Author Archives: Mr. Marker
Our enemy has only one battleground and just three weapons to use against us. The battlefield is the mind and the weapons are lust of the eye, lust of the flesh and the pride of life. Essentially, he uses our own mind and thoughts against us. He presents an idea as truth, we process that thought and either accept it or reject it.
If we reject the thought we win but if we accept the thought we give access and in giving access, we give legal authority for satan to set up camp and begin the construction of a stronghold. With steady repetition the lie is reinforced until brick by brick, thought-by-thought, an inescapable prison is built.
How is this even possible? How can a life be so under the control of such power? Why do people fall for the lies? Well, the answer is simpler than you might think. One of two scenarios applies when we are confronted with a lie. We either don’t know the truth or we choose to ignore the truth.
Which way is Chicago?
I was studying in my church office one day not long ago when the doorbell rang. When I answered the door, standing there was two poorly dressed young men. It took me about two seconds to realize they new very little English. Somehow, with what English they knew and what little Spanish I knew and with a lot of animation, I learned they were from Guatemala and had arrived in our town by hopping a train from Houston, Texas. They were trying to get to Chicago where they had a cousin who supposedly had jobs waiting on them.
They had some questions for me. 1) Do you have any food? 2) How far is Chicago? and 3) Where can we hop a train to get there? Well, I knew where a local diner was and it just so happened there were train tracks across the street from it so I put the gentlemen in my truck and drove them there. As they got out of my truck one of them asked, “Which way is Chicago?” Now, I’m not usually directionally challenged but in that moment I was, so with a little hesitation I pointed in the direction I thought was generally north. I then went back to the office.
On the ride back I was questioning my answer to them about which way Chicago was so when I got in the office I immediately got on the computer and pulled up Google Maps. To my chagrin I realized I had given those guys bad information. In actuality I had sent them west, right back to Houston.
Chicago looks a lot like Houston.
This little incident illustrates my point. Those guys didn’t know the truth and when I unintentionally told them a lie they believed it. I can see them now as they jump off the train. “Something about this place is familiar.”
This little incident illustrates what can happen if you do not know the truth. Here’s the real truth:
John 8:32 says, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
The other option we have is to ignore the truth. How often have we have done this? We rationalize and say, “I know this will be bad for me but…” or “I know I shouldn’t do this but….” I could give real life examples but I have a feeling you’ve got your own list of experiences to fill in the blanks. There’s a scripture for this one.
James 4:17 says “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.”
How do we learn the truth? It’s quite simple really. Just get into God’s Word. Read it. Study it. Memorize it. Write it down. Listen to it. Pray it. Live into it until it becomes the definition of who you are. Win the war for your mind by winning one battle at a time with the power of the Word of God.
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Philippians 4:8
Too many people keep going “back to Houston.” Get control of your life by taking back control of your mind.
In 2 Samuel 6 there is a story that speaks of both tragedy and triumph. One man (Uzzah) had his life end suddenly and another (Obed) enjoyed a new beginning.
When Obed-edom built his house on the road next door to the threshing-floor, little did he realize the impact his choice of location would have on his life and the lives of his family. As the story goes, his house was located very near the spot where possibly, a bump in the road caused the oxen pulling the cart carrying the Ark of the Covenant, to stumble. Trying to keep the Ark from falling, Uzzah reached out to steady it, resulting in his death.
In the confusion that ensued, it was decided that the Ark would not be taken on to Jerusalem, but they would have to find someplace close by to store it. Obed’s house was the most convenient and he agreed to keep it. The presence of the Ark in his home brought much blessing to his household. Later, Obed and his son’s and grandsons would become prominent figures as doorkeepers, musicians and worship leaders in the Tabernacle, their lives forever changed.
The irony of this event is that the same bump in the road that brought death to one, brought blessing to another. The fact is, we all will encounter bumps along the road of life. How you respond to the “bumps” of life will ultimately determine the outcome of you life. Those bumps can bring either blessing or curse, tragedy or triumph to your life and to the lives of those you love.
Choices matter. Choose well.
My son Matthew recently wrote an article on his blog (http://blog.mattlangford.net/joy-pain-of-ministry) in which he opened up his heart with raw transparency. Such honesty, although heartrending to his dad, is refreshing to see coming from a young man in ministry. In our world, and I’m talking here about the world of ministry, such a display of vulnerability is so very rare that when someone does open up, their openness is rather stunning. Don’t make the mistake of looking at it as a weakness.
That being said, he made a statement near the end of his post that seemed to jump off the computer screen and shout at me. Speaking of our church and our ministry approach he said, “We are simply messy people helping messy people. There is no royalty here.” Wow! When I read that I turned around and read it over and over. Through my tears brought on by the pain of what he had written in the first few paragraphs, I saw in those few words the humility and love in his heart and I realized we are winning. As painful as it may be from time to time, we are winning.
“There is no royalty here.” If only I had learned this lesson years ago. I was not raised in a preacher’s home. I have no pastor’s pedigree or experience other than my own to draw from. I was raised to believe pastors were a type of royalty who were on a pedestal a little above everyone else. While I still believe pastors are worthy of honor I have discovered that I am nothing more and nothing less than the people I am blessed to serve. I walk the same path, live in the same world, fight the same battles and temptations as everyone else. Its just that my role is different than theirs. Yes, we are all referred to as a “royal priesthood” in the Bible but that refers to our Kingdom status, not our earthly status.
I am not entitled. I am not sovereign. I am not always right. I make many poor choices. I am mistake prone. I do not know all the answers. Sometimes I don’t know what to say. I am not 100% self confident. I question some decisions I have made. I cry a lot, more now than ever. I have let lots of people down. I recognize that I need more grace than anybody I lead.
That being said, I am very God-confident. I am confident that Jesus Christ is indeed royalty and He alone is worthy of praise and worship. I am confident in the vision God has shared with us. I am confident that He is in control and that the future is very bright because of that fact. I am quite honored to be perceived as a commoner. I know this goes against the grain of traditional thinking. But for us it is a demand of our mission field. When people step into our church I want them to feel safe and included, no matter what they are coming out of or where they are coming from. We have no caste system and we fight spirits of elitism aggressively. We want our church to be a safe house for the addicted, abused, bruised, castaways and those who have lost their way. If that is offensive to some then so be it. We shall wholeheartedly and without apology, continue to live into the mission of the church.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. Luke 4:18-19 NKJV
I cannot adequately express my gratefulness to God for allowing me to be a small part of His Kingdom. As I look back over my ministry life I have come to the conclusion that He must have an awesome sense of humor to take someone like me and use me in any capacity. Over a period of 28 years I have been privileged to sit at His feet and grow, albeit slowly, into the call He placed on my life.
I’ve learned a few lessons along the way, most of them the hard way (I’m really stubborn). Here’s just a few of those life/ministry lessons:
1. We often pick the silliest things to be dogmatic about. (People around us are going to hell and we quibble over things like song choices.)
2. To often we settle for less than the best.
3. We tend to give too much credit to the devil. (Poor thing, always getting blamed for what he didn’t do.)
4. We take a whole lot of scriptures out of context to prove OUR point.
5. We are way more spiritual sounding on Facebook and Twitter than we really are.
6. There’s a little pharisee spirit in all of us no matter where we fall on the liberal/conservative scale.
7. Even though we act like it doesn’t, it really hurts a lot when people leave the church.
8. Some people are hard to love.
9. Those who use flattery to gain access will soon use the proverbial knife to the back to gain power.
10. You will be criticized if you use the word “grace” too much.
Meet my friend.
He goes to sleep during church on the front row. He wears a do-rag to every service. Sometimes he lays down on the pew and plays games on his smart phone. He goes to the restroom during every service. He slumps in the pews. His favorite shirts to wear are muscle shirts. He’s in his late twenties. We’ve caught him stealing from our food pantry. He steals food and water from our green room. Yes, we’ve taken steps to remove that temptation but still He comes to church and he calls Landmark his church. Not long ago, he gets up from his pew and walks right in front of me while I am speaking, goes out the door on the other side of the sanctuary. He comes back in a few minutes later (apparently the food pantry was locked), walks right in front of me (I’m still speaking), goes past his seat and down the aisle and out the back door of the sanctuary (to take a smoke break). A church staff member follows him to make sure he’s okay and to ensure he isn’t going where he shouldn’t be.
He has been baptized twice in three months. He felt like a second time around would be helpful. He brings guests to church. They take smoke breaks together on the sidewalk before, during and after church. He comes to church sometimes strung out on drugs or alcohol. On the streets he’s called “Porn star.” He comes to every church event. He attends, off night Bible studies. He loves it when we serve food at church, especially if we have pie. He loves church more than some full fledged “saved” Pentecostals I know. Already, his faithfulness to church is an example to others.
He is an addict. But he is also someone Jesus died and bled for. And there is no doubt in my mind, he loves Jesus. He loves me too. He loves Landmark. He deserves a chance. He deserves us to love him back.
He hugs my neck every service and tells me he loves me. He asks me to pray for his mind because, “I can’t concentrate.” He asks me, “Do you think Jesus will forgive me?” I say, “Yes.” He says, “But pastor, I’ve been so bad and I mess up so much. Its like I can’t help myself.” And I say, “You are just who Jesus died for and you are just who Landmark is looking for. You belong right here.”
Someone asked me, “What are we going to to about him?” To which I replied, “We are going to love him till Jesus saves him, pray for him till he is delivered and healed, and disciple him till he becomes a fisher of men.”
What you see when you look at him is what God sees when He looks at you. Never forget that. And, not only that, don’t forget that before he was born, God knew his name and He had a plan for his life. Now, lets help him clear a path from right where he is so he can get to Jesus.
He is a godsend in my life, a gift to my ministry. I have learned so much from him. I am eagerly waiting for the day he receives the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Not long ago after hearing about the great influx of new people we are experiencing at the church I lead, a pastor friend of mine commented, “Our church does not win new people.” I understood his dilemma having been in that exact place for many years of my ministry. I have asked myself on many occasions, “Why aren’t we winning new people?”
I believe the main reason we do not win new people is due to the fact that we do not work at cultivating relationships with unchurched people. Looking back on my on experience I know this is true. When I finally became a “soul winner,” it was because I injected myself (not intrusively) into people’s lives and offered friendship, grace and hope. You can’t win people with whom you do not build a relationship.
Our church has a ministry we call, “4:18.” It is based on Luke 4:18-19. The NKJV presents it this way:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed; 19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
This ministry approach has brought us to a new level of spiritual and numerical growth because it challenged us to get out of the box of status quo and become aggressive in our attempts to reach people. We seriously mobilized and literally began to live into the first of the “becauses,” which is, “preach the gospel to the poor.” We volunteered at local food banks. We collected and donated thousands of canned goods, bags of rice, and jars of peanut butter. We volunteered to work at the local homeless shelters and diners. Without realizing it, we were building relationships that would propel us into the greatest revival our church has ever known. Reaching out to the poor organically positioned us to help heal the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, bring sight to the blind and set free the oppressed.
Had we not stepped into this ministry of relationships we would never have met some of the most beautiful people on the face of the earth. Their stories are horrible. They were abused sexually, physically, emotionally and yes, spiritually. They were rape victims, drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, predators, thieves, liars and cheats. They had all been rejected by the world as used up and useless, BUT WE FOUND THEM! We found them because we went looking for them. We didn’t wait for them to come to us, we went to where they were. We didn’t judge them, we just loved them and they responded. Now Jesus is at work in their messy lives. To use a word that is often overused, it is AWESOME!
It has not been easy. There have been lots of disappointments along the way but the wins far outweigh the losses. Looking back on the last three years, I would not do anything differently. My only regret is that I allowed institutional pressure and people’s opinions to keep me from starting years earlier. That will never happen again.
I was browsing through some old notes today and ran across this little leadership lesson. I can’t remember the source (probably a leadership conference I attended somewhere) and I apologize for not being able to give proper credit. It is a neat lesson worth repeating.
Most of us are familiar with the story of Moses and the burning bush. In reviewing that story we find a leadership lesson. At one point, God asks Moses, “What is that in your hand?” Moses answered, “a staff.” He then proceeds to instruct Moses to throw the staff on the ground where it became a snake.
Before I go further, there are a couple things we must acknowledge about God: (1) When God asks a question it is for your benefit. He already know the answer. (2) God never does a miracle just to show off.
In this event, God was trying to teach Moses a lesson we would do well to learn ourselves.
Moses’ staff represented three things:
1. His Identity…he was a shepherd
2. His Income…this is how he made a living
3. His Influence…with it he could move (direct) sheep
Now watch. When Moses laid his staff down it came alive (yeah, I know it was a snake but it was still alive)…when he picked it back up, it became “just a staff.” When he laid down his identity, when he laid down what represented his source of income, when he laid down his influence (who he was), then God went to work on his behalf.
Here’s an interesting note. When God finished teaching Moses this lesson, the staff was no longer referred to in the Bible as Moses’ staff, but as the “Rod of God.”
When Moses laid down his staff, God used it and him to change history. When we lay down who we are and allow God to use us then we can change history. We can change our family, our work place, our school, our church, even our world.
So, the question is, what is that in your hands? Job, career, talent, money, fame, etc…. Will you lay it down and let God take what is ordinary and use it work miracles? That is what leadership is all about: being willing to lay down your stuff, your life and allowing God to work in, on and through you.
I was just sitting here today thinking about how blessed I am. There are many people more well known, more gifted and who have more money than me, but no one is more blessed than me. Here’s just a little list of the things or people I am most thankful for.
- The Nancy (my beautiful wife and best friend. BTW, her name means “grace”)
- My kids
- My calling
- My siblings and their families
- Landmark Church and the wonderful people I am privileged to pastor
- Friends who love me and who have my best interests at heart
- My ministry and life mentors
- My motorcyle
- A peaceful home
- Tex-Mex (chili, cheddar cheese)
- The US of A. (I love my country)
My pastoral adventure started when I was 31 years old. At the time, I thought, “I can do this. I have great ideas, lots of energy, I’m a good speaker and I’ve been a church goer all my life. I ought to know how to get it done.” Boy was I in for the shock of my life. I found out that good preaching had very little to do with being a good leader.
I have now been a pastor for 28 years. In those 28 years I have learned a lot but the most valuable lesson I’ve learned is there will always be more to learn. It would’ve been nice to have known a few things in advance but for the most part that wasn’t the case. I had to learn through trial and error. Here’s a few of the things I wish I had known before I took that little church in Mt. Pleasant, Texas.
- Just because someone says he/she is a Christian, does not mean they are.
- The meanest people in the world are sometimes church people.
- Just because you are the pastor does not mean you are the leader.
- Everyone will not like your ideas, advice or vision.
- People who say they are with you 100% never are.
- The ones you help the most will hurt you the most.
- People will ask for your spiritual counsel and then not follow it.
- People will lie to you, use you and accuse you to make themselves look good.
- You can do 99 things right and 1 thing wrong but you will be judged on the 1 thing wrong.
- The one’s you think will be the best leaders sometimes aren’t and the ones you don’t think will be the best leaders sometimes are.
- You need to be willing to give grace 100% of the time with the understanding that it will be dishonored.
- The majority of the people in your church are really good people. Only a very few cause the majority of your heartache.
My wife and I are on vacation. I must say, I really needed this one. It’s day three so I thought I would give an update.
We are traveling on our motorcycle, averaging about 250 miles a day. That may not sound like much but we like to allow time for sleeping in and stopping at interesting places along the way.
On day one we went from Lafayette, LA to Mobile, AL. We ran into a little rain but for the most part it was a good ride. Day two found us going to Auburn, AL. We made it without encountering any bad weather. Once in our hotel, the bottom fell out and it rained all night long. Then day three (today) we made it to Cherokee, NC which is where the vacation really begins. The weather was great. Tomorrow we set out to ride the entire Blue Ridge Parkway.
As I reflect on our trip so far, here are a few thoughts:
1. It takes me about three days to chill out.
2. I sunburn really quickly.
3. I love motorcycle vacations.
4. Sometimes the best plans have to be changed because of the weather.
5. God made some really cool scenery.
6. I love bike trips with Nancy.
7. I miss my kids.
8. I miss my church.
9. It’s hard to eat right on vacation.
10. Even with a GPS you can still get lost.