Going on a mission

Tomorrow, I’ll be taking 9 people from my church to Fort Wayne, IN on a mission trip. We’ll be helping 12 churches in the Fort Wayne area by doing construction on church buildings, hosting block parties, and leading Vacation Bible Schools. These mission trips are always a lot of work, and yet a lot of fun.

I’ve gone on probably around a dozen mission trips over the years. I can still remember the first one that I went on. I was in college, and went to Texas with (what was then called) the Baptist Student Union. I remember that I was helping with a backyard Bible club, and I led an older child to know Jesus as Savior. It was the first time I had ever led someone to Jesus.

So I’m no stranger to mission trips. I enjoy them. And I love that I’m taking a larger and larger group from my church with me every year to go on them.

And yet, there’s a part of me this year that’s a bit apprehensive about it all, and I’m not sure completely way. I think that it might have something to do with the realization I came to last year, after coming home from Haiti, that my calling is primarily to my church. But I don’t think that that’s all of it.

I think part of it is just that I’ve gotten comfortable. I’m used to ministering in the ways that minister. I’m used to preaching, and praying, and visiting. So it’s a little scary thinking about how my routine will be disrupted this next week, and I’ll be doing things that I’m not used to doing.

But I’m also thankful. I’m thankful that my routine will be disrupted. Because God often teaches us the most and uses us the most when we realize that we’re completely at His mercy.

So I’m looking forward to the week to come, even if I am a little apprehensive about it, because I know that in my weakness, God is strong.

(Not) Trusting the Church

I love my church family. Every Christian ought to be an active member of a local church. When we gather together, we have a great opportunity to build one another up. We have a great opportunity to worship with other believers. And we can let down our guard for a bit, exposing our weaknesses and fears, trusting one another, because we know that we’re all in the same boat.

And yet I often still have my guard way up. Because in the back of my mind, I wonder, “Can I really trust them?”

Is this right of me? I don’t know. I was taught in seminary to be transparent. This means my life should be an open book. I should allow the church to see who I am and how I strive to joyfully allow Christ to direct my every thought and action.

And yet, I was also taught to be selective in revealing certain details. It’s not always wise, for example, to reveal the precise sins that we’ve struggled with, or that we’re currently struggling with. This might cause certain members in the church to distrust us.

So, out of fear that they might distrust me, am I to actively distrust them?

Jesus Himself was described once as not trusting His disciples. “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” (John 2:24-25)

Since Jesus “knew what was in man,” that man was sinful and irresolute, Jesus did not entrust Himself to them. And yet, Jesus was also an open book. He never hid His feelings or tried to portray Himself as other than He actually was. Even when Jesus knew that some of the information He shared about Himself would be used against Him, He still showed Himself to all people, that they know Him, and that some of them would find life in Him.

So when it says that Jesus “did not entrust himself to them,” it doesn’t mean that He was guarded around people, but rather that He didn’t gain His worth from them. He didn’t have His hope and joy in what others said about Him, or whether or not they even liked Him.

I wonder if I should have much the same attitude. I often have it completely backwards. I care far too much about what others think about me, and share far too little of my struggles, fears, and sins.

And even though I write all of these things as a pastor, I think most people in the church have these same struggles. We want to know and be known, but we’re scared.

The ironic thing is that the church is the one place where we don’t have to be guarded. We can truly be ourselves, even while we grow to be who God calls us to be. And while there are certainly social norms that dictate when it’s appropriate to share intimate details such as struggles, fears, and sins, we can truly trust the church, while at the same time having our hope not in what they think about us, but in Christ.

Chinese Take-Out and Church Guest Retention

After attempting to take meticulous church attendance records for the last five years, and having mostly succeeding in doing so, and after reviewing those records to see what they can tell me in regards to guest retention, I have one observation to make.

While knowing a person’s name does not guarantee that they will return to another worship service, not knowing their name almost guarantees that they will not.

We love Chinese take-out. The best place to order take-out around us is Taste of China in Pana. It’s a small place. It doesn’t have the biggest selection, and it’s not the least expensive. But they have great food.

And they also remember us.

I don’t completely get it. When we order over the phone, sometimes they don’t even take our name. And when we go in to pick up our food, they always give us the right food even though they have no identifying information about us.

How do they do it? I have no idea. But somehow, they remember us, and they know us.

I’m not saying we go back to Taste of China because we’re BFFs or anything, but it does make for a good impression of their service.

People want to be known. They want to be cared for. Even when they just want to blend into the crowd, they want to feel like they belong.

This isn’t a sinful desire. God created us to experience life in community. To know and be known. It was not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). And we should not forsake gathering together (Hebrews 10:25).

It’s true that we often take this desire too far and make life all about ourselves. But that’s why it’s so crucial that we encourage healthy interactions with one another. That we recognize that part of being Christian is belonging to the Body of Christ, and also to a local body of Christ, where we can know and be known to the glory of God.

Pastors Should Use Their Gifts, Too

One of the things we preach is that everyone in the church should use their specific gifts and talents in the church to serve God and one another. This is a very necessary message, because God wants everyone to be involved in the ministry. And our gifts complement one another in such a way that we are all encouraged and God is glorified.

But I think we often forget that this includes ourselves as well.

I mean, sure, we preach, and we visit, and we encourage people verbally as much as we can, but sometimes we bring other passions to the table as well. And every pastor is different. Some pastors are great at administration, others are great at manual labor. Others really have an eye for aesthetics and can make the facilities inviting and beautiful.

Me, I’m pretty much a computer geek. Always have been. So it would be foolish not to use this talent in the church for God’s glory.

So I’ve been leading my church to slowly incorporate newer and better tech. We’ve come a long way, to the point that we’re more effectively using church presentation software, social media, and now, starting last Sunday, we’re video streaming our worship services live over the internet.

Pretty cool.

I don’t completely know how this is going to be received yet. We’ve been streaming just the audio from our services live for awhile now, and we usually have between 3 and 10 people listening in online (usually closer to 3). So I expect that we’ll have at least that many joining us online at first (we may have had as many as 14 join us for our first live video service, but I could be misunderstanding the stats). But I also know that video is greatly increasing on the internet, so I’m excited about the possibility of reaching a larger audience than ever because of this new capability.

But I’m also a realist, so I fully expect that we may continue to reach the 3 to 10 people who have been listening online, and that’s awesome, too. If we can minister to them better, so that they can better worship with us, and connect with us, praise God.

So whether you eat, or drink, or preach, or stream your services live online, do all to the glory of God.

Thoughts on Being Yourself

One of the beautiful things about the church is that all people are invited. God is ransoming a kingdom for Himself from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Revelation 5:9). There will be great diversity in heaven!

God doesn’t call us to be cookie-cutter Christians. We’re all uniquely created, with different personalities, different interests, different gifts and abilities. And the church needs this diversity so that we will together build one another up (1 Corinthians 14:26).

I love that we can come together and just be ourselves. We don’t have to fit a mold. We don’t have to pretend we’re better than we are, because we’re all broken and we all need Jesus as Savior.

And yet, we should also strive to be better than ourselves.

But we don’t do this because we think we HAVE to. We don’t want to become legalists who think that God will only accept us if we live a certain way, or that the church will only accept us if we live a certain way.

No, we want to grow in holiness because Jesus saved us by grace through faith, and therefore we WANT to be like Him.

Our culture today doesn’t get this. They think that the church forces religion onto people. That we’re threatening people with hell if they don’t straighten up. Even a lot of Christians think that’s what their faith is all about.

But the Bible is clear.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14)

God’s grace was given first, then we became eager to do good works, not the other way around.

And yet, when we receive God’s grace, we DO become zealous for good works. We don’t simply say, “I have faith, you have works.” We show our faith by what we do.

In other words, we become better than we were. And this is something we want. Something we strive for.

This, also, is a concept that our culture doesn’t understand. They tell each other, “Don’t ever change for anyone. Just be yourself.” But what about sin? What about pursuing holiness? What about striving to glorify God?

Should a pedophile take that advice? “Just be yourself.” Of course not. How about a serial killer? A thief? A sinner?

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

Not a single one of us is perfect. And yet God loves us. God’s standard is perfection, which we fall far short of, so God came down in the form of a man in order to perfect us. The perfect Son of God died on the cross, and rose from the grave, which instantly perfected all who would trust in Him. And THEN we desire to be perfect, even as God has perfected us.

And yet, even in the midst of that transformation, God doesn’t call anyone to be someone else. As God perfects you, you are still you. You’re unique, and God wants you that way. It shows His creativity and power. So it glorifies God for you to be yourself, and to lose yourself, so that you might find yourself in Christ.

There’s so much more to be said about all this, pertaining to emptying yourself, and using your specific gifts, and each one contributing to the edification of the church, but those are a few thoughts on being yourself.

In the end, you can’t be anyone else.