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Thanks Coach

I called him “Coach” although that wasn’t his name. I’m really not sure why I called him that because he wasn’t a coach. He was an English teacher – my English teacher. I have to admit he was a little odd at times, but he taught me something that has stayed with me my whole life.

Like most teenagers I had a hard time figuring out what was right and wrong, whom I should consider as friends, what I was going to do with my life, etc. Coach just kept telling me, “To thine own self be true.” He could fit that into short 30-second interactions or long 30-minute conversations. He taught me some English that year, but more than anything else he taught me how to live my life in a way that would allow me to find freedom and confidence. “To thine own self be true.”

Please don’t judge me too harshly when I tell you that it took me a few years to realize that he was actually quoting Shakespeare. (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3). This year marks 30 years since I graduated from high school, and to this day I often hear Coach telling me, “Crowder, to thine own self be true.”

When I am wise enough to heed The Bard’s advice, I find freedom, confidence, and strength. Even when things are difficult I can look myself in the mirror without shame and then begin my day with courage.

Thanks Coach!

Where Was God?

I remember where I was when terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. If you’re old enough, I bet you remember where you were too. But, where was God?

Where was God when the towers fell? Where was God when the people were trapped in an inferno? Where was God when the first responders and other heroes suffered and died? Where was God when the plane crashed in the field in Pennsylvania? Where was God when the wall of the Pentagon exploded in flames?

You want to know where He was? He was in my living room while I was watching those events unfold on TV. He was wherever you were that morning when you heard the news. He was in those towers, and on the streets below. He was in those planes and those offices. And His heart was breaking right along with ours.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil because You are with me.” Psalm 23:4

One of These Days

The mind of man cannot fully comprehend Him.

The heart of man cannot fully contain Him.

The soul of man cannot fully know Him

The strength of man cannot fully serve Him.

But it will not always be so.

One of these days, I will be set free from this body that restrains and restricts. The blinders of this world will fall from my eyes and I will see Him as He is. Someday I will understand. Someday I will see. Someday I will know.

Until that day, I will not stop learning. I will not stop searching. I will not stop asking. I will not stop seeking. I will not stop trusting.

But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined — 
what God has prepared for those who love him.”  1 Corinthians 2:9 (ESV)

Don’t Cut My Throat

I know it doesn’t sound very pastoral, but I have to admit I really don’t like seeing this guy. Every time I get anywhere close to him, he takes my money. It’s gotten to where my blood pressure goes up when I see him coming. I saw him a few days ago and he had a whole list of things he expected me to do. He told me that if he didn’t see the results he wanted he was going to have someone get a knife and cut my throat!

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Yes, that’s a true story!

Every fact in the story is technically true. But as you have already guessed, there is more to the story. The details are correct, but I did not give you an accurate context.

I saw my doctor a few days ago. When I go to his office I have to pay $25.00 because that is the copay for my insurance. When I go to a doctor’s office, I usually have what is informally called “white coat syndrome”. That just means my blood pressure goes up a little because those places make me a little nervous. I had an appointment with my doctor because I had a sore throat. He told me to take some antibiotics for 10 days. Based on where the pain was centered, and some other symptoms, he said the worst case scenario might be a thyroglossal duct cyst. If the antibiotics don’t clear up my problem I will have to have a CTScan. If it confirms the need, he will refer me to a specialist who will do surgery on my throat to remove the gland.

It’s all about the context!

When people want to persuade you politically, they often give you information that is technically true, but out of context. Every time someone tells you what their opponent believes, or what they “heard” from an unnamed source, you should assume you are not getting the full story. Most political posts on social media use this kind of manipulation.  It has become the norm in most political conversations. Regardless of how “normal” it is, that kind of behavior should not be taken lightly. It is not clever, it’s dishonest. It is not smart, it’s disrespectful. I refuse to accept the ridiculous idea that “it’s just politics” or “it’s nothing personal.” Manipulating others is harmful and hurtful. It is harmful to the truth and it hurts the people who are being misrepresented as well those who are being manipulated.

I hope you won’t fall for social media posts or news reports that include facts but take those facts out of context or twist them to represent something short of the whole truth. Don’t listen to people who do that. Don’t read their posts and don’t let them influence you. You deserve to be informed by people who are trustworthy. Trustworthy people are honest, and honesty includes facts that are true and are presented in an accurate context. When you get your advice and political insight from honest, wise people, that advice is invaluable.

Proverbs 20:15 reads, “There is gold and abundance of costly stones, but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.”

When Small Groups Get It

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Today I knew for sure that my small group “gets it.” We have been together for quite a while now. Members have come and gone and we have worked through many different studies, but today I was reassured that the members of our small group have figured out the essence of the small group experience.

A few days ago Rick sent a group text asking us to pray for his wife as she took a very important test that could affect the future of her career. (Rick is not his real name, and yes, I did get permission to share this story outside of the group.) Today He sent another group text just to let us know that she had passed her test and they appreciated our prayers. Immediately, we all began to text our congratulations and words of support. As I looked at those text messages I was overjoyed as I realized these people are sharing life together. That’s what small groups are all about.

I hear you saying, “John, it was just a couple of text messages about a test! That’s not that big a deal.” Well, that’s kind of my point. It’s not the earth shattering revelations or the mind blowing discoveries from studying together that make the group so powerful. It’s the day in and day out sharing of life. It’s the celebrations over passed tests or a kid’s touchdown last Friday. It’s the empathy over family problems or frustrations on the job. It’s about rejoicing together and mourning together and living in harmony (see Romans 12:16).

It doesn’t really matter what you call them, “Small Groups,” “Life Groups,” “Cell Groups,” “Home Groups,” etc. Whatever label you apply to them their goal is the same, and it’s simple. Small groups provide a way for people to connect and then share life together. It’s not about the curriculum, or the series, or the food, or the setting. It’s about the people.

The fact is, if you are a person you need people.

You need a connection with others that goes deeper and means more than a kind word and a handshake during the greeting time on Sunday morning (see Acts 2:46).

As a matter of fact, I would argue that we are “doing church” best when we are in small groups. Sunday morning worship is important. It’s vital to the life of the church and the faith of the believer, but it is in small groups that we are best able to be the church. In small groups we live life together and encourage each other to fulfill our gifted roles in the body of Christ (see Hebrews 10:24-25). Andy Stanley is the well-known pastor of a large church. Comparing the way the congregations meets on Sundays and how they meet in small groups, he recently said in a podcast, “We are famous for our rows, but the strength of our churches is what happens in circles.” In rows we can worship together and learn together, but in circles we can love one another, take care of each other, encourage one another, and carry out all of the other “one another” commands in scripture!

Small groups are not complicated. They are just groups of 8-14 people who get to know each other, take care of each others, learn and grow together. It’s just a few people sharing life together. We get it now. How about you?

My Ministry Plumb Lines

plumbA carpenter or mason might use a plumb bob attached to the end of a string to form a plumb line. The bob pulls the string into a straight and vertical line. Whatever is built along that line is completely vertical and said to be “true.”

Over the past 30 years of ministry, I have established 5 plumb lines that guide my ministry. Anything that does not “line up” with these principles must either be adjusted or rejected.

Here are my Ministry Plumb Lines:

  1. God deserves our best. We serve an awesome God Who is worthy of the very best we have to offer. Settling for the easiest thing or the most convenient way is not enough. He deserves only our best efforts.
  2. We need to focus on church health instead of church growth. The church is more of an organism than it is an organization. Like many organisms, the church can grow in unhealthy ways. Since it is the Body of Christ, we must do all we can to make sure that it is healthy. When the church is healthy growth will happen, but growth in itself cannot be our goal.
  3. We do church best when we do it in small groups. Worship is vital to the life of the church and the life of the believer. However, in corporate worship we miss the opportunity for true fellowship, that is sharing life together. Small groups allow for that opportunity. It is in a small group of some kind that we learn, grow, and serve most effectively.
  4. Worship is about what we do for God, not what the church does for us. Many people misunderstand the purpose of corporate worship. That time is not primarily about what you can “get out of it,” or about the kind of music you like the best. Real worship is about God’s people giving God glory through sacrifices of praise. It’s really about Him, not us.
  5. The local church should have a positive impact on its community. God placed our church in the community in which He intended it to be. We are to be salt and light to that community. The church should be actively involved in the community and should work to make their community a better place for all their neighbors.

The Savior Died

The first line is not original. It is often heard from the pulpits of African American congregations. It is that line, however, that inspired the poem:

 

SaviorDied

They hung Him high and stretched Him wide
His Father turned away and His mother cried
His enemies mocked Him and His friend stood beside
The crowd cheered and the soldiers jeered, but He never replied
False leaders were relieved and faithful followers were terrified
A perfect sacrifice was required and only He was qualified
The Lamb was slain and God’s wrath was satisfied
The sun went out and darkness was applied
They ripped His body and pierced His side
One thief believed and the other denied
Angels wept and demons tried to hide
Sin was atoned and sinners justified
So men could live, the Savior died