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6 Great Ways to Use Your Cell Phone in Church

cell-phone-in-churchWhen you come to church, don’t turn your cell phone off! Sure, you want to mute the ringer during worship, but don’t turn off the phone. There are some great things you can do with a cell phone that will help you and your church grow! Here are just a few of the best ways to use your cell phone in church:

  1. Check in to reach out.  Years ago, Monday was outreach night. We would come to the church to get a list of “prospects” and then go out in the community and visit with those prospects to invite them to come to our church. To be honest, I never did like Monday night visitation. Today, one of the best means of outreach is right there in your pocket. When you arrive at church, “check in” on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. When your followers, friends, and family see that you are at FBC West, that tells them that something worthwhile is going on there, and that if they decide to come, they know you will be there to help show them around!
  2. Tag and hashtag. When something special is going on at your church, post or tweet about it and be sure to tag the church which will drive people to the church’s page or profile. Also, use a hashtag that identifies your church, like #FBCWest. One of the best ways to use social media in church is to quote your pastor or teacher when he/she says something that inspires you. When you post a quote, tag the speaker and use the church hashtag. That is a powerful way to expand the ministry of your congregation and spread the good news beyond the walls of your church. Worship hint: In order to avoid being distracted by all of the pics and notifications in your social media apps, you might prefer to write down the quote in your notes app, and post it when worship is over. 
  3. Read the Bible — there’s an app for that. Don’t you hate it when the preacher says, “Open your Bible to…” and you realize that your forgot to bring your Bible? Well, you never have to worry about that again, because you can have the Bible right there on your phone (and let’s face it, there’s no way you’re going to forget your phone). Not only is it more convenient to carry  your Bible on your phone, but it’s also much easier to find the exact text you’re looking for. Now you don’t have to feel like you’re in a race to get to the passage before the deacon next to you does. It’s easy to just open the app, tap on the book, chapter and verse and start reading. There are a number of different Bible apps for IOS and Android. My favorite one is full of options like reading plans, highlights, bookmarks, notes, verse of the day, audio, and the best part is it’s free! Look at bible.com
  4. The givin’ is easy. In 1934 George Gershwin wrote an aria for the opera, “Porgy and Bess,” in which the singer declares, “Summertime and the livin’ is easy.” We can adapt that idea a little and say that in church today, it’s summertime and givin’ is easy. You don’t have to check off a bunch of nosy questions on your envelope in Sunday School any more. You don’t even have to remember to bring a checkbook so you can put a check in the offering plate. All you have to do is go to the church website on your smart phone and give online, or better yet, just give your tithe and offerings via text! It’s really that simple. A while back we realized that most people don’t carry checkbooks anymore, and a lot of folks don’t even carry cash these days, so passing the plate on Sunday doesn’t give them a way to participate in worship through giving. We fixed that, so now if you want to give to FBC West, just pull out your cell phone and text a dollar amount to 254-221-7191. The first time you give this way, you will fill out a simple form, and from then on, it’s summertime and the givin’ is easy!
  5. It’s worth noting. The easiest way to take notes on a Bible lesson or Sunday morning message, may be right there on your phone. You can take notes in a word processing app that you downloaded, or in the notes app that came with it as part of the operating system. I use mine all the time and find it very easy to refer to my notes later because they are always with me, instead of in a notebook that I only pick up on Sundays. For serious note takers, I highly recommend the app called Evernote which is chock full of amazing options and will link with all of your devices so you can easily get to your notes no matter where you are.
  6. Coming soon: YouVersion Events. This is an exciting app that we are going to begin using at FBC West later this summer. It is actually part of the Bible app I described earlier. With it, we will be able to put a basic outline of the message directly in your hands and you will be able to fill in the blanks and add your own notes. We can also use it to show you images or scripture references from the message, share our announcements, suggest web links and other resources to follow up on that week’s message, and more. It will also give you an easy way to share ideas, events, or parts of the message with your friends.

Obviously, during worship you don’t want to let your cell phone distract you or anyone else from really worshipping and learning, so you have to use some self-discipline to make sure you stay connected to the Lord and the church. In other words, wait until later to text those emojis or make that call. Wait until later to crush that candy or stalk your friends on Snapgram or Instachat. Faceworld and the Twitterverse will still be there when you get to them after church, and let’s be honest – LinkedIn is just boring anyway.

This is not about sitting on the front row making sure everyone sees you on your cell phone. This is about using the technology we have in a way that honors God, and helps us grow and minister to others. (Just for fun, see the video that was produced a few years ago when our phones got “smart” and started infiltrating our church experience.)

See you Sunday, fully charged and ready to go.

Gunshots and a Helicopter

It was Labor Day weekend and I was working outside in the flowerbeds. I had my earbuds in as I listened to an audio book on my cell phone. I thought I heard something so I took out the earbuds and realized that I was hearing gunshots. Soon a helicopter flew over my neighborhood. Over the next few minutes I heard more gunshots and watched the helicopter circle over our neighborhood a number of times.

Gunshots nearby and a helicopter circling overhead would have been scary if I lived in a big city, but I don’t. I live in West. Actually I live just on the edge of town. Where I live, gunshots on Labor Day weekend just mean it’s dove season. And a helicopter circling over town on that particular weekend just means West Fest is having another successful year and folks are enjoying their sightseeing flights over our great little town.

It was good to be reminded of just how blessed my neighbors and I really are.

#WestIsBlessed

3 Suggestions to Help Teachers Start the New Year

In our local school district, the first day of school is this Monday. The first day of school is always hectic. Frightened, confused students and parents all show up at once and everyone has more questions than answers. It would be easy for teachers to get overwhelmed on that first day. You meet so many different students who have so many different needs and are on so many different levels intellectually, emotionally, and developmentally, that you wonder, “How in the world am I supposed to be able to connect to all of these kids at once?” Soon the behavior problems begin to appear and you struggle with the best ways to guide students who don’t want your guidance. They need limits, but push those limits constantly. And then there are the parents who should be in your corner, but seem to work against you at every turn. You work after hours and weekends with little or no break-time during the day. Unfortunately, current trends in our state laws seem to make this difficult job even more difficult. You deal with all of this for a salary that is not close to what you deserve. Educators have a tough job, without question. I admire and respect people who continue to show up for work day in and day out even though it is a hard and sometimes thankless task.
When it gets tough, let me challenge you to think of three things:
1) Remember when you were a student. It wasn’t really that long ago was it? Now you walk the halls with the assurance and confidence that comes with adulthood and a title by your name. But you can remember how big and scary those halls looked when you were a kid. You remember the constant fear that you might do something or say something that would make the other kids laugh at you. You really wanted the other kids to like you, but you were quite sure yet if you liked yourself that much. You remember that you wanted attention, but at the same time, you just wanted to fit in. That’s a pretty hard balance to keep! Remember how you saw the world differently than you do now? Part of that was due to a lack of experience, and part of it was due the simple biological fact that your brain was not yet fully developed. Younger students are trying to figure what is real, and older students are trying to figure out who is real! You can relate to your students more effectively if you can remember what it was like when you a student yourself.
2) Celebrate your victories! I’m not talking about getting the equipment you wanted, or the schedule you fought for, or more money for supplies, etc. Those are not your real victories. Why not? Because those are not the reasons you became a teacher. Your victories are much more subtle, yet immensely more meaningful. Many teachers never notice them, which is a shame. When your student finally understands the simple fundamental point that you’ve been stressing for weeks, you have just won a victory! When your student asks a question that lets you know the student is actually thinking, you have just won a victory! When your student has the opportunity to know what it means to accomplish something worthwhile, you have just won a victory! You get the idea. Look in the right places for the real classroom victories – and celebrate every single one of them!
3) Never lose you muse! I have to admit, I am probably exaggerating the use of the word, “muse,” but what I am saying is, “Never forget what inspired you to become a teacher.” Why did you choose such a difficult profession? It wasn’t the money. It wasn’t the fame. It wasn’t because everyone would love you. What motivated you to become an educator in spite of the challenges? I bet I can guess. I might be off, but for most educators who read this, I bet I can tell you how you were motivated to enter into a life of education. My guess is that somewhere along the way there was a teacher who connected with you. Maybe it was no big deal at the time, but looking back, there is one or two teachers who come to mind. They opened a new world to you, or at least they found a way to shed some light on the world around you. Their influence affected you and now you want to have that influence on others. Don’t get discouraged with things like schedules, regulations, work hours, and bus duty. Those are not the things that define you because they are not what brought you here. Focus on why you teach! You teach because someone reached you by teaching! Soon you will face a classroom of students ready to be taught. Here is your opportunity! This is what you’re about. They may never thank you, and you may never realize it, but you are about to impact someone’s life! It’s what you were made to do. Somewhere down the line, a few years from now, some of those students will look back and realize that you inspired them. Perhaps they will go on to inspire others, and your influence will outreach your own life!
The first day of school can be overwhelming at times. You will meet kids with ADD, HDD, OCD, ODD, and a couple who seem to be DOA. It will challenging and scary. You may even feel the urge to cry a little, but hang in there. You’ve got this. On the last day of school, you will feel the urge to cry a little again, because you have built relationships with those little monsters and you love them and hate to see them go! Until that last day of school gets here, remember what it was like to be a student, celebrate your victories, and NEVER lose your muse!

Disaster Donations: 4 Issues Nobody Talks About

When disaster strikes, you feel compassion for the victims. You want to help, but what can you do? The easiest things you can do are pray and give. Your prayers really do make a big difference, but what happens to the money you give? Do your donations to disaster victims really help? I can tell you from first-hand experience, that your donations are absolutely essential to their recovery! Do not let negative media reports or social media posts deter you from generously giving to those in need. However, when you give, you do need to know a few things about what happens to those donations.

West Fertilizer Plant Explosion 4/17/2013

West Fertilizer Plant Explosion 4/17/2013

When the fertilizer plant explosion in West, TX killed 15 people and damaged or destroyed half of our town, I began to work to help our community recover and I learned a lot about that process. I won’t take time here for all of the lessons I learned, but I do want to point out 4 issues related to disaster donations that I had to learn the hard way because nobody ever talks about:

1) Organization for Distribution of Funds

There are two types of entities which can appropriately distribute funds after a disaster. In some cases, the city government can distribute funds, however, usually there is a nonprofit organization that assumes that responsibility. As I understand it, a city can distribute donated funds to its citizens by categorizing them and giving certain amounts to people in each category. For example, if you lost a loved one you receive a specific amount; if you suffered an injury, you receive a specific amount; if you lost your house you receive a specific amount, etc. Funds can be distributed quickly that way, but many needs will be overlooked and recipients may have to pay income taxes on the money they receive. If a 501(c)(3) “nonprofit organization” distributes the funds, donors can receive tax deductions, victims’ needs can be assessed on a case-by-case basis to make sure the donated funds meet needs in the most efficient ways, recipients will not pay income taxes on the money they receive, and the nonprofit organization can coordinate with other entities and to increase resources for victims. After the bombing in Boston, the city had a unique partnership that allowed them to used both types of entities for donation distribution. The city oversaw the distribution, but a 501(c)(3) was formed as the fiscal agent. That was the first time that an organization was approved as a 501(c)(3) for the purpose of “lessening the burdens of government” in disaster fund distribution. (See this blog post by the lawyers of One Fund Boston.) In our case, the only person at City Hall who might have been able to organize a fund distribution program, our City Secretary, was one of our first responders who was killed in the explosion, so our only option was to take the advice the Texas Department of Emergency Management and establish a 501(c)(3) organization.

2. IRS Policies Adversely Affect Victims

The IRS has published a document in which they explain how a 501(c)(3) organization can distribute funds after a disaster. You can find that document here. Unfortunately, the IRS argues in that publication that a nonprofit organization cannot distribute money to people just because they were victims of a disaster. Instead, the victims have to demonstrate their need.

“Under established rules, charitable funds cannot be distributed to individuals merely because they are victims of a disaster. Therefore, an organization’s decision about how its funds will be distributed must be based on an objective evaluation of the victims’ needs at the time the grant is made.”  IRS Publication #3833, p. 11
“An organization must maintain adequate records to show that the organization’s payments further the organization’s charitable purposes and that the victims served are needy or distressed. Charities must also maintain appropriate records to show that they have made distributions to individuals after making appropriate needs assessments based on the recipients’ financial resources and their physical, mental and emotional well-being.” IRS Publication #3833, p.13.
In my opinion, those statements establish a bad policy. I think donated funds should be distributed appropriately, based on what was lost, not necessarily on the proof of need. In other words, victims of a disaster should receive donated funds regardless of whether or not they have a savings account. When we have a bad law or bad policies, we have three options: 1) we can ignore the law and risk being penalized or punished, 2) we can accept the law and abide by it, or 3) we can abide by the law, but try to change it. I choose the third option. I am working on a plan in which I hope to contact the appropriate decision makers and encourage them to amend the current IRS regulations so that a 501(c)(3) can help victims of a disaster if the victims can demonstrate loss, instead of need.
3. Disaster Relief Is Not The Same As Disaster Recovery
There are two major phases in disaster response. The first phase is short-term disaster relief. The second phase is long-term disaster recovery. The first phase begins immediately as volunteers, local charities, churches, and government agencies all work together to establish safety and provide essentials like food, shelter, and clothing. There is not a clear transition from the first phase to the second, but they overlap as the community gradually moves into long-term recovery. In this phase, people need assistance with medical bills, insurance claims, utilities, construction, legal issues, etc. While the first phase can last a few days to a few months depending on the nature of the disaster, the second phase can last a few months to many years. When you give money, your donation will either be used for short-term disaster relief, or long-term disaster recovery. If you give to a local church or an established charity, that money will most likely be used for immediate relief. If you give to the big, well-publicized funds that are established after a disaster happens, you will most likely be giving to the long-term recovery efforts. Because of the IRS restrictions described above, the 501(c)(3) will only be able to distribute funds that meet long-term needs.
So should you give to churches and local charities or should you give to the big funds that are established after a disaster? The answer is give to both! The needs are real in both phases. You just need to understand which phase you are supporting. Do not expect that money given to a local church will last long enough to help someone pay their medical bills, or that money given to the big fund will be immediately available for victims to get food or clothes. The recovery efforts in West worked well because we had a tremendous outpouring of donations and resources for short-term relief and we received generous donations for long-term recovery as well. In the first few months, millions of dollars were distributed through monetary gifts, gift cards, vouchers for gas and food, prescriptions, clothing, and many other goods and services. Then when victims started construction, or received medical bills, or needed to replace vehicles, etc. the long term funds were there to help.
4. Forced Mortgage Payoffs
There is an all-too-common practice that is completely unfair and we need to find a way to keep mortgage companies from further victimizing people in this way! The scenario that bothers me looks something like this:
Let’s say Joe has a good job, makes his mortgage payment every month, and carries good insurance on his home. A terrible disaster destroys his home, but he will be alright because he has insurance, right? Not necessarily. The mortgage company steps in and takes all of the insurance money to payoff the mortgage! Now Joe, who did everything the right way, has no house, and no money to pay for a new one! The mortgage company got theirs, but Joe is left out in the cold.
I think that as long as Joe continues to make his mortgage payments, and as long as he can prove to the mortgage company that he is rebuilding a house that is comparable to the one that was lost, he should be able to use his insurance money to accomplish that. The mortgage company can even hold the insurance money and disburse it to the contractor as appropriate. When it’s all done, Joe will have a house and the mortgage company will be exactly where they were before the disaster. Actually, they will be better off, because the house will be worth more since it is newer, and if they ever have to foreclose they will make more money off the deal! If you ever experience a disaster, or if you have opportunity to advise someone else in a disaster, warn them of this practice and try everything you can to communicate with the mortgage company to avoid this devastating trap.
We need to start conversations about these four issues so more people will be aware of them before the next disaster strikes. We also need to encourage law makers to make some changes that will help victims in the future.

They Have Nothing – Why Are They Thankful?

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I recently had the opportunity to travel to a remote village in Honduras where I met some wonderful people of God. It was a joy to worship with brothers and sisters in Christ who welcomed me like family even though I looked different and spoke a different language. They allowed me to preach during a worship service that was held in the home of one of the church leaders there. For the most part, the service was much like ours. There was a lot of singing and some scripture reading, but prayer time was definitely different than the way we do it in my church. I am used to one person leading a prayer and everyone is supposed to quietly pray along with the one who is leading. In this Honduran church, everyone prays out loud at the same time! The one leading the prayer just prays louder than everyone else, and when he’s done, everyone gradually stops. There is tremendous intensity and great emotion in the prayer time. I could not understand most of what they were saying, but there was no doubt that James would have recognized their prayers as “fervent” and “effectual” (James 5:16 KJV). I finished praying before the others and just listened for a while, and was blown away by one phrase that I heard repeated over and over. “Gracias Señor.” “Gracias Señor.” I knew what that meant, “Thank you, Lord.” The meaning is not what puzzled me. The fact that they were saying it at all is what almost brought me to tears. I live in the greatest country in the world. I have more than enough to eat, a nice house in which to live, and money in the bank. Computer gadgets surround me, I enjoy all kinds of entertainment, and I can relax in my easy chair with a remote in one hand and a Dr Pepper in the other. I am healthy, have a great family, and wonderful friends. I love my job and I love my community. I have many reasons to be grateful! But these people have nothing. Most of them live in a house that would fit in my living room. That house has dirt floors and no windows. They don’t need windows because they have no air conditioning. Most of them have no vehicle and rarely leave their village. They have nowhere to go for entertainment, no TV, and no computer. If they had those things, they would not be able to run them for long because they have very little electricity. Most families either have no electricity at all or they have enough to run one light bulb in the middle of the house. The whole family sleeps in one room and they cook on a wood burning stove that was hand made. Most of the people there that day were living with some kind of ailment or illness that I could easily get cured by a quick trip to the doctor or pharmacist. And yet, they were grateful! In my mind, these people had nothing, and yet with outstretched hands they were loudly praying, “Thank you!” Their gratitude in poverty revealed a part of me that I did not want to see. I had grown so accustomed to my way of life, that I had taken luxury for granted. I expected or felt entitled to certain comforts. I have failed to adequately express my gratitude to the One who gives every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). I guess I even lost sight of what really matters. They were not thanking God for the “good things” in life, but for life itself. They were thanking God for His love, His Son, His Spirit, His Presence. They were grateful for the opportunity to know Him! It is in that relationship with the Almighty that life becomes real and meaningful. Life is not about what we have, but Who we know. Thank you to my church family in Honduras for helping me see. Thank you to the Lord for my life, my family, and my faith. But I thank Him most of all for being my God and for allowing me to know Him. Gracious Señor!

Nobody But Jesus!

Who could speak the worlds into existence and then enter into His own creation?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could take water and make it wine?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could speak to the wind and calm a storm?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could make the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dumb speak?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could heal the untouchable with a single touch?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could take a bunch of fishermen and make them fishers of men?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could explain the mysteries of God so simple people could understand them?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could turn a little boy’s lunch into a feast for a multitude?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could tell a woman her past and a disciple his future?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could be Light in a dark world and be Life in the midst of death?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could write in the sand and save a woman’s life?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could heal a sick child from long distance and raise a dead man back to life?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could master the universe yet wash the feet of those who should serve Him?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could be hated by so many and yet love His enemies so completely?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could be completely innocent but die on behalf of the totally guilty?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could suffer for hours in agony and ask God to forgive his tormentors?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could come as the Son of God to die as the Lamb of God to establish the Kingdom of God all for the glory of God?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could die a real death, lay in a real tomb, and come back to real life?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who could defeat death, win victory over the grave, triumph over Satan?
Nobody but Jesus!
Who has power to bring abundant life and eternal life to all who believe?
Nobody but Jesus!

Good Intentions With Bad Results

When I was about 5 years old, we went on a family vacation. We stayed in a 2-story condo that had a large balcony where people could sit and visit in the evening. I was on that balcony, but decided I wanted to go down to the ground. I climbed through the rails that were there to protect people from falling. My plan was to grab onto one of the square columns that held up the balcony and slide down it. A family friend who was watching us told me to stop but I didn’t listen. I had a plan! As you have guessed, I fell from the balcony and hit the ground. My memory of that event is fuzzy, but I believe I broke a tooth on the curb that bordered the driveway below. I had intended to go down to the driveway. There was nothing wrong with my intent, but the results were not what I expected and I got hurt.  Where did I go wrong?

Some time after that, my brother and I were outside. He was up the tree but he was ready to come down. I was on the ground but I wanted to get up in the tree. We had plan! We got a rope and draped it over a big branch. He held onto one end and I held onto the other. The idea was simple. He would jump out of the tree and on his way down, he would pull me up. We did not consider the fact that he was twice my size and there was no way I was strong enough to hold on to that rope with our combined weight. He fell from that tree and hit the ground. When he passed out, I thought I had killed him! We had intended to get my brother out of the tree and to get me in it. There was nothing wrong with our intent, but again the results were not what we expected and someone got hurt. Where did we go wrong?

When I was third grade, we were playing kickball at school. The play was over and I had the ball somewhere close to home plate. My teacher, Mrs. Fulton, told me to throw the ball to the pitcher. I had a plan! Instead of throwing the ball, I decided to kick it to the pitcher. After all, this was a game of kickball, not throwball! So I dropped the ball and punted it as hard as I could. Instead of sailing out to the pitcher’s mound as expected, the ball went straight for Mrs. Fulton and hit her in the face causing her glasses to cut her nose. When I saw her bleeding, I immediately felt awful for hurting her and then I was terrified about what the school might do to a kid who actually made his teacher bleed! I had intended to get the ball back to the pitcher. There was nothing wrong with my intent, but again the results were not what I expected and someone got hurt. Where did I go wrong?

I could go on telling story after story of good intentions gone wrong. I have suffered, and caused others to suffer many times when the results of a plan did not match the good intentions that hatched that plan. When I start with good intentions, but the results are not what I expected and people get hurt, I have to ask, “What went wrong?” After many years of asking that question, I think I have discovered an answer.

When your intentions are good, but the results are not, it could be because you chose the wrong methods to accomplish your goal. There was nothing wrong with me wanting to go down to the ground when I was 5, but I should have taken the stairs. There was nothing wrong with me wanting to be in the tree at the same time my brother wanted out of it, but he should climbed down and I should have climbed up. There was nothing wrong with getting the ball to the pitcher, but I should have thrown it like I was told. In every case (and so many others since then), good intentions led to bad results because of my methods!

For example, feeling strongly about a cause does not automatically justify any actions I choose to take for that cause. If my cause is just, but I use unfair methods to support it, I will most likely end up hurting people and having results that I did not expect. Simply put, when the end results don’t match my original good intentions, I have to admit that it was most likely my methods that caused the problem. This is one of those life-lessons that I have to keep learning. How about you? Do you have to keep learning this one too, or do you have it down by now?