Abilities for the Church

Since I last wrote about using talents for the good of the Gospel, I started thinking about how to get this message across. In more established congregations, members may not be the most hyped up people when it comes to community outreach. Here at St. Matthew’s, we’re the same. A lot of our members are older, closer to retirement or wanting to move closer to family in other parts of the country rather than doing outreach here in the greater New Milford area. Others just haven’t done this type of work in the church before and they don’t know how to do it.

As I was pondering the importance of becoming a church whose core is bringing Jesus to people, it hit me: Not everyone is equipped to do this type of work, but they have other skills and abilities that can support and grow the church behind the scenes. In reality, a church doesn’t exist if it doesn’t have an active support group willing to do things to make the church stronger for new people and those already part of the church.

The important aspect of the wholeness of the church is that it works together to make discipleship essential. No one is greater than another. We are all equal in the eyes of God. Everyone has skills and talents that strengthen someone else’s faith and comfort level. Leadership doesn’t mean lording abilities over others; it means providing a vision and a dedication to make sure that all people inside the church are using their best abilities for the growth of God’s House.

Let’s say that someone in the church is great with kids. How can this person use this talent to help grow the church? People in the church can be terrific cooks or bakers or musicians or craftspeople. Others have great people skills or can come up with great ideas to enhance worship or the various ministries inside the church. Can these types of skills be used to make people feel comfortable and welcoming to new friends and potential disciples in the church?

Just because someone is not ready to outreach doesn’t mean they aren’t a vital part of the church! The individual talents we’re given can be used favorably for the spreading of the message of hope in Jesus Christ. Every ability each of us has can do just that! 

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My Prayer Life Isn’t Great

I have to make an admission – my prayer life isn’t very vibrant.

This is terrible since I’m a pastor. You’d think of all the people on the planet, the last person to complain about their prayer life would be a clergyman.

Yet, my prayer life isn’t great.

I don’t pray enough. And when I pray, I feel as though I’m rushing through the petitions so I could get onto doing something else.

I’ve thought about setting aside time on my schedule to pray, kind of like saying, “Between 8 and 9 AM, all I’m going to do is meditate and pray.”

It sounds good, but it ain’t happening. Life gets hectic very fast.

But the hectic life is my fault. I don’t organize my time well enough. Honestly, I’ve never been great at organization when it comes to merging my personal and professional lives. I compartmentalize too much, setting up group times for stuff needing to get done so my personal life doesn’t crash around me and stuff that the pastor needs to get done.

And even with compartmentalizing, setting up “Prayer Time” never happens.

I think I need to pray for my prayer life.


This weekend in church, we’re praying for:

  • An end to senseless violence as another horrific shooting happened this week at a bar in California. Truthfully, I’m getting tired of adding these petitions in our weekend prayers every time when a crazy person shoots up a public gathering. The sadness of these events rips at our souls.
  • Sunday is Veteran’s Day and we’re going to remember the Veterans of our church, community, and nation.
  • That the weather gets better in California that will help curtail the wildfires that are burning up the landscape and ripping apart lives as great numbers of people and families are losing so much.
  • And, for the Church and all Christians. We need to be better people.

Of course, our regular petitions for the sick and needy, asking for greater faith so we can trust God more, and for our church’s leadership here in New Milford.

 

Jesus and Breakfast

My go-to breakfast is simple: Oatmeal, mashed up banana, 2 tablespoons of ground up flax seed. Quick. Easy. Nutritious.

It is a very filling breakfast – lunch is rarely on my schedule nowadays. As my doctor explained, this simple meal clocks in with around 10 grams of fiber and eating this amount can keep you full for a while.

Yesterday, someone asked me what Jesus ate for breakfast.

Good question.

I know he didn’t eat Apple Jacks or Fruit Loops. And I’m guessing a grilled peanut butter and jelly wasn’t in his diet.

Fish and nuts and flatbread and olives and fruits and vegetables were staples of the region of Israel. He probably ate some combination of those foods to start his day. Oh, and garlic.

Why garlic?

The Israelites loved garlic, they even complained about the lack of the stuff to Moses in wilderness. 

So I’m thinking that Jesus ate his fair share.

Gifts Of and For the Gospel

Over my 13-plus year ministry, I must have said it several thousand times – I love to write.

Yet, during my ministry, I’ve had fits of writing block and fought bouts of “my grammar stinks, I am not writing.”

In the faith, we believe God has given us gifts that we are supposed to use to bring Jesus to people. Some are amazing teachers – they take that gift of teaching and teach Jesus to young and old, in the church or outside of it. Others are amazing with their hands – they use their gifts to repair broken down furnaces or leaky pipes in the house of the Lord and for the people who fill the church. And even others have strong outward personalities – these are the type of people who could sell ice to Eskimos in Alaska, but instead, tell the story of Jesus in and through their professional and personal lives.

They use their gifts to help bring people to Jesus.

For some reason, I’ve stopped using this gift of writing for the betterment of the faith and the growth of the church. Instead, I’ve become the “same old’ pastor” people expect.

There are untold ways I could use this gift to reach out to people, but I haven’t.

In a pastor’s life, the struggles we see others having lay heavy on our hearts. Whether it is visiting the sick or dying, the aged who can’t leave home, those battling depression or addiction, pastors carry that collective burden. When churches are struggling, it is pastors who try to make a go-of-it and focus on the Gospel, preaching it so worried hearts in the pews can feel a bit of relief.

Yet as I look back over the past couple of years, I feel I’ve missed the boat. There have been too many times – on visits, in what I’ve written, in what I’ve preached – where the burdens of everyday pastoral life have guided me. I put the cross on the sidelines. I’ve let those God-given gifts wilt as I went on my everyday pastoral life.

This really hit home on Wednesday. A longtime member, Anna, passed away at 96. She was in a nursing home for a number of years, battling physical and mental issues. When I heard about her passing, something she said to me a while back popped up in my mind:

“When I die, just drop me a hole.”

She didn’t want a church service or even a funeral home visitation. All she wanted was to be left alone in death.

At the end of the funeral, as her family left and Anna’s body was lowered into the ground, I walked back to my car and started to cry. I know, I’m not a miracle worker who could change everyone’s heart to not just believe in Jesus but to trust in Him, but I felt that I missed out with Anna. Even as a faithful believer in Jesus, she had both a family and a church, but Anna still felt alone, at times hopeless.

I could have done more for her.  She wasn’t very hopeful about life or about others. Couldn’t I have done something to make her see that the people at church did care for her, that she wasn’t alone? She did like what I wrote – she even told me that I was crazy for things I’ve written. But she liked that no matter what I wrote, she found Jesus in it.

And over the last few years, that writing gift has languished. Could I have used it more for Anna, to show her that life is more than just aches and pains, but is truly centered on the living hope we have in Jesus? He knows our pains and our concerns, and He has promised to get us through them.

However, a gift is empty if it is hidden and not used.

With Anna, I could have visited her more, read the Bible to her more than I did, and prayed with her more. But I also could have been encouraging, using the Gospel to bring hope. See, the gift of the Word of God is something that all of us have been given. We all need to incorporate it into our lives better, enveloping our very beings with the preciousness of the living hope we have in Jesus.

Essentially we need to take the Word of God and use it through our God-given gifts to show discipleship. Since we’re saved through the blood of Jesus, we shouldn’t let the gift of the Cross stay inside the church so we can use it only on Sunday mornings.

The Cross needs to lead us in all that we do.

Everything in our lives needs to be built around the living hope we have in Jesus Christ. No matter our vocations or our lots in life, it is the cross that leads us.

I’ve failed at this.

But God doesn’t look at me as a failure. He sees me as one who is redeemed!

The redeemed life smacked me in the head this morning like a lightning bolt from heaven. Listening to Christian Radio on Apple Music, the song “You Say” by Lauren Daigle came on. Granted, I love this song and could listen to it several times a day. I sing along to it while driving in the car, or when I’m out walking, or just sitting down in the living room. But this morning, that heavenly lightning bolt hit me and for the first time, I listened to the words Lauren Daigle wrote.

The only thing that matters now is everything You think of me
In You I find my worth, in You I find my identity

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
And You say I am held when I am falling short
And when I don’t belong, oh You say I am Yours
And I believe, oh I believe
What You say of me
Oh, I believe

Taking all I have and now I’m laying it at Your feet
You have every failure God, and You’ll have every victory

No matter how many times I’ve heard this song, I missed its meaning. Our Father in heaven doesn’t look at us as failures, but as His people, His children for eternity.

And as His people, we are loved, built up strong in Jesus, and are His forever!

We are not alone. He’s right there with us.

Therefore, I – or I should say “we” – need to take up the cross of Jesus in our lives and show others what it means. As we build our future church here in New Milford, we’re doing it with Jesus leading us! He wants us to be these leaders in the faith for others who don’t believe and are outside the fellowship of believers.

As we take up the cross, we use our gifts to bring people to Jesus.

No one ever said the life of faith in Jesus was going to be easy.

But Jesus has called us to serve…to be leaders.

We use our talents for Jesus to help bring others to Him.

It is About Jesus

Yesterday morning, I realized that I ran out of apples. Maybe it is an autumn-thing, but I tend to fill the fruit bin with the kitchen with enough apples to make an apple orchard-owner smile. Thursday morning? The bin was empty of apples.

My favorite apple? Macintosh. I fell for them when I was younger at the church I grew up in. A family in the church owned an orchard that grew red delicious and Macs. From September through Christmas, all they sold were Macintosh apples. They would bring brown grocery bags filled to the top and sell each bag for five bucks. They were amazing, both the family and the apples.

But Thursday morning, my fruit bin choices included a pear and an orange. Making a mental note that sometime during the day I needed to get to the Farmer’s Market on New Bridge Road to pick up some fruit and vegetables, I picked up the orange and went about on my day.

Late in the afternoon at the Farmer’s Market – not an actual “farmer’s market,” but a fruit and vegetable store – I picked up a small trove of Macintosh apples and stood online (or inline, depending on what word you use to describe checking out of a store – where I’m from, it is ‘online.’ Yonkers, NY – also where sandwiches from delis are ‘wedges,’ not ‘heroes’). The line was long, but I wasn’t going anywhere.

I wanted the apples.

”You’d think they’d put in a 10 items or less line in this place,” said the man standing in front of me as he turned around to face me. He had a few items in his basket.

”Yeah, but then how do you think they’d sell these massive bags of fruit near the checkouts if the lines were short?,” I replied.

He said his name was Jose and he was visiting his mother who lived in Bergenfield. He lives in Queens with his wife and son, but always finds time during the week to come over the two bridges (Triboro/RFK and the GWB) to visit mom and do some shopping for her. Mom apparently is a big fan of plantains (I’m guessing because he had a bunch of them in his basket).

We talked a bit – I told him I was a pastor who lived in New Milford; he said he was a manager of a KFC restaurant; we both are fans of the NYCFC soccer team and the New York Knicks; and we both go to church.

Jose attends a Pentecostal church in Queens, or as he described it, “a couple stops on the F train.” Growing up in the Bronx, his family attended a Roman Catholic Church. After his dad left his mom, she decided to move closer to her sister in New Jersey. By then, Jose was old enough to live on his own. He moved in with his girlfriend who became is wife. College was too expensive, so he went to work to earn money to pay for it.

Only problem was that he loved working. He worked at several fast food places and ended up working at a KFC where he is now the manager. Not that he’s let his dreams of a college business degree die – he’s attending college, mostly at night. His wife is a teacher in the NYC Public Schools.

As he put the plantains and other items from his basket onto the counter, I asked him what attracted him to the Pentecostal church he attends.

”Chicken wings.”

What?

”Every Sunday after church, Rosa in the congregation makes these chicken wings for lunch that are out of this world good.”

”So, you started going to church because of the wings?”

”Yeah. But I stayed for Jesus.”

Since there are so many theological differences between the Catholic Church and Pentecostalism, to me that seemed like a big leap. Jose said it wasn’t about theology or hymns.

“It is about Jesus.”

He attends a storefront church with 200 of his closest friends where they sing praise to Jesus and learn all about him and how Jesus changed their lives. It is not about laws or fancy clothes.

As he said, “It is about Jesus.”

Oh, and apparently the wings.

We both checked out and walked outside. I told him it was great to meet someone with such a strong faith. Jose asked if he could say a prayer because that is what his pastor says people in the church should do when they meet a God-fearing Christian: Stop wherever you are and pray with them. And he did.

I shook his hand and we both went our separate ways…in the name and in the love of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

It’s 2018, Not 1978

When I was a kid, there were two ways in which my family knew what was happening at church.

One, we attended church every Sunday. By being in church, my mother talked with people and heard about everything the church council and the pastor were doing. She wasn’t on the church council, but by being in church every Sunday, she was able to gauge what the important issues they were tackling.

The second was through the mailbox.

St. John’s mailed a lot of stuff. The pastor’s regular monthly news article. The church schedule. They even mailed home those cardboard Lent change calendar folders where you put a quarter in the folder for each day of season and then brought it to the church on Palm Sunday (or at least that is when my mother brought them back).

They didn’t make a lot of phone calls unless someone died. But when someone died most people knew about it because every family seemed to take out an obituary in the local Herald Statesman newspaper.

Through the years, the “how” we communicate in the church has changed. Physical newspapers are dying. Obituaries are found on websites instead of on page 13 of the daily newspaper. With the advent of smartphones and tablets and the entire range of mobile computing, it is easier to send a text or an email than to pick up the phone and call someone. Social networking through iMessage, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram, etc., can get information out very quickly. Even church websites – those that are kept up to date, that is – are ways in which quick messages can be posted and information can get out.

The struggle of the small church today is how to make that transition.

We’ve been struggling here at St. Matthew’s with how we communicate church business with everyone. When you’re in the process of relaunching the church, selling church property, and trying to schedule meetings to discuss the future, our communication has failed.

Our emails are not going out regularly from the church.

Our news page on our website is terrible.

And we don’t spend money on sending monthly meeting notices through the mail anymore.

So what to do?

Part of the future of the new church, I believe we must commit to establishing a new way of communicating that is regular and clear.

  • A church app is needed. We can get information out about meetings and what we’re doing and all a member or a friend of the church has to do is tap the app and read it on their mobile device.
  • Additionally, a church app will provide a clearinghouse of worship video and audio that will promote Jesus and our weekend messages. Our bible studies can be available at any time someone is moved by the Spirit to study.
  • Oh, and an app is expensive.
  • Consistency with weekly emails. We need to ensure that church information is sent out every Thursday to help people prepare for weekend worship. There needs to be a clear message that is delivered to email inboxes, messages that can be easily be shared with others not on our list.
  • We need to establish texting program in church. Yeah, this is going to cost money, but sending out immediate texts regarding any emergency, important happenings, and worship events is important in 2018.
  • We need to improve our social media presence. This is a given.
  • With an improved social media presence, we also need people to take pictures in church and share them. Showing people what is going on is a more powerful message than just writing about it.

No church is perfect. No congregation is perfect.

The only thing we can do is pray and move forward to accomplish the goals of better communication. The living hope we have in Jesus should be our great motivator to be touch the lives of our members more vibrantly.