Thoughts on Kobe

Like so many other people all across the world, I was stunned when I learned about the horrible crash of the helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven other lives. Nine total lives were lost in the wreck and the ripples of this tragedy began to make their way literally throughout the whole world.

My own daughter texted a group of us to ask if we had heard. Sunday afternoon, relaxing after church & lunch, I began to search for news. Is it true? Can this be a real story? Hopefully this is just a bad case of misinformation. However, it didn’t take long to find that it was in fact true. Over the next hour, I watched news and details come in and my heart continued to sink.

The days that followed were difficult as close friends of Kobe began to share their reactions and memories of their time with Kobe. So many emotions shared by so many people who had been touched by his life in one way or another. There were many times when my eyes filled with tears as I watched and heard the pain others were experiencing.

The hardest emotional hit for me (a person obviously not friends with Kobe) was hearing his daughter was on the plane with him. I am a dad. I have a daughter. Seeing all the pics and videos of Kobe with his daughter just ripped at my heart. Knowing that his wife and three other daughters would be grieving and hurting so deeply was tough to think about.

So many athletes and people from the NBA, other sports as well, celebrities, public figures and random people who had interacted with Kobe in some way were sharing their thoughts and feelings. There was no shortage of proof that Kobe’s life had greatly impacted the lives of many people. Emotions were raw, heavy and real.

A beautiful part of it all was seeing just how many people bonded over their mutual respect and admiration of Kobe. His basketball prowess was one part, but the way he lived the rest of his life was celebrated to an even greater extent. Being a father and specifically a #girldad seemed to be one of Kobe’s most fulfilling roles.

Again, being a sports fan, a father and a #girldad had me often very emotional as I watched this all unfold. I truly felt for all those who were grieving and hurting so badly and I also felt some enjoyment seeing how much everyone seemingly cared about Kobe and his family.

However, being a person of faith, I couldn’t help wonder just how many people who were experiencing so much emotion over this loss of life actually had a grasp on what life after death means for us.

The truth is, all nine of those souls left this mortal world in an instant and found themselves in eternity. You might not believe in any kind of life after death, and I get that. Every person is free to believe what they will. But, I whole-heartedly believe in the Bible and the truths it contains. I believe that every human being will leave this earthly plane as their body ceases to live and either find an eternal reward or eternal suffering. I believe in a literal Heaven and hell as taught in the Bible.

The truth of the Gospel of Jesus is that he is the only way to heaven. He paid the debt for our sinfulness and secured for us an eternity in heaven with God. Our path, the only path, to an eternity in heaven is to believe in and accept Jesus Christ as Savior.

“there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved”  Acts 4:12

No matter how good a person is in his or her life, and no matter how well they are liked or loved, the bottom line concerning life after death is whether or not their faith has been put in Jesus. Salvation through Jesus Christ is based solely on the grace of God, not on anything we can accomplish ourselves.

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”  Romans 5:8

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast”  Ephesians 2:8-9

My prayer has been that Kobe, his daughter and the others left this physical world knowing Jesus as their Savior.

My other prayer is that this closeness many shared in grieving this tragedy will be used by God to bring many to a saving knowledge of Jesus.

Times like these are great opportunities for God to work in the hearts of people. When we stare death in the face, we are reminded just how fragile life truly is, we are primed to consider our own mortality. May you consider your own life and what would be your final resting place if you entered eternity in the blink of an eye.

Begin Again, Week 2

The first week of the New Year is gone. You’re now on day two of the second week of 2020. I don’t know about you, but there are moments where the brevity of time and the speed at which it moves catches me by surprise. Like today, when it seems that only a few days ago we were together with family for Thanksgiving. Truly, time does fly sometimes.

If you are a person who makes those resolution things every year, how’s it going? Too often we start something new or set out to make a change only to slip up in the first few days. Statistics show that close to 80% of people who break their resolutions do so within the first two months. When that happens, it’s rather easy to just give up. I don’t want you to do that. You don’t really want to do that either.

So here’s some encouragement for you. Start again. Don’t let discouragement take hold of your spirit and mind and convince yourself that once again you didn’t make it. Any change worth making will take you considerable time. Another statistic about making real change in your life says that it takes 60 days of consistency to see those changes become part of your lifestyle. See the connection? Two months to make real change, and most people who give up do so within the first two months.

Why not see this second week of 2020 as New Year’s 2.0? If you slipped up with all the excitement, food, relatives, parties, etc of the holidays, reboot today and get back at it.

Here are two verses I like when endeavoring to do something new or make a change.

“The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.”    – Proverb 13:4

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”   – Philippians 4:13

No matter what you’re facing, what you’re trying to learn or what you’re trying to accomplish, don’t give up! If you’re a follower of Jesus, remember that you are not alone. He has promised never to leave and never to forsake you. In your weakness, his strength is there for you.

Not only that, in the church (your community of fellow followers of Jesus) you have support. Get a friend or two and make them part of your process. Ask them to walk with you and keep you accountable along your path. They will encourage you when you have a tough day, when you don’t feel like continuing on. They will also celebrate with you when you hit a milestone and see real progress.

Lastly, if you do slip up (you have that coke that you have decided to cut out of your diet), don’t let it totally derail your journey. Acknowledge it, share it with your accountability partners, then get right back at it. Remember, nothing worth doing will come easy. It will take a considerable amount of effort and time. KEEP. AT. IT!

Wanna Go Back-2-School?

If you’re like me, the answer is “Uh…no.” School was great. I honestly enjoyed it. However, being out for a few years now, I’m 100% certain I do not want to go back. This week, many will not have the option to simply say, “No.” They will have to go back to school.

Truthfully, it has already started for lots of folks. Some schools have already had their school year begin. If not officially started yet, many district employees have been hard at work preparing for the coming year. Being married to a Kindergarten teacher, I know firsthand just how much pre-work goes into a year. There is the planning for lesson plans, gathering materials, learning students’ names, and the huge task of getting the classroom just right.

No matter where you fit (teacher, administrator, support staff, coach, aide, facilities, transportation, student, parent, etc.) I believe my brother has put together a great prayer guide as you begin the school year. Check it out here- Back to School Prayer Guide.

May God bless and protect you during this school year.

Merry Christmas To All

Nothing. Really, I mean it. There is not one thing I enjoy more than the arrival of the Christmas season and all it ushers in. There are lots of get togethers and parties with family and friends, as well as Christmas lists from our kiddos. Then, there are the cold nights and sitting by the fireplace as the fire crackles. It usually takes until around the first week of December for it to get chilly enough for fires in the fireplace. Although, my wife and I have been known to open all the windows and turn all the fans on (including a/c blower fan) to pull in the cooler air and make it cold enough to light a fire. If you like fires in the fireplace and you live in Texas, sometimes it calls for desperate measures.

Our family Christmas Tree is the highlight of the house during this time of year. It is usually in the stand right after Thanksgiving, lights up the living room, and takes us into the New Year. Flipping the switch is the first thing Kym and I do when we get up in the morning or walk in the house at the end of the day.

Our first year to cut down our fresh Christmas tree was 1992. We were still in college n Missouri and celebrating our very first Christmas as a young married couple. Twenty-six years later, we went to the tree farm for our 27th fresh Christmas tree. It was a beautiful Saturday morning, and we walked most of the farm until we found the perfect tree.

It’s a family tradition for us. Kym and I started together in 1992, added kids & some friends during years 1995-2017, then went it alone again this year. It was different, of course, but also just as fun and special as always. So, yeah, it’s my favorite time of the year. Even down here in Texas where we might be wearing shorts and flip-flops while cutting down our tree, it’s so much fun.

2018 Mike & Kym
This is us this year. If you want, scroll to the bottom to get a look at some of the other pics from years gone by.

BUT…the real wonderment of Christmas Time is about WAY more than traditions, more than parties, and also so much more than Christmas trees and houses decorated with lights. It is, at its very core, all about Jesus. We have a holiday set aside to celebrate because Jesus was born. So, when our Christmas tree is in the stand and we hit the switch to turn on the pretty lights, we are reminded that Jesus is the Light of the World! Our tree points like an arrow toward heaven to also remind us that it is Jesus who left heaven to be born as a baby in a manger, so that we might be reconciled to God.

It occurred to me this year that the Christmas Season comes to our society each year in a similar fashion that Jesus came to the earth some 2000 years ago. We were a sin-sick, broken people and we needed a Savior. Our sinfulness kept us separated from God, our Creator. It was Jesus who came and ushered in the good news: He was our Savior!

Likewise, Christmas seems to come each year to a people who need a little brightness. Life on this planet, with all its ups and downs, can get quite dreary for so many. There are hurts that run deep, and there are pains that seem to never yield. Yet, at Christmas time, there seems to be a little more joy spread around. There is Christmas music (no matter if you are particularly fond of it or not) playing all over the place, and it just feels like more faces are wearing smiles.

Hmmm…could there be a connection? Even as we acknowledge that our world is still so very sin-sick, and even as evil appears to be ever on the increase, could it be that Jesus still infuses our spirits (yes, the very spirits He created in His image) with His joy at Christmas time? I think, YES!

May these verses remind you and give you something to consider as you get ready to celebrate Christmas.

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.    Matthew 1:21

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!    2 Corinthians 9:15

DSC_0099DSCF0116December 1, 2007 158December 1, 2007 153IMG_1626DSC_0176IMG_2642Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 6.18.55 PM2013 Funny Kylee2017 Funny

Hello, I’m Grateful

Not really. I’m not a naturally grateful person. I do typically try to be positive and look on the good, lovely, beautiful parts of life, but truthfully I struggle when things do not go the way I would like. My wife will confirm to my being grumpy, griping and stewing over why things have to be “this way”. It’s not attractive. I know that. Of course, knowing is half the battle…right?

Every year. Every single year we stop down for Thanksgiving. It’s always one of my favorite times of the year. We get together with family, enjoy some great food (that we seem to only have at this time of year for some reason) and usually toss the football around. We also watch the Dallas Cowboys game. That doesn’t always end well the last several years, but still we watch.

The most important part of this time of year, though, is the focus on being grateful. No, we do not actually need a special holiday or time of year to realize that we have lots and lots for which we should be thankful. Gratitude should be a constant staple for those who know and love God.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!           – 1 Chronicles 16:34

The forever part of that verse reminds me that I shouldn’t take a break from having a heart of gratitude and staying in the mindset and spirit of thanksgiving. God’s love is strong and everlasting, so my gratitude to him should be as well.

My prayer this year at Thanksgiving is summed up in Psalm 9:1-2

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

May your Thanksgiving be filled with joys and reminders of all God has done in your life. Even if you’re dealing with some difficult things at this time, push yourself to find the good and give God thanks!

Family First?

It was a weird car ride back in 1980-something. I was riding with my family in our maroon 1984 Oldsmobile Cutlas, and we were traveling down 287 heading home from a trip. We had just spent time with more of our extended family and it was rather late in the night.

None of us are sure why, but we got on a rhyming binge and couldn’t stop. I think it started with the word “destination” and went crazy from there. We were rhyming, laughing, and crying as Dad tried to keep the car on the road. You know how you laugh so hard your eyes fill with tears and you can barely see straight? That was us and we all still remember it fondly. It was weird. It made no sense at all. However, we will talk about it and laugh again when we get together.

I’m sure most families have their own version of unique stories. I also know it’s not every family that has lots of great, fond memories. Some families have really tough histories and few times of laughter and silliness. That being the case, it seems like somewhere in almost every family (even if it has to include extended family members) there is this sense of comfort and welcome when we’re with family.

In my own life, being with family is right at the top of my list! Whether it’s just at home watching a movie with my wife and kids, cooking out on the grill, or getting together with my parents and sister’s family…I truly L.O.V.E. these special times. We all do Thanksgiving together (rotating homes every year), and I look forward to it all year long!

So, I ran across this video from Francis Chan that made me consider my affection for and heart toward my own family. Watch it real quick and give it some thought.

 

As a pastor, I’ve seen this kind of overzealous sense of family take over some families. Other pastor friends of mine have shared similar occurrences in their churches. The truth is that some families will elevate their family above everything else. There are families who were at one time very involved in the church, serving faithfully, helping out and using their gifts to bless others, begin to pull back and fill their time with all things family. If you have a family that you love, as I have said about my own, it’s probably not difficult to see how this happens. We just love being with our families, watching our kids grow up, even move on to have their own kids.

If you want to, you can use the Bible to build a case for this type of family first approach. See 1 Timothy 5:8 for an often used verse. However, to put your family first, above everything else, you have to ignore a myriad of other responsibilities given to followers of Christ. To put it plainly, those who do elevate their family and give it this place of preeminence in their lives (to the level of not faithfully serving, supporting, engaging the church) have to turn their backs on God’s purpose for His church.

Thom Rainer wrote a great book that provides a clear, concise picture of what it means to be a church member. It’s a really good book, especially if you are part of a church family. Matt Chandler said of this book,

If you love your church, are frustrated with your church, or don’t understand why membership matters, I encourage you to pick this book up and read it.”

I Am A Church Member

We’re not all at the same place in life. Our families look different, are in different stages, include many people, or maybe it’s just yourself right now. None of that matters when we see clearly our responsibility to be part of God’s church…the church for whom Jesus gave himself.

Ephesians 5:25 says, “…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” He didn’t do that and institute the church so that we could take it or leave it, or relegate it to the back burner so that we can enjoy life and family however we want. In fact, Jesus taught that if our family gets in the way of us being faithful to serve Him, we should leave them behind in order to be a faithful disciple to Him. (Luke 14:25-33) He is teaching what it means, what it will cost, to be one of his disciples.

All that being said, family is a huge blessing in lots of peoples’ lives. There is great comfort, companionship, and joy to be had in a strong, supportive family. As followers of Jesus, we must diligently seek to keep family in its proper place as it relates to our responsibilities to God.

Seasons of Ministry

In North Texas we live without getting to experience four separate, clearly defined seasons every year, or most any year for that matter. Being born and raised here, I’ve spent most of my life wishing I could experience at least a taste of a real winter. I’m told I would get my fair share of shoveling snow then be on the next plane for the south again. Maybe so, but I’ve always wanted to try it for a couple of months.

After 24 years in church ministry, I have had the privilege of experiencing some other types of seasons. There have been very distinct seasons of ministry. Regardless of the denomination, I suspect it’s a similar occurrence. Many ministers begin by helping out somewhere in the church as a volunteer. It could be as a door greeter, running sound & lights, preparing meals, or helping in a class for young children. A good church will have plenty of options for getting people involved in serving.

When a person makes the move to full-time church ministry, the start often comes in the area of Children’s Ministry. Next is sometimes a move to Teen Ministry, then adult ministries and finally a position serving as the lead pastor for a church. My story follows that timeline exactly. I volunteered in my local church as a young person, then attended bible college after high school. My full-time ministry jobs were Children’s Ministry, Student Ministry, Adult Ministries, and I’ve been serving as a Lead Pastor for the last several years.

Each season of ministry has had its own level of satisfaction, joy, and fulfillment. Little children, teenagers, and adults all express their faith and their love for church leaders in very distinct ways. Just the other day, someone took me out for lunch. As a lead pastor, ministering to the church as a whole, those things happen from time to time as a member wants to show some appreciation. As expected, when I served as the Children’s Ministry Pastor, expressions of love were much different. There were tons of homemade cards and lots of hugs with sweet little “I love you’s” from precious children. If you’ve worked with teenagers, you know it’s a totally different story. Somehow they’ve heard it’s uncool to let people know that you care about them. You know, the teenage years are just different all the way around.

To be clear, serving God in local church ministry and pastoring is not about how much love you get from those you lead. Not at all! I share those stories simply to note the different stages of church ministry. There are many other distinctions I could mention. With children you might have to wipe some snotty noses. Teenagers might need a ride to or from football or volleyball practice, which would almost always require a stop by Sonic. Adults often need someone to talk to, help with their children, and more formal counseling from time to time.

Today, as a lead pastor in the church, I have seen a new area of ministry that has developed very naturally and organically. As our own kids have grown into adults, Kym & I have seen an influx of young adults at our house and subsequently at our church services. It really has kinda come out of left field. With our own kids grown and not being around as much, we were having to adjust to the house being more empty. If you’ve been there before, you know it can be a real transition when you aren’t necessarily needed the same as you were as parents. It has been a Godsend, and we are very thankful for these men and women.

In a world full of people who often look down on young people and give each generation a new title to define them, it’s a true joy to be able to speak truth and encouragement into their lives. The Bible says,

“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”   1 Timothy 4:12

Kym and I work daily alongside these young adults to help them see that verse through in their lives. There are very real ups and downs, but the ride is a breath of fresh air.

In the midst of us trying to lead them, they joined our own kids and combined their efforts to send us on a trip. Kym & I are celebrating our 26th wedding anniversary this year, and we were given a surprise trip this Christmas. It was such a nice blessing, and we were both blown away!

I wanted to include a heartfelt THANK YOU to all those who had a part! We love you all, and are looking forward to what God has in store for us in the future.