2013: The Year of Jubilee

This is the time of year when people often reflect back upon the past year and look forward to the upcoming year.  I’m choosing not to dwell on the past year.  I’ve had worse years but 2012 certainly doesn’t rank among my best.  I’ve had some personal disappointments, some financial frustrations, and one of my cats even had to have surgery that cost me over $2000 because she ate a thread that got stuck and caused her intestines to rupture.  Nevertheless, God is still good and I’m choosing not to complain.

I have decreed the year of 2013 as a year of jubilee in my life.  God gave the Israelites an order to celebrate a jubilee every 50 years and while I still have a ways to go to reach that milestone I have decided to make 2013 a year of celebration.

I partly got this idea from a friend of mine (who incidentally I’m working on a web project with so you might be hearing him soon.)  Every year he would decree the forthcoming year as “the year of …” as an indication of what he expected or what he hoped to work on for the year.  Past themes for my friend were the year of breaking free, the year of accomplishment, and the year of transition.

I have declared 2013 to be the year of jubilee partly based on plan and partly based on premonition.  I have a ton of projects that I plan on rolling out in 2013 that I’m really excited about.  I always have projects in the works but I believe that a couple of these projects could end up being the biggest since I first started my website over a decade ago.  So I’m really excited about that and I’m praying that God would bless those projects beyond my wildest imagination.  And of course I’d appreciate your prayers as well.

The other reason I have declared 2013 to be the year of jubilee is because I really believe that God is going to bless the year for me.  As I have endured some frustrations over the past year I’ve been reminded repeatedly that God would reward my endurance.  I don’t want to make it sound as if God owes me anything because I’ve had a less than stellar year.  God owes me nothing and this isn’t a matter of correcting a cosmic balance sheet that is out of balance.

Instead, this is a matter of holding onto the promises that God has made.  God has plans for each of our lives. It’s not a guarantee that we won’t get sick and it is no promise that we’ll be wealthy.  What I’m confident about however is that God isn’t through with me.  This means that I have work to do and God has more work to do through me.

So that’s what this year jubilee is really about.  I’m asking that God would bless what He yet has in store for me.  I’m asking for wisdom to know how best to use the gifts that He’s already given me.  And I’m asking for empowerment to use those gifts in great and wonderful ways to touch people in ways that I haven’t even thought of yet.  And since I’m confident that God will do these things, I can already begin to celebrate what I know God will accomplish in 2013.

Into the Light

It hasn’t been quite as long as it would appear since I last posted.  I actually had a post in May discussing how difficult it is to actually apply the theology we know to be true when we encounter the worst that life gives us.  Unfortunately that post was lost because of problems I had with the site.  **Scratch all of that, thanks to Google’s cache system, I was able to retrieve my lost post.** Fortunately that was all that was lost because I saved my old backup.  I also used this as an opportunity to update the look of this section.  Eventually the entire Spreadinglight site will look like this but at the rate I’m going it might take another year.

This has been a rough year as I had alluded to in my now lost post.  It hasn’t gotten any better in the last three months.  Like all times there have been peaks and valleys but this year has been more valleys than peaks.  As a matter of fact, I’m not sure if I can even recall a peak from this year.

Last week was the worst punch to the gut yet.  It was completely unrelated to any of the other difficulties this past year but it was personal in a way the other problems weren’t.  It left me angry and depressed and probably feeling a range of other negative emotions.

Now, before I get any further into this post and start to make you depressed or you think that this is a “woe is me” post, it’s not.  The point of this is just the opposite.  We’ve probably all been at a point in our life where we just didn’t want to hear any sympathy from anyone else, even if it was well intentioned and Biblical.  Well, what do you do if you have a friend who is going through such a problem?  You have to pray.  The only thing that you can possibly do is pray.

I’m not going to say that I was at a place where I wasn’t going to listen to anyone.  The truth of the matter is that I didn’t feel like I needed to listen to anyone.  As a pastor I know all of the “answers.”  God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.  God has a plan for even this setback.  Everything is according to God’s timetable.  I don’t believe that I even wavered in my belief of any of those things but frankly there are times when those thoughts just don’t resonate with where you are at.  In those times, all you can do is wait for God to lift you back up.

Fortunately I know that I have a lot of people praying for me.  This past week, I don’t think that it was by coincidence that I spoke on spiritual warfare and the targets that all Christians, but especially pastors, have on their backs.  I won’t pretend to be over the hurt that I experienced last week in particular but I know that I am feeling better only because of prayer.  But I also know that things are looking better right now than they did a week ago.

Paul wrote in Philippians 4:12 “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”  I won’t pretend that I’ve reached the level that Paul did and am capable of being content in all circumstances.  But I do believe that there were probably times in Paul’s life that he struggled with frustration from people not listening to him or while he sat in jail.  And I have to believe that part of Paul’s secret of contentment was knowing that when no other words would help him, God would still lift him up on his darkest days.

Practical Theology

I haven’t posted much lately.  I haven’t done hardly anything with any websites lately.  And the short explanation for that would be that I’ve been quite busy.  The last three months in particular have been a blur.  They’ve been such a blur that as I was figuring how long it’s been since things were “normal” I was originally thinking it had been two months until I realized that things were last normal in February and this is the end of May, so it’s actually been three months.  The last month has been one big, non-ending blur for the most part.

So what spurs me to finally write a post?  For one, hopefully things are slowing down and I have a chance to catch my breath.  But moreso, I feel the need to write about what’s been going at my church.  Some bad things have been happening at my small church.  Without going into any details, it’s stuff that no Bible class ever covered and ultimately the legal system will end up dealing with it.  It’s stuff that was bad enough to leave me in tears at the pulpit two weeks in a row and caused a much worse break down at home in the middle of last week.  And none of it involves me personally, I’ve just been so emotionally invested in a few ugly situations that are taking place with other families.

All of this brought me to thinking about the practicality of our theology.  We talk about love and forgiveness all of the time at church.  And certainly we mean what we say.  But even as we say it, it is an abstract concept.  What I mean is that it is easy enough to forgive someone who accidentally wronged you.  We can even forgive someone who purposely harmed us and seeks our forgiveness.  But what about the really profound hurts in life?  A spouse who commits adultery.  A drunk driver who killed a family member.  A child molester.  Can we just as easily forgive these people?

Last week I feel like I saw the worst that humanity has to offer, or at least close to it.  The natural human response is to question why God would allow such things to happen.  That’s not where I’m at.  I know that bad things happen because we live in a sinful world.  The question I ran through my mind was why God continues to put up with all of this garbage.

There is a day of judgment coming for saints and sinners alike.  I don’t doubt this for a moment.  What I wondered was simply why that judgment hasn’t arrived yet.  How does God look down on us and not want to destroy us?  It happened in Noah’s time.  And if the small amount of garbage that I witnessed made me literally sick and left me crying, how does a holy and righteous God deal with it?

Of course there is only one answer to the question.  God doesn’t withhold punishment because He takes any delight in sin.  It disgusts Him far more than it possibly could for us.  But God is allowing time for repentance.  He wants the people who do these things to seek Him in forgiveness.  And if they do, God will forgive even the worst sins.

On the other hand, there is a day of judgment coming for the unrepentant.  They may end up in jail or they may escape earthly justice altogether.  Whatever the case is though, they won’t escape God’s justice.

Because these situations haven’t affected me personally it’s not really fair to say that I believe that I have the ability to forgive those who have caused harm.  For the families involved it will be much harder.  But ultimately our ability to forgive isn’t nearly as important as God’s ability to forgive.  Whether we forgive or not, the most important thing is that these people seek God’s forgiveness.  Otherwise there will be a day of reckoning as God casts all sin from His presence.

Would Jesus Help?

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything but it’s not as long as I had originally thought.

Last night I encountered one of my least favorite things in ministry – someone asking for money.  The story I was told was vague and had to do with a pregnant wife and the hospital and no money for gas.  I really wasn’t sure if they were on their way to the hospital or coming home or what.  I never have any cash on me and gave the guy the only dollar I had.  My guess is that he left cursing me because my dogs had probably made him soil himself and it wasn’t worth the effort.

Whenever I am asked for money, the story is almost always the same.  It’s vague and usually it is money for gas.  There’s usually some kind of urgent emergency tied with it, the hospital in most cases.  Have I believed any story that I’ve been told?  No.  And that’s the first problem.  I have to believe that any person who would have approached Jesus with a lie would have left empty handed.  They might have received a valuable lesson from Jesus, but not what they wanted.  I do not have the benefit on knowing with 100% accuracy that a person is lying nor am I bold enough to flat out tell the person that I don’t believe their story.  I once had the opportunity to try to verify a person’s story by asking for more details and wasn’t surprised to not get a return call.  If your wife’s uncle is really in the hospital in NC, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for his name and the name of the hospital so I can call and verify that he’s really there.

This brings me to problem number 2.  If the people are lying, what are they using the money on?  I’m not going to assume that everyone who asks for money is going to use it on drugs, but let’s say that they need money simply because they were careless with it.  On one hand, I’m not responsible for what a person does with the money.  If they use it wrongly that’s not my decision.  On the other hand, if I give money when I have a strong feeling that it will be misused, this could be wrong on my part because I am enabling a lifestyle where that money will be poorly spent.  Even if it’s not on drugs or alcohol, by bailing out someone who has mismanaged their money I allow them and even encourage to misbehave again.  I’ve proven that someone will always bail them out from their poor decisions rather than help teach that all decisions have consequences.

And of course there is a matter of finances.  Like last night, I have limited finances and the church has limited finances.  I strongly believe that it is part of my duty to wisely use what God has blessed me with.  Enabling someone to continue to make poor life choices doesn’t seem like a good use of my finite resources.

I know that more compassionate people will counter that there are legitimate problems in the world and I understand that and believe it.  It’s a thousand times worse when children are involved and live in poverty because of the poor decisions of a parent.  It would be an easy decision to make if I knew that the problem was legitimate and that it would go to directly help the one in need but I have to believe this is rarely the case.

I will bend over backwards to help someone with a legitimate need.  Particularly if there is someone connected with the church, I will do everything within my power to help a person.  I am not compassionless or enjoy seeing people suffer for poor decisions.  But I want to know that my money is actually going toward a need.

If Jesus were in my shoes and had limited knowledge and finances to help, I don’t know what He would do.  I’d like to believe that He could handle these issues better than I but I don’t really know how to handle them any better than I already am.  And I hope that’s good enough.

Studying the book of Daniel

I’ve been working a lot on the book of Daniel lately.  It began by compiling an extensive Bible study that my good friend and mentor had done and putting it online.  While I was doing this I began to think about what my next sermon series should be about and I came to the conclusion that Daniel would be a good book to study.

So after compiling the entire Bible study for the website I decided to turn around and study the book again to preach from it.  And then to promote the website I’ve been writing a series of short articles about each chapter on another blog.  If you’re interested you can follow the blog at http://hubpages.com/hub/Studying-the-book-of-Daniel.

So I have Daniel on the mind a lot right now.  The Bible study site has an in depth commentary on the book with each chapter being discussed for about ten pages.  My sermons are about half of that length or less.  And my blog posts are around 500 words each.  I’ve really run the gamut on the topic.

No matter how many words that I’ve used to speak on the book of Daniel, I still come to the conclusion that it is an amazing book.  There is perhaps no greater book in all of the Bible in terms of the range of subjects.  There are children’s stories such as Daniel and the lion’s den and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace.  And on the other end of the spectrum are incredible prophecies such as Daniel’s seventy sevens.  Throw in some miracles and the amazing conversion of Nebuchadnezzar and the book has it all in just 12 chapters.

Every chapter displays the power of God in a new and magnificient way.  This is something that has really come out in my sermons.  This makes Daniel an important book to study because the church needs a reminder of God’s power.

All in all I just can’t get enough of the the book of Daniel right now and I’d highly recommend the study of it to anyone who was looking for a book or series to study.

The end of the world?

I posted an article at http://hubpages.com/hub/Its-not-the-end-of-the-world so I won’t repost the whole thing here.  However I’m still bothered by Christian perspectives on disasters and other bad things.  Within five minutes of posting the article I got a response on facebook that basically said that the truth is the truth whether I wanted to accept it or not, the signs prove that Jesus is returning soon. 

Of course the entire point of the article is that we simply don’t know because all of the things that are being pointed to as signs have been around since Jesus left us.  Things might be worse now or they might just get more television coverage.  There is no way that we can know for certain.  Every generation has seen disasters in their lifetime and has had reason to believe that they were signs of Jesus’ return.

Of course I reread Matthew 24 over the weekend.  There are a few things that are absolutely clear.  One part has been fulfilled – the destruction of the temple in AD 70.  Another part is still definitely future – the abomination that causes desolation.  This leaves us looking for signs to mark the time of Jesus’ return.  The more I read, the more I believed that Jesus was purposely vague.  This wasn’t vague like Nostradamus or other so called prophets that can be twisted in a number of ways until they are proven right.  Instead it is vague as a warning.

Matthew 24 closes with Jesus saying that no one knows the time of His return, not even He.  This means that anyone who claims to have figured out the date is a liar because they claim to know more than Jesus.  The chapter closes with a warning to be watching for His return.  I believe that is the point. 

Every generation has seen signs of Jesus’ return because God wants us to be watching and waiting.  We should live our lives as though Jesus could return at any moment, because He can.  The things that are going on in the world today could be signs of Jesus’ imminent return, or they could be more of what we’ve always had.  We simply don’t know for certain.  Things could get much, much worse.

I have always believed that Jesus could return at any moment and have tried to live my life in light of this fact.  He could return today.  Or He could be another thousand years off.  We simply don’t know.  What some Christians are offering as proof is not a guarantee if for no other reason than God’s measure of time is not the same as ours.  The birth pains that act as a sign could be a hundred years long.  It is not our job to interpret the signs.  Instead, we need to live our life like He could return at any moment.

Looking for Love

I was at the gas station the other day when I saw a sign that said “Looking for love?”  I couldn’t see the bottom half of the sign so I don’t know what they were advertising.  I assume that it was something related to Valentine’s Day but for all I know it could have been cupcakes.

Of course this got me to thinking about how often we look for love in all of the wrong places.  At worst we replace love with lust.  We also fill the God shaped hole in each of us with all kinds of meaningless things such as television, camping, romance novels, etc.  We were created to love God but so often we get caught up in loving the created rather than the Creator.

God wants us to enjoy life and we should enjoy the many things that God gives us.  (Obviously this does not include the things that are forbidden as sinful.)  But we need to remember that God gave them to us and they should never take the place of God.

One of the most frustrating things as a pastor is looking out over the congregation each Sunday and noticing who isn’t there.  Obviously there are sicknesses to deal with and then there are vacations and other reasons for traveling.  But pretty much every week I notice that someone isn’t at church and I can’t help but think “What better thing did they have to do on Sunday than worship God?”  Rarely do I hear an explanation and when I do it’s even more frustrating.  For instance, if your life is so busy that Sunday morning is the only time you have to go grocery shopping, you need to cut something out of your life and whatever that thing is, it shouldn’t be God.

As our thoughts turn to love around this time of year, thank God for those that He gave you to love.  But also take time to remember your love for God as well and be sure to express it.

Walking by Faith

It’s been a while since I posted and for fairly good reason.  November and December are always crazy, especially in the church.  But this year has been particularly hectic with packing to move and not knowing where I’m going. 

Pastors talk about walking by faith a lot.  As Christians we are called to live by faith.  But mainly we treat this as some sort of abstract concept.  God is a safety net when all else fails.  Very rarely are we required to really depend on God for our daily needs.

When I resigned my position in October I did not have a job lined up.  I didn’t even have an interview set – I had just been in talks with a church about their position.  Nevertheless I believed that this was what God was asking me to do as it was what was best for the church and for myself as well.  This didn’t mean that it was easy or stress free.  For the next 3 1/2 weeks I tried to patiently wait as I anxiously checked my email for word about an interview.

After I finally had an interview set, I got an unexpected blessing a week before my interview.  I have been approved to teach university courses online.  This is something that I had applied for over four months ago and will go well along with pastoring a smaller church.

Finally after about seven weeks in limbo I have a new job to start in just a few weeks.  I thank God that my step out in faith has been rewarded and that He hasn’t let me down.  What I have learned through this experience is how difficult it is to truly live by faith.  I consider myself to have a strong faith and while I trusted God there were times when I had to wonder if I interpreted His instructions correctly.  After all, God is good but what if I acted foolishly and impulsively?

I would never advise someone to quit their job or make any other major decision without first considering the costs.  Jesus instructed us that we must consider the cost of being a disciple and this applies to our walk of faith as well.  One should also pray for wisdom and discernment and ask if this is something God is truly calling them to do. 

If God is calling you to do something and you understand the cost of doing so, do so with boldness.  Taking a huge leap of faith is difficult but I truly believe that God will reward those who listen to His calling to do so.

Moving on

After a lot of thought and prayer I made the decision to resign my position at church.  After a very difficult summer this decision was a very personal one for my wife and I as we decided it was best to search for a church closer to our families back home.  With the church beginning to make plans for 2011 I decided that it was in the church’s best interest if they knew to start making plans without me rather than throw those plans into disarray in a few months or whenever I find another job.

I have a couple of prospects but nothing definite at this point so it is really a leap of faith because right now I’m jobless and homeless at the end of the year.  I know that our families will take us in if need be but obviously that is the last resort that no one prefers.  So I would ask for everyone’s prayers in this regard and I’ll be certain to post an update when I know more about my future.

The reaction to my resignation was expected.  There was a lot of shock and sadness.  Unfortunately there is no good way or time to make such an announcement.  What I didn’t expect was some of the encouraging things that people said after the announcement.  Because my reasons for leaving are mainly personal I wasn’t leaving because of discouragement.  But some of that encouragement would have helped a lot over the past few months.

For those who didn’t know, October is Pastor Appreciation Month.  Every pastor gets discouraged about their job because there are always going to be weeks where attendance is down or they wonder if their sermon reached anyone.  Don’t wait until your pastor is beaten down and discouraged to offer support.  You may think that your pastor knows that he is appreciated but he really needs to hear it and from as many people as possible.  He needs to know that he is making an impact and not just wasting his time.

Missing out on Church

This past Sunday I preached on the purpose of the church.  You can read what I said here, I won’t repeat it all in this post.  This week I was talking to a close friend and she revealed that her and her husband have stopped attending the church they’ve gone to for twenty years.  When I asked if they found a new church, she responded that they aren’t going to church right now.  It’s not that they don’t want to go to church but they haven’t found a church that they feel comfortable in.

As a pastor I am of two minds on this.  Part of me is saddened that my friend is not attending church even though I know they are still good Christians.  (And this isn’t my only friend who is going through the same thing.)  But another part of me completely understands.  Many Christians are frustrated that the church is not what it is supposed to be.  There are petty squabbles over stupid issues and somebody offended someone else when they said something completely innocuous and unintentional.  Many Christians I know just want to attend church to worship, hear a good sermon, and go home.  The last thing they want is to return home feeling worse than when they left because of frustrating things going on at church that have nothing to do with the worship of our Lord.

I get frustrated by the things that go on in the church as much as anybody else.  Really, it’s probably more because I know about more of the petty problems going on than the average church member.  As a pastor it is part of my job to try to get the church to rise above all of the nonsense and make the church what it needs to be.  I don’t have the option of simply not attending church.  (Actually I suppose I do but that involves not getting paid and I’m rather against that.)

So I believe that the average Christian has one of two options when dealing with a church that isn’t to their liking.  They can work to change the culture of the church and make it into what God wants it to be.  Or they can look for another church that is already doing that.  I’m not a big fan of changing churches just because of not liking how things are going but there are times when it is appropriate.  When a church becomes more liberal than you believe the Bible says it should be, that is a big one.  Odds are that you won’t be able to change the direction of the church, especially if it’s a denomination wide policy that has been implemented.

What I don’t consider an option is to stop attending church.  People leave churches all of the time because they are mad at pastor or aren’t happy with something that is going on.  It doesn’t make me happy when it happens in my church but it is a fact of life that there are going to be people who leave because we can’t please everyone all of the time.  What I don’t accept is when people leave for these reasons but then don’t make an attempt to find a church where these things won’t be an issue.  What it comes across as is an excuse.  “I’m unhappy about problem x so I won’t be attending any longer.”  But when a person doesn’t look for a church where problem x isn’t happening, it really says that the problem is an internal one.

Finally, there is no perfect church.  As a pastor I will never find one and never be able to create one, even if I start my own church without the baggage and years of history that an established church has.  Someone once said, “If you find the perfect church, don’t join it because you’ll ruin it.”  No church is without its problems.  Sometimes those problems become so great that a Christian should part ways and find a church that will encourage their growth in Christ.  Most of the time though it is better to stick it out and work to make the church a better place for you and for others.