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The First Of Many

Just breathe…

 “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supplies.” –Hudson Taylor

This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. I’m not exactly sure what each post will look and sound like at this point. But, what I do know is that my family and I are on a journey. The journey is to follow as close to Christ as we can and stay in step with Him. We have heard His call and we are following. It’s going to be a wild ride! All my life I have been in ministry. I am a pastors son. I grew up in a pastors home. I have seen what ministry (good and bad) does to parents who are teammates. I went to school to study ministry. I married a pastors daughter… (yup, our 2 boys are doomed!) I was a youth pastor for 16 years and now serve as the administrative pastor at the church where my father is our lead pastor. It’s in my blood. It’s in my heart. Ministry runs deep. So, to say that my wife and I have a heart for pastors doesn’t really say it well enough. Tiffany and I will celebrate our 16th anniversary in 2 days. Around about the time we celebrated our 13th anniversary, God laid something big on our hearts. He wants us to start a ministry for ministers. We don’t have everything nailed down. We don’t have unlimited resources at our disposal. We don’t know what the next step will be. But what we do know is this, “when God involves you in his activity, the assignment will have God-sized dimensions to it.” (Henry Blackaby) We know that the way that we are serving Him now will be completely different in the future. Restoration Farm will be a place of wholistic restoration for a pastor, their spouse and their family. Whether they are going through a moral failure, family struggles or just need some time away, Restoration Farm will be that place. We know first-hand that pastors don’t get paid nearly enough for the time they put in and, in most cases, they can’t afford a family vacation. We have seen how the one place where people should receive Grace (the church) sometimes can become a place where Grace isn’t extended… even to their leaders. We want to be a conduit of Grace and the place and ministry we have a desire to start will be just that.

Does this mean that we are leaving our current place of ministry? No. We will faithfully serve Him wherever He leads us for as long as He has us there. That’s the way it is and has always been in my ministry. Our desire is only to follow in His Footsteps.

So, where do we go from here? That is a great question. I met with someone yesterday to discuss our dream. The first bit of advice he gave me was to surround myself with prayer warriors. If you would like to join Tiffany and I in prayer, we beg you to do so. If you decide to pray for us, please let us know! We know that without prayer, we wouldn’t be where we are today. The second piece of advice he gave me was, “cast big nets”. God’s dreams for us are bigger than we can imagine and casting bigger nets only leads us to His bigger dreams. But, as for now, we will pray, listen, follow and just breathe…

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Identity

It has taken me much longer to write and submit this blog than it should have. I believe that the reason will become obvious as you continue to read. However, just in case my thoughts or emotions aren’t as clear as I would hope, just know that this hits a little too close to home.

If I had to guess, I would say that the majority of us have struggled or do struggle with identity. Ok, maybe struggle isn’t the right word. But, you probably have found yourself in a situation where you just didn’t feel comfortable because you just couldn’t completely identify with those you were with. Most of us avoid those situations because we know that we don’t like to feel the way we do when we don’t or can’t identify with an individual or group of people. What do I mean by that? Well, if you’re a mechanic, construction worker, electrician etc., you may not feel “at home” in a room or at a party full of doctors, lawyers or politicians etc..

For me, I have been a pastors son my whole life. Up until a month or so ago, for the last 17 years, I have identified as a pastor. Whether you’re a youth pastor, worship pastor, lead pastor or administrative pastor, we all “speak the same language”. Pastors, for the most part, think the same way. You could take a pastor out of his/her church and place them in another church (of a similar denomination) and they could probably predict the service order almost to a tee… (opening song, announcements, 3 songs, prayer, message, closing…) I have spent time with pastors my whole life. They all feel the same way and go through the same things.

Now that I’m not in full time ministry, I have found myself (in a way) struggling with where I should feel comfortable. I walk into and out of the church that we are attending now and have no responsibilities. I don’t have to show up early to unlock and set things up. I don’t have to do anything on stage. No one is asking me questions or “needs me” for anything. I don’t have to stay late and make sure lights are off and doors are locked. There is no group of people I have to lead, show up for or be responsible for. No one is counting on me. Those things listed above were where I found my identity as a full time pastor for the majority of my adult life.

Now, I am a farmer. I use that word or term very loosely as I am only working on a farm doing my best to learn from the man who is patiently teaching me what it means to farm. My identity is different. I’m still trying to find out how I fit in this new picture of what God is calling my family to. I’m not a pastor (or I don’t hold a job that would give me that title). I’m not really a farmer. I’m more of a farm hand. So, here I am struggling with an identity. Yes, I am still a Christian who does his best to serve Christ. Yes, I am husband to my beautiful wife and I’m doing my best to be a good father to my boys. My identity in those areas of life is pretty secure. 

But, who am I outside of those areas? Does it matter? Do I need to feel secure in that way? I still feel a need and desire to lead people into a growing relationship with Christ but the “platform” of doing so is much different. About a week ago, my dad came down and visited with me for a while. While we were together, I was driving a semi load of grain to the mill when my dad read a quote from USA Today that said,  “More than 450 farmers killed themselves across nine Midwestern states from 2014 to 2018”. It hit me that farming is my platform. My identity of a pastor is to be utilized as a farmer so that the men and women that help keep the backbone of America fed and strong can see that there is hope and his name is Jesus!

Identity is big and it doesn’t matter if you are a middle schooler trying to find out how you fit into this big world or a middle aged mom trying to raise your kids, love your husband and find the balance between grocery shopping and friends. We all have a desire to fit in and know we have “a place”.

Honestly, pastors are no different. I would say that in the area of identity, pastors might have the hardest job out there. While a pastor may have a firm identity in who they are at home, most of them struggle with their congregation or their staff. I will use my father as an example to try to help you understand. My dad is a loving man who has a strong desire to lead people to Christ. He loves to laugh, sing, preach and share about Christ. He knows who he is and knows what God has called him to. He is in his “sweet spot” when he is able to focus on 3 things in ministry: Prayer, Praise and Preaching. It’s his 3 legged stool so to speak. As a pastor, getting people to praise is relatively easy. Most pastors even find it easy to preach (and they enjoy it). But, where I’ve seen my father struggle is in prayer…. No, no, no… his prayer life is probably the deepest of anyone I know. What I mean by him struggling is that it is a struggle to get the people of the church to gather to pray. People showing up for worship and a message on Sunday morning, not a tough task per se. But asking those same people to show up for a 1 hour time of prayer 1 time a month… you would have thought he just became the biggest hieratic the church has ever seen.

I guess what I’m getting at is that it’s tough for a pastor to have a firm understanding of who they are and how they should lead when the people they are leading don’t know who they are. You see, if the congregation has a problem with their identity in Christ, the pastors job is 10x harder than it should be. If a congregation has never been lead to have an understanding of who God wants them to be, where they can find fulfillment in serving, how they can give to the community, what it looks like for them to gather to pray for one another, the job of the pastor is exponentially harder. Some people would say that it’s the pastors job to lead the congregation to find and understand their identity. If that’s true, a church would be a schizophrenic group of people after the change of a few pastors and leaders.

If you attend a church and you go there because the music is good or the preaching is inspiring or maybe the programs they have to offer fit perfectly into your busy schedule but you haven’t been digging in the word yourself to find out who God wants you to be, you’re part of the problem. If you find yourself critiquing the leadership of your church and you’re not doing your part to dig deeper into the Word, It’s not the fault of anyone else. Your pastor can only do so much. The church service you attend is mean to be more like a huddle in a football game. You go, meet, get encouraged, learn and hear the Word. Then you’re supposed to go out into the world and run the play(s).

Hundreds of thousands of pastors are doing their best to find a new form of identity in the wake of this Coronavirus or Covid-19 virus that is sweeping around the world. Many pastors have no idea how to minister to people who don’t meet under the roof of their church or they can’t meet with. They are doing their best to make the Facebook live video not look like a terrorist threat video. They are trying to learn what it means to minister to people while making sure they are practicing “social distancing”. To many pastors, this is killing them! They love you and need to see you each week. They’re not as worried about the numbers of people that aren’t in the sanctuary from Sunday to Sunday. What they are worried about is trying to navigate a group of people through some very uncertain waters while the craziness of this virus moves through our states, cities and towns. Your pastor loves you and wants the best for you.

Sometimes your pastor will look like a duck gracefully moving across a pond. But, never forget that the ducks feet are fiercely paddling like crazy to get where it needs to go.

Father, this has been a tough one for me to write. My identity seems uncertain at times. I know who I am but sometimes I wonder what I’m doing here! There are many pastors who feel the same way! Many of them don’t know how they are going to make it to next Sunday. Today was hard enough and there are a lot of hours between now and then and some of those hours are going to be tough. Help them to remember who you’ve called them to be. Help them to remember that their identity is founded and secure in you. For those pastors who may be struggling and in need of time away, Restoration Farm WILL BE that place. I know you have big plans in store for our family and so many of the pastors out there. Help us all to stay faithful to your call and the identity we have in you. Amen

Obedience

In my devotional reading this morning, it was about the transformation of Saul. Not the king in the Old Testament but the persecutor of the New Testament. We all know that Saul was a pretty bad dude. His job was to pretty much go around and find people who were followers of “the way” or called themselves Christians.  Saul would track them down, throw them in prison or have them tortured. But, as he was on his way to find more Christians to torture, he had an encounter with God. During his encounter, he was struck with blindness and was sent to eventually meet up with a man named Ananias. A little after Saul’s experience, Ananias had an encounter with God where God told him to go to a specific house where he was to meet Saul. God told him that he needed to go and restore Saul’s sight.

Ananias knew the risk. He knows Saul. Saul’s reputation and the things he has done to other Christians are well known to people like Ananias. Mentally he has calculated the risk of running into Saul on the street. He has probably thought about what he would do if he saw Saul approach him.  He has probably rehearsed what he would say if the encounter would ever happen. Maybe he even walked through some scenarios with his family and what they should do if an encounter with Saul ever happened. But now God tells Ananias that he needs to go. Ananias told God about Saul… yup, Ananias told God about how bad Saul was. God’s response? “GO! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15-16)

Ananias had a decision to make. He could play it safe and not go to meet Saul. I mean, who could blame him? Put yourself in his shoes (or sandals). Would you go before someone who had the legal power to put you in jail or persecute you just for what you believe? Nope! You’d be weighing out your options and trying to figure out how you could get out of such a task. But there’s something bigger here. There’s something that Ananias did that literally changed the course of Christianity. He was obedient. He did what he was told and submitted to what God said. He was obedient.

I have 2 boys. From the time they could understand sentences and knew right from wrong I have emphasized a saying to help them stay out of trouble. I say to them, “There is one sure way to stay out of trouble and never get a spanking. All you have to do is Listen and Obey.” Honestly, as an adult, you know that you could have avoided many lectures, groundings, spankings or other forms of punishment if you would have just listened and obeyed the person(s) over or above you, right? If you boil it all down, listening and obeying would have saved so much time and hard-learned lessons.

Apparently Ananias knew this. He knew that he should obey what God was telling him. To be honest, I am so thankful that Ananias had the courage to face his fears and be obedient to what God was asking him to do. But, as I was thinking about this story and as God allowed me to see the importance of being obedient, I realized something about the life of pastors. Obedience to what God is asking us to do costs us something. Being obedient always costs us something.

In the last several months, I have listened to God’s desire for what He wants my family and I to do. We have said yes to Him and have subsequently: quit a position in ministry I enjoyed, sold our beautiful home, packed up our belongings, said goodbye to a great church and friends, moved away from our parents and our kids’ grandparents and extended family, left what was comfortable, faced some people who thought (and probably still think) we’re crazy, we moved most of our things into a storage unit and instead of buying a house like most normal people would do, we bought a camper and are now living in it.

Obedience cost us. It cost us a comfortable life. (Yeah, that sounds dumb to say that…) But, comfortable is where most of us like to “live”. If we’re uncomfortable, we do what we can to change it. If we’re cold, we turn up the heat or put on another layer of clothes. If we’re hot, we turn down the A/C. We like comfortable. When God asks us to do something different and out of our comfort zones, most of us quickly write that off because “There’s no way! God doesn’t want me to do that!” or “Are you sure, God? Do you know what they will think of me???”

I have known a lot of pastors that, because of their obedience to follow where God wants them to be or say what He wants them to say may cost them their friendships. Some pastors have to make tough decisions that cost them friendships even within the church. Whether it is going from 1 service to 2, canceling the traditional service or no longer providing a Sunday evening service or asking a person to step down from a position of leadership. Being obedient may cost a pastor.

A pastors obedience may cost them their family. Many pastors have made decisions based on obedience to their call and it caused their kids to turn their backs on the church. Many pastors know that, due to their obedience to Christ, it puts their family at risk of going through some extremely tough times. So many of my pastor friends pray for their families overall health and well being as much or more than they pray for anything else. For my wife Tiffany and I, before we began packing things up for our move into a camper, we prayed so much for our 13-year-old son to not be lost in the shuffle. See, it’s so easy for our kids to go through the transition and be overlooked. Or there are some pastors that think the move they’re going to make will be best for their kids and it ends up being the hardest for them.

And even some pastors act upon the obedience of Christ within their church and it ends up splitting the church. I am convinced that many pastors (not all) make decisions for their churches that are birthed from their prayer time and based upon their obedience in Christ. However, just because they are being obedient doesn’t mean that it will win the majority or be popular with everyone. Pastors have tough decisions to make for their flock. There’s a lot hanging in the balance.

So let me ask you; what has your obedience cost you? Can you say that you have done things that you know God has challenged you to do? Have you stepped up or stepped out? Have you struggled with something that you feel He is asking you to do? Make no mistake about it, when we step out in obedience with Christ, it can and will be the best thing for us. John 14:23 says, “Jesus replied, ‘if anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’”

If you’re struggling with being obedient because, like Ananias, you feel like there’s a lot to risk and a lot at stake and you don’t want to go through it, remember what John 16:33 says, “… In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” He never said it’d be easy but He did promise He’d be with us.

Lord, the last several weeks have been tough for our family. We have faced some pretty hard times for the sake of following your lead. We know we are where we’re supposed to be but being obedient is tough. I know there are many pastors and church leaders who are wading through some deep waters due to being faithful and obedient to your call. Strengthen us. Strengthen them. May the desire to run the race and to win the prize you have for us drive us to be faithful. When we can’t quite see the way to go, draw us close to you. May our faithful obedience to your calling spur others on in their walk. Amen

Gratitude

My wife Tiffany and I have been married for 16 years. In the past 16 years we have moved 11 times. Just the other day, as we are beginning to pack up for our 12th move, my wife says to me before bed, “Did you know that every move we’ve ever made except for one time, we have never been able to just move into a house? We have always had to move at least a portion of our stuff into a storage unit while we lived somewhere temporary.” I wish this time was different. As we are staring down the barrel of our 12th move, we are just about to buy a 5th wheel camper for our “temporary permanent home”. (Do I have a truck that can pull a 5th wheel camper? No. Those details will come together.) The majority of our belongings are currently getting packed up in storage tubs and are being ready to put into storage for the foreseeable future. If you’re thinking, “Are you all crazy!?!?!?” Our answer to you might just be ‘yes’. But we are definitely living and walking by Faith in Christ.

Moving is hard. Moving from a 1900+ sq. ft. home to a camper is definitely not without its challenges. But, I think the thing that makes this move even harder is because we are currently serving at a great church. The list of things I have come up with below are a list of reasons why it may be hard for a pastor to leave a great church. This is NOT an exhaustive list. It’s just a few reasons why it is (sometimes) hard to make a step out in Faith to go where God is leading.

  1. The people. For many pastors, this might be the #1 reason why they would leave a specific location. But this is the exact opposite for us. The church that we are currently serving is filled with some of the most gracious and loving people I have had the pleasure of serving. No, this church isn’t perfect and the people aren’t always easy to serve. But, if you’re a pastor and you are at THE perfect church, watch your back. Leaving these people is proving harder than any other place we have served in the past mainly because they care. I have been asked many times if I need help. They want me to do and to be well in ministry.
  2. Support. Since the time we made it public that we would be leaving, these people have been nothing short of amazing in their support. Our time here has only lasted 25 months. While the people are sad to see us go, they have been very supportive in our step of faith. Recently, our church board talked about ways in which the church could help make our transition smooth. They are making it a possibility for the congregation to contribute to Restoration Farm. On top of that, the board is also allowing me to keep the laptop the church bought shortly after I got here. If you’re thinking that this is commonplace in churches to let pastors keep things like this, you are mistaken.
  3. Love. Nothing, and I mean nothing, makes it harder for a pastor to leave than love. When you feel loved, you feel the utmost support and energy to keep going and it’s “easier” to serve others. The level of love that we have felt while we have been here makes these bitter cold days in the winter feel like a walk in the park on a cool summer afternoon. Ok, that was a lie. Winters in the Cleveland area with a north or northwestern wind off of Lake Erie are, at times, brutal on your skin. But, the moment you walk into the doors of our church on a Sunday, the sting of the winter wind teamed with the snowflakes that feel like ice missiles hitting your face are quickly forgotten and the love you feel from the people here warms the soul.
  4. Care. At our church we have a Pastoral Care Team. This team of people have a mission. Their mission is to help the pastors and their families feel loved, appreciated and cared for. The extent of their mission isn’t just to the pastors and families that are currently serving/attending our church. Long before we made the move to this church, we received birthday cards for my wife, myself and our boys and anniversary cards… every single time. If something happened to our extended family, we got a sympathy card from this team of people too. Again, that was happening BEFORE moving here. These people care. They make it easy to serve them.
  5. Gifts. I put this at the bottom of this short list for a reason. Physical gifts are nice but they aren’t a main reason pastors keep going or feel loved. But, every once in a while, it is nice to receive something as a reminder that you are loved. In our relatively short time here we have received gifts of food, gift cards, cards, free baby sitting and the occasional cash gift. If you have ever served at a place where they didn’t do things like that (and we have) you know that those gifts are definitely blessings when they come. We have loved and appreciated the timing of each of the gifts we have received.

There are many other reasons that make it difficult for a pastor to say goodbye, pack their things and leave and these are just a few. We also know that in our new role, these things that we have felt and received will not come so frequently. We are not out to get or receive anything. But like I said, it does make it easier to keep going. We do know the value of the way those things make us feel and that is part of what drives us to want to start something like Restoration Farm for those who may be serving in the toughest spot they’ve ever been. We know that not everyone out there has the opportunity to be loved and cared for the way that we have. If that is you and you feel like you are on the verge of giving up, throwing in the towel and walking away from your calling, allow me to remind you that our God is greater than our circumstance. If you are ready to walk away from church ministry because you feel like every church is like the one you’re in now, I want to remind you of a few things:

— John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We have never been told that things will be easy. But we’re reminded that we should follow after and cling to the one who has overcome the world. Troubles and problems WILL come. Take heart!

— “There’s life after hell.” Those are the words of a pastor who is a dear friend and mentor of mine who is now serving in a life giving church after serving in one that almost cost him his life. Not all churches and people are the same. There are good churches out there that are looking for good pastors. There are also good churches out there that can and will nurse you back to full health in ministry. They want what’s best for you and they are out there.

— We’re praying for you. I know that sounds a little cliché but it’s the truth. My wife, myself and the other pastors and friends that we have are praying for your health and wellness in ministry. We know that Restoration Farm can’t come soon enough for some of you. We are praying that God will provide a way for you to be an overcomer in your current situation. We are also praying that He will provide a way for us to make this dream of Restoration Farm into a reality that blesses others. We. Are. Praying.

I have been asked to keep people updated on the changes in our lives as we begin this transition. As a way to do that, on top of trying to write things here, I have a way for you to see some of the things we will be doing. A long time ago I started a YouTube channel called “Paul’s Fix All”. I worked on things like cars, trucks, lawn mowers and different things around the house. Recently I changed the name of the channel to “Restoration Farmer”. If you would like to keep up on some things we will be doing on the farm and some ways in which we will be working towards making Restoration Farm a reality, go to YouTube and search Restoration Farmer. Or click HERE , like and subscribe to the channel and we will do our best to upload more visual aspects there. I will also do my best to write some of the things that are on my heart here, but the YouTube option will be more of a visual and maybe an entertaining way to see what we’re doing.

Lord, today there are a lot of things in my life that I am grateful for. The places you have taken me and the ways in which you have provided are nothing short of amazing. Thank you for the people in past churches who have poured into our family but especially those here at Bedford Naz who have overflowed our cup in all the ways I mentioned above and in so many others! In the next few weeks, things for my family and I will be very stressful. We have sold our house in order to pursue and follow after you. We have no place to live yet. We are 2 weeks from the closing date of our home and to be honest, it’s a little stressful not knowing where we will live. But Lord, you are faithful and you are good. Failure is not an option for you and the word fail isn’t even in your vocabulary. So many times, the father of lies would like me and so many others to believe what you’ve asked us to do is impossible. So, today I am asking for your provision for my family and those pastors and servants who are out there doing what you’ve called them to do. Give us your strength. Give us your wisdom and give us your blessing. Our desire is to follow after you and in the process to become more like you. Help us Lord. We need You! Amen.

Spiritual Markers

Where are you right now? What are you going through that has been tough? Maybe it hasn’t been recent. Maybe it was years ago and you went through something that, in the moment, you just didn’t understand why you were through it. Sometimes those things or moments are bad, painful, hard, or even things you wish you could wipe from your memory. Other times those things are fun, joyful, enjoyable and, if you could have you would have stayed right there in that moment as long as you possibly could. So, what is it… or what was it for you?

Recently, I sat down with my dad (Pastor and boss) to talk a bit about this transition I will be going through. If you are just reading this blog, let me catch you up. I have recently resigned from a full time position as an Administrative/Executive/Discipleship/Family (and whatever other “title” fits) Pastor. I will be moving to Xenia, Ohio in February of 2020 to begin a career as a farmer and starting a ministry (for pastors) that will be called Restoration Farm. As my dad and I sat and talked about this move over lunch, he reminded me that God is methodical. Ok, maybe he didn’t say it in those words exactly, but that’s what I took away from it. See, the farm that I will be going to work on is the same farm that I worked on when I was 13 to the well after High School. The methodical movement of God is something that we humans miss or just don’t understand.

My dad calls these things spiritual markers. Spiritual markers are those things you go through that, in the moment, you don’t know why, understand or see why you’re going through them. However, in God’s perfect timing, He reminds you of those time periods and allows you to see why you went through them. For me, when I was 13, I began working on the farm for a job. During my time there I learned much more than just farming. Believe it or not, you can learn a lot about ministry, scripture and even the Lord while you sit in solidarity in the cab of a tractor, combine or even doing some other kind of work with your hands. The farm taught me a lot about patience, trust, diligence and even obedience. Working with and for people without first learning any of those lessons on a “God-level” is near impossible.

So, here I am, some 20+ years after going through the experience of working on a farm. Now, I’m going back. The time that I spent on the farm 20 years ago prepared me for life and ministry. I think that if I would not have had that experience then, the thought of being a farmer would be so scary and foreign that I would not have even considered this as a possibility from God. I was just reading a book called The God Dare by Kate Battistelli this morning and she says, “Sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way to come back a short distance correctly.” She goes on to say, “He will take us out to bring us in.”

I loved my time on the farm. Honestly, after I left to start school and study for ministry, I wished many times that I would be able to be back to the farm. I would see tractors or combines out in the field and I would get this aching in my heart to be back doing what I loved. As I have moved to different churches to serve, I still loved my visits to the farm and sometimes wished I was back there but felt totally content in my place and calling to serve. Although there was a desire to be back there, I never pursued it. What I mean by that is I never pushed for that to happen. I never tried get back there. I have learned to be content in where He has placed me no matter what my circumstance. But He has always given me times and places where I have worked with my hands like I did when I was on the farm.

The farm was and is a Spiritual Marker for me. God brought me through it to bring me back to it. Only He could see how something like fields of dirt and crops, corn and soybeans and a small herd of cattle could be a ministry to ministers. Only He could use that time and place to springboard me into ministry and bring me back to that place to minister to others.

There are a few stories in scripture that have helped me understand this example of Spiritual Markers. Take Moses for example. He was raised in the palace and grew up in royalty as a “stepchild of Pharaoh”. After killing an Egyptian who was beating up a Hebrew, he was fearful that he would be ratted out and ran away. He became a shepherd for 40 years. 40 years!!! One evening while tending his sheep, he sees this bush that’s burning but not being consumed. He goes over, checks it out and hears God calling him to go back to the very palace he ran away from and free the Israelites who are in slavery there. He is a bit reluctant (insert sarcasm) but eventually ends up doing what God asks him to do. His familiarity with the inner workings of the palace made him perfect for approaching his “brother” to free the Israelites. He spent 40 years as a shepherd to livestock in the desert before leading God’s chosen people out of slavery from the palace and then through the desert for another 40 years.

Or take Saul… Saul was a Pharisee. Pharisees knew the rules and regulations inside and out. They treated their ‘beliefs’ as more important than the written scriptures. But as Saul had an experience on the road to Damascus where God encountered him, things began to change. Saul was a guy who, in Acts 9:1-2 we learn was a pretty tough dude! “Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” This guy who knew the ins and outs of the law used that knowledge to persecute Christians. After his conversion and name change to Paul, we learn about some of the crazy things he then did FOR christians. Acts 9:22 says, “22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.”

See, Paul was able to use what he was well versed in to make an impact for the Kingdom. God was able to turn his focus from persecuting Christians with the law to increase in strength with law and proving that Jesus was who He said he was. His past was a Spiritual Marker that changed the future for generations.

My hope is that the Spiritual Marker of the farm I once worked on will become the grounds upon which Christ will bring about huge changes for His Kingdom.

So, I ask again, what is it YOU are going through? Where has God led YOU in the past? What has He lead YOU through so that you can make an impact in a bigger way in the future? Today is the last day of 2019. We are on the brink of a new day, new year and new decade of possibilities. Take some time to look back over where God has led you and where he is leading you. Allow Him to strengthen you from the valleys you have gone through so that you can serve Him stronger.

Lord, thank you for the Spiritual Markers you have led me to and through. Many of them I can’t even recall but I know that when necessary you will gently remind me of their importance in my past. I pray that you will do the same for many others as they are challenged to look back at where you have led them to where you are leading them. Remind them that as long as you are their number one priority and they are fervently seeking you, you have been in control and will continue to lead them. Remind each one of us that no matter how we feel about our current situation, you see the whole picture and know what is best for each of your children. Good things are in store for us as long as we stay in step with you. Amen.

Faithful Obedience

I’ve done a lot of crazy things in my life. This list includes but is not limited to: At the age of 11 a friend and I decided to pull the motor off of a lawnmower because it would smoke while running. In an afternoon, a friend and I had it apart and back together again and had fixed the problem. At 13 I got a riding mower out of the trash that didn’t run, fixed it and turned it into a “redneck go-cart”. At age 14 I began working on a farm and continued to work there throughout High School. Even though I was a young employee I began operating equipment that could pull a house off of its foundation and drove semi trucks on the highway to haul grain. At age 15, I had saved up enough money to buy my first car. A 1965 Ford Mustang. In the 3-4 years of owning it, I completely rebuilt the motor while working full time. At age 18, a buddy and I enlisted in the Air Force because we heard that they would pay for college. After being accepted and sent to San Antonio, during my last week of training I was medically discharged with athletic induced asthma (good bye free college). At 19, I started my own home renovation business. At age 20 I felt a call to go into the ministry and 2 weeks before classes started at Mount Vernon Nazarene University (College), I enrolled. At 21 I met the girl I would marry. In less than 2 years we were engaged, married and moved away from our friends and family so I could finish my degree at Trevecca Nazarene University. The morning of my wedding, I decided that it would be a great idea to go out water skiing and tubing with the guys in the wedding. Thankfully that event didn’t leave me with a broken nose and 2 surgeries to fix it like the time a few summers before.

Yes, I’ve done a lot of crazy things. But not one of those crazy things involves following God’s leading in my life. When I said yes to Him, it meant that I said yes to His possibilities, His dreams, His leading and His plans. I’ve seen some crazy things happen while following Him. I’ve seen sight restored (yup, this still happens!). I’ve seen marriages restored. I’ve seen the “prodigal son” come home. I’ve seen pastors and leaders walk away from the Lord and I’ve seen pastors and leaders lead God’s people through some pretty deep and rough waters. I’ve had the opportunity to serve with some pretty great leaders and people. And…. some not so great. I have been in the room when some took their last breath and the feeling of death was lingering in the air. I have also been the first person to visit with and hold a newborn before the extended family could make it in the room. Ministry is full of ups and downs, twists and turns. Some things I’d rather not experience again. Others, I wish I could have stayed in that moment just a bit longer.

The dream of Restoration Farm is slowly becoming a reality. The praying, thinking, planning, talking, looking, praying, praying and more praying is taking shape. This past Sunday, I resigned as the administrative pastor at Bedford Church of the Nazarene. In making my resignation public, there’s a certain feeling that comes along with it. For me, it feels like I’m letting people down. I am a “do-er”. Do-er’s don’t like letting others down. They get a high off of getting things done and (in some way) pleasing those around them by accomplishing a task. But, when you tell people that you are serving that you’re leaving, there’s a huge sense of letting them down. It’s stressful. On the flip side, you know that you are doing exactly what God wants you to do but that doesn’t always make leaving any easier.

So, where are we going and what will we be doing? The next step for us to begin the foundational groundwork for Restoration Farm looks like me stepping out of “conventional ministry” to becoming a full time farmer. Yes, that’s right. A full time farmer. Do you remember reading that little line above that said, “At age 14 I began working on a farm.”? Well, a few months ago the farmer I worked for (who is more like a 2nd father to me) began asking about Restoration Farm and what we thought it may look like. In our conversation, he asked me if I would be willing to apprentice with him and, as time goes on, taking over the farm. Also in that discussion, we talked about the importance of what we feel God is leading us to and how Restoration Farm is a priority. He and his wife agreed and they also want to be a large part in making Restoration Farm become a reality. Through several more phone calls, meetings, dinners and spending some time praying together, we all (both of our families) feel that this is where God is leading us…

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The picture above is an aerial image of the home-place. This is where I worked as a kid and where God is leading me back to. As I have spoken with my dad about this, he reminded me that God has different spiritual markers in our lives. God leads us to something at some point and even though we don’t know why we’re going through it, He, in some way, uses those points in our past to help us follow Him in the future. I had no idea why I worked on this farm in the past. I know I learned a lot about myself, the earth, farming and even the Lord. But there was no way for me to really know why God had me there until now. Dennis Kinlaw wrote about his perspective on following God. His analogy was that following God could best be understood as if we were walking backwards not able to see where we are being led with our arms and hands stretched out in the hands of the Father while you watch things unfold around you. In ministry that’s how we move forward more often than not. We walk, not being able to completely see where we’re going but completely trusting that He will guide our steps. As he places our feet where they need to go, we are able to see the things that He is making happen unfold. If it is difficult for you to understand that way, maybe it’s better like this. Sometimes the best way to see what God is doing is in the rear view mirror. Sometimes we get so focused on where we are going (or want to go) that we miss the best things God has for us and we can only see them in the “rear view mirror” of life.

This farm is a spiritual marker for me. All the things I learned about life and work weren’t in vain. The reason God had me there in my past was to help me to (in some way) see a part of His plan for Restoration Farm become a reality.

What “spiritual markers” have helped you? How long did it take for you to realize that He brought you through “that thing” so that you would be better on the other side? Take a minute to think about and maybe even pray about some of those things in your past. Then ask God to help you to see the possibilities for your future in light of that previous circumstance.

For me as a young boy, the farm was everything a young boy loves! Dirt, trucks, tractors, animals and doing things that you couldn’t do at home (or that your mom and dad wouldn’t let you do). Now, I see that same patch of ground as a place where God wants to build Restoration Farm. Will it happen overnight? In a year, two or even five? I have no idea! But what I do know is that my family and I are taking a leap of faithful obedience and saying “yes” to something others may see as crazy… again.

God, as my family and my heart are going through waves of every emotion imaginable, we are looking to you. We have dreamed about how Restoration Farm would begin to take shape but we could never have imagined it like this. You are so good! Lord, be with our friends and church family here in North Central Ohio. These people are spiritual markers that you have put in our lives for a distinct purpose at this specific time. I pray that you would provide for them just as you have provided for us. Your goodness is unmatched and I know that failing or giving up is not a possibility for you. I pray that as we take this complete leap of faith, your provisions would be evident and that every day we would give thanks for what you are doing. I continue to pray for the pastors that will be impacted for your glory by our leap of faith right now. Begin to encourage their hearts as you are encouraging ours. Amen.

Legacy

This past Sunday, my pastor (and father) preached a message about leaving a life of legacy. He spoke from 2 Kings 13. The basis of his message was about how that, after Elisha’s death, there was a man that was being buried at the time that a group of raiders would come to town in the spring. 2 Kings 13:21 says, “Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb. When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet.” During part of his message, he said “The way that you live now, long after you’re dead and gone, can bring life to people who experience your influence, because of the way that you live.” The way that Elisha lived for and trusted God affected this dead man. That’s a life of legacy.

I think that, if we are all really honest, no matter what you do for a living you want to make an impact. You want people to remember you. There’s something inside of you that drives you to do better, be better, try harder (in certain areas of your life), to make a difference, volunteer for a cause and even challenges you to give up your hard earned money to make a difference in other people. I think the same could be said of those people who carry out mass shootings of innocent people. They want people to remember them. The 2 boys, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, who gunned down and killed 13 people and wounded 24 others in Columbine, Colorado in April of 1999 wanted to be remembered for something. Unfortunately for them, most people don’t remember their names. In fact, I remember Cassie Bernall, one of the students who was gunned down, because she said “yes”. I learned about Cassie a few weeks after the shooting in 1999 as the girl who was asked about her faith in God by Eric Harris as he had a gun to her head. When she simply answered “yes”, he pulled the trigger. I remember Cassie. I had to Google search who the shooters were. For me, she will be remembered for what she did and the way that she, in a moment of life or death, stood up for what she believed in and said “yes”.

How will you be remembered? Will you be known as the person who worked hard and always made it to work early and stayed late? Will you be remembered as the mom who kept the house clean and made some awesome meals? Will you be remembered for how much money you have (or don’t have)? Will you be remembered for the hours that you volunteered at church, the food bank, the hospital or the homeless shelter? Does that thought ever cross your mind? What will people say of you at your funeral….. or years after? This thought has lived deep in my mind for a few years now. I think that Satan loves to bring this up and try to make me believe that what I have done was for nothing. I believe that he thinks that if he says it enough that I’ll buy into it and believe the lies that he speaks. Unfortunately, many people do. Many people buy into the lies and end their lives because of what he says.

I believe that many pastors hear the lie and leave the ministry because they think that they’re not making a difference. Recently, I have thought about the 15 years that I spent in youth ministry. I am friends on social media with many of the students that I had the opportunity to pastor. Many of them are not living a life that would reflect what I saw God do in their lives when they were in church or youth ministry I was leading. I have seen student who literally brought in a pack of Marlboro Black cigarets during an all-nighter, laid them on the altar, prayed that God would take the desire away, asked for forgiveness and walked away a different kid that night. That student isn’t living a life that would reflect that decision. I have seen others who have found Christ during a service, camp, retreat or other event who was truly a different person in the days, weeks and months following that moment and they are not living a life that would reflect that time. Honestly, it makes me wonder what kind of difference I’m making. However, if I get too focused on a handful (or more) of the kids who aren’t living a life that reflects Christ, I will overlook the ones who have accepted a call to full time ministry and are making a difference in many other people’s lives. I think of Mandy who is leading worship in a church in Texas as an ordained elder in the church of the Nazarene. Or, Brennan who is an employee of a major insurance company and still serves others on missions trips and at youth group in his local church. I also think of other students who are making an impact in school systems, the corporate world and even stay-at-home moms doing their best to care and provide for their families.

But the thought still remains; how will I be remembered? Will it be what I said or how I lived? What I earned or what I gave? Where I worked or how I sacrificed? I think there comes a time in a persons life that they realize that the stuff does’t matter. It’s not about how much we can acquire, gain or earn. We won’t be remembered for that. I have been to a lot of funerals in my life. Never once has any family member ever been proud to stand up in front of their family and the crowed of friends of the deceased and bragged about the cars, money or possessions they had. They may mention those things but that’s not how they are remembered. Many times the deceased is remembered for what they did and how a moment in time made such a difference to them. How they took time to make a phone call, go out of their way to help or even sacrificed time and resources for the betterment of others.

For me, the idea of Restoration Farm is not something that will really ever gain me and my family any wealth. There’s no money in it. Actually, if I pitched this idea to a bank to get a loan, they would probably laugh me right out the front door! “So, what you’re saying Mr. Dennis is that you want to build small homes for pastors and their families to come, stay, relax for several days and not earn any money from them?!?!” (Insert mocking laughter here.) For us, it’s about leaving a legacy. It’s about the call to minister to a select few who are on the front lines, fighting to make an impact in souls for eternity. We want those people to be and do their best where God has them!

So, how will we do it? How will we make this kind of impact? How will we live a life that leaves a legacy? By being faithfully obedient. That’s all we know how to do. We know that being obedient goes against the grain in today’s society. Today, people, media and commercials scream, “Get up, go, take what’s yours!” No one out there is saying, “Be obedient.” “Listen to what God is saying.” “Follow Him.” “He will provide the way, you just need to follow.” Living a life of legacy is countercultural and so is following Jesus.

Lord, today I want to live a life worthy of the legacy you’re calling us to. I don’t know how it will all come about. I don’t know what it will look like exactly. But, what I do know is that when I am faithfully obedient to you, you will open doors that are physically impossible in man’s eyes. Help us to live in such a way that is obedient to your call and makes a huge impact in the lives and souls of many. Amen.

The Ripple Effect

A few weeks ago I took some vacation time and our family headed south. Disney? Gatlinburg? The beach? Nope. We found a place that is doing, on a small scale, what we hope Restoration Farm will do. It was a small cabin in the woods of Tennessee outside of Ashland City. It was an awesome week. If I didn’t have to go get earthworms so that we could go fishing, we wouldn’t have seen anyone. It was incredible. While we were on the property, we spent most of our time around the pond, doing a whole lot of nothing while drowning some worms.

One afternoon as we were sitting on the little dock, we used the time to reinforce a lesson we have taught our boys for quite some time. While we were sitting there, the water was like glass! Completely calm. One of the boys threw a small pebble into the water. My wife quickly saw the ripples and said, “Do you boys see that! Did you notice what happened when you threw the pebble into the water?” She then grabbed another pebble and got ready to throw it in. Before she tossed it into the water, she said, “I want you to pay attention to the ripples. Watch how far they go out.” As she threw it we all watched. The effect of that small pebble being thrown into the pond was visible all the way to the shore line.

If our boys have heard it once, they have heard it a million times. It has become almost a weekly conversation in our house and our boys can finish our sentences when we state these two things. Every decision you make has two things. 1) A consequence and 2) A Ripple Effect. Our weekly conversation also consists of the 2 facts that every decision you make, no matter how small or how large, has either a positive consequence or a negative consequence and your ripple effect will undoubtedly have an affect on not only yourself but others. ‘Others’ could be those you personally know well but ‘others’ can also reach farther to those you don’t know and even far into future generations.

When the boys were able to physically see the ripples move out away from that little pebble, it was as if a lightbulb came on for them. It wasn’t just us saying it yet again. They could actually see the effect. Those ripples opened up a door for us to talk about things like lying , dating, doing things everyone else are doing etc..

My wife comes from a long line of alcoholics on both sides of her family.  She knows the potential result of picking up any form of alcohol and how that could potentially lead to major downfall. She has family members who have lost literally EVERYTHING…. Spouse, children, job, house, cars, self worth…. Everything. The crazy thing is, most of those family members never thought about the consequences or the ripple effect their decision would have after that first, second or third sip. Yet, because of their decision so many of us on the “outside” never even thought it would affect us and we have suffered in some way. The ripple effect. It’s real, it’s strong and it’s powerful.

On the flip side of that coin, she has also experienced the positive consequence. About 38 years ago, my father-in-law was an alcoholic. His mother had been praying for him for a long time. Don, my father-in-law was sent out on an errand by his parents to get some meat for Christmas while his sister and brother-in-law were in town. While Don and his brother-in-law went out to get the meat, Don mentioned God. He says after that he doesn’t remember much about the drive home other than just crying uncontrollably. When they got back to his parents, his brother-in-law asked Don if he would like to ask Jesus into his heart and forgive him of his sins. Don did just that and said from that moment on, his life was radically different. The ripple effect in Don’s life looks like an alcoholic getting saved and starting to serve Christ by answering the call to full time ministry. Just think for a minute about the ripples in his life. Think about the people that were changed for all eternity because of his encounter with Christ.

Now, because my father-in-law allowed Christ to change his life, I am married to a wonderful woman who, I am convinced, loves Jesus more than me and has a desire to create ripples for all eternity. Tiffany is a product of the life altering ripples that her father experienced and I am forever grateful.

So, what does that mean for the Dennis family and Restoration Farm? We are believing and trusting that as we step out in faith, God will cause this decision to follow His leading to be full of positive consequences and create ripples in other peoples lives for all eternity. I recently was challenged by a thought a friend of mine had when he spoke about entering heaven. He said that he is looking forward to standing before Christ as he enters. However, he said there is a fear that Christ is going to tell him that there are a few people that want to welcome him in to heaven. His fear is that the line of people that are welcoming him into heaven (that he had ultimately lead to Christ) would only take him about 10 minutes to get through. His passion is to have soooo many more come to know Christ through his life here on earth!

Our overarching goal is to create so many ripples in so many “ponds” that the gates of hell are forever shaken because we were willing. We desire to be willing to love, minister to, pray with/for, encourage, provide for and link arms with pastors and families who are on the front lines leading people to the Throne of Grace. Some of those men and women are being worn thin and are needing a place to go and find restoration. Some of their families are being broken and misunderstood and need someone to listen to their hearts. Some of their children are being shown all the negatives of full time ministry and need to be shown all the positives and amazing blessings of this privilege.

Jesus, may the ripple effect of our obedience to your call for Restoration Farm change the course of history… not for us or for a legacy to leave behind but for your kingdom! May the lives of those you have called and their families be forever changed because of how they experience your presence while at Restoration Farm. We declare encouragement, rest, revision, a renewed passion, deep seeded fire, unity within families, a love for your people and the ministry you have for them to be the difference for each one. Amen.

Appreciation

The month of October is known as “Pastor Appreciation” month in the life of the church. Having the opportunity to serve on staff in multiple churches, I have found that every church body seems to do things differently when appreciating their pastors. If you happen to attend a church where there are multiple staff pastors, count yourself blessed. One particular year while I was on staff as a youth pastor, the church only recognized the lead pastor during the month and the other pastors on staff were left out. When I say recognized, I mean the lead pastor was the only one to receive a formal gift or words of thanks (in a Sunday service) from the church board. When the lead pastor was called forward by the church board secretary during the service, the rest of the staff were asked to stand where we were while a presentation was made. Yes, it was odd and the rest of us felt a little insulted and left out. Do we need gifts or money to feel appreciated? It definitely doesn’t hurt… but, no. We don’t need those things. But just like everyone, it feels nice to feel appreciated. From a pastors perspective, here are some good ways to let your pastor know you appreciate them and all they are doing.

1. Your pastor doesn’t (necessarily) want/need money, cards, gift cards or other things to feel appreciated. I believe your pastor first of all wants your attendance. Not just your physical presence in church but your mental attendance as well. Many pastors prepare hours and hours for a message to be shared for 20-30 minutes on Sunday. How about saying “Amen” during a portion of the message that resonates with you? That simple “amen” agreement in the message goes a long way in the heart of a man or woman who has done the preparation. One of the hardest things for a pastor to deal with on a Sunday is empty seats. Making sure you are physically and mentally there as much as possible is important.

2. If your pastor is anything like mine, they will love this. This idea doesn’t take any money, gifts or even a huge amount of creativity. This is even something that Jesus challenged his disciples to do: Pray. Get a group of people together to pray for your pastor(s). These men and women are under a great deal of stress and pressure and can never have enough prayer. You may think that this is a super simple thing and that it will not amount to anything. But, if there is any way you could empower people to pray for a solid 24 hours for your pastor it will do so much for them. Having a 24 hour prayer vigil at your church would be huge! Get 24 people to give up 1 hour or 48 people to give up a 1/2 hour OR… have people write down their prayers for their pastor(s) and send them to them through the month of October. There is no amount of prayer that will ever be considered too much.

3. This may sound radical… maybe even crazy. If you do this, you might see your pastors head explode… ok, maybe not but they will be blown away. Volunteer for something at church. Much of your pastors (lead pastor, children, youth, discipleship, administrative) time is consumed trying to find someone to help in different areas of the church. I have heard this next point over and over again in staff meetings. The thing that stresses children’s pastors out to no end is showing up on Sunday morning and not having a volunteer in the nursery or toddler class and having to find someone last minute to cover it. Or, the youth pastor that is doing their best to run an event understaffed. No, you may not be the “perfect” children’s or youth leader but, your presence will speak volumes to those pastors. You could even volunteer to be a greeter or an usher once a month or show up to make coffee. There are lots of ways to help. If you volunteer, don’t just do it once. Make it a habit or practice. If you want to stun a pastor, ask them how you can serve or volunteer. They may be speechless in the moment (because no one ever asks them that question) but it will be greatly appreciated.

4. If you’re going to get your pastor something, go all out. Most pastors are overworked, underpaid, overextended and haven’t had regular/normal working hours their entire career. Don’t be embarrassed about giving your pastor a gift. Most pastors (in their humility) find it hard to accept gifts. If you know your pastor has a hard time accepting gifts, make sure you do it right when you give it to them. Have fun with it. Next, make sure the gift isn’t about you. A good example of this bad idea is giving your pastor the gift of tickets to a sporting event where they are going with you. Or, taking your pastor out to coffee for 2 hours. Sometimes that turns into just another time for them to work… don’t give the gift of work. As I mentioned above, go all out! Get as many people as possible together to give the gift. If you had 20 people going to get 20 different $20 Starbucks gift cards you could easily have 1 person take the $20 from everyone and buy the pastor an espresso machine. You might be thinking that the pastor would love the gift cards more than the machine. You’d be wrong. Get them the machine! They will get many more miles out of the machine!

5. Make it personal. If your pastor hasn’t been at your church that long, it’s easy to create a survey, email it to them (before the month of October) and then pass out their answers to the congregation. In the survey, ask the personal questions that could lead people to get them something they like. If you happen to find yourself in the middle of October and you haven’t done anything for your pastor, there’s a simple solution. My father is a self proclaimed leader of the Procrastinators Club where, on Christmas Eve, he is scouring the stores trying to find the “perfect” gift for my mom. Most of the time he ends up coming through with a last minute gift. However, if you are like me and don’t like the stress of scouring the stores at the last minute, write a hand written card, note or letter to your pastor. That’s right, hand written. No emails. No Facebook post or message. Hand written. The hand written words that you will compile on that page, showing your appreciation for them, will be much more appreciated than any gift with a bible verse printed on it. Most of the hand written notes, cards or letters of appreciation that I have received are kept and cherished. It doesn’t cost you anything but time; and to a pastor who spends their time pouring into their congregation, the time you spend writing is meaningful. A few years ago, the only thing I received during the month of October was a crumpled up Post-It note from a teenager reading, “Good Job”. I took that post it note and framed it and I have it in my office to this day. (See picture above.)

6. Be listening. If something they have said has encouraged, challenged or strengthened you along the way, let them know. As I mentioned above, you can write them a card or letter. But possibly you could “double-dip” on this one. Write it down and then verbally reaffirm it. Sometimes the biggest struggle a pastor faces on a Sunday afternoon is wondering if anyone heard a word they said during the service. Let them know you were listening and that something they said meant a lot to you. It goes a long way… trust me.

7. While most of the appreciation is pointed towards the pastor(s), don’t forget their families. My 2 sons have been received gifts or have been recognized in the past and they absolutely love it. My wife has been given cards as well during the month of October and it has done some pretty amazing things for her personally. It means so much for your pastors family to be recognized right along side of them. I know of some pastors who have felt called to a specific church or location but their spouse is having a hard time with the move/transition. If you recognize those things and encourage the family as a whole, the reciprocation of love will not go unnoticed.

8. Be a legitimate friend. This may come as a shock to most people but pastors are some of the loneliest people. While they are “friends” with people they often don’t have any close friends. They need (even want or desire) people who will still be their friend after they have been called away from the church they are serving in now. Being a true friend looks like Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Help to sharpen your pastor. When they don’t have friends their spiritual edge may become dull and the desire to serve grows weak. Most pastors feel like they are probably going to be “eaten” for lunch after a Sunday service rather than invited to go out to lunch. Be a friend. Treat them how you would want to be treated. Matthew 7:12 reminds us, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

9. Go to bat for them. There’s more than enough negativity floating around out there. The stories where people stand up for the weak and less fortunate are not being published in the news. If you care for your pastor(s) or their family at all, you will be the one who steps up to the plate for them when it seems like no one else is. Put the personal differences aside. Your pastor is a human being who is doing their best to serve The Lord in their current context. They need people who will link arms with them and go to battle for them. When you hear negative talk being said about your pastor, shut it down. What does “going to bat for them” look like? See idea #2.

10. Extend Grace. Remember that your pastor won’t always get this ministry thing right. Ephesians 4:2 says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” I can guarantee that as a parent, wife, husband, child or employee, you have messed up. You’ve done things that you’re not proud of. If your spouse, parent or employer wasn’t graceful with you during your mess-ups in their actions or words, it would make it harder for you to want to go to work or be a better spouse, parent or child. So, remember to extend grace to your pastor. Not just during the month of October but the other 11 months that it is so desperately needed.

So, there you have it. 10 tangible ways to appreciate your pastors during Pastor Appreciation month. These idea are just that… ideas. There are many more ways that pastors can/will be appreciated this month but these are some things that can be pulled together relatively easy. While this isn’t, necessarily, something that ties in to Restoration Farm directly, it is something that will help pastors and their families in the here and now better serve the church that they are called to. And, ultimately, that is what Restoration Farm is aiming to do.

Father, today I lift up your servants who are faithfully serving in the churches they are called to. Remind them that they are loved, appreciated, cared for and called. Raise up people who will lift up their pastor in prayer. Allow those pastors to be so encouraged that their people benefit from the overflow of your Grace. There are many pastors who feel alone, shamed and even hated. I pray specifically for them. I pray that you would lift their heads, their hearts and minds. May they be steadfast in their calling to serve the flocks you have called them to shepherd. Amen.

Love, Grace and Forgiveness

In the 16 years that Tiffany and I have been married, she has shared and even reminded me of a lesson she learned when she was younger. In case you missed this portion of information in a previous blog, my wife, Tiffany, is also a pastors kid. Growing up in a pastors home, you learn many important life lessons. Some are easy lessons and some aren’t. Today, you’re going to hear about a lesson that she learned as a kid that has now impacted how WE (yes, both of us) do ministry. The lesson she learned from her father has impacted me and I am reminded often about the message of love, grace and forgiveness that Jesus desires for us to pursue and live out.

He had me stand in front of him with my hands held out, palms down. As he looked at me with hurt in his eyes, both of his hands came down with a sting on the tops of mine. “Ouch!” I yelped as I pulled my arms back and stared at him in bewilderment. “Put them back and don’t pull them away”, he replied. I did so and he again struck them several times as the tears started forming in his eyes. As I looked at him completely stunned and in horrible confusion he began, “It hurts and it will sting every time someone hurts you. You have to keep your hands and heart extended just like Jesus did and does. It doesn’t ever get easier, but when you keep your eyes off people and on Jesus He gives you the strength to love them and continue extending that love to them.”

I knew exactly what he was talking about and tears began to stream down my face. A hard lesson to hear and learn as a teenage girl of 15. My best friend and fellow student in our youth group had turned her back on me, started spreading lies about me and also lies about my dad. Because of her actions and words, there were multiple friends lost and several families who left our church. Even to this day I can still envision where we were and hear some of her cutting words that left me so heartbroken, wondering how ANYONE could say such hurtful things.

“Keep your eyes off people and on Jesus”…. If he said it once, he said it a million times. It was drilled into my mind and eventually it began to become real in my heart.

Through the years I started to learn what all my dad was actually saying in that one sentence. Love, grace and forgiveness had been extended to me and now I was to go and do likewise. I deserve death. You deserve death. We all deserve death and yet… grace is extended to us all and according to John 20:23, that same grace now lives within me/us. I (we) am to give that same love, grace and forgiveness that Jesus does. Crazy and reckless, huh?

Looking back over the lessons that the Lord has taught both Paul and I growing up and storms He has walked us through together, I realize how the majority of them were and are preparing us for ministry to other pastors and their families that we may cross paths with at Restoration Farm. This vivid memory I have shared with you is most definitely one of them.

Because the church is filled with fallen human beings, how many other pastors and their families have gone through a similar situation? Lies being spread, words of anger being lashed out, judgement and criticism spoken or even being driven from the position God has placed them in because of personal opinion? Unfortunately, it happens every week. According to https://www.pastoralcareinc.com/statistics/ , over 1,500 pastors left the ministry every month in 2018 and over 1,300 pastors were terminated by the local church each month, many without cause.

It makes me wonder how many of these pastors would still be in ministry today if they and their families had a place to go to share their hurt, share their situations, share their hearts? How many would still be passionately pouring into the flocks they had been given if they had someone who valued their calling to pour into them, remind them of the love, grace and forgiveness given to them? Would they still be in ministry if they had someone to walk beside them as they seek to ‘keep their eyes on Jesus’ and help provide them with the tools, prayer and support to extend that same love, grace and forgiveness of Jesus?

You may be thinking “well that wasn’t the case with such and such a pastor. They went off the deep end and did such and such. It wasn’t the fault of anyone in the church even”. Sometimes we often forget that pastors, their spouses and yes… even their children, are fallen human beings as well. Again, it makes me wonder how many of these pastors (or family members) would be prevented from falling into a moral failure if they had a place to go. How many of these pastors could and would return to ministry if they had a place to go that valued their calling to pour into them, remind them of the love, grace and forgiveness given to them? To walk beside them as they seek to extend love, grace and forgiveness to themselves? To extend the same reckless grace extended to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.

I’m thankful for a father who sought to love Jesus with all of his heart, soul and mind. I’m thankful for a pastor who took the time to teach me what it meant to ‘Keep your eyes off people and on Jesus’. I’m thankful he extended the love, grace and forgiveness of Jesus to those who were used by Satan to hurt him and his family. I’m thankful for the reckless grace of Jesus and that his same grace now lives in me. I’m thankful for that grace that allowed me to also love and forgive the individual who caused so much pain. I’m also thankful to say that the Lord has allowed restoration with most of the friends and families affected in our youth group and our church throughout the years and continues to work His glory.

This paragraph struck me and has stuck with me. Bill Vanderbush and Brit Eaton say it in their book Reckless grace, “Once you truly receive God’s reckless grace, it’s darn near impossible not to give away! Releasing that grace in the overflow becomes not only your right as a child of God, but your responsibility as a coheir to the kingdom of heaven with Jesus Christ. This is the magnitude of the gift you carry!”. As we think about the weight of that responsibility, that is what drives…. no, compels us toward Restoration Farm. We believe that we have been gifted with Jesus’ grace and we are to give it away. It’s not so much what we give away as much as it is to how we give it away. Our desire is to extend His grace through Restoration Farm.

Jesus, I understand the challenge of this gift. I understand that there will most likely be ministers and family members that, as humans ourselves, we may feel don’t deserve your reckless grace. I understand that there will most likely be ministers and family members that are hurting deeply, cut through to the core wondering if they can even go on and experience or extend grace themselves. May we be a beacon Jesus, a light that loves and supports them through the power of your name to keep their eyes on YOU! May we live up to the name you have given us for this facility/ministry and through the power of your name assist to restore the love, grace and forgiveness that may be felt as lost or forgotten. This task may be great but the void of pastors leaving the ministry is greater. Help us to be a place that sees that statistic go down because we chose to step out and follow you. Amen.

For Health

Well, this post is ironic. I began writing this almost a week ago and in the midst of trying to finish it up and get it posted, I got sick and couldn’t get things together to get it done. Over the past week, my personal and devotional readings have reminded me of the need and importance of spiritual and physical rest. So this is a timely post, if for nothing else, as a personal reminder of the importance for rest and health. Now, on the the post I started last week.

As I woke up this morning and stumbled my way to the coffee machine, I happened to check my social media. I don’t really like to do that before sitting down and having my quiet time with Jesus in the morning, but I did. I came across this story about a pastor and mental health advocate, Jarrid Wilson, who had committed suicide on Monday, September 9th. Jarred was only 30 years old, Husband to Julianne and the father of 2 little boys. He served on staff at Harvest Christian Fellowship, a megachurch in Riverside, California. You can read that article here. Both mental health and physical health are two “touchy” subjects within the church that both, in my opinion, need to be better understood. While this is not necessarily a writing about mental health specifically, what you are about to read does deal directly with the health of those who serve in large and small churches across America. No one in church leadership is exempt from health issues, both physical and mental, which many times (although not always) end up paired together hand in hand. However, because we have a passion in “whole-listic” health, my wife and I believe we are on the right path and have been given a few tools to help deal with both sides of those “health coins”, especially for those in ministry. I am deeply saddened for the loss of a “passionate preacher” like Jarrid, but there are still so many more out there that are facing similar personal health issues that could hinder them from serving Christ to their fullest potential. We will continue to lift up Jarrid’s loved ones in prayer who are left behind to pick up the pieces in the wake of his death.

In the next few moments, I want to fill you in on a bit of research that has been done on both the mental and the physical health of pastors in America. Again, I speak of both because many times they can feed off of one another. According to Network (https://network.crcna.org/disability-concerns/clergy-mental-health), the number of pastors diagnosed with clinical depression was double the national average, 45% sought advice from their family doctor regarding stress and anxiety issues and nearly one-fourth (23%) of pastors acknowledge they have personally struggled with a mental illness and half of those pastors say the illness has been diagnosed. While your pastor may be a great communicator, friend, spiritual mentor or even a great husband/wife, health issues are real!

Now there is still the topic of physical health that pastors deal with on a day to day basis. In a recent study that focused on United Methodist pastors from a LifeWay.com article entitled Pastors Face A Growing Health Crisis “United Methodist pastors involved in the studies have higher cholesterol, higher rates of asthma, and more hypertension than other Americans, according to the researchers. The cause appears to be obesity. Forty-one percent of United Methodist pastors are obese… compared to 29 percent of all Americans. And it’s not just Methodists who are overweight. The health risks for pastors are the same in most denominations.” The article goes on to say, “There really is an obesity epidemic among clergy. When you talk to the people who provide insurance for clergy in other denominations, they all say the same things.” Obesity isn’t the only risk factor for pastors. Stress, depression, and financial worries also take their toll.

Did you catch that first statistic? 41% of United Methodist pastors are obese. 41%! In the Nazarene denomination that I am serving, I would echo that number. While that number is surprising, the number of pastors that deal with other health issues are also alarming. Another study of South Carolinian African Methodist Episcopal pastors, “A majority of pastors were overweight or obese (93%) with hypertension (68%); half had two or more chronic health conditions, 35% had high cholesterol, 30% arthritis, and 20% diabetes. On average, pastors had a waist circumference that put them at an increased risk for disease.” How do we combat those statistics? How do we in ministry keep from becoming another number in a study? Most of us preach, speak, teach about the spiritual wellbeing of our congregation or flock but feel like if we talk about health matters we fear that we may step on peoples toes. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” I truly believe our temples include not only the heart and mind, but also the physical mind and physical body! But, if our bodies are to be the temple where the Lord is to dwell, used for His kingdom and for us to be His hands and feet, shouldn’t we encourage each other to maintain that temple?

In 2013, Tiffany and I learned about a company that has literally changed our lives. At this point, you’re probably thinking that this is where this becomes an advertisement or commercial. It is not. Please continue reading as I explain. This is yet another tool that is part of the greater story AND this is how we see God working to help restore pastors and their families physically as well as partially fund the vision of Restoration Farm. The company is Shaklee. The corporation was founded by Dr. Forrest Shaklee in 1956 and is the Number One Natural Nutrition Company in the United States. Dr. Shaklee experienced the “power of nature” in his own life, and wanted to share that power of “God’s pharmacy” (God’s created nature) with others. That “others” included us some 60 years later. As we began taking their products in 2013, we noticed some major positive health differences in our family. Please understand, in 2013 I was a youth pastor of a medium/small church, I was the only one earning an income as my wife was a stay-at-home mom to our boys. Money wasn’t something that we had much extra of, but we knew that (for our health sake) we had to do something. Although there are many ways the health of our family was transformed, here is my wife’s personal health testimony ….

I was sick. So very, very sick and I was crying out to Jesus desperately for an answer. I was a mom of two just trying to survive each day and fake my way through so I wouldn’t concern everyone. During AutoImmune, Neurological and cardiovascular testing I was not living what I would consider a “quality life”. Rheumatic Fever as a teenager set my body into a spiral that has been quite the journey of recovering from and one that I still continue to walk. 
Over the many years of this journey, along with His incredible hand, the Lord has blessed me with so many tools in my belt to begin turning my body & mind around. Between a couple incredible doctors, a nutritionist and the gift of amazing supplementation my life has become more and more of that “quality life” I’ve been striving for. 
I had tried a gamut of different kinds of therapy, medicines and even thorough supplementation. When I was introduced to Shaklee I heard one of their mottos “Changing brands can change your life”. My thoughts were “yea right”. So I set out to prove yet another system wrong… only this time, I was proved wrong. Within two weeks I started to notice little differences and as time went on, more and more differences. After a year or so of implementing these supplements into my day, during one of my doctors visits she looked at me and said “you’re a walking miracle my friend and you should be in a wheelchair”. 
While I am not claiming that this brand “healed anything” or “took away these diseases” or that I have a “magic answer”, I am proclaiming that changing brands literally did change my life and the way my body now functions. I truly believe that by incorporating into my day the many vitamins, minerals, amino acids and proteins that God intended us to ingest through our food has allowed my body to function the way He originally intended. Getting all of these vital nutrients in food alone is impossible when you look at the fact that eating one apple 100 years ago would be equal to having to eat 50 apples today.
Do I still struggle with my health now and then? Yes… both physically, mentally, emotionally  and sometimes even spiritually. If I didn’t, I would already be walking with my Jesus. But I am so thankful for the tool of this company and products the Lord has blessed us with and I can say it excites me to know how He is using my story and this gift of Shaklee to help transform lives over and over and over again. 
“Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.” 3 John 1:2

So, how does this fit in on the vision of Restoration Farm? As I mentioned before, we see this as an avenue that God will use to help fund the ministry. As my wife continues to build her business through Shaklee, there is an income involved. We have a desire and calling to use that income to bless those who will come through Restoration Farm. Because we also have a vision to see the health of every pastor we come in contact with improve through natural nutrition, one portion of the vision of Restoration Farm is to provide some of the vitamins, supplements or other nutrition lines that Shaklee has to offer at a discount or even free of charge to those who we will minister to. Does this come as a cost to us? Yes. But, the gift of Shaklee is so important to us that we want to benefit others by allowing them the opportunity to experience the products themselves.

We have had several people asking how they could help to make Restoration Farm a reality soon. Honestly, beginning by taking care of your own health and taking part in Shaklee now will help make Restoration Farm a reality. Even if you already supplement, think about just changing brands. If you love the science and would like to know more about why “changing brands can change your life” check out https://shaklee.tv/the-science-behind-the-landmark . Concerning the care of your health or the health of your pastor and their family, you can visit http://www.inspiringrestoration.com and check out all that we have to offer. Share that site with your friends and family.

The truth about Restoration Farm and the reality of what we see God doing really revolves around providing a place for restoration to begin. If we can offer a night (or several nights) for a pastor and their family to retreat, we want to do that. If we can offer a place of retreat combined with a way to benefit their physical wellness, we most definitely want to do that. We believe that a pastor’s physical and mental well being can benefit from a place like Restoration Farm and so will their congregation.

Lord, there are many pastors that are under attack. Even now, I am not physically 100% but I want to lift up those brothers and sisters who are feeling the weight and pressure of the enemy wanting nothing more than see them give up and throw in the towel. God, this vision is nothing short of amazing and we want to see the numbers of pastors and church leaders who are giving up to decrease while the number of thriving pastors increases. Help us to be a source of your increase. Help Restoration Farm to be something that sources health, wellness and… restoration. May this dream be a reality for YOUR glory! Amen.