Facing Discouragement?

     What is the root to all of this discouragement? It is affecting most people and will probably affect everyone at some point in time in life. I think part of the issue is social media. Most people only put the highlights and good of life on social media. They put the vacation pics, the cute family pics, the funny memes. Social media has become a highlight reel of people’s lives. It’s often the best moments of their life. Sometimes, a bad moment does sneak in. A moment of loss of a loved one, a moment of time when a family pet has passed away, when someone is missing, or a brief moment of a fully disclosed look into a dark moment in someone’s life. But the highlights outweigh the negatives in most people’s “feeds.” So then, you become discouraged because so and so has such a great life and you graduated together. Their marriage looks perfect and you are and your spouse are in a rough patch. Their kids always look so happy and clean and you can’t get past the mound of laundry and can never get just one decent picture of the family… just one… is that too much to ask? They are doing fancy, extravagant vacations and you are struggling to get by week to week let alone actually drive out of town, and even less of a chance to travel far out of state or country. Let’s set one thing straight, you should never compare your life to someone else’s by comparing their highlight reel to your whole life. It’s like when you watch a movie preview that looks really good but all the good parts are in the preview. It may look awesome, but when you go watch the full movie you are let down. That is what we tend to see on social media.
 
     Life does has seasons though. Seasons of good, seasons of bad. Seasons of easy times, seasons of hard times. Ecclesiastes 3:1 says “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” Chapter 3 goes on to describe different seasons. One of the most often overlooked are seasons of discouragement. Discouragement is a loss of confidence or enthusiasm. If you have been dealing with a lack of confidence that you just can’t seem to shake, you too are dealing with discouragement. While King Solomon (the author of Ecclesiastes) does not reference this season specifically in chapter 3, but when I talk to people it is a feeling that I hear about often. In full disclosure, it is probably the most often referenced season and feeling I hear from other pastors. Pastors in big churches, pastors in small churches. New pastors, old pastors. Young pastors… seasoned pastors, you get the gist. And you know what? I have faced it plenty of times too.

     Sometimes our discouragement is born out of a spirit of jealousy. This is where I feel the root of discouragement truly lies. We spend so much time seeing what others have and where they are in life and we wish we were where they are too. We wish our lives were as nice and polished as theirs. We wish our churches were doing as well as theirs, we wish our family was as good, our finances were as good, really, we just wish we were as good as them. You lookout and see how someone is being blessed, and you desire it so much. Why aren’t you being blessed like them? Is it because you are a bad person? Is it because God is punishing you? Is because God doesn’t like you? Is it because God doesn’t care?

     You read verses like Psalms 34:17-19The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. 18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. 19 The righteous person faces many troubles, but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.” Or Psalm 55:22 “Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall” You think to yourself when you those verses and other verse, is it because I am not good enough, I’m not godly enough, I’m not righteous enough. That is why God hasn’t blessed me like them. Then you go out and your try to do everything in your power and might to be perfect. And you know what happens? You mess up, you fail, you make a mistake. Even if you get back up each time, you know what the outcome will be. You are trying to achieve an impossible task on your own.

     Before moving on, I want to say one more thing. I want to say that sometimes when you look at other people and where they are and you are jealous of what they have or what they have achieved, if you knew the whole story, you might not be so quick to be jealous. What we don’t see is the sacrifices they made in school to get that degree. What we don’t see is the childhood trauma they went through that drove them to put family as the #1 priority in their life. We don’t see all of their past baggage, that God delivered them from that they use a fuel to drive them forward. They relate with people who were drug addicts, alcoholics, adulterers, those with little hope because they were once in the same position as them. If you are jealous of where they are now, would you trade your past for theirs? Maybe you would, but how has your past uniquely shaped you into who you are today?

     As I grow older, I see how small and large decisions both shaped me and changed me into who I am. I am who I am because of what has happened in the culmination of my life. The reason that our righteousness is not enough to deliver us, or to make us whole is because we are inherently flawed. If we want to become strong, we have to first become weak and allow God to lead and work through us. Isaiah 41:10 says “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” We are held up by his righteous hand, not by your own.

     When you are facing discouragement or jealousy remember that it is not your job or task to worry about where someone else is in life. It is not your job to compare. It is our job to look to God and trust him. When discouragement creeps into your life, lean to God and trust him. Your path is uniquely your own, and no one else’s. God has a plan for you, to use you your past experiences for good.



An Epidemic in Our Society

Some may find this controversial…
Reality isn’t simply what you want it to be. It isn’t a pick and choose kind of thing. One can’t wake up one morning and say, “Hey, I want the sky to be green and the grass to be purple. That’s how I feel it should be, and that is what I am going to call it from now on. The sky is green; the grass is purple.” I mean, yes, one could certainly choose to call the color of the sky green and the grass purple, but is it really? Isn’t the sky actually still blue, the grass still green despite what one wants it to be or what one calls it? I mean, the colors didn’t actually change just because someone wants them to. Herein lies the problem. There is an epidemic in our society, nay, our world in general today, that says reality is what you make it. It says, “Reality is whatever you want it to be,” but we all know deep down that isn’t true. Pilate asked of Jesus, “What is truth?” Jesus had previously spoken, “…Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
 
Everyone on the side of truth listens to truth. Church, it is our job to promote truth. We must be about promoting the truth of Christ, the truth of the gospel, the truth of His word. If we don’t promote His truth, and we compromise, we conform to the patterns of this world. James has something strong to say about this in chapter 4:4 when he states, “…Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” So, promote truth, in love, but don’t compromise. Sometimes standing strong is the most loving thing you can do.
 
Peace in Christ,
Stephanie Holloway


Be Bold

As I currently explore the different worldviews for my apologetics class, I have determined to be more caring to those who believe differently, yet more committed to how I believe. There is so much pressure from other worldviews these days for American Christians to be tolerant of others’ beliefs, but we aren’t called to be “tolerant” in the sense that many use the word today …loving yes, conforming, no. There is a marked difference.

One can look to the Old Testament and see an example of nonconformance to a secular view in the book of Daniel.  Daniel didn’t conform to praying only to the king but went against the law and bowed and prayed to only God just as he always did. He was even thrown into a den of lions because of his actions. As Christians we are called to be BOLD, not timid! While we don’t need to have an in-your-face attitude, we shouldn’t be ashamed of the gospel or our beliefs either, and we should stand up for those beliefs and the right to exercise them.

 Jesus never apologized for what he preached, even if it was hard for people to hear. We mustn’t apologize for our Christian beliefs, but represent them with the highest integrity, just as our Master did while on Earth, in humility and with love, giving God all the praise and glory. 2 Timothy 1:6-7 states, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”

May you be bold in Christ!

Blessings,

Stephanie Holloway



Legendary

     Some of you that may know me well, know that I am a big fan of the band Skillet. Skillet is releasing a new album this year in August, although, they released a single called “Legendary” on Wednesday. You can check it out here if you like that type of music- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAXCNeAk7-0. I was listening to John Cooper, the lead singer for Skillet, talk about the song and he said something that struck a chord with me. He said they have been a band for 22 years, and this would be their 10th album. They had tons of people tell them they would not make it, they were too hard rock, too pop, too many girls in the band, not enough girls in the band, too Christian, not Christian enough and more and more. One part of the chorus of Legendary says, “Still the ones standin’ now, Destiny is callin’ me, go down in history, every day I’ll fight to be Legendary.” It struck a chord with me because often times, I strive and work to be a better pastor, a better communicator, a better leader, but how often do I step back and just focus on being the best Christian I can be?

     For most Christians, this isn’t a thought that is encouraged. We are told the meek shall inherit the Earth, whoever wants to be first must be last, and so many other true things from scripture. However, when we apply those to not trying our best to walk closely with God, we are short changing the promises God has given us. We are fighting against the world and evil on a portion of what God wants to give us. Ecclesiastes 9:10 says “Whatever you do, do well. For when you go to the grave, there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom.” Whatever we do, we need to do our very best, because when we die, there will be no more work… no more planning or wisdom…. When we go to the grave our life here on Earth is done. We have one life to live. Then why do we as Christians claim we know Jesus, but then we spend very little time cultivating our own spiritual growth. I am a person who likes to do my best at everything I do, but I can honestly say before talking with a friend this week, after having some semi-typical Monday Blues (It’s a pastor thing, you can feel free to read 100s of articles out there about it) and I told him, I don’t think I have ever said I want to be the very best Christian I can be. Don’t get me wrong, I read my Bible, pray, talk about Jesus every day. It is a normal part of me and my life. However, there is a difference between doing something and giving it 100% of who I am and what I am. Most of us have gotten used to giving a small percentage of effort into getting by in life. But God isn’t calling us to survive, he is calling us to thrive.

     Maybe one verse isn’t enough to convince you that we should do our best for God. We should give everything we can give to be the best Jesus Followers we can be. How about from Paul in his letter to the church in Galatia, he says “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.(Galatians 6:9)” When we are doing good, and we pursue doing good, at just the right time, we will reap a harvest of blessing but only if we don’t give up. How many times do we give up, or feel that God is not blessing us because we have given up too soon or quit too early? Or how about towards the end of Paul’s life he wrote “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. (2 Timothy 4:7)” He is saying, I have given everything for Jesus. I have given my life, my breath, my body to pursue Jesus and lead others to Him.

     That’s just two more examples of doing our very best. That isn’t giving 10% like a tithe, its giving 100%. It’s giving so much, that there is nothing left to give anywhere else. To give 100% it often will take everything we have. But, giving 100% will often take us further than we ever thought was possible. Because, and Jesus said this in Matthew 19:26, “Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”

     If you are looking at me and telling me, it is impossible for us to give our very best to God. Or are very best is but filthy rags to God, that may be true, but God still asks us for it. Maybe you think, It is impossible for you to be a better Christian. It is impossible for you to not get road rage, it is impossible for you to get over this addiction to drugs, pornography, alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, or whatever is holding you back. You know what, you would be right. It IS impossible for you to be your best on your own. It is impossible for you to be your best and over come your struggles and shortcomings, to overcome your sin, without God. All things are possible with God. Or, nothing is impossible with God. Just like the song by Skillet says, we must fight every single day. The devil, our enemy, and the enemy of God is seeking to destroy us and tear us down. What if that one day that you are not on your “A Game” is the day that someone needed you? That was the day that someone was ready to decide to follow Jesus and change the direction of their life forever… but you weren’t ready to help them.

    The reason we need to strive to be Legendary, isn’t to exalt our own names, but to exalt God’s name. The larger platform, the more we can do, the better witness we provide, all will point people to God. Last week I preached out of Acts 2:42-47, and that early church did 5 things well. But one of them, one that I didn’t even touch on, has stayed with me. That early church performed signs, wonders and miracles and that witnessed to those around them that God was with them. When we are following God, there will be signs that he is with us.

     Maybe you have been in a place where you are struggling, maybe you have been in a rut for a long, long time. Maybe you have had so many bad days that you don’t remember what a good day feels like. Maybe you have given up on being the best Christian you can be, you have allowed the devil to determine your limitation instead of allowing God to do the impossible.

If that is you, I encourage you to pray to God and ask Him to reveal His power, His wonder working power, to you and those around you. Pray that God’s power is so strong in your church and mine that His signs, wonders and miracles show others that God is with us. That God is walking among us.

Ask God to come in and change your life. Ask Him to show you where you have not given Him everything.  Are you ready? He is calling you, speaking to you, are you listening?
 
Pastor Kevin B. Plain


Happiness and Health through Focusing on God

     Finding happiness and peace in the world we live in can be difficult. Besides the amount of negativity and heartbreak in the news alone, we will also surely face difficult times in our lives that can cause us to lose focus and hope. In Proverbs 17:22 it says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.” Although these words were written thousands of years ago, science is proving this to be true today.
 
     WebMD explains that “negative emotions such as depression, anger and hostility are risk factors for heart attack and stroke” and that “happiness seems to protect the heart.” There was a study conducted on a group of 1,739 healthy adults living in Nova Scotia Canada for 10 years to determine whether attitudes affected their health. “After accounting for known heart disease risk factors, the researchers found that the happiest people were 22% less likely to develop heart disease over the 10 years of follow-up than people who fell in the middle of the negative-positive emotion scale.” But how do we release the negative emotions that build up inside of us? “When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer,” Psalms 94:19.
 
     Prayer is the best way to slow down our negative thoughts and anxieties and begin to refocus on God and the hope we find in him. In Philippians 4:6-7 it reads, “Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your heart and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Dr. Loretta G. Breuning, founder of the Inner Mammal Institute and the author of ‘The Science of Positivity’ and ‘Habits of a Happy Brain,’ explains that when we pray, we can activate neural pathways we developed when young to release hormones such as oxytocin. “Oxytocin is known for its role in maternal labor and lactation, but it also [enables] social trust and attachment, giving us a good feeling despite living in a world of threat,” says Dr. Breuning. “It’s the idea of ‘I can count on something to protect me.’
 
     So when a situation comes up and you’re out of ideas and you are helpless, feeling much like you did when you were a baby, prayer can provide some other source of hope.” Romans 15:13 reads, “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” Through prayer and connecting to God, we have an opportunity to, not only release our fears, anxieties, and hopelessness, but we are drawing closer to our creator, we are strengthening our relationship with our Father in heaven and we are becoming healthier, spiritually and physically.
 
God Bless!
 
Cristin Martinez


Small Beginnings

      Have you ever despised your small beginnings? They say there are no small parts, just small actors. I think that sometimes we want the big part, the big house, the big job and so by human nature we sometimes tend to despise our small beginnings. Did you know that with God, there are no small beginnings? Bear with me, you’ll see in a bit. Zechariah 4:10 NLT says, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…” Sometimes we forget that good things can come in small packages.
 
     Elijah was a brave soul. He went to King Ahab and told him that there would be no rain or dew for the next 2-3 years until he said so. After three years of drought and King Ahab searching for Elijah, Elijah presented himself to the king. King Ahab thought he was a troublemaker, but Elijah called him the troublemaker because he and his father worshipped the idols of Baal and took the Israelites along with them in their worship of them. The showdown on Mt. Carmel ensued and Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal and killed them. It was a victory for the Lord. I’ve left out a lot of really cool details, so check out the story in 1 Kings 18, but what is often overlooked is what happened AFTER the showdown on Mt. Carmel.
 
       You see, after the showdown Elijah said to Ahab that he heard the sound of heavy rain…there were no clouds in the sky, there was no thunder, no rain yet. So, what was happening here?! You see, If you have Faith, THERE ARE NO small beginnings. Elijah humbled himself and bowed to the ground and put his head between his knees and prayed. GREAT beginnings start with humble prayer. Elijah told his servant to go look toward the sea and the servant came back saying he saw nothing, again and again, and again. SEVEN TIMES Elijah said, “Go back”. When you have the vision from the Lord, PRAY IT THROUGH TO COMPLETION,Don’t let negative feedback stop you. 1 Kings 18:44 The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.” DON’T PUT ALIMIT ON WHAT GOD CAN DO WITH YOUR SMALL BEGINNING! 1 Kings 18:45 “Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling, and Ahab rode off to Jezreel.”
 
     God can do far more than we ask or imagine! Remember the 5 loaves and 2 fish that fed somewhere around 20,000 people (5000 men plus women and children…I’m guesstimating). Jesus and his disciples had 12 BASKETS full of LEFTOVERS! What about the church? Jesus started with 12, pouring into mostly the 3, Peter, James, and John…yet it is global now with nearly 2 billion people who claim to be Christian just at this point in time alone. If your faith is as small as a mustard seed (that’s a tiny seed!) just humbly give it to God. Give your “small beginnings” to God and see just what He will do! Remember: A little can go a lot farther when blessed by God!

God Bless,
Stephanie Holloway



When should I rest?

     In my life, I was raised to do a few things. One of them was to work. And not just work but working hard. Work hard for what you want, work hard for what you believe in. Work hard to achieve your dreams and goals. Something I never learned to do well was rest. I have said that I will sleep when I am dead more times than I can count.  Better yet, I have believed it. Work is simply more important than rest, right? I am sure I am not the only one who struggles with rest. I talk with people who are tired all the time, can’t sleep, nervous, stressed, have anxiety, and so much more going on with them being worried about their work. Now, just to shape up the definition, Work = paid job, house chores, grocery shopping, and so on. If you have to do it for the necessity of life, or function, it is work. Cleaning house, cooking, are also work. I enjoy cooking sometimes, but not always. So we spend a huge amount of time actually working, but how much of our time is spent resting or worshiping God?

     This week, I will write about rest, but next week I will be preaching Sunday about worship, and I will write a blog also. Mark 2:27 says “Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”” God created the Sabbath for us, not us for the Sabbath. Fun fact, observing the Sabbath is the only 10 commandment that is a ritual. Think through the others, they regard sin like don’t steal, don’t cheat, don’t have other Gods before me, and more. But, for us, those are the important ones. I think we often times can disregard the commandment to observe the Sabbath. If you are a pastor, a volunteer at church, paid staff member, Sunday’s are not days off. They just aren’t. It doesn’t mean, we don’t enjoy them, it doesn’t mean we don’t love what we do. I care enough about what God wants that I will put aside my day of rest.

     However, you know what I think God would rather me do? Move my day of rest. Taking time on Sunday afternoon to relax or doing things I enjoy occasionally during the week. Maybe its going for a nice drive on Saturday. Working on the car in the garage. Hanging out with friends and family. All of these are rejuvenating to me and help me relax. In the Bible there are 39 things they could not do on their day of Sabbath. Washing, cleaning, cooking, are all included. They could not harvest, they could not do all the things we make excuses for. Because, God wanted them to rest. And you know what hasn’t changed? God wants you to rest too.

     When you refuse to rest you are saying you know better than God. Because God commanded us to rest, so we are disobeying a direct commandment. In the scope of God’s law, and moral law, when we break this law of taking a Sabbath, we are sinning. And all sin is equal in God’s eyes. So, not observing the Sabbath is the same as killing someone, lying to someone. We are leaving the safe haven of God’s grace when we forgo our time of rest. God gave us this precious gift of rest, and we more often than not, throw it back in his face.

     The reason we work so hard is because we believe everything depends on us. I know that I have a day job, where I work 40+ hours at a desk. I know that I am preaching a message almost every Sunday. I know that I do chaplain visits at a job site. I know that I need to spend time with my wife and baby boy. I know my dogs need attention too. I know I need to cook, clean, mow the yard, take care of the cars, and other household tasks. Life is busy. But you know what happens if I take a day of rest? Nothing gets done. Nothing at all. So, on the other days, I need to do more to be able to observe a Sabbath day, a day of rest. What about your life? When was the last day off you took that did not have a honey do list, or a list a mile long because you have been watching the kids all week and trying to keep the house going?

      So, my challenge is to you, take half a day off to do nothing. Don’t clean, don’t work, don’t do chores. Relax, do something you enjoy. Do something that will fulfill your life more. God has commanded you to take a day of rest, take it. Enjoy it. And you know what? Try your best to do it every week, just as God commanded.
 
Pastor Kevin Plain


My God?

               Everyone raised in church must come to a point in their life when they quit living on borrowed faith from their parents, and they make their faith their own.  It’s very easy to glide along and go to church, Sunday school, and church camps year after year because it is what you always did, it’s what your parents always did, or even your grandparents always did.  BUT (I rarely start a sentence with “but” because it’s grammatically incorrect, but there is a BIG BUT here…it’s okay to chuckle at that, go ahead) there are no grandchildren of God, only children.  You are the one that must have faith like a child, not your parents, your siblings, your grandparents, YOU.  In Mark 10:15 Jesus tells us, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
 
                 Jacob had to make the decision his own.  He couldn’t rely on his father Isaac, or his grandpop, Abraham.  No, he had to decide for himself if he would believe in and obey God.  He was on the run from stealing not only the birthright, but the blessing of his brother Esau, fearful that his brother would kill him, and he stopped to rest at Bethel.  Here he laid down and put his head on a rock for a pillow and fell asleep.  He dreamt of a ladder reaching to Heaven and angels ascending and descending upon the ladder.  It was here that God spoke to Him in a dream, and maybe the first time he listened.  We read in Genesis chapter 28:13, The Lord said to him, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.  I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying…”  You see, here we have it in black and white…God was the God of Abraham, his grandfather, and the God of Isaac, his father, but would he be the God of Jacob?  That was solely up to him.  Jacob had a decision to make.  That next morning, he made a vow saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the LORD will be my God…”  There it is, “my” God…not my father’s, not my grandfather’s, MY.
 
                   It’s very easy to fall into the mindset of thinking you’re a Christian because you go to church, you’ve always gone to church or because your family is “Christian”.  Time and again I’ve seen students and even adults make this mistake.  The decision to follow Christ however, to believe in Him and make Him your Lord is not a joint decision or an automatic entry due to association.  It is a very personal commitment that one must make, and one DOES make, at some point in their life…in fact, if you haven’t already made the decision to follow Christ or not to follow Him, in essence, you have.  Your indecision is a decision.  You see, there is No gray area.  Either one follows Christ, or he doesn’t.  The Bible tells us in the book of James, chapter two, that even demons believe and tremble.  You are either all in or you are all out, you can’t have one foot in the door and one foot out.  You can’t serve two masters for you’ll hate the one and love the other or vice versa.  You can’t dabble in Christianity, you can only think you’re dabbling, but it is just a façade.  REAL Christians are known by their fruit…you know, like the fruit described in Galatians…peace, love, kindness, joy, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  (They aren’t in order, but you can look them up, try chapter five.)
 
                 Anyway, my point is, if you want to be a Christian there must come a time in your life when you decide for yourself what you believe, and if you decide you believe in Jesus and ask Him to be your Lord, then the Holy Spirit will begin to transform you.  You WILL be known by your fruit.  Change will happen.  Some things will change more immediately and some over time, but you will begin to learn to surrender to Him.  Making Christ your Lord means you become a slave to Him; he becomes your master.  That isn’t a bad thing, it’s a blessing.  You see, we are All a slave to something, either the flesh (our own desires, or the world) or to Jesus.  His ways are so much higher than our ways, thank GOODNESS!  He loves us more than we can imagine and wants the absolute best for us.  Surrendering to Him is like breathing fresh air, it’s refreshing!  So, if you haven’t made the decision to make Christ your Lord, YOU, not your Grammy, not your Pop, not your parents, but YOU haven’t decided to, I encourage you to do so today, don’t wait!  Jacob made a decision but waited on God’s promises to come true to really commit.  Don’t wait, don’t delay!  God’s promises are true, they are YES and AMEN!  He does what He says He will do!  Every second you delay, you are deciding you don’t really believe.  It takes a leap of faith, and faith takes action, in this case, prayer
 
           If you read this today and decided today is the day, I would LOVE to hear from you so I can pray with you and lead you to some resources to help you in your journey.  You can contact me at stephanie@citizensnaz.com, or feel free to contact Pastor Kevin (I just volunteered him, but it is in his job description, so we’re all good) at kevin@citizensnaz.com. Seriously, we would love to hear your story and see how we could help! God bless! Stephanie Holloway


What is the season of Lent? Should you participate in it?

Growing up, I never heard the words Lent, or Ash Wednesday. I have heard of mardi gras but only in the crazy party kind of way. I didn’t grow up Catholic or with any practicing Catholic friends that I knew. So, as I became a Pastor and was around other pastoral and devout Christian friends with diverse backgrounds, I started to hear about Lent. In my studies, we touched on it but I never really studied it to the point of understanding for me. 
 
So, if you are like me and have had zero or very little experience with Lent, let me tell you what it is. Lent is a period of 40 days before Easter (Holy Week specifically.) It begins Ash Wednesday, which is the day after Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras was meant to be a day of indulgence prior to abstaining from  meat and/or other items for 40 days. This year, Ash Wednesday is March 6th. Lent ends the day before Good Friday on April 18th. Good Friday is April 19th the Friday immediately proceeding Easter (April 21st). Lent was meant to be a season of reflection and preparation before Easter arrives (we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus). The time period is symbolic to the time when Jesus fasted and was tempted in the wilderness where he withdrew for 40 days. 
 
A question you may be asking is why do they call it Ash Wednesday? During Biblical times, through various stories you will see that when people are mourning or fasting they place Ash on their head. Those were referred to as Ashes of Repentance, or repentance ashes. Its an outward expression of repentance and believing the Gospel. So it is Ash Wednesday because it is the entering of a time of repentance, the season known as lent. Lent is called lent because of the word it derives from signifies the lengthening of days that is often occurring during this time. In other languages, such as German, it is known simply as fasting time. Or Spanish and French it is known as 40 days in their languages respectively.  
 
This year, unlike any other year, I have specifically felt called to observe lent. I have never done it. I have never fasted for that long. I always felt that celebrating it was too Catholic, and I am not a Catholic. The reason I believe I am feeling called to participate in lent this season is I feel I need a time of preparation for what God is going to do in my life and Citizens Church. We have seen God move in such mighty ways already, but we are so quick to forget what he has done. We are quick to go back to fearing and worrying about everything. I want this season to be an opening of my eyes, and an opening of my heart to God. Even more so than it is. I want to continually draw closer to him, and I have felt this nagging feeling over the last few months to participate in lent.  
 
So if lent is a 40 day time of fasting, what do they traditionally fast from? (too fast something means to abstain from) In the Catholic Church, they abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all Friday’s during Lent. (Dairy, eggs and fish can still be eaten.) That is why you will see fast food restaurants that only seasonally have fish, will have it especially during this time of year. If you are especially devout, they recommend and encourage people to eat one full meal a day and fast the other two meals. You would still follow the first guideline but this would be an additional way to draw closer to God.
 
If you are feeling like me, like you need a time of preparation for what God is planning to do I challenge you to join me in fasting during lent. Even if you just feel you need to draw closer to God, join me in lent. I believe God honors our efforts, not just our results. What should you to fast from? What does God want you to fast from? What gets in the way of your relationship with him? What causes you to lust, covet, lie, cheat or steal? If you looooove Food, I challenge you to consider fasting a enjoyable meal time. If you don’t normally eat breakfast, you can’t just fast breakfast. It’s not a proper fast if you aren’t abstaining from something you enjoy. Fast from whatever is getting in your way if you can. If its social media, TV, food, soda, coffee, tea (any other beverage other than water) if you smoke, drink alcohol, pick something to fast from. If you have a sweet tooth fast from sweets. 
 
For me, I will be fasting two meals a day. I say this not to boast in my strength, but for accountability. Fasting two meals a day is something I have not done for more than four days before. I will now multiply that buy 10. I will need your prayers, and God’s help for sure! I ask that you join me in the fast and when you are challenged in what you are fasting from, no matter what it is, pray. Pray for strength, and pray for God to change your life for the better. Pray for God to use you to change someone’s else’s life. Pray that God continues to use and bless Citizens Church for his glory. 
 
Than you! Pastor Kevin. 
 
P.S.- If you have any questions please feel free to reach out. 


How to Become a Better Communicator

So, you’re called to preach? What does that mean? Where do you start? What do you do? Maybe you’ve preached for years but feel your message falls flat, or your audience doesn’t connect with you at all during your message. How do you become a better communicator? We will give you 7 steps on how to do just that. But first, I want to share a little bit about where we started. This is by no means saying we are now experts, these are the simple steps we are taking to get better week in and week out at what God has called us to do. 

 

Where We Started:

We both answered the call to preach when we were the ripe age of 16. We didn’t know anything about anything. We didn’t know the Bible very well and we didn’t know how to communicate very well. Let’s just say between us, our first few sermons, and even for the next few years, our sermons were subpar at best, terrible at the most truthful times. The church we were in at that time had several people answering the call to preach(20+), so we have heard a lot of different first time preachers. With that also meant having little time for experience, getting to preach 1-2 times a year does not offer for a great foundation in developing messages and discipline in communicating God’s message to the masses.

 

If you struggle, you are not alone:

We have seen many, many first time preachers, or people with little experience or even with a lot of experience and their sermons aren’t hitting home to people, express their frustration. They spend hours agonizing over what to preach and then feel that all their time was wasted. We have seen many speakers and preachers leave the ministry entirely with feelings of inadequacy. The cause may not have been preaching, but I would wager that poor communication was at the crux of the failure itself.

 

This isn’t a new feeling. We (Myself and my good friend and fellow Pastor Johnathon Barlow) have spent hours and hours over years discussing our sermons, discussing what we preach, what we teach, why it is or is not effective. I have heard this conversation for before. Now this is not to say that God does not use those sermons, he does. This is not to say that we need more than God’s word to preachers, it is the very basis of what we do. But, how do we get better at our craft? If you are a teacher, a preacher, a public speaker, communicator in the business world, these will help you hit home with your audience more often.

 

We are going to give you 7 steps to help you become a better communicator.

(side note, this is not an all-inclusive, end to all options list, these are the steps and things that have helped shape our communication style, and the style of many successful pastors around us)

 

1.Spend time in God’s Word. First and foremost, you have to spend time in God’s word. You should spend time learning about God before you can preach and teach about God. How do you learn who God is? Through time in His word (The Bible) and spending time talking to God (in prayer.) Everything starts here, and everything ends here. Every point you make, every message you speak, should be backed by God’s word. If you preach a message on grace, mercy, faith, money, sex, etc., it needs its basis and conclusion in God’s word.

 

2. Care about Your Craft. I believe since you are here, reading this, you probably care a little bit about your craft. Each week the message we bring, may be the only message, or the last message a person hears. Would you be okay with that? One of the most influential people of the last 100 years said this. ““Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.” Did Billy Graham say that? No, it was Walt Disney. Will preaching great messages every week grow your church? Most likely it will. Pew research suggests a staggering 85% of people chose their new churches based on the quality of the message being spoken. Children’s ministry, Teen ministry, Worship, pew vs chair, color of the carpet, all these things are important, but adults want to be in a place with a quality message. You should care about your craft because they care about it.

 

3. Read/Listen to books on communication. I would highly recommend to start with Communicating for change” – by Andy Stanley. ITS A GAME CHANGER!!!!!! For real! It changed my approach to preparing for a message entirely. The book is a key building block for myself and almost every other pastor I know. If they have not read it, I recommend they get it. I have bought the book for staff members because I believe it is so important. It’s a super easy read, you will get done in a day or two. Carey Nieuwhof has a whole course on becoming a better communicator that I have taken. You will find many seminars, books, websites geared towards making a better communicator. This $15 book was my first step, and honestly the biggest influence on it all. Over time, I have taken college classes, went to seminars, conferences, webinars and even web classes to become the most effective preacher I can be. I encourage you to do so as well.

 

4. Listen to top level preachers/communicators, and find aspects of their talks that resonate with you and attempt to work them in to your sermons. Don’t try to be them. Be you, but feel free to take what works for them and mold it into your style, because guess what… they most likely took it from someone they admired as well. When I first started preaching I found communicators I really enjoyed. Over time that has been people like Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll, Judah Smith, Steven Furtick, Mark Batterson, and so on. The key is to listen to them and see different styles. Theorist believe that there are really only four major personality types. We are all made up of primarily of these four. You will inevitably connect with some that others do not. I like to listen to pastors or do not like to listen to pastors that some of my best friends love to listen too. Johnathon and I have been close friends since 2nd grade, and we do not always LOVE the same preachers. And that’s ok, and it’s normal. Listen for styling, compare what they do to the book “communicating for a change”, and you will be amazed of how many big time, key leaders follow this style.

 

5. Record and listen/watch back to your sermons. I know, it is not fun, but it’s so crucial in your development as a communicator. You need to listen to what you say and how you move on stage. Do you like what you are saying? Do you have any annoying tendencies? Ed Stetzer, another great communicator and an authority on church planting, gave a message at M19 and showed an email he received about how many times he adjusted his glasses during his message. This person was so distracted by it, they went back and watched his sermon a second time and counted how many times he adjusted his glasses. He adjusted them 70+ times in his 30+ minute message. Basically every 30 seconds. Do you do something similar that is distracting your listeners? Do you want to see your listener’s life changed? Then we as preachers need to be willing to measure what works and what needs work in our speaking and then make the changes that are required to be made for the message to be more effective. Do you cringe at what you say or how you say it? How do you think that makes your audience feel? Instead of saying, that is just the way it is, care enough about your craft to make the efforts to change even your natural tendencies. (Ed did, he starting using a product called Nerd Wax to help keep his glasses in place more)

 

6. Ask a gifted/talented communicator for feedback. If you are in ministry, or even just getting started, you should have people around you that you trust and look up to. I know pastor’s (including my current district superintendent Phil Rhoades) who do a message survey on a regular basis and have people they trust fill out feedback about their message. People that are already attending their churches and listening to them on a regular basis. You can ask a friend that you trust and know they are a good communicator to give you feedback. Johnathon has been one of those people for me, and I have been one for him. I have asked people older than me, and younger than me for feedback. You may need to have thick skin for it and definitely be open to positive and negative feedback. In Citizens Church, we believe being in a culture of feedback is crucial. It is not to tear each other down and nitpick or tell them how many times they touched their glasses. It is a time to give honest feedback to help all involved grow as individuals and as communicators. Without knowing where you are, you will never get where you are going.

 

7. ENJOY THE PROCESS! Last but definitely not least, enjoy the process. You have the coolest opportunity in the world to bring the only message that matters to those who need it. I pray you are going to have fantastic weeks, and I know you will have weeks where you feel like you didn’t bring your A game. Learn from it, grow from it and enjoy it. It’s an amazing opportunity we have been given.

 

Hope this was helpful for any of my friends who aspire to make a difference through the preaching of the Gospel. We love you all!

 

Please share if you know of anyone that might benefit from this!

 

Authored by Kevin Plain & Johnathon Barlow