Repeat It!

My sister and I like to run for our exercise.  Since we are not fast runners we approach our runs from an endurance perspective.  Recently an 8k (about 5 miles) was being held at Norris Dam in honor of the dam’s 80th anniversary.  We had not run the course before and didn’t know what to expect.  When we got there we discovered that the starting line was at the bottom of the dam and you had to run out the road and then climb uphill until you reached the top of the dam.  About 45% of the 5 miles was going to be uphill and then about the 7:30 start time there came a downpour of rain which meant that now our shoes, socks, and clothes were all wet.  We began the race in the rain but about the time we reached the top of the dam it had quit.  We had to cross the dam and then run about a half mile beyond to the turnaround point.  Once we got to the turnaround it was downhill from there which made the last part easier to run but we were still questioning whether it was worth the trip we had made.

If you have ever participated in a road race you know that there are always runners and watchers that try to speak an encouraging word to you when you pass them which helps and they normally have a water station at some point so you can grab a quick drink if needed.  But at this race when we got near the end there was a gentleman stationed about 100 yards from the finish line.  When we went by, he said, “You’ve got it now, just the length of a football field, you can make it.”  We were already determined to finish but his words made us run a little faster.  It encouraged us right when we needed it.  Several minutes later after the finish line when we were going to our car we came back by the gentleman and he was still at his post saying the same thing to the runners just now at that point.  The Lord spoke to me and reminded me that this is probably how many people in the ministry feel.  Ministers may feel they preach the same sermon, singers may feel they sing the same song, teachers may feel they have taught this lesson many times before but it is still important because the runners just now finishing the race need to hear the encouraging words.  Although he had repeated the words over and over to each runner that came through it was fresh and new and encouragement to them to finish.  So if there are days that you feel like you are carrying the same message you carried yesterday just remember it is new to those that you speak it to and that they need to hear it.

Galatians  6:9  And let us not be weary in well doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

How To Deal With And Overcome Church Cliques

I am so thankful for the learning experiences that God gives us for certain phases of our lives. I truly believe with all my heart that it is out of what we learn when we do not possess answer upfront that causes us to have true growth as Christians. One of the more recent learning experiences I have had has been the concept of “church cliques” and the harm that it brings into the body of Christ.

First off, let us define it. A clique (pronounced like click) is considered a small group of people with shared interests or other features in common who spend time together and do not readily allow others to join them. You may have heard this term also be used as the inner circle, the in-crowd, the cool kids, the popular table, etc. I grew up all through elementary and middle school being considered “different” and was not leading to the conducive outcome of me fitting in. I’m not exactly sure what made me be so different from others…was it how I looked? Was it how I talked? Was it because of my name or my family? Was I too studious? Did I live on the wrong side of town? I now realize looking back that being different was far better than being another one of the in-crowd because at least I was defined for who I was (instead of what people stereotyped me to be based on the group). However, when I dealt with it as a young man it felt like the worst feeling in the world. This feeling was like a hovering cloud over my head that seemingly never left for what seemed like forever.

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Looking back around my middle school to high school years I now realize that one of the contributing factors to what led me so easily into drug and alcohol abuse so early was needing a greater acceptance from facing an even greater rejection. Unfortunately where I found acceptance came at a great cost; and before I knew it what was once my enemy had become my greatest ally. I went from running from the cliques to becoming one in hanging around others that brought out the worst in me. As I look back now I realize that I was not only a hypocrite to others but was one to myself as well. The more and more I look back into the things that made me suffer as a young man help me to better address what pushed me into bad choices when I was not in strong control of my actions. Now that I have been saved by Jesus Christ the things that would have once destroyed me no longer have power.

I am so thankful I am free from the influence of sin by substance abuse! Unfortunately there is one thing that has continued to try and haunt me beyond my youth and immaturity: the battle of the cliques. I still see it all around me in families, homes, organizations, workplaces, ministries, and even churches. The sizes and personalities of the groups vary that drive them but they are nonetheless there and stronger than they have ever been. It’s everywhere. In short, church cliques are bad and will destroy your environments if they are not addressed. As I feel led to write this I hope that wherever this applies that you receive it with an open mind.

Here are 10 lessons learned about dealing with and overcoming church cliques:

1) Cliques are quick and easy to form and will help you feel good in the short term. However the long term effects will stunt your growth as an individual and leave you and your church limited to those whom you consider “in”.

2) Cliques are destructive for the growth of members your church. Loving people when they do what you want and then pushing them away when they disagree sends mixed signals to others whom should only receive love.

3) If you look for the support of certain individuals only then you have likely formed a clique without even realizing it.

4) If people deliberately exclude people intentionally then it is a clique. If you believe people do not have a right to contribute because of something that led you to cut them out then a division has formed and a clique is upon you.

5) Cliques drive away people more frequently than any other kind of problem. More issues come about in the imagination of others whom are feeling the pressure from cliques more than actual pressure from any one individual.

6) God did not form cliques. God formed churches with no respect of person and equality for the body. God essentially modeled the church as an anti-clique!

7) If jealousy and emotions drive the motives of an individual to work against others and not for them then whom you are recruiting to accomplish your will is a clique.

8) The best way to eliminate a clique forming in church business is to have transparency in all tasks and invite everyone to participate.

9) A good method of promoting fellowship in your church is to allow a time for people to interact with one another.

10) The ultimate clique-killer is loving everyone as you love yourself and making sure everyone around you feels just as accepted as the people you like the most.

I leave you with three powerful scriptures you can use as teaching points:

Romans 12:16

16 Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.

1 Corinthians 1:10

10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

James 2:1

2 My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.

Handling Denominational Prejudice From Other Christians

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There was an event that occurred recently that was related to an opportunity that we were cancelled out of at the last minute. In the revealing of more information it was clear that we were cancelled due to a difference of doctrinal beliefs. At first I was very surprised that such an occurrence could happen in today’s church; however the more I began to ponder and realize I now understand that this was not an isolated event. This behavior of isolationism has become more prevalent in established sanctuaries that possess a “if your beliefs are unlike mine then I can’t accept you” mentality.

First of all, I am going to address those who adopt “my way or the highway”. What I’m about to tell you is going to be straight and to the point: if we cannot learn to work together as Christians for the greater good of people receiving Christ then we are no better than the rest of others that people so proudly turn their nose to. Let me ask it this way: if you knew that when your loved one would be saved that they would shout and dance (and possibly embarrass you) when they worship would that be enough for you to hinder their path to Christ? If you had a spouse that had been lost 30 years and upon being saved began to speak in other tongues would you shun them and consider what they received “crazy” or not of God? What about yourself?! If you knew you could be totally delivered from depression but you grew to minister the gospel to your peers…would you completely surrender?

Secondly, if your doctrines were enough to save the world then why have the not worked? If your own ideals and beliefs were the answer to your problems then how can we explain when God uses others to bless us? If religion and the checklists that the “do and don’t” folks hold so tight to would work then why do I see so many that are in the same place they were when religion found them? Let me say this last thing to you: it is people that think I am crazy that remind me every day that religion and doctrine do not save people; Jesus Christ is the only way, the truth and the life to this lost and dying world. My prayer for you is that you continue to spend your efforts on me and others that genuinely care about making a difference. At least then you would not hinder another person from accepting salvation for fear of prejudice and attack from its own.

Finally, I have a scripture and word for some of you who are dealing with some form of this from people. I want to remind you assuredly that people perish for their lack of knowledge. And when people get so ingrained in the ideals of a doctrine they lose sight on the entire word of God. Remember that denomination does not define you. The blood of Christ in your life is what makes you who you are! Let us take a look at the example of Stephen:

Acts 7:54-60

54 When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.

55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,

56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,

58 And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.

59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Whether people stood by or took part in throwing the stones they were equally guilty in this moment. Even in the midst of all the good things Stephen had done there were still people that wished to see him fall. And even in the midst of something so undeserving you hear “lay not this sin to their charge”. What a powerful showing of how the enemy has no hold on God’s children! Be reminded this day that even if people try to bring you down that you can be at peace enough to even forgive them and enter into peace and rest!

To this day I never had the chance to stand in the church that I was brought up in for 20 years due to the differences that left me shunned as a minister. That has not stopped me, however, from going back numerous times in my life to still fellowship with people. We go to many churches of various denominations and love each and every chance we get to show the love of God by sharing our gifts that God has given us with others. Our own family all goes to different churches of different denomination yet we serve our ministry to whosoever will. Your willingness to be open and worship with others is what makes what is precious in you shine. With this mentality people won’t see you as one denomination or another but a child of God. I choose to be of no denomination because I feel it limits people so much to whom they truly can be in God. I choose to be a child of God and to be defined by the word of God and what it’s promises entail for me! And now when I go through situations where I am shunned or made to feel like nothing I am reminded that I simply ask for their forgiveness and be at peace.

So today, I forgive you and pray that the willingness to be open and serve with Christians of all beliefs will enter into your heart. Because at the end of the day when we are called to be with Christ there will be no parties by denomination. We will be one body, separated no longer by ideals, opinions and doctrines. Open your eyes to see that we all need each other in the last days!

Hey, Can You Spot Me? Can Anyone Help Me? Is There Anyone There? Help!

I grew up my entire life always being enriched with wondrous virtues and instruction. Things like:

“Trust in the Lord and He will never fail you”

“You need to be saved in order to make Heaven your home”

“Ask Jesus to forgive you for your sins”

“Hold on through the storm and God will not leave you”

“When no one else will help encourage yourself”

I believed those words from all of those whom spoke these to me that they meant well and spoke it from a good place in their heart. In fact, I have even clung to the encouragement and listened to the instruction that I was told. However I cannot help but feel like that in the day I live in that something feels different than before. The many voices that I use to hear deliver such phrases are declining and I find myself looking inside my soul for strength now more than ever. It made me think, “Is this the way it’s supposed to be? Is it like riding a bike and once you’re off you no longer need that encouragement and kind push?”

At first I thought, “Yeah that’s got to be it. I’m just not praying and working hard enough or I would obviously see what I’ve been told my whole life”. And then after months and months of more decline (almost to silence) I then stood exhausted from all the effort and began to question myself in my feverish pursuit of keeping the bar that I had been told to hold my whole life up completely on my own. Thanks be to God somehow I came through what would have probably broke others down to loneliness and depression. When my pride wanted me to just write everyone off that had seemingly forsaken me the spirit of the Lord quickened me and began to teach me about something I had never realized before.

My revelation was simply this: we all need a spotter from time to time, but sometimes we are to be the spotter when others cannot carry their own load. It put me in the mind of this imagery:

spotting

Then I recalled this scripture:

Romans 15:1 

We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.

Powerful, right?! This helps me to realize that I am not to carry everything alone but I am not to always expect others to run to me either. Until we can learn to help each other as Christ instructed (love our neighbors as ourself) than we are trying to selfishly lift our own weights and demand the world to be our spot.

So what do you do when you cannot seem to carry your own weight? What do we do when no one steps up to help us in a time of weakness?

1) First of all, stop screaming for help from other people. Chances are if no one has come to your aid yet that God has not received your full trust and surrender. Have you confessed to God your shortcomings and the pains and hurts of your life that seem to keep you down. This heavy load we willingly carry needs to be the first thing we get rid of. Cleansing your soul is necessary. Repenting sincerely of things will help you to get up and feel lighter before you make the first effort towards anything.

2) Secondly, stop trying to lift a weight that you cannot carry without God’s help. We cannot continue to try to get to the mountain top without seeing that it takes thousands of steps before we hit the pinnacle. Daily prayer and thanksgiving opens the doorway of your heart to be humbled and at peace with things you cannot change. It also helps you to gain clarity on things that are making it harder for you than it should be.

3) Thirdly, make an effort that you feel like you can handle. Get to a church weekly, read some scripture everyday (you do not have to put yourself to sleep to have a meaningful bible study), pray for a few minutes a couple times a day, listen to some praise and worship at some point and allow meditation toward God, and keep a positive attitude even in the face of adversity. God would have you to walk simple steps of faith than to try and run with so many complexities.

4) Fourth, once you begin to establish your personal connection to God begin to challenge yourself. Step out of your comfort zone every now and then. Praise him a little more than normal. Pray a few minutes longer than normal. Help someone like you would help yourself. For as we challenge ourselves we find that this is where we begin to build strength and get stronger. And as you begin to step out by faith in these moments when you would be afraid God will help you and spot you initially with an overwhelming move of his presence and favor all about you.

5) Finally, once you realize that you can handle some things then begin to look for situations and individuals that you know you can lend a hand too. The bible talks of it being far better to give than receive. I have found that I gain just as much strength helping someone else learn to lift and carry the burdens of life than I do always just yelling for help and never trying.

Remember: we can lift a stronger amount of weight together than if we tried to do it separately on our own. Help others that you know that you can and remember that as you help them it will build you up to be stronger. And as we lead by example I hope and pray that this decline in encouragement begins to cease and that we return to the sincere compassion of Christ.

Help Me Be Faithful To Believe In The Things I Cannot See

There was a season in my life recently where I was beginning to desire things to really move to the next chapter of what I was desiring to happen (new home, updated job, an ease in some stresses, etc.). As I began to pray God spoke to me through many sermons about the things in my life that must learn to be guided by faith and not by sight. Not too long after I began a serious pursuit for change in prayer I walked outside of my house at the time and beheld this:

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At first glance this appears to be a normal beautiful day. Most days I would have probably looked over this and marched right in the car and went on…but something was different this time. What makes this picture different is that the clouds were covering the mountainside entirely and were taking the shape of the mountain in its entirety. IMMEDIATELY my spirit was quickened within me and I heard the words: “see the mountain by faith and not by sight”. What a mighty blessing this was to me!

I cannot hardly put into words this experience that I had but what it helped me to realize is that faith helps us shape what does not appear to be what we want into what we are desiring. Faith simply reveals what our sight is covering. My prayer has been since this experience: “God help me to see the things that I cannot see with my own understanding. Help me to see things by faith and not simply but what my perception tells me” Since this experience God has blessed me many times over what I ever expected to happen. However my friends I must say that the biggest life changer for me that goes beyond the materials things was the lesson I learned that day about faith. Faith helps me move mountains by seeing beyond the fact that I cannot see it move. Faith helps me believe in the things that would seem impossible. And without faith our purpose is dead. Live to grow your faith to see Christ and the wonder of His love for your life. Be faithful to receive the goal of your faith. I close with this passage:

1 Peter 1:5-9

“who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,  for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”