PASTOR'S PEN

Just becasue you can doesn't mean you should

posted by Rusty Guenther

A person of knowledge uses words with restrain, and a person of understanding is even tempered. Even a fool is thought wise if they keep silent and discerning if they hold their tongue” Proverbs 17:27-28.  As we enter into a very contentious and polarizing election season, it seems like everyone has an opinion. Part of the privilege of living in a free nation with freedom of speech is the ability to voice our opinions, but just because we have an opinion doesn’t mean it always needs to be heard. My grandmother used to say that opinions are like armpits; everyone has one and most of them stink. I wonder how many relationships, friendships and families have been hurt by differing opinions and heated words over candidates and the elections. Our society used to be able to discuss and debate differing ideas and opinions and still remain civil; now it seems like if someone disagrees with you they become the enemy and we open up the personal attacks. As Christians, we know that regardless of who is elected—God remains in control and the answers to what is afflicting our nation and our society will not be solved by political parties or any certain candidate. Spiritual problems require spiritual solutions, not political band aids. I wonder what would happen if we spent half of the amount of time that we spend condemning candidates and voicing our opinions in pray for our nation and it’s people. Maybe we should seek some restraint and recognize that relationships are much more important than opinions and politics. We would do well to remember the words of Abraham Lincoln, who once said “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt”. “It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” Proverbs 20:3

 


What is a Gentle Answer?

posted by Rusty Guenther

“A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly”  Proverbs 15:1-2  “The heart of the righteous weighs its answer”  Proverbs 15:28  How many times have we been goaded into lashing out and saying things we immediately wish we could take back, or on a bad day responded to someone else harshly. It seems like it just happens; the words come flying out, the smart aleck response, the hurtful tone, the angered retort. It is amazing the damage an uncontrolled mouth can produce. The writers of the Book of Proverbs spend a lot of time warning about and discussing the power of an uncontrolled tongue and mouth. They do not mince words using phrases like wise and righteous for those who can control their tongues and fool, foolish and folly for those who allow it to run loose. While we may not like the idea of being called a fool, most of us have felt pretty foolish or worse after making a tough situation much worse through a loose tongue. The warning is pretty simple; put a filter on your tongue and weigh or take a moment to think about the words you are about to let loose. It might feel good for an instant when you lash out or allow what you might be thinking to come running out of your mouth; but it almost always brings pain and conflict in return. Think about the situations and circumstances you have faced that have been made much worse or painful due to a loose tongue. Think of all the pain, grief and conflict that could have been avoided if you had only kept your mouth in check. It seems like such a small thing, but it harbors great benefits to those who heed the warning. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” James 1:19-20

 


When right is wrong and wrong is right

posted by Rusty Guenther

What started as a great night of Monday Night Football ended with a sick feeling in my stomach, as if I had just been a witness to some sort of a crime. I am a fan of football, all kinds of football – High School, College, the NFL; I just love the game and the stories the game produces. I am not a fan of Green Bay or Seattle. (I have to admit I was enjoying watching DJ Smith for Green Bay and a recent Appalachian State graduate continue to defy the odds as a “too small from a small college player” have a great game)  I had no dog in the hunt but the last 5 minutes of that game were a nightmare. It seemed like each bad call was replaced by a worse call; culminating in a horrible game winning touchdown that was pretty clearly an interception. You had one official slowly signaling touchdown, another signaling a clock stopping touchback, standing only a few feet from each other and both looking at the same thing. I remember thinking surely the replay officials will get this right, the game cannot end with this kind of horrible call, but it was explained that the replay officials cannot review who is in possession of the ball and the play stood. Touchdown; Seattle wins.  Like many across the country (except a few Seahawk fans) I sat in disbelief as the Packers ran off the field and the Seahawk fans celebrated. I had planned on going to bed; it was after midnight, but I wanted to hear what the commentators thought. Yet, the sick feeling persisted.

 If you are a sports fan, in the next couple of days you are going to hear plenty of blame, wailing and gnashing of teeth. It is the “replacement referees” fault or maybe the “NFL establishment” because they had not settled this mess after several weeks of horrible calls. Green Bay should have never allowed it to come to a last minute play and they deserved to lose. Seattle and Golden Tate (the receiver who was awarded the touchdown – after a horrible and obvious offensive pass interference call) was just doing what any receiver would have done. All of the rationalizations, all of the excuses; it won’t change the outcome, it won’t change the record. Seattle won the game and Green Bay lost. A Green Bay interception was a Seattle touchdown.

After a night to digest the whole scenario, I have come to a new and different conclusion; Why not?  Why should I be surprised that something I felt could clearly be interpreted only one way not be determined differently? It is just a logical extension and perfect example of where our society has been headed for the last several years. We continue to have leaders and politicians tell us that up is down and down us up; what we once felt was wrong is now right, and what has always been right is now wrong. If you shout it loud enough and long enough, make enough rationalizations and mock those that disagree; it eventually becomes the “truth”. Half of the stadium believes it is an interception and the visual evidence, rules and history seem to back it up. While the other half celebrates a touchdown and clings to whatever emotional rationalizations fit their intended outcome. Too deep for a football game;  too political for a preacher? As I was praying this morning, I reread the Apostle Paul’s warning to his young protégé Timothy in his second letter to him. (2nd Timothy 4:3-4)

“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine (truth). Instead to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a number of great teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths”. The Message Bible interprets verse 4 “They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages”.  I like that; “chasing mirages.” Webster’s dictionary defines a mirage as “something that appears to be real but is not”. Sound familiar? It seems to me that we are rapidly moving towards a society that enjoys chasing and following mirages; which would be fine as long as they were content to go it alone. The problem arises when they begin to mock and denigrate anyone who is not willing to follow their folly. Paul’s warning was just as true 2000 years ago as it is today. You can draw your own conclusions, as for me I am taking Paul’s advice as he continues in verse 5 to Timothy “But you, keep your head”.  It was an interception - Green Bay was robbed!


Honey Boo-Boo and Psalms 1

posted by Rusty Guenther

My house has Dish Network and their whole package of channels (over 400) and yet on some nights I find it difficult to find something worthwhile to watch. On those nights I find myself complaining of “nothing to watch” my kids remind me of my answer to them when they say the same thing. “When I was your age; we only had 3 channels and we liked it; we had to go outside and move the antenna manually in the rain while my dad screamed from the living room, and we liked it; my video game was two white dashes and a little spot moving back and forth called pong, and we liked it; yada, yada, yada”. If you are over 40, you know what I am talking about; if you are under 40 – I am sorry, we didn’t really like it.  We did not know any better. We thought that reruns of the Brady Bunch, Gilligans Island and Petticoat Junction was quality TV (my ADD has kicked in and I am singing the Petticoat Junction theme song; another earwig!). We liked it because we did not have any other choices. On Sunday after football, you watched “Laurence Welk” or the” Wonderful World of Disney” – same choices, every week. In my family, we would visit my Grandparents house on Sundays so we really did not have a choice – “vonderful, vonderful”.  The point of all this rambling is that we watched certain shows because we really did not have any other choice – unlike today.

With over 400 channels, TV on demand, the internet, DVD’s, DVR’s and every other kind of entertainment available, we have more choices today than one person can comprehend. Yet it seems like the most popular form of entertainment today is watching the shortcomings of others. Reality TV in some form or another is on every channel and on some channels, it is all they offer. Now before you become offended and stop reading, let me clarify as simply as I can. I put these reality shows into two categories; “those we laugh with” and “those we laugh at”. I will admit it is a very fine line between the two but when it comes to most of these reality shows there is an obvious difference. As an example; I love “Duck Dynasty” and while I usually find myself laughing at “Uncle Si”, most of the humor is good natured and you are really laughing with the rest of the family and the situations they find themselves in. Maybe I am rationalizing, but the Spirit of the show just seems different from some of the other offerings on reality TV, which brings me to my point (I warned you early on that these things might ramble).

Last night I could not find anything on TV to catch my attention so I stopped the remote on TLC. At one time this was “The Learning Channel” but I doubt you would learn anything from their current lineup. They were airing a marathon of “Honey Boo, Boo”. I had heard about the show before, I had read a couple of articles on the background of the family on the show, but none of that could prepare me for what I saw. I can’t describe the show; I could never do it justice; suffice to say, it is something one must see to really believe and comprehend. (I am NOT recommending you watch it!) I will admit that after just a few minutes I found myself laughing, and I am not talking a little chuckle, I was laughing hard. This was not a “laughing with” laughter either; I was laughing AT the people on the show. I assume this must be why the show is so popular, because there was no redeeming quality in anything I saw. I realize that there are all kinds of lessons to be found in the fact that this show is so popular or why so many people are drawn to it and watch it, but I want to share what I experienced.

After about 10 minutes of watching and laughing, I began to get a sick feeling in my stomach. Maybe it was from laughing so hard, maybe it was from guilt, or maybe conviction; but it continued to get worse. In the midst of feeling sick, I started hearing the words of Christ; “the least of these” “the least of these”… These people I was laughing at were not some characters on a sitcom; they were real, flesh and blood, broken and hurting, people. These people I was laughing at were people that God loved just as much as He loved me; they were “his children”.  (I am not trying to rain on your viewing parade, just explaining what happened to me). After a few minutes to let those thoughts bounce around my head, I turned the TV off. Then the words to a verse I have read on the 1st day of every month for the last 20 years came to my heart; “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers” Psalms 1:1.  What are you trying to say God? Was I sitting in the seat of mockers? The King James translation calls it the “seat of the scornful”; somehow that hurt even more. Had I allowed my couch to become the “seat of mockers” all in the name of entertainment or passing the time?  The Holy Spirit was reminding me that I struggled enough with making fun of others and mocking those less fortunate than me to invite another avenue for doing that into my home. To make matters worse, as I was trying to rationalize to my conscience that it was just TV, and it was all in good fun, these people are getting paid; the words to a song that the worship team lead us in a couple of weeks ago came back to my heart. “Break my heart for what breaks Yours”. A simple yet striking request I had just asked of God. I began to wonder, what breaks God’s heart more; this family that is inviting the world in to watch and mock their dysfunction, or all of His disciples that are watching and laughing and slowly letting their hearts become calloused to the world around us?

I ended up on the internet looking up the name of “honey boo –boo’s” family so I could commit to praying for them. As I prayed for them I asked the Holy Spirit to soften my heart to the point it becomes more natural for me to weep instead of laugh. “Break my heart for what breaks Yours”. Afterwards, I found the channel for “The Wonder Years” and escaped into the life of Kevin Arnold – now that show has some redeeming value!


“I think I need a Q-tip"

posted by Rusty Guenther

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” Romans 12:2a

I woke up this morning with an earwig. I know that sounds pretty gross, but it is not some bug that crawled into my ear while I slept, but rather a song that is stuck in my head and I can’t get it out. All of us have been plagued with these things; some catchy jingle, a song you heard in passing or maybe a song you really enjoyed at first but now it has become annoying. My earwig this week is a song from Australian artist, Gotye called “Somebody that I use to know”. In one week of television I heard this song three times; on American Idol, The Voice and performed live on Saturday Night Live. Now before you worry about my television viewing habits, I was not really watching any of these shows. They were on in the background while I was reading, but the song still came through and penetrated my mind. So here I sit, a week later, and I am still mumbling it, the tune rolling in my brain as I fumble the words, trying to remember the chorus. Maybe it was the cool way the song starts out with a guy playing the xylophone (who knew when we were just kids, all banging around on our little "drag behind us xylophone" that one day it would be featured on a hit song – kind of like the cowbell - but that is a different post). I don’t really know why these things stick in our heads, but somehow they plant themselves deep in the back of our minds in our subconscience and we can’t get them out. (I realize by now, for some of you, your curiosity has gotten the best of you and you have jumped over to youtube to hear this song but I warn you, If you make it through to the chorus, it will be stuck in your head!).

This got me thinking about all of the other things that are stuck in my head; things that I have not been able to erase or forget. I am not talking about that REO Speedwagon or Cars song from 1983; but all of the off-handed, hurtful and discouraging words that I have internalized down through the years. From the coach who shouted, “You will never be good enough” to my middle school teacher’s comments to my parents that "my attention span problems will keep me from ever being successful". Like an earwig; we all have those comments from our past stuck somewhere in our heads and some have even made their ways to our hearts. They usually come creeping out during times of self –doubt, or times when we are struggling and if we are not careful they get put on “repeat” and we start believing them.

I have found the best way to get rid of an earwig is to replace it with something else. This morning I am listening to Casting Crowns, “Who am I” to help remind myself that I should be overwhelmed by the love, grace and forgiveness of God. (go ahead and click over and listen to the words) As I meditate on the words to this song, it is hard for me to even recall that song that was stuck in my head, much less all the hateful comments from my past that plague me. The Bible is full of the promises of God to His children; and as we read, meditate and listen to these promises, those words from our past can't help but grow distant. The Apostle Paul tells us that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds, and as we meditate on God’s word and it’s truth for us, our lives are transformed. I want to encourage you to stop letting those “earwigs” from your past determine your future. Replace them with the promises of God and let the Holy Spirit make those truths a reality in your life.


A piece of advice that changed my ministry

posted by Rusty Guenther

“What shall we say in response to this? If God be for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

We have been teaching on Wednesday nights about overcoming the fears that we face as we strive to live the Christian life in a messed up world. Of all the fears we addressed, I was surprised by the response and the universal agreement that all of us at one time or another struggle with the fear of rejection. This all- encompassing fear; that we will be rejected by those we love, by those we trust, even by those we barely even know, can be a trap that can keep us from living a life of obedience. Even worse, it can keep us from enjoying all that life has to offer. I have seen it cause people to become cold , callused and bitter as they never opened their hearts to others for fear of being rejected. I have seen it lead Christ followers to compromise their standards and integrity for fear that they might not be accepted by the crowd. I have even seen ministers and Pastors compromise their mission and message for fear that someone might not “like it”. Yes, even Pastor’s struggle with this fear.

I am embarrassed to admit it; but there have been numerous Saturday nights, as I reviewed my message for the next morning, that I have been overcome with a fear that I might offend someone or someone might not like or even reject what God had put on my heart to share. My preaching style is to be completely open and honest, and sometimes even blunt about the message burning in my heart. I don’t like to mince words, or use flowery language to try and disguise what is on my heart to make it more palatable for the listeners. I guess this comes from my days of working with students and realizing that I needed to make every word count and to make the most of every opportunity I had to preach or share. I realize this can rub some people the wrong way and it usually leads to a backhanded compliment like “you seemed to be really “passionate” about that” or “I guess we know how you feel” and like most of you, this rejection can hurt. If I am not careful, I can allow this “constructive criticism” to influence my actions and words. (side note; I try not confusing actual “constructive help” which I, more than most, need all I can get, and plain old negative criticism or complaints couched in a “helpful manner"). I write all that to convey that I have “been there, done that”. I understand and still struggle with a fear of rejection. So how do we overcome it? How do we keep it from influencing our “passion for life”?

I have been blessed to serve in 5 great churches in these last 25 years of ministry and each step along the way I have learned some incredible life lessons that still influence my ministry and life. I have learned from those I served, those I served with, and especially those I served under. The first church I was blessed enough to serve with (Sunset Acres Baptist in Shreveport, later to become Springs of Grace Baptist Church) taught me more than all of the other churches combined. It might have been because I was a “know it all, young, recent Christian school graduate, that had all the answers” and they were so patient with me and loved and supported me, in spite of my ignorance. It was a congregation full of spiritually wise and understanding men and women that were more than willing to pour truth into my life, whether I wanted it or not. One of these men was a retired older Pastor named Moses Mercer. Moses has long since gone on to be with the Lord, but I will never forget the nuggets of truth he would drop on me out of the blue. One Sunday morning, as I was greeting people, he grabbed my arm, pulled me aside and in the most nonchalant way shared a truth that still rings in my ears and heart to this day.

He said, “Rusty, do you know what the most important practical lesson I ever learned in life that helped me in ministry is?” Of course I was not paying attention; I was doing the quick ministerial "smile and glance around" at who else I needed to greet before the service started. Sensing this, he squeezed my hand a little tighter to gain my attention, and looked me in the eye saying; “first; there are some people in your life and in your churches who will never like you, regardless of what you do." "Don’t let it get you down or be discouraged by it – it is their loss not yours" "Second; you will not be able to please everybody, so strive to please God first and in turn those that really count will be pleased.” That quick, bam, two of the most freeing truths I have ever heard, especially for those that serve in ministry. Wow, but would I let those truths make a difference?

I hope you don't hear an excuse to not love people or to write people off; but rather the freeing truth that if I understand that I have been accepted by God, the rejections I face in this world do not really matter in the whole scheme of things. The Bible teaches; that through my acceptance of Christ death on the cross in my place, as a payment for the punishment of my sin, I am now accepted by God. Theoligians call this “justification”, I prefer the term “Accepted”. When you and  I really embrace this acceptance, why should we let the rejection by others faze us?  If we are rejected by the whole world, we are still accepted by the one who counts – our creator. Knowing that I am accepted by God, my goal should be to please Him first, and if that means that others are not pleased with my actions and words, so be it. Stand strong, you are in good company. The Bible tell us that Jesus faced rejection from everyone he came in contact with; even his own family and his closest friends. He reminds us that if they rejected him, how much more we will face rejection. Bascially; if God be for us, who or what can be against us?

I wish I could tell you that I grasped those truths immediately and they saved me a lot of  heartache and worry, but that was not the case. I have had to learn them the hard way, over many years, but I admit that once they become a part of my heart, I have experienced a freedom I never knew was possible. We will all face rejection; from that cute girl you asked out and shot you down to the next door neighbor you invited to church; it is a part of life. But if we remember that we are accepted by the only one who really counts, it puts things in perspective!


Writing My First Church Blog.

posted by Rusty Guenther

"Better to be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt"

That quote that has been attributed to Mark Twain, is the first thought that came to my mind when we discussed my writing a blog for the churches new website. It is not that I don’t love sharing my opinions and thoughts – who doesn’t? It is just the idea of having to put my thoughts into a coherent structure that I struggle with. I am the poster child for ADD and it takes every ounce of trained self-discipline (and much help from the Holy Spirit) each week to be able to keep my focus on my sermons and Bible studies; and now a Blog? I wish I could tell you that each week you will be able to click on this page and gain some great wisdom and insight, or maybe some spiritual nugget, or at least a good quote to put as a facebook status to impress your friends; but I make no promises. What you will get is the jumbled up, random thoughts that I am wrestling with that day, or week – or it might just be something from left field that my ADD mind has grabbed ahold of and won’t let go until it is regurgitated. Can you say regurgitated on a church blog?

As a young minister, many years ago – but not that long ago, I tried to soak up all of the advice I could get from those who came before me. I observed, asked a lot of questions and mostly learned from the kind correction I received after messing something up. One of the things I noticed is that when I came into the ministry in the mid 80’s the perception of those serving as Pastors and Ministers was changing. For several generations, congregations placed their ministers on a pedestal, in lofty regard. There was a sort of disconnect between those serving and the people they served. I am not saying they did not minister and reach out to their congregations with passion and devotion, there was just an invisible barrier constructed. I understood this better when one of my seminary professors encouraged us to never use personal illustrations in our messages or studies. His reasoning was that this could cause the congregation to de-mystify, or humanize the Pastor, and that somehow this would devalue the message. I think it must have been a generational thing. This was one piece of advice I never subscribed to.

I firmly believe in transparency and openness and I love sharing about my mistakes, struggles, questions and concerns with the body of Christ. I struggle as a parent, as a husband, as a son, as a friend and especially as a Pastor. I say all of this to help you understand that if you check back here each week to read this blog; you are going to find the random thoughts and struggles of a fellow traveler. You will find someone trying to live a genuine and real faith in a hurting, messed up world; someone on a journey of discovery. An inner discovery about myself and a deeper discovery of the grace, mercy, forgiveness and salvation, I have been blessed with. The only promises I will make is to be open and honest and to try and not prove Twain’s quote true. Some of these blogs might be short and pithy, some may be longer than you have time to read, but I promise you that all of them will come from my heart. I hope you will join me on this journey!


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