Built to Belong: You Are Designed to Belong to Something

As this week draws to a close, we are in Ft Rucker, AL preparing to celebrate mine and Kim’s grandson’s first birthday.  The thrill that John Patton has brought into our lives is unexplainable.  During celebrations like this one, I am always reminded that God designed each of us to belong to various groups in our life.  For me personally, my family is the most basic and most important group in my life.  I often remind people of the fact that the family is the first institution that God designed when he created this world in which we live.  Family is more important than any corporate organization, sports teams and yes even the church.  Even as a pastor, I believe if the church intrudes through earthly demands on the family and it’s time then the church needs to make the adjustment and not the family.  Understand though that I am not saying the relationship of humans to other humans supersede our relationship to Christ.  We should reserve our deepest love and commitment to Christ and then our family (spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, etc) and then things such as church, teams and corporate entities.

In this fast-paced world we live, we clutter our lives with business at the expense of our families.  We as a culture are working more hours.  Many employers, including the corporation that I’m employed by, seem to think the business comes before the family which is absolutely a terrible way to do business.  Our athletic programs can over-run our schedules especially in families where parents want there kids to be involved in everything extracurricular to the point they never get any down which will inevitably bring about burn-out and maybe even resentment.  Churches sometimes can even become guilty of intruding so much into our time with piling on program after program at the expense of families having time to be families.  I am convinced more than ever from a pastoral point of view that the church would likely do itself a favor and strengthen it’s very foundation if it did a few things well that was less taxing on the family than trying to be a buffet of programs to the world.

In closing, just a few things to remember.  First, even with everything I stated above concerning church, I do believe it is important to belong to a bible believing church and worship consistently.  For some that is Sunday morning only (that’s ok by the way and will not endanger your eternal soul) and for others it is the normal Sunday morning, evening and Wednesday.  Being part of something bigger than you is important.  If you are lonely, there are great opportunities for you find a place to belong – God designed you to belong.  If you have a great family that you are a part of then give God glory for the family is His grandest organizational creation.




The Eternal Hope of Grace

As I began teaching through the Gospel of Mark in our Wednesday evening Bible study this week at church, I was once again struck with how much God truly loves us.  Mark’s Gospel will complete our journey of studying the New Testament verse by verse and yet again the grace of God captures my heart.  It begins with the Son of God coming to the Jordan River to submit Himself to baptism by the forerunner John the Baptist and then submit Himself to 40 days of temptation in the wilderness by Satan.  As we weaved our way through the first chapter, I began to think that we should be overwhelmed by the grace of God.

As I ponder the other major religions of the world, they all are about man pursing their god, but the fact that Jehovah God had a plan before the foundations of the earth to pursue me is a bit overwhelming to say the least.  Think about it.  God spoke the very creation into existence.  He spoke everything we see into existence, yet in the midst of eternity past He had a plan to love mankind beyond our comprehension.  He not only had a plan to love mankind, but He gave up something that not one of us would give up for another person, His only Son.  Not only is this over-whelming, but then to think of what Jesus Christ subjected Himself to during His earthly ministry to make a way for our broken fellowship with God due to our sin is absolutely over the top on the amazing meter.

The current state of the culture that we live in today seems to be thumbing its nose at this amazing grace.  The culture takes every opportunity to displace any mention of Jesus from the public arena, while we are told to be tolerant and understanding of other religions.  Christians seem to face ridicule and now as we have found out in the Oregon potential death because of our faith in God.  Wait a minute, didn’t Christ actually say to expect these things?  Even more, Christ experienced all of this, even the cruelty of execution on a Roman cross simply  because of His unmerited love for mankind.   I write this to encourage you in a few areas.  First, understand that no matter what you’ve done or what your current state of life is at this moment, you are loved by God.  He will forgive you and accept as His own this very day if you will humble yourself, repent (be willing to turn your life around and forsake sin) and believe that Jesus died and rose again from the dead.  You don’t work for this.  Remember it’s grace alone not grace plus you performing good works to gain favor from God.  Secondly, if you are a believer and you have stumbled (by the way everyone one of us stumble – yes, even preachers), understand that the Bible says in I John 1:9 that we “…if we will confess (agree with God) our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us”.  The way back begins with grace.  Thirdly and finally, be willing to extend grace to others.  Be understanding because we are all fallen creatures.  We all have areas of our life with which we struggle.  As the old cliché’ goes, “But for the grace of God, there go I”.  Grace, it truly is amazing!



The Team: Defining Success As a Team

When I think about the measure of success as a team, there are many things that come to mind.  Of course, success is measured many times in wins versus losses.   Championships may be another way that some measure success.  However, success as a team runs much deeper than measuring wins, losses and championships.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to win!  I am a very, very competitive person that wants to win no matter if I am playing checkers or coaching a ball team.  In this entry though, I want to just share a few things that many times get lost in the shuffle of wins/loss records.  I want to take a moment and share a few things that I believe define real success.

I think one of the first things that defines success as a team is chemistry.  Team chemistry teaches young people so much about life.  Our young people who participate in team sports, band, scholars bowl or any other team, must learn the value of team chemistry in order to be successful.  The concept of team chemistry will teach valuable lessons that will carry them through life into their jobs, their churches and most important their families.  What is team chemistry?  I would define it as the ability to come together, setting aside the individual goals while working together for the greater good and success of the team or organization that you represent.   Without team chemistry you might have success for a short-term, but remember life is not a sprint – it is a marathon.  Long term success is and should be the desire of any team, organization and yes, most importantly the family.

Secondly, if you are part of the team you should strive to make yourself better, but also you should have a drive to make those around you successful.  Remember, a team is not about individuals, but it is about a group of individuals driving toward a common goal to continually improve and be successful.  You make others better through encouragement, picking your teammate up when they make a mistake and moving on, but also holding each other accountable to always give 100% no matter if it is a team sport or a debate team.

Thirdly and finally, success is always defined by effort and the desire to get better.  Whether you win or lose, you must ask yourself, “Did I give my best effort and did I improve in some area?”.  Again, these two things carry on through life.  No matter what “team or teams” you are a part of throughout life, you will often be defined by effort and the drive to always get better.  Martin Luther King, Jr had this to say about giving effort, “If a man is called to be a street sweep, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry.  He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well’.  After all, the drive for us to give our best effort is actually a biblical concept as expressed by the Apostle Paul in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”  

Make team chemistry a priority, push your teammates to always get better and cultivate a drive to always give your best effort in everything.  These things will make you a winner and more importantly a success!



More Team Concepts: A Look at Leadership

I guess, as you will see, I still have this thing about The Team rolling around in my head.  In last week’s blog, I just shared some general observations about being on and part of a team.  In this post and over the next couple weeks, I wanted to get a little more specific about what make a successful team.

John Maxwell said, “Everything rises and falls on leadership” in his great book on leadership, “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership“.  His statement is true whether it is in a church, the board room of a great corporate entity, an office setting, or athletic teams.  Leaders of any of these teams must have a “the buck stops here” mentality toward the performance  of the team they attempting to lead.  You the leader must OWN the results of your team.  In fact whether you have that attitude or not, people will still evaluate your skills as a leader based on your results.  So of course the question becomes, what makes a good leader of people?  How can you get closer to achieving results that would cause your TEAM to be successful?  Here are just a few of my observations from own experiences of being a leader and working under the leadership of others:

  •  Good leaders surround themselves with good people.  You will only be as successful as the people you surround yourself with as you attempt to lead others.
  • Good leaders learn the art of delegation.  Delegation means you trust those in your circle of leadership.  Without this element, success will be a fleeting pursuit.  Good leaders don’t attempt to do it all, but rather just make sure things get done.
  • Good leaders will always surround themselves with people smarter than they are in certain areas.  You don’t have to know it all and be the smartest guy/gal in the room, but to be successful, you just need to be smart enough to harness the intelligence of other people.  Once this is done the only thing left is to back up and allow them to do their thing!
  • Good leaders understand every team member is important and has a role to play in the success of the team.
  • Good leaders enjoy planning for success and then watching others enjoy the results of success.
  • Good leaders seek input from others on the team.  Buy-in from others will usually result when the leadership at least ask the opinions of other leaders/participants on the team.  By the way, as a leader never be afraid to say yes to another person’s idea on the team no matter what place they hold on the team.
  • This last one is obvious.  A good leader will always have followers.  If perceive yourself to be a leader, but yet no one is following there are on of two things wrong.  #1 You just are not a leader at this point in your life  #2 You may not be fostering a spirit of “it’s about the Team”, but rather giving the perception, “It’s about me”.  People will not follow ME leaders!



It’s All About the Team

As I sit here this morning waiting to head out the door for a day of softball with Olivia’s travel squad, I am watching College Gameday on ESPN.  I have been watching the various segments on the players, coaches and the teams.  I am about to go help coach a softball team made up of teenage girls.  I will keep this blog entry short and sweet, but I just wanted to share a few things concerning the team concept that I have learned over these many years of playing, coaching and just watching a lot of sports teams.

#1.  As parents ALWAYS teach your kids that the team should ALWAYS rise above the individual.

#2.  Instill a in your young people an attitude of confidence, yet humbleness.

#3.  As players and coaches insist on sportsmanship and class on the part of the team.

#4.  Remember teams win and teams lose – sure a mistake on the part of an individual may turn a game, but there should always be the question asked:  What could we have done as a team to overcome the mistake or have done previous to the mistake to make it a non-issue.

#5.  Create a culture where your team EXPECTS to win.  In our politically correct culture today we seem to start at an early age to teach that team sports are just about having fun and everyone being happy, but the reality in that it is always MORE FUN to win!  Train to be winners!  Practice to be winners!  Just expect to win and when you don’t learn from it, but don’t dwell on the loss.

#6.  Instill in your team a culture where they pick each other up when someone is in a slump.  I promise even the very best go through slumps.  Babe Ruth for decades was the homer champ, but he also was the leader in strikeouts –  he saw a slump or two!

#7.  This is for parents with kids on the team:  Do your kid a favor and don’t be a “helicopter parent”.  Don’t hover at the dugout during the game.  Don’t coach from the other side of the fence (especially if it contradicts what the coach is trying to accomplish).  You chose to allow your child to play on the team and for those coaches, so let them play and let the coaches coach.  If you want to coach, by all means put you a team together and coach.  Be your kid’s cheerleader, their biggest cheerleader!  Should you offer constructive criticism if warranted?  Yes, but remember they probably already know what they messed up and probably don’t really feel like rehashing it.

#8.  Encourage your kids to participate in some type of team oriented venture.  Whether it is softball, baseball, football or it may be the debate team, scholars bowl or band….they all teach the concept that life is about others and that no matter what we must learn to deal with other people of varying personalities.

Life is much more fun when we live it with others.  We have others to celebrate life victories with and also to get through sorrows.



Is Community a Thing of the Past?

I have thought a good bit this week about what it means to have a spirit of community.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines community as “a unified body of individuals“.    As I think about my life in this community that I have resided in for these 47 years that God has graciously allowed me to live, I am reminded of a few things that are usually brought to the surface in the midst of sorrow and loss.  Why is it that a community seems to bind itself together in the midst of times of sorrow and loss?  As I share just a few thoughts from this week, I hope I can answer this question and remind us that we should feel blessed if we are part of a real community.

First, the thing that I notice is that we live in a world today that really overlooks the importance of community.  People do not know their neighbors.   People are satisfied not to invest in their communities through volunteer work, through not finding a house of worship during the week in which to gather as a community, through not encouraging their kids to involve themselves in something that promotes teamwork (teams whether they are athletic, science club, band, etc all promote a sense of community) and just taking the road of “I’ll just keep to myself”.   Secondly, the reason for these things is because in many places we live in a world that promotes the attitude of “life is about me”.  I have told our church many times that the best way to describe the life and ministry of Jesus Christ it would be one word – “OTHERS”!  Life really is about others! It is about your family, your friends and yes, your community.  However, aside from these negative thoughts, I have been reminded this week that all hope is not lost!

I was able to attend a funeral service this week that celebrated the life of Coach Jimmy Drake.  You see Coach Drake epitomized community.  He was a man who loved the Lord, he loved His family and invested a great majority of his life in the lives of kids and his community.  He lived a life that was about “others”.  He left a legacy of being a community man.   In turn, our little community of East Limestone turned out in great numbers to show respect toward him and to show support to a great family because that is what a local community (that is truly a community) does for one another.  Also, as I have read stories from 9/11 on this 14th anniversary of 9/11, I was reminded of how our nation came together as a BIG community.  In the days that followed this attack on our nation from an evil enemy, no one was really interested in which lives mattered because all lives mattered.   No one was really interested in what race you were or where you lived.  No one really was interested in political parties because we had a common enemy that was intent on destroying our way of life.   People prayed together, people wept together, people worshiped together…..we as a nation became a community.

I am so thankful that I can still say that I live in a real community that takes care of one another and is always there when there is a real or perceived need in another’s life.   I pray that our nation will once again become a BIG COMMUNITY and set aside all these things that many seem intent on using to divide us.   I guess as I close this edition of my blog, I’ll leave you with this thought:  If you really want to be a community, we must be able to be described in one word – “OTHERS”.



The Church: A Crisis of Identification

As I think about and look at the different approaches that churches take to be relevant in our culture, I am struck by the fact that many churches in the day we live in have quickly become engrossed and too interested in the pursuit of being relevant to the culture and less interested in being an oasis from the culture.  My fear is that far too many pastors and church leaders have determined that in name of “nickels & noses”, we must become more and more like the world we live in today.  We have churches today that shy away from dealing with sin because it might offend.  We have confused offending with pointing out the reality that man/woman is flesh and unfortunately every single one of us have an issue with sin in our life.  I think the mistake that churches make in dealing with sin, is that they are closed to the thought of ministering to those struggling with those sins and have deemed them much more damning to the soul than your run of mill lying, gossiping, lust, coveting, idolatry (yes this is one most of us struggle with in some form in our lives), holding a grudge, etc.  Believe it or not these sins are listed in the same lists of what we deem as the “big sins”!  In other places of worship, we have decided that if we spend too much time preaching people won’t attend.  We must give them a celebratory time of worship and invite the pastor to give a little talk.  The Apostle Paul gave young Timothy a simple instruction, “PREACH THE WORD”.  Still in other churches the precious time that pastors have to share the Word of God with people, is wasted on expounding on the exploits of the week where politics are concerned.  God’s time he grants us to preach the precious Word, should not be wasted getting our digs in on the various politicians that may be in the news.   The previous items are just a few things that just come to mind as I write this blog.  So what is the answer, church?

Well, lets just look at the the church from scripture and the ministry of Christ and let them be our guide.  First, while we must love people and be tolerant, we also should be honest in our handling of scripture where sin is concerned and not just the sin that is the main course in the news.  We must be willing to deal with the supposed “little sins” as well as the “big ones”.  Deal with them honestly and straight forward, but yet with compassion just as Jesus dealt with every sinner he dealt with on a personal level(i.e woman caught in adultery {John 8}, Zaccheus {Luke 19}, the woman at the well {John 4}).  He never winked at sin and said it was ok, but yet he was interested in lifting people out of the situation they found themselves in at the moment.  Where the preaching of the Word is concerned, there is no more important part of worship than the expounding on the word of God with passion.  After all, the Apostle Paul tells us that God’s Word is “…power unto salvation.”  Yes, worship through song is important and sets the tone for the worship service.  Music in worship ministers to my soul and spirit.  It offers encouragement and may even bring conviction concerning the deep, abiding love of Christ, but even still the preaching of the Word must be given it’s due diligence.  Finally, as a minister of the word of God, my Lord called me to this place of service in His church not to tell funny jokes, get on a political soap box or just try to give a “talk” that won’t be too lengthy, but rather He called me to simply preach the word.  I guess to quote someone much wiser, my job as a pastor is to simply be “one beggar telling another beggar how to get a piece of bread”.  Bottomline church:  deliver the Word, love people unconditionally, minister to the poor, love each other and lift up Jesus.