Hot air, bright colors & hype … is there more?

Loud, hot, colorful, bright, impressive – but just gas and flash.

By Scott Linscott

“What you win them with, you win them to.”

The flame heats up the air, the air fills the balloon, the balloon lifts the basket of passengers into the sky.

I’m attending a conference online. It’s giving me things to consider: things to think about.

It’s about starting new churches. Some appear to be cloning existing churches, some are trying very hard to be different and some just seem to be what I can best describe as “organic.” All want to help people discover life, purpose and meaning in Christ.

A rabbit trail between sessions led me to the quote above, “what you win them with, you win them to.”

Marketing hype, worship “experiences” and production are key now. Door hangers promise “the biggest,” lawn signs tell of helicopters dropping eggs and others advertise prizes and gas cards for those who visit. We can buy 10 second countdowns to add to our PowerPoint slides to build anticipation for the band’s big opener.

Every time the balloon pilot pulls on the gas valve, out comes a loud burst of flame and heat. It’s impressive. The show is spectacular.

When the gas is gone and the balloon deflates, a crew of workers roll it up and pack it away for the next event. The crowds head home wowwed and anxious to return for the next experience until the experience no longer gives them goose bumps.

I think of the depth of worship I’ve witnessed in third world settings. The carefully manufacted “experience” is lacking, the sound is usually bad and the musicians untrained. The buildings are bare and the acoustics are terrible. Plastic chairs, wooden benches and stumps have no holders for designer coffees in eco-friendly, recyclable cups.

Without fail, I leave feeling like our American churches are missing something. We come to get our experience tingles and pep talks. They come to meet with God and worship him. We leave trying to decide on a restaurant. They leave praying for enough to feed their children.

I don’t want a programmed, manufacted experience. I don’t want to be calling for more hot air for our most impressive balloon in town.

I want organic, natural encounters with the gospel that saves … sometimes loudly, sometimes in stillness, sometimes in plenty and sometimes in scarcity.

I long for organic. I long for the unproduced and raw. Messy is okay with me.

I don’t want to be a hot air balloon captain. I want to be a friend, a shepherd, a mentor, a coach and an encourager. I want to be a team member and partner in sharing life and living the gospel. I want to teach and I want to learn from others.

I enjoy the attraction of the large, brightly-colored, floating air balloon as much as the next guy but, in life and ministry, the hype and hot air of manufactured experiences eventually cools off and fades or lasts only until the next truck pulls in with bigger and more impressive balloons to inflate.
“Worship has to do with real life. It’s not just a mythical interlude in a week of reality.” John Piper

Amos 5:21-24

Find Beauty in the Rain

Some people are the “glass half empty” type. Others are “glass half full.”  Me? I try to be happy that I have a glass at all. Even an empty glass has potential.

It’s easy to focus on the negatives in life.  and all over Facebook. Negatives work to stick to us like burrs in a field. They try to weave into the very fabric of our hearts and minds.

We focus on things we can’t control and we obsess over stuff we cannot change. The only thing we can control is how we react to those things.

Life includes an abundance of hard things. We lose jobs, people we love pass away, accidents happen and sickness hits our frail, human shells. The sun shines on the good and the bad and times of rain come to each.

Sometimes the rain just keeps coming and it feels like it will never end. It can cause us to forget about the sunshine and even think it will never shine again. But, even in the rain there is beauty if we will look for it.

We went through a very, very rainy 18 months in our lives. I lost my health, I lost my income, we lost our house, our savings and our retirement fund. I lost my energy, needed a mobility chair and came to the point of wearing adult diapers. I even lost the hope of having the liver transplant I needed to survive when docs took me off the transplant list in March of 2012 saying I was “too weak to survive” the surgery.

It rained pain, it rained financial hardship, it rained embarrassment, it rained questions and it rained discomfort day after day after day.

But, one thing remained unchanged. We sing these words at our church,

“Your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me …
On and on and on and on it goes 
Yes it overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never, ever, have to be afraid
‘Cause this one thing remains… Your love never fails…”
~Jesus Culture, 2015

It was my faith that got me through those rainy times. I’m not talking about meaningless religious ritual. I’m talking about living, breathing faith that grew stronger the harder things got.

There was beauty in life even during those brutal times. I found beauty in my family, beauty in my awesome wife and beauty in so many of the people I met.

We’ve had a lot of real rain this Spring. The ground is saturated and rivers are running high. Gray skies have been the dominant theme and most people get into somewhat of a lethargic funk when that happens.

I decided I needed to find the beauty in the rain yesterday so I grabbed my camera and crawled around in the puddles a bit to photograph the flowers in our front garden. I was drawn to rain droplets that somehow made the flowers even more vibrant and beautiful. The rain that I was so tired of brought the incredible beauty in front of my lens.

Photographing droplets on flowers made me think of another favorite song we’ve heard in our church:

“All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change, at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found?
Could a garden come out from this ground, at all?

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us”

(listen: https://youtu.be/kWooIrU5OwI)

I would not wish the storm we lived through on anyone. But now, I see so many beautiful things that came up from that ground. I’m thankful for changes in me and the depth of my faith. I’m thankful for all the people now in my life as a result.

I know more rain will fall. I know more hard times will come as part of life. I pray they are not as hard but, even if they are, I am confident that beauty will still be found whatever is ahead.

The old book I like to read says,

“Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.  And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you.” Luke 12:27-28

My life has taught me that that is Truth.

Look for the beauty today. It’s out there.

~ Scott Linscott

What can I do?

I’m good at breaking stuff, not fixing things.

I can’t build stuff. Seriously, I’ve never learned much about using tools or repairing things. When I try do-it-yourself repair, we normally have to call a repairman. I know nothing about cars, can’t fix a lawnmower and can’t tell you how to frame a wall, install an outlet or replace a ceiling fan. When we paint, I’ve been told to let others handle the trim and cutting in. I feel pretty useless in the whole handyman area.

I talk a lot and can usually make people smile. I can take some nice photos and make pretty graphics. I can write and communicate. But, seriously, what good is any of that in a foreign culture where I can’t speak the language? As it turns out, there actually is a need for my skill set in missions work. There’s a need for your skill set too.

This week I met with someone who had no idea why I am heading back to Guatemala again. It surprised me because I thought I was becoming annoying with too much information and too many updates online. But, we all miss stuff online. Maybe you missed the purpose of my trip too and think it’s all about Bundles of Love?

I’m going to Guatemala primarily as a professional photographer (yes, I do that – here’s my website). My job is to communicate the story of AMG Guatemala in images and video. I will have about 25 pounds of my pro gear with me, including lenses, speed lights, remotes, boom mic and a bunch of batteries. I’ll have my editing gear with me to work on images and video at night. Each day I will head out to a different location to capture infrastructure needs at childcare centers, photograph living conditions and work to tell the story of children trapped in crushing, third-world poverty. My images and video will be used in March when the AMG  Guatemala marketing folks produce a new informational video used in telling its story. I will be in some of the poorest parts of the country.

Is there danger? Yes. My gear is very expensive. I will do my best, and have help from Sam Avila and others, to keep watch of our surroundings to try to be as inconspicuous as possible. My gear backpack does not look like it holds thousands of dollars of camera equipment. It just looks like a backpack. When I travel internationally I hide all Nikon labels and ditch the bright Nikon strap for a tattered black strap. But, trust me, if someone demands my gear, I will hand it over quickly hoping only to ask for the memory card of that day’s images. It is all fully insured and is only stuff. So, pray for safety for me and for those with me. 

123-bundles-2But what about the Bundles of Love? While I am in Guatemala, a small team will be delivering packages to childcare centers and villages. I will get to be with them for some of their deliveries. When I learned of that, I knew that I could certainly work to contribute to the effort so I set out raising money for these supplies. I set a crazy goal of funds for 100 bundles. As of this morning, the Lord has provided funds for 123 bundles!!!

Sunday morning, my son Josh will be speaking in my place. If all goes well, I will be back speaking the next Sunday, tired from a 3:00 AM arrival but excited to share, I’m sure. I hope you’ll come Sunday morning. I love watching my doctor boy be a dad, husband, student and worship leader. I love that he is willing to speak when he gets the chance. It’s so cool to see my kids following Jesus!

I will update my Facebook page when I have cell service. I’m hoping to have WiFi in my home base where we will be each night. I will be in Oratorio with the school we sponsor on Thursday. I can’t wait to hug all our family members there!

I love you guys lots. I am so thankful that God is faithful. He often calls us into difficult, dark spaces to be the light. I’m thankful for the light you are in Southern Maine and beyond.

Love God, love others!
Scott

True faith is seen in action

Change takes more than updating your Facebook status

Serving a meal together.

The bumper sticker on the car in front of me, the car that I watched come up behind me weaving in and out of highway traffic at about 90 miles an hour, read, “Be the change you want to see.”

“Well, isn’t that nice,” I thought, watching him cut off the third lane and go on his way while brake lights flashed and horns honked. I’m not sure what change he wants to see unless he’s saying that the world needs more self-absorbed jerks. Maybe it’s just me, but I think we already have too many.

“Be the change you want to see.”

Over the last couple weeks, that bumper message flashed in my mind quite a few times. I saw it while watching clips of unhappy voters marching, shouting, waving signs and even breaking windows to protest the outcome of the national election. I could not help but wonder what the impact would be if all those thousands of angry marchers were actively involved in their communities either in government, working with immigrants or meeting needs around them.

Maybe many of them are involved but it seems like much of activism today has been reduced to people wearing bracelets, writing on their arms and changing Facebook profile pictures to show how much we care.

Bundles of Love

The ancient book I like to read puts it this way:

15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2

Thankfully, I see a lot of people around me doing more than yelling, “Somebody should do something!” I get to see people seeing needs and taking action.

Operation Christmas Child

Saturday morning I spent time with a family packing up Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes that get sent to children all over the world who have little to look forward to at Christmas. Their faith community gathered 74 boxes to add to more than a million others from all across the country.

Saturday night, I watched a group of close to 30 people serve a free turkey dinner spread to almost 200 people. Many of the guests were elderly people excited to have a great dinner and night out. Some of the guests had special needs. Others were people enjoying a chance to connect with others in their community.

A couple of weeks ago I watched the same faith community pull together boots, coats, hats and other warm clothing to meet the needs of an immigrant family unprepared for the approaching Maine winter.

In just a couple of weeks I will return to Guatemala to work with AMG International. I’ll be doing photography work to help communicate how AMG is helping more than 8000 children there. It was just 7 months ago when I made my first trip to Guatemala and experienced overwhelming poverty and thought, “somebody needs to do something!” The good news is that I met a lot of people who are doing plenty to help. It wasn’t too long before I knew I had to join them in their efforts.  My friends, neighbors, church & family are sending me with more than $2000 to purchase Bundles of Love to meet the greatest needs of more than 100 children. (contribute here – BUNDLES TEAM)

Most of us get paralyzed when we’re faced with something that is so much bigger than us. What can I do? I can’t end poverty. I can’t end racism. I can’t stop misogyny, injustice, homelessness or any of a myriad of other problems. That’s true but we are not powerless.

You are not powerless.

Each year our church family puts together gift baskets to thank all the people who serve the public.

What if each of us did for one what we wish could be done for all? If a million individuals choose to sponsor just one child trapped in third world poverty, a million children would eat and be educated.  If 100 families in each of our communities welcomed just one immigrant family, imagine the impact. What would happen if just one person in each neighborhood went door to door collecting unused winter clothing out of jam-packed closets to donate to the community center, homeless shelter or veterans services?

One person cannot change the world for everyone but one person can change the world for one other person.

Maybe it’s time we put down our signs, stop writing on our arms and come out from behind our Facebook pages to actually love.

Real solutions require more than social media “awareness.”

You are not powerless to affect change.

Don’t just stand there. Do something!

A few ideas:

  • thinkSponsor a child in poverty. AMG is one option.  Compassion International is another.
  • See an immigrant? Smile and say hello.
  • In 2017, commit to THINK before speaking, posting or sharing. True? Helpful? Inspiring? Necessary? Kind?
  • Volunteer to help a teacher, a youth league, a rec program, a church youth program.
  • Bring your toddler and visit someone who has no one.
  • Lend a hand at your community center.
  • Buy an extra canned good to donate each time you grocery shop.
  • Teach your sons to respect, honor and value women.
  • Run for office.
  • Send a Bundle of Love to Guatemala with me Dec. 3.
  • Host a neighborhood gathering.
  • Give some time to Habitat for Humanity
  • Set another place at your table for someone who is alone.
  • Drop off a thank you card at the police or fire station.
  • Help your church help others by giving of your time, treasure and talent.
  • Forgive a grudge you’ve been holding onto.
  • Give blood. Register to be an organ donor.

 

Reality Check

By Steve Martin

An encouragement towards prayer occurred to me.

At times faith is hard to latch on to. In presenting my often dyer needs to God in prayer, quiet words uttered under my tongue, quietly in a room, in my head….

I have been struggling to believe there is any convincing that a flake of dust like me could be heard and taken seriously. I have all but ruled out rationally that this is possible. Think about it… It’s ridiculous.

However, there is scripture, which I believe, and it says this in Colossians 1:16-17

“For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Now, for a moment letting all the other prayer verses go, and just pondering “if he wanted, he could cause me to vanish right now. He is willing that I have life in these very seconds and hours and situations. Period. He is willing my existence.”

This is an up close and personal reality check. So I connected the dots… I have needs I would love for Him to help me with, all kinds of them. How then would it be possible to say he isn’t aware? Really!

Maybe I should view my life more as a character on a page of the story of the earth. Thus, my prayers of any sort honestly are no surprise to Him. My disappointments in seeming non answer to prayers can be correctly understood – he gave me the breath to breathe them, the mind in that state to say them. I ought to pray more as if he meant for me to pray at that moment, about that thing…..

And  as these wonderful characters in what apparently is such an epic drama, why suspect the results would be of no consequence?

REThink Leadership?

 

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Powerful main sessions with challenging speakers and excellent music refreshed me.

I spent last week at a conference in Atlanta. My goal was to come away with practical ideas of how to approach developing leadership teams in this new era of ministry, especially in a church going through revitalization. My expectation with the “REthink” title was for new, outside the box, approaches to leadership that are proving effective in churches that are working hard to realign and readjust to changing culture. While the conference was very well organized and flowed smoothly, I am coming home with none of what I went to find. It’s not a total loss though. I’m coming home inspired and energized in other ways.

What happened?

You who know me will probably not be surprised at the epiphany I had at this conference. As I filed in with 750 other “lead pastors” I was uncomfortable from the start. Though the promotional material described the dress code as “very casual” and relaxed, only 3 of us were in shorts and t-shirts. And only one of those, me, was wearing red sneakers. The rest of the crowd was mostly in sharp, button-down shirts and what I would call dress jeans pulled up high on the waist with nice leather belts. My epiphany? These are not my people. I don’t fit. Table exchanges were mostly brief, professional, pleasantries.

For the next two days I sat in a room that I will call “corporate church America.” The talk centered on managing our staff members, meetings and structure. At one point my table discussion focused on how often staff meetings should occur at each staff level. I didn’t have much to offer.

I told Robin I felt like I was at a fish-care conference representing my little glass bowl with a single goldfish swimming around while the rest of these guys were in positions overseeing aquariums like Sea World and the Boston Aquarium. I went to one breakout session that promised to help lead an established church from the old to the new. Point one was to not change anything for six months in order to learn the systems. Point two was helpful information for firing staff members not in line with the vision and point three focused on how to make quality hires for open positions. I left to try another workshop. As I walked in they were laughing about a pastor that gave his congregation his home phone number and how crazy that is. (My cell number is on the back of our bulletin.)

My mind kept darting through scripture about servant leadership, shepherding, gospel partnerships and teams. I don’t want to judge harshly. Maybe the corporate model of the CEO pastor is the way it has to be in giant churches. All I can tell you is I have no desire for that whatsoever!

Thankfully, the main sessions were where I found encouragement for servant leadership, personal soul care and investing in relationshìps. I had some excellent speakers pour into me and encourage my spirit. I got some excellent evaluation questions to consider in working to improve my own leadership style. I think that was the talk that got me thinking the most.

“What is it like to be on the other side of me?”  (Brad Lomenick)

He pointed out that every leader brings a climite to his organization and that most times the leader has little idea what that climate actually is. Old leadership models stress fear based leadership to bring results. Thankfully most in the church have abandoned that approach. But, Brad told a story about growing the organization he was working with to the point of losing his personality and becoming a demanding, workaholic, task master. His team was afraid to be truthful with him and hesitant to approach him with new ideas or feedback. The climate he was creating was unhealthy and he wasn’t even aware how much he had changed. Brad challenged us to return to our churches and ask, “What is it like to be on the other side of me?” The goal is honest feedback to help us be better leaders.

I wonder what kind of climate I bring? What is it like to be on the other side of me? For the past 3 years I’ve been trying to navigate leading the rebuilding of a church after it had been through decades of decline. On a number of occasions I’ve been pretty sure that I’m not the right person for the job. I’ve made some painful mistakes, hurt some people and had some things I wish I had done differently. But, thankfully, most of the time, I’ve been able to look at the fruit of growth and changed lives and thank God for putting imperfect me in this position and working despite my numerous shortcomings.

Most of the conference was great, especially when we went across the street to join with the 8,000 youth and children’s workers at their conference. Of course, they were relaxed, friendly, smiling and there was no sense of the structure of corporate America. The level of joy was refreshing. The “professionals” disappeared and the business vibe evaporated. Not that the serious crowd on the other side of the street loved Jesus any less, there was just less freedom and spontaneity there. It was guarded.

My soul was refreshed in singing loudly with hands in the air. My tablet filled with notes and quotes of both encouragement and self-improvement. My ideas vault expanded. Andy Stanley, Jon Acuff, Reggie Joiner,Doug Fields and Perry Noble poured into me and refreshed me.

My conclusion, even after two “are you interested in a move” conversations, was that God placed me right where I am in a faith family that I love with the longing the Paul writes about in the first chapter of Philippians. I have no desire for a big staff or becoming the biggest church in Maine. I am not Corporate Carl and have no desire to live his life. I love the team approach where we are all ministers together. I love that changed lives is our measuring stick rather than numbers. I love that loving others is our heart and that we are simple and uncomplicated.

I am not called to Guatemala. I am not called to Pennsylvania or to be on a staff of 18 in North Carolina. I am more convinced than ever that God has me right where he wants me in little, old, Westbrook, Maine. I am beyond blessed to be serving with friends I love dearly.

If we do grow to a multi, fulltime staff level, I’m not ever going to be Corporate Carl and the big cheese. Instead I pray for a team working together, loving each other and serving together where each of us will sharpen the others regardless of position or title. My prayer is that we will continue to grow together as family, building one another up, forgiving one another and pushing forward together.

 

 

Time management? Every day a gift?

Wasting my bonus days

Regaining control of my time.

I think I’m wasting my bonus days. Or, at least, I think I’m wasting too much of them.

Imagine you have a giant bowl of mashed potatoes and are a huge spud fan. If you have a gallon of mashed potatoes, you carelessly scoop them onto your plate and don’t sweat it if some falls to the floor. But, if you have just a cup of mashed potatoes you are more protective of them, right? You savor every bite and maybe even plan out how you are going to eat them and make them last.

What if time is like mashed potatoes?

Before my liver transplant, I think I looked at my days like I had so many of them that it didn’t really matter if some of them were wasted. Really, I don’t think I even thought of how I spent them at all. When we have lots of something, most of us don’t think about waste at all.

As far as time was concerned, I thought I had a whole bowl full of “later” and more on the stove.. That was my attitude without even realizing it. I could read any book I wanted to later, take that trip later, work on getting into better shape and losing weight later, pray later, make life changes later, date my wife later …

Later.

And then a doctor told me that later was on the endangered list. She said I didn’t have much later left.

That changed me. It changed the way I wanted to spend my time. It changed my priorities and even changed my approach to life. When you lose later you look at now in a totally different light.

For the first year or two after transplant I continued to live and think like a man who had only a cup or two of later left, but during year three, I’ve seen changes in my attitude and decisions that I don’t much like.

Gradually my attitude is shifting from limited later back to the lie of an unlimited supply of time.

The primary ingredient in later is time – minutes, hours, days, weeks …

We create the recipe of our lives with those ingredients and then see how it tastes. Too many minutes in conflict added to that bowl, too many hours of stress and worry, too many weeks of postponing relationship makes the recipe bitter. Too few minutes in prayer, too few hours spent sharing life with others and too few weeks of discipline makes the mix watery and tasteless.

The first year after transplant I lived every day as a bonus day. Time served me, I did not serve time. I wrote “bonus day” hashtags, celebrated relationships and laughed a lot. I knew time was a limited and precious resource and chose where I would spend it carefully. I think Robin did too.

In year two it continued fairly strong but my time investments started shifting more toward things that were demanding my attention even though they were not worth the time I would give them.

And now, looking back at year three? My “bonus days” approach to life no longer sets my course. Now I recognize bonus days when they happen but I shape them less and less. My calendar is full of good goals. My days are normally set with hurrying from appointment to appointment and my task list is focused on tasks more than people.

It’s life just like most everybody lives. It’s life that we all have been convinced is unavoidable.

But is it? Is it really unavoidable or has it just become such the norm that we believe we are powerless to affect change? We shrug and say, “it is what it is.”

I don’t know if I have a cup of time or a gallon of time.  The truth is, none of us know how much of it we have. Still we waste it, we splash it away, we spend it on so many things that don’t deserve it and relegate the truly important to later.

I want to make the changes needed in my life to regain living each day like it is truly a bonus day and gift. I need to go back to understanding that sitting by the ocean thinking and praying is vital and not a waste of time. I want to take time to walk my dog every day while listening to the Michael Buble station on Pandora instead of believing I don’t have time. I want to be a person who takes time to go to 8th grade basketball games, spends time meeting people in coffee shops, reads real books instead of Facebook articles and learns new things. I want to change back to the person who plans his meals instead of grabbing something at the nearest drive thru hurrying here or there. I want to return to recognizing exercise as a privilege instead of an intrusion on my hectic life. I want to go back to valuing people more than programs.

I liked that me a lot more than I like this me. Now to see if I can find him again.

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15

Christmas is under attack!

JPEG_20151130_073803_-157276640Christmas is in big trouble. Businesses put up holiday trees, school kids can’t sing classic Christmas hymns, snowflakes are being pulled in favor of blank, red cups and nativity scenes are being attacked, stolen and defaced. Christmas is under attack!

Maybe it should be.

Can we just step back for a minute and admit that most of America loves something called Christmas more than it loves Jesus? Can we step back and admit that this thing we call Christmas looks almost nothing like Jesus?

Yeah, I’m judging. Got it? I am sitting here watching the annual rants on Facebook and the declarations of my rights to say “Merry Christmas” whenever and wherever I want and I’m judging it an embarrassment to the Jesus I follow in Scripture.

This is our focus? Really? We want to go to war over the creche on the public lawn showing kings and camels and a baby with hands outstretched foreshadowing the crucifixion to come 33 years later? The scene is probably pretty far from accurate both historically and culturally and isn’t even in line with the account given in the bible.

It’s really our goal to force people to say “Merry Christmas” or wish a “Merry Christmas” to someone whom we know doesn’t believe in Jesus? That’s what the good news of Jesus boils down to?

Get mad at me. Go ahead. But, I think this thing we call “Christmas” needs major retooling in the United States.

It’s not all bad. The giving piece is good. The wish for peace is good. The fact that our media makes an effort to highlight some sort of “spirit of the season” while being careful to steer clear of the Spirit of Christmas is almost kind of good. At least it’s in the right neighborhood.

My family absolutely loves celebrating Christmas. Yes, we go overboard with the rest of America and spend cash on lots of things we could do without. We love to decorate, wrap gifts and then unwrap gifts, one at a time, on Christmas morning. We give extravagantly because our God gave extravagantly.

The challenge for us is to recognize Immanuel, God with us, Jesus, in the river of Christmas chaos. Our worship of Christmas can sometimes displace our worship of Jesus. Our tradition over the years, our discipline to help us stay focused, has been to find someone to give to anonymously with the same budget we set aside to buy for our own children. We pray about it, we talk about it, and then we just send it. It helps us feel better connected than the annual gifts we send to Compassion International, Good Shepherd Food Bank and the Salvation army where we know our gifts are an important drop in the bucket. We’ve been on the receiving end of some large anonymous gifts that have left us with no one to praise but our God for His gifts. We pray for the same result for someone who needs a dose of Hope.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. Luke 2:14

The angel’s words in Luke 2:14 not only strike me, they shape me. Peace. Good will.

I’m sorry, my vigilant friends. I cannot join you in your posts on Facebook. I cannot join you in forcing Target, Starbucks or anyone else say or print “Merry Christmas.” I will thank the person who wishes me “Happy holidays” and I will return good will to them. I won’t type “amen” and forward your posts.

Instead, I will look at our simple nativity scene, with infant Jesus, arms swaddled warmly near his body, Mom, Dad and some awestruck shepherds nearby, and I will thank my God for this humble scene where He chose to enter humanity to walk with us.

And I will remember that it was this same baby who grew to show me how to live, how to love, and how to serve. I will remember that it was this child who grew to lay down his life to purchase mine. I will remember his straight forward, simple directive to love God with all my heart, soul and mind and to love my neighbor as myself.

Yes, I too am sad that America is moving toward rejecting the word “Christmas.” But I am more sad that we are moving further and further away from the Christ that it used to include at the center. He will always be the focus for us.

Rather than wage war to ensure that the name of Christ be forever attached to a societal season that is looking less and less like Him, perhaps it is time for those of us who claim to love the Christ of Christmas to simply focus our efforts on living like Him.

From what I read in this ancient book, it’s clearly not up to a coffee cup, decorations or vinyl store banners to tell people the Christmas story and the Good News of Jesus. That’s our job.

I pray you have a  Merry Christmas!
Scott Linscott

That light at the end of the tunnel? An oncoming train?

Originally posted on July 10, 2012 @ http://www.scottlinscott.com two months after my liver transplant.
by Scott Linscott

Today’s entry was written responding to one of my reader’s struggles and questions in the face of a very difficult set of circumstances. I think we all share similar thoughts when crisis hits.

You’re right. There aren’t many modern day Jobs. In fact, even in Job’s time he was unique. He wasn’t at all common. Then, and now, the Job character type is the same. I look at:

Joni Erickson Tada. Teenager – dives in shallow water – quadriplegic – goes through thoughts of suicide and severe depression – learns to paint holding a brush in her teeth. 1986 marries! Recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She can’t do the most basic task for herself. She loves God, praises him and works like crazy advocating for people with disabilities. She speaks all across the country encouraging people to put their faith in Jesus.

Tony Melendez – born with no arms – learned to play guitar with feet – played for Pope. Today is a motivational speaker, tours with his band and is active in the pro-life movement.

My life is easy compared to Job and compared to these two people. And, if you believe my battle is easier than yours, I cannot argue with you. It could have been so much worse. There are many who have it much worse than me.

But, I will disagree vehemently with conclusions you’ve made about your own ability to affect change. I believe there is always hope! No one is powerless.
Job didn’t praise or serve God because of what he did for Job or for past blessings. Job understood that God is God Sovereign. To not bless or worship Him is a fatal mistake. Job knew that and that’s why he argued so readily against his wife and friends. I pray that should I lose my wife and kids or face rejection of this new liver that I, like Job, will remember that God is God regardless of the state of my life.

I remember the night in March when I coded. I was minutes away from death. A severe reaction to an antibiotic caused my tongue to swell so large that it would not fit in my mouth. It closed off my airway. I remember the alarms and medical staff running into my room. I remember hearing them frantically bark out commands for injections of this and that. It sounded just like TV. I remember them tossing me around like a rag doll to get me into a better position. And then, I remember coming to with a plastic oxygen mask over my face and the infectious disease doctor asking me assessing questions. I saw 12-14 medical staff members surrounding my bed in a solid yellow circle because of the yellow gowns they all wore. Every eye was on me and the tension was palpable. I said something like, “Hello, you’re probably all wondering why I called you together.” The laughter broke the tension and you could feel a collective sigh of relief.

I’d be lying if I told you I was not scared. But, somehow, I also had peace. I was in that hospital bed for 25 days. My condition was deteriorating even more. The friends who visited me looked at me with eyes that told me just how bad I looked. I could see that seeing me was painful for them. I remember my mom crying and saying goodbye to me during a particularly bad patch. It wasn’t a “see you tomorrow” type of goodbye. It had a ring of finality to it.
Losing my job, losing my house, suffering continuously and not even able to remember my own phone number was so painful. I lost driving privileges and my independence. I sat alone in my house day after day and often fell asleep on the occasional visitor. Other times visitors energized me and, for awhile, I felt normal.

I cried out to God, I screamed at him, I sang and read His book, I wanted to die and I wanted to live. But, I always knew that He is God and worthy of my praise. Sometimes I had to make myself give him honor.

God does not exist to serve me. He doesn’t need my praise because he’ll make the rocks and trees give him praise if I don’t. Because he is loving and because he has told me to ask for the desires of my heart, I do ask him to provide, to make me well and give me strength. Like every parent, only perfect and omniscient, he does not give me everything I want. He gives me what I need to mold me to reflect his character.

My friend, I am thankful I have gone through this past year. I’ve grown and changed in so many ways. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone but I am thankful. My faith, my trust, my love is somehow deeper or more real now. I can’t really explain it.

Tonight I had a fever of 101.5 at one point. Fevers for transplant recipients can mean anything from infection to rejection. I pray that it is nothing. But, if it is, I am determined to bring my God glory no matter what. Why?

God is God Sovereign. To project human frailties and characteristics onto him and evaluate him by human standards is just plain silly. I DO NOT want God to be like me and play by my selfish rules and expectations. I want to be like him.

I know you are hurting. I know you’ve suffered heartache, I know you’ve lot your job and I know your friends have abandoned you. Your life sucks right now but that doesn’t mean it will suck forever. You will have days when you laugh and love again. You will have time when life is good again. I believe it with my whole heart. I wish you would too.

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.
When Darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the veil.

Destined to be a short-lived failure as a pastor

By Scott Linscott

image

My morning view

“So, like, what do you actually do all day?”

It’s a fair question. People call me “Pastor.” It’s not a title I especially want but, it’s mine because of what I do now. When I worked with students, few people called me “pastor” because, for some reason, youth work is somehow perceived as less pastorlike.

Don’t misunderstand, I absolutely love my life and what I do, it’s just that a lot of odd thìngs cling to the pastor title. For example, my head tilts to the side in disbelief when someone calls me a “man of God” or a “man of the cloth.” I have no idea what to do when my catholic friends call me, “father” and ask about mass.

I’m a guy who snaps at my wife when I’m tired, gets angry when people cut me off in traffic, says naughty words when I stub my toe, craves cold beer with buffalo wings, covets cool new electronics and likes violent movies with lots of special effects and explosions.

I feel the same awkward inadequacies in finding the words to say when I hear someone has cancer or lost a loved one. You know how you feel empty and don’t know what to say when that happens? Me too.

But here I am, approaching two years of enjoying the privilege of sharing life, – messy, exhilerating, exhausting, ever-changing, grace-saturated life – with a bunch of people who, just like me, are doing their best to navigate life by living like Jesus. They asked me to take the point position, the head coach slot, and with that came the title I wear uncomfortably: “Pastor.”

When I read the ancient writings that shape my life, I see the “pastor-shepherd” position and I think, “yeah, that’s what I want.” But when I look around and see pastors making self-elevating moves, demanding respect by position or believing they truly are God’s annointed messengers, I cringe. I don’t want any part of that.

“shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” 1 Peter 5

I get that. I especially am growing to understand “eagerly.” This flock that I lead is imprinting on my heart. Though I am away on vacation, my first thought as I woke today was, “I wonder how Brady is feeling today after his surgery?” It’s a strange thing, really. I walked the dogs and prayed for my daughter Shara right along with little Brady. I prayed for Josh and Kristen and then Shelby came to mind. Then, “Lord, give the Morton’s an awesome summer of bonding in that little camper.” I prayed for my wife for a relaxing vacation and for my Mom’s shoulder pain.

They weren’t long, wordy prayers but more of a running conversation. The thing is that my “flock” is right there with Shara, Josh, Kristen, Robin and my mom. I’m not related to little Bradyman, or Shelby or the Mortons but they are right there on my mind with my family. I think the shepherd piece that the bible describes, writes people’s names on your heart. It’s the exact opposite of the counsel that a wise, old pastor gave me right after I accepted this position. He told me that the key to longevity and being a successful pastor is “to keep people at arm’s length. Don’t get too close.”

I’m eager to connect with the people who call me pastor but the thing is, the title does not create that eagerness, it is the eagerness that brings the title. I was a pastor before I got the title. Does that make sense? We have a number of “pastors” in our church family who care, shepherd, guide and invest in others without pay. I just happen to be in the point position.

But, this pastor gig still puzzles me after nearly 2 years of getting up every Sunday morning wondering what it is about me that qualifies me to stand up in front of the 120 or so people who will come sit on hard, wooden benches for an hour.

Reading from The Message this morning I came across Ephesians 3:8-10

7-8 This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God’s way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.

8-10 And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ.

Bam! That’s it exactly.

So, back to my friend’s question asking what I do all day. The truth is, sometimes I have no idea what I do. I’ll get to the end of a busy day and then feel like I didn’t accomplish anything. Sure, I have my routine things that happen week after week on certain days but most of my schedule is pretty fluid.

I joke that I only work 30 minutes a week and then sing for another 30 on Sunday mornings. Pastors only work on Sunday, right?

So, what do I actually do? I’ve been trying to figure that out so I know how to answer the question. I’m starting to think there is no easy answer.

I spend a bunch of time working on what I am going to say on Sunday mornings. I read a lot, look for resources, plan illustrations and outline it all in Powerpoint. Sometimes I’ll spend as much as 15 hours shaping, reshaping, tossing things out and then starting over. Other times I’ll spend maybe 5 hours total when everything just flows.

Then, I get the luxury of having time to spend on relationships. Sometimes it feels like it doesn’t count, or maybe shouldn’t count. Does that make sense? I mean, I get to go out to breakfast with people who I care about and now call friends. I get to ride bikes and sit around campfires. I get to do things like hangout at picnics and ballgames and organize fun, connecting events. What do we do? We just talk about life. We talk about relationships, conflicts and businesses. We talk about parenting and finances and decisions. We talk about faith and following Jesus. It happens in person, online, by phone and through text messaging sessions. Being a sort of life-coach comes with this pastor gig and I love it. But, a lot of times it leaves me feeling totally inadequate when all I can do is shrug and say, “I have no idea, I’m struggling with that too.”

Then there’s the awkward stuff that leaves me fumbling with no idea what to say or do. Weird stuff sometimes happens after “Pastor, can I talk to you?” One woman told me God sent her to speak that Sunday morning at our church. One guy vented about idol worship in America and told me to get rid of the flags. Another guy told me all about what he called “the modern Babylon” and how he is sure that Jesus is returning this year. Um … okay, what do I do with all that?

Uncomfortable stuff often comes after, “Pastor, can I talk to you.” Nothing prepared me to stand with an elderly woman and hear her say, “I found out this week that I am dying.” None of my seminary classes gave me the words to say. I feel so unprepared so many times. My quick prayer of desperation is, “God, help me out here!”

Nobody trained me or taught me what to say or how to help with situations I get invited into simply because I wear the title “pastor.” I feel so inadequate when someone calls to ask me to come pray for someone I’ve never met because “they need a priest.” I’m not a priest. My prayers are not more weighty or powerful. I’m glad to pray with people but not as some type of prayer specialist to swoop in and save the day. I’m still trying to figure all that out.

Imagine yourself getting a call to conduct a funeral for a family you’ve never met. Or how about a random call from someone you don’t know asking, “will you marry us?” I get it. It’s part of the pastor role. I’m just so new at it all that I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m totally comfortable with people I know but I feel like an invited intruder with people I’ve never met … like I shouldn’t be there. Does that make sense at all?

My older pastor friends tell me it’s a privilege that comes with the position. Honestly, for me, it still feels weird.

And then, I spend time on a wide variety of leadership stuff. My position means I have input in just about everything that happens around our church. On any given day I might have a conversation about facility repair or how to find the best price on coffee for the hospitality area. I might be defragging computers one day and editing video the next. One day I am meeting with a network of other pastors and the next I’m updating the website. I love the variety.

Sometimes I bring my laptop and sit in my office on Main Street and other times I lug it to Panera just to be around other people. Oftentimes I sit in my recliner outlining my message and sipping coffee in the early morning while the rest of the world is waking.  I love that what I do is not locked to one spot.

Stress creeps in when I take too little down time and my blood pressure creeps up when my schedule gets too full but my work rarely feels much like work so it’s tough to hold back.

I feel kind of guilty sometimes because so many people hate their jobs and can’t wait to get away. Here it is, day one of my vacation, and I am working hard to make myself disconnect. I know it’s healthy for me to rest, I know everything is fine without me but still, it’s a challenge.

One of my mentors summed it up for me like this. “We have the luxury of having our bills paid so that we can spend our time helping people find Hope in Jesus. It is a gift we can never take for granted.”

I see what he means. I also now understand what Paul meant when he wrote “I long for all of you with the affection of Jesus Christ” in Philipians 1:8.

If “longevity” and “success” as a pastor requires keeping people at arm’s length and not getting too close, I’m going to be a short-lived, major failure.

I guess that’s okay by me.