Pastor’s Blog

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Welcome to my blog page. As I reflect on the life that God has given me, I am amazed to continually discover that He is a God of wonders. I am blessed to have personally experienced the incredible transformation that God can do in a person’s life. This page serves as a reflection of myself, my walk with God, visions for FWC, and views and thoughts on the world we live in. May God be your guide as He is mine.

– Pastor Phil

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Feel free to email me with comments about my entries. Please reference title(s) and entry date(s).

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Tough People



Tough People

Thoughts on tough people….

My phone began to go crazy on a recent Sunday morning. I staggered awake in the NYC hotel room that my wife and I were at wondering who would be calling me on this rare Sunday off already dreading who it might be. On the other end were texts and calls from our worship team telling me that we had no power in our church.

I imagine anyone who is in the position of having a building whether it be a business, school, church or any other place for public gatherings can imagine my reaction. To say I was filled with faith would be laughable. My stress level leapt off the charts as I wondered how to fix the problem. Not only were we without power but I was 250 miles away from home with no idea how to fix the problem.

I called my associate pastor and we started talking solutions. The building was only 37 degrees and even if the power was restored there was no way to get the heat up in time for our morning service. The thought was expressed to cancel service but I couldn’t see doing that because of logistics and also because we just don’t do that in Syracuse.

I told them to push through. Do the best they could. Figure out a way to have a short meeting and let the people go. I continued getting ready as we were expected in service in Queens and there was nothing I could, do but my heart was heavy and I was worried.

A strange thing began happening several hours later. Both my wife’s and my phone began to light up with wonderful messages. Although some people decided to head home a large group stayed. With no power, music or heat they did what Christian do. They worshipped.

One text said it was the most powerful worship service they had been to in along time. Another told me that we have an amazing church. I was told later that a man who had attempted suicide earlier that week was there and he was ministered to. In the middle of chaos God showed up.

Later that evening as I drove home I felt God speaking to me. On this day that had started with the potential for a disaster something beautiful had happened. Instead of coming home to an uncertain week I was coming home to a church that I believe took a giant step forward in its spiritual maturity.

In our modern church culture we have grown use to certain levels of comfort and amenities. The seats have to be comfortable. The lighting has to be just right to set the mood for worship. The message can only go 25 minutes.   The music has to be modern and played by the best musicians that in some cases money can buy. When did this become the picture of church?

The New Testament church of the Book of Acts is about as close to the American church as an elephant is to a mouse. They met in homes. They were under constant persecution and fear of death. I doubt there was a praise and worship band and in one case the apostle Paul spoke all night long. Yet if we look at their effectiveness in changing their world compared to what we are doing today sadly there is little comparison.

Miracles, signs and wonders and countless conversions to Christ followed them from city to city. For many of us today if a couple of people are saved a year we call it revival. What has happened to us? Maybe we have to start with the Gospel. It is the only thing that saves and it seems to be in short supply in the American church. This great message of salvation by giving your whole life to Christ is hardly heard. How many messages will be preached this week that cater to living comfortably? How many services will be so programmed that the intrusion of the Holy Spirit is unfathomable? How many Christians, if faced with any opposition, will simply stay home? We have gotten soft and it’s killing us from the inside out.

The heritage of the church of Jesus Christ is built on the backs of tough people. From the blood of martyrs across too many numerous countries to count to the circuit preachers who rode horseback from town to town the Good News has cost something of those who believe. The reward of eternal life in glory has always been enough for those who have found their strength and courage in the Lord. These were the generations who understood they were to serve God not expect God to serve them. They are the history makers we can only dream of being.

Don’t get me wrong. I pray that we never have a repeat of last Sunday again. I like heat and power is a good thing. That said, my church learned something about themselves last week. They learned they have the toughness of our spiritual fathers in their blood. They learned that worship in a hard place can sometimes be the best worship of all.

I am privileged to be their pastor. Their sacrifice has called me to a higher place. I can’t help but feel that in heaven this Sunday their heavenly father basked in their worship in a special way and He took particular interest in petitions they brought before Him. They could have just stayed home. Instead they worshipped through the difficulties just like Christians have done since the church started…tough people…God people.

Thoughts On Salsa Dancing



Thoughts on salsa dancing…My wife has always had an adventurous side to her that keeps our life interesting. She is always up for new adventures and she has made me a partner in her quest for new things. She recently decided that she wanted us to learn to salsa dance, so last Tuesday I found myself at our third class moving my feet to the energetic beat of some Latin music.

This particular night I have to tell you that neither one of us was up for dancing. We have been on a particular grueling stretch of life with numerous challenges that have required a lot of time and energy. We were both exhausted and it was manifesting itself in the two of us being in less than domestic tranquility. Who am I kidding… we were arguing and both of us just wanted to go home.

Because we had made the commitment and we both knew that missing a lesson would probably mean the end of our salsa dancing career, we pushed on and went. For the next hour we danced and learned. We met new people, laughed, and had a great time just being out.

It was while we drove home that something dawned on both of us. The two people that had arrived at our salsa class were not the same two people who left. Somewhere in that hour we had escaped the emotional stress that was all over us and relaxed into two people who really enjoy our lives together.

The Bible has this amazing promise in it. The scripture tells us that Jesus came so that we might have an abundant life. I think that we have taken such a limited view of this scripture and lost the true power of this promise. For many we have taken it to mean that God is going to give us this amazing life and all we have to do is sit back and wait for it to happen. May I suggest if that is your attitude you will be waiting the rest of your life, because it will never happen.

I have often said to my church that if you don’t live life then life will live you. You see, all of us are surrounded by pressure and stress. It is a never-ending cycle that needs to be broken or in the end it will break us.

What hit me as I drove home from my salsa class was that we were doing something that didn’t fit into the box of work, parent, pastor or even being a spouse. It was an out-of-the-box adventure that didn’t leave room for us to be weighed down by responsibility. Who can feel stressed when you’re dancing?

The stress demon is not going to be broken in your life by living in the rigid demands of responsibility. Sometimes you need to find something in life that makes you move into something unfamiliar so that you can breathe. Our salsa class has opened us up to a new community of people. It has given us an outlet for stress and in its place given us new wealth of emotional and mental relief.

The abundant life that He promised us is right in front you. I believe that it is something that we have to look for though; it doesn’t just happen. You have to engage in life beyond your responsibilities to find it.

Don’t let excuses rule your life. I’m too tired. I don’t have the time. It costs too much. All of these are the traps that keep us weighed down. Get out. Live your life. Show God you appreciate this great gift He has given you by living the most vibrant existence you can. Find your thing. Experiment with the unknown. Refuse to sit one more day doing the same old thing you do every day.

Hey I have to go…I think my wife wants to take another spin around the dance floor.

On Being A Man



We are male by birth. We are men by choice.

 

I’m not sure when I heard that for the first time. It was back when I was very young. The events of the last few days have left me revisiting this powerful statement and reexamining it with new questions. Am I being the best man I can be?

 

Probably most of us have seen or heard about the Ray Rice situation. His violent attack on his fiancé has horrified us and left many seeking answers. Domestic violence is a reality that many women live with on a daily basis but now we have a face. Now we see what it looks like when a grown male uses his fists to attack a woman and it is chilling.

 

God creates us to be either male or female. I guess I see it as some sort of gender lottery with neither choice better than the other. Both have strengths and weaknesses. That is why God created us different so that those differences can help us to have a sustainable society. When we use those strengths against the other gender that is when things become very dangerous and our society shakes at its foundation.

 

Violence against women is not a new thing. Since the beginning of time man has used his physical strength as a weapon. Unfortunately it is often directed against those who are far less able to defend themselves. This use of strength undermines manhood in ways that are never acceptable. I believe that we have to figure out what it means to be a man before our God-given strength destroys us.

 

Society has changed in the last few decades. I can’t tell you the surprised reactions I get from women when I do something as simple as hold a door open. Many of the simple acts of chivalry that were expected of men have disappeared. These acts of deference were never intended to be signs that men thought women to be weaker but a sign of respect for their strength. The loss of chivalry has not made us a better society. In fact it is doing the opposite. We are slowly becoming a society of Neanderthals and it is time for us to stop before it’s too late.

 

I have wondered as I have seen the reaction to the video why there is now suddenly such uproar. After all, the abuse of women is an accepted part of culture. They are called all sorts of vile things in modern music. Video games routinely teach young boys that women are nothing but sexual things placed here for our pleasure and to be discarded when you’re done using them. The modern sports culture is so testosterone-infused that crimes against women are often swept under the rug and the woman is labeled as having asked for it. Even in law enforcement I have been told many stories of domestic violence attacks disappearing behind the thin blue line. Even the military has come under heavy scrutiny for its culture of male aggression against women. It is dangerous to be women. Something has to change.

 

I am thankful for parents who taught me what it meant to be a man. How a man takes care of those he loves. How man uses his strength to help not hurt. How a man shows respect by opening doors for a lady and making sure you’re on the outside when you walking in the street with a girl. And the biggest one of all was you never raise your hand to woman no matter how provoked you are. You walk away. The thing is, you can be taught but in the end it’s a choice what you do with that knowledge.

 

We have many young men who are missing an important part of their education. The images of manhood being driven by our culture are creating a void of true men in our country. Instead of men being looked to for protection more and more they are viewed as aggressors who can attack without warning.

 

Again may I say that being male does not make you a man. It is a choice how we treat those around us. I don’t care if you’ve missed the chivalry lessons on how to treat women. A man must live by certain codes of what lines he will never cross. A man may not have been taught to open the door for a woman but he can still have the unwavering conviction that no matter how provoked he will never raise his hand against anyone who is weaker. Whether it be the elderly, a child or a woman we need a man code that we again teach young males so that they too can make the choice to be a man when faced with a situation where they respond with aggression against someone weaker.

 

I challenge every man reading these words. Are you listening to music that demeans women? Would you want the words from the songs on your phone to be spoken about your mother? Are you allowing your son to play a video game that glorifies the objectifying and violation of women? Are you living a life that respects those who you have been asked to protect or do you place them in vulnerable positions to fear you?

 

My wife through the years has said many things to me that have moved me. One of the greatest compliments she has given me is that I take care of her. My wife is one of the most capable women I have ever met. She doesn’t need me to take care of her. She would be okay if I was gone. That said, she sees me as someone who makes her life more complete because of my choice to be a man. To be someone she doesn’t have to fear. To be someone she can respect. To be someone she can count on. To be someone who will make the choice to be a man when the easy road of being a male beckons.

 

We are male by birth. We are men by choice. Being a man isn’t always easy but it is the only way you will be able to look yourself in the eyes and know that though you may not have always lived a perfect life you did lived an honorable life. You live like a man.

The Gospel of Hate



 

 

Over the last few years I have seen the American church deteriorate into a very angry, vocal, defiant, bitter, name-calling throng with enough division to kill any chance that the command that we be known by our love will ever be achieved. It not only seems, but is supported by numerous surveys of the American public, that Christianity has become known far more for what it stands against than what it stands for. This troubling occurrence and the continual decline in active church membership as well as conversions to Christ leads me to believe that this is again but one more reason for the slide into irrelevancy the American Church is experiencing

 

For many years I’ve been disturbed by the numerous conversations I’ve held with youth leaders regarding the young people leaving the church post-graduation. A 2011 study by the Barna Group found that 3 out 5 or 59% of young Christian’s permanently or for long periods of time leave the church after the age of 157. As with many I held to the thought it was youthful rebellion and in time many would return. I’m not so sure that that is true anymore. I’m afraid they are leaving as well as many other who are never will even give Christianity a chance and they aren’t coming back.

 

I recently came across a growing movement outside the church realm know as the Un-Christians. These are young people who have grown so disgusted by a church that is so indoctrinated in the causes they oppose that they no longer can tell you what they support. Instead they speak in clichés and platitudes, with condescending voices that look down at any one who opposes them or will not conform to their position. Unfortunately they take the same position with sinner or saint alike.

 

These groups of Christians have chosen to break with mainstream Christianity. They don’t identify with any major denominations. They have a very free style of “service.” Many of these people would feel very unwelcomed in traditional church. They have checked out of Christianity because they can’t see their faith in line with traditional church methods. In its place they formed communities of believers who follow the teachings of Christ. They tend to be highly mission oriented in their communities but just don’t call them Christians. They don’t want the baggage that comes with the label.

 

Recently the author Anne Rice very publicly announced her decision to leave Christianity. In her statement she continued to say that Christ would be the center of her life but, in her words, It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years I’ve tried, I’ve failed. I’m an outsider.” Of course by that night bloggers all over the Internet were trumpeting her return to atheism with contempt and glee. The fact that she said the exact opposite was forgotten. Who cares what truth is as long as your agenda is moved along.

 

It was Mahatma Gandhi who said. “I like your Christ, but I don’t like your Christians.” I would suggest that this has become the response of many when considering Christianity. The image of an all loving creator is almost instinctual believable. Maybe it’s part of our DNA. A hidden gene slipped in among millions of others that craves a return to relationship with its creator. I can’t answer that. It is my experience that I have seen very few people without reservation reject Christ out right but add in the element of His followers to the equation and suddenly the reaction turns decidedly negative.

 

As a pastor I have made it a point to stay a seeker. I study, seeking to know more about God. I pray seeking to deepen my relationship with Him. I also believe that when confronted with a problem we need to seek answers. This is negative reaction to the messengers is not going away. We must face it head on and seek solutions.

 

One of the first roadblocks to change is the perception of many Christians that we are in a war with the lost. Somehow the battle is moved from the prayer closet to the streets. We have lost sight of the true enemy because just as it is easier for us to live under law than by grace it is easier to line up an enemy you can see and fire away then one only fought with spiritual weapons.

 

May we remember the Apostle Paul’s warning?

 

Ephesians 6:12 (NLT)

12For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

 

There are two comments that I have come across in my own unscientific research into this problem that concern me but have also given me a roadmap that I share repeatedly with my church. The first comment was from a man who asked me why Christians always seem so angry. The second was this. Why do Christians always seem to be against things and never for anything?

 

Within these two questions I believe is a key that can move us back to a place where we as messengers of the Gospel can be received. The message may not be accepted but it will be heard. God never asked us to save people. That is His job. He did ask to spread the Good News. Preach the truth with love and grace but without hesitation be available at any given movement to share Christ.
The perception of Christianity as an angry religion has become an almost normal response when the unchurched are asked about the Christian faith. How many of us have heard that same question. Why are Christians always so angry? As America moves closer and closer to being a Godless nation has there ever been a more urgent time for us to become messengers of light and not darkness? Is it possible that are attempts to fight for a moral nation have been in vain because we turned the fight from the real battleground, the spirit, into a battle of wills here on earth? When we walk in the flesh even if our intent is to do the work of the Holy Spirit the fruit will always be flesh.

 

 

There is a scripture in the Gospel of John that I think needs a closer examination. It may help us to overcome this perception with the unchurched if we will look deep into its meaning and then take an even deep look at our actions as Christians.

John 8:12 (NKJV)

12Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

 

This passage has led me on a very deep personal journey of discovery. It’s a journey that has cost me church members, friends, and the general acceptance of extremists in the Christian church as I have had to redefine what I see the role of a church and a minister in a community. So often the Bible calls us to be the light in the world. This verse goes even deeper. Jesus tell us if follow Him we will have the light of life. I find myself in a constant changing understanding of what that is.

 

The easy answer would be to simply say the light of life is Jesus but I believe it is far more complex than that. How many of us have run into professing Christians and been deeply disturbed by actions that were as far from the character of Christ as the behavior of a heathen? In the heathen it can be somewhat excused but in the believer, God help us. Jesus only took out His anger one time and it was in the temple when the temple had been taken over by moneychangers. His anger at the commercialism of the sacrifice was directed at believers and their hypocrisy yet we never see Him react in such a way with the lost. If anything His ministry was tarnished in the eyes of the religious because He would sit, eat and fellowship with those that the holy called unclean.

 

The more I look at the life of Jesus I see pieces to a missing jigsaw of questions that my experience in Christianity has left me. One glaring difference I see in the modern American church that I don’t see in Jesus is this. Jesus spent very little time focused on what He was against. He in the midst of all sorts of political and religious pressure stayed focused on the things He was for. It was in those things, the poor, the humble, the broken and the hurting that the mysteries of the message of grace would be left for us to discover and emulate.

 

Jesus understood something about human nature. Mankind is draw to unite with those things that stirs passion. For passion to be sustained it has must be a positive emotion. Negative emotions will always end up consuming the one who chooses to live in them. Jesus understood His followers would be drawn to Him, stand with Him and even die for Him not for things He was against but for the things that He was for. His passions were rooted in what He stood for not what He stood against. His followers could see clearly the decision before them and make it based on a belief in what was right not what was wrong.

 

In America we have become consumed with what is wrong. As an observer and participant of the American church it amazes me at what we find ourselves frequently exerting tremendous effort and resources into. Things that pertain so little to a life of sacrificing for the sake of the Gospel and more and more with our attempt to control everything around us that makes us morally uncomfortable. The unchurched knows all too well what we are against and is rapidly losing interest in ever hearing if we might be for anything.

 

The price of being for something and not just another voice of dissent doesn’t come without a price. For me it has opened the door for criticism and ridicule by many in the church community I’m a part of. I had an individual come to my office one day and insist that our church become a vocal opponent of the Muslims in our community. He had spent time with some Christian friends and they had watched a video about Sharia law and how it was taking over our country. Because he was a leader in our church at that time I gave him the time to sit and watch the video. For an hour I watched as the commentator detailed the offensives that Muslims were committing against America and how the American church must raise its voice against these atrocities before we were all living in an Arab state. After it was done I sat quietly for a minute and asked this individual what he expected me to do. His response was that we had to get militant. Have special services. Hold community wide prayer services that God would defeat this evil. We needed to take to the streets and have our voices be heard. I knew at the moment this leader was not going to be with me very long after what I was going to say.

 

I told him this church would not be part of that agenda. This was a red herring meant to distract and in the end cause more division. I asked him to show me through the New Testament that Jesus or His disciples had ever participated in such actions and He protested that times were different. If Jesus were here this is what He would do. I pointed out that Jesus had plenty of issues He could have dealt with in His day but the only thing we see Him really coming against was religious hypocrisy and unfortunately if I followed his suggest this would make a hypocrite out of me. As for this church we would not be joining the mob. He and his family left the church two weeks later.

Being true to what you stand for has hurt at time but I feel more compelled than ever before to be able to articulate and walk out the things that I believe. It is all too easy to become one more angry voice screaming the gospel of hate. I believe that if Jesus was here He would lump these angry, hate filled voices with the hypocrite religious establishment that He worked so hard to reform in the Gospels. The messenger has to stop getting in the way of the message.

 

I wonder how many of could compile a list of their beliefs. A list that details what you stand for not just what you’re against. After making your list then ask God to help you filter it through the lens of grace. Do your beliefs bring people to the cross where Jesus can restore them to life or do they push people from the cross leaving them more alone in their desperation than ever.

 

Andrae Crouch wrote these words so many years ago.” Jesus is the answer for the world today. Above Him there’s no other. Jesus is the way.” Maybe like never before in history is this true. Jesus is the answer. He holds the keys to our happiness, to a life of hope and promise. We live in a day in age where people are afraid. Nothing seems stable. At any given moment the wheels can come off the bus and the lives that we try to desperately hold together can fall apart. It is into this world the message of hope found in giving our lives to Christ resonates today the same as it has for 2000 years.

 

Part of solution I believe with all my heart is a rejection of the Gospel of Hate. The cause of Christ is not advanced through a church that is defined by the things it’s against and despise. It is advanced when we can show the world that our convictions have God’s grace and mercy wrapped hand in hand with those beliefs.

 

We must learn the power of this truth. We can accept without giving approval. And to the things we can’t approve we can and will walk filled with the love of Christ seeking to be peacemakers not warmongers.

 

What do you believe in? The world is waiting to hear.

 

 

 

The “What I’m For” List

I’m for the sinner, the broken, the wounded, and the defenseless. I’m for the hungry, the poor and the destitute. I’m for the homeless and the wealthy. I’m for the criminal, the soccer mom and the cantankerous old man who drives to slow and always seems to be in front of me. I’m for my president and elected officials even if I didn’t vote for them and maybe never will. I’m for my critics and will bless those who curse me. I’m for social justice as well as the preaching of the Gospel. You can’t truly have one without the other. I’m for little boys getting in fistfights because someone said something about their momma on the playground. I’m for Democrats and Republicans and those who bravely try to stay independent. I’m for the single parent, the divorcee and parents who work so hard so that their children don’t have to know just how bad things really are. I’m for smooth jazz, love songs and slow dancing with my wife under the moonlight. I will pray for the peace of Israel but I will also pray for peace for their Arab brothers. I’m for religious freedom even for those who don’t worship the same god that I do. I’m for long dinners spent with old friends. I’m for women being used in lead roles in all five positions of the five fold ministry. I’m for not touching God’s anointed, because I’m not the one to judge who the anointed are, and God’s not telling me who is. I’m for loving the homosexual, the sexually confused and the adulterer who has destroyed theirs and the lives of their family by their sin even while not accepting that their choices are right. I’m for the black man, the brown, the yellow man, the red as well as white because the Gospel is for all people and is bigger than the cultural walls that divide us. I’m for the words of Paul. There is no score card when it comes to our sin. Sin is sin…there isn’t one bigger than the other…So I’m for God’s grace. I can’t live without it.

 

Today I reject the gospel of hate. The angry self-righteous words of those who scream for conformity over unity, ideology over discourse, and homogenized groups over any diversity that may challenge the norms of what they think they know. Most of all I’m for the one named Jesus. The one who when handed the opportunity to render judgment on a guilty woman caught in a horrible sin, chose not to pick up a stone but instead reached down into the dirt and restored her dignity and hope. In spite of the religious community that was trying so hard to take them from her. Today He is still giving that empowering grace. That’s my Jesus, that’s my God, and that is what I am for.

When Worship Dies



In churches across America, a scene will be replayed over and over. Lights will be dimmed. Screens will splash fancy graphics. A band of well rehearsed musicians will begin to play and some energetic individual will jump to the stage and ask the congregation to stand to their feet and worship God.

 

If you were uninformed to what was happening, you might assume that you were a part of something of great spiritual significance. More than likely there would be people with hands raised and eyes closed. Maybe even a few would be dancing to the music. If you were able to ask the participants what they were doing, the answer would be universal. We are praising God.

 

Praising God, it has always been one of the most important parts of our Christian faith. It is a Biblical commandment that unfortunately I believe we are failing in. If only our worship services were truly about the praise and worship we claim they are. Unfortunately, if we look deeper there is something wrong with our praise. Real praise and worship is dying in our meetings. It is being replaced by something cold and lifeless that is just one more cause to the decline of relevance of the American church.

 

The greatest indicator of this truth can be found in one simple place. Notice what happens when the song ends. Where does the worship go? I have seen the same people who just moments ago with hands raised turn to each other and start a conversation or even worse, grab a cell phone and respond to a text. As soon as the next song starts their hands go right back up in the air or they continue the dance they stopped when the music faded away.

 

How many times have you scanned the audience and noticed the numerous faces staring at the stage. Not singing or participating much more than nodding their heads to a beat and standing in silence. More and more we have beautiful, professional music being played for masses who have come just to consume. It is about the show and they offer up little to the One who they claim to follow.

 

Praise and worship has been a foundation block of the charismatic church. Back when the Charismatic movement took off, it was praise and worship that defined the movement. That deeply personal interlude that followers would have with Jesus was treated as a sacrament in those early days. Intimate fellowship with Jesus and songs were sung with heartfelt resound by people who knew that the I component in worship was the key to connection.

 

The Psalms tell us over and over to praise and worship God. It is the response of the writers that intrigues me as they respond in unison…I will worship…I will praise. Praise and worship is the one place where it really is all about what you do, yet in our modern worship services that has changed. Worship used to be what happened in the pew but today it has shifted to what happens on the stage.

 

That personal place of intimacy, praise and worship held for Christians so many years ago became a force that attracted many unbelievers into the church during the 60’s 70’s and 80’s. People were looking to fill the gap that life was leaving in them. Finding God was not seen as joining a group of extremist but a way to finding the solace that people were desperate to have. It drove our services and defined the times but sadly it didn’t last long. Praise was the invitation to the Holy Spirit to come and manifest Himself in our meetings. We knew and acknowledged that it was only by His intervention that lives could and would be changed. The question has to be asked, “Where has the Holy Spirit gone?”

 

Times changed and praise and worship became a code phrase. Every church had to have it. It was out of this rush to fill that need, we started to see the beginning of the end…specialized worship. Today many churches offer multiple worship experiences. There is the contemporary service, there is the traditional service, and even the blended service. We started creating experiences for people based on their desires. Instead of praise and worship to God, we replaced it with worship to a form. It has become more important to find a style that fits our personal likes than to realize that praise and worship is about a believer lifting the name of Jesus. That lifting of Jesus is not bound to style or even language it is about someone opening their mouth and exalting the Lord for who He is, what He’s done and what He has promised to do!

 

Things have gotten worse as technology has invaded our sanctuaries. We can now set the mood with proper lighting that changes with the intensity of a song. The special effects in some services rival those used in secular concerts. We live tweet and Facebook what we are feeling during the meetings. Worship leaders have become cheerleaders. Musicians have become technicians and God is finding less room than ever to fit into our agendas.

 

John 12:32 (NKJV)

32And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.”

 

Jesus spoke these words in reference to the cross. He knew that it was the cross that was the key and by extension, every time His people would praise and worship Him for that miracle as well as His promises, mankind would be drawn to Him. Anything else but that kind of worship would leave us cold and defeated.

 

How many times are we coming into services with grave needs in our lives and leaving unchanged because we never got past the outer court? How many services are actually being visited by the Holy Spirit verses another skilled performance by a worship team that we credit to a visitation by a God who was never truly welcomed?

 

May I make a few suggestions that I believe can help us get back on track?

 

The first is, let’s get back to singing songs to God instead of about God. When our songs are a personal expression of our love for Him, then the words that we sing will again take on powerful meaning. I wonder if we were to ask the average Christian what the songs they sang that day were about what the answer would be? I imagine most would say they were about God but could they answer the question what about God were you singing about? When praising God is personal, then connection happens and the Holy Spirit will come to do His work. Praise is the incense that draws His Spirit.

 

The second is restoring praise and worship to a place of being a sacrament in our meetings. Let’s get rid of the gimmicks. Can we remove the fancy lights, smoke machines and time clocks that have driven the Holy Spirit out of meetings? Services created for specific worship experiences have created a consumer mentality to praise and worship that is killing the power of the Holy Spirit. If a song is a good song that lifts the name of Jesus then let’s just sing to God with our whole hearts and stop needing to be emotionally manipulated. God is big enough. Let Him do what only He can do.

 

Third, we need to learn to open our mouths and stop being observers. The Bible says that out of the abundance of the heart our mouths speak. If we have lived a life of praise and worship all week, then we should be primed to enter into corporate praise and worship, when entering into the service, with our fellow believers. There should be an excitement and expectation to what God will do in our meeting that day. An expectation that lives will be changed and souls won for Christ. When we are just observers and not participators, He is not welcomed and the Holy Spirit will not force the issue. He needs an invitation and it starts with us vocally giving Him the praise and honor He deserves.

 

Last, to my fellow pastors, we need to teach the importance and the mechanics of praise and worship to the people. We assume they know what to do and why, but I believe as a new generation of believers enters the church they are being left out in the cold. They are only responding to the form of worship we have created for them to follow. Isaiah warned, without knowledge we go into captivity, and that is being played out in our services. We have to teach the building blocks of spiritual maturity. Teaching the latest trendy doctrine is not preparing people to stand in difficult times. Teach the basics my friends and watch your people grow. Teach them to be worshipers of God.

 

I add my voice to those who are sounding the alarm today. Something is amiss and we must recognize the problem and begin to take steps to correct them. People are walking into our meetings with greater needs than ever before and I fear many are leaving just as broken as when they entered. This doesn’t have to be. The power of the Holy Spirit hasn’t changed. We need to get back to making sure He knows He is welcomed to come into our services and do whatever He wants to do. Your will not ours Lord. Your plan not the one we’ve crafted.

The Boys of Summer



Some thoughts on grieving…

Recently, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, as my wife and I were taking a brief rest, she looked up to what I was watching on TV and said “You know we’re getting baseball back.” I nodded my head and quickly felt my mind take off; contemplating how much her comment reflected just how far I have come from the darkest day of my life.

 

To understand why her words meant so much, you have to understand my love of baseball. Baseball was a gift passed on to me by both my parents. My dad would play catch with me in the yard. He taught me how to throw a curve and I could always depend on him making my games as a kid. My passion for the game however, came from my mom. She loved her baseball and she especially loved it when the boys in pinstripes would take the field. Her beloved Yankees would always define her summers. A perfect summer meant a World Series in the fall. Anything less was a disappointment. I can’t say when it happened, but her passion had become my passion.

 

I remember sitting with her, in October of 1977, listening as Reggie Jackson staked his name in World Series history. He had already hit two home runs and as he came to the plate again, I asked her “Mom do you think he can do it again?” She told me “Son you just never know.” With the crack of the bat you could hear the crowd start to scream and the announcers yelling, “He’s done it again. It’s a home run!” That night my mom and me danced together, with the shared joy of celebrating a magical moment we would never forget. It was our moment, a moment we would relive together many times in the years to come.

 

I can remember sitting in a restaurant with my family, in August of 1979, when our waitress asked if we had heard the news. My dad said “no” and she informed us that Thurman Munson had died that day, in a plane crash. My mother’s hand flew to her mouth and she rushed out of the restaurant in tears. Thurman was one of her beloved Yankees and she mourned him like she had lost a member of her family. I also remember the radio didn’t play as many games, at our house, the rest of the season.

 

I remember many years later on a night in 1996, I was married and father myself, with my wife sleeping beside me, I watched what I feared was going to be a bad night for the Yankees. They had made it back to the World Series after years of frustration and were facing a powerful Atlanta team. We were already down 2 games to 1 and were losing 6-0 when the boys started to make a comeback. It was capped by a three run homer by our backup catcher Jim Leyritz. I jumped out of bed and as quietly as I could, so I wouldn’t wake my wife, I danced and cheered as he rounded the bases. My phone suddenly rang and I grabbed it knowing who would be on the other end. It was my mom and all she could say was “Did you see it son? Did you see it?”

 

Two years ago, my mom lay dying in her bed. She was wrapped in her Yankees blanket and had a Yankee hat on to keep warm. I sat with her that night and watched the boys play but neither one of us was really into it. I held her hand and knew my days with her would be short. The boys of summer where back, but there would be no season for my mom. A few weeks later, on May 19th she went home to be with Jesus. Her Yankees played and lost, 6-5 to the Reds, that night. Mom would have been disappointed.

 

I didn’t watch much baseball that year. I’d try but my heart wasn’t in it. The joy of the game wasn’t there for me anymore. My beloved Yankees played hard but it was a bad season for them and I didn’t even care. I stayed away because those pinstripes always had me thinking of my loss. The game that brought me so much joy in the past, now often left me in tears.

 

I guess that’s why, when my wife said what she did, I had to stop and think. Without even realizing it, my life had moved forward. The pain of loss was not as harsh as it was before. I had gone back to watching something that my mom had passed on to me and I didn’t feel like my heart had a hole in it. It was just a baseball game…a game that I could still love. It was no longer a reminder of something painful and could never enjoy again. It was just a peaceful Sunday, watching my Yankees play ball.

 

What I realized most about grief, in that moment, was how time allows us to process the good from the painful. My mom passed her passion for baseball on to her young son. Now that she’s gone, instead of it making me feel her loss in every pitch, it is a way to connect with a wonderful memory of her. I know my phone won’t ring when a great play is made as it did so many times before, but now I turn to my son and celebrate with him. We do the dance. We make new memories. He may not realize it, but a piece of his grandma is getting passed on to him.

 

A wise woman told me this about grief. In time, you will get to the place where you live the memories you choose, instead of your memories choosing for you. Grief is a funny thing. There are no shortcuts through it. I will say this. Day by day pain does fade and your memories become a way to stay connected not dreaded. So here’s to you mom…the batter is coming to the plate, the umpire turns to the field. Then, in a loud voice he says the words that all baseball lovers love….Play Ball.

 

Some thoughts on women…



My life has been impacted by women and I would not be the man I am today if it were not for the women who have become part of my story. Though some have been just drive-bys, sharing brief periods of time and shared experiences, they can bring a smile when I catch a fleeting memory run through my thoughts. Others have had such a lasting impact that I want to celebrate them this Mother’s Day weekend.

 

My first great love with a woman started 47 years ago when Milagros Farley gave birth to me. My relationship with my mother was one that I just always knew I could count on. She was the one who dried my tears. She let me be someone who shared his emotions and never made me feel less of a man because I cried. When I was older and would come home, she treated me like a returning hero. She would cook my favorite meals, have my room ready, and she would want to sit and talk. I miss her voice so much now that she has gone. I miss being able to talk with her about my worries, my fears and my hopes. My mother couldn’t fix things for me but there was always something about just having her there to listen that gave me strength. How do you encompass a lifetime of love in a paragraph…you don’t. Happy Mother’s Day mom…I will love you forever and I can’t wait to see you again my precious mother.

 

The next woman that I fell in love with was for a very different reason. Her place in my heart is special and will always be there because of what she did for me. This woman is my spiritual mom, Sharon Carter. One day, over 25 years ago, Sharon went into the pits of hell to fight for a young man who made a mess of his life. I was losing my battle with drug addiction. My will to live was fading and the darkness was becoming very dark. It took some 12 hours, which she willingly fought, as God used her to give me birth into His Kingdom.The Holy Spirit worked through her to peel the layers of my anguish away, until all that was left was a young man who could once again see that God still loved him. I remember her telling me, some time later, that for most of that day I could barely look her in the face. She went on to tell me, that after many hours into that amazing day I looked up and smiled. She said she knew right then that I was going to make it. Sharon took me under her wing and let me become part of her family. How do you put the depth of your thankfulness into a paragraph…you can’t. Happy Mother’s Day Sharon Carter from all of the kids that you have born into the Kingdom.

 

My next love affair with a woman has been my greatest. When my Jessica came into my life she turned my life upside down in a very good way. This beautiful blonde goddess turned her blue eyes on me and I did something that I didn’t think I was capable of doing. I fell in love for a lifetime. That young girl, from all those years ago, has grown into a stunning woman who I am proud to call my wife. Her light shines and by extension she has made my light shine even brighter. I have said of her, that she is the only person who knows me to the extent that she does and still chooses to love me. She has been my voice of comfort when life has thrown its hardest things at me. When I have struggled to believe that the morning would come, it has been her encouragement that has kept me. Her face is the last I see each day and the one I wake up to. That is how I want to live until I leave this place. She has been this woman to me while also having the room in her heart to bring our four children into this world and raise them with me in a home she has built for us to live in. She is the center we all revolve around. How do you put your greatest love affair into a paragraph…you don’t. Happy Mother’s Day Jessica Farley…you are, and will always be, my person.

 

Thoughts on a Great Love



Thoughts on a great love….It may surprise the outside observer but even strong marriages go through tough times. It is the nature of human relationships that there will be moments when things aren’t always going to be perfect and sometimes wounds can result. That’s why I wish more couples could be taught from the beginning of a relationship this vital principle. Good times are the season to enjoy in a relationship but it is how you handle the tough times that will determine if you’re going to live a great love affair or not.

 

During a recent meeting of our marriage enrichment group at FWC, we explored what may be one of the greatest truths in marriage I’ve ever looked at. Over the years I have often heard people say with all sincerity that they are committed to their marriage and they will do everything possible to make things work. The words sound so right. The response correct but unfortunately it might be the one of the reasons so many marriages fail.

 

There is no place in the Bible that says that we are to be committed to a marriage. Although the concept seems sound it isn’t Biblical. What the Bible tells us is to be is committed to each other. The idea of being committed to your marriage sounds right but what you are really saying is that you are committed to a social connection and an institution. Sometimes I think we for forget we didn’t marry an institution. We married living, breathing people who if they aren’t treated as such, can eventually fade away.

 

If you live for awhile everyone experiences the basic truth of life. It isn’t always easy. The pressures of children, financial concerns, work and can I even dare say the general boredom we all face at times, can leave us looking for a way out. These pressures have a way of making us start to view any change at any cost a necessity. The problem is that change doesn’t come without cost and the price of some change can lead to a lifetime of regret.

 

I have seen in my years of ministry how some couples see their marriage as the definition of their lives. As the pressures of life pile up if there isn’t a commitment to a person instead of to an institution it can become very tempting to think that walking away will solve everything. When things are tough…replace. That would be fine if we were dealing with a car or something of similar value but a life is never easily replaced and its value is priceless. Unfortunately in this throw away culture we live in, marriage can seem like one more piece of baggage that is easily replaced.

 

In a few weeks I will have been married 23 years. That is almost half my life. It has come as fresh insight that I can say I am not committed to my marriage. What I am committed to is a person. She is a person who knows me more intimately than any other person on the face of the earth. She has seen me grow from a young man to a middle aged one and has loved me through it all. I have failed her and she has forgiven me. She has brought my children into this world and given me a legacy. She makes me laugh. She can make me sad. She is the first face I see every morning and the last one I see at night. She knows my fears and comforts me through them all. She is real and she is my great love.

 

I have often told my wife if everything fell apart in my life if we had each other we would just rebuild and go on. A marriage can’t give you that. It takes a real living breathing relationship. So may I offer a suggestion this Valentine’s Day? While the cards are nice and the flowers are beautiful they are just things that will fade away. What really says I love you is when you give yourself to another. When your commitment to that person is stronger than whatever life throws at you and they know it.

 

The Language of Faith



John 14:25 – 27 (NKJV)

25“These things I have spoken to you while being present with you.26But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.27Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

 

I have read this passage of scripture numerous times through the years. It is a beautiful hope-filled passage. That said, I am growing more and more convinced that Jesus was not just offering hope but issuing a warning in these words. Peace was being given but it was also something that would have to be looked for and fought for.

 

The heart of Christianity is rooted in faith. From our initial belief in God to walking out His promises for our life, faith is the key. Is it any wonder the writer of Hebrews would say that without faith it is impossible to please the Lord. Without it we are left to believe whatever life is throwing at us and embracing the fears that hover at the edge of all of our days. Faith is a key to be sought after but I have found myself questioning whether much of our modern teachings on faith is a true representation of faith or just the empty words we speak to pacify our worries and to calm our fears.

 

To understand faith I think we need to look deeper into these words that Jesus spoke. He promised a comforter who would come and teach us all things. He also promised us that peace was already here. He left it for us but He also told us how much our faith would be tried and that sometimes our faith would be in crisis. To have and keep faith we would need to learn its language and the language of faith is peace.

 

For most of us we associate peace with a mental state of well being. We feel that if we can dim the volume of our world a bit then we have found peace. It is possible to mistake this surface level emotion as the peace of God but I caution you that it isn’t. The peace Jesus speaks of is something far deeper than a momentary calming of your life. It is the amazing peace of mind and tranquility that arises from reconciliation with God and a sense of His divine favor on your life that can’t be shaken. His peace isn’t about stopping the noise of the world. His peace is about quieting your heart so that you can live in faith.

 

So the question for me has been how I go about changing my language to one of faith and not of fear. How do I find this treasure that Jesus promised he had left for us? I can’t say I’ve found all the answers but I have found a few things that have helped.  I hope these help you also.

 

A)    Put a lock on it

Proverbs 18:21 (TMSG)

21Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.

 

We often are our own worst enemies when it comes to keeping our peace. We speak words into the air without recognizing the power they hold over our faith and well being. I have taken to avoiding certain people because every time I ask them how they are I know that I’m about to get a garbage bag full of their negativity. Sometimes the greatest words of faith you will speak are the words that you keep locked in your mind. Don’t give life to something that steals your peace. If you can’t praise, then be still until you can.

 

B)    Get off the treadmill

Psalms 46:10 (NKJV)

10Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!

 

It seems to be built into our DNA to have a constant need to be in motion. We live our lives like sharks swimming in the ocean; if we are ever still we will drown. The problem is that often much of the actions we are taking when we find ourselves in conflict or distress are not ordered of God but just our flesh trying to fix what only God can do. How many of us are doing Satan’s work for Him by running around trying to change things instead of being still and letting God? Treadmills can exhaust you, but the reality is that no matter how much energy you put into them in the end you’ve gone nowhere. Get off the treadmill and fight for your peace.

 

C)    Detach and refocus

Psalms 32:7 (NKJV)

7 You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround with songs of deliverance.

 

I believe in the self-protection of detachment. Some people might claim that I’m advocating that you just give up on any person or situation that is stressful, I am not. I do believe that sometimes you have to let something go and give it to God so that your peace is not constantly threatened by the uncertainty you’re facing. Detaching from the moment will also help you to take the next step which is to refocus.

 

For me one of God’s best promises I’ve discovered is finding that God will hide me away for a time until I’m strong enough to face what’s in front of me. To retreat into that place is in many ways one of the ultimate acts of surrender. I give myself permission to take a time out from stress and surround my mind with promises that defy and contradict whatever reality I’m facing. It’s in those moments that the Holy Spirit brings oxygen to my soul and strengthens me to stand and fight.

 

What you focus on will in time become what you worship. The devil works overtime to steal your peace because he understands just how vital it is to you walking in faith. Today I pray more than anything that you can take a step back from what you’re facing and ask your Holy Helper to center you. Center you in His realities, Center you in His possibilities and most of all fill you with peace.

 

Life Under The Rock



The envelope sat unopened on the kitchen island. For days its intended recipient walked past it never once stopping to examine the contents of the envelope. They knew it was there but chose to ignore it. The contents really were no mystery. The bright pink invoice in the envelope’s window announced to everyone what was inside. It was another reminder of a debt that was owed.

 

Finally after several days of watching the envelope stay unopened I could take it no longer. I stopped the person that the envelope had come for and told them to open it. In frustration they did and threw it back on the counter. “What am I suppose to do with this? I can’t pay it.” I felt their frustration but knew from experience that this wasn’t going away. In my ears I could hear these wise words spoken to me as a young man and repeated them “Just because you don’t open the envelope doesn’t mean you don’t owe the debt. You’re never going to get past this until you face the problem and start working your way out of it.”

 

Since the Garden of Eden man has always chose the path of hiding. The cry of God’s voice ringing through the garden, “Adam where are you?” can arguably be called the start of mankind’s journey of not owning up to what he’s done. The path of least resistance always winds its way through denial. If I ignore it…it will eventually go away.

 

I have met a few people along the way that just get it. They never see a mountain that is so high that they immediately look for the path of denial and least resistance, hoping that when they look back over their shoulder it will all be a bad dream and everything is better. I wish I could count myself as one of these types of people but I admit I fall more into the procrastinators’ camp and I bear the scars to prove it.

 

One of the benefits of aging is gaining a bit of perspective and hopefully wisdom.  Age has taught me this valuable lesson-the nature of problems is that if ignored they don’t go away…they just get bigger and eventually will have to be faced.

 

Is this some new profound revelation that I’ve discovered?  Have I unearthed the secrets to the mystery of life?  No… this is just simple common sense that most of us have heard a thousand times.  Unfortunately it is also this simple truth that will challenge most of us through our adult years; causing molehills to turn into mountains and problems that could have been overcome with a little effort to become anchors that hold us down and deny us access to God’s best plans for our lives.

 

Procrastination is like a credit card: it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.

Christopher Parker

 

Every day we chose to not face a situation that needs our immediate attention compounds the interest on a bill that will eventually require repayment. When we make the choice to disengage instead of engage, life doesn’t stop. It continues to march forward dragging all of our unresolved problems from one place in life to the next. Unresolved issues don’t go away, they just become stumbling blocks between you and your destiny.

 

Why do we procrastinate? I think the major reason is that we are afraid. Maybe it’s the fear of facing a mess of our own making and the regret that comes from knowing you can’t go back and do something over. You can only go forward and own your problem and deal with it. So we default to living in denial. We think that what we don’t know, won’t hurt us, but sadly it always will. Ignorance is bliss is not a life plan it’s just ignorance.

 

Years ago my wife offered me a piece of advice that has helped me to tackle many of my problems. She told me that I had to change the way I viewed my mountains. I was always looking at the top of the mountain wondering how I would ever climb it. Because it seemed impossible I would get discouraged and quit. She told me to stop looking at the top and just look for the next step. No mountain would ever be climbed in leaps but by walking step by step the summit would grow closer and eventually reachable.

 

Those words have done more to help me fight my way out of trouble than anything else I have ever tried. I can’t count the times that I have faced insurmountable opposition and challenges that seemed to spell the end of my dreams. It’s in those moments I have learned to circle the simple promises of God more than any other time. He will give me nothing more than I can handle…no weapon formed against me shall prosper…I can do all things through Christ that gives me strength. The strength found in those promises has given me the determination to open my eyes to what needs to be done and it has always been to find the first step and the next will be waiting.

 

Sometimes the first step is to just open the envelope. Find out where you are. You can’t develop a plan without knowing where you stand. God has promised to not leave us alone. He has promised to help us if we call out to Him in our times of trouble. Admitting you’re in trouble is seen as weakness by some but in God’s eyes it is the first step to a miracle.

 

Staying under your rock may seem like the ideal answer to your problems. The rain can’t hit you if your head is covered. The problem with having your head covered is you might miss the moment that the sun comes back out looking to bring life to your impossible moment. Engage my friend. Defeat the little foxes of procrastination that seek to destroy your destiny. The start of every miracle is the first step you take to not only face but to climb your mountain