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

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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.

Holding On Loosely

The classic rock band 38 Special sang, “hold on loosely, but don’t let go.” The song was released in 1980, when I was a young nine year old boy. I know I heard it from time to time on my parents’ radio, but it’s a certainty that I gave it little to no thought. It was just another cool sounding song.

The last three and a half decades have afforded me the blessings of aging and acquiring life experiences that have given me a certain perspective on the idea of holding on loosely…even though it’s very difficult at times.

When you have something you do not want to lose, holding on to it with anything less than a death grip seems totally illogical. Right? In those situations, you normally grab and hold with everything you have. The blood rushes away from your fingertips and they turn white as a sheet. So, the idea of holding on loosely boggles the mind. If I’m not serious about holding on to it, I’d just as soon not hold on.

The last couple of years (especially recently with my daughter) I have learned firsthand that parenting requires this kind of holding- loosely. I joked with my wife that if I had known we were going to have to let go of our children and let them live their own lives, I would have never gotten into this whole parenting thing. Truly, it’s been downright tough on this dad’s heart.

In today’s picture-happy world, there seems to be no escape from the reminders of just how special the early days were with my kiddos. It’s hard to go more than a day or two without seeing something that brings a warm smile to my heart. And, as a very good friend of mine pointed out to me the other day, I am quite sentimental. Actually, he told me he knew I would more than likely struggle with this stage of parenting. I’m still not sure why he never warned me.

Here’s what God’s word has reminded me of during this particular season of life.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”, and the Byrds kind of echoed it with their song, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” in 1965.

Psalm 103:15-16 says, “As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.”

My Kiddos Jan 16 blog

Things change. That is life. Both of my amazing children, who need their parents less and less each day, will one day go on to live their own lives. Instead of my wife and I oohing and awing over all their cute little antics, we will strive to embrace their maturing and celebrate their accomplishments. The job has changed on a daily basis, but I must still joyfully enjoy, and be thankful for each and every different season of life.

If you go to church…you’re doing it wrong.

 

I’m sure this statement might seem odd at first glance, “If you go to church, you’re doing it wrong.”

Truth is, the “church” never has been and never will be a place or a thing. From the time Jesus instituted the church, it has always been a people. In fact, the original Greek word for church is “ekklesia”, and it means those who are called out, or an assembly or meeting of those who are called out. Most frequently in the New Testament the word is used to describe a gathering or group of people who have professed their belief in Jesus and are meeting together to worship him.

So, you and I (as followers of Jesus Christ) are the church. And, if you are a faithful follower, you are most assuredly actively practicing and growing in your faith as part of a local church somewhere relatively close to your home. To keep from getting into a whole universal church discussion, we’ll stick to the idea of a local church.

As part of a local church body of believers in Jesus Christ, you are the church no matter where you find yourself. When you gather together for meetings or services, you are the church. When you leave that gathering, and go your separate ways, you are still the church. Paul tells us that “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” in 2 Corinthians 5:20. God intends that his appeal, through our lives, will happen on a 365 day a year, 24 hours a day basis.

So, why is it necessarily doing it wrong if we simply “go to” church? It’s wrong, because you and I are truly the church, and because “church” is not a place we go or a thing we do. It is something we are, and there is no time-out or pause in God’s plan to use his church. When we say that we are “going to church” or we point at a building and say, “that’s the church we go to”, we minimize the universal importance of Jesus’ church.

Interestingly enough, this past weekend a popular pastor tweeted that church was “off to a good start this weekend.” While most pastors clearly know and understand that the people are the church, many still misappropriate the use of the word. My supposition here is that our personal vernacular plays an integral part in us living out what we believe. Our word choice and usage begin to shape or reshape our thinking, and our thinking leads to our practical living.

If we simply “go to” church, it becomes very easy for an unhealthy disconnect to develop in our beliefs and our practices in our daily lives. Unhealthy, because we tend to live a certain way when we are “at church”, and totally different when on our own. Placing your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, and inviting him to be Lord and Savior in your life is a complete takeover, with no room for disconnects in our faith & practice.

Try it out for yourself in the coming days. Use the phrases “church services, church family, and church building/campus” instead of the default “church”. See if it doesn’t begin to make you consider what you are saying, and build a growing understanding of what it is to be the church. Let your heart be overjoyed by the concept of “going to meet with the church” rather than simply going to church.

Remember, always, that you are the church, and make that amazing truth part of your life every single day.