PASTOR'S PEN

Character Matters

posted by Rusty Guenther

“Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows”  Galatians 6:7

On January 26,1998 the sitting President of the United States went on national TV and gave a speech in which he parsed and redefined the definition of  several words to try and prove that he had not lied about an extra martial affair. While some were shocked at the rationalization, the lies, and the behavior; most of his political supporters and many in the national media justified it all by saying that his personal behavior had nothing to do with his job or title. While we had been on a slippery slope for many years; this incident became a defining moment where we as a nation no longer examined a persons character to determine their ability to lead or serve in a place of authority. The response to any question of character was answered with “What does it matter?” Webster’s dictionary defines character as; “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual”. Character is a culmination of our values and morals that are exhibited through our thoughts and actions. For generations, a persons character defined them and spoke to their ability to be trusted with responsibility and authority; but not any longer in the United States. The natural result (what we are reaping) of this choice is finding ourselves in an election year where our choices for President  are a proven dishonest liar and a thrice married philanderer.  The Bible promises that we will always reap what we sow and in a culture that has decided that character is not important, we find ourselves reaping the results. Through it all we need to remember that God is in control; none of this has caught Him off guard and His will continues to be done but we also need to be reminded that there are consequences to our choices. For the follower of Christ, character matters. The Apostle Paul encourage us that “your attitude (character) should be the same as that of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:5) and that it is through our character that people will see “Christ in Us”.  Better a poor man whose walk is blames than a rich man whose ways are perverse” Proverbs 28:6

 


Where is your Faith?

posted by Rusty Guenther

“The Disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Peace! Be Still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith” Mark 4:38-39
              The disciples and Jesus were crossing the water and a storm came up while Jesus slept and the disciples began to fear for their lives and ended up waking Jesus up and in return Jesus calms the storm. Most have heard the story and we like to take comfort and focus on the fact that Jesus spoke to the storm and calmed the rough waters as an indication that Jesus can confront any storms of life we might be facing; and that is true, but we miss the key lesson in the story. The issue is not that Jesus can calm the storm—He is the creator of all things and that was done with the wave of his hands. The real point of the story is the lack of faith of his followers. Had they forgotten who He was? Had they forgotten they claimed to place their total trust and faith in him, believing that He was in control of everything? Yet, even with him in their midst, they allowed a few waves and some wind to take their eyes off of their Savior. All of us will face  strong wind, storms and some even the hurricanes that life throws at us, the question is do we really believe that God is control and wants what is best for us and do we trust him? It is only with complete faith in God that we will find peace in the midst of the storm, knowing we are in His hands! People like to say, “God will never give me more than I can handle” and they are wrong. We are given more than we can handle every day! The truth is God will never give us more than HE can handle! With him onboard, what is a little wind and waves?

 


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

 


“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!


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