Pray for our Schools

I have talked at length right here on this blog about the weirdness of our time. 2020 has been one of those years, hasn’t it? I made the joke the other day that would only land with people who watched the TV show LOST back in the day, that somebody must have failed to input “the numbers.”

As a pastor, this has been one of the most challenging seasons of ministry in my 25 years. From online church, to video content, to limited capacity, to mask issues…I am so thankful for those who have prayed for me and all of us as pastors during this time. Those prayers have definitely been answered. God is faithful like that.

Today, I want to call on you, my friends, to pray for and lift up regularly our school administrators, teachers, coaches, teacher’s aides, bus drivers, cafeteria staff, technical directors, students and anyone else associated with schools.

This year – especially this first semester – is going to be challenging like never before. I live with a teacher and I can attest to the fact that the stress is real. The unknowns are real. The risk is real. The love for students is real. The desire to “just teach” is real. The fear and anxiety is real.

It is about “the virus.” It is about not being able to see ALL their kids EVERY day. It is about the added stress of working in a classroom and working and teaching virtually. It is about not being able to do things the way they are used to. It is about wearing masks to teach. It is about their minds being focused on more than just students and lessons.

It is strange. It is going to be hard. We need to pray for those involved in our education system.

We already know that they outwork their pay. They already take much of their work home with them. They already go above and beyond to make a difference in the lives of kids.

We also know that they are above average in response to difficult situations. They proved this on a daily basis BEFORE the pandemic but they proved it even more once the pandemic hit and schools were let out. They created zoom classes on their own and met and kept up with their kids. They agonized over not being able to see them daily. They showed us what heroes really look like.

One more thing I know is this. GOD IS BIGGER THAN THE CRAZINESS OF 2020 AND HE CAN WORK IN AND THROUGH OUR SCHOOLS AND TEACHERS TO BRING ABOUT AMAZING THINGS FOR HIS GLORY.

I know He can. I know He will. So I am asking you to join with me in committing to pray for our school folk. Especially those making decisions and those in the classroom. They need the prayers, they need God to work for them and through them. They need people like us standing in the gap for them. They need encouragement.

Will you pray with me for them? I want to close this blog with a prayer for them taken directly from scripture.

Psalm 91. Let’s pray.

Father, I pray for our teachers now. I pray, in the name of Jesus, that you will be with all of our schools, our faculties and staff as well as students and parents. I pray for wisdom and protection.

“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. God you alone are their refuge, their place of safety; you are their God, and we pray they will trust you…Lord, we pray that you will be their refuge and their shelter so that no evil will conquer them and no plague will come near their home. Order your angels to protect them wherever they go…We know you say, ‘I will rescue those who love Me. I will protect those who trust in My name.'”

Lord we pray that each teacher will know You, know Your presence and Your protection as they begin this school year. May they be protected. May You be glorified!

We love and trust You. Amen.

Please commit with me to pray daily for our teachers and school workers.

Live on Purpose.

Discouraged? There is HOPE!

I was asked this past week if I was discouraged. The honest answer to this question is: yes. It is a weird time to be a pastor. I have been in ministry in churches since around 1995 and I have never experienced the things that we are going through now. The struggle to balance decisions, to lead well, to keep people safe, to feed people the Word. It is tough. We have been completely online, back in the building at 25% and now at 50%. It is tough. Have I said that already?

I also realize I am not the only one. I have many pastor friends that probably feel some level of discouragement. Friends who own businesses, friends that have felt the effects of injustices and sickness and the list goes on and on. Can we just agree that there is plenty of discouragement to go around?

The question is, what do we do with that discouragement?

First of all. KNOW THAT YOU AREN’T ALONE. As we have already said, there are plenty of people, even those in the church, who are feeling it now. If we look in Scripture, we will also see that some of our favorite “characters” got discouraged. Moses. Abraham. David. Nehemiah. Elijah. Jeremiah. Peter. Paul. So maybe we are not in too bad of company. Discouragement is inevitable in this world.

The problem with discouragement that I want to address is that it is a lie for the believer. Now, as I am typing that, I don’t want you to think you are less of a believer for being discouraged but I want to give you some promising truths about it.

It is normal to get discouraged. We are emotional people. It is not necessarily “unholy” to feel that emotion – to despair. The psalms are filled with times when David dealt with discouragement, despair and even depression.

The problem is that Satan uses despair and Satan is the master deceiver. He gives us a little bit of truth. He gives us enough truth to get us discouraged.

Let me show you in scripture how this works.

The King of Aram was waging war against Israel (God’s people) and basically every time he would make a strategic move Elisha would warn the King of Israel and the crisis would be averted. This enraged the king of Aram and so he found out where Elisha and his servant were. They were in Dothan and he decided to send his massive army to kill Elisha.

Now this is the where the discouragement comes in. Let’s read it.

2 Kings 6:15 When the servant of the man of God got up early and went out, he discovered an army with horses and chariots surrounding the city. So he asked Elisha, “Oh, my master, what are we to do?”

Can you feel the panic? A whole army surrounding 2 people! The situation is hopeless. Discouragement set in in the mind of Elisha’s servant.

But he is about to find out that DISCOURAGEMENT ONLY TELLS HALF OF THE TRUTH. Listen to the words of Elisha.

2 Kings 6:16 Elisha said, “Don’t be afraid, for those who are with us outnumber those who are with them.”

Elisha knew the WHOLE TRUTH! He knew that he was not outnumbered but that the Arameans were the ones outnumbered. So he said a prayer for his servant to look past the half truth of the enemy and see the whole promise of God.

2 Kings 6:17  Then Elisha prayed, “Lord, please open his eyes and let him see.” So the Lord opened the servant’s eyes. He looked and saw that the mountain was covered with horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

I don’t have enough time but you can read the “rest of the story” here.

So if you are discouraged, I pray today that your eyes will be opened and you will see! GOD IS NOT DONE! The discouragement you might feel in the moment is only half of the truth.

“Well, Kevin, that is an Old Testament story.” Ok. I hear you. Let me point you to the New Testament for a minute.

2 Corinthians 4. Paul is talking about his ministry. In verse 8 Paul says,

“We are pressured in every way.” That is half the truth. He then says, “BUT NOT CRUSHED.” That is the whole truth.

“We are perplexed.” That is half the truth. “BUT NOT IN DESPAIR.” That is the whole truth.

“We are persecuted.” That is half the truth. “BUT NOT ABANDONED.” That is the whole truth.

“We are struck down.” That is half the truth. “BUT NOT DESTROYED.” That is the whole truth.

You think Paul ever got discouraged? Probably. He was human after all. BUT

We know that Paul was FOCUSED on JESUS! He tells us that over and over again in his letters. In Jesus is where the hope is for our lives as believers. Discouragement is half the truth but JESUS IS THE WHOLE TRUTH!

Jesus himself told his disciples…

John 16:33 “You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”

Paul would finish this portion of writing to the Corinthians with the following words…

2 Corinthians 4:18 So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Paul is doubling down on his previous statements. All of the struggle that causes discouragement…it is only half the truth! What we can’t see is the WHOLE TRUTH AND IT IS ETERNAL! The whole truth sustains us!

The troubles of this world are what we can see. In this world we have trouble. In this world we have fear. In this world we have discouragement. In this world we have Covid-19. In this world we have half-empty churches. In this world we have to wear masks. In this world there is injustice. THESE THINGS ARE ONLY HALF THE TRUTH! Jesus has overcome this world. So what does that mean?

Jesus has already overcome Covid-19. Jesus is bigger than half empty churches. Jesus is bigger than mask wearing debates. Jesus is bigger than injustice. JESUS IS THE WHOLE TRUTH. Ask God – like Elisha – to open up your eyes so that you can see the whole truth. Ask Him to show you what is ACTUALLY there when it feels like you are surrounded. I know I am. And you and I are going to see Jesus!

Jesus has overcome the world. Jesus defeats discouragement.

To Mask or Not to Mask…That is the question

Had someone a few weeks ago ask my opinion on mask-wearing and I began to think and pray about it and this is what I have come to for myself…

I HATE MASKS…

Masks are uncomfortable.

Masks are a nuisance.

Masks make me feel like a bank robber.

Masks are hot.

Masks probably don’t even really work.

Masks are inconvenient to drinking. (water and coffee cause I know what some of you were thinking)

Masks make it hard to understand people when they talk.

Masks make me look older because my eyes are all you see and my eyes look older than I am.

Masks cover up my beard and I look weird without a beard. (hey, that rhymed)

Masks make me feel like I live in a country where everybody wears masks.

Masks make fellowship seem impersonal.

Masks make me sweat.

Masks makes me sweat – so masks stink.

Masks make it harder to burp. (don’t burp in your mask, JS)

Masks make it look to some like I have no faith.

HONESTLY, THE LIST COULD GO ON AND ON.

The next list will be shorter, I am sure.

THE REASONS I WEAR A MASK EVEN THOUGH I HATE IT…

Because I don’t know what facts are really true.

Because what if the facts that masks work are the ones that are actually true.

Because other people think they work and I want people to feel safe around me.

Because I live with someone who is “high-risk” and that takes mask-wearing seriously.

Because my parents are older and at higher risk.

Because even though it is an inconvenience, it really isn’t a big deal.

Because my rights as an American don’t supersede my responsibility as a Christian.

Because the Bible (Paul in Romans 13) tells me to submit to the governing authorities that – by the way – are there because God placed them there.

Because loving people who think and react differently than me is important to my witness to them.

Because I am asking others to do it, so I better be doing it.

Bottom line – I have no idea if wearing a mask “works” or not from keeping you and me from getting sick. Those of you who choose not to wear them, I completely understand. I don’t judge you.

If you want to judge me for wearing one, that is cool. I get it. If you want to think I am caving to pressure. I get that, too. If you want to think I can’t think for myself, I honestly understand where you are coming from, but one thing I will tell you. I have prayed about this issue and this is where I have landed for me and my family.

I am not even saying I am right. I might not be. But this is where I land. So mask up or don’t. It is up to you.

I love you either way.

Shortsighted

Those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted...
Those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted…

I was changing my new granddaughter’s dirty diaper the other day and I had a thought. If I was not doing this for her, she would just remain dirty. She can’t figure out how to get out of the situation and she doesn’t have the strength or motor skills to do it. Now, she knows she is uncomfortable and something isn’t right, but she really doesn’t know what to do about it. This got me to thinking…

Kevin (Poppy) and Rori

The moment a baby is born (well, really conceived) they begin to grow. At first, they are completely dependent on the people caring for them to help them. They can’t do anything for themselves. LITERALLY NOTHING. So they are fed, burped, held, rocked, changed…and the list goes on and on.

BUT there comes a time when they have to begin to do things on their own. They are still dependent but they are gaining attributes and skills that help them grow and become a productive human being. They still need a little help but the more they grow, the more the development happens, and the more independent they become. The more independent they become, the more productive they become.

The same is really true in our spiritual lives. Jesus even said it to Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” We must become like a little baby. We must be born of the spirit. We call this salvation. Once this happens we immediately begin to grow. At first, we have no clue how to take care of this new spiritual life we have in Christ. We are completely dependent on people to help us. (BY THE WAY THIS IS DISCIPLE-MAKING but that is a whole other post for another day). We need to be fed the Word. We need to digest. We have to grow. The more others help us do that, the more we grow spiritually.

SPIRITUAL GROWTH IS NOT AUTOMATIC.

Peter gives us a view of what this process looks like.

2 Peter 1:3 “By His divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know Him…”

Peter then lists 7 characteristics of the life that is growing in the grace that saved us.

2 Peter 1:5-7 “…Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.”

These are characteristics that we will grow in as we grow up spiritually. These don’t happen in succession like they are written but they will happen as we exercise them. When one grows it will lead to growth in others and so on.

If we don’t grow spiritually we are like a “40-year-old” who still acts like they are in high school. Those people are just annoying and they are missing out on what life is really supposed to be for them. They miss their purpose and the point of salvation.

So how can we be sure that we are growing spiritually? We look at the evidence of our lives. Peter goes on to write about this.

2 Peter 1:8-9 “The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins.”

GROWING DISCIPLES ARE PRODUCTIVE AND USEFUL

As believers, we have to constantly be asking ourselves if we are spiritually productive and useful. Are we “bearing fruit,” as Jesus would say? If we are not growing spiritually then we become like a dried up tree that is barren and not fruitful. Being productive and fruitful doesn’t just mean that we do good things, (anyone can do good things), but it means that we are bearing spiritual fruit that points others to Jesus and glorifies Him.

So are you productive and useful to the Kingdom or would the Kingdom of God never be affected if you were no longer around?

GROWING DISCIPLES HAVE VISION BEYOND THEMSELVES

When we are “born again” our eyes are opened and we can see the Kingdom of God. BUT after they are opened, it is important that we increase our vision and see all that God wants us to see.

As believers we don’t want to be SHORTSIGHTED. This is a picture of somebody squinting their eyes because they can’t see at a distance.

If we are not growing and being productive then chances are we are only focused on what is going in our own lives. We can only see what we need, what we want, and what pertains to us. We can’t see with the spiritual vision of the Kingdom, for the lost in the world, for the growing of the church. So shortsightedness or lack of vision can really be defined as SELFISHNESS.

If we truly believe the gospel of Christ, and it has changed our lives then we can not be shortsighted. We have to grow to the point that our whole life is about helping others see what we can see. The glory of God through Jesus. The beauty of the church. The privilege of being in the family of God.

So I ask myself and I am asking you…Are we shortsighted in our faith? Are we selfish? Are we just glad that we are “saved”? Are we still living like a teenager Christian when we should be mature?

We must grow. If you need help, please contact me. Let’s do it together. Let’s SEE with fresh vision and let’s be productive, not for ourselves, but for what really matters – the eternal kingdom of heaven that we are privileged to be a part of!

LIVE ON PURPOSE!

GOOD NEWS

We are divided.

Politics divides us. Republicans vs. Democrats. Conservatives vs. Liberals.

Economics divides us. Rich vs. Poor. Capitalists vs. Socialists. The 400 richest people in our country hold more of the wealth than the bottom 15 MILLION.

Gender divides us. Men vs. Women. Pay disparity. Anything you can do, I can do better.

Race divides us. Black vs. White. Privilege vs. Disenfranchisement.

Religion divides us. God vs. Science. Christianity vs. Atheism. Within evangelism there are at least 131 separate denominations.

We are divided.

My feeling on this is, at some level, we are all part of the problem. The reason I say that is because it has to be true. You can’t be right all of the time, but neither can I. Yet, we live in a society where everybody thinks they are right 100% of the time so there is no listening to anyone else. There is no meeting halfway. Frankly, it is frustrating.

I have spent the last week appalled, frustrated, confused. I have expressed that in different ways and I have done my best to reach out to my friends who are experiencing life in a different way than I am because of the color of their skin. I want to understand and I want to be part of the solution.

So I will stop and listen. I will speak less and hear more. I will quit saying cliched quips to make me feel better about my position in life.

BUT MOST OF ALL – I WILL REMEMBER THAT THE ONLY ANSWER FOR WHAT DIVIDES IS THE GOSPEL.

It occurred to me in my time of prayer and study in the book of Colossians, which I have been teaching through for nine weeks now, that when the gospel of Jesus changes your life, IT CHANGES YOUR WHOLE LIFE. The gospel affects everything. The change is not compartmentalized. The change is complete.

Colossians 3:12-14

12 Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, 13 accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. 14 Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity.

The gospel displays HEARTFELT COMPASSION. The idea here literally means that we are to “feel the slightest touch of another person’s misery.” Have you been changed the gospel? Then you feel the hurts of others.

The gospel marks us with KINDNESS. It is the kindness of God that leads us to Himself – to repentance. If that is the case, how do we NOT show kindness to others?

The gospel makes us HUMBLE. When I started this, I said the reason we are divided is because we always think we are right. That is pride. We are called to be humble. And hey, even if you think or even know you are right, what does it hurt you to listen and act humbly toward someone who thinks differently?

Romans 12:3

For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one.

The gospel brings out GENTLENESS. Translated in the Greek, this word means “a healing medicine or a soothing wind.” It is power under control. The gospel gives us the opportunity to make a violent wind a calming one or a sickness better simply by our gentleness.

The gospel encourages PATIENCE. This word quite literally means “long-tempered.” A short-tempered person speaks and acts impulsively and lacks self-control. How patient are you?

The gospel is about ACCEPTANCE. This is the ACTION of GRACE. God demonstrates this to us when he accepts us as sinners. He holds back judgment and extends grace. I’m not saying accept sin or sinful behavior, but we must see EVERY person we know or come in contact with as someone who is worthy to know God’s grace. Before people know Christ they can’t “act right” so quit expecting them to and share Jesus with them!

The gospel extends FORGIVENESS. We must be willing to forgive those that wrong us. If God forgives us, then how can we withhold forgiveness? Forgiveness is a vital part of our witness.

The very definition of the gospel of Jesus is LOVE. This is the most important virtue we have as a follower of Jesus. Love ties all of these things above together. Every motivation stems from love.

NT Wright said, “The other virtues, pursued without love, become distorted and unbalanced.”

Love is what UNIFIES! Now this is not human love. Human love does not unify. Human love can not unify. Human love is selfish. The love that unifies is the love of Jesus. The love of the gospel. The love displayed on the cross.

THE GOSPEL OF JESUS IS THE ANSWER. IT IS GOOD NEWS QUITE LITERALLY! Don’t we need GOOD NEWS in this world? Don’t those who are hurting and feeling ostracized and marginalized and targets need GOOD NEWS?

How dare we as Christians make taking sides or being right more important than sharing the love and grace and kindness and gentleness of the gospel to a world that is quite literally crying out for answers. WE HAVE THE ANSWER! HIS NAME IS JESUS!