Monthly Archives: March 2018

Burn, Baby, Burn

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It happened every Monday morning.  I would get up, take my kids to school, swing by my favorite breakfast stop for a cup of coffee, and then head to my office at church. As I walked in, I would look up at the constant reminder of my shortcomings.  There was a wooden plaque up on the wall just to the left of my office in the church lobby. Oh, that wooden plaque.  It was oak, had brass letter and number holders, and removable black and white letters and numbers.  Somewhere a craftsman named Azazel, at least that is what I imagined his name is, manufactured this source of my consternation.  In bright white letters it told me how many people we had this week, and how many we had last week.  It told me how much the offering was this week, and how much the offering was last week. Or, as I read it, this is how much you stink this week, and this is how much you stunk last week.  The only thing this holy jumbotron did not have was a giant testamints advertisement across the top.  Every time I would look at it I would feel like a total failure. So, to make myself feel better, I would log into Facebook see how my friends who were pastors were doing. I would read post after post of the thousands of people who had come to know Christ.  How they were having to hire a hostess to keep track of all the people they were baptizing. It was the same story replayed every Monday in my office.  After about an hour I was totally defeated.  I was done.  I would leave my office feeling like I had nothing to offer.  I felt like my church could do so much better than a pastor who was struggling to bring in new members.  They could do so much better than a pastor who was trying to find creative ways to cut cost’s, so we could meet our monthly obligation.

The truth is that my struggle was much deeper than just that sign.  I suffer from insecurity.  Most of my life I have had this feeling that I am not good enough.  This feeling has led me to times of depression, and more than a healthy share of self-loathing, and self-doubt.  There have been days where I couldn’t even stand the sight of myself in the mirror.  That may sound harsh, but this is real talk here. That is what much of my childhood was like.  I grew up with a condition called Nystagmus.  Nystagmus is a condition with your eyes that causes involuntary eye movements.  My condition is minor but, it affected somethings, like my handwriting, negatively.  I had an Elementary School teacher who used to call me up in front of class, have me write on the board, and then make fun of my handwriting. It has caused me a great deal of insecurity over the years. This insecurity, has led me to times of depression. This is harder to come to grips with when you are ministering in a church.  I am supposed to be the spiritual leader, but some days I still felt like that 4th grade kid who didn’t turn his homework in because he was afraid of being made fun of.  Over the years I have fought the battle against crippling doubt and fear, some days I have won, some days I have lost. Going through it is like being lost in a maze.  You can’t find your way out, but you don’t want anyone else to know that you are struggling to find your way out.

I tried to deal with it the best that I could. I had heard and viewed comments that convinced me that I just needed to be more positive, to pray more.  I had been convinced that maybe there was sin in my life. I was told God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, so toughen up and get through it.  It sure felt like I couldn’t handle much more.  I prayed, I tried positive affirmations.  I self-examined.  The more I tried to fix it, the more helpless I felt.  Don’t get me wrong, I had good days as well, but no matter what happened, the fear and insecurity always seemed to creep back and sink it’s claws into me. It is a vicious cycle of fear, insecurity, doubt, and faulty comparisons. It reached the point that I had such little confidence that I thought the church needed someone other than me and I stepped down.  It had reached the point that I thought I was incapable of leading a church.  I took a step back.  I felt like I was beaten, like I had nothing left to offer.

That was a very rough time for me personally.  In the time that I was out of the pastorate I was able to reflect on the journey, and in the years that have followed I have learned several things that have helped me win more battles. First, don’t get caught in the trap of comparison. As a pastor I wanted to be like Peter in Acts chapter 2. He spoke the word of God, and thousands responded. I saw so many of the people that I went to college with telling similar stories, why wasn’t that happening to me? The problem is that most people don’t get to be Peter in Acts chapter 2.  God also called Jeremiah to deliver a message that people would not like. “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do Not be threatened by them.” (Jeremiah 1:17) I needed to be reminded that success, according to God, is obeying Him, not how people respond. Keep in mind, In Acts chapter 2, thousands responded to the gospel. In Acts chapter 4 it got them thrown in jail. I am not saying that we should not study, prepare, and prayerfully improve the craft that God has called us to.  That should go without saying.  We should strive for excellence in all that we do. However, it is not our job to convict, and call people.  The Holy Spirit does the calling and convicting.  Heaven would be a lonely place if salvation were dependent on the ability of man.  Not only were my comparisons based on the wrong idea of what my job actually was, but they were also based on evidence that was unverified. I am reminded of what Billy Hannah told me once when I was struggling with this and talking to him about it.  He told me “Aaron, some preachers lie.” That blew my mind.  I was comparing myself to something I had no real proof was true. Even if it was true, it did not change what I was called to do. I needed to learn to look at it as though God had put me where I was at, at that precise moment, to deliver the word that He had given me.  If I did the best I could, then I could hold me head high regardless of how well it was received.

Secondly, it is ok that you need help.  I am the type of person who likes to fix my own problems.  The issue was I had run into something that I couldn’t fix, no matter how hard I tried.  God is with me.  I can turn to Him any time I feel anxiety, or I am depressed. He, in His infinite wisdom has given me a network of people who know exactly what I am going through.  I found someone I can sound off to, who understands what it is like to feel the way that I do sometimes. Talking to someone helps. It is not good for anyone to keep something like that bottled up inside.  If that is not enough, there is no shame in seeking professional help. Trying to cope internally with anxiety and depression is a doomed proposition

Third, open up about your struggle with the people you care about most. I tried to be “strong” and not burden my wife with what was bothering me. I didn’t want her to think that I was weak. You can only keep up that façade for so long. Those closest to you know when something is not right. Be open and honest with them. They will understand and try to help you.

Last, if you are a member of a church that has one of those plaques constructed by Azazel, do yourself, your church, and your pastor a favor, take it into the church parking lot and set it on fire. I know Sister Martha’s Great Aunt’s Second Cousin’s Husband’s first Wife’s step Dad donated it to the church in 1946, and it has been plastered to that wall since then.  Grab a crowbar, rip it off the wall, and burn it in the parking lot. Then you will at least have something useful, a fire. The amount of people, or money that was brought in last year, last month, or last week is in the past.  I can only control what I have in front of me, and what I do in the future.  I spent so much time worrying about who wasn’t there, or what the offering was that I lost track of the most important thing, ministering to the people who are right in front of me.

Just remember, if you are like me and have bouts with anxiety or depression, you are not alone. Many people in the ministry battle this.  Talk about it with someone you can count on.  Get help if you need it.  Stay close to and lean on those you care about most.


That is Why We Call Her Lauren Grace Lynne.

Category : Uncategorized

March 23, 2005 is a day that will forever be sketched in my memory.  It all started earlier that week.  The last several months had been a whirlwind.  My wife was pregnant with our second child, and she was set to be induced in one week.  We had so much left to do, and very little time to do it in.  To top it all off, my mom had been in out of the hospital for several months battling cancer.  We had just been told that there was nothing more that the doctors could do, and mom wanted to spend what time she had left with her family.  I took consolation in the fact that my mom would at least be able to see her granddaughter come into this world.  It was Tuesday, and Mom and Dad wanted to have the whole family over for dinner.  We ordered Pizza Hut, Mom’s favorite, and had a special night at their house.  We sat in the living room, Mom had been to weak to get off the couch.  We laughed, told stories, and we were able to have one of the best evenings in quite some time.  We hadn’t had many of those lately.  That thanksgiving was the first time in my entire life that I didn’t share the meal with my mother, she was in the hospital.  We had seen the horrors of chemotherapy.  We had watched as she became weaker, and weaker physically.  We had prayed and wept. Our family had prayed and wept. Our church had prayed and wept. It had been a long and weary road over the last year.

That night was different.  Mom was able to eat pizza.  Now that may not sound like much, but over the past few months the chemotherapy had caused these awful sores in her throat.  Drinking water was painful for her.  But not Tuesday night.  She almost seemed like her old self.  It was getting late, and we knew we needed to go home.  My sister and I just stayed a little later.  How many more of these times were we going to have?  I couldn’t help but wonder.  I knelt beside the couch, gave my mother one last hug, kissed her on the forehead, and told her I loved her.  Had I known what the night would bring I would have hugged a little tighter, and stayed a little longer, but I didn’t, so I took my young family home.

I couldn’t sleep that night.  I had so many thoughts going through my mind.  I don’t know why, I just could not go to sleep.  I have never been more tired than I was at that time, but I simply could not sleep.  I have since learned that there is a difference between being tired and being weary.  I was weary, my soul ached.  In the early morning hours, as I lay in bed contemplating so many different things, the phone began to ring.  It was on my side of the bed, but I just lay there frozen.  I knew who it was, and I knew what it was about.  I lay there stiff as a board as my pregnant wife got up, walked around the bed and answered the phone. It was my dad, and he told me I needed to get to the hospital right away.  In the hours that followed my sweet mother left this world and walked into the next.

That was 13 years ago today.  As I am writing this I am reflecting on the things that I have learned in that time about grief, pain, and loss.  The first thing that I learned is that time does not heal all wounds, and it shouldn’t.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote “There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so.  One must simply hold out and endure it.  At first it sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort.  For the extent the emptiness truly remains unfulfilled one remains connected to the other person through it.  It is wrong to say God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve, even in pain, the authentic relationship. Furthermore, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy.  One bears what was lovely in the past, not as a thorn, but as a precious gift deep within.  A hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.” This statement has become ever clearer and real to me with each year of my mother’s passing.  There are times when that wound is still present and still painful.  Last night I went to the hospital to visit a sweet lady from our church.  When I walked into the room it dawned on me that 13 years ago I was doing the same thing for a much different reason.  I held her hand, spoke with her a bit, and then we had prayer, and I left.  I held myself together in her room and in the hospital, but as I got to my car, there were tears in my eyes.  There were tears because this 41-year-old man missed his mom and was reminded of the pain that was present the moment we lost her.  As I felt that pain, and do from time to time, I was reminded of how lucky I was to have someone worth loving and missing that much.  It made me long for the time when I will see her again.  So yes, I was sad, but strangely enough I was able to rejoice in the sadness.

The second thing that I have learned is that God’s grace truly is more than sufficient.  The apostle Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians “At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness.”  In the immediate aftermath of Mom’s passing I had a hard time.  For several months all I could remember were the hospital rooms, sitting with her when Dad couldn’t be there.  Caring for her and seeing her at her most vulnerable.  It was hard.  The amazing thing is, over time those memories were replaced by really good ones.  Like her laugh, or when we would go out to eat once or twice a week when I was in college.  I can still hear her singing the Lilly of the Valley clearly in my mind.  Like when she wanted me and my sister up on Saturday mornings she would start vacuuming and hitting our door till we got up.  I remember her shopping with Aunt Dorene, and every year they would get lost.  I remember her baking Christmas cookies.  I remember the smell when I would come home from a rough day at school and she had made my favorite cookies, peanut butter with a Hershey’s kiss in the middle.  Those memories are mine, and God’s grace has helped flood me with so many good things, that I can’t focus on just the pain and loss.

Six days after Mom passed my middle child was born.  We had already decided that we were going to name her Lauren Grace Harris.  After mom died we decided that we wanted to honor Mom, so we added Mom’s middle name Lynne.  Mom wanted so much to see Lauren and hold her.  You could always count on one thing with my mom.  After the grand-kids had been to see her they would have bright red marks from Mom’s lipstick.  It was inevitable.  When Lauren was born she had something special.  On the back of her neck she had a birthmark.  A bright red birthmark.  It was about the size of the smudge of lipstick.  The nurses told us, you know what that is called, it is called an Angel’s kiss.  Now, I know that when we die we don’t become Angels, but it seemed that somehow God gave us that.  I don’t have my mother on this earth anymore, but I have an even greater gift.  A living reminder of my mom.  I have Lauren Grace Lynne Harris, who came to us in the midst of grief.  She is a constant reminder of all the things I have learned and am still learning on this journey.  I know this has been a long post.  I don’t know what you may face in life, but I do know this. Hold on, pursue Jesus, keep your eyes toward Him, and He will bring you joy, and Grace that is more than sufficient to sustain you.


But, He Was Such A Nice Man.

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We live in affluent society.  If you were lucky enough to be born and raised in the United States of America, then you started out wealthier than you could possibly imagine.  If you were born and raised in this country than you more than likely had a home with running water, air conditioning in the summer, and heat in the winter.  You probably were able to walk to a refrigerator or pantry and not only find the sustenance to survive, but a plethora of snacks that you keep on hand for when you just need an Oreo.  You more than likely had more than one family car.  You had free education, that you were required to attend, whether you wanted to or not.  Maybe you had an allowance.  If you are under the age of 40 you probably don’t remember life without cable television.  If you are under 25, you don’t remember having to watch your cable programming on a television set that weighed 200 pounds and was the size of a small Volkswagen. If you are that age you don’t remember phones that actually required, you to dial a number to talk to someone.  More than likely our family cell phone plans cost more per month than our parents first car, and our car payments cost more per month than our parents first house payment was. We have video game systems, computers, tablets, and self-cleaning ovens.  We have fire places for ambiance instead of necessity. The point is we are an affluent people.  Now you may not feel affluent but compared to most of the rest of the world you are.

If you were born in much of the rest of the world you have a much different definition of affluence. Nearly half of the world’s population, more than 3,000,000,000 people, lives on less than $2.50 per day.  Over 1,300,000,000 live in extreme poverty, less than $1.50 per day.  Things such as diarrhea kill hundreds of thousands of people globally because of a lack of clean drinking water. The stats go on and on.  The point is, there is a vast difference between what we consider wealth, and what the reality of the statistics tells us. So, what is the point?  Is this a post to try and inspire readers to give up some of their comforts to serve their fellow man? Well we should, and I hope that you would consider what scripture tells us to do. (Maybe check out what Jesus says in Matthew 25) No, the point is we should recognize the danger that is inherent when we read scripture through the eyes of affluence.

In Mark 10:17-29, Mark recounts the story of when a certain wealthy, influential young man came to Christ to follow Him.  I am not going to go into detail to recount all the details, I suggest you read the passage in its entirety.  There are, however, a few aspects that are relevant to this topic. First, this young man is sincere in his request.  His affluence did not make him insincere.  He really wanted to follow Christ.  Secondly, he approaches Jesus the right way.  He is not doing this for show.  He humbly, and respectfully makes this request to Jesus.  Thirdly, when he says he has followed the law, he is not intentionally telling a lie.  He believes he has followed the law to the best of his ability.  So where is the problem?  What is it that caused him to not follow Christ. Did he misunderstand what Jesus was asking? No, he understood it very well.  The truth is, he did not follow Christ because what Christ asked him to do, he was not willing to do.

After the man walked away, Jesus tells his disciples “And Jesus, looking around, *said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus *answered again and *said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” They were even more astonished and said to Him, “[h]Then who can be saved?” Looking at them, Jesus *said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:23-27. Now you may read this and think I am not rich, this doesn’t apply to me. You are probably wrong, you are rich, but that is beside the point.  Jesus is not saying wealth is evil, and having wealth is wrong.  There is evidence all throughout scripture that God blessed certain people with great wealth, and they recognized this and used those blessings for the glory of God. Wealth, and possessions are not evil, but they can be a significant barrier to accepting the truth of the gospel.

You see the beauty, and majesty of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the simple fact that it does not rely on us.  There is simply nothing we bring to the table in this whole “saving” thing.  Why did Jesus tell this young man to sell all his possessions? Surely, he wasn’t serious.  Surely, he was just testing this young man. No, Jesus, was quite serious in this instance.  This young man had to let go of the thing he held the most security in to follow Christ. You see, this young man’s wealth had made him influential.  He was the guy parents told their kids they wanted them to be like.  He was wealthy, successful, went to church, lived a moral life, he was honest.  Jesus’ own disciples were amazed at what happened.  If this guy couldn’t be saved, then who could? That was the problem.  This is what we must be careful with.  Jesus was asking this young man a simple question. Am I enough?  This young man answered no.  His wealth, and affluence had clouded his view, and influenced what he thought it took to follow Christ.  It was pride, he viewed himself as good, and he did not think he needed saving.

Unfortunately, I think this Sunday church parking lots, lobbies, sanctuaries, and fellowship halls are going to have many in them like this rich young man. People of consequence.  Deacons, Elders, Trustees, Teachers, Pastors, and church members who would answer no if the same question were asked of them. What if Jesus asked you to sell everything you own for Him?  Is he enough?  The truth He is enough.  Had this young man been willing to follow Christ he would have seen first hand the He is indeed enough!  Don’t let our affluence cloud our vision.  May we see that Jesus is enough.  May we realize that we are all sinners in need of a savior.  Me we remember that our joy, and fulfillment are not found in the temporary, but in the eternal.

 

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

―C.S. Lewis


Grace To You.

Category : Uncategorized

We all have heroes in are lives.  I am not talking about sports stars, or famous actors or musicians.  No, I am talking about the real-life heroes who taught us the truly important things life.  I have several of those in my life.  People like my parents and grandparents.  There are others as well, but one of the heroes that shaped much of who I am is my Papaw Thomas.  Glenn Thomas grew up in Williamsburg, KY.  Williamsburg is in Whitley County, just a short distance from the Tennessee and Kentucky border.  Glenn grew up during hard times.  He was born in 1923, the Great Depression hit just after his sixth birthday.  He was a typical boy, but he tended to get into mischief.  I used to love to hear him tell of some of the hijinks he pulled when he was younger.

One of my favorite stories was about his days in school.  He never was much for school, but he went.  In the hills of southeastern Kentucky, it can get pretty cold in the winter time.  The room where he went to school was heated with an old wood burning (It may have been coal) stove.  This was the depression, so they didn’t waste anything.  At the end of the day they would collect the papers they used to do their school work on in a pail to use to start the fire the next day.  An idea formed in young Glenn’s head.  He had some fire crackers that he had been saving for a special occasion.  Now these were before the regulations dictating how powerful firecrackers could be, so these were not the same black cat firecrackers you would buy today. Glenn brought his firecrackers to school with him one day.  At the end of the day he crunched his paper up, as normal, only this time he had a few of those firecrackers planted in the middle of each paper wad.  The next morning the teacher loaded the stove, and Glenn’s plan was set into motion.  Once the flames reached his paper the firecrackers did their magic, and much to Glenn’s horror, they nearly blew the entire stove up.  Pieces of chimney, paper, sparks, ash, and soot flew all over the room.  The teacher did not have to ask who did it, she immediately turned to Glenn.  I don’t know what kind of trouble Glenn got into for that, but I suspect he had a hard time sitting down for a few days.  He pulled mischievous stunts like this throughout his childhood.

Now, if you were to tell folks around Williamsburg, that young Glenn Thomas would one day be a pastor, and a church planter, they would have said you were off your rocker.  No one saw that out of him, except for one person, his mother.  She prayed for her children diligently, and she always knew that the Lord had something planned for them.  Years later when my grandfather was training for World War 2, he said he could hear his mother praying for him.  See she understood something that, I am afraid many of us don’t.  She knew that it didn’t matter what anyone else said, or thought, the only thing that matters is what God said or thought.

I interviewed my grandfather for a history project once and was able to find out a great many things about what shaped him into the man he became.  I never asked him who his heroes were, but I suspect his mother was one of them.  I believe that my grandfather would not have been the man he was if it had not been for his mother who saw value in him, and wanted God’s best to come to him, and go with him.

Did you know, the apostle Paul began every one of his letters with some form of the phrase “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and Jesus Christ” Every one of them.  If you don’t believe me check for yourself. (Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, Colossians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, 1 Timothy 1:2, 2 Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:4, Philemon 3) He also concluded every book with some form of “Grace be with you”.  Again, if you don’t believe me read for yourself. (Romans 16:20, 1 Corinthians 16:23, 2 Corinthians 13:14, Galatians 6:18, Ephesians 6:24, Philippians 4:23, Colossians 4:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:28, 2 Thessalonians 3:18, 1 Timothy 6:21, 2 Timothy 4:22, Titus 3:15, Philemon 25) The question is why did Paul do this?  I think this is no formality here.  I believe that Paul was deeply invested in these believers and wanted God’s grace to come to them through these letters, and after they read them, he wanted God’s grace to be just as real to them as they went out into the world and lived.  Paul was investing something very special into the readers and hearers of the letter.

This is a powerful message to everyone who claims Christ.  We can share God’s grace with those who don’t know His son as their savior.  We also can invest in fellow believers through the grace of God.  May we pray for each other and seek to bless each other the way Paul did.  May we invest in someone that no one else sees the potential in.  May we see the world, and our fellow Christians through the lens of God’s amazing grace.  I am so thankful that my hero, had a hero of his own who introduced him to the grace of God, and a peace that passes all understanding.  I am so thankful, that my hero, had a hero who prayed that God’s grace would go with him.  Wait, come to think of it, I have another hero that I never met.  Thank you, Great Grandma Thomas.

 

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” Philippians 1:2, 4:23