Ten Errors of First-Time Deacons

Welcome to life as a deacon! Always exciting, inspiring, fulfilling and self-satisfying. Wait … that’s not exactly true. Let’s start over.

Welcome to life as a deacon! It’s much different than you expected. (That’s a little closer to the truth.)

As you begin your ministry as a deacon, here are a few common errors to avoid for the sake of your ministry, your marriage and maybe even your sanity. The last thing that anyone wants to see happen here is for you to flame out in the first year. I’ve known a number of men who did and the following exhortations are the result. And by the way, I flamed out early on but found my stride a few months later. I wish I would have known about three of these errors back then.

  1. Listening to Pastor Bashers. Once you become a deacon you enter a different perceived role. It is the role of sounding board for everyone who thinks your pastor is obtuse, lazy, overbearing, driven, longwinded, shallow, manipulative, disorganized, carnal, pharisaical, aloof, nosey, trite, over-analytical, undereducated, simple, complex, late, early, egregious, spineless, stubborn and/or incompetent. Do not listen to any of them. Ever.
  2. Beast Mode. When I became a deacon I was uninformed of my physical, emotional, and spiritual limitations. I actually believed I could be on “beast mode.” Beast mode, a term my kids used a few years ago, is that extra gear you have that lets you become insanely fast and unstoppable. It’s a video game term. But in real life you can only survive on beast mode for a day or two before you completely wear yourself out. Pace yourself in this first year. In the words of Spiderman’s aunt: “You aren’t Superman, you know.”
  3. Desire for “Pixie Dust.” There is no pixie dust that you can sprinkle over some messes that will make them look or smell better. You are going to have to get your hands dirty in other people’s wreckage and there will be no “microwave” or “just add water” solutions. Usually it’s a lot of hard, awkward, ugly work in ministry. There are times in ministry when all the axioms fall short.
  4. Becoming a Solo Mission Specialist. A deacon is never a one-man wrecking crew. It takes a tribe to do it. Going alone could have various consequences including:
  • Gossip from a neighbor who sees you entering a widow’s home by yourself.
  • Anxiety from trying to accomplish tasks both great and small alone.
  • Embarrassment from trying to fold that Lord’s Supper table cloth alone in front of the congregation. (Impossible!)
  • Danger from the generator as you try to reboot the church septic system.
  • Being a deacon without a wingman is a frustrating and lonely undertaking.
  1. Going Full-On Gladiator. Deacons, avoid the temptation to be consumed in conflict. There will be conflict in church. Conflict is actually healthy, but left unchecked it grows like kudzu on a hot Georgia night. It will smother everything good that’s happening in the church. Steve Davis, my pastor, reminded me that all deacons carry around two buckets. One filled with gas and the other with water. In every conflict deacons will throw one or the other at the flames. Choose the water, please.
  2. “Fake It ‘til Ya Make It.” You can get away with this strategy from time to time but it’s a whole lot easier to learn how to do the work and ask questions when you’re confused.
  3. Anticipating the Ticker Tape Parade. It’s an honor to serve but don’t expected to be honored. Most of the important stuff you do will be things that only your Father in Heaven will see. There are also some exasperating moments. I often think about this phrase when I think about pastoring and being a deacon: “It’s early to rise, pride-swallowing onslaught!” Some days are like that and nobody gets a purple heart for those days.
  4. Underestimating the Power of a 40-Year Member. They are out there and you might want to spend a little extra time getting to know them. Political move? Sometimes. Wise? More often than not. Listening and relating to them often makes connections and builds bridges that will reap benefits. They have a lot of experience and are often more open to change than you would imagine.
  5. Trying to Speak When You Have No Words. Sometime I forget that listening and silence can be much more powerful and constructive that wagging my uninformed and mystified tongue. A deacon’s presence at a funeral is more powerful than words. Trying to answer a question because you are embarrassed that you don’t know the answer is downright dangerous.
  6. And Finally … Forgetting the Pianist in Lord’s Supper Element Distribution. It’s so easy to do! She isn’t on a row. She’s out in left field. She’s busy doing something important and she’s in full view of the congregation. Tie a string around your finger and then place the juice and wafer on the piano for her. Everybody watching will be glad you did!

7 Questions Every Father Must Ask

I have a confession to make. As a father, leader and husband I’ve often failed. Often is not a hyperbole either. I mean, I have often failed. If Paul had a thorn in the flesh, I’ve got a briar patch.

But as a Christ-follower and a man, I can do two things with my failures. First, I can learn from failures and actually grow, knowing that God often restores the messes we have created. Secondly, I can teach others out of the abundance of my experience.

That’s why I am so thrilled to share these seven questions that I ask myself every week. Perhaps this week you’ll ask them as well. I believe these questions have been game changers for me.

  1. Am I really available?

In other words, are my kids and wife having to compete with my cell phone, my fantasy football league, my Netflix, my twitter, and my golf game for my attention? This is a difficulty for many men because we are mostly wired to be focused on one thing at a time. Women can answer the phone, fix a sandwich, text and understand the subtleties of adolescent nonverbal codes all at the same time. If I tried that mustard would be all over my phone and I’d be texting with the microwave! It just doesn’t work so well for most men. We’ve got to work on being there. And when we are there we must be present. Eliminate distraction. Look them in the eye. Communicate their importance. Develop the skill of single-focused fatherhood and marriage.

  1. Have I grown up?

There’s a big difference between growing up and growing old. The Apostle Paul said it like this: When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things (1 Cor 13:11). So what are some childish things that we need to put away? For many of us, it’s how we handle conflict. It means not slamming a door or throwing a tantrum. For others of us, it’s not withholding affection based on how our day is treating us. Childish things are lust, greed, bitterness, emotionally connecting with other women, spending sprees, and vulgar joking. All of these will affect our kids and our wives, even if they aren’t done in their presence.

Growing up also means owning our failures rather than making excuses or defending our poor choices. If you want to see a real man, look at Psalm 51. It’s the best expression of what a man does when he is found in the wrong. Real men have the integrity to pick the right side of a battle even at the expense of admitting past sins.

  1. Do my kids know I love my wife?

There’s nothing that makes a child feel safer than seeing a mom and dad who truly love and cherish each other with their eyes, their words and their touch. Being “in it for the kids” is not enough. If you are finding it hard to love your wife, you need to address it now. Not when it’s convenient, not when you have enough money to see a counselor, and not when you and your wife are living in to parallel universes of emotion. Invest and love your wife. Get help. Remember how much we are to love our wives (check Ephesians 5:25).

  1. What do I say when I talk about God?

If you are anything like me, this doesn’t come easy. I have to work at it. Find moments to express your faith. We can do this basically by “exegeting the day”. I know, I’m getting a little fancy here. What I mean is that we find a way to view our daily struggles through the lens of scripture. What did your neighbor’s sorrow cause you to do? Share a part of your day with your son or grandson and how the Bible instructed you on how to respond.

  1. Do I practice vulnerability?

Perhaps the most daring thing I will ever do is to let his children in on my true feelings, hurts, fears and loves. Our male ego is the enemy of this front. Your ego will try to convince you that its job is to keep you safe. Your ego doesn’t believe the risk is worth the reward. When was the last time you really risked vulnerability to let your kids and your wife see who you really are? When was the last time you allowed people into the darker places of your heart? Vulnerability is not a weakness. It is a man-sized virtue.

  1. What am I hiding?

Yes, God uses imperfect men. In the same line, God has never called a sneaky man. And God doesn’t want us to be sneaky as husbands, fathers and grandfathers. Secrets are insidious. They damage our families and our selves. Whether it is erasing the history on your internet browser, the private messages on Facebook that you send to an old flame, or hiding a grudge – secrets will damage others before they are ever even revealed. Let’s challenge each other to be “secretless” in our private world, struggling together to make what’s outside become a true reflection of what is inside.

  1. Do I model generosity?

Perhaps one of the greatest legacies a man could leave to his children is the joy of generosity. The givers are the happiest people on the face of the earth. Our kids need this lesson. There’s a certain deep feeling of bliss that comes from giving with no regard for receiving. By modeling generosity, we are teaching them that it wasn’t ours in the first place and so money takes on a transcendent meaning that can’t be found in wealth accumulation. Tithing has taught me how to avoid the virus of materialism and learn the bliss of generosity. I learned it from my dad and I continue to speak it into the lives of my sons.

These seven questions can be touchstones that continue to shape us as fathers. Even more than that, I believe in the long run they will shape the destiny of our families and marriages.

Feel free to use this Power Point for Father’s Day, men’s group meetings, or family seminars! Wide and Standard Screen Versions provided. They are fully customizable.

That’s How Winning is Done

I have a confession to make – I’m a HUGE Rocky fan. I’ve seen all the movies – multiple times. I own all the movies. A perfect day for me would be binging on all things Rocky – including a HUGE bag of popcorn and a case of Diet Coke as I watch one Rocky movie after another … I can only imagine (oh wait – that’s already a song)!

The common thread in the Rocky franchise is unrelenting determination. Quitting wasn’t in his vocabulary. During his classic battles, on more than one occasion, more than one person would yell, “Stay down! Stay down!” They’d see him take an incredible beating and they didn’t want it to continue.

Yet somehow, Rocky manages to get to his feet and get his fifth, sixth or seventh wind and make a final surge that would knock his opponent, and sometimes himself, to the mat.

In one of the final installments in the series, Rocky is talking to his grown son and says, “… It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward – that’s how winning is done.”

There is no quit in Rocky. He is the picture of determination and an unwillingness to accept defeat whether it is from Clubber Lane, Apollo Creed or the entire Soviet Block Empire!

Luke 14 paints another picture of determination. The master prepares a great feast and when everything is ready, he instructs his servants to bring in the guests. One after one they make excuses as to why they can’t attend. He doesn’t cancel the banquet. He doesn’t sulk over the rejection and nurse the wounds of low self-esteem. Instead, the master tells his servants to go to the streets and bring in the disadvantaged and outcast of society – yet there is still room. In one final effort to fill his house he directs his servants to go into the highways and hedges and compel people to come in so that his house will be full.

Do you sense his determination? He wasn’t going to take, “No.” for an answer. Not once, not twice, but three times he sent his servants to bring in the people.

Why was he so determined?

The master knew those that who would come into his house would experience joy (see the end of verse 24). They would be fed. They would enjoy the company of others. They would escape the elements of living on the streets and much more. Likewise, Jesus knows we will be blessed if we accept His invitation; therefore, He’s determined that His house, the church, be filled.

So where do we find ourselves in the story? Contrary to societal norms we are not the master. That’s obviously Jesus. We are the servants. We play a pivotal role. We are the messengers inviting people out of the streets of loneliness, hopelessness and fading pleasure and into an everlasting feast of joy. But are we being obedient? Are we really searching the back streets and cul-de-sacs for people who need what Jesus offers?

As His messengers, do we reflect the passion of the Master? I believe in many cases we have forgotten the message we were commissioned to share and we’ve gone out into the streets to fill our time with other pursuits.

We need to recapture that holy determination, if you will. A determination driven by our own walk with the Lord and spurred by our love for people. Somebody will come, if we’ll continue pray for them. Somebody will come if we’ll continue to invite them. Somebody will come if we keep asking, seeking and knocking.

I’m not talking about harassment, but I am talking about a passionate persistence. A holy determination that does not give up even when faced with rejection after rejection after rejection.

God does not quit inviting those He created to experience His love and forgiveness. God is determined to search for people who will respond to His invitation (2 Chron 16:9).

As we intentionally scatter the seeds of God’s truth across Louisiana via our Here for You multimedia outreach initiative, let’s be determined to share the messages in any and every way we can. Let’s be determined and be prepared to take advantage of the spiritual discussions that will surface as more and more people are exposed to these message spots. Let’s be determined to extend the invitation again and again and again.

God is determined that His house be full. Let’s not settle for anything less. That’s how winning is done (Gal.6:9).

Spiritual Growth in the Summer Months

Summer offers a great change of pace. With that comes the opportunity to start or refresh habits that are helpful to spiritual growth. Changing up routines can also breathe new life into our spiritual lives during different seasons. Here are a few ideas that I’ve found helpful in regards to my Spiritual Growth during the Summer:

1. Rest

Remember, rest is a spiritual discipline and an act of faith. Busyness often reveals that we trust in ourselves more that we trust in God, who commanded one day in seven to be for rest and worship (Exodus 20:8-11). Summer is often the time we look to unplug and unwind for consecutive days. And this can be a tool for spiritual growth. Unplugging from Social Media, Email, and other forms of technology can be a discipline worth pursuing during the summer as well. Rest helps us reset physically and spiritually. It’s an act of obedience and faith. Rest well and grow.

2. Read

I like to look for a 8-10 week Bible Study that will challenge me in an area that I need to grow in. It’s possible your church or small group may be doing a study of some kind that you can plug into. Also, if you don’t currently have a habit of regular Bible Reading and devotions, summer can be a good time to kick one off. I like to use YouVersion.com or the Bible App for Bible Reading plans. There are many 45 – 90 day plans available that can be a spark plug to your spiritual growth.

I also like to take my devotional life outside during the summer. Mornings are nice in our area during May, June, and July. Morning routines with our kids slow down a bit, so I’m able to be more regular with jogging, walking, and biking before work. YouVersion.com or the Bible App allows you to listen to a Bible Reading Plan. Also, I always have a few podcast of sermons or books I’m listening to, that help me grow in my faith. Some other tips on Developing Personal Devotional Habits HERE.

3. Reflect

June marks the mid way point for the year. This is a good time to reflect and assess the year so far and make some new commitments or resolutions for the 2nd half. Chuck Lawless has a great list of questions for assessing your spiritual health mid-year HERE. I like to use these five markers for assessing spiritual health as well: Living the Gospel, Devotional Habits, Engaging in Ministry, Building Catalytic Relationships, and Experiencing God’s Providential Care. Assess your spiritual health using these five marks HERE.

4. Reach out

Summer also provides some great opportunities to be On Mission in the neighborhood, community, and around the world. Getting out of our comfort zones helps us grow spiritually as we move beyond our strength to depend upon God’s. Look for opportunities to volunteer with a church, or local ministry, or just get out in the front yard and meet some new neighbors. Here’s a few summer outreach ideas for your family, small group, or church.

5. Remain Faithful

Summer is often a time that it can be easy to drop habits like church attendance and giving. These are not essential for salvation, but they are essential for spiritual health and growth. Schedules may be irregular because of summer travel, family visiting from out of town, etc., but make a commitment that we are going to remain faithful to our church by attending and giving. Most churches today have e-giving options where recurring contributions can be setup ahead of travel. And many churches have online access to their services and sermons so that you can stay connected and not miss out on what God is doing with and saying to your faith family. Faithfulness makes a difference for you, your family, and the others that you are committed in a local body of believers.

If you’re not involved in a church, get connected this summer! There is usually great coffee, great relationships, and events and activities planned with your spiritual growth in mind at churches all over your community.

Rest, Read, Reflect, Reach Out, and Remain Faithful this summer to maximize spiritual growth health.

What helps you grow during the summer months?

7 Easy Steps to Become A Normal American

What is normal? It’s pretty easy to answer that question. Our nation’s debt is over 21 trillion. Average credit card debt is well over six thousand. So, if you want to be normal, just follow these seven easy steps and you’ll be totally normal!

  1. When you reach your credit card limit move all the debt to a new credit card with lower interest rates. Set it and forget it. This works perfectly! You’ll be just like every other American. Before you know it you’ll have seven credit cards, with 15K on three, but you’ll have enough points you can stay at a two-star hotel at half price!
  2. Get the biggest house you can qualify for and then make minimum payments. Being house-poor is a great way to feel like everybody else. If you want to kick it up a notch, take out a home equity loan so that you can update your home with 200-year-old shiplap and granite in the third bathroom. Your friends will be super impressed and you get to make another monthly payment. Your home will be worth more and you’ll feel like you’re on HGTV! Your home is your biggest investment. Why not make it your biggest liability? Like we always say, “Home is where the heart-ache is.” Right?
  3. Give to the church according to how well the pastor preaches and the ministers meet your needs. Make church about your needs. Think of it as a payment for services rendered. If you don’t like how things are going up there, vote with your wallet. Remember, it’s not spiritual. It’s personal. They’ll think twice about cutting your favorite program that makes you feel good about yourself. Keep telling yourself that the tithe is so Old Testament that giving 10% is irrelevant. Plus, your house costs a whole lot more than the average listing on the Ur real estate market when Abraham was around.
  4. Buy only the food and merchandise that are advertised. Watch a lot of TV, spend a lot of time on social media, and believe all the ads. The food commercials make you ravenously hungry for all the unique ways they’ve invented to stuff the maximum amount of cheese in pizza. Another way to be normal is to join as many discount clubs as possible. Think of all the money you’ll be saving by spending all that money! Also, the more you eat, the more you’ll be able to take advantage of all the health insurance you have for your poor health! Don’t change your lifestyle. That’s too hard. Just take the pills.
  5. When you get feeling really bad about your debt, soothe your anxieties with ice cream. This is such a no-brainer. If you ever get to feeling down about how much you owe, try two scoops of Rocky Road with sprinkles. If ice cream’s not your thing, order a venti vanilla latte with an extra shot of expresso just for good measure. That should keep you satisfied for at least 15 minutes.
  6. Think of your car as an investment that appreciates over time. The fancier car you drive, the more your friends will believe you are doing great! Plus if you’re upside down on your car you can always trade up and tack the loan on the next vehicle. Fool yourself in believing that your car will be a classic in 20 years. That’ll take the pinch out of that 84-month loan.
  7. Buy your kids whatever they ask for so they’ll love you more. By now you are working extra to make monthly payments so don’t forget to buy your kids extra stuff to replace lost quality time with you. They’ll appreciate it. Whatever “it” is. Nothing says, “I love you!” more than buying junk for the kiddos.

These are seven easy steps. They are easy as falling off a log (and into a bayou of hungry alligators)!

If you want to be not the norm instead, then be sure to check out our website: NotTheNorm.LA! It’s filled with resources, stories, and videos to help you be not the norm.

Georgia Barnette Provides Fuel for Missions Across Louisiana

Our Louisiana Baptists State Missions Offering, the Georgia Barnette Offering, is a great source of energy for missions all over Louisiana. In 2017, we received $1.58 million for the offering and this money is already at work across our state. Here are some of the expenditures so far this year:

  • $157k in church planting and compassion ministry funding for over 100 projects currently in years 1-5.
  • $37k in funding for the Mission Builder program providing construction resources for churches across Louisiana.
  • $18k for church planting networking and training for non-English language groups in Louisiana.
  • $29k for men’s, women’s, and kids’ missions training and networking.
  • $20k for special evangelism projects including prison outreach and evangelistic event support
  • $85k for collegiate ministry, including the brand new Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) at Southern University in Baton Rouge.
  • $30k for the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Extension at Angola State Penitentiary.
  • $9k for ESL (English as a Second Language), multi-housing, and chaplaincy training projects across Louisiana.
  • $3k for Crisis Pregnancy Resource Centers across Louisiana.
  • $12k for Disaster Relief training and mobilization.

And we’re just getting started!

There is absolutely nothing else like the GBO for fueling missions across Louisiana!

Still around $1.1 million remains to be distributed over the next seven months, including money for scholarships. It’s always fun to watch the Georgia Barnette Offering providing fuel for missions across our state!

Find out more about the Georgia Barnette State Missions Offering at GeorgiaBarnette.org.

Promotional material for the 2018 Offering will be available in July. Watch for opportunities to give through your church this Fall.

*expenditures calculated in May 2018

The Sum of the Some

Sticker shock … I’m sure you’ve experienced it on many occasions:

  • You need just a few things from the store. You grab a cart and mysteriously you find yourself with lots of stuff that you didn’t have on the list and your bill equals a car payment!
  • You buy that new truck and the reality of the payment sets in. You’ve got another mortgage for the next 5-8 years!
  • You lower your thermostat in July, then the bill arrives in the early part of August. Ouch!

There is a thread of truth in the old adage, “It all adds up!”

This is true in all other areas of life.

You make a routine of enjoying the free donuts in the break room every morning and snack through the evening news. You didn’t mean to gain weight; it happened by snaccident!

Little things add up in bad ways and good ways!

On one occasion as Jesus was addressing those who gathered around him, He said, “A farmer went out to plant his seed. While he was planting, some seed fell by the road, and the birds came and ate it all up. Some seed fell on rocky ground, where there wasn’t much dirt. That seed grew very fast, because the ground was not deep. But when the sun rose, the plants dried up, because they did not have deep roots. Some other seed fell among thorny weeds, which grew and choked the good plants. Some other seed fell on good ground where it grew and produced a crop. Some plants made a hundred times more, some made sixty times more, and some made thirty times more.” Mt 13:3-9, NCV.

The truth of this parable remains. Little things, over time, produce big results. I call this the “sum” of the “some.”

Wherever your feet take you today, you have the opportunity to scatter seeds. Some will make no difference. They simply bounce off the soil and lie there unnoticed. Some appear to take root only to quickly die. Some start showing potential only to be choked by the distractions of life. But some, just some, land in good soil that has been waiting for the right seed to be scattered at just the right time. Theses seeds spout roots, break through the soil and become visible for all to see.

The “sum” of the “some” has great potential – even up to a hundred times more than what was scattered.

Louisiana Baptists are scattering seeds through our multi-media evangelism strategy, Here for You. These are not church seeds (“Come to our building”). They are not spiritual seeds (“You need to be a better person.”). These are seeds of God’s truth that have the potential to changes lives here and hereafter. They are seeds that lead to true freedom (John 8:32).

You can scatter this life-changing seed.

You don’t need a seminary degree. You don’t have to be a public speaker or an extrovert. Simply go to HereForYou.org and share the Here for You spots using your preferred social media platform.

  • Add comments.
  • Click share.
  • Tweet and retweet them.
  • Message the spots to friends.
  • Post them from YouTube onto your page.
  • Pin them.
  • Make these seeds a part of your prayer list.

Every time you do, you are scattering “some” seeds of God’s truth with those who view your posts. Some will scroll past your post. Some will stop for a second, but move on. Some will watch the spot and possibly click “like.” But some will watch the spot then go to HereForYou.org and watch similar spots. Some will click on the gospel presentation and decide to follow Jesus.

It all begins when “some” people take a moment to scatter “some” seeds of truth.

Will you scatter some seeds with us? This sum of these efforts could change thousands of lives for eternity.

Elevators, Coffee and Freedom – 2 Ways to Promote a Grace-Filled Church

The elevator seemed to take ages to reach the floor I was on. When I stepped on board, I was forced to wait for several minutes as it stopped on every floor, opened whether there was someone waiting or not, and moved one floor down. After several minutes, the elevator reached the hotel lobby. I briskly approached the hotel bartender, handed him $5, and asked for a cup of coffee. In return, I received a cup of watered down instant coffee, much to my disappointment. If there was an eleventh commandment, I believe it would say, “Thou shalt not drink instant coffee.”

When I asked him why I got instant coffee instead of regular, he responded by saying, “I can’t grind coffee. It’s the Shabbat.”

Indeed, it was Friday evening, and I received a crash course in the Jewish version of the Sabbath. The hotel contained one the stranger sights in Israel: a Shabbat elevator. From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, the elevator runs on automatic in order that observant Jews do not have to perform work by pushing an elevator button.

In a well-intentioned attempt to follow the biblical command to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy by ceasing from their work (Ex 20:8-11), the Jewish religious leaders have added several new instructions to prevent transgression of the Law.

This is true in almost every facet of Jewish life. Special containers with passages from Deuteronomy should be placed on the right doorpost (Deut 6:4-11), no more than three inches from the outside, although there is debate about whether they should be vertical or horizontal. Men are not to cut their sideburns. Many grow out long curls to ensure they do not break this law.

Boundaries upon boundaries upon boundaries. Rules on top of rules on top of rules.

In his day, Jesus faced similar circumstances. Religious leaders had set up an exorbitant amount of rules outside of the commands of Scripture. At one point, the conflict between Jesus and the leaders came to a head when some disciples picked grain to eat on the Sabbath. We should keep Jesus’ critique at the forefront of our minds: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mk 2:27-28).

What Jesus is saying here as well as in other conversations with the Pharisees throughout the Gospels is that the rules of man cannot supersede the commands of Scripture. In truth, there is tremendous freedom in Scripture for those who live under grace (Gal 5:1). Only our freedom should not be used as an opportunity to sin.

As it pertains to our lives, we are not compelled to submit to rules and regulations that do not already exist in Scripture.

If you have died with Christ to the spiritual forces of the world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its regulations: “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!”? These will all perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.” (Col 2:20-22).

Do not call something sinful what God does not. We have extraordinary freedom in the Gospel. God is the one who determines what is sinful and what is permissible.

Those who would come to you and say that God explicitly forbids a certain activity, food, or drink when He in fact does not are seeking to limit your freedoms in Christ in the same way the Judaizers did with the Galatians. Such persons do not seek to boast in the cross, but in your flesh (Gal 6:13-14).

How then should we handle our freedoms? Here are two concepts to keep in mind as we minister to members in our churches as well as the community as a whole.

  1. Our freedoms are for building up the church, not ourselves.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:12 and again in 10:23, “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.” Brothers and sisters, the Lord has entrusted us with the freedom found in His Son. We should use it not for the building up of ourselves, but of the church.

If this entails limiting our freedoms for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ, then not only should we be willing to do so, but we should do so gladly. Paul says in Philippian 2:4-5 that we should look to the interests of others and model the attitude of Christ.

Our freedoms in Christ are not superseded by the desires of men. But rather than holding our freedoms over the heads of others, we respond in love and humility. We are not compelled to follow rules and regulations under fear of transgression as the Jews do. Nor should we expect others to follow commandments that are not biblical and condemn them when they do not (Gal 5:15). Our submission is to Christ and the law of love (Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:13-14).

  1. The Law gives us guidance, but only Christ can give us life.

We should strive to fill our churches with people who have been made alive in Christ, not with excellent rule followers. Just because someone has never cut corners financially, never committed adultery, volunteers at the local soup kitchen, and is the biggest tither in the church does not mean he is truly alive in Christ. He may be nothing more than a tomb with dead man’s bones in it. These are good things to do, but we are saved for good works, not by them.

Once again, this is not an excuse to be lenient on sin (Romans 6:21). However, the power in Christianity is not found in rule following, but in the transformed life. When people come to our churches, they are in search of something. If they become good rule followers, but have not encountered the one who gives life, then we may be deluding them into thinking they are saved when they in fact are not.

We must allow room for members to express their freedoms in Christ while simultaneously resisting sin in ourselves and in our church. The challenge for us is to accurately differentiate between God’s Law and manmade regulations. When men and women come into our churches and encounter Christ, they are set free – both from enslavement to sin and the need to follow arbitrary regulations – and given the light yoke of Christ instead (Matthew 11:28-30).

7 Pastor Traps on Mother’s Day

Beware of the trap game. In sports, the trap game is a game played against an opponent generally deemed to be easy to defeat. As a result, a person or team may not prepare as they are looking ahead to next Sunday.

For pastors, Mother’s Days are often trap Sundays. But there are a few traps we can avoid on this very important and highly attended Sunday.

Trap #1: Publicly honoring the youngest mother. What is the distinctive achievement here?

I’m young. I had a baby.

After 52 years on this earth, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is not a goal implied in Scripture. Go figure. It says be fruitful and multiply but it doesn’t tell you to begin before you’re 17. All mothers should be honored and singling out the youngest mother feels bad in so many ways. And it could be mortifying for some in your church, including the youngest mother.

Trap #2: Forgetting that there are women in your church that wish they were mothers. Imagine going through the hardest struggle you’ve ever experienced in your life and watching all your dreams vanish. Then imagine that someone creates a Sunday where they place of your greatest pain is the theme of a worship service. Of course you’ll want to honor mothers. Just honor them with a keen sensitivity toward infertility and the wounds of others.

Trap #3: Stretching, squeezing, twisting and prodding a scripture or a sermon series to make it fit Mother’s Day.

Especially if you are going through a series on the 7 deadly sins, the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse, or The Bad Girls of the Bible.

Your people don’t need you to gracefully pirouette across the hermeneutical landscape and seamlessly land on the perfectly deft Mother’s Day sermon text at the just the right time. You’ll be more impressed than they will, Rev. Fancypants.

Trap #4: Honoring Mothers in contrast with those Nutty Dads.Notice the two most used, most implied topics of these 2 traditional days.

  • Mother’s Day Sermon Thesis Statement: Mothers, you are honored and cherished.
  • Father’s Day Sermon Thesis Statement: Fathers, get with the program.

Trap #5: The “Mother Worship” Trap. When planning your worship service, make sure the songs are about the Trinity not the quatrinity. (I know… Not a word.) The point is this: Our mothers, no matter how awesome they are, (and they are awesome) didn’t die for our sins. Worship every Sunday must be about God.

Trap #6: Not mentioning that it’s Mother’s Day. There are some that are so “non-seasonal” they decide to not even mention it. By doing that you are only magnifying the oversight in people’s minds. You have to do or say something whether you are making it the primary context of your message or you’re simply wishing mothers a Happy Mother’s Day. Not mentioning it is like asking people to not think of pink elephants. And now, please understand. Pink Elephants have nothing whatsoever to do with mothers. It is merely a common analogy that people use. Mothers and pink elephants have NOTHING to do with anything about each other. Am I clear on this point? Thank you.

Trap #7: This final trap is the most important one for pastors. Don’t forget to call your mother.

Birds of a Feather

The bird feeder went up last weekend. And we watched for a few days and we were disappointed that there was no activity.  Apparently, birds don’t use Instagram. But then one day, I was watching the feeder, and the squirrels showed up. We did not put out a bird feeder to feed squirrels, but we patiently watched to see what happen. I took great pleasure in watching the squirrels try to outwit the squirrel proof bird feeder. They would climb up the pole, swing over to the bird feeder, and sit on the perch, where the food is distributed, only to find that the perch is a trap door, and the weight of the squirrels was too much to keep the little trap door open. Victory is mine.

So the squirrels tried and tried and maybe got a seed or two. After a day or two, the big birds showed up. The doves, the cardinals and the squawking blue jays seemed to say, “I’ll get that seed.” But they had a tough time, because even though they were not heavy enough to close the little trap door, they had to almost hang upside down to get a seed or two, because the opening was too low. They tried and tried, and maybe got a few more seeds.

After another day or two, the sparrows showed up. I am not sure how you feel about sparrows, but they are not much to look at.  After all, they are brown, and small, and many in number. They are just “common” sparrows.

But, sparrows are the perfect size to eat all they want in the bird feeder. In fact, the manufacturer should rename the feeder a sparrow feeder. These sparrows sat on that perch, the trap door didn’t close, the food kept flowing, their little beaks were in just the right position to eat as much seed as they wanted. I also observed that the sparrows were not extremely neat in their eating habits. In fact, they were having such a good time, that the seeds were spilling on the ground. There are seeds everywhere under the feeder. Well this morning, the big birds and the squirrels showed up. But, they did not get on the feeder. They went straight to the ground. There is so much seed on the ground, there is no reason to try getting seed from the feeder. The sparrows saved the day!!

I can’t help but think that there is a lesson there: The little guys are important. You might be related to those sparrows. You might feel insignificant and small. You might feel like you can’t make much of a contribution in the world that God made. You might come from a small town or a small church but the truth is this: His eye really is on the sparrow. He watches you do your work. Sometimes we make a mess, but there is provision, even in the mess. Others are counting on you to be the sparrow, to provide. As churches we fly in formation because we have a similar purpose. It’s what gives meaningto the mission and if we fly in faith we’ll find the feeder. When we work together, He will supply everything we need so that we can accomplish the His purpose as individuals, churches, and associations.

And when we as churches flock together through the Cooperative Program, Here for You, the Georgia Barnette Missions Offering, Lottie Moon, and other missions projects, the impact is seismic!

We all matter to God, and together we can impact the Kingdom in ways that no one church can.