This is the final sermon in our series Step Into the Light.
In honor of our 3rd Annual ‘Hey Thanks’ event this weekend at Mt Vernon (where we take an entire fun-filled Sunday to say ‘Hey Thanks’ to all of our volunteers), I want to share 7 reasons why you shouldn’t let today go by without saying ‘Hey Thanks’ to someone:
1. Because they can’t read your mind. You’re probably the kindest, most encouraging person to others — in your mind. You might be one of those people that always thanks people mentally but never thanks them verbally. They can’t read your mind. Say to someone what you’ve been thinking for years. Say ‘Hey Thanks’!
2. Because they need the encouragement. People can get beat down by life. They can get discouraged and weary. Saying thanks to someone is a small reminder that there is still some good in the world and that they can be a part of it.
3. Because you need the reminder that you can’t do life on your own. It’s far too easy to delude ourselves into thinking that we can do life on our own. We can’t. We need others. Thanking people regularly reminds us of this vital truth.
4. Because you’ll make someone’s day. Here’s where it gets fun. Saying ‘Hey Thanks’ to someone will take only a moment of your time and intentionality. You’ll move on with your day. But for the other person, it might be the highlight of their day or even week. The words you say might be the exact thing they needed to hear at the exact moment they needed to hear it. They might replay your words over and over again throughout the rest of the day. What a blessing!
5. Because you’ll grow closer together. The openness and transparency required to thank someone will by its nature draw you closer to the person you’re thanking. Closer, more transparent relationships benefit everyone involved.
6. Because it helps you remember what’s important. Stuff is cheap. Money is just paper or digital figures on a screen. TV is just a momentary distraction. Relationships are important. People are eternal. When you say ‘Hey Thanks’ to someone, it’s a small reminder about what (and who) is truly important in life.
7. Because you’ll be blessed. Jesus himself says, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.” When you say thanks to someone, you’re giving of your time, emotion, humility and goodwill. You will be blessed. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself!
QUESTION: Who can you say ‘Hey Thanks’ to today?
Watch this short clip as I tell a personal experience that answered this fundamental question for me.
I had a conversation recently that I’ve had too many times before as I was walking with someone through the valley of pain and suffering. There was a loss, a catastrophic loss beyond human ability to fully comprehend or understand. This person was a believer, but couldn’t compute why God would allow something like this to happen.
This person had every right to be mad, every right to hold a grudge, and they had done that for years. But now they were ready to move on. They were tired of holding onto the anger. They were tired of being bitter. They wanted to become better.
As I told this person, we will never fully know why God allows the things to happen that we’ve had to walk through in life this side of heaven. But what God loves to do is redeem our pain and suffering by weaving it into a beautiful tapestry that can bring healing and hope to countless others. That’s when we can begin to find purpose behind our pain.
This person shared how this had happened on occasion before. Encountering an acquaintance who had recently walked through a similarly devastating loss, this person wrote a heartfelt letter of encouragement and Scripture. This person was uniquely qualified to write such a letter because they had been where this acquaintance was walking. A year later they saw each other again, and the acquaintance took out the letter, crumpled, worn down and rubbed through in some spots, from being read and held and cried over every day.
One believer marked by pain was able to become beacon of hope to someone else in need. That’s when we begin to find purpose behind our pain. I told this person that as they embraced this role and asked God to continue to send them people to lift up and encourage, they would begin to find a redemption behind the pain they’ve had to walk through.
There is a purpose behind your pain. Find it. God can bring hope and healing out of the depths of the greatest suffering. Decide to stop being bitter and start getting better.
Modern polling has confirmed what Christians have suspected for a long time: Christianity is losing ground in America. USA Today this morning came out with an article titled “Christians drop, ‘nones’ soar in new religious portrait,” describing the shift many Americans are making by changing their religious identity from “Christian” to “none.”
Pulling from the Pew Research Center’s interviews of 35,000 people in 2014, the numbers speak for themselves. All brands of Christianity are down (Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelicals to a smaller degree). The only brand maintaining their market share is historically black churches. Over the past seven years, when the survey was conducted before, those who self-identified as atheists, agnostics, or nothing in particular jumped by 6.7% (the largest increase in religious affiliation) to a whopping 22.9% of the country (or 73 million people). Non-Christian faiths also increased. The only major religion to decline in America was Christianity.
In the first few centuries of the Christian faith, Christianity had nothing: no buildings, no seminaries, no conferences, no worship CDs, no Christian radio, and yet they flourished, exploding in growth and taking their world by storm. Today we have everything we could want: trained professionals, music, movies and an entire sub-culture that cater to us, and yet we’re losing ground. We own more property, have more buildings, and spend more cash on Christian missions than any other generation, and yet we’re losing ground.
Whatever the early church had, we’ve lost. In other parts of the world Christianity is still gaining ground, but in America it’s losing ground. Why? What have we gotten away from? What are we missing? Where have we gone off track? What caused 22 million people to walk away from the Christian faith in the past seven years?
To be fair, the bulk of the departures have come from the mainline protestant denominations. For evangelicals the bleeding has been less severe (we lost 0.9% in market share), but it’s still a problem. We’re not growing.
Why does the most powerful message in the world (the gospel) have no power in America? Is sin too entrenched here? Has money and comfort and leisure corrupted the hearts of too many? Or has the church gotten off track? Have we diluted the power of the gospel in search of other things (like money, influence, comfort, basically everything the world goes after, just with Christian titles written in)?
I honestly don’t know what the answers are, but we need to find them and fast. 22 million people walked away from the Christian faith in the past seven years (the combined populations of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee). What’s the answer?
QUESTION: Why are people walking away from Christianity?
Jesus is always calling us to take the next step of faith as we follow him. Here are 7 truths I’ve learned along the way as I’ve taken the next step:
1. Every Step of Faith Requires Death to Self. Taking the next step is about surrender. Daily surrender. I have to be willing to put God’s will above mine for every step of faith I take. That’s a big leap of faith when he’s asking me to trust his plans for my education, his plans for my career, or his plans for my family.
2. The Sacrifices are Real. The sacrifices hurt. I miss out on stuff. Others seem to get ahead of me in life. There are a lot of things I’d like to selfishly do for myself, things the rest of the world gets to enjoy. My time, my energy, my resources are no longer my own. The sacrifices made to follow Jesus are very real.
3. God doesn’t Want Something From Me, He Wants Something For Me. This was a watershed truth for me to truly understand as I began to take the next step. When God wanted something from me, it wasn’t because he wanted to deprive me out of joy or happiness. He wanted to clear away distractions that were keeping me from a deeper joy and happiness found in him. He wanted to take the saltine crackers and rice cakes away (what I thought was happiness) because he wanted to replace them with a filet mignon (happiness that comes from him).
4. The Goal of Next Step Is Always To Deepen My Trust In Jesus. The goal of the next step, really the entire goal of my faith, is to deepen my trust in Jesus. God uses circumstances, sacrifices and opportunities to help us depend more on him. That’s why it’s called a step of faith.
5. I Never Arrive. Beyond Each Step of Faith a Bigger One Awaits. God is in the faith stretching business, and I’ve never come to a place where God tells me my faith is big enough. It can always go deeper. There are moments I’ve chosen to trust him that in the moment seemed like huge leaps, but looking back they seemed like small steps compared to what God called me to next. I figure I’ll finally arrive in heaven. Until then, there’s always another step of faith out there.
6. God is Always There. God’s asked me to do a lot, but here’s what I’ve discovered: he’s always been there. Always. He’s never failed me. He’s never let me down. God is the very definition of faithful. Through every next step, God has been there every step of the way.
7. The Grass is Greener on the Other Side. It really is. A life spent trusting Jesus, a life following Jesus step by step, is an incredibly fulfilling and purpose-filled life. The faith, hope and love that await those who take the next step makes all the sacrifices pale in comparison. But don’t take my word for it. Discover for yourself. What’s the next step of faith Jesus is calling you to take?
Here’s the fifth sermon in our series Step Into the Light where we tackle the problem of hypocrisy in the church.
Looking for an inspiring story to start your weekend? Watch this recap video from our fourth annual Joy Prom at Mt Vernon, where our high school students throw a prom for the special needs community.
I would hope that sometime during the last 16 years of full-time ministry I’ve picked up a thing or two on what it means be successful in ministry. Recently, I spent some time to look back and collect my thoughts/experiences into 5 things that have helped me succeed in ministry. I’ve shared those five things with the incredible staff I get to work with everyday. Now I’d like to share them with you:
1. Lead From the Trenches – are you leading from the front or from behind?
A successful leader in ministry is not a general, remotely issuing orders from the safety of his office. He’s more like a lieutenant or colonel, the first one leading his troops when they charge the enemy trenches. I’ve worked extremely hard at learning names and faces (of members and guests), tearing down ministerial barriers that separate clergy and laity, and doing the small things that many wouldn’t expect a pastor to do. I want to lead from the front, not from behind.
2. Treasure Your Team – how are you adding value to your team?
A pastor is only as successful as the team he leads (paid or volunteer) for the simple fact that successful ministry is much bigger than one person can handle. For a pastor to be successful, his team has to be successful. That means simple things like always putting people before programs, playing with your team and constantly making them better. If I’m not adding value to my team, I’m not treasuring them.
3. Cast a Compelling Vision – is your vision bigger than you are?
Everyone wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves. It’s my job as a pastor to help people get swept up in the greater vision and purpose of God. To do that, I have to be able to tell great stories, because stories communicate vision. I have to always make the vision bigger than the people I lead. And I have to help people connect the dots on how they specifically are a part of the greater story. One of the biggest things that has helped me succeed in ministry is my ability to grab hold of and cast a vision that is much bigger than I am.
4. Grow Every Day– what are you doing today that will benefit you a year from now?
This is the grind. This is the work. This is the hours spent in study, improving my sermons. This is the willingness to invite meaningful feedback from others to critique and constructively criticize my messages. Excellence has to be a constant pursuit. I can always get better. And I have to be willing to collaborate and experiment, to try and fail and try again. I need to plant seeds of growth today that will benefit me a year from now.
5. Live From the Overflow – are you running on fumes or living from the overflow?
Jesus says it clearly in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” If I don’t abide in the vine, my ministry will be ultimately fruitless. That means putting family first before my ministry. That means making my body a temple and ensuring that I am in the best possible health not only spiritually, but physically, mentally, and emotionally.
That’s an overview of what I shared with my team. I have specific ways to live out the 5 things that I’ll share in future posts as time allows.
In the South everyone claims to be a Christian when obviously everyone isn’t. How can you spot the difference? Watch this short video to find out.