Monthly Archives: May 2016

GOD’s FAMILY PLAN: Making Time For Family

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Making Time for Family

Scripture: Ephesians 5:15–17The Pastors Pen Logo small

Introduction

Psychology Today says, “How we spend our time says a lot about who we are.”

With all of the technology at our disposal today, one might imagine that we would have more free time than ever—but that hardly seems to be the case in most households. Between work, school, children’s activities, and everything else demanding attention, it seems our schedules have no margin at all. According to a US Bureau of Labor and Statistics study in 2013, the average American adult spends each weekday working 8.7 hours, sleeping 7.7 hours, and filling another 3.3 with household chores and life necessities. That leaves only around four hours to really live life: worship, pray, connect with loved ones, exercise, and simply relax. That’s not much margin!

The apostle Paul addresses this very challenge in Ephesians 5:15–17, and offers us tremendous insight into how our families might get the most out of every day.

Ephesians 5:15-17 (KJV) 15  See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, 16  Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. 17  Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.

The passage challenges each of us to ask three questions about our calendars:

  1. Where does my time go?

Verse 15 challenges us to “walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise.” Young’s Literal Translation helps us better understand the significance of the idea of being very careful: “See then exactly how you walk.” The Greek word he uses (akribos, from which we get acrobatic) is calling us, in essence, to aim our lives in a very specific direction. To pay close attention to how we’re spending our time.

When you take the time to conduct an inventory of your own schedule, you might be surprised where your time is going. You might also find that you have more time than you think!

When you’re cleaning out a closet, what do you do? You take everything out, evaluate each item, and then begin returning things to the closet. But not everything makes the cut. Invariably, you come upon things that are wasting space and can be discarded. Then, even the things you replace can be returned in a more orderly fashion. By the time you’re done, it’s often shocking how much space you really have. The same goes for our calendars.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that God would challenge us to pay attention to our time. Time management is God’s idea. In Genesis 1, during the creation account, God made the day and night on day one. He separated the light from the darkness. But God didn’t make the sun, moon, and stars until day four. Why did He make them? Verse 14 tells us they were to be “for signs and seasons, and for days and years.” God created a predictable cycle of days, months, seasons, and years so that we could monitor and manage our schedules.

We are online a lot more than we would like to believe. It was a shocking revelation for me to realize how much time I spend engaging in our 24/7 world. Electronics rule our lives. Whether you are in your car, tapping your destination into your navigation system, or checking email via your hand-held while waiting in the check-out line, it seems our hyper-plugged in world has enslaved us. The online community is as enticing as a siren, drawing you closer to its virtuality while sucking our time like vampire out of the real important things of real life like family.

A second question is a bit more surprising:

  1. Where does my time go?
  2. What is wasting my time?

If you look closely at the passage, you’ll find this to be a key time management question that many people miss. Ephesians 5:15 includes the word thenpointing back to verses one to fourteen. Any time there is a “then” or “therefore” in a passage, it reveals that the words are a concluding thought from the previous one. What is Paul speaking of in the previous verses? He is calling on God’s people to step out of darkness and into the light. Paul had concluded the passage in verse 14 with what is likely an ancient hymn: “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” He’s offering the illustration of missing out on life because of the empty pursuit of things that are not of God.

Once you are saved, you experience the security of God’s grace. The enemy cannot rob you of your salvation, but he can rob you of your effectiveness in the time you have on earth.

According to a Study in Daily productivity, the three biggest time wasters are: 1) Email; 2) Social Media; and 3) Meetings. And I can attest, this is true for me. These are distractions that rob us of precious time.

As an example, think about pickpockets. Pickpockets seem very skilled at grabbing something without drawing notice from the victim. But how can a person not feel his wallet being removed, for example? It’s not necessarily their skill at sleight of hand, but the pickpockets’ skill at distraction that allows the theft. Pickpockets show you postcards, pretend to help, bump into you from the side, or even ask for help. They don’t have to be perfect; they only have to distract you. That’s how the enemy works: distractions!

Sin is destructive in many ways, but one of its losses is simply robbing the sinner of all the time that could be invested in God’s work. Sin’s distraction results in long-term destruction.

One of the most important steps to good time management is to repent of any known sin and ask the Lord to show you any subtle ways you might be disobeying God. And then, you’re ready for the third question:

  1. Where does my time go?
  2. What is wasting my time?
  3. What choices need to be made?

Look back at verse 16, and the call to “redeeming the time,” or as it says in the NIV, “make the most of every opportunity.” Given the call to discernment in the previous verse, Paul then makes the case for choosing the best over the second-best. To make the most of any opportunity means to set aside the lesser opportunities that arise.

The very first computers operated on a simple system in which they were able to read only two things: ones and zeroes. Every decision these supercomputers made was nothing more than a series of ones and zeroes. Computers today use the exact same system. Even the fastest, most modern PCs on the market today read only two things: ones and zeroes. They just read more of them and read them faster. Our lives are very much the same. No matter what your background or place of employment or family status or hopes and dreams, your life can be explained by a continual string of two decisions: yeses and nos. Every day when you wake up, you begin making yes and no decisions—choices that will determine both your outcome for the day, your destiny in life, and the legacy you leave behind.

And in reality, those yeses and no’s determine our priorities in life. Our true priorities are the things we say yes to at the expense of all other commitments and distractions. They get the first yes on our calendar, and the unimportant things get a no answer until the priorities have been fulfilled. That’s how priorities are lived out in real life.

Conclusion

One day this expert was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration I’m sure those students will never forget. After I share it with you, you’ll never forget it either.

As this man stood in front of the group of high-powered over-achievers he said, “Okay, time for a quiz.” Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.

When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?” Everyone in the class said, “Yes.” Then he said, “Really?” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.

Then he smiled and asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was onto him. “Probably not,” one of them answered. “Good!” he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?”

“No!” the class shouted. Once again he said, “Good!” Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”

One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!”

“No,” the speaker replied, “that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”

What are the big rocks in your life? A project that you want to accomplish? Time with your loved ones? Your faith, your education, your finances? A cause? Teaching or mentoring others? Remember to put these Big Rocks in first or you’ll never get them in at all.

Considering the high calling of the Christian life and the high priority of home life, we cannot afford to let our days pass by wasted and unfruitful.

What will you say yes to? The most important place to begin is saying yes to Jesus. Allow Him to be the master of your life—and your family—and the rest will begin to be more fruitful than you ever imagined.

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A GRADUATION CHALLENGE

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Dear Church Family,

Today we recognize and challenge our graduating seniors.The Pastors Pen Logo small It is a great accomplishment to be at this juncture in your life. So, Congratulations! You have come to a time of transition. It is the biggest transition you have faced in your life up to this point. It is reminiscent of the lad who visited the Grand Canyon with his family. His Dad gave him a diary and asked him to make an entry each day of his insights and observations.

The lad stood on the edge of a very high cliff and spit as hard as he could. He seemed to get a thrill out of the experience. That night, he made his entry in his journal of the days activities.

His father slipped into his room after he had gone to sleep. He saw his journal and could not stand the temptation. He opened the diary and this is what it said, ”Today I spit two miles!”

That was quite an accomplishment. But you also have made quite an accomplishment. Yogi Berra said ”When you come to a fork in the road, take it!” Well, you have come to a fork in the road.

Psalm 32 can be divided into three sections: 1-5 contains confessions and forgiveness; 6-7 speaks of deliverance and preservation; and 8-11 offers guidance for life’s journey.

John Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress. In one of the chapters Christian and Hopeful leave the City of Destruction in pursuit of Mt. Zion. They meet many obstacles and temptations along the way-and so will you.

Breathe a sigh of relief. Some of you thought you would never make it. You have! We need to celebrate significant goals in life. We can do that without the presence of mind altering drugs.

When I graduated from Carson Newman University with my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, someone sent me a card that pictured a dog climbing stairs. He had made it to the top of the stairs and there was a bone. I had faced one obstacle after another until I finally made it. It was a time of celebration for me. You have reached the bone. There will be other bones; however, this is a significant one.

I heard about a senior who was about to hand his father his failing report card. He said, ”Before I hand you this, I want you to look at your old report card I found in the attic!”

This is a time of celebration for you, your parents, your teachers, and your spiritual leaders. So celebrate!

This is a good time to have some serious thoughts. One fourth of your life is over if you live to seventy. What will you do with the rest of your life? What you do in the next four or five years will set the stage for the rest of your life.

You have a journey to make that is planned by God.

-Jeremiah 1:5 says ”Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you. I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

-Acts 9:15-16 says ”He is a chosen instrument of mine…”

-Ephesians 2:10 says ”For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.”

So spend some time thinking about the direction God has for you to go.

Most of us seem to have the wrong concept about graduation, I know I did when I graduated. Most people believe graduation to be the ‘end.’ Certainly, it ends a chapter in your life, you have now completed some level of learning, and perhaps you are proficient in something. But to graduate is not THE END. Education was never intended to teach you ALL you need to know in life, rather it simply equips you with the mental tools you need to live life. However, whether you are graduation from Nursery School, Middle School, High School, College, Seminary or some other upper level degree, there is still much work (learning) to be done. As you graduate, you are merely turning the page in your life that ENDS one chapter and BEGINS another one.

Think about it like this: The actually ‘graduation convocation is called ”Commencement.” When something ‘commences’, it starts. That is what is happening for many of you today. You have been rated proficient in your previous studies and now, you are beginning a new day. Presently, you are making choices. Some choose college (good choice), some choose trade school (good choice), and some choose military service (good choice but it comes with inherent risks), some choose marriage (hmmm…), while others choose to begin their careers. In other words, this is kind of a ‘fork’ in the road. Yogi Berra said, ”When you come to a fork in the road, take it!” Makes perfect sense to me.

Today, my heart’s desire was and is to give a word from God’s word to our graduates which would not only help them as they open a new chapter of their lives, but also would help every person who hears it. Hebrews tells us that ”God’s word is living and powerful and sharper than any two edged sword.” This means that God’s message can and will touch every heart.

ASPIRATION, Solomon has much to say to us about this subject. He was a man had it all. He had popularity, power, prosperity, possessions and position. Yet he did not find happiness though it was in his grasp all the time.

The living Bible gives us this paraphrase, though man lives a thousand years twice over but doesn’t find contentment, what’s the use? In other words, it doesn’t matter about the length of life; it is the quality of life that is important. Jesus came not just to add years to our life but also to add life to our years. And yet so many people around us are in a quest for happiness, but it seems it eludes them. It seems to be the elusive dream, that one can really be happy in life. Solomon said you may live to be two thousand years old, but if your life was not a life of happiness, what good did it do to live all that time?

Now Solomon was uniquely qualified in the quest for happiness. He tried five things we are going to look at this morning to find happiness. To try to find the answer to how can I be happy? And he of course, was king. He had lots of time, he had unlimited wealth in his quest for happiness, he had unlimited resources so if anybody should have been happy it was this man called Solomon who was the richest of all the Kings of Israel. He had everything that we think of in the American dream and much, much more. He was the wealthiest man in all the Bible. Solomon’s wealth was so great that if you calculated it in to today’s dollars you could take Ross Pierot, Sam Walton, the Rockefellers, and two or three others and roll them all together and still would not be as wealthy as King Solomon. He was a man with immense power. He ruled over the greatest nation on the earth at that time. He built an unparalleled empire. He had the respect of all the leaders around the world and yet he was a man who in advance years of his life said, I have not found the key to real happiness.

Ecclesiastes 6:6  I. DEAD ENDS TO HAPPINESS A. He Tried Learning B. He Tried Lust C. He Tried Liquor D. He Tried Labor E. He Tried Luxury II. DRIVEWAYS TO HAPPINESS A. Get To Know God B. Trust God When Life Is Disappointing C. Expect God To Meet Your Needs D. Follow God’s Instructions E. Cultivate A Forgiving Heart F. Maintain A Clear Conscience G. Build Healthy Relationships H. Live With Eternal Perspective

With this said, Again, Congratulations on your Graduation!

With Many Prayers and Christian Love,

Pastor Rick Signature

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When Mother’s Day Is Difficult

The Pastors Pen Logo smallDear Church Family,

Today we celebrate Mother’s Day once again. For many families, it’s a time of celebration, appreciation, and joy. But for others, it’s one of the most difficult days of the year. This is especially true for women facing infertility or those who have recently experienced the loss of a mother, daughter, or other loved one. Or for a mother and children who are hurting over new relationships.

I know what it’s like for Mother’s Day to be difficult. Becky and I struggled with infertility questions for more than four years and experienced loss along the way. While we learned to live in hope and God eventually gave us a daughter, we still remember the hurt and how holidays could bring it to the surface.

I also know what it’s like for Mother’s Day to be difficult because of experiences from hear each year about people’s stories of “Difficult Mother’s Day.” One woman who wrote to express her thoughts about this difficult day said, “I spent seven very painful Mother’s Days longing for motherhood while dealing with infertility and the losses of eight children through miscarriage and failed adoptions. I’ve also seen my own mother’s grief and struggle through Mother’s Day after the death of her mother. And I have many friends in less-than-ideal situations either with prodigal children, abusive/estranged mother or children, loss of a child, and more.”

And finally, I know because of my training as a counselor who has had the sacred honor of grieving alongside many women. I’ve learned that experiencing sadness on special occasions is a normal part of loss and longing. These days often serve as reminders of what we have let go or do not yet have.

So as Mother’s Day comes this year, I’d like to share a few thoughts from my heart to yours.

Embrace Your Emotions

First, if Mother’s Day is difficult for you then give yourself permission to grieve. When holidays come, we often put expectations on ourselves to feel a certain way. We may think, “This is a special occasion. I have to put on a happy face and make the best of it.” But it’s okay to feel sad and even cry. As the authors of The Empty Chair: Handling Grief on Holidays and Special Occasions say simply and powerfully, “We grieve because we loved.”

It’s also helpful to realize that emotions are not good or bad. They are just messengers that tell us about what’s going on in our lives. Sadness tells us, “You’ve lost something or someone important to you.” It’s not a sin to feel sad. Jesus often experienced sadness and the Bible says he was “a man of sorrows, and familiar with grief” (Isaiah 53:3 NIV).

Many other godly people in the Bible experienced sadness and grief. In Psalm 13 King David pours out his heart to the Lord and asks, “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” He does end by saying, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.” Does that mean we need to go from feeling broken to blessed in just a few lines? No, absolutely not. But it does show us something important about emotions. They are meant as stops along life’s journey rather than destinations. If you continually feel sad over a lengthy period of time or it seems as if there is no hope at all, then consider getting help from a professional.  

Sometimes we need to help others understand our sadness. People who are trying to comfort us may say things like, “Don’t worry. I know you’ll have a baby.” Or they may say, “Your loved one is in a better place now.” Words like these can make us feel that guilt for being sad. Just remember that people who say these things are really trying to tell us, “I care about you. Your pain matters to me. I want you to feel better. So I’m trying to think of anything I can say to you that will help.” Sometimes we need to gently share with those around us that what we really need is for them to just be there and to listen.

We may even need to give them permission to not say anything. For example, we can say, “I know you may not know what to say. So I just wanted to tell you that you don’t have to say anything. When you’re just with me and you listen, that gives me a lot of comfort.” This will probably be a huge relief to those who love us and truly want to help but don’t know how. Sometimes it is best just to follow the advice I read on a card which said, “At a time when words are hard to find…I just want you to know I’m praying for you.

Seek Support

Sometimes we need to be alone to experience our emotions, but usually it is wise to seek support. From the very beginning of creation, God said it wasn’t good for man to be alone. This is especially true when we are grieving. Jesus modeled this when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane. He brought several of his disciples with him and said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matthew 26:38 NIV).  

Support can take many different forms. Hopefully, you have close friends and family members who can walk through this time with you. It’s important that you don’t assume they know you need their comfort. Unless they have experienced a similar loss, they don’t know what it’s like. So don’t be afraid to call them or tell them what you need. You won’t be imposing. They may want to help but don’t know what to do so they will probably be relieved if you let them know.

Even family members and close friends can grow weary at times, so it’s helpful to have other sources of support. Counselors can be a great source of support because they’re trained to work with loss and can offer an objective viewpoint. Because they are an outside party, their own grief won’t complicate their ability to deal with yours.

Support groups can also be a great source of comfort. It helps to talk with others who know what you’re going through. You can learn from those who are further down the road than you are and offer help to those just beginning their journey. Support groups can be formally organized or they can be more casual, such as a group of women going through infertility meeting for a monthly lunch.

Of course, our strongest supporter will always be God. This may not feel as if it is true, especially after or during a time of loss in our lives. Right now you may be angry at God, disappointed in him, or feel as if you don’t have any faith left at all. That’s normal and many people in the Bible experienced the same thing. God understands that you are hurt. It’s okay to bring all of those feelings to him.

Normal grief and mourning can turn into serious depression. One of the symptoms of depression is withdrawing and isolating ourselves from others. If you find you are cutting of relationships, have no desire to be with other people, and are spending much more time alone than usual, it may be a sign that you need help to deal with your depression.

Do Something Special  

The next thing you can do if Mother’s Day is difficult is to take some action. While doing something special when you are sad may feel a bit overwhelming, it is important because it helps us face our grief directly. It also helps us to be proactive rather than reactive in addressing our loss. Many people think that it’s better to avoid or bury their grief. But the opposite is actually true. Healing only comes when we acknowledge and embrace our losses. As Dr. Gary Oliver says, “If you bury an emotion, it’s always buried alive.”

The kind of action you take depends on your personality and the nature of your loss. For example, if you lost your mother then you might write her a letter. If you lost an unborn child, you might donate to a crisis pregnancy center in his or her honor. You and your spouse might look at photos of the sister you lost to breast cancer or visit a place where you used to go together. You may think, “But that will make me sad!” That’s okay. Experiencing grief is part of healing.

Grief and Trauma Counselor H. Norman Wright even recommends a “programmed cry” in which you set aside a specific time to grieve and place yourself in an environment where you are able to do so. He says in Recovering from Losses in Life, “Some of us have never learned to cry. We are afraid to really let go with our tears. We live with fears and reservations about crying. We cry on the inside but never on the outside.” Each time you allow yourself to grieve through tears, it will become a little bit easier to do so.  

You can also simply do something nice for yourself. If you enjoy going to restaurants, then have a special meal with a friend or spouse. If you like taking long walks or bubble baths, make time in the day for that activity. Part of getting through grief is taking care of you.  As long as it isn’t something harmful or numbing, doing something special for yourself can help you through a difficult day.

Hold Onto Hope

Finally, if Mother’s Day is difficult for you this year then hold onto hope. The Lord brought this phrase to my heart many times during the years.

I remember at one point in my journey it seemed as if I couldn’t take another step. I was facing several other losses. In my mind, I saw myself in a dark cave sitting with my head on my knees in despair. But then I sensed the Lord gently and lovingly speak to my heart, “You’re in this cave but you have a choice. You can sit in despair or you can diamond-mine your difficulties.” I decided that if I was going to be stuck in this cave, I was not leaving empty-handed. I was taking every diamond I could find!

As I tried to “diamond-mine” my difficulties, I realized an important part of holding onto hope is confronting the lies that the enemy tried to tell me. For a long time, the enemy told me, “God isn’t answering your prayers.” Every time I thought about this, I felt despair. What was wrong with me? What did I need to do differently? I lived with a lot of guilt and frustration.

I began to think about other things in my life over the last few years. The Lord has no doubt done some good things in your life. I sensed the Lord saying to me, “I have brought new life through you. I’ve answered every prayer that was prayed for something to be created through you—just not in the way you expected.” That moment gave me a tremendous amount of peace and God has continued to confirm it in my life. Whatever lies the enemy is telling you, ask the Lord to show you the truth.

When I think of Mother’s Day being difficult, the person who will always come to mind first is an inspiring woman. She endured the loss of four pregnancies and waited seventeen years before adopting a little girl. She told me, “I think one of the most important parts of this journey is learning to trust God. I don’t mean the flippant kind of trust. It’s easy for people to say, ‘You just need to trust God.’ It’s much harder when you’re in the middle of all this pain. But he is trustworthy. Through it all, God has given us an amazing story. I wouldn’t have chosen this road, but He has been with us. I can look back and truly say every step was worth it.

As the product of a divorced home, at age two, and the loss of my mom through a tough struggle with cancer. Through broken and healing relationships, and carrying her lifeless body to the gurney after her death at home, I have come to better understand that Mother’s Day can be difficult, but it is not impossible.

God sees each one of us. He knows how many hairs are on our heads and how many cares are in our hearts. Whatever you’re going through this Mother’s Day, you’re not facing it alone. As King David, a man who experienced many losses in his life, expressed in Psalm 34:18 NIV, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” May God surround you with love, fill you with hope, and give you strength for each moment— especially this Mother’s Day.

With Many Prayers and Christian Love,

Pastor Rick Signature

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