Category Archives: Struggles and Trials

An Open Letter to an Average Disgruntled Church Member

Dear Disgruntled:

I noticed that coming to church has become something of a dying habit for you (well, to call it a habit might be stretching it a bit; habits do require some sort of consistency). From what I’ve heard, you’ve become disheartened and disillusioned with the whole church “thing.”

Is that true? If it is, my heart breaks for you. Believe me, there’s not a single church-related heartbreak or disappointment I haven’t already endured. However, there is something simple you can do to turn things around.

What you need to do is develop a Christ-like love for your brothers and sisters, then even the worst of disappointments will have a hard time turning your heart cold.

You could start by repeating the following statement over and over: “Because He first loved me… Because He first loved me…” Why? Because He first loved you (1 John 4:19)! Believe it or not, Jesus loved you long before you were loveable…long before you stopped breaking His heart on a daily basis…long before you became perfect and quit messing up.

Wait, you are perfect, aren’t you? No? Wow! And He loves you anyway?

Amazing, isn’t it?

So, if you would just try to love others the way Jesus loves you – faults and all – His Spirit would turn those tears of disappointment into healing streams of grace.

Then, if you’d keep your worship more vertically oriented and less horizontally irritated, there’d be a lot fewer things to complain about.

Loving and missing you,

An Average Pastor (without a jet) 

 

P.S. Service times haven’t changed, and no one has claimed your seat.

 

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Filed under Christian Unity, Church, grace, Struggles and Trials, worship, writing

It All Started With, “Let’s Go Get Breakfast!”

I have been accused of giving too many details and making my stories too long, so I will spare you many of the details and try to make this story short.  Nevertheless, just remember, leave out just one little detail, and instead of a cake, you get a brick.

But anyway…

It all started a couple of weeks ago when my wife woke me up with a smile and said, “Let’s go get breakfast!”  It sounded like a good idea, as many good ideas do, but it was a Saturday morning, and there was little on our schedule (for a change), so I should’ve known something was about to go wrong.

The only thing we needed to do before heading out to a place that sold pancakes was to go into a room in the basement of our church building – to a small room where we were storing some boxes of personal items during our move to the parsonage –  and retrieve one small file for my daughter. When we saw that the file was wet, we knew something was terribly wrong.

Just as soon as we started moving a few boxes around, we found out that the whole floor was soaking wet, and every box that was anywhere close to the floor was wet, too.  And not only was everything wet, but there was mold all over the boxes. Why did my wife get my hopes up? I was really looking forward to those pancakes.

Needless to say, the rest of that Saturday morning consisted of unpacking a room full of boxes, including separating all the items, and making sure nothing was ruined.  Unfortunately and tragically, there were some casualties. Pictures.

How it was that boxes full of of priceless and irreplaceable photographs ended up in the boxes closest to the wet floor, I will never know.  What I do know is that that afternoon we were forced to take a melancholy trip down memory lane.

At one point my wife wept like someone had died. One of the photographs that was nearly completely ruined was a one-of-a-kind of her mother and father. It was impossible for me to reassure her that everything would be OK, because I couldn’t; that was the only photograph of its kind.

They were also other items that were either ruined or nearly destroyed. Some of those were keepsakes that were created by our children when they were very young, and one item was a construction-paper-version of Noah’s Ark that our nephew made.  But even though there were some tragic losses, most of the photographs were only wet and a little moldy around the edges. So, what we had to do at that point was rescue what we could  before they dried and stuck together.

My wife and daughters and I began taking photographs out, one by one, laying them out to dry.  The only  place we had to do that was in another Sunday school room across the hallway.  What started out as a family outing in search of breakfast, ended up being a family project: create the largest display of damp photographs in our family’s history.

Now, on a sidenote, I took some photos of all the photos, just like my daughter Katie did. But, as always, Katie cannot just take a picture, she has to create photographic art.

So, again, what started out as a quest for breakfast ended up being something else: a time to make memories out of memories.

If I wanted to take more time, I could list several lessons that could be learned from what happened that Saturday morning when breakfast was skipped and photos were saved.  But there’s one lesson that should be pretty obvious from what happened that day, and the truth of it can be found in Proverbs 27, verse one:

Boast not thyself of tomorrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.”

Sometimes breakfast will have to wait.

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Filed under Future, General Observations, Life Lessons, Struggles and Trials

“Alive, Alert, Awake, and Enthusiastic!”

As we both walked into the office this morning to clock in, a fellow bus driver asked me, “How are you doing this morning?”

I replied to my co-worker’s genuine inquiry with the following affirmation: “I’m alive, alert, awake, and enthusiastic!”

“What was that?” he asked.

“I said, ‘I’m alive, alert, awake, and enthusiastic!’ There’s even a song about it.”

“You know,” my friend said, “I think I’ve heard that song before, now that you mention it. But who would sing a song like that?”

“Somebody trying to convince himself it was so,” I answered.

As a matter of fact, I was on a month-long mission trip to Romania back in August of 1992. Every day was long, and morning always came too early, so the “enthusiastic” song was often sung as we fell out of our beds and stumbled outside looking for some form of coffee (usually the kind boiled in a big pot over an open fire). We would sing the words with a hint of sarcasm, yet the simple act of singing them – while feeling anything other than alert and awake – somehow brought a smile to our mutually tired and grimacing faces, eventually making us exactly what we sang…alive, alert, awake, and enthusiastic.

That is one reason we sing Christian songs in church, or in our cars, or even when we are tired, sick, or discouraged. But it is not so that we can convince ourselves of something that might be true, or that we wish to be true; we sing because the Word of God IS true!

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. – Colossians 3:16

I sing “Amazing Grace,” not because I hope He is gracious, but because His grace is new every morning, and there is more than enough for ever need!

I sing “The Solid Rock, ” not because I’m standing on shifting sand, but because my hope is truly built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness! Therefore, despite the teetering foundations of man-made institutions, I don’t have to worry about sinking – He’s got this!

Sometimes the nights are long, and we get weary. At other times we may hate to see the break of day for fear of further struggles which may sap our strength.   But in those moments of weakness a song of praise can give access to a Strength outside our own, making the downtrodden and discouraged “alive, alert, awake, and enthusiastic!”

Songs of Truth will rebuild your faith, renew your strength, and restore your enthusiasm! So, even though others might ask, “Who would sing a song like that,” sing my brothers and sisters! Sing!

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Filed under Christian Living, Christianity, Faith, Life Lessons, music, Struggles and Trials

No Home Down Here

It is just after midnight on Monday morning. I’m in bed, ready to go to sleep, but something is keeping me awake a little longer, and it’s the sting of something my youngest daughter said.

Haley said, “I don’t want to live in another house…I want a home.”

You see, she had come home from an over-nighter with some friends, and it was their house that got her attention. She noted the artistic way the place was decorated; the years of family photos that graced the walls; even a special area where one daughter’s paintings hung for all to see.

We live in a parsonage, the second one in ten years. The last place we lived was only a temporary stop until this parsonage was livable. All other places we’ve lived during her first 7 years of life were rentals.

The fact is, sadly, we live in a house, but we don’t have a home. My 17 year-old daughter has never lived in a place where family would always be, put down roots, and call it our own. We are nothing more than transients.

That’s the life of a bi-vocational pastor and his family, just trusting the Lord to keep a roof over our heads till we are asked to leave or God opens a door. Not very glamorous, for sure.

But, to be honest, there’s a lesson that’s not been lost on me during all this. Simply put, nothing on this earth will last forever, not even the deed to a home. No matter who we are, we’re all pilgrims in this world. As a matter of fact, living in a borrowed place down here just reminds me of how this world is not my home, I’m only passing through.

No, I don’t own a home down here, but at least I know where my real home is. One day I’ll go there, and you’re all invited. I bet my daughter will even be impressed with the way the Builder decorated it.

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Filed under Life Lessons, ministry, Relationships and Family, Struggles and Trials

Monday Meditations

“When you hit rock bottom, remember this. While you’re struggling, rock bottom can also be a great foundation on which to build and on which to grow.” Dr. Rick Rigsby

But sometimes God has to bring us down to “rock bottom” in order to remind us of an even greater truth: “On Christ the Solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.”

 

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Filed under Christianity, Depression, Faith, Struggles and Trials

Have I “Gone Pentecostal?”

I love you guys, and I thank you so much for reading my blog. No joke. That is why I am taking just a moment to give you a little update.

First, I have been publishing guests posts by David Fuller as part of an attempt to bring “speaking in tongues” to the floor for honest examination and debate. However, unlike what some have begun to assume, David Fuller and I don’t see eye-to-eye on this subject. No joke, a personal friend, Paul Norman Judd, sent a note to me on Messenger that read: “Good morning Anthony. Are you turning Pentecostal on us?”

No, Mr. Judd, I’m not (and I will likewise submit an “lol”). However, I would say I’m a bit more gracious on the subject than some. It’s not like I consider those who speak in tongues to be akin to unregenerate heathen, or something. Some people think that way, you know – I used to.

So, I have in the works a response to Mr. Fuller’s post, but it is something with which I am taking a little more time. You see, this is a very sensitive subject, and I cherish the friendships I have, and that is why I desire to choose my words and arguments so not to offend.

Secondly, it is possible that I might have had a response to the latest “Got Glossolalia” post from David Fuller, but my dear wife has been sick for the last 2+ weeks, and nothing that has been prescribed has made a difference. It has now gotten to the point that her potassium levels are dangerously low, and that has me very concerned. I would appreciate your prayers for her and the doctors as they search for a reason.

I must admit that I am a little selfish…my 50th birthday is this Sunday, and I want my wife with me in church and at the fellowship (church word for party) afterwards.

And if you think praying in tongues will make a difference, then you go right ahead 😉

All I ask is that you make your requests and petitions known to the One who never wastes a tear.

– Anthony

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Filed under blogging, Struggles and Trials

A “Perfect” Role Model?

Sermon Prep

Not long ago I was doing some research for a sermon on Jonah. In the process I came across a Muslim website that made an interesting observation (and I will paraphrase):

“The Bible proves it is not true because God would not allow the prophets’ reputations to be smeared.”

The Muslim website went on to say (paraphrasing, again):

“What kind of role model would a prophet be if we read of him making mistakes?”

What kind of role model? That’s a good question! Was the Muslim author trying to say that role models had to be perfect in order to be real? Here’s a shocker – in one way or another, everybody is a role model.

If the defining characteristic of a role model is “perfection,” that would rule out King David, Solomon, Moses, Joshua, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Peter, Paul, Sarah, Mary (all of them), the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, and many, many others…

…especially Jonah.

Jonah

Now, Jonah wasn’t exactly the type of person after which I would want to pattern my life, but he was a prophet of God. He had some serious character flaws, though. He was angry, disobedient, and was a racist who constantly talked suicide. He even spouted off to the Lord for being too forgiving!

No, Jonah’s not the type of person I would want to emulate. But hold the whale puke! I am more like him than I thought!

  • I have run from God.
  • I have harbored racist feelings in the past, I’m ashamed to admit.
  • I have been angry and disobedient.
  • I have wondered if life was worth living.
  • I have even wanted to see whole cities destroyed, innocent people and all, after September 11, 2001.

I have been more like Jonah more than I care to admit.

The Encouraging Part

The fact is that the Bible is not only full of role models, but models of the people we already are: flawed, broken, and human. But here’s the encouraging part: even when we are not perfect, God can still use us – and change us.

  • Jonah ran from God, but God pursued.
  • Jonah disobeyed God, but it didn’t derail God’s plan.
  • Jonah got angry with God, but God responded to him with the understanding kindness of a wise Father.
  • Jonah even wanted to die, but God never belittled him. He only focused Jonah’s attention on the bigger picture: 120,000 souls, not to mention animals, whose lives were spared (Jonah 4).

I thank God that the Bible doesn’t white-wash humanity. There are so many examples of how people, just like me, can find hope, even when we’re not perfect.

The Perfect One

It is not hard to come to the conclusion that there were some really dysfunctional people in the Bible. But you know what? That’s what adds to the authenticity of Scripture. There are no “perfect” role models in the Bible, except for one – Jesus.

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.” – 1 Peter 2:21-22 ESV

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” – Hebrews 4:15-16 NIV

I want to be more like HIM!

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Filed under Christian Living, General Observations, God, Life Lessons, Preaching, Struggles and Trials