be a dictator pastor, I welcome differences of opinions and conversation.  But, sometimes I would leave people on an island by not communicating well.  Then I would not be happy when things weren’t done as I would do them or when balls would get dropped.  But the bed of frustration I was sleeping in was a bed that I had made.

And in my arrogance and pride, I often feel like folks aren’t as dedicated to the church as I am.  I felt a sense or resentment beginning to build up in me with my staff and my church.

I also took on too many teaching and preaching tasks.  Towards the end of last year, I was teaching two 3-hour Disciple Bible studies on Sunday and Monday, a Tuesday morning small group, a Wednesday night Bible study, as well as preaching twice on Sunday’s.  As well as other community involvement, and being active in the district and state church.

Oh and I was the tech guy for the church as well. As well as doing the pastoral care and tending to the infrastructure of the church.

An unlit and burnt matches in a rowIn short, by the end of 2014, I was completely and totally exhausted.  My health was a mess.  I was withdrawing from my wife and children, I was coming home from church and just going to bed.  I found myself withdrawing from other friends as well.

I was also a terrible leader towards my church and my staff.  The best way I can describe it is the more exhausted I became, the more I focused on the small things I felt as though I had control over.  So, I became consumed with the small things.  And I became so focused on moving the chairs around the deck that I was unable to steer the ship

In short, I was heading towards burnout.  Heading fast.

And I didn’t want to see that happen.  So, I made a promise to myself to change in 2015.  I have no control over others.  But I do over myself.  So, I made the decision to change this year.

My wife reminds me all the time that I’m not the Holy Spirit.  It’s not my job to change or fix others.  That’s God’s. And see, here’s the thing.  Each of these issues, the issue is with me.  Not others.  Not my church.  Not my staff.  Not anyone.  Me.  The issues are mine and mine alone.  And I’ve got to work on fixing me.

What am I doing different this year?

The first thing I’m doing is I have come to realize, after many years of trying, that I just can’t do it all. I just can’t.  My first move is to start letting go of some things.  How?  Two ways  – first, I am empowering our staff and committees to do their jobs.  By not doing that, I overwhelmed me and didn’t allow them to serve in the way that God wants. Second, I am working more clarity of communication of expectations.  I’ve got to better let folks know what needs to be done.

Second, I realized I don’t need know all the small details.  I don’t have to know every last detail of every last thing going on in the church.  I don’t.  That bogged me down.   Someone should know, but not me

ThirdI am working seeing the big picture.  I like to talk about how one of the best ways to understand scripture is to not get bogged down in all the details.  We need to look at the big picture. That’s what happened to me. I’m not going to let that happen again.  I’m doing my best to keep my eye on the big picture.

Fourth – I am exercising and trying to eat better.  I know everyone says it.  I know.  But you know what I’ve found out this year?  It actually works.  I have more energy now than I did when I was drinking Death Ader energy drinks.

And lastI am working on staying positive.  When I get tired and stressed, I get very negative.  I never see the good.  Only what’s wrong.  That’s not helpful to me, to my family, to my church.  I’ve got to take care of myself and stay positive. That’s the only way I can lead.  How am I doing that?

This is most important.  I am not forgetting to tend to my soul.  I can’t shepherd others if I am letting my heart be tended to by the Good Shepherd.

Thus far, 22 days in 2015, I feel the best I’ve felt in years.  My desire to keep this going so I can be as faithful to God, and love my family, as much as I can be!

Things That We Hold in Common; Things That Make Us Unique

prayer-christian-unityI was teaching a class recently and had a long talk about theology. I shared with them that I’m a theological mutt, I’ve been influenced by a lot different Christian denominations and traditions, and because of that, I see lots more similarities between believers that I do difference. As part of that, I had put together a document talking about that the things that we hold and common, and then some of the distinctive parts of our faith. I’ve revised and updated it, and I thought I’d share it with you.

Things in common with all Christians

  1. The Creeds – all Christians, whether they “say” the creeds in worship, hold to Orthodox theology as found in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. These are a great benchmark of what we all believe.
  2. The Sacraments – There can be disagreements about when and how they are done, but Christians hold to the belief that Baptism and Communion (the Lord’s Supper) are incredibly important to our faith.
  3. Scripture – All Christians believe that Holy Scripture is the foundation of our belief, it is how we know God, His will, and understand who He is. We may disagree on interpretations, but we all believe it’s important and foundational.

Note – the following similarities don’t include every tradition within the faith; just the ones that most of us within Mississippi are familiar with.  I may be working on this in the coming days to include others.

What Methodists holds in common with Baptist Churches

  1. Conversion – One of my favorite quotes attributed to John Wesley was this – Do not tell me of your baptism, tell me of your conversation.  Personal conversion and salvation, these are the foundations of our faith and our walk with God. (John 3:1-6)
  2. Evangelism – we believe that as followers of Christ, one of our most important callings is to take the Good News of Salvation through Jesus to all the world.  (Matthew 28:16-20)
  3. Mission – We are called to serve the least, the last and the lost.  As we do  unto others, we have done unto Jesus.  (Matthew 25:31-46)
  4. The Preaching Event – the sermon matters. While it is not all the matters within worship, it is very important.  (Romans 10:14-17)

Roman Catholic Church

  1. Tradition –  The faith that has been handed down to us for over 2000 years matters.  The teaching of the universal church has much to teach us and is very important to our faith and theology.
  2. Nature of salvation – Salvation begins with God’s Work of Grace towards us, but we must respond and then throughout our life, we aren’t saved by our works, but as believers, we are called to faithful in all things.

Anglican Church

  1. Doctrine – Our foundational beliefs are the Articles of Religion which were pulled directly from John Wesley’s church – the Church of England
  2. Organization – Our structure models that structure with common words like “parishes” and “bishops.”
  3. Liturgy – Many of our formal prayers and liturgies resemble the prayers and liturgies of the Anglican Church.
  4. Heritage – The Anglican Church is our Mother Church. So we have a shared history with them.

Presbyterian Church

  1. Covenant thought – God reaches out to us through covenants.  We are children of the new covenant, and the covenant relationships of the Bible of are great importance to our faith.
  2. Power of sin – We are sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.  We are fallen.  We are sinful. And apart from Jesus, we stand condemned.

Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches

  1. The Holy Spirit – The Holy Spirit is the power of God at work in the world, and while we experience differently, you can’t confess Jesus as Lord apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Common Heritage – Just as the Methodist Church came from the Church of England, many (most) Pentecostal/Charismatic churches trace their roots back to the Methodist movement

“Distinctive Beliefs” We believe there are Four “Ways” that we can better understand God.  We call them The Wesleyan Quadrilateral

  1. Scripture – The Bible is the foundation of our doctrine and what we believe.
  2. Tradition – The Faith and teaching handed down to us for over 2000 years really matters to our faith.
  3. Reason – We’ve been given intellect.  We have the ability to know and understand what God has revealed to us through Scripture.
  4. Experience – Our lives and our experience info how we know and understand God.

Emphases at Asbury

  1. Know Jesus – it all starts with personal conversion.  We have to know Him as Lord.
  2. Know Jesus Better – no matter where we are, we are called to (each day) know Him better.  How do we do that?  At Asbury we say
    1. Read Your Bible – Spend time daily in His Word.
    2. Pray – Seek Him through Prayer.
    3. Go to Church – Be part of the Body.  We understand that as a commitment to weekly worship, weekly small group, and daily service.  We are called to be a part of something bigger than us. As we that, we become Salt and Light.

Other Key Beliefs

  1. Connection – We believe that all of us are connected as believers and part of one body. Each church is connected and part of the greater Body of Christ, made up of all believers.
  2. Grace – It all starts with grace, God’s action and mercy towards us to call us, save us, and change us.

The image of God and the effect of original sin We are made in the image of God, but sin entered in and corrupted that. Salvation’s ultimate purpose is about recovering that which sin took.  It will be completed in heaven, but here on the earth, God’s grace works to restore and recover what sin has taken. To says we are made in God’s image means three things.

  1. The natural image of God – That means we have freedom will and we have reason
  2. The political image of God – That means that we as humans will organize ourselves and live in communities with structure
  3. The moral image of God – This means that all humans have in them in a sense (through corrupted) of morality, love, justice, and mercy.

These things are responded through salvation and the relationship with God. The way of salvation This is what salvation looks like. We are saved by grace through faith.  Here is how we understand that salvation through grace to play out.

  1. Prevenient grace: – God reaches out to us, calling us into salvation.
  2. Justifying grace and assurance: – God gives us grace by which we are saved.
  3. Sanctifying grace: – God’s grace draws us closer to Him, making us more faithful, calling us to love God and love our neighbor.

Christian perfection The goal of faith is to make us more like God.  What does that mean?  God is Holy. And our faith calls us jerusalem.jpgw630to be more holy.  What does that holiness look like?  His holiness is shown through His love.  So, we are called to, above all else love of God and love of our neighbor.

  1. Works of piety – This is our love of God This is done publicly through worship and personally through devotion
  2. Works of mercy – This is our love of Neighbor. This is done publicly through working as a church body and as believers to confront the evils of the of the world and done personally by individual acts of service.

Real Life (The Most Difficult Thing I’ve Ever Written)

this is my life previewI think that one of the things that turns people off to Christianity and church is the fact that many times we as Christians can come off as fake to them. Or maybe a better word than fake is surface.

We seem like we have our problems solved. We are good. Life is good. All is good.

When, in reality we are dying inside. We are hurting. We are broken. We suffer from the same things that everyone suffers through. Doubt. Worry. Depression. Addiction. Dysfunctional families. Broken marriages. Debt. Everything.

But we are afraid to mention it because we have to perfect. Because we are Christian. And that charade gets exhausting.

Something happens, though, when we get real as Christians. It makes us human. And it shows that we aren’t better than or holier than thou. We are just real, normal folks, who have met an awesome Savior.

I’ve struggled recently with real life. And I really don’t want to share my story. I really don’t. I shared it Sunday in church, and to be honest with you, it kind of left me in a bad place.

It left me questioning the things that I know to be true. The things I’ve built my life upon. I don’t want to share it, and frankly I’ve avoided people because I don’t want to talk about.

But I know I need to, because when we share our story, we can help someone else.

If you aren’t familiar with my story, you can read more about it here or here, but the long story short is that my biological father murdered my mother right before I turned two years old.

So, in my life, I’ve been able to tell my story in a variety of places, always talking about how God can take something bad and make something good out of it. God has guided my life and brought me to this place in my life. The power of God is not that He stops bad things from happening but that He uses all things for good.

And I talk about forgiveness. How I’d learned to forgive my biological father. The role that my grandmother played in teaching me forgiveness. And how I truly believed I had forgiven him.

Until this Christmas. When he wrote me a letter. First time he’d contacted me in many, many years.

I wanted to pretend it didn’t happen.  I wanted to ignore it.  I wanted to just go about my merry way.  But I couldn’t.  Too many things came flooding in.  Too many things that I pushed down, and don’t want to talk about.

But I have to.

I and I fell into a hate-filled rage. I don’t know what hatred really feels like, but I guess how I felt at that moment is what it feels like.

I became so angry. I was confused. I wanted to run. I wanted to hide. I wanted to get away.

I wanted to change my son’s name because my son is named after me, and my biological father named me. And I wanted nothing of him to have anything, anything to do with my family.

It sickened me that my son had a name that was attached to him.

I questioned the very beliefs that I hold so dear. My entire life and ministry has been built on mercy and forgiveness. But now all I felt was rage. How could I be a preacher, much less a Christian feeling like this?

Is everything that I’ve held dear and true wrong?

I literally did not know what I wanted to do. I gave the card to my wife and I told her not let it into our house. He had put money in the card I and I told her to throw it away, don’t even give it our children. I didn’t want them to receive any benefit from him.

I wanted to run as far away as humanly possible. I was angry and I was fully of hurt.

And I still am.

But here’s the thing. As much as I want to give into that hatred, as much as I really wanted to, I just can’t. I can’t. It will destroy me. It will.

It will destroy my family. It will.

It will destroy my ministry. It will.

I can’t do it. Because nothing good comes out of hate. I’ve been confronted with my brokenness in a way that I honestly thought I’d never be. And I struggled through it. Still am.

But God is good. Even when life is hard. We choose right, because the wrong will destroy.

We choose grace, because it’s the only answer.

Hate destroys. It does. I understand that. And now, I’ve felt it. And I cannot and will not choose that path.

Because life is too precious.

I don’t know where you are in life, but I know, even if you question it, even if you doubt it, even if you don’t want to believe it, God is good.

And he loves you.

Don’t give into hate. Don’t give into the darkness. Choose the path of grace and hope and belief. I know it’s hard.

But you can do it. And I can do it. Through God’s grace, we can do it.

If you’d like to hear the message I preached where I talked about this experience you can click here.

On Suicide, Depression, and Heaven

WoodnhugSome folks asked me today about suicide and heaven. Does someone who committed suicide forfeit any chance of going to heaven? This was my answer:

I’m a believer in Christ. I am by no means perfect, but I accepted Jesus when I was a senior, I love Him; I believe, and I really do my best to follow every day. I’m a Christian. I fail probably 9 out of 10 times, but I really do try to be faithful.

Let’s say I’m driving down the Gandy Parkway here in Petal. Everyone knows I’m a terrible driver. While driving down the Gandy, I have an accident, and I die.

Let’s say the last words in my mouth on the earth are a string of terrible profanities. Words as a Christian, I shouldn’t think, much less say. Let’s say my last thought on the earth is a terrible thought. And then I die.

What happens? Well, the question I ask is this. Does my sinful last action upon the earth outweigh the faith that I have? Does that sinful last action outweigh my faith, my love of Jesus, and my desire to follow Him? I say no.

See we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). We are not saved (or condemned) by our actions. By our faith. So, if I have faith, but my last action on the earth is a sin, then what we are saying by saying that would send me to hell is that “that” action would outweigh my faith.

And that simply is not what we believe as Christians. We are saved by grace through faith. We aren’t saved by our good actions, and we aren’t condemned by our sinful actions. We are saved or condemned by our faith in Jesus Christ.

We are not saved or condemned by anything we do. Whether it be now or whether it be our last act. We are saved by grace; we are saved by faith. Not by what we “do.”

So, to suicide, if someone is a believer in Christ. If they are Christian. If they have placed their entire faith in Him, and their last action is a mistake, even a major mistake like suicide, as grave as that is, I do not believe that mistake outweighs their faith.

And I know it doesn’t outweigh God’s grace.

I believe that if they are believer, then that final mistake does not outweigh God’s grace.  They are with Him, and have their reward with Him.  As a believer, they will spend eternity in heaven with God.

We can also talk long and hard about issues of disease like depression. Clinical depression is a disease, not a moral failing. Those with diabetes or high blood pressure, they are not morally weak; they just have a disease. So is it with clinical depression. And just like those diseases, depression can cause great harm (even death) to the person that is sick. And just like diabetes, if left untreated, depression can really harm a person and their relationships.

Let me say it again, clinical depression is not a moral failing. It is a disease that should be treated. We don’t judge those that have high blood pressure. Why should we judge those that have this disease.

But in short, not matter what our final act upon the earth is, I believe that if our whole faith is in Jesus Christ, we will be with Him in paradise.

Just my two cents.

Be Who You Want Them to Be

hollybaseballI am often jealous of what an amazing mother Holly is.  She really is the perfect mother, she is compassionate, loving, nurturing, firm, fun, everything you could want in a parent.

I’m not just saying this because I’m married to her, but she is really an amazing mother to our children.

I, on the other hand, often just feel awkward with our children.  I know that’s an odd thing to say, but I feel that way sometimes. I don’t feel that way when it comes to matters of faith, or education, or even pop culture (like Doctor Who).  I think I’m pretty good at that type of stuff.

But you know where I feel awkward?  When we are outside, just hanging out, doing nothing. I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do.

Now, part of that is my overall driven “type A” ADD over-caffeinated personality.  I get that totally. I never have done “downtime” well.

But, it hit me while we were outside as a family playing baseball yesterday why I’m so bad at these kidsdoctortype of things.  I’ve never done before.  I didn’t grow up playing baseball or outside stuff with my parents.  They were older, daddy drove a truck for a living and just didn’t do that type of thing with me.

Now, please don’t think I’m saying my parents were bad parents. They were great; I’m not complaining at all.  I had a great childhood.  But it just hit me, I never really did that lazy day hanging out playing when I was a kid.

And now, I struggle as a parent to do it with my kids.

And I don’t like it.  I don’t like the way that it makes me feel like a I’m not the kind of dad I’d like to be.  So you know what I do?

I do it anyway.  I move beyond the awkwardness of it, and play ball.  I try my best to goof around.  I try my best to laugh and play and turn off the drivenness of my brain and just be present.

You know why? I want Sarah to be that type of mother that does that with her kids. And I want Thomas to be that type of dad that does that with his kids.  I want them to do these naturally.

It says this in Numbers 14:18:

‘The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’

What does that mean?  Our kids learn from us. They see us. They watch us.  The behavior that we model for them will be the behavior they they do. That’s what this verse is talking about. God doesn’t hold kids responsibility for the parents sins, but more than likely, the sins of the parents will be passed down to the children.

I don’t want that to happen to my kids.  I want them to the type of parents one day that I feel like I’m not always.  I want them to be amazing.   So, I’ve got to be that which I want them to be; as best as I can.

So, I’m learning.  I know who I want to be, who I want to become. And so, I do the things that I should, and I be the man (as best that I can) that I want to be.

As parents, we have to move beyond our comfort zones. We have to take risks.  We have to make sure that our lives aren’t just for us, but for our kids and our families. We have to try, as best we can, to be the type of parents that we want our kids to become.

We have to have the faith that we want our kids to have, we have to live the virtues we want our kids to have, and we have simply “be” that.

Even when we aren’t good at it. Or feel awkward.

Parenting is hard. But that’s ok.  It’s the best thing we’ll ever do.

The Wrong Questions

I’ve had some very interesting conversations recently about summertime and the church.  People are busy, busy, busy.  When the summer is upon folks, our schedules just really get out of control.  We are going, going, going.

And so what happens from a ministry perspective is this.  It’s tough to get things done, it’s tough get schedules planned, it’s tough to get events taken care of.  People are just busy.  And it’s not just a summer thing, it’s an entire year thing.

In Petal, there’s school and sports and hobbies and family and the beach and everything.  This true for both children, youth, families, everyone.

And here’s the biggest change.  In years past, church dominated folks schedule, especially here in the south.  People placed church plans and church events over personal, family, and school events.  And that’s not the case anymore. I put it like this to other pastors – if we make parents choose between t-ball and church, most folks are picking t-ball every time.

It is what it is.  It’s the reality of where the world is and is headed.  Complaining about it as churches and pastors does no good. What are we going to do about it?

What the church would like, to be honest, would be for you to be less busy with your stuff, so that you can be more busy with our stuff.  Church stuff.  Church events.  I think that we in the church don’t want you less busy, we want you less busy with stuff that keeps you from being busy with our stuff.

And I don’t think that’s right either.  You know what I want?  I just want folks to be less busy. To have the chance to just breathe.  Not less busy with their stuff and more busy with my stuff.  Just less busy.

968034_10154141700060043_1778051013_nWe’ve seen a shift in culture, from “modernity” to “post-modernity.”  People aren’t focused on institutions and structure like they used to be, they have shifted towards experiences and their own freedom.  Authorities don’t matter.  The Encyclopedia Britannica was edited by experts, Wikipedia is edited by you and me.  Everyone is an expert, everyone is free!

You can see (if you can read it) some of my explaination off to the side. The things that used to matter, don’t matter any more. What matters?  Relationships.

And the church is isn’t set up from that. We are programmed and structured and scheduled.  And people aren’t like that anymore. And with what little free time they have, they are going to cram as much life as possible into it.

So, the church’s schedule and events are good, only in that they fit into free time available or mean something to the individual.

The “church” is not set up for that.  We operate, most of us, out of a programing mindset.  We want you in worship. And education (small groups or Sunday school). We want you on Wednesdays.  We want you on Sunday nights. We want you at meetings through the week. We want you at church events.  We want you busy, busy, busy for church too.

And I honestly don’t think that’s what folks want. But that’s all that the church knows how to do.  It’s how we are set up.

The culture is shifting under our feet. People don’t want businesses. They want community. They want support. They want relationships. And church is set up most time to make you busy.

Not to give you relationships.

We’ve got to shift. We’ve got to move from a program/event mindset to a relational mindset. We’ve got to be authentic Christians that understand that faith and discipleship are not bound to specific times and place.  Yes, worship still matters, greatly.  Yes, small groups still matter, greatly.  But, the most “pastoral” thing I did today was run into an old friend today and drink coffee and chat about life for an hour.

Faith happens all over.  This shift we have to make as the church is this.  Relationships matter.  Relationships are how we are changed, how creation is changed, how lives are change.  We as the church have got to move beyond the 1950s method of locked in schedules.

We’ve got to live out the Gospel in coffee shops, and Walmart, and baseball games, and the beach, and everywhere.

We’ve got to be more simple. I ask people at Asbury to commit to 3 things. Weekly worship, weekly small group, and daily service.  That’s it.  You do those three, you are being very, very faithful.

I don’t want you at church every night. I want you living life, forming relationships, being Salt and Light.

I think we as the church have the answer, but we are asking the wrong question.  Jesus is what matters, Jesus changes things. The question is not why aren’t you busy for church, but the question should be is this – how have you seen Him today and how have you shown Him to others.

We have the answer the world needs. We’ve just got to ask the right question.

A Wasted Year?

falseI was having a conversation with one of my staff members last week, talking about how 2013 has been a tough year.  This has been a busy year, a year where I felt like I haven’t stopped.  Now, most of that has been my fault, preaching too many revivals and never taking much time off.  But all around, it’s been a challenging year.  It’s been a rough year in a lot of ways.  And this was the phrase that I used.  I said that this year feels like a wasted year.

And that’s a strong phrase.  Why did I feel that way?  It’s been an odd year for me, for our church.  We’ve done so much.  We’ve sent more folks out in mission than any year in the history of our church.  We’ve got more ongoing small groups now than any time in the history of our church.  We have problems, sure, but all in all, thing seem good.

Plus, this has been the best year of worship, I believe, that we’ve ever had.  Our services have become so spirit driven and purposeful, I’ve never been around anything like it.

Yes, we’ve grown.  But not as much as in the previous few years.

Yes, we’ve baptized a ton of folks.  But not as much as in the past few years.

Yes, we’ve we are on pace to have our greatest year ever in giving. But, we aren’t just blowing out of the water, either.

After three straight years of exponential growth, we’ve simply grown this year.  Now, I know in a church culture that can be full of decline, this sounds very whinny, but, I think this has been symptomatic of other things.

I put a lot pressure on myself.  I always have, in everything that I do.  I sometimes take the words of one of my mentors too seriously, “Prepare like it depends upon you, preach knowing it depends upon God.”  I do the first part well, but not the second. 

So, what happens to me in ministry is I start taking things too personally.  This year, I took everything personally. I so want to see Asbury grow, so want to see people grow in their own faith, when it doesn’t happen like I want it to, then I get so frustrated.

Because of that, when others would leave Asbury to go to another church, I took it personally. When visitors did not return, I took it personally.  What did I do wrong? What did we do wrong?  Were my sermons not good enough?  Were we not friendly enough? How have I failed?  What could I have done better?  It hurt and bothered me.

Then when I saw folks not growing like I though they should (wow, what an arrogant statement!) I got frustrated. When I saw inconsistent worship attendance.  Or lack of volunteers for church efforts.  Or just what I perceived to be apathy, I thought what more can I do?  What can I start?  How can I help?  I had a combination of frustration/exhaustion going in a dangerous level.

And then, as every pastor (or most of us, I guess) deals with, I dealt with issues of jealously.  Look what other churches are doing. Look how they are growing.  The old green eyed evil of jealous crept slowly towards me. That’s one of the reasons that I so publicly support and pray for other churches, it is an act of the will for me.  I know that as competitive as I am, I want to the best, and yes, be the biggest. That’s my pride, my arrogance, my ego talking.   So, I make myself, publically and privately, pray for other churches.

Because of how driven I am, I wanted to see us do the very best we could do.  So I pushed.  And I pulled.  And I fussed.  And I did everything I could think I could do to help us grow. And I was growing more and more frustrated.

As well as missing the great things happening all around.  I was actually missing the growth.  The families healed.  The moves of grace.

I saw only problems.   And felt like most of the problems were because of me. What I’d done wrong.  Or could do better. If I was a better preacher.  Or pastor.  Or leader.  Or teacher, then people would grow.  We would see more lives changed, more things happen, more move of the spirit.

If I was just better. 

The best analogy I can make is in baseball, when a batter comes up to bat in a pressure situation, say for instance, there is a runner on second base, with two outs, and a hit ties the game; there is an old saying that the batter can squeeze the bat so tight, it will turn it into saw dust.  They put so much pressure on themselves that they get so uptight, and they can’t do the job.

I think that happened to me this year.  I think I squeezed the bat too tight.  I think I put too much pressure on myself.  I got inside my own head. And that’s a dangerous place to be.  I got too busy, we go to busy.

I think I forgot. 

And I think I missed the point of why it is that I do what I do, and what God has called me to do.

I forgot about grace.  I so wanted to see our church be faithful and grow in this past year, that I forgot why we do what we do. Grace. God loves us, not because of what we do, but because of what He has done, because of who He is.

I so wanted to see people grow, that I would grow frustrated, and put aside the only thing that really matters: relationships.  And because of that, I actually wasn’t able to help them do the one thing that I really wanted them to do, because I was so frustrated!

I wanted to preach the perfect message every Sunday, that I forgot the only message the really matters. Grace.

I found that I didn’t talk a lot about grace this year.  I talked a lot about doing. And going. And serving. And all that. Which is good.

But, I didn’t talk a lot about what truly IS GOOD.  Grace.  God’s love for us.

That’s what matters.

And I kind of forgot it.

And because of that, I think I wasted 2013.

So, I’m ready for 2014.  I’m ready to recapture grace.  I’m ready to hit on all cylinders about God’s love for us.  I’m ready to bask in the goodness of His amazing grace.  I’m ready to stop grabbing the bat so tight, and just breathe.

How about you?

Why I’m a Methodist

I’m a big social media guy.  I’m pretty plugged in to Facebook and Twitter, in particular, and sometimes with that, I’ll have a post that really resonates with people.  This particular post is the one that probably resonated the most.

One of my things that I tell folks is don’t use Facebook to complain. But, I want to share with you a pet peeve of mine. It irritates me when folks introduce me to someone else and they say – he’s a “Methodist.” It always make me feel like that implies that “a less than Christian” or not really Christian. I try my best to never segregate or separate of the Body of Christ, and I’m pretty sure that the one thing that Asbury folks know is that we love Jesus above all else. I honestly don’t care about anyone’s denomination. If your heart has been warmed as my heart has, then give me your hand. Sure, I’m a Wesleyan, a member of the United Methodist Church, but my loyalty above all things is to Jesus Christ. Rant over. LOL

umc-cross-and-flameThis really connected with people, and not just Methodists. There seems to be a desire sometimes to separate and divide the body of Christ, when it’s not at all necessary.  And, in situations like this, I really get annoyed about being looked at as “less than” Christian or not fully Christian.

I remember when I returned to the Methodist church after a couple of years in other traditions, a couple of friends pulled me aside and said that they were really worried about me. They just couldn’t understand why I would choose to enter such a tradition as Methodist!  Why would I choose to be a part of a denomination that, in their mind, wasn’t fully Christian!

But, that’s sort of how it’s always been.  The very word Methodist was a slur against John Wesley and his followers. They lived such a “methodical” and holy lifestyle; people would mock them by calling them “Methodists.”  So, Wesley took the name and embraced it, naming his movement after this slur.

Why is that the case?  I’m not sure.  Perhaps it’s the fact that Methodists “don’t immerse” (actually at Asbury we immersed almost 40 people last year and I have about 7 immersions this coming Sunday).  Or perhaps it’s because we are often seen as pretty open minded and willing to have a conversation.  There could be a million reasons why.

But, here is the thing. I’ve been a part of many different churches of different denominations.  I enjoyed most of my time in each one. I made the choice to be a part of this one.  As someone who really does love and adhere to Holy Scripture, it really does bother me when I’m seen as a “less than” Christian.

There is much be admired about each denomination of which I’ve been a part. I love the emphasis that our Baptist friends place upon scripture. I think that Presbyterian systematic theology is beautiful. I love the freedom of worship found among many of our Charismatic friends. And the centuries-old liturgies of our Catholic and Anglican friends always move me.

But, I am a Wesleyan. I am member of the United Methodist denomination. While we are far from perfect (as is every single denomination) there are many, many reasons why I chose to be a part of this tradition.

And why we are not “less than” Christians.  We are:

Biblical

One of the misconceptions about Methodists and fellow Wesleyans is that we don’t “believe” the Bible. I actually had a friend ask me if we Methodists used the same Bible as they did.  I said, jokingly, that no, we had our own special Methodist Bible.

I love the Bible, and it is my (as well as my church’s) rule of life.  Where do I get that from?  From John Wesley.  This is what he said about the Bible in his preface to his sermons:

“He came from heaven; He hath written it down in a book. O give me that Book! At any price, give me the Book of God. I have it; here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri!”

The Latin phrase means “a man of one book.”  A man of the Bible. The Methodists were often called “bible-bigots” for our deep love and use of the scripture.

It says this in the United Methodist Book of Discipline about our view of scripture:

“The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”

May I have a different interpretation of some passages than others do?  Yes.  But, don’t we all?  Don’t we each have different interpretations at times?  But, please don’t think that I “don’t believe in the Bible.”  It is God’s inspired and written word, which reveals to us God’s holiness, His grace, His heart, our sin, His salvation, and His return and victory.

Yes. I believe in the Bible. And that’s one reason why I’m a Methodist.

Evangelical

The Wesleyan movement started out as a revival.  John Wesley said to his preachers:

“You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go not only to those that need you, but to those that need you most.  It is not your business to preach so many times, and to take care of this or that society; but to save as many souls as you can; to bring as many sinners as you possibly can to repentance.”

There is nothing sweeter than seeing someone make that first-time decision to place their trust in Christ and His mercy and grace. As a Wesleyan, there is not a single thing, moment, conversation, event, anything that I will not use as a means to show God’s grace and love.

Now, my evangelistic style may be different.  I do focus a lot on grace and love. But, listen to what Paul says in Romans 2:4:

“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”

We are driven to repentance by the kindness of Christ.  My gracefulness and emphasis on mercy is all about seeing more and more people come to know the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

My job is to help save souls. And that’s one reason why I’m a Methodist.

Practical

John Wesley didn’t write books of theology.  He wrote sermons.  He was a practical man, teaching and preaching a practical faith. We are a practical people.

I prize the mission of the church above all things.  I want to meet people where they are.  I am not focused on the ritual, or the mode, or the tradition.  I’m focused on Jesus above all else.  That’s who Wesley was and that’s at the heart of our DNA.  Practical people trying to impact others with the Gospel.  More in love with Jesus than with anything else.

For instance, when you join our church from another Christian denomination, you know what?  We accept your baptism.  You know why?  Because we know we aren’t the only church.  There are lots of churches doing lots of good work all around.  They are on our team.  We work together.  We are on the same side. That’s who we are and what we believe. And I love that.

We are practical. And that’s one reason why I’m a Methodist.

Graceful

One of John Wesley’s foundational doctrines was original sin.  We have all sinned.  Me.  You.  Each of us.  This is what it says in Romans 3:23:

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”

And since we have all sinned, we are all in need of grace. Why am I Methodist?  That key word.  Grace.  God give us grace after grace after grace.  Our entire walk with God is based upon that.  We have to know that He loves us based off what He has done, not upon what we have done.  It’s grace.

And our walk with each other must be the same.  If I am sinful and in need of grace, then so are you. And if I want God to give me grace, then I must, must, must give you grace.  We are all just beggars looking for bread.  We all need grace.  We all must give grace to each other, as God has given us grace.

John Wesley said this in a letter he wrote:

“The longer I live, the larger allowances I make for human infirmities. I exact more from myself, and less from others. Go thou and do likewise!”

He understood that he was sinful and in need of grace. If he, a man of God, needed grace, we must all need grace.  It’s only grace that changes lives.  It’s only grace that changes the world.

It is grace that leads us to salvation.  And it is grace that saves us.

We are a graceful people. And that’s one reason why I’m a Methodist.

Holiness

But, just as we understand that we are all sinful and in need of grace, we are all also called to understand that we are called to be more and more faithful each day. We are called to be, well, holy.  As it says in 1 Peter 1:14-16:

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

We are called to be holy.  Salvation is not simply a one time conversion experience (justification) but an ongoing, lifetime experience where we grow closer and closer to God and are renewed by the power of the shed blood of Christ, and the Holy Spirit.  By His grace we are made more faithful each day (sanctification).

Now holiness is not perfection, we will always remain imperfect.  But it is this: we are called to be different.  We are not called to remain the same. God’s grace must, must, must work on us, change us, renew us restore us. We are called to be more faithful today than we were yesterday.  We are called to be holy. We are called to be faithful. We are called to be different.

The Christian experience is not just a one time conversion experience, but it is a lifetime of God’s grace at work in our life, helping us to be more and more faithful. We are saved through grace. And God’s grace continues to work on us, until we draw our final breath.

I believe passionately in growing daily in God’s grace.  I believe in holiness.  And that’s one reason why I’m a Methodist.

So, I hope this helps you understand that, yes, we are as Christian as you, We love the Bible and love Jesus and want to see the entire world come to know Him as Lord.  I love the Body of Christ that is bigger than any one church or denomination.

But, I love my denomination.  Warts and all.

And that’s why I’m a Methodist.

Grumpy

Holly always tells me that when I get busy, I get grumpy. And she’s pretty right. And unfortunately  my natural condition is stay busy. Which means, in time, I’ll get grumpy.

I’ve been grumpy recently.  When I get like this, I only see the things that are wrong. The things I’m doing right, the things that Asbury isn’t doing right, the ways that we are missing the mark. Things that other pastors are doing. Things that other church are doing. Things that I’m not doing, that we are not doing. And I think man!  I’m terrible at this!

Did you know that a pastor could feel that way?  Maybe I’m the only one, but I do sometimes. I compare.  I fret.  I worry.  Especially when I’m in the grumpy mood.

When I’m in that mood, you could show me 100 things right, I’ll see the 1 wrong. I am thankful that this is not my natural condition. But, when I get too busy, I get tired, and when I get tired, I get grumpy.

So, today, I’ve just been discontented.  We’ve been away for a couple of days as a family, and a chance for me to catch my breath before starting Camp Meeting this Sunday. And I’ve just been thinking and praying and worrying and fretting. Tonight, though as I sat here, a thought hit me.  Now, I know this thought is from God, because it’s smarter than anything I’d think of.

Andy – you worry. You fret.  You get aggravated   You get annoyed.  You look at other churches, other pastors, other people and other things and see how you dont’ measure up.

You don’t pray.  Not like you need to.  Not as you ought. Not as I need you to.

You don’t pray.

And so, that’s where I am.  I need to pray.  I need to stop being grumpy, stop fretting, and start praying.

Maybe you’re in the same place.  Maybe instead of comparing yourself or worrying about everything you need to pray.  I know that I need to.

So, let’s pray.  Let’s give it to God. And let’s be faithful, in that, and in all things.

The Confessions of an Extrovert

I’m an extrovert. Anyone that’s know me for any length of time knows that about me. I love to talk, to laugh, to make sure that everyone feels connected and a part.

I love to work a room. Some folks pick at me for “brown nosing” or “politicking” but I really do love to shake hands, tell stories, and meet folks. As an extrovert, that energizes me and empowers me.

But you know what?  I’m jealous of introverts sometimes.

I know a lot of people. And a lot of people know me.  I’m good with that.  But, from what I hear of my introvert friends, they don’t have a lot of friends, they have a few very close friends. Dear friends that they know that are there, through thick and thin.

And, you know what?  I’m jealous of that.  Part of it is being a preacher, no one is really friends with the preacher.  At Asbury, I’m lucky, I have some good friends, but even there, I’m pretty sure they don’t want me around all the time.

And at Annual Conference, I look around, slap a lot back, shake a lot of hands, have a lot of friends, but in the end, I ate lunch by myself today.

Mind you, I’m not complaining.  I’m not upset.  I’m just observing my life. And, frankly, it’s always been like that, except for a few years in college.

Now, a good bit of it is my fault.  I don’t make enough effort.  I don’t put in the time. I get too busy.  I am always moving, going, doing, and not spending that quality time with people. And maybe as an only child, I never learned that skill.

I don’t know. It’s just odd.

So, anyway, I love my life. I love my family.  I LOVE my wife (who is my best friend).  And I love my calling. And I love my friends.  And I love my personality. I think it makes me a more effective pastor and leader.

But, I will confess. There are times when I’m jealous of my introvert friends.