Now is not forever

It has been over a year since I have blogged anything. It is not that I have nothing to say. I just stopped knowing what I could say. Maybe you are in the same boat. Somewhere around 2 years ago, someone dropped egg shells in front of anyone that normally would have a voice or opinions. The people who were brave enough to still share thoughts and engage in conversation lost friends and influence. Now we tip toe around so that we don’t offend or provoke a reaction that we were not prepared to handle. Silently waiting. Silently thinking. Maybe, sometimes slipping out a comment or two. But never in writing. Let’s be honest… we all wish some people would post and say much less, but that has nothing to do with the last two years.

This past two weeks, however, I have been faced with very difficult professional decisions. Each direction I could step was covered with… you guessed it, egg shells. (not literally, we have a fairly clean office at the church) If you are in the same boat as me, I just want to say something really simple to you. Now is not forever. That is it. Now is not forever. The crazy pants times that we call today are going to come to an end and we will be left with the decisions we have made and the ramifications there of. Keep calm and carry on friends.

Now is not forever is a statement I have repeated at various times in my life to remind myself that everything is going to be ok. I think Amberley started saying it to keep me focussed… It is easy to see the tough stuff because it is so present and loud. In my life, there are people who want to phone because they are convinced you wanted to be yelled at today, or threatened or told that they somehow know how to handle a pandemic. (yes that happens to pastors, also I don’t know a single epidemiologist nor do I have a crystal ball… so none of us really know what we are doing) But we are all in this together, and we all have the same decisions to make. Today the decision I make is to say, now is not forever. Saying that statement out loud for me is a spiritual decision. It is a way that I say, Jesus is still in control. Maybe the sayings or comments we make feel trite but they have more weight than we usually assume. Something to think about anyways.

When there are egg shells, that means there are eggs. I like eggs, a lot. Maybe we can look forward to later when we enjoy an omlete. That is always better than walking on egg shells around people. Now, is not forever. You have got this. The future is bright and it is already tomorrow somewhere in the world. The sun will come up and a new day with new opportunities will sit in front of us. Enjoy it!

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When leaders leave – by Amberley

I remember sitting in Pastoral Theology class at 20 years old.  Our topic was church conflict: how to deal with difficult parishioners.  Our prof told us a story of a young pastor in a rural community.  One of his congregation members would call him every morning at 7:30 to make sure he was up.  She didn’t want their young pastor to be lazy.  This happened for 3 years until he finally quit.  

I sat at the edge of my seat:  This is an obvious example of a congregation member with unhealthy boundaries. How should we pastor through this?  How did he disciple this woman? What should I do if this happens to me?

Everyone just laughed at the example and the prof moved on.  There was no advice on how to deal with this.  We were essentially taught that you take the abuse to keep the peace.  If you want to have long term ministry, you will have to learn to absorb or ignore poor behaviour from those in your congregation who treat you, and each other, badly.  

No wonder pastors don’t last. 

Michael dug into this topic deeper in his book “They Said You Were Safe”.  He focussed on spiritual abuse and control in a leadership context, but the same principles apply.  There was a time when church staff allowed unhealthy spiritual environments to flourish around them in order to, honestly, keep their jobs.  These environments hurt pastors, their families, and kept churches from living out their divine purposes.  

In his book, Michael proposes some strategies to keep young leaders from leaving.  But maybe, just maybe, leaving isn’t always a bad thing.  

There is a video circulating amongst our pastor friends.  Its an online church service from Abbotsford Pentecostal Assembly (APA).  It starts off normal enough – announcement loop, worship.  And then, one by one, the entire pastoral team resigns.  

They are fairly clear why they are resigning.  They were hired to revitalize an aging and plateaued congregation.  They came in with fresh vision and new strategies, and “key stake holders” have created such resistance that the staff have quit trying to create change.  They are walking away rather than fighting.  

You need to understand that this is completely against the script. Pastors leave, but they are supposed to keep the reasons vague.  They are “called elsewhere”.  They are just following the Holy Spirit in a great new adventure… we’ve all heard it.  What makes the situation at APA so unique is that they are lifting up the rock and letting everyone see the ugly.  

Things are changing.  A new generation of leaders are demanding transparency and health in the congregations they lead. And they are willing to put their money where their mouths are.  This is both amazing, and scary.  

Jesus help and guide us as we shed old wine skins.  

Click here for Abbotsford Pentecostal Assembly video

https://www.amazon.ca/They-Said-You-Were-Safe-ebook/dp/B08GPJHKJN/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Michael+fischer&qid=1604345471&sr=8-1

Beating Online Meeting Fatigue

Zoom fatigue is a real thing. For the past few years I have been taking classes online, many of these classes have been held on Zoom or Skype. I learned quickly that the novelty of staying home had a price. If you are beginning to get tired of the online world but want to remain productive, I have come up with a few helpful tips to keep you going.

  1. Change of venue. If there is nothing stopping you from putting on headphones and sitting on your deck for your staff meeting, then do it. First of all being outside helps your mood and second of all getting out of the same room you have held all your meetings in will do more for your creativity than you think. Just because a vacation is currently going to the front porch, it doesn’t mean you can’t find creativity in your home. Just … be creative.
  2. Go for a walk. When you take a break from budgets or a bible study, go for a walk. Even if it is just to the kitchen or around the block, get the blood flowing. I have noticed that it wakes me up and reengages my attention span. Make the most of your meeting time, but leaving it. It sounds counter productive but you will accomplish more in the long run.
  3. Limit the meeting length. We have known for years that long meetings are useless. People that love meetings are really strange to me, they probably just love the sound of their own voices. So keep to the rules you should have been following while meeting in person, keep it short. When possible limit your meetings to 1 hour. After all most items can be dealt with in email. Especially if you are meeting with non-boomers, shorten your meetings!
  4. Your beverage. If you are in love with coffee like I am, that’s cool. However, make sure you are matching your coffee with water. I learned this trick in college when staying up late to study I would feel like garbage the next day. Then another student mentioned the 1 to 1 trick, I tried it and haven’t looked back. Coffee can dehydrate you, water does the opposite. So if you need the caffeine, you also need the hydration.

I hope these simple tips help you in your journey to holding better online meetings. Our productivity should be going up at a time like this, not going down.

I Came in like a Wrecking Ball

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Wrecking ball theology is prevalent right now. Some mix the predictions of Nostradomas  with their favourite interpretations of John’s revelation and see what blockbuster-esque retelling they can come up with. It is like using Dante to decide our theology of the afterlife. It can really mess with you when you automatically assume that what is happening in the world around you has something to do with you. Most of all it will become completely absorbing and drive personal fear by adding to scripture what isn’t there. So how about we agree that during Holy Week, we focus on Jesus and what was happening to Him this week.

If we follow along in the Holy Week story, it is Monday and Jesus entered the temple Like A Wrecking Ball. If you are like me, you like to have a sound track for events.

Matthew 21 shows us Jesus cleansing the temple. Why? For what purpose? How should this effect us today? This is a lot of theology and opinion wrapped up in a messy messy plate of spiritual noodles.

“And Jesus entered the temple courts* and drove out all those who were selling and buying in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those who were selling doves. 13 And he said to them, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a cave of robbers!”
14 And the blind and the lame came up to him in the temple courts* and he healed them. 15 But when* the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children shouting in the temple courts* and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant. 16 And they said to him, “Do you hear what these children* are saying?” So Jesus said to them, “Yes, have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of children and nursing babies you have prepared for yourself praise’?” 17 And leaving them, he went outside of the city to Bethany and spent the night there.” Matthew 21:12-17
Here are some highlights

  • Jesus obviously cares a lot about the church, there is a passion for what happens inside her gates.
  • Jesus was upset about people being ripped off while coming to temple to make their sacrifice (worship). There were people in church (of all places) capitalizing on travellers who didn’t have the ability to bring their own sacrifice and needed to purchase while in Jerusalem. They jacked up the prices to make profit.
  • After acting out what Zahnd called ‘prophetic theatre’ Jesus quotes Isaiah and Jeremiah. This sets up the actions of Jesus here not as a temper tantrum where He loses control of His emotions but as a prophetic act that would speak to the original audience in a profound way.
  • He confirmed His identity to the chief of priests while quoting more Old Testament scripture. Is the Old Testament relevant? Jesus thought so.

So why did Jesus turn the tables and make His bold statement? In practicality He was defending the poor. In spirituality, He was performing a sign act and fulfilling scripture in the same form as the major prophets that His audience would have been familiar with. When we look at this verse properly it is tough to build teachings about ‘righteous anger’ or to condemn pastors who sell books and cds to pay the bills. More importantly Jesus was declaring to the world that He had arrived and was the avenger of the poor and the head of the church.

If these verses were to speak to us in our Covid 19 world, they would say; look after one another, don’t let your greed stop someone from existing to worship. They would also say don’t read into things something that is not there. Speak truth, love and repeat.

Twitter: @michaelfischer

Facebook: @MichaelFischer

http://www.michaelfischer.co

 

the day that fear died

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It might sound a bit dramatic to say, “the year that changed everything.” But it isn’t. 3 years ago at a conference in Banff I took a pill. The pill that ended a lifetime of fear. Here are some thoughts and reflections from today.

When I was 8 years old I received a blood transfusion to stop a Hemophilia related bleed in my knee. That transfusion came from the Canadian Red Cross. However, they bought that blood from the Arkansas State Prison system (of Bill Clinton fame). When you have no testing available (not that they would have used it), things like HIV, Hep C and various other blood born diseases can travel to new countries and to unsuspecting recipients. That day I contracted Hep C. I have since met the other survivors of what is called the ‘tainted blood scandal.’ Out of the thousands infected, there were only 4 that they could name.

So for 30+ years, along with the complications that come from severe hemophilia, I have had liver damage and issues that come with that. This created  fear for the future and uncertainty. In the 80’s doctors would point out a shortened life expectancy, just to keep everyone on their toes.

But that all came to an end. I wanted it to be at an alter call or as the result of an inner healing session, or something else Pentecostal sounding. It came through three pills a day for an extended period of time. The important part is, I believe that it came in God’s timing. The God that sustained my life even though the results of a broken world wanted to shorten it.

I am thankful that I get a chance at a long life with my kids, and my wife. Many in the scandal did not have the same outcome. It takes a lot to share details like this for someone who is a self professed introvert. However, we all need to know that there is hope. No matter where we are there is hope.

The last time I had a scan on my liver, the heptologist reported normal liver function levels and told me not to bother coming back. That is a nice thing to hear.

Be encouraged! God might not have healed you or delivered you from what surrounds you, but He is surely sustaining you. Today is the my anniversary of a new future, a brighter future and a chance to do more with my life than living in fear.

 

Cuba Trip with Jude Fischer

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I am lucky enough that my biggest life supporter wanted to pitch in with a blog this week. He had some great thoughts and reflections from our December trip to Cuba that he would like to share. Enjoy!

Hello, my name is Jude. This is all what I did in Cuba and before Cuba.
Before Cuba we took a cab to the airport. And our granny and grandpa gave us little activity things for the plane. On the plane we saw the ocean, played a game with our cousin and had lunch.
In Cuba the first day of Cuba we went in the pool. On the second day of Cuba we went to the ocean and the pool. On the third day of Cuba, we went to the beach, the pool and my mom and sister went on a boat. On the fourth day of Cuba it rained. On the fifth day of Cuba my sister went in the water when it was raining. Everyone played water volleyball. And the youngest girl cousin fell off of her moms back cause was trying to catch the ball and without water wings. On the sixth day of Cuba it rained again. Me and buddy played cards for 6 hours, and drank a lot of pop. On the seventh day of Cuba that’s when I was posting this blog and it rained.

Jude Fischer

My Christmas Cuban Missile Crisis

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It has become more and more common that simple kindness is disappearing from our cities and lives. Parking lots littered with abandoned shopping carts, orphaned garbage and recyclables on the sidewalk, even being cut off in traffic enough times in one day to make you forget about being a Christian.
So what holds us back from just being a good human? I have been struck by the thought that our busy lives and consumeristic culture has us moving ahead and achieving without ceasing and it might be the issue. The problem is, accomplishing what we think will bring us true happiness hasn’t worked for the last 4000 years, and it won’t start anytime soon. We can’t waste time breathing, we can’t inconvenience ourselves on purpose or let someone else get ahead, because we might miss an opportunity or be uncomfortable for a few moments.
What if the playing field of life was levelled and there was no pecking order? Would we still act and behave in the same manner? Maybe, maybe not. Just think about a world where no one acts like that family cruising in a station wagon chanting “O Doyle rules.”
I thought about this while in Cuba over Christmas this year. Not about the O Dolyle family but about the absence of the consumer drive and push for greatness. In Cuba it was evident… and refreshing. Discarded items were made new and re-sold, there was no concern for high fashion or image, and just having a place to sleep was success and high five worthy. Forget about needing a new colour of paint on the walls every two years, it just doesn’t matter in this context.
One day we went into the city to do some exploring and go out for dinner. We did a lot of walking while trying to take in the uniqueness of the beautiful city.  We even stopped to let the kids play in a rustic playgrounds we came across. (You can do a lot with some re-bar and wooden planks!) On the way home, we were crammed into a bus, trying to go from the city centre back to our hotel, and of course there were no seats. Jude and Ida were both falling asleep from a long day on their feet,  so we used our parent skills to prop them up on a rail so they could doze off for a while. It was uncomfortable for all of us, but as any parent knows, you have to do what you have to do.
Then I was taken back by what happened next. A big fellow with a Russian accent forced me into his seat with Jude on my knee. I thought I was about to be mugged. I kept a hand on my wallet and one on my son. But the action was kind, it just took a few seconds to realize it. Now one of our kids was finally falling asleep on the crowded bus. He was comfortable leaning on both me and the window. For him this was safety and comfort.
Then it happened again.  A lady travelling with him (older than me and younger than my parents, but clearly with mobility issues and needing her seat) sat next to us and motioned for Ida to come over. Before I realized it, Ida was parked on a strange ladies lap, who was reassuring her in a kind and grandmotherly Russian/ Spanish conversation.  I was confused at first with what was happening. Why on earth would a stranger want to grab and hold my child? To be nice? Or were we going to end up on a re-enactment of a child napping on tv? This is when I had to stop thinking the worst of everyone that surrounds my existence and uses a different language.
Some people are actually kind. Some people will put themselves into discomfort for the sake of human decency. It was funny reflecting that Idas great great grand parents actually immigrated from South Russia and her complexion and facial features made her fit right in with our new friends.
The overly accommodating Cubans and Russians with their crazy (to us) politics actually level peoples status as much as possible. This quite possibly adds a spark of kindness back into their lives. (not a political statement 🙂 )
It is clear to me that the kindness of the people, the slower paced life, and the desire to help a stranger are a direct result of not living a materialistic lifestyle. The more we have the less we tend to care about others, the more we give away and share from our storehouses, the more our hearts become a little more willing to let a stranger sit in our chair.
Thinking about humanity over Christmas might be a better move than accumulating things you don’t actually need or… even want. Give, share, be kind… it makes you more human.
Being human is just that, being human and connecting with the people that are around you. What if we made an effort to just be a little more human.
Jean Vanier said, ““I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.”
** This was written and typed on my phone, so back off grammar police 🙂 **

Write An Average Sermon, Like I do.

 

Screen Shot 2019-11-20 at 8.28.38 AMAnytime after preaching a message or giving a talk can be a good time for feedback, but a great time for feedback is in the car on the way home. This is when I have really started listening. Not everyone has another preacher to analyze their sermons in real time like I do. I am more than lucky to have this outlet. Here is why it is important and how you can get this mechanism in your life, cool wife or not.

Usually I hear, “good preach.” Last week I heard, “great preach and great sermon.” The difference is, I took the seemingly harsh criticism the week before on what wasn’t clicking between the congregation and what I was saying. I made some edits for the next week and threw some material in the garbage and narrowed down to one point and only one story. If you know me this is REALLY difficult for me to do. I love a good rabbit trail.

By taking advice from people who you know have your best interest at heart and know what they are talking about you can start down the road of improvement. The result is worth it, because people will have an easier time applying and replaying the gospel to their own lives.

When we planted our church I had this mechanism. They might not have realized it but quite often I would ask Chelsea, Levi, Allyson and Kendra what was working and what was not working. They would give good feedback. Often it was hard to hear, but I knew that they were part of the audience and this group would only speak out of love. I still value their opinions! Other than Amberley, there is one more resource I use, my dad. This guy has been preaching for a long time and knows his stuff. If he says you did good, then you know you really did good!

Two Warnings:

  1. Do not take advice from just anyone. There are times when people will offer their opinions and the input might be good but their heart is not. Guard yourself from this stuff, it can be toxic and you will spend more time trying to rebuild your spirit due to how it was said. Instead, find your crew that is going to be speak truth in love.
  2. Don’t create an echo chamber. Often in ministry people find us that make us into the precious little snow flakes that pastors can become. It is nice to have your tires pumped from time to time, but make sure that this is not all you listen to. Find some loving people who will really push you.

I currently have a really tight feedback system, Amberley, my dad and a few friends. I keep it tight on purpose. The truth is, I want to improve, but I want to improve with people that are there long term with me and are walking through life with me. We can all do better, striving for improvement is a good thing. We can preach clearer, more consistently and help people apply the gospel in every day life. Find your crew and start asking the tough tough question: “how did I do today?” If you want to keep doing a mediocre job, then it is simple, never ask how you are doing. Just keep doing what you are doing

Some Great Resources that I have and do use today:

Preaching Rocket program. It’s like communication coaching via the inter web. I did it years ago and still use my notes from the course.

Communicating for a change – By Andy Stanley – any and every preacher should read this book.

Then just watch videos of Judah Smith… this will alone make you a pro star. I am pretty sure that people get saved during his intros each week.

Stop loving your church

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Ok, don’t stop loving your church, but that phrase might just be holding you and your church back from seeing what God wants to do in 2020. There is nothing wrong with loving your church as an extension of Christ, but what if that is not what is happening?

During my ministry career I have had the privilege of preaching and visiting  various churches and have gotten to know some amazing people. But there is one phrase that comes up a lot when people talk about where they go to church. That phrase is “we really love our church.” Let me be amongst the first people to say, stop. Stop loving your church.

When a pastor says “I love my church,” I cringe because I know what most likely lies beneath statements like that.

There is a subtle undertone in this phrase that can create tension for the advancement of the Kingdom of God in your community. It is the ‘My’ and ‘Our’ ownership pieces. Why is that bad though? Don’t you want people to love their church and be proud of what they are building? Yes, of course. But ‘my’ and ‘our’ more often than not are statements that mean, I have built this to feel like me, look like me and express my personality.

In an evangelistic age (anything after the Great Commission was given and Greatest Commandment was spoken) it isn’t about us anymore. It is about telling people about Jesus. If our churches resemble us and what we like (as experienced Christians) we will do really good at attracting like minded believers from other Churches. The sheep will bounce from new barn to new barn, depending on what they think of the style and pastor that week.

When we get to the point where we love our church sooo much… any concept that remotely resembles modernization and change become like a gut punch. “Everything else can change, but how dare you change anything in my church. That’s the Lord’s church and it looks just like me.” It is these thoughts that keep us stagnant and halt what God wants to do.

This one statement might help. Your feelings for your church have nothing to do with how much you love Jesus. I can love what the scouts do but that has nothing to do with how I feel about smokey the bear. (yes that was the best example I could come up with)

Do you remember the Pharisees fighting anything that caused change to what they already knew? I will give you a hint, his name was Jesus. He taught differently, thought differently and pushed people out of their comfort zones. The disciples got it and followed. But even they had their moments when change was hard to deal with. The bottom line is this is not new. The pharisees loved their church, their way. The disciples wanted to see what was possible.

If we flip this on its head and start saying, “I love Jesus more than the church” we will be getting somewhere. Realistically, Jesus loves the church more than anyone else should. We are the church. We shouldn’t be engaged in loving ourselves but transforming into the light on the hill that he asked us to be.

I want my life to be filled with the wonder of the disciples and think, “what is possible” not be afraid that what I love will not always exist the way it is now. I want to love Christ’s church, not my church.

Some thoughts this week from Michael and Amberley

 

496 things day 31, the end of the challenge

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Michael:

So with all the gear that we needed to pass on, much of it I chose not to sell and just give away. I have a soft spot in my heart for church plants and have been enjoying attending one on down weekends. We had the chance to pass gear along to a growing church plant that can use this stuff. If you are like me and have extra gear you aren’t using, find a church plant and make their underfunded dreams come true! 

Amberley:

Here’s a shout out to our friends at South Point Church in Stonebridge, the new holders of Michael’s gear/crap.  They are the best.  My kids love it there and they have been kind and welcoming to us.  They are genuine and honest and opened up their garage to take old gear.  They are my kind of people.  

http://www.southpointchurch.ca