In college I took six semesters of biblical languages. It was required. I also took one required counseling class. One. I have had thousands of requests from people seeking my help in counseling them. I have never (so far) had someone call me at 3am with a problem interpreting the meaning of the Greek aorist tense.

Now, I do not want to denigrate theological training. It’s imperative that our pastors are hermeneutically sound (some issues we are having right now stem from a lack thereof).  I do believe we are skewed in the side of the theological, and neglectful in the practical. That is especially apparent in the lack of available counseling options for our members.

Sound biblical counselors are important for three reasons:

  1. The resistance to biblical counseling is real.

I don’t know how it is in other demographic segments, but in the Hispanic culture counseling is seen as either a sign of weakness or a worldly, non-Christian practice. I mean, why would you go to counseling if you have God? As with other issues, prayer is important, but not enough. There are some things you can’t just pray away.

  1. The need for counseling is real.

It has been alarming to discover that counseling is more needed in the segments and areas that need it the most. Many problems lie just below the surface that revolve around the three A’s of dysfunction:

Abuse

Abandonment

Addiction

From those three dastardly seeds grow the trees Absalonic Adventists hang themselves from. Another reality is that many times good Christian counseling is either unavailable or inaccessible because of lack of funds. If you are a pastor in a city where there is more than one church, you could join with other churches and fund this valuable service. One of my friends Nicole Parker, who is a counselor describes the amount of requests she gets as “overwhelming”. She is not alone. This is very common with the counselors I meet.

  1. The correct process is needed.

Pastors are expected to be counselors, yet we were never trained to do so.  After experiencing some epic fails I suggest the following three step process:

Listen.

Pray.

Refer.

I tell people that came to me with emotional needs or scars that the process of healing would not be easy, fast, or to be done in isolation. My own wife went through counseling for one year before we got married for scars from her past. I saw the positive effects of a biblical counselor first hand.

Hopefully we can work together to help the ones who need it most.

In the early 90’s I was a theology student with a desire to make a difference. In early December I found out about the Evangelism Council and along with my friend Jose Cortes Jr. signed up to go. We were prohibited to attend (at least I was) by the Greek teacher, but we went anyway. I ended up having to repeat the class. It was worth it.

I heard this tall, rough around the edges, straight talking preacher with a New York accent. He spoke on the word Go. He said: “I looked up the word Go in the Greek, and it means…Go!”

He made an impact on my life. As I reflected on his life (he fell asleep in Jesus today) I want to share three things I learned from this evangelism giant:

1. You can be real. He was one of the first preachers I connected with, that didn’t try to impress me with oratory but rather spoke truth he was obviously living himself. He told stories about real people, with real issues. He spoke “truth with handles”. It was relatable. It was memorable. It was real. Not a lot of real people in the world. He was one.

2. You don’t have to please everyone. Not everyone liked his style. Not everyone liked the fact that he extended grace to people. He would suffer no fools, he had little time to argue finer points of theology because he was committed to growing the kingdom.

3. His passion for evangelism. I heard three speakers that week that inspired me. Ron, EE, Finley. They all had their styles. They all had their methods. They were all successful. Ron Halvorsen Sr. had credibility when he spoke about evangelism because he did evangelism.

Rest in Jesus.

Go, still means Go.

 

 

If you’ve attended church for any length of time, you probably had a moment when you cringed when something inappropriate was said, someone acted a fool or a leader or pastor neglected to prepare for their part. When cringe-full moments happen the first people I think about are guests that might get the impression that worship done halfheartedly is the norm, not the exception. Give the wrong person the mic and bad things happen. For example: (these are all verifiable accounts of cringe-full Sabbaths experiences)

*A children’s story about the loaves and fishes that excluded the fishes because the one who was telling it was vegan and would not promote the eating of fish.

*A church where everyone is over 70. As children’s story time comes, (there are no children present) they go ahead and tell it anyway.

Here are three thoughts to keep in mind:

  1. Keep it positive.

I know there are hard scriptures, not every part of the bible is sugar and sweet. I get it. We don’t want sermonettes that produce christianettes. Even when presenting hard truths, present the hope that we have in Jesus. Why do we always equate seriousness with holiness?  Smile. Congratulate the ones that are early in Sabbath school instead of griping about the lack of attendance. Give people hope. Lord knows they need it.

  1. Keep it professional.

Many times I hear the following three excuses for a lack of professionalism in worship services when people in charge of special music sing out of tune, we start late, or have interminable announcements:

*They are committed.

*They are sincere.

*They are spiritual.

Question for you. Do you get operated by a bad surgeon that is spiritual? Would you take a chance getting on a plane with an inefficient yet committed pilot who is sincere in his desire to fly?

Sincere and effective. Spiritual and excellent. Committed and prepared. Let’s stop giving people passes just because they tried. Raise the standard.

  1. Keep it personal.

Instead of speaking to the crowd, break your audience down into individuals. What does the single mother need to hear? How about the elderly man that lives alone? There are first time guests, long time members and everything in between. Instead of addressing the crowd, address individuals. Personalizing the presentation will engage the people listening and will not exclude the ones that need a message from the Lord that day.

Praying that all your worship services will be cringe free!

Last February I wrote a blog on an evangelistic initiative on Sunday morning from First Church in Huntsville Alabama.

The reaction to that eight week outreach was swift. It was basically divided into three responses:

  1. Surge is a compromise, the beginning of the Omega Apostasy and the worst thing ever.
  2. Surge is an innovative evangelism that should be tried.
  3. Surge has elements that I disagree with and some I don’t, let’s take a wait and see attitude.

The trial period is over. These are my reflections:

  1. It amazing how quickly we rush to judge things we have no immediate knowledge of. People hear Sunday and Worship together and go crazy. Some of the internet posts were not only pointedly critical, they were downright angry and nasty. Having talked with Pastor Snell from the beginning, I know for a fact most did not contact him or the church and ask questions. Mathew 18 was thrown out, and replaced by accusations and innuendos. I believe we can do better.
  2. Results matter. No I am not saying that the ends justify the means. No I am not saying that we should use EVERY new strategy people come up with. Yes I am saying that just because we shouldn’t use EVERY new strategy we shouldn’t use ANY new strategy.

He preached biblical doctrine.

He did it on a trial period. For 8th weeks.

He had 10 baptisms with 10 more getting ready.

There was no confusion, there was no apostasy. In fact the opposite happened.

  1. Believe the source, not the media, (social, print or online) I have learned after a while that websites, news outlets and people will often spin to their preconceived concepts. That includes all of us, myself included. That is why it’s important to speak to the source. They have much more information that a third party.

The first Surge is now over. Here are the results. It would be wise to take a look at what happened, including the addition to the church of over ten people. As I said in the first blog, they need our prayers much more than our opinions.

Watch a full report here: https://vimeo.com/126728807

Truth is not afraid of innovation.

ADRA Nepal's photo.Luke 19:41 But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep.

Since last week my twitter and Facebook have been inundated with two hashtags:

#prayfornepal

#prayforbaltimore

I believe prayer is important. I believe prayer is essential. I believe prayer is necessary. I also believe it’s not enough.

To sit idly, from miles away, without being moved to action, is not what God had in mind when he sent us as ambassadors of his kingdom to the cities.

So, what can we do?

  1. For starters, give.

Hashtags won’t feed a displaced family. Prayer can give hope, but it won’t rebuild a house. As we look at the cities ravaged by injustice, poverty or natural disasters we can do more than pray. We must. Consider for example giving to www.adra.org/ They already have a presence there. There are a myriad of opportunities to help in Baltimore. You can give, you can help with cleanup, and you can have meaningful conversations with minority communities.

  1. Ask yourself why, not just what.

When we see buildings burning in one city and in ruble in another, we must ask the deeper question. There are eschatological implications. There are sociological implications. There are even soteriological implications. Dig deeper. There is always something more. In order to effect change, it is not only important to look for answers, it is paramount we look for solutions.

  1. Remember the city.

In many cases, instead of loving the city, we have been leaving the city, not just physically but relationally.  Love is more than a feeling for the city, it’s action in the city.  Jesus cried for the city, and had compassion for the people living there. That was wonderful, but not enough. He took those feelings and put them in action, as he healed, preached, helped. Cities have not traditionally been known for being centers of discipleship, conversions or morality. Taking that into consideration, there are several attitudes that one can take towards the cities.  There are at least four in the bible:

  1. Leave the city. Acts 16:39
  2. Condemn the city. Luke 9:53-55
  3. Avoid going into the city. Mathew 16:21-23
  4. Love the city. Mathew 9:36

 

What will you? #dosomething

 

 

9706495160 0abd9477eeI had been asked to do the Sabbath school commentary for Pan de Vida Productions (http://www.ppvida.com) The pastor who I’m following is a living legend. His name is Alejandro Bullon. Everybody knows him. Everyone. Even people who don’t know him, know him. For me its hard to follow a legend, who is also a personal ministry mentor. Replacing a household name can be intimidating, but it does not have to destroy or derail you.

Maybe you are in one of these situations:

You are the new pastor in a district following a well-loved predecessor.

You’re invited to speak at a conference where last year the main speaker killed.

You are the new VP, President or youth director and on the first day you encounter some 10 foot shoes you’re expected to fit (you prefer petite sizes)

Whether you’re taking over a school, a classroom, a pulpit or an assignment, the message is the same: you can thrive. Eventually. With emphasis on eventually. Did I mention eventually?

Here are three things I have learned when following very successful people:

  1. Embrace, don’t hate.

I’ve seen it many times. A new pastor or leader arrives and immediately points out all the shortcomings of his predecessor. That would be a mistake because everyone makes mistakes. By emphasizing his weak areas you leave exposed yours. I remember getting to a church and every house I visited, a previous pastor was mentioned. It was Pr. Orozco this, Pr. Orozco did that, Pr. Orozco was the greatest pastor who ever lived. So I invited him over to speak. His endorsement of my ministry went a long way. That church loves me now. What would have happened if I let my ego get in the way and attacked his shortcomings? He was a great pastor! By the way, be very wary about the people that come to you talking bad about your predecessor. They will hate you too eventually.

  1. Establish, don’t copy.

A common mistake leaders make when following a legend is going to the other extreme (from point 1, which is to hate everything the other one did) and copy verbatim all the plans, mannerisms and direction from previous leader. Some people will not like a new emphasis and direction and bail. That’s alright. You will lose some people. You will also gain some. It’s part of leadership. Change is good, they just don’t know it yet. Finding the balance between being respectful of past leaders while at the same time innovating is a very difficult thing to do. Talk about ideas. Not people.

  1. Be patient, don’t hurry.

Eventually. Remember that word? It took your predecessor years, sometimes decades to get to where he/she is at. What makes you think you can get there faster? Stay the course. Definitive, intentional steps in the same direction, refraining from personal attacks will take you where you want to go.

I don’t know how people will receive my SS lesson commentary. I’m bringing my own style and I am going to give it all I got. I’m prepared. God decides if I’m successful. If it goes well, amen. If it doesn’t, I will probably learn some things along the way. It’s not easy to follow a legend. But it’s possible to thrive. Eventually.

Comments? Thoughts?

No one gets into a relationship thinking: “This is going to wreck my life, alienate my family, friends, and leave me wounded (possibly for life”. Yet it happens all the time. Not all train wrecks can be avoided, but most can. It’s interesting that after the train wreck happens, people look back and say “I should have seen it coming”. Fact is, you did. At least parts of it, but you lied to yourself by thinking your situation was different.

I am not a counselor or psychologist nor do I play one on TV, yet in 22 years of praying and listening to people I have seen some familiar patterns emerge. I share this “straight from my gut” blog not because I’m an expert, but because I care. Before the wreck happens, consider eliminating the following three phrases from your life:

  1. What’s wrong with _________________________________________. (fill in the blank)

Most victims of relationship train wrecks said that phrase at some point.

I know I’m married, but, what’s wrong with a little flirting?

I know he has issues but what’s wrong with being forgiving? Aren’t we all imperfect?

I know she seems controlling, but what’s wrong with caring?

The problem with the “what’s wrong with” phrase is that it makes excuses for character flaws. If you have to spend time arguing with yourself or with mature people who love you, trying to justify the unjustifiable, you are probably treading in dangerous grounds.

Train wreck!

 

  1. I can save him/her.

People that like to play savior usually end up crucified by the exact same people they are trying to save. It’s interesting to watch this dynamic unfold. Many times, the satisfaction of getting attention overrides the potential for a broken heart and results in compromised values. There is something inside of all of us that craves attention. Starting and remaining in a relationship with an unhealthy person makes forget two important principles:

People are worse than you think they are.

The process of change is going to be harder than you think.

When you add to the mix an intimate physical relationship (very common in unhealthy individuals and relationships) you get a perfect storm. If you are wondering whether an intimate relationship with a person you are not married to is a good idea, think about this: Complete intimacy without complete commitment usually results in a complete mess.

Train wreck!

  1. This is perfect.

This is the balance to #2. You’ve probably heard it said, that if it’s too good to be true it probably is. There is no such thing as a perfect person or situation. If it seems too perfect, question it. Healthy relationships have disagreements and imperfections. There is a difference between imperfections and dysfunctions. These are three markers I use to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationships:

Control- are they trying to help you become a better you or a different you?

Abuse- once it happens it’s time to get out.

Vomit- when someone you just started dating or just met shares too much information with you (they vomit on you) it should be a warning sign something is not right.

 

Some of you are seeing the signs right now that a train wreck might be at hand. Stop coming up with excuses. Train-wrecks seldom end well. Pray for courage and surround yourself with a couple of friends to support you as you jump off. Better a scraped knee than a busted head.

Sorry for the bluntness.

No more train-wrecks!

Do you know what you believe and why? Author Mark Mittlelberg shares six ways people arrive at their beliefs:

1) The Relativistic Faith Path,
2) The Traditional Faith Path,
3) The Authoritarian Faith Path,
4) The Intuitive Faith Path,
5) The Mystical Faith Path,
6) The Evidential Faith Path

Its a great resource. I highly recommend it.

In it he shares a quiz you can use with your church, youth groups, young adults, seekers. See the link below.