Are you stuck on Saturday?

Light piercing the darkness after Holy Saturday

Yesterday was Good Friday – the day Jesus was crucified on the cross. It’s the day that the Son of God himself was executed. His enemies were victorious. His followers were in disarray. It’s the day that is remembered throughout the world because without Good Friday, we couldn’t have Easter. Without the death of Jesus on the cross, we wouldn’t be celebrating his resurrection three days later.

And that’s what we like to do in churches. We recognize and even celebrate Good Friday, but then we skip ahead to the celebration on Sunday, reminding everyone that it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming. Somehow during this remembering and celebration we minimize the fact that there is a Saturday in this story. And it feels pretty bleak.

Imagine with me for a moment that you’ve been following this man throughout the countryside. He’s proclaimed Truth. He’s healed many. Throngs of people greeted him. He had performed countless miracles. People’s lives were changed. Your life was changed.

You were there when he entered Jerusalem and was greeted with crowds of people shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” And you watched them make a path out of palm leaves as you followed him through the city.

Then the bottom fell out.

Within a matter of hours, your leader was betrayed, condemned by the authorities, and publicly executed by the State. Everything you thought you knew was proven wrong. The hours following Good Friday were a frightening, lonely, and hopeless time. They had no idea that their world was about to be changed and everything Jesus had promised was about to come true. They were surrounded by darkness, questioning everything they believed.

And the demons celebrated. All signs had pointed to hell’s victory. Evil had triumphed over good. Everything was spiraling out of control.

I’ve been there.

You’ve probably been there, too. If you haven’t been there yet, you will be someday. It’s part of the human experience. You could suddenly lose your job and find yourself wondering what on earth you’re going to do next when the bills are piling up. I remember waking up the day after my father in law died, hoping against hope that everything had been just a dream. I had a similar hope when my nephew died. Life is full of our own personal Holy Saturday moments.

Some people never leave their dark Saturdays. It’s like they’re stuck. They’re stuck on Saturday. And it’s because so many people are stuck on Saturday that we cannot rush through Saturday to get to Easter Sunday.

If you’re feeling isolated, abandoned, or alone, this day’s a great reminder for you. Maybe you are heartbroken, betrayed, or feeling completely helpless and hopeless. This day’s a great reminder for you.

If you feel like nobody is listening to you, this day’s a great reminder for you. And if it feels like your prayers are just bouncing off the ceiling and God doesn’t really care, this day’s a great reminder for you.

If the reality of death is looming over you, this day’s a great reminder for you.

If you’re surrounded by darkness and despair, this day is a great reminder for you. Light and life are about to burst forth out of the tomb. The world is about to be turned upside down.

It’s Saturday.
But Sunday morning is coming.

Do you see it? The light is peeking around the corner. The darkness will not last forever. Let me say this again: the darkness will not last forever. It’s Saturday. But Sunday morning is just beyond the horizon. It is about to pierce through the darkness. Do you see it?

Hallelujah.
Amen.

 

What are you gonna do? Shock the world.

In my post about Todd Bussey’s influence on my life, I said that he will probably shock the world in Florida. That was intentional.

Here’s why…

Shock the WorldIn high school, my summers were pretty jam-packed. Thanks to Scouting, we had a trek at Philmont and Summer Camp to look forward to. Marching band consumed many days and nights as we tried to put together a top-notch show that would (hopefully) rival those of Castle and Reitz. And our family would always squeeze in a family vacation during the Summer, too.

It was wall-to-wall action with little downtime. And it was just the way I liked it.

“Here I raise my Ebenezer…”

One of the first events of Summer was our church youth group’s annual trek to Summer in the Son at Kentucky Christian College (now known as Kentucky Christian University). Friendships were forged. Faith was challenged. Bonds were strengthened. We “koinonia-ed” all over the place. Lives were changed at Summer in the Son. When I look back on my faith journey, I see several Ebenezers – key landmarks that remind me of where God intervened in my life.

One of these Ebenezer Monuments occurred during the main worship service. A speaker, whose name I cannot remember, shared a story that changed the direction of my life. I’m going to do my best to retell it. Please note that I have made up the names and dates of this story. It’s not because I’m trying to protect the innocent. It’s simply because I heard this story back in the early 1990s and details like names and dates in this story are honestly a bit of a fuzzy memory. But I promise. It’s a good story. And it changed my life. It went a little something like this… Continue reading “What are you gonna do? Shock the world.”

A few Septembers to remember

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September is a strange month for me. I’ve already talked about how September 11 is a mixture of laughter and sorrow in our house, thanks to our new family traditions. And, of course, there’s the anniversary of bringing Mihret home from Ethiopia. But there’s also a series of days in September that lead me to some self-reflection, contemplation, prayer, and even a little bit of dreaming. These anniversaries aren’t necessarily things I celebrate. They turned my world and my family’s world upside down. But I think they’re worth discussing,

September 1999

I did not attend Milligan with the intent of going into Youth Ministry. I don’t know what I really thought I was going to do with my Ministry degree, but youth ministry really wasn’t in my plan. Thanks to the recommendation of one of my professors, a church search committee approached me. Would I consider moving to Kentucky to take over the ministry programming from preschool thru college-aged students?

i’d recently graduated. I was a newlywed. And this position kind of fell into my lap. OK, it didn’t exactly fall into my lap. It wasn’t handed to me. I had to go through the interviews. We had to go through the process. But it was clear that doors were opening. So, although it was never part of my grand plan, I became a Youth Minister and moved our tiny little family of two to central Kentucky in early 1999.

It was clear from the beginning that I didn’t know what I was doing. Really. I can say that with almost two decades of analysis. I was ill-equipped. I can’t blame my alma mater for that. I just didn’t pay much attention to anything anyone said about youth ministry during my ministry-related classes because I was convinced I wasn’t going into youth ministry after college.

I was wrong. And it showed.

Christy tried to help me as much as she could. The staff tried to help me as much as they could. But in the end, there were too many unsaid, unmet, and unrealistic expectations. I had them. So did the Board. And so in early September, 1999, the Elders and I agreed that we should part ways.

This hurt in a lot of ways. This might be one of my biggest regrets. In retrospect, I believe things could have changed. Everything could have improved. And if I could go back and change things, I probably would. I was already emotionally exhausted just a few months into this ministry. So I left. And it hurt.

But I learned a lot from it. I was more confident than ever in my calling into some type of full time pastoral work. So I started addressing some organizational and administrative issues. I also talked to other youth ministers, attended some conferences, and had a better vision of what I thought a dynamic, impacting youth ministry would look like. And so I approached my next ministry position with a fresh outlook and renewed vigor.

September 2002

After everyone survived the Y2K non-disaster, I joined the ministry staff of a church in the Indianapolis area. With a great group of adult volunteers, some strong student leaders, and a passion to impact Indy, we made a difference. We went on a mission trip to serve a ministry reaching the Navajo nation. We began a student-led Sunday night worship service that was pretty fabulous. We hosted Christian concerts. We attended CIY’s summer conferences and Believe conferences. We had a written purpose and Vision. An abandoned firehouse was transformed into a student outreach center. Teens were getting baptized. Lives were being changed. I was turning down job opportunities at other churches. Things were clicking on all cylinders.

Then the wheels fell off.

Administrative issues kept rearing their ugly heads. Instead of addressing them head-on, I just pretended they didn’t exist. I wasn’t spending enough time with some of our students. Some parents were upset. That got other people upset. Including my immediate supervisor.

Bada-bing, Bada-boom…

I left the Student Ministry position in September, 2002. I felt betrayed, alone, and uncertain what to do next.

The Interim

I found myself questioning God quite a bit during this time. While I told my youth ministry kids, “Don’t give up on the church,” I have to admit that I was close to doing that myself. We tried attending churches nearby. We were always met by former members from my former employer. “What are you doing here?” they would ask, oblivious of the events that had recently transpired. It was a completely innocent question, but it cut like a knife.

Every. single. Sunday.

We eventually found a church in Fishers. It was a small church plant with big dreams. It was a place where we could get plugged in, but we could also start the healing process. It was like a soothing balm for our hurting souls.

Christy and I had two very young kids by this point. I did whatever I could to provide for them. I worked in warehouses. I managed a pizza joint. I was a substitute teacher. We moved in with my father in law for what was supposed to be just a month or two. Maybe three. It eventually turned into two years. I still attended conferences. I got some counseling. I learned some organizational tools that still help me today.

We knew this was just a season. But I’m not going to lie. It was hard. I had interview after interview. Christy and I wound up visiting all kinds of churches all over the place: from Iowa to Florida.

Nothing.

To make a long story short, we returned to Upper East Tennessee. I enrolled in seminary to solidify whatever cracks may have surfaced in my ministry foundation.

September 2011

After Christy earned her M.Ed degree at ETSU and I had completed three years of seminary, we started to sense that our season in Tennessee’s fair eastern mountains was coming to a close. In the Summer before what was going to be my final year in seminary, we loaded up a moving van, hugged some dear friends, and waved goodbye to Johnson City. I had accepted a preaching position in a small church south of Muncie, Indiana. It was a homecoming, of sorts. And because of a series of events that included some wide open doors and some doors that had been slammed shut, I was confident we were where God had led us. I think it’s safe to say, though, that I never really felt at home there.

Some great things happened during that ministry. There were some pretty high highlights. I baptized Aiden and Alyson there. But I’m not going to lie. It was a rocky time. Whenever I’d get together with other pastors from the area, someone would always wind up saying, “I can’t believe you’ve stuck around with them this long.” And this was without telling them anything that had been going on.

I’m not gong to lie. I questioned God. A lot. Why would God lead me somewhere like this? There were days when it felt like I couldn’t do anything to ever satisfy some people in the congregation. I felt like a punching bag sometimes.

But when you look at people like Jeremiah, Elijah, and even Moses, it’s important to remember that “calling” does not always equal “fun times.” Sometimes God asks us to do things we don’t really want to do. And since I was still sure that God had led us to East Central Indiana, I needed to stop complaining and keep doing my best to reach our community. But I quietly looked around for other opportunities.

I stuck around with them for four years before they decided they’d had enough of me. It was pretty apparent early on that I wasn’t going to retire there. I was never going to be seen as a “local.” I saw first hand how the stereotypes about small churches might be more true than we want to admit. And there was plenty of talk about people and their problems instead of talking to them. And very little was actually decided upon by those in leadership. People just kind of did what they wanted to do and claimed the leadership had agreed to it. And that worked because nobody really knew what they really did or didn’t agree to do.

It is no secret that I was not surprised when they fired me. But it still hurt. A lot. The sense of betrayal cut deep. I could go into details, but I won’t. Let’s just say that it took a long time for those wounds to heal. It honestly took a good teeth-kicking.

Moving on

Things have certainly changed over the years since we were pushed out of Eacst Central Indiana. Our family has grown. I’ve picked up marketing/PR skills and experience. I know who I am. And I know Whose I am. That’s where I find my satisfaction and worth. I don’t need a title or position to have meaning.  Although I do preach in some area churches on occasion, I’ve moved on.

I’ve moved on.

Do I question my calling? Nope. I believe God used me in each of those ministry situations. I also firmly believe that He is using me right here where I am now. And that isn’t in the pulpit.

Every once in a while, someone will ask me if I plan on returning to the pulpit full-time. I say that I’m not against it. But it will require a giant neon sign floating in the sky that refers to me by name with a very specific set of instructions.

And I’m only half joking.

After seeing the dark underbelly of, for lack of a better word, church “politics,” you might wonder what I think about church in general. I think it could be argued that I’m even more dedicated tot he ministry of the church throughout the world, I’m spite of my not-so-positive experiences. In reality, all of us are messed up. And when messed up people get together, they’re likely to make messed up decisions and mess up some things along the way. That’s the beauty of the mission of God. He uses messed up people with messed up lives to accomplish His plan.

Don’t believe me?

There are countless examples in the Bible. If you need for me to, I can spell them out for you. If I was still preaching regularly, it would make a great sermon series. Maybe I’ll just write a book instead.

Hey, that’s not a bad idea. I don’t think I need a neon sign for that one.

Then I watched God move a mountain. Again.

A “moved mountain” in Durame, Ethiopia

This adoption journey has been quite an emotional roller coaster with many unforeseen twists and turns. There might have even been a corkscrew or two thrown in there for good measure.

And it ain’t over yet.

But that’s OK. It’s kind of par for the course when it comes to international adoption. I’d imagine domestic adoption is a similar roller coaster ride.

Christy finally met “W” face-to-face. It’s been great for the soul and I hope that it will continue to warm his heart after she returns to the States.

Jeremiah 29:11. I’m sorry you had to wait so long…but I am so thankful God blessed us with you.

A photo posted by Christy Ooley Todd (@ooleytodd) on

Two more trips are required before he comes home with us. Sometime in the Fall, I hope to be able to meet “W” for the first time. During my stay in Ethiopia, I will appear before a judge and declare that yes, he is the child we’ve been trying to adopt. If all goes according to plan, “W” will then be declared our son in the eyes of the Ethiopian government. Then I’ll return home shortly after that court date. A few weeks later, we should have an appointment with the US Embassy in Addis. Christy and I will fly to Ethiopia, meet with the Embassy, and bring “W” home after that. Hopefully that will happen before Christmas of this year.

That’s the way things are supposed to happen. That’s the way the timeline generally goes. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s how it happens for us. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t happen that way, either. Because here’s what we’ve learned during this journey: God is writing this story. We are not. And the Author is going to weave this story together in whatever way He sees fit.

In high school, I wanted to do something “big” for God. I never knew exactly what it was, but I was going to shock the world with the gospel. So I kept searching for that big thing I could “do” for Jesus. I don’t think I was wrong in my desire. I might have been a little misguided in my approach. But hey, I was a teenager. I think we all were a little misguided as teenagers, weren’t we?

For I know the plans I have for you bracelets

This desire to “do” something big for God continued into my preaching years more than a decade later. I firmly believe that God can work miracles. I’ve seen them happen. It was my hope and prayer that I could somehow put God on stage and allow the congregation to see what God had done. It was almost as if I was expecting Him to perform some great act so I could shine the spotlight on Him.

Again, not a bad desire. But maybe the wrong approach. After all, God is God. He doesn’t have to perform a miracle in order for us to shine the spotlight on Him. He is worthy of worship because He Is who He Is. And that’s enough.

Then we saw God move a mountain.

God orchestrated things in such a way that He provided for Mihret’s adoption in exactly the right way at exactly the right time.

So when we started pursuing “W,” I kind of expected things to work out in a similar way. I mean, that was a pretty cool story the way everything was woven together so perfectly.

But that organization didn’t award us a grant this time. No worries, I thought. There are other opportunities. So we applied for more grants. And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

We had the yard sale that was hugely successful. But it wasn’t enough to cover the rest of the fees.

So we waited some more.

And waited.

And waited.

Then things started to get a little…oh, what’s the word?….tense…around here. If Christy was really going to make this trip before the courts closed in Addis and school started here, we were going to have to figure out a way to cover the rest of the fees and travel costs. Maybe we were going to have to make this thing work on our own.

Then it happened. God moved mountains.

Not only did God move the mountains, He obliterated them. He caused them to melt like wax.

The mountains melt like wax before the Lord Psalm 975

We were confident that God was going to use the matching grant from Hand in Hand to make a big dent in the need. But we didn’t know how much was actually going to be donated. There was still a lot of uncertainty. And maybe some doubt.

But the donations that were contributed to the matching grant were over the amount necessary.

Then we started getting notifications of approval for grants that I had totally forgotten about. And I’d definitely forgotten that we’d applied for their assistance. But they started sending in money.

And the next thing I knew, everything was paid for. The agency fees. Christy’s plane ticket. Even the in-country travel fees. Everything was covered within a matter of days.

Yes, God is in the mountain moving business.

As I sat and watched the whole thing unfold, I started to realize something. Sometimes “doing” something big for God simply means being obedient and stepping out in faith. You do what you’re supposed to, planting seeds as you go along the way. But in the end, you sit back and watch God do what you couldn’t even possibly imagine what would be done.

All week, I’ve been humming this song. It makes sense when you look back on the events of the last few weeks. It starts at the 5:58 mark…

God is writing a story, friends. And it is bigger than any of us even realize.

If you get a sense that God is calling you to “do” something, then go do it. By all means, do.it. But if you think God is calling you to go and watch and listen, then do that. Watch how He works. He’ll let you know when it’s time for you to do your part. Because He’s already at work. He’s already telling the story.

 

Partner with Fair Trade Friday and help change the world!

BloggingTeamFBcover

OK, here’s the deal. I had heard about Fair Trade Friday before. I had heard of Mercy House before. But I don’t think I’d really heard about their ministry. When I agreed to join the Fair Trade Friday blogging team, my eyes were opened and I am in love.

fair trade necklace

While they do have to occasional Box that’s geared towards men, I’m not likely to wear many of the accessories that come in a Fair Trade Friday Box or Earring of the Month shipment, I know my wife loves them. And if she loves them, I love them. But that’s not all that I love about this effort. The beautiful products are actually just a tiny part of why I love Fair Trade Friday.

I am in love with what they’re doing. I’m in love with the fact that they’re empowering women around the world. I’m in love with their passion. I am in love with how one person’s vision and obedience to God’s calling has changed the lives of countless people.

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I know what you’re asking. What’s Fair Trade Friday all about? It’s about empowerment. It’s about it’s about opportunity. It’s about ending the cycle of poverty. It’s about uplifting women who feel like they’re forgotten.

It’s about changing the world.

A ministry of Mercy House Kenya, Fair Trade Friday has partnered with 27 faith-based organizations in 19 countries. The primary purpose of these faith-based organizations? The empowerment of marginalized women.

Mercy House from Petro Studios on Vimeo.

These partnerships have provided steady jobs for over 1,00 women.

Like these women in Ethiopia.

ethiopian woman creating

One bag for the Earring of the Month Club provides work for three (yes, THREE!) women. Something so small. Something so seemingly insignificant. Something so life-changing.

EOTMbag

THAT’S why I love Fair Trade Friday. Ethiopian woman making beads

 

That’s why I think you should, too.

One of the taglines that Fair Trade Friday uses is “Change the world. Look good doing it.” It’s really that simple. And by doing this, you’re helping to change women’s stories around the world. How amazing is that?

Convinced? Here’s what to do.

There are several ways you can help change the world with these amazing products:

  • Join the Fair Trade Friday ClubEach month, you’ll receive a box with three to four surprise goodies, like stylish accessories, organic soap, or a bag of coffee. This club is kind of exclusive because there’s only so much product to go around. But that’s OK. They have a waiting list! Cost: $31.99/month. You can cancel at any time.
  • Try a One-Time Box! It includes all the cool stuff from the Fair Trade Friday Box for you to enjoy. You can order it for yourself or send it as a gift! Cost: $35.00 + $10 shipping.
  • Join the Earring of the Month Club! You’ll receive a high-quality pair of earrings and a beautiful reusable bag every month. If they’re sold out? Join the wait list!  Cost: $11.99/month.
  • You can always purchase something from the Mercy Shop! They have some pretty amazing products over there. Like t-shirts, jewelry, and fundraising opportunities.Oh.

    And this framed art:

Rolled Art -AfricaSo what are you waiting for? 100% of the proceeds benefit maginalized women around the world. It only takes a few bucks to change a woman’s story. Start partnering with Fair Trade Friday today.

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Note: With the exception of the necklace photo, all images appear thanks to Fair Trade Friday.

 

We’ve been awarded a matching funds grant for our adoption!

Family of Six

I posted this announcement on twitter a couple of nights ago…

And quickly followed it up with this…

Like I said, that was a few days ago. The details were never posted. I’m sorry about that. I had to make sure all our ducks were in a row before making it public. But now? Everything’s a go and I am beyond excited to share this news with you!

Let me catch you up on our story.

It isn’t a secret that there are many joys that come with adoption. But there are many challenges, too. One of the greatest immediate challenges is financial. With updating our home study, all the agency and country fees, and the expected costs related to travel, this adoption journey will add up to thousands of dollars in expenses.

Due to some unforeseen circumstances and some changes in the way Ethiopia handles adoptions, this adoption journey is going to wind up costing significantly more than our first.  When all is said and done, the final cost will be around $32,000.

When we announced that we had started the process for a second adoption, we only had enough money available to cover our home study expenses. That was it. We moved forward in faith, though, trusting that God was going to provide.

And God has provided every step of the way.

Through grants, sponsored blog posts, and successful fundraising efforts, God has provided in unexpected ways. And the funds have been there every time they were needed. After watching God move time and time and time again, I have no doubt that He has had a hand in this. He has moved on His own timetable. And His timing is perfect. And through His guiding hand, He has provided an opportunity to cover the rest of the expenses.

Thanks to Hand in Hand Christian Adoption, Inc., we are close to having the final expenses of this adoption journey covered! But we’re going to need your help.Hand in Hand Christian Adoption INC

We have been awarded a fund-matching grant from Hand in Hand Christian Adoption, Inc.!

What does that mean? 
It means that Hand in Hand Christian Adoption, Inc. a non-profit private operating foundation, will match any funds that are donated for the expenses of our adoption. All funds received through our friends and family will be matched dollar for dollar by Hand in Hand up to our awarded grant amount. That means that every gift will essentially be doubled. And all donations are tax-deductible.

We’ve had a lot of people who, for one reason or another, could not participate in any of the fund raisers we held during the last year and a half. They’ve asked if there was another way they could financially support our adoption efforts. We’ve asked them to wait until a later time. Well, it’s later.

Now is the time!

If you have a gift, no matter the size, that you would like to give to help us with this journey, please send a check made payable to “Hand in Hand Christian Adoption,” postmarked by July 2, to:

Hand in Hand Christian Adoption, Inc.
Matt and Christy Todd
18318 Mimosa Court
Gardner, KS 66030

For tax purposes, please include our name on the envelope only…do not put our name on the check itself!

If you have any questions about the Hand in Hand matching grant program, please feel free to email me. You may also contact Hand in Hand Christian Adoption, Inc. with any questions you may have. They can be reached via email or phone (913-248-5015) .

If the full amount available from this matching grant is reached, we will have seen God provide, through grants and fundraising, $26,000 of the $32,000 necessary to complete this adoption. How amazing is that?

Thank you for your prayerful consideration in helping a child find a “forever” family. We are so close to completing this leg of our journey!

K is for ‘Koinonia’

K is for Koinonia #AtoZChallenge

Summer in the Son (aka SITS) at Kentucky Christian College (now known as Kentucky Christian University) was an annual tradition for our youth group while I was in high school. In fact, it looks like it’s still an annual tradition for them.

My experiences at SITS were highlights of my high school career. I guess you could call Summer in the Son an Ebenezer in my life. During my Freshman year, I was on the team that won the conference’s volleyball championship. Later on (possibly the year before my Junior year), I had the honor of standing up with one of my friends and watch him get baptized. I was introduced to the music of Rich Mullins, DC Talk, A-180 (later known as Audio Adrenaline), and Al Denson. There are some days where I think about songs like Be the One

and Beyond Belief

…and I have a little tear well up in the corner of my eye. It’s not because the videos are so hokey. Don’t get me wrong. They are pretty hokey. But the tears well up because the music takes me back to that Ebenezer. And I remember where God had brought me. And how far He’s brought me since those five amazing Summer experiences.

Summer in the Son was where I was challenged to shock the world with the Good News.

At the end of each night, our youth group would meet in an upper room in the Chapel. We’d sit in a big circle and share highlights and lowlights from the day. We’d laugh. We’d cry. We’d open up. Some people would share some pretty deep secrets. There was a lot of praying. There was a lot of hugging. And more crying. And more hugging. And more praying. And it would go on for hours. It was pretty intense. There were many nights where we’d be late for curfew. But that was OK. Because something BIG was happening. And God was moving in some powerful ways.

It was known as koinonia – “fellowship.”

There are very few moments since my SITS days that I’ve really, truly, experienced a deep connection with so many people on such a strong, personal level. I’m convinced that the Holy Spirit was working on us and through us during those intimate moments in the upper room.

I’m thankful for these moments in my past. I’m thankful for the adults who were there and prayed with us, prayed for us, listened to us, and supported us. I’m thankful for the other students who were there and for the bond we continue to share. I’m thankful for the grace that was showered upon us. I’m thankful for the unconditional love that we encountered each night. I’m thankful for the healing that began and the friendships that grew.

I’m thankful for the way God uses simple, no-frill meetings like our koinonia sessions and turns them into something that’s life-changing.

**I’m participating in the April A to Z Challenge. This post is part of that endeavor. You can see my other entries to this year’s challenge here. A lot of people are doing the same thing. You should check out some of their posts!**

Egyptian Christians, St. Bartholomew, and counting the cost

In light of recent news of the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt because of their faith, I was reminded of something that I had written 10 years ago for a church history class while in seminary. It was a meditation based on the painting of St. Bartholomew. Christian tradition says that Bartholomew the Apostle was martyred for his faith. It was a brutal execution.

St. Bartholomew

You can read the whole devotional thought here, if you’re really interested. It’s OK if you aren’t. That’s not really the reason I’m writing today.

I really want to share one of the meditation’s final paragraphs. Because the point is just as important today as it was when I wrote it ten years ago.

The image of St. Bartholomew calls upon us to pray for the persecuted church around the world.  It tells us the story of the millions of Christians who have given their lives for the sake of Christ and His kingdom.  It is a startling reminder that the price of following Jesus Christ is not cheap.  It is not a road that will be traveled lightly.  There will be trials and persecution of all kinds.  In the end, it could cost the believer everything – including the loss of life.  It is the example of St. Bartholomew that encourages the believer to press on towards the prize, knowing full well the costs involved.  It is with that same confidence that we face the perils of following the Lord of all things.

I think these martyred Egyptian Christians do the exact same thing. While the nations rage and come up with a fitting response to these barbaric acts, let us count the cost and take up the cross with reckless abandon. Let us live in boldness, full of hope, joy, and love, as we press on towards Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.

I know it’s not easy. I’m not pretending it is. But this is how we are going to change the world, my friends.

A former pastor’s plea: Encourage your pastor.

Recently, I found myself looking through some archived emails of mine. I was searching for an old piece of information. I don’t remember what I needed, exactly. But I remember that I needed the information for some type of job application.

Mr Popular

During my quest, I stumbled upon some conversations that happened during the years I was pastoring that small church in East Central Indiana. While I believe I have completely moved on from that experience, having let go of whatever bitterness I had harbored (remember when God kicked me in the teeth?), I’m not gonna lie. Reading some of those emails hurt my heart.

Not one of the emails I had read was positive. My inbox was full of messages that pointed out what I wasn’t doing right. They focused on the negative. Not one of the 8-10 emails that I skimmed had a positive comment. That still hurts my heart.

It hurts my heart because I know I’m not the only pastor to have received emails like this. It hurt my heart because I know that many pastors have received emails like that this week. Maybe even today. And at the same time, they haven’t received any words of encouragement. I know it’s easier to point out areas improvement instead of talking about what was done well, but a constant barrage of negativity, continually hearing things like…

“You didn’t do _________.”
or
“You forgot to pray for _________.”
or
“Why haven’t you brought more young families to our church?”
or
“We’re not growing. What are you going to do about it?”
or
“Why haven’t you visited _________ yet? She’s had a hangnail on her pinky for a week!”  – OK. I’m only half joking about this last one. You’d be amazed at how some people get worked up about the silliest of things, though.

A constant barrage of negative attitudes, criticisms, and complaints with no reprieve can wear you out. Pastoring can be a lonely profession. Being a recipient of such discouraging messages over and over again only makes things even more isolating.

It’s no wonder so many people walk away from the pastorate.

I know this isn’t the goal of most people who complain and gripe and criticize. But it happens. And this isn’t healthy. There’s already a spiritual battle taking place around our church leaders. Let’s try to minimize casualties due to friendly fire, shall we? So let’s do something about it. Let’s all work on being an encouragement to our pastors and anyone else in church leadership positions.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up - 1 Thessalonians 5:11

This month is Pastor Appreciation Month. It’s a good time to start fixing this heartbreaking trend. But please don’t stop when the calendar switches to November.

Here are some ways you can encourage your pastor all year long:

1.) Send a note.

You have no idea how much impact a simple note or card can have. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. All it really needs to say is “You’re doing a good job,” or something like “I appreciate you because _______” or even a simple “Thank you.” These simple gestures don’t take very much time but they are powerful.

I used to keep a “Feel Good” folder tucked away in my files. Whenever I was having a really tough day, I would pull that out and look through a couple of the notes and cards I’d received over the years. These items are always a beacon of light whenever times are tough and it feels like the darkness is creeping in.

2.) Watch what you say.

There are times you have to be critical. I get that. I understand that. Criticism isn’t a bad thing. It’s important. It helps people grow and improve. We have to help each other get better. It’s part of how iron sharpens iron.

BUT…

Don’t let the only things that come out of your mouth be negative. Consider following this rule: for every criticism/complaint/negative comment you make, say three positive things. It might sound silly, but it’s a simple reminder to keep our eyes on the positive.

And even when you need to say something critical, make sure you’re still speaking life. We are called to be life-givers. Not soul-suckers.

Speak life. In all you do and say, speak life.

3.) Help protect your pastor’s family.

Pastoring is tough. It can be even tougher on a pastor’s family. Family Life has some pretty good suggestions about how you can encourage your pastor by helping to protect your pastor’s family.

4.) Bring a guest.

You want to make your pastor’s day? Maybe even your pastor’s month? Invite a guest to participate in a worship service with you. You don’t have to make a big deal about it. You don’t even have to introduce your guest to the pastor. If you’re part of the majority of churches in America, your pastor is probably begging you to bring a friend some Sunday. Imagine what an encouragement it would be if your pastor found out that you did what you were asked to do!

Avoiding friendly fire.

When I was ordained 15 years ago, I remember being told by a few people during the service that I was now a “marked man.” In other words, we are in the midst of a spiritual war and choosing to step into a role as a church leader means that you’ve decided to allow a giant target to be placed upon you. Satan wants to see the Church destroyed. A great way to do that is by destroying her leaders.

I firmly believe that a spiritual war is waging all around us. As we are fighting in this war, however, let’s make sure that the target that’s on our leaders doesn’t get moved to their backs. Let’s avoid wounding our pastors with friendly fire.

I’m open to suggestions!

What are you going to do to encourage your pastor this week? These four ideas are just the tip of the iceberg. I’d love to hear your suggestions. We’re all on the same side. Let’s work together to encourage and lift up our church leaders in ways they’ve never experienced before! When we do that, we’ll have a tiny part in changing the world.

I admit that I haven’t been as good at being an encouragement to my church leaders and pastors as I should be. So while I’m waiting for your awesome suggestions, I’m going to go sit down and write some notes to some members of our church staff.

I hope you’ll join me.

“My life is but a weaving…”

Ever look back on a series of events and see that all the pieces were coming together perfectly? Ever look back and realize that the hand of God had to be orchestrating things because there’s no way that you could make things happen the way they did? Ever stand back and say, “Wow. Everything that has happened, the good and the bad, has led my life to this moment“? It leaves you awestruck and breathless. Well, it leaves me awestruck and breathless, anyway.

While I cannot share many details right now, I promise I will in the very near future. In the meantime, let me say this, friends:

God has been at work. He is still at work.

He hasn’t put all of the pieces into place yet, but I can see how He has already brought so many threads together. He’s weaving an incredible work of art. It’s been pretty amazing to stand back and watch it all start coming together as He slowly reveals His handiwork.

I can’t wait to share the story He is telling. But for now, I’m going to watch Him work in the amazing ways that only He can.

It leaves me in awe.

It takes my breath away.

My life is but a weaving - Corrie ten Boom

Life is but a Weaving
(the Tapestry Poem)

My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.

Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.

Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned

He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.

Corrie ten Boom