Boarding Group 8…

Plane pic.jpgWhen flying, passengers are boarded in groups……..usually military & handicap, then frequent flyers, advantage card holders and last are us who fly infrequently. There are nine groups.

Recently I took a trip alone to Phoenix flying from Lynchburg to Charlotte then on to Phoenix. I started shopping early for good prices, however three weeks in advance they did not get any better so had to settle for a $519 round trip seat (My thinking at this price, surly I’ll be sitting up front with the pilots).

I did not pick my seat until two days in advance, so of a plane seating 178 people from Charlotte to Phoenix, the only available seating was on the last row. I have flown enough to realize the last row is in front of one of the restrooms. Upon boarding I also realized this seating arrangement included a screaming 2-year-old across the aisle.  Further agitation was that my seat was just big enough for only one section of my posterior with two other passengers almost sitting in my lap. Needless to say, it was a long four-hour flight. ☹

I failed to mention that while waiting in Charlotte at a jam-packed concourse everyone else was more privileged than I to board, so, for a moment I was fighting off a pity party.  I was not planning to check my luggage but because I was Group 8 all the overheads were already full, and they required me to check my luggage. It felt like a ten-mile hike in order to pick it up after arriving in Phoenix.

I felt totally non-privileged 😩.

The thought occurred to me that one day, when the trumpet sounds and this old body, will rise up with a new body, that I, my airport friends will be in Group 1, sitting in first class, with all its benefits, being honored by the one who died for me and took away all my sins. As those thoughts flushed over my soul I almost shouted! All throughout that four-hour flight I hummed the Old hymn of the Faith … “When the Roll is Called up Yonder, I’ll be there.”

When I arrived in Phoenix, no one was there to pick me up, so I had to figure out a way around the Phoenix airport and a taxi to the hotel ten miles away, already homesick for my bride and missing her terribly. So alone, I made my way out into a strange city with just me and the Holy Spirit…….nevertheless, realizing that I am A Child of the King and we will never lose our way with Him. Today, many boarded that plane privileged. For this “Group 8” person my privilege will be future and forever. The promises of God are glorious! What a God!

 

Tell All…

Images of experiencing freedom 2.jpg For the last several months story after story has hit the news headlines revealing the real-life, secrets of certain notable individuals. Most recently, Sally Fields came forth with her memoirs revealing the hidden past of a turbulent life. Then there is the decades old accusation of the appointed Supreme Court Justice, Kavanaugh that is presenting a battle in American politics.

     Practically every day there is someone else who is coming forth to tell all.

The Me-Too movement has also captivated the news. It seems like the world is suddenly becoming transparent with their past lives……revealing the secrets that have up to this point been hidden. It would not take a very smart person to realize that a lot of this Tell All, Me Too strategy is politically motivated for harm, not good. That makes me sad.

In reflection of the above, what does, Tell All say to you? The Body of Christ? The Church of Jesus Christ? Do Christ followers have secrets? I’m guilty! I carried secrets for years that were compartmentalized or tucked away deep in my heart.  It was fourteen years ago that I laid all my secrets on the table, openly. It was not an overnight process, but took months of reflecting, counseling, grace and being in a safe environment of love, grace, trust and encouragement. It seems like from the bottom of my feet to the top of my head every secret and life issue was sucked out and dealt with.

We all naturally feel that if our friends or work associates knew the hidden stuff about us then we would not be accepted. That’s not true. For me and Betty, the results were healing and freedom, the likes of which we had never experienced. It brought a freshness to life, brand new excitement and value. There has been no other time in my life where we are more excited about each other, our relationship with the Lord, our marriage, our family, our friends than we are today because of our openness.

I don’t advocate you tell the entire world about all your mishaps, evil treatment, failures and sinful tendencies, but, there should be at least someone in your life where you can trust to bear your heart with everything. “We cannot let another love us unless we trust them. Love acts as a safety net when we admit the truth about ourselves. One of the greatest gifts we can offer another person is a safe place to fail.” (Trueface). I was age 57 before I had someone to do that. It was as if I had experienced a brand-new life after doing so. It is the issues in your heart that needs to be shared, prayed over and forgiven. When sin and evil tendencies are brought into the light it loses its power.

The scriptures tell us in James 5:16 (CEV) If you have sinned, you should tell each other what you have done. Then you can pray for one another and be healed. The prayer of an innocent person is powerful, and it can help a lot.  Also, Galatians 6:2 tells us that we are to Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law.

     Most of our issues of life come from the sins and mistreatment from others or the sins or mistreatment you have done to someone else.  These issues bring guilt, conviction and often shame. Shame continually tells you the lie, that there is something wrong with you and you are not worthy. The Christ follower should be open and real in his life (transparent) but also vulnerable which means that you will trust someone else to speak into your life to help you. Very often a friend can see things about your life that you cannot see. Betty and I practice vulnerability in our marriage with remarkable success.

    Telling all to God as well as a trusted friend can transform your life and can bring emotional scars to emotional healing. It did for us.

Think on these things.

The Loneliest Person at Church on Sunday….

Lonely pastor 2.jpg

He appears to have it all together, with his smile and happy personality. As he strolls through the church he is very careful not to leave out a single person with his good morning greetings. But inside his heart looms sadness. Who is this man?

He could be your pastor. Perhaps the loneliest person in the church.

My friend, Ed Underwood says, I don’t think Jesus ever meant for His under shepherds to be the loneliest person in church on a Sunday morning.  The truth of the matter is… statistics from several reliable sources tell us that at least 35% of pastors battle depression or fear of inadequacy.

In late August, Pastor Andrew Stoecklein of Inland Hills Church (Chino, Ca) took his own life. He was a young, successful and a beloved pastor and it rocked the Christian community. Paul Valo, Sr. Pastor at Christ Church of Orlando wrote on his facebook…….

“My heart is broken for his wife and three children, as well as for his church family and community. Depression is real and pastors are not exempt or defective who experience it…In this generation, pastors are expected to be business savvy, Instagram quotable preaching celebrities, fully accessible, deeply spiritual, not too young, not too old, and if a pastor doesn’t quite measure up to someone’s expectation at any given moment, they are given a two out of five star rating on Google. Wow! We have reduced the ministry to star ratings on Google! Let me recommend that you pray for your pastor and support your church faithfully! You’ll probably never realize what they walk through privately.”

Underwood continues…. Many reasons contribute to the jarring statistics on pastoral discouragement, depression, and even suicide. We’ve created such a pastor-as-superstar culture that there’s little room for failure.

In November, a Georgia pastor killed himself in between Sunday services. Larrinecia Sims Parker, the wife of the Rev. Teddy Parker Jr., found the pastor in the driveway of their home with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. How sad.

Pastors continually tell us that leading a congregation is difficult and very lonely at times. It’s hard to have genuine friends that you can be honest without fear of being judged.

Frank Page of the Southern Baptist Convention says, “Suicide and mental health are real, and they cross all ethnic, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. There are cultures who struggle to talk about it. We need churches that are places with people who are extra sources of grace.”

As my wife Betty and I discussed the issue of pastoral suicide, she said, “why don’t you ask your closest pastor friends if they have ever entertained the thought of suicide?” ………so, I texted and messaged about 10 of my close friends and I was literally blown away with the responses.

My phone started ringing immediately and texts and messages were quick in response. Most of them very transparently shared their own stories as well as others with whom they knew who were going through what some refer to as “the dark night of the soul.” Here are some of their comments:

There were certain times when dying would have been easier than living because of my loneliness and overwhelming pastoral problems.

I was one hour from ending it all and even had written my 12-page letter of escape……. only by God’s grace am I alive today.

There have been times over the years I have felt inadequate in my calling….

I have battled depression for years, unknowingly, including thoughts of suicide…. thanking God for intervention each time.

Another pastor friend said, don’t know if it was spiritual warfare or vocational ministry, suicide became an option…

No, not suicide but definitely considered leaving ministry.

No, never considered it but I do believe in situational depression.

Yes, never to the point of action, but to the despair that I could see it lurking down the road.

I too can say that there was a two-year period of time in my own life where I hit the bottom in discouragement and depression. I was very conscious of my condition……in my mind I continually heard that voice from Jerry Falwell Sr. proclaiming, “I have never known God to use a discouraged person” so I fought it, but the truth of the matter is: I WAS discouraged, and very lonely.  I was able to escape it principally because I had a loving wife and three adult kids who were closely monitoring my day to day attitude and had noticed a downward spirit.

How can we help our Pastors?

  • If its mental health (and sometimes it is) medical attention needs to be sought.
  • We must diligently pray every day for our pastor (Spiritual warfare is real and alive).
  • Pastors must have a group or at least one person with whom he can trust and bear his struggles and the stuff in his heart. Becoming open, real, transparent and vulnerable are his ways to fight this battle. Pastors must not become isolated and do life alone.
  • Congregations must make sure their pastors are protected and encouraged, and well rested by allowing them to take ample time away from the church.
  • Let me encourage you to check on your pastor.
  • Read additional article Suicide: Churches awaken to persistent crisis

Fully Engaged…

Fully Engaged Pic for Blog.jpg I observe people every day who have failed to buy into what they do, and they view it only as a job or a position. I had a friend, who worked for a large corporation whose pay and benefits were above the norm. For almost 40 years he worked and retired there. He told me one day that he very much disliked his job and it was a burden for him to go there every day. How sad. In my observations of life, I see lots of people in my environment who live with no passion, joy and commitment to their vocations. The results can be disastrous.

I love what I do. I am a teacher and a pastor-preacher. I approach my church friends the same way I approach my students…with passion and commitment.  My life style involves people from all walks of life. I love people……at this stage of my life I am more excited about His People, His Grace, His Church, His Plan and His Destiny than I have ever been.

In the online classroom I share with my students that the academics of the course are ever so important, however, rising above that and even more important is their journeys in life. And, my expectations from the pulpit is for life change and transformation as I share God’s truth and life experiences. It’s hard for me to believe that your calling and destiny in life can be anything short of being passionate.

In speaking of the ministry, the heart of a pastor, teacher as well as any leader must be fully engaged in their teaching and preaching………you can’t teach or preach with authority unless you have experienced life……and be willing to transparently share it and invest it into your followers.

     The Bible calls this discipleship, as Philippians 4:9 says, What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

A great problem occurs in the church house, class room and in any other vocations of life when we fail to invest in our people, share experiences of life itself, the results are that we produce a bunch of compliant people like robots who say the right things, memorize the facts, but fail to live out or apply the life they are given.

If you are in a job or a position where you just occupy space, you need to revamp your thinking and engage in the positive or change positions.

     What are you thinking?

Cuz

Mike Stephens pic.jpg I cannot let this week pass without reflecting on the home going of my cousin Mike Stephens who received his transfer papers from the Lord on last Saturday and is in the presence of Jesus today.  On Thursday I traveled to Suffolk to help conduct his funeral and what a gathering it was. Along with his four children, Amanda, Chris, Brooks and Hunter, his relatives and friends the house was packed with standing room only.

During the service many stood to give testimony of their sweet relationship with Him. He was loved by many because he was a servant to many.  The music was well thought out and reflected Mike’s heart and love.

Most of his 60 years of life was spent in and around the Isle of Wight County area (Western Tidewater) of Virginia.  He was a graduate of Isle of Wight Academy and was a sports enthusiast. He loved baseball and coached multiple teams over the years. He took his sports training into life as he was an avid team player. Another strength of his life is that he was a creator of things that brought people together. He loved and participated in many county and regional fairs that created family fun and enjoyment.

Eight years ago, Mike received a heart transplant and in recent years this heart struggled to maintain the balance needed to give Mike a normal quality of life. He and I talked on the telephone quite a bit and we kept praying that the problems would be solved, but they were not. He called me about a week ago and indicated to me that he thought the end would be soon. He went to the hospital the last time last Friday night and on Saturday morning he talked to his family, loved on them, told them good bye and within two hours his heart stopped, and he was immediately in the presence of Jesus. Mike had very much anticipated this time of home going and was not afraid of the future because he had placed his life on the one who holds all the future.

There were a lot of wonderful things said about Mike during the funeral. It was a very emotional event. But of all the important things that was said about Him, his most glorious event in life was when he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior and became a Christ follower.

As I was driving back to Lynchburg thinking about Mike I could not help but to be reminded of the lyrics to the recent worship/praise song written and sung by Charles Billingsley, Michael O’Brian, Guy Penrod and Travis Cottrell. The name is Jesus, Only Jesus. The link to the song is also below…

Jesus, Only Jesus (Billingsley, Penrod, Cottrell, O’Brien) – YouTube

 Who has the power to raise the dead? Who can save us from our sin? He is our hope, our righteousness Jesus, only Jesus: Who can make the blind to see? Who holds the keys that set us free? He paid it all to bring us peace Jesus, only Jesus: Who can command the highest praise? Who has the name above all names? You stand alone, I stand amazed Jesus, only Jesus

The Surprise Visit from Delaware

Pat Steele's Service Dog 2.jpeg

Since 2005 I have been an online educator and have instructed dozens of Bible, Theology and church- related courses. Most of my classes last for eight weeks and it is my desire to create a safe learning environment for all my students. I share with them that the academics of the course are most important, however, I encourage them that their journey in life is even more important.  Usually by week two my students have a very good idea of my personal journey, including the good parts as well as the adversities that I have experienced. This seems to open the gate for a discussion in transparency and vulnerability and creates learning on another level (that’s a story for another day). After the eight weeks are over I stay in contact with some of my students, mostly through social media and continue to make myself available to them.

A couple of weeks ago I received a message from one of my former students who lives in Delaware. She had graduated in May 2016 with a Master’s Degree in Counseling. Her desire was to come to Lynchburg to meet me personally.   At the time I was unsure of her motive for meeting me but gladly indicated that I would meet her in the coffee shop at the Liberty University Bookstore.

When I arrived, I looked around to see if I detected someone who might be her. I noticed a lady sitting alone with a service dog by her side. It was her. We greeted, purchased a Mocha and sat down to chat. There was peace and contentment written all over her face.  The first thing she said was that she had come to Lynchburg to thank me personally.   I was sort of taken aback by the statement and wondered why…then she began to tell me her life’s journey and how she, at 61, had reached this marvelous point of healing in her life.

      She had PTSD and had also suffered for years from Dissociative Identity Disorder, the most misdiagnosed and misunderstood mental health disorder. She dealt with life in multiple personalities. It had all resulted from physical, emotional and sexual abuse. As early as age three she had been abused by a family member and told that she would die if she shared it with anyone.  She was also involved in a twenty-year marriage where she was threatened consistently and feared for her life every day. Everything for her was inward and hidden. She had no words to describe her traumatic experiences of life. She had no idea what love was or understand friendship and trusted no one.

As she shared this very sad story it was all I could do to hold back my tears.

She continued… in August 2016, after graduating with a Master’s degree she looked up into the face of God and asked, why He could not heal her. God began to answer that prayer. She said, “Bessel Van der Kolk wrote a book called ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ and in that book was the word that explained why I never had any way to describe my traumatic experiences and it made sense to me.”

She then traveled to Longview Texas to receive therapy from a doctor who knew all about Dissociative Identity Disorder and how to deal with it from God’s point of view. There she experienced friendship and a relationship, which was something she had never known.

She went on to tell me that at a very crucial period in her journey I took the time to listen to her and respond to her questions about life.  I directed her to John Lynch’s “Trueface Two Roads Message” and a study of The Cure. It had a profound impact on her. These Biblical teachings on grace helped release her from shame and unworthiness and gave her the understanding of embracing who she was in Christ.  The emotional doors of this prison with whom she had been incarcerated suddenly began to open to a new way of life.

There were other contributing factors to her healing. Her practice was to attend church but be the last person there and the first person to leave, having no desire to be in contact with anyone. However, one day, while visiting her daughter in Lakeland Florida and attending a Christian Missionary Alliance Church the precious people there caught her before she left, loved on her and made her feel special. She said, “I have never had any actual people in my life that wanted to be a friend to me.”  That same situation happened to her at a church in her home town in Delaware. She was experiencing something she had never known…receiving love. She said, “God brought me to Delaware to teach me what it can mean to be a member of the family of God.  My family experiences have been mostly from the perspective of not having God involved.  I am the only one who is a Believer in the family setting and it was not okay to talk about religion or God or one’s faith.”

She continued, “It has all been about God’s timing even when I had no idea that He was even there.  I was overwhelmed when I learned what God’s grace really was. No one had ever asked me about anything or even cared to know my story. For the first time in my life, life is new, and interesting and fun. I am now no longer afraid of anything because God is so big, He is in control, He has the power to do anything.”

We prayed, and I headed back to my truck feeling overwhelmed in thanksgiving and praise, singing to myself the old song, “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name.” 

     After that meeting I was again reminded that everyone has a story and deserves to tell it. I rejoiced that we have a loving God who knows our innermost pain and loves us unconditionally and sets people in our path to lift us out of the miry clay of life’s adversities even on our worst day. What a God!

What’s Your Story?

The Forgotten Scripture…Galatians 6:1

It was early on Monday morning, January 5, 2004, the morning after the very worst day of my entire life.  I could hardly put one foot in front of the other.  The burden I carried for my wife, family and church felt like a ton of burning bricks.  As I walked from the den to the kitchen, I saw a man sitting on my front steps.  On a closer observation, I saw he was a friend who often visited our church.  My first thought was to act like I did not see him.  The last thing I wanted to do was talk.

I cautiously opened the door and spoke to him guardedly.  He jumped up and Immediately as he turned to face me, I knew by his compassionate look, that he was only there to love me, not to shame me, not to discipline me, not to get “the story” but simply, to love, encourage and pray for me.  The divine words he shared with me are sacred. This moment is forever etched in my memory.

God sent one man to help me and encourage me and I shall always be grateful for this man.  This man was the first, but God provided more for me from the state of Georgia, back to Virginia, to Arizona.

Who would be there for you at your worst moment in life?

Pastors especially feel that they have many friends, however, when the worst happens they scatter as roach bugs do when the light is turned on.

How is it that some feel called of God to punish you at your very worst moment in life? And, I might say, quite contrary to what the scriptures teach about our Heavenly Father, Our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ as well as the Holy Spirit that is within us.

Proverbs 24:29 (ESV) Do not say, “I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done.”

I’m reminded of the Old Testament scripture, Isaiah 42:3(ESV) a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.

Our Heavenly Father comes to us, in grace, as a life-giver, not a life destroyer. When our faith is weak, He is not impatient and frustrated with us. He is a source of true forgiveness and compassion. He is touched in our infirmities and weaknesses and offers us mercy.

In Galatians 6:1(ESV) we are encouraged to bear one another’s burdens….it says, Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in the spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself lest you too be tempted.

As we investigate this scripture we find it is directed toward the spiritual men, Believers who are mature in the faith. Within the Body of Christ where restoration does not occur, does that mean that the church has so few spiritual men? The result may very well be a person who rides out into the sunset carrying the baggage of failure, shame and destruction……. never to be heard from again……and no restoration.   Let’s be reminded that many are watching and are influenced within this person’s environment. He becomes the person who messed up and is rejected because of a certain time or event in his life. He’s a marked man and is to be avoided.  What would your church do?  I know what my former church did after loving and caring for them over 26 years.

But, God sent a man…

You could be that man! Or you could be that church. Betty and I were attending a church service in another city in October of last year. There were several thousand people present and we knew only a few people there. Just before the service started we heard someone behind us call our names. A man who had a leadership position in the church I was pastoring at the time of my sin, approached us delicately and with his hands on both of our shoulders, said these words, “I want to ask you to forgive me for hurting you so deeply at a time in your life when you needed help, I apologize.” We were blessed through his humble apology on that day.

We must not neglect or turn our faces from those in our environment who are hurting, living in shame and who have made unwise life changing decisions. If our Heavenly Father does not turn His back, why should we? We all know those who have left the church because of the shame they felt. Who is it that you could give love, encouragement and hope to on their worst day in life? It could change their direction in life. I am so grateful for those who invested grace in my life.

We, as Christ followers can make a difference, today! Read Galatians 6:1 again