Don’t Get Too Busy

This morning was a first for me.  The morning started out pretty much like any other morning.  There was the getting breakfast together, helping get the kids ready for the day and then finally getting myself ready.  I was running through things in my mind that I would like to get done today in the office – sermons for Wednesday and Sunday, reading that I would like to get done, planning, etc.

As I was getting my things together to head out the door, it happened.  I don’t know where it came from, but it hit hard.  We have never seen this reaction before.  Our middle son, Sam, bust out into tears and said that he wanted to stay with Daddy.  I was blindsided.

Normally, our boys flock to the mother for EVERYTHING.  They are true-blue Momma-boys.  I’m okay with that.  I was a Momma-boy growing up as well.  For some reason today, Sam wanted his Daddy.  I would be lying if I said that there was not a feeling of pride swelling up inside of me.

I made the decision to give this thing a try.  There is nothing for my 4-year-old son to do in my office other than color on some paper and play in the floor in the corner.  I told my wife something along the lines of, “let’s see what happens.”  We got him ready and a couple of toys, and it was off to the office with Daddy.  Surprisingly, he did pretty good – other than lock himself in the bathroom.

We went home for lunch and I told my son that he would have to stay at the house with Mommy.  He was fine with that.  He had some one-on-one “Daddy time,” and he was happy with that.

I was reminded during the time together and over lunch that these kiddos are not going to be here in our house very long.  There is a small window of their life that we as their parents have to make an impact.  Ministry is tough work.  There is a lot of preparation, planning, and praying that must be done.  But, as I was reminded of today, it should never come at the expense of your family.

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Give Thanks Day 7

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On this 7th day of November, I would like to express my thanks to the man I affectionally call “Pops.”  That man is my dad, Ken Stephens.  As with most any relationship that a person has in their lives, ours has had it share of ups and downs (definitely more ups than downs).  Through it all, I have never questioned if Pops was behind me.

I remember the ways that he supported my love for baseball.  Taking me to practices and ball games constantly.  Cheering from those little league stands.  Even helping me to conquer my fear of the baseball with the monetary encouragement.  He wanted to see me succeed.  He knew that it was something that I enjoyed, so he did everything in his power to make sure I could experience it to the full.

Even in my ministry, my dad has been a big supporter of mine.  We may attend different churches and not see completely eye-to-eye on all theological issues, but one thing is for sure: he has supported and encouraged me.  For that, I am truly thankful.

So today on the day that you turn 72, I would like so say thank you to my gracious Lord for giving me a pretty good dad here on earth.  Happy birthday, Pops!

Give Thanks Day 6

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On this sixth day of November, I’d like to give thanks for the places that God has allowed me to serve in ministry.  I think back over the past 15 years about all the places that have given me the opportunity to lead in ministry positions.  It has definitely been a learning experience.  I think back to that first church position in 1998 when a little country church in Walnut, MS allowed me to serve for a year as their youth minister.  Talk about green… sure, I had two summers of internship under my belt, but nothing had prepared me for what would come my way during that time.  I am so grateful to that church for seeing the potential in that “wet behind the ears” guy.

I think about the honor that it was to go back to my home church and serve as youth pastor during a time of transition.  Those were some times of faith-building, but I would not trade them for the world.  I remember when that search committee looked at me and addressed me not as the guy who grew up here, but as a real potential to go forward.  I am so grateful for the team of adult volunteers that came alongside of me during that time and helped move forward the transition.

I think about the times in Fairhope and Birmingham where God began to turn my focus from just students to the entire church congregation as a whole.  I think about those from these precious churches who invested in helping me fund my education.

I am grateful to New Life Fellowship in Gilbertown, Alabama for giving me the honor of being the first full-time pastor of that precious church.  I am grateful to them that they worked along with me as I cut my teeth on this lead pastor thing.

And to Bethany Baptist Church… I am honored that you have placed the reigns in my hand to lead this precious congregation in the Lord’s work.  The support and love that has been demonstrated to our family over these past 6 months is enough to get you all choked up.

Each of these places of service has been used by God to mold me a little bit more into what He desires me to be.  I would not be where I am or who I am without any one of these.

Outside the Walls

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Last night, we had the privilege of hosting a couple of people who have been visiting our church for a little while now. We shared a meal and talked about questions that they may had about the church and the Christian faith. It was a special time.

I have been thinking about a couple of things since that time last night. The church was never meant to stay behind the walls of a building. Sure, Jesus told His disciples not to leave Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit’s arrival (Acts 1:4-5), but were they supposed to stay behind those walls until Jesus returned?

I think not because of what comes in Acts 1:8 when Jesus promises power for the task of taking the Gospel to the “ends of the earth.” One cannot take the Gospel as it was intended to the nations if they are hidden behind walls. Jesus intended for His disciples, the ones who bear His name, to do what He did (John 14:12). Jesus went to the people who needed the Gospel and did not wait for them to come running to Him all the time.

I was reminded by a pastor recently that too many of our churches have bought into the “Field of Dreams” model: “if you build it, they will come.” How has that been working for us?

It seems interesting to me that the first Christian “church buildings” didn’t come around until the 4th century A.D. That was also when a decline in the church began that led to the Dark Ages. What did those poor Christians of the first three centuries of the church do? They met in homes and other community places.

I am not against church buildings in and of themselves. They can be great tools for doing ministry. The problem comes when the building becomes a place where we just sit on our “blessed assurance” and do not “be the body of Christ” to our communities.

May today we represent Jesus in a real way to our communities. May we go as we were commanded (Matthew 28:19-20), and share the love of Christ with a world that is waiting… outside the walls of our buildings.

Thankful I’m Not Alone

I am what you might label “an extrovert.”  I like to be around people.  The more people in a crowd, the more excited and interested I get.  There are times though that I like to get away by myself and just have some “alone time.”  I believe that everyone needs that at times.  Some just more than others.

While I often use my “alone time” to work and think through things that are going on at the time, I am very thankful that I am not alone.  I know that Jesus is with me always.  But that’s not what I’m talking about.  I am thankful for the helpmate that He has blessed me with in my wife, Naomi.

DSC_0114Since November 1, 2001 (when we officially started dating), Naomi has been there beside me.  On January 17, 2004, she officially signed up to walk with me down every path that God would carry me by saying two words: “I do.”  Since that time, she has been there beside me with encouragement and love to be all that God wants me to be.

Some paths of this journey that God has led me have not been easy ones.  There have been many times that I wanted to throw my hands up in the air and say, “I’m done!”  There have been many times when I would get so overwhelmed (usually because of my lack of planning skills).

Through it all, I have been able to count on two constants: Jesus first, and my wife second.  They have been there to push, prod, encourage, and refuse to let me settle for anything less than God’s amazing plans for my life.

For this I am truly thankful.