No Mistakes

A person’s junior high school years can be some of the most difficult years in their young life. The ages of twelve through fourteen are the time in your life when you are trying to figure out a lot about yourself. Add to this the reality that you are physically experiencing many changes and a whole new set of hormones are flooding your body. At this point in my life I had an amazing English teacher, Miss Becky Schmelling. One of my greatest memories of Miss Schmelling was that she had a poster hanging on the wall of her classroom by the door. It was a cartoon image of a boy surrounded by old cans, books, and a variety of other items which appeared like they might be junk. The caption in big, bold letters said, “I am okay because God does not make junk.” I read that caption every single day I was in her classroom since I was feeling like junk trying to maneuver through my early adolescent years.

When I became an adult, I ran across a quote which carried the theme of Miss Schmelling’s poster a little farther. I honestly cannot tell you the originator of this quote or even where I first read the quote. If you do a Google search, you will find these words, or similar words, echoed all over the internet. The quote is this — “I am okay because God does not make mistakes.” I do not think I am the only one who needs to hear these words, and hear them often. There are many in our world who feel like maybe God made some mistakes, or a big one, when God created them. There is no one who can honestly say that they feel everything about them is perfect.

According to figures released by the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2017 (the most recent set of data) there were 47,173 deaths listed as suicide among all ages in the United States. This made suicide the tenth leading cause of death in the United States that year. If you look at the age groups of 10 to 34, there were 14, 717 suicide deaths which makes it the second leading cause of death in those age groups only behind unintentional accidents. What these startling and sad statistics tell me is that there are a lot of people who feel their life is a mistake, and they have no hope. These statistics do not share the number of individuals who attempted suicide that year but the attempt did not result in death.

I share all this with you to impress upon you two important points. The first is that each of you need to remember that God does not make mistakes. There is not one of you who is a mistake. God created you with a purpose and exactly the correct combinations of physical, mental, spiritual, and creative traits. You are unique, there is not now or ever any duplicate of you. You fit into all God’s creation in a way which no other being could ever fit. Your role in this world is very special. God loves you exactly the way you are right now.

The second point is that each of you must share this truth with others. Whether you have a poster hanging for others to see, or you share the message in words and actions, you must communicate to others that they are not a mistake because God does not make mistakes. By sharing this message, you may have an impact that you will never be aware of but an impact nonetheless. This may be the message that prevents someone from choosing to attempt suicide. Sharing of this may also be just the words that gives a person renewed purpose, meaning, or a sense of value. When you communicate this message, you demonstrate the love of God which went into the original creation of a person.

Let me tell you this one more time, you are okay because God does not make mistakes!

Pastor Crush

Why would someone choose to go into full-time ministry? This is a question that many people ask especially today. There used to be a time when full-time ministry, or becoming a pastor, was considered a noble aspiration. During the Middle Ages, it was considered an academic pursuit that was reserved for the wealthy who could afford to get a formalized education. The culture of today seems much different and many factors contribute to the less than lofty stature full-time ministry now occupies. So, why would someone choose to go into full-time ministry?

For me, I consider it to have been a limited choice. Why I state it in such a manner is because long before I would “choose” to enter full-time ministry, a sense of call was placed upon me. I come from a denomination which emphasizes the understanding of a call. The church culture in which I grew up, and would eventually seek ordination from, felt that every person has a call placed upon her or his life by God. Some are called to be teachers, some business leaders, some lawyers, some medical professionals, and the list goes on through every form of employment and volunteer opportunity that comes to mind. I was taught that each person has a call, or often multiple calls, placed on them by God. Just because God places a call upon a person, the person is not required to fulfill the call. In fact, many individuals pursue other courses in their lives. However, after years of resisting the call into full-time ministry, I chose to respond reluctantly in the affirmative.

General themes of why a person answers the call to full-time ministry exist. One of the reasons some give is a desire to help others on a daily basis experience the love of God. Another reason is to assist others in developing answers to their questions regarding their faith. Other responses might include a fulfillment in walking through life’s challenges with another person. For me, it was a strong desire to open for others the wonder of what a relationship with the Lord might mean in their life.

Whatever the answer to the question of why a person has gone into full-time ministry, a sad reality exists…the church is crushing pastors at a very alarming rate. What I mean by this is that in too many conversations with colleagues and those who have exited from full-time ministry, I have heard too often that the demands of the congregation and the denominational hierarchy crushed their passion and desire to continue in full-time ministry. Too often these demands distract the pastor from their role as a shepherd, teacher, companion, and spiritual leader. I would say that the demands actually prohibit the pastor from fulfilling these other roles. Yet, these are usually the roles which lead the person to enter full-time ministry.

Let me share a few examples of these demands. The first one which quickly comes to mind is the demand of being the referee. What does refereeing have to do with being a pastor? Well, it really should not have anything to do with it but often the pastor is the one expected to enter conflicts within the church and reduce or eliminate the conflict. Imagine being a parent who has over one hundred kids who have a tendency to enter squabbles over toys, control of the television, or who gets to play the Xbox next. This is often what a pastor feels like when trying to maneuver through all the he-said, she-said arguments which arise out of situations such as who decides what to serve at the Fall Festival Dinner.

Another example of the demands which crush a pastor is the endless amount of discussion and input from a variety of individuals in order to make a decision. Churches love to have committees to discuss and plan everything from what coffee to serve during fellowship time to what songs to sing during the Christmas season. While there is indeed value in seeking input from various voices and creating an atmosphere of participation among the members, these groups often get bogged down in details and personal opinions. These details and personal opinions frequently lead to the squabbles I mentioned in the above paragraph. The other issue which arises is that little progress is made in making a decision and it all is very time-consuming.

A third example which is too frequent is the financial stress the pastor absorbs. When it comes to church finances, the same story exists in some level in every church, there never seems to be enough money for anything. This leads to many different burdens placed on a pastor. One is the idea that a pastor should be the chief fundraiser of the church. Some members view it to be the pastor’s responsibility to find creative ways to bring money into the congregation and then lead those fundraising efforts as spokesperson and arm twister but do these things in a very unintimidating manner. The other side of the coin is that the pastor is often charged with the responsibility to reduce and maintain spending at the lowest level possible. The pastor is left to rely on volunteers and donated monies to accomplish all that needs to be accomplished from repairing the leaky flat roof to having weekly activities for youth from age 0 to 35. Of course the use of volunteer labor will also require being flexible and understanding that they have real lives so cannot accomplish what they commit to doing for four to sixteen weeks. Yet the pastor gets the blame when things are not done correctly and in a timely manner.

The list of examples can grow with each exhausted pastor with who you have the chance to speak. Horror stories and tears are in abundance as pastors tell of the demands placed upon them and the way in which they are often treated. Besides the personal anguish and abuse, yes, I will call it abuse, the issue that tears most pastors hearts the most is that they do not have the time or the energy to live out the passion which called them to full-time ministry in the first place. Every once in a while they are fortunate to see a glimmer of their call fulfilled in the life of another person but these occur like shooting stars at night which are fleeting and way too infrequent.

The congregations and denominations of the church are crushing the pastors who feel God calling them to full-time ministry. It is the congregations and denominations who are losing out on women and men who would love to shepherd, teach, walk alongside, encourage, and spiritually lead in the example of Jesus. Until the church wakes up to this reality and does something meaningful about it, you will continue to see pastors step out of full-time ministry, pulpits remain empty, and seminaries have fewer and fewer students.

The Christian and the Atheist

I have a good friend who identifies as an atheist. He was raised in a Christian church and went through all the rites associated with the Christian belief in God. It was not until he was older and witnessed his father die a horrific death caused by cancer that he decided that there is no God of any kind.

Atheism is defined as the absence of belief in any deities.

By this definition, my friend is an atheist. His reasoning is that if a god did exist, especially the Christian understanding of God, then his father would never have died in the manner in which he did. My friend would not be the first to make such a claim. Not everyone who states this thought begins to identify as an atheist however.

As a Christian leader, how can I be friends with an atheist?

My answer to that question is pretty simple…because I believe in Jesus Christ. My understanding of what my Lord taught is that all people are children of God, even those who do not acknowledge God. If this is true then I am already in relationship with my friend because he is my brother in God.

Another important lesson which I have picked up from reading Scripture is that I am not empowered to choose who receives God’s mercy and love. The choice of who receives and who does not belongs solely to God. We see this in the story of Nineveh and Jonah. We see this in the story of the woman charged with adultery and Jesus. God retains the power of who God gives mercy and love. With me not having to make that decision and my belief that God has chosen to give ALL people mercy and love, then I am free to love even those who identify as atheist.

My understanding of my commitment as a Christian is that it is not my responsibility to save anyone. I am not even sure what someone would need saved from other than maybe themselves. Once again, the saving has fallen into the realm of God. What I am called to do as a Christian is to do my best every day to demonstrate the love and mercy of God to others as I have received it. The reason that I strive to do this is not because it impacts my receiving of love and mercy but in response to having received that love and mercy.

I have heard some people state that there is no way they could ever be friends with an atheist. Why they feel that way is only known to them. However, I can speculate that for some it is out of fear. The individual may be afraid that if they befriended an atheist, that friendship might weaken or damage their faith. If that is the case, then I think they need to examine their understanding of faith and work toward a healthy faith.

Others may argue that being friends with an atheist would shed a negative light on them when viewed by their Christian friends. This argument has problems abounding. First, you would need to question what type of Christian friends you are associating with if they do not view extending love and mercy to others is in opposition to Christ’s teachings. Second, using the example of Jesus, a follower should never allow the viewpoints of others to limit reaching out in relationship towards others, especially those termed undesirable.

A Christian and an Atheist

I am a Christian. I am a leader in the Christian church. My good friend is an atheist. We have a wonderful relationship in which we can share ideas (even opposing ones), laughter, jokes, and some coffee. I no longer get to see my atheist friend anymore since we live in different states now but I think of him often. I look forward to being able to see him again soon.

Doubting Allowed

I really want to believe it is true but where is the proof? What about the contradictions? Why does it seem like nothing changes or gets better? Is it okay to even have questions? Am I allowed to doubt?

These are all the thoughts that go through most people’s minds when it comes to believing in God. We were created to have questions and to explore. For some reason though, some people came to think that it was wrong to have questions about one’s faith. Doubt was not considered to be acceptable among certain Christian groups. If someone has doubt, it must mean that they do not believe enough or pray enough. How absolutely wrong is this way of thinking.

Through my study of Scripture, I find doubt woven throughout every major Biblical story. Doubt was found in the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Moses, David, Ruth, Jonah, Joseph, Mary, every one of the apostles, and Paul to name a few. The chosen people of the ancient world, the Hebrews, had doubt almost all the time. Some doubt was in their individual abilities but most of it was directed toward God. Nowhere in Scripture did I see God strike anyone dead for having doubt.

I think that doubt is natural. When I worked with youth, I actually encouraged doubt. I see the benefit of doubt as being like a refining fire of our faith. Working through our doubts helps us to determine what we truly believe. This work should be done in a combination of time with trusted friends and alone. Having a spiritual guide is very beneficial. Whichever method works best for you, do not be afraid of your doubts. Do not accept anyone telling you that you lack faith if you doubt. Even some of the best known theologians throughout the ages have had doubt.

I encourage you to embrace your doubt when it comes to what you believe. I have found in my own life that when I wrestle with my doubts, I usually come out with a much stronger faith.

Personal Value

We live in a time when the value of a human life is often considered very low. Most individuals have been reduced to statistics, stereotypes, and unproven opinions. In fact, often the individual is overlooked and seen only with labels. Often there is little effort made to even get to know a person. All this combines to make an individual feel as if he/she has little or no value.

However, this assuredly is not the opinion of the Creator. Actually, the opposite would be true. We learn the view of the Creator from passages found in Scripture. Here are two such passages:

What is mankind that you are mindful of them,

    human beings that you care for them?[a]

You have made them a little lower than the angels[c]

    and crowned them with glory and honor.

You made them rulers over the works of your hands;

    you put everything under their feet

Psalm 8:4-6 (NIV)

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[a] And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ

Romans 8:14-17a (NIV)

It is clear that God, who created us and sustains us, values us highly. Being a child of God gives each person value beyond comparison. Jesus tells parables which show us how God views us as important and thinks highly of us.

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Luke 15:4-7 (NIV)

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

Luke 15:11-27 (NIV)

The truth is this…no matter what the world says about us, we are children of God. As children of God, we have been searched for while we wandered on our own. We have been crowned with the glory of God and placed as stewards of all God’s creation. We have been made heirs in the Kingdom of God.

A person’s value is not found in her or his successes. A person’s value is not found in having the “right” labels or doing the “right” things. The value of each and every person is found in the reality that he or she is a child of God. Nothing nor no one can ever diminish or take that value away.