Monday, March 30, 2015

The World's Most Underappreciated

Over the years I have had a unique opportunity to see inside the ministry of the church. From pretty much every perspective, I have noticed that there always seems to be an unsung servant in the church. This individual may be up front in ministry or may be one who sits back and quietly lives, to the best of their ability, as an example of what it means to be an authentic Christian. Sometimes, they do a great job. At other times mistakes and missteps happen. It seems that this individual pays the price, more than almost anyone else, for the mistakes, but at the same time is seldom recognized for the steady effort and example they try to exhibit. It is also true that many of the "mistakes" are nothing more than misunderstandings and mischaracterizations leveled by people who are seldom aware of what's really happening. Since confidentiality is often important in church ministry, this individual must often take hits for things that are not true, but for the sake of helping and protecting others, the truth remains confidential. Criticisms are abundant, encouragements are few and the fish bowl is small. Who is this individual? Stay tuned!

 Growing up, my parents were both very involved in multiple aspects of the church. My dad was a Sunday school superintendent, board member, guitar player and all around utility guy. When things needed to get done, he always tried to help if he was able. My mom taught me in Sunday school, children's church and also in what you might call the hand to backside discipleship program. If I wasn't being a good disciple her hand would guide me from the backside. If church was happening, we were there. Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night Bible study, work day, chicken dinner cooking day, church janitorial duty, you get the point. My parents were and continue to be amazing examples of what it means to have a servant’s heart.

 My best friend in the world, at that time, was the pastor's son, Brian. The truth is we were more like brothers than friends. I remember one particular summer, that we hung out nearly every day. Either he was staying at our house, or I was staying at the pastor's house. It was great. It was also revealing.

 Later, I felt my own call into the ministry. Through the years, I've had the opportunity to be youth pastor, board member, assistant pastor, and in the last few years, the "senior" pastor. All of these positions have also given me the opportunity to see ministry from every angle.

 I share these things with you to give you some perspective that I feel like I know of the things which I'm about to speak. I've seen the church from the Sunday morning side when everything appears to be perfect, and I've witnessed it from behind the scenes when it quickly becomes apparent that the church, from the pastor, his family, and the members of the church are all imperfect people trying to serve a perfect God.

 And yet, there is one individual who is often expected to be perfect at all times. Some of you think I'm about to talk about your pastor, right? Although it's true that a typical pastor is also under a lot of scrutiny as well, it's not your pastor I'm talking about. I'm talking about your pastor's wife. No, I'm not being sexist either. I realize that there are female pastors as well, but for the sake of today's blog, I'm speaking about the faithful pastor's wives that serve God, their husbands, their families and churches, oftentimes, with very little recognition and under the magnifying glass of incredible scrutiny. I can't speak for all pastor's wives, but I do want to say a few things that may very well be true of your pastor's wife no matter what church you attend.

 1. The calling of a Pastor's wife is very unique.

I struggled with how to word this one without being misunderstood. I started to write that the pastor's wife isn't necessarily a Biblical calling. I know how that sounds and I don't mean it the way it sounds. What I mean to say is that there are very few wives (I'm not sure if there are any) who get called to be a pastor's wife and so the husband drops everything and becomes a pastor in order for his wife to fulfill her call. Typically, it's the other way around. Usually the husband is called into the ministry. This may or may not be something that was known before the couple was married, but the point is, sometimes your pastor's wife is just your pastor's wife. They weren't necessarily "called" into what many expect the pastor’s wife to be. Usually it sounds something like, “Well, God put the pastor and his wife together so she must have been born to be a “pastor’s wife.” Often, they just happened to be the wife of someone who was called into the ministry. (This applies to your pastor's kids as well. They aren't your pastors, they are kids. Let them be kids.)This is a unique and beautiful calling in and of itself. The problem is that a pastor's wife is almost universally expected to be someone she may not be. This is not fair.

 The pastor's wife is often expected to be the piano or keyboard player, the worship leader, the children's church leader, woman's ministry director, the secretary, the janitor, etc. etc. etc.....If she doesn't live up to all of those expectations then she is somehow less than.

 Add to these things that the pastor's wife is also expected to keep the perfect home so any church member can drop by anytime they feel like it. When they knock on the door, the house must be perfect, the coffee should be on and the snacks should be ready. After all, it's her duty to be "hospitable." The Bible even says so, right?

 Oh, and lest I forget, the pastor's wife must always be in a perfectly happy mood. No room for bad days. Church members are allowed to be grumpy, but not Mrs. Pastor. Nope! No Way! It isn't relevant whether she got no sleep because she was at the hospital with a member all night. It doesn't matter if some loving saint has been gossiping about her husband, her kids or maybe herself. It doesn't even matter if she's not feeling well, but shows up anyway. What really doesn't matter is that she may just be struggling and feeling alone and no one seems to notice. The happy face must be on. June Cleaver where are you when we need you??

 Speaking of feeling alone.

 2. Chances are your pastor's wife struggles with friendship.

I may be saying something here that your pastor's wife wouldn't necessarily want me to say, but here goes. I'm sure there are exceptions, but the truth is your pastor's wife may very well feel alone and isolated. How is that possible? How can you be alone and isolated when you are surrounded by people all the time? Turns out it's pretty easy. It happens when the pastor's wife puts herself out there to "friends" in the church. There are those people who say things like, "We are here for you." "We've got your back." "You can trust me." So she opens up and shares her true heart, feelings and struggles with someone she trusts only to find out that her heart was shaped into a knife and placed directly in her back. Over the course of time, it becomes easier to shove feelings down inside and walk alone rather than risk getting hurt again. I know what some may be thinking, "That's not the Christian thing to do. She shouldn't feel that way."  "She should just know that you have to be a friend to make a friend." Easy to say. Difficult to do when history shows you differently.

 3. Your pastor's wife could probably use a thank you

Most pastor's wives are doing the best they can. Sometimes they are walking a path that they aren't quite sure how to walk. Sometimes they are sure, but the path isn't necessarily popular. It's not easy. I'll bet your pastor's wife could use a thank you. I'd like to encourage you to take time and let her know you appreciate her. You probably don't know how much it would mean to her.

 And so I would like to take my own advice and send out a huge thank you to the pastor's wives who have been important in my life. Some have gone on to their reward, some are retired and some are still going strong. Thank you for your example. Thank you for remaining faithful, Thank you for staying the course when it would have been easier to throw in the towel. Thank you for loving and protecting your flock along with your husband despite the personal sacrifice to you and your family.

 Thank You, Beulah Pooler, Glenna Odam, Velda Walker, Sister Westcott, Debbie Moore, Marilyn Scanlon, and Elizabeth Comer. Also, thank you to Peggy Olds. Although you were never my local pastor's wife, you have been an amazing example of grace, love and staying the course. You are amazing and I am thankful for the place you have had in my life and in the life of my family. Thank you to anyone who I may have left out. It wasn't intentional. You deserve the honor.

Last, but in no way least, thank you to my amazing wife, Ann Osborne. You have stood by me through every up and down of ministry and you are still going strong. Thank you for being there for me, our kids and for our church. I Love You.

 Be Blessed, Tom

Monday, March 16, 2015

Relevant or Ridiculous?

I recently read an article about a ministry that decided they would begin holding services in a local bar. I suppose it is the hip and cool thing to do. After all it's important that the church remains "relevant" right? Nothing more "relevant" than inviting an alcoholic to a bar to tell him about how he can get free from alcohol, right?

The day after I saw this article, I saw another article about what used to be one of the strongest denominations in the country. The news was that they were just seven votes away from changing their definition of marriage to include same sex marriage. This same denomination has already embraced same sex ministers and has given their ministers the go ahead to perform same sex marriage. Why would this need to happen? Because, in their opinion, the church has to "get with the times." The church has got to stay "relevant." Interestingly enough, in their quest for "relevance" they are bleeding members in record numbers. I wonder why that is?

Another minister teaches about sex from a Biblical perspective, which is actually a much needed subject in the church today. However, when he is finished teaching, he hands out condoms to the members of the congregation. Single? Married? Marital status doesn't matter. Apparently scripture doesnt either.  I've been looking, I still can't find where this one fits in the Bible.  It does, however, fit in to the subject of "relevance."

The mantra of the leaders of more than a few "relevant" churches is that we don't really condone sin, but we choose to avoid talking about issues that are "controversial." It's not our "calling" to speak about sin. Instead, the focus is on self-improvement and a feel good sort of gospel that is sure to bring in big crowds, but fails to create real eternal change in the lives of their people. All in the name of, you guessed it, "relevance."

Before I proceed, I want to clarify something. I'm not opposed to the church being relevant. I believe wholeheartedly that the church should be completely relevant to the culture we live in. My issue is with the definition and the application of the whole relevance thing. Let's take a quick look at the definition of relevant.

adjective rel·e·vant \ˈre-lə-vənt\
relating to a subject in an appropriate way
Aha! So relevance is when someone relates to something in an APPROPRIATE way! The next question, then, is what tools does the church have that would allow us to truly relate to our culture in an appropriate way?
If I'm to believe many of today's church gurus, it seems to be related to how we dress. A rock band T-shirt,(preferably a non-christian band so we can project that we are Christians but we can still totally rock out), add to that cool skinny jeans that slip inside the ultra-cool combat boots, untied of course, and a grande cafe' latte with a bean on top and BAM! WE HAVE ACHIEVED RELEVANCE! Weird though, because a few years back relevance looked like parachute pants and a karate kid muscle shirt. Relevance is really hard to keep up with.
Or maybe, relevance is about being short on scripture and big on making people feel happy. After all, I have heard that happiness is the truth. Clap along if you know what I'm talking about.
Or is it possible that relevance is the art of making people think they are O.K. with God while simultaneously not teaching anything that will actually show them how to be O.K. with God? I could go on, but I'm sure you have caught on to the fact that my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek.......sort of.
O.K. let's get to the point. I would like to submit that the only way the church can truly be relevant is if the church teaches with absolute love, the absolute truth of scripture. There is a great divide that has come to the church today. The line is not between verse by verse study verses topical study. The line is not between those who want hymns verses modern worship. The line is not between those who prefer pews verses those who like chairs. The line is certainly not between the first church of the Bible believing beautiful berean baptists verses the the church of the pretty cool, pew hoppin, peppy, prophesying pentecostals.  (God please forgive us for this kind of insanity.) The line is between those who will teach the truth of scripture in order to change lives verses those wish to change the scripture to fit their chosen lifestyles.
Let me be very clear about something. We live in a free country. A person can live anyway they wish within the bounds of the law. (and sometimes outside the bounds, but i'm not talking about politicians......lighten up it was a joke.) As a believer in Christ, it is my responsibility to love and respect everyone. Believe it or not, it is possible to love someone and genuinely care about them while, at the same time, having disagreements about certain issues.  This is a lost truth in our culture today. Unfortunately, a minority of so-called Christians have built a pretty formidable reputation for being the people that hate people who aren't like them. I don't want to be a part of that church and I will not. On the flip side, our culture has become increasingly hateful toward the church. The church is being painted only as a hate-filled group of people who want to supress people's rights and force people into their religion. This is an equally disgusting lie. The truth be told, most Christians I know are caring and loving people who respect and love others despite where they may be in their lives. What I'm talking about here is not about basic love and respect for everyone. This is what we should all do.
What we cannot do, however, is change the truth of scripture in order to be what is called "relevant." In fact, what many churches are doing defies the definition of relevance. Why? Because it is not APPROPRIATE to lie to people about what The Bible says. What I don't get about modern relevant christianity is that, for so many, there is a profession of belief in The Bible, while completely disregarding and changing what The Bible actually says.  
The basic truth of scripture is very clear and easy to understand.
1. We are all born sinners. The payment for being born in sin is that we deserve the judgment of God and an eternity in a very real place called Hell. It is also not difficult to determine what sin is. I will spare you the list of activities the scripture deems to be sinful and simply say that since we are all sinners, we have all discovered at least one of them. Most of us have probably enjoyed the momentary joy and satisfaction that comes from participating in many of them.....many times. We are sinners and the bad news is that there is not a single thing we can do to fix our sin problem. Left up to our own efforts, our fate is sealed and Hell is our future.
2. God, the Father loves you. The scripture clearly teaches that although the payment for our sin is death and hell, it is God's desire that NO ONE would actually go there. I am so tired of hearing people say, "how could a loving God send people to Hell?"  Blah, Blah, Blah!! The truth is God sends NO ONE to hell. God has done everything He can do to keep you out of Hell. If you happen to find yourself there, you got there because you chose to go there. God has provided a way for you to avoid this fate. This is good news because we can't fix our sin problem, but God can.
3. Jesus lived a perfect and sinless life and then laid down His life in your place. Jesus, the man, really did come to this Earth and live a perfect and sinless life so that He could die on the cross and pay the price for sin that you were supposed to pay. Jesus is the only way for you to be saved. All roads do not lead to the same God. Outside of Jesus Christ, all roads lead to judment, period!
4. If you believe in what Jesus Christ has done for you and you repent(turn away) from your sin and ask Jesus to forgive you, He Will. You cannot be saved by any of your efforts.  All you have to do is believe in Christ and ask him to forgive you. Really! It's that easy! Scripture says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved."
Here's where things seem to get a little bit tricky. We are saved by the grace of God and nothing else. There is not a single thing we can do to earn salvation. However, if you are saved it will change what you do. When you come in to a true relationship with Jesus, your life will change. This is the mark of true salvation. The sinful habits and activities that you used to participate in must be removed from your life. This is not so that you can be saved, but because you are saved. It also does not mean that we are instantly perfect. No one will ever be perfect in this life. However, God will work in us to lead us closer to His image and in the places we are falling short, His grace will cover. The thing is, so many are being taught and believe that it is O.K. to embrace sinful lifestyles and still claim to be Christians. This is not the case. True salvation will change your life. If you're life is not changing, it may be time to talk to God and consult His Word about the reality of your salvation.
You may be reading this and not like what I'm saying. However, what I'm saying is true, and I'm saying it because I actually care about you. Despite current politically correct ideology, it is not possible to determine our own truth. Truth is truth whether it is believed or not. The person who steps in front of a car and claims they don't believe it will hit them will still get run over. Every person will eventually be judged according to The Word of God, whether they believe it or not.
The truth I'm sharing with you is is more "relevant" than anything else you are going to hear. There are many Christian leaders and Christians who do not want to speak the hard truth that your sin will bring you in to God's judgment. They only want to tell about the good stuff. The only want to tell you about the benefits and the blessings. I love teaching about that stuff too. The benefits and blessings of following Christ are beyond description. Jesus said, "I have come to give you life, and LIFE ABUNDANTLY." God desires to give you a life that is defined by righteousness, peace and joy. His promises are many and they are awesome but the truth that is exceedingly relevant to your life is that there is a path to those blessings that include repentance, submission to God's Word and transformation into God's image. This is the truth. This is what is appropriate. This is what is relevant. B blessed, Tom