Where I am Today (Pt. 2)
September 26. 2018
Nearly four years ago I started this page as my "digital pulpit" and my first post was titled, "WHERE I AM TODAY". I started the page because of a very bad breakup, for lack of better terms, with a church that I had been the pastor of for seven years. This was the first time in nearly 20 years that I had not been serving in full-time ministry. It was hard, it was lonely, and I was questioning my call.
This August 22nd, 2018 I found myself in the same predicament as I was nearly four years prior. I am not going to get into the details as to what happened, but let's just say that I came to the church in 2015 excited, and hopeful for the future in building the Kingdom of God, but left the church hurt, and wounded. However, this time I am not battling depression, I am not questioning my calling, and I am not feeling lonely as I have had so many pastors and friends reach out to me and offer their encouragement. I am so very thankful for this, but it is still VERY hard.
This week I went back into a part-time hard labor job and I will be starting a second part-time labor job next week and making a LOT less money. However, God has provided me with these jobs (for now) and I am thankful for his provisions. I know this is temporary. I am certain more than ever of my calling to ministry as I enter into bi-vocational ministry, I just don't know exactly what that looks like at this moment. I have been attending church as a congregant for the last month and I usually can't make it through a service without bursting into tears. I have been attending evening services at a local church and I love the depth of teaching that I am receiving. I have applied to seminary to get my Master's of Divinity degree, but I still need to figure out the logistics (How to pay for it, and finding the time). I am spending time writing devotionals. I started a podcast (which reminds me, I need to do another one). I am meeting with multiple friends, many who are pastors, for fellowship and encouragement (not just for me, but hopefully, for them as well). I am volunteering at a ministry in town and I love the relationship that I have built with the awesome couple who runs it. I am doing my best to make dinner for my family everynight, and that's been challenging. All this to say... I am keeping busy and I am trying to focus on Jesus and my family and not the situation I am in. This kind of thing does take a toll on me, but more so on my family. So many relationships have been severed and it breaks my heart when it affects my family. I know God has an amazing plan in store for me and I can't wait to see it unravel and you all get to experience it with me.
I hope I articulated my situation to you all in a way that you know that I am doing ok and yet it is still very hard. Thank you all for the prayers, encouragement and affirmation of my calling, I mean it from the bottom of my heart.
Well, it has been a hard August so far, there has been a lot of transitioning going on in my life. First, I sent my oldest daughter off to college this past weekend. I am so happy for her and excited to see what God does in her life.... (READ MORE HERE)
Follow You, Follow Me
This past Sunday I preached a sermon at First Pres Bradenton. Unfortunately there was no audio or video of the service, so I am going to post the text from my message here. I hope you enjoy...
Thessalonica was a large city of over 100,000 people and was the capital of Macedonia. It was a wealthy commercial center due to its location on a harbor. It was a diverse city, religiously speaking, it had “something” for everyone. It was a flagrantly pagan city and represented traditional Greek worship and philosophical thought, Roman imperial worship (Caesars are worshiped) and the city also housed a couple temples dedicated to Egyptian gods Osiris and Isis. There was a sizeable Jewish community in the city so naturally there was a synagogue. (READ MORE HERE...)
The Holtons Have Returned From the Philippines!
We are back from our three week international excursion! All that I can say is WOW! God is amazing! What I experienced, and learned from this trip will forever impact my life and ministry. I am still processing all of those things now and I will write a post about it sometime in the near future, but for now I just want to thank all of you who prayed for us, and supported us financially. We truly could not have done this without you.
Some of the highlights from this trip include...
The Holtons Have Hit the Philippines
Well we FINALLY made it to the Philippines! It has been a long journey (physically, mentally and spiritually)but God has been faithful. Today we see getting ready to go to the mountains for five days to do consuction work on the hostel (see below). It had been great reconnecting with thd Divinigracias, it's like our families picked up right where we left of. It has been a great experience so far. We've had great food, fellowship and a fun together. Today the hard work begins. I have no idea what to expect, but I trust God will do a great work this week and in the weeks to come. Please continue to pray for us as we continue to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
I am doing this post from my phone so it is brief. Unfortunately I will not be doing my H.E.A.R. journal entries this week (we will not have internet access), nor was I able to last week ( a lot of traveling), but I will try and get some uploaded by the end of the week. My son will let me use his chromebook, so I hope to be more disciplined in my writing.
We are so excited to be here and I ask that you continue to pray for us. I ask that you would pray that God would work through us and in us as we serve Him here in Tyne Philippines.
Summer Prayer Challenge
I came across this old post from an ANCIENT blog that I used to write back in 2014. As I was reading it I felt that this is something I should share. This prayer challenge was something God put on my heart to pray for the church I was serving at the time. I've updated it a bit.
“God, open my eyes that I might see our church as you see it. Let me see where change needs to take place, even if it is painful to me. And use me, I pray, to be an instrument of that change whatever the cost.”
Four years ago a wonderful man passed away in the community I live int. He was a great man. Over the years I was privileged to have a nice relationship with him. He was a kind, smart and quiet man. So, when I heard of his passing, naturally I was shocked and sad. He passed away peacefully in his sleep. He seemed to be a rather healthy man so his death was a shock to everyone. When I talked to people around the community about his passing almost everyone said, “When I die I want to go the way he went.”
Death is such an inconvenient thing, but the reality is we all will die one day. Death is inevitable.
In the Spring of 2014 I read the book AUTOPSY OF A DECEASED CHURCH by Thom Rainer and it was a real eye opener. The author’s intent in writing the book is to show individuals why and how churches die. Sounds uplifting, right? Mr. Rainer writes about the necessity of knowing why churches die so they can make the necessary changes to help churches diagnose their unhealthy habits before they die. Rainer takes the collective results of fourteen churches that have died and summarizes his findings of all the deceased churches. These fourteen churches are diverse in location, denomination and demographically. However they are all similar in one way: They followed paths that caused them to die. In some cases they followed the same path.
The author writes that there are as many as 100,000 churches in America who are showing signs of decline toward death. I was a pastor of one of those 100,000. We had many of the symptoms of a dying church. Did this mean I gave up hope? Did I write a will and make arrangement for inevitable death? Not at all! We were not dead! We had signs of being unhealthy, but health could be restored.
Here’s the thing…changes needed to happen. I was reminded of the words of some leader that I can’t recall who wrote, “If you keep doing what you are doing, then you are going to keep getting what you get.” Doing nothing or doing the same unhealthy thing is a recipe for disaster. I did not believe change should happen for the sake of change; it should happen because it was God inspired. The only way this coul happen was by continually praying and pursuing God by finding out what he was doing and how we could get on board with him.
In response I started a summer prayer challenge. At the conclusion of each chapter of this book Thom Rainer asks the reader to make a prayer commitment and the prayer at the top of the page was the first prayer I prayed. Change can be a difficult thing but it is necessary.
UPDATE>>> FAST FORWARD 4 YEARS... This is a dangerous prayer, because I invited my church to pray this four years ago and they were not ready to pray this prayer. It was too costly and things did not end well.
However, I want to invite you to pray this prayer today. Pray that that you and I can make the necessary changes needed to be more effective for the Kingdom of God in the place where God has called you. I am trusting God is going to do something wonderful in the midst of your church and I hope you are willing to join me.
Less Than A Month Away
May 19th, 2018
We are less than one month away from our three week short-term missions trip to the Philippines. I am excited, nervous and anxious to see what God does and what He reveals to us.
The tickets are purchased, and passports received. We will be leaving for Iloilo on June 12th and returning back to Florida on July 5th. There is much that needs to be done as we make the final preparations to go, so first we ask for your prayers. Secondly, we are looking for specific personal hygiene items, tents, comforts from home and other items to bring to the Divinagracias. If you would like to know more specifically what it is they need then please talk to Carrie or me as we are in continual contact with them. The Sam and Amy have reported that there will be plenty of work to do as we will help them start the construction of their Hostel in the mountains (we will be living in tents for a few days), doing medical missions work and working with the ATI village among other things.
We are continuing to fundraise money that will be used for one last flight we will book in country in the Philippines, day to day expenses and mission work expenses. If you feel led to support us in any way you can make a donation at the link below or you can email from the contact link from the menu above and I can send you our address. We praise God for this incredible blessing and privilege.
What Discipleship Looks Like For You
In this article we will look at some potential excuses the disciples of Jesus could have used to show that they could not go out and fulfil Jesus’ call of discipleship in their lives. We will see the obstacles they faced and overcame because of the higher call that Jesus gave them. (...CLICK TO READ MORE)
The Holtons Are Going To The Philippines!
I am excited to announce that my family and I are going on a short-term three-week missions trip to the Philippines this summer. We are so excited to serve with our good friends Sam and Amy Divinagracia who are currently living and serving in Ilo Ilo.
As excited,as we are, we are also a bit nervous as this is a big trip for the six of us. I would like to first ask that all of you who come to this page to PLEASE pray for us daily. Prayer is our greatest resource and we cannot do this without it. We also have financial needs. As of this writing we still need around $7000 to meet our goal. If you feel led to give money towards this trip, you can make a donation by clicking the "donate" button on the side of this page or click the donate button at the end of this post (...CLICK TO READ MORE).
Take My Breath Away
Is there anything that has taken your breath away? Is there something that has left you completely speechless? There are a few things that come to mind for me. When I sit at the falls of Niagara, stand atop the multicolored formations of the Badlands, and travelling along “The Rim of the World highway” in California. But nothing takes may breath away more than when I used to stand outside in WI in the winter time and looking up at the stars and the heavens above my head. I am speechless when I gaze into the sky and see the seemingly infinite array of stars that span for as far as the naked eye can see. When I look to the winter night sky I was reminded of how small I am in comparison to the colossal universe that we live in.
I’m sure what I experienced was probably similar to the thoughts and insights of David, the Psalmist as he sat in the fields at night and pondered God, the universe (the heavens) and the meaning of life. I am convinced his words mirror the thoughts of millions of people as they search and ponder the purpose of life and seek answers to life’s most puzzling questions.
I imagine this young shepherd David had many nights watching over his flock to stargaze and ponder the questions of life. I am sure that even as a King, David was even more amazed at the mighty hand of God and his infinite glory as He kept watch over him and the nation of Israel. This same God watches over you and me today. He truly is an amazing God.
Lenten Devotional for 2018
I am in the process of writing a weekly Lenten devotional and they are available weekly through Lent. They are absolutely free! My hope and prayer is that anyone who reads them will be blessed as they prepare for the Journey to Easter. You can click the link below to go to the Lenten 2018 Download page. I hope you enjoy them, and I would love any feedback.
Reading Through the Bible in 2018
December 27th, 2017
For New Year's people often make resolutions to help them become happier or healthy. Some resolution may include losing weight, learning something new, exercising more, quitting a bad habit, etc. I would like to suggest that maybe this year in addition that you resolve to be healthier and happier spiritually as well and one of those ways is to have a Bible reading plan. I have spent years researching Bible reading plans, and if you are like me you have started plans and failed miserably in completing. There are many reasons why we fail, but I would like to suggest most fail because they either do not have a plan, are not disciplined, lose interest or are too busy.
So, I am writing to today ask that you pray about joining me on a year-long (260 day) Bible reading plan called FOUNDATIONS. You can read my journal entries here.
Let me tell you a little about this plan...
FOUNDATIONS: A 260-DAY BIBLE READING PLAN FOR BUSY BELIEVERS (Taken from book product description)
With Foundations, you can read through the key, foundational passages of the Bible in one year, while still having the flexibility of reading 5 days per week. Along with supplementary devotional content each day, you can experience the miracle of reading and responding to God’s Word. By using the H.E.A.R. journaling method, you will be guided through Highlighting, Explaining, Applying, and Responding to passages, allowing for practical application throughout the year-long plan.
To purchase the book you can also click the Amazon link below and you can purchase either the Kindle Book or physical book. I am excited to begin this and I look forward to going on this journey together.
You can read my journal entries here.
Everyone Has A Story
The other night in a meeting our pastoral staff was sharing about a new series we will begin next month entitled "THE GREAT SUGGESTION?" It will be a series that is going to take us all into some uncomfortable areas. It will focus on fulfilling the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. More specifically it will focus on (shhh don't say it too loudly) Evangelism. Do you know that word scares people to death? Why? I believe mostly because people have a wrong concept of what evangelism really is. One of of the Pastors on staff said, "We need do a sermon on detoxing the concept of evangelism." I like that word "detox".
I think many people think of evangelism as preaching at people. They may have this image stirred up in their minds where they go through a class and are taught the "fundamental rules of evangelism" and then pushed out of the nest, so to speak, to find a group of strangers to tell them about Jesus. This kind of "evangelism" scares people... and rightly so, it scares me. I tried it back in my Bible College days and I hated it. For me, it was the biggest waste of time. But I also felt that in order to be a good Christian, I needed to do it.
Today, I am happy to say I am free from that burden and I think I have a better idea of what evangelism truly is and how to be more effective. Here are some suggestions for your "Evangelism Detox".
You have a story. Share it, be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, and be obedient in sharing it. Your story is not just about you, it's about Jesus in you. So let's all accept the commission of Jesus and share the story.
Characteristics of a Healthy Church
What Does a Healthy Church Look Like?
There is no such thing as a perfect church, congregation or pastor. The only thing that is perfect about any church is the Head; Jesus Christ. As long as both sinners and redeemed sinners are involved, the church will always be imperfect. So the best we can do is look at the early church as a model and example so we can glean some insights and characteristics as to what a healthy church should look like. Our text is found in Acts 2:42 – 47.
These six verses are a great model of what the early church looked like and what a healthy church can look like and how spiritual growth happens. There are four characteristics according to this passage that we will look at. Hopefully and prayerfully it will inspire and challenge us as a church and as individuals to live the Spirit filled life which results in a Spirit filled church.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EARLY CHURCH
A church that valued and studied the Bible
The 3,000 plus believers of the early church devoted themselves to the teachings of the Apostles. In the infant stage of the Church there was a common agreement as to what O.T. Scriptures were inspired books that were recognized as sacred. The early church also held the teachings, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus as Scriptural and divine. The Apostles told of these adventures with Jesus and His teachings thus their words were regarded just as highly. The early church was dedicated to the teaching and study of Jesus and God’s Word. According to 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” A Spirit-filled church is always going to be a Bible believing and Bible studying church. It will be a congregation who hungers for, transformed by and lives by the Word of God. If the Spirit of God is present in you then you will certainly be drawn to and hunger for His word. It is necessary for a healthy Church to value and study the Word of God.
A church that fellowshiped together
This church were also devoted to fellowshiping together. Fellowship is one of those words we use often but rarely define it. We often mistake fellowship as the time we spend with each other before or after church in the foyer or back of the sanctuary. Certainly this is a good thing. The word fellowship is taken from the Greek word Koinoinia which has to do with holding something in common or a common fellowship. The early church had a common bond through Jesus Christ. They had fellowship with Christ and true fellowship with one another. So naturally this fellowship included worship and communion as verse 42 states. This fellowship went beyond just hanging out and doing church together; if you look in verse 44 and 45 it says, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” This fellowship included generosity and helping meet needs within the body of Christ. They didn’t do this because it was required of them, instead they gave because they were transformed by the Holy Spirit and they were generous with each other because they understood the generosity of God. God had been generous to them so they were generous to others. Their fellowship went beyond just going to church; they were involved with other believers’ lives and each others needs. James Montgomery Boice wrote, “If you find yourself out of fellowship with God, you will begin to find yourself out of fellowship with other believers…But if you come close to God, you will inevitably find yourself being drawn to other Christians.” True Christian fellowship should be a high priority of a healthy Church
A Church that prayed together
There is a saying, “A church that prays together stays together.” Certainly this was a church that prayed both corporately and privately. As believers we must know and understand the importance and value of prayer and do it. Not only are we to pray but we are to pray believing prayers. We must expect results when we pray. Prayer must be a discipline that we never overlook. We need to continue to pray for one another for wisdom, healing, encouraging others in need, worship God, and intercession for others. Prayer is our direct communication with God. It is essentially our lifeline.
A Church that evangelized
This passage doesn’t necessarily say that the church went out evangelizing but it does say that “The Lord added to their numbers daily.” I think it is safe to deduce that the early believers were telling others about Jesus, because the church was growing. Not only did this community share its possessions but it also shared the message of hope and salvation. We possess the greatest news of all time… The Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a message that should be proclaimed and proclaimed boldly and often. The result of the Gospel being spread was people were coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Sharing the Gospel message (evangelism) of Jesus Christ (His life, death and resurrection) is an important message that needs to be heard and Jesus Christ has appointed us as his instruments to get this message out.
These four characteristics of the early church are an excellent model for the way the church should model itself today. Do you value and study your Bible? Do you have fellowship with other believers outside of Sunday morning? Are you praying for your church and her leadership? Are you sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ or better yet are you preaching and believing the Gospel to yourself?
I believe whole heartedly that if we (individually and corporately) model our lives around these four characteristics of Acts 2:42 - 47 the end result will not only become a healthy church but we will experience healthy church growth. We also need to know and understand that growth’s end product is a result of God doing the adding and not man. God will cause growth not us. Paul David Tripp writes in his book DANGEROUS CALLING, "It is Christ and Christ alone who builds his church. This is humbling stuff because it requires us to admit we have no power whatsoever to change anyone. We have no ability to advance God's kingdom... Ministry success is not a valid measuring stick for our maturity. In fact a God of grace will bless our ministries in spite of us because of his zeal for his church and commitment to his own glory." This does not, however excuse us from doing our part (what I have talked about today). I do believe that when we are fully submitted to him and sensitive to his voice He will use us as we share His Gospel message with the community and the surrounding areas and in return we will see a church that is Spiritually healthy and in check.
I currently live on the Gulf Coast of Florida with my beautiful family. The Lord has blessed me with 25 plus years of full time ministry.
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