The Birth Of Our Ministry

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I disdained my job at BMW (the German car manufacturer, or as we say down here, Bubba Makes Wheels). We have a plant in my town. Ironically, the money I made during those five years (1995-2000) is what enabled us (from a human perspective) to have our current ministry; we were able to be nearly debt-free.

The job was hard, and I was a regular complainer to God about the hardships. I had two Bible degrees, which led me to a production job on an assembly line. (The things they don’t tell you in Bible college.) It was evident to me that God did not want me to be there, so I let Him know my perspective regularly.

One day, I was going through my “grumbling to God routine.” The Lord, not agreeing with my perspective, said, “Once you stop grumbling, you should look around and see all the ministry you could do in this place.”

Gee, whiz, Lord. I think I’ll do that.

Besides Women and Children

And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. – Matthew 14:21

He further reminded me of the feeding of the 5000 where it said, “There were 5000 men, not counting the women or the children.” God wanted me to know that if you added all the spouses, children, and relatives to the 2000 BMW employees, I could impact a lot of lives for His fame.

I began to think how impacting these employees would spread to their families and communities.

Okay, Lord, I repent. I’ll stop grumbling about this awful job.

The next day, I found a Bible study that some folks were doing during lunch. I joined them. In two weeks, I was leading it. From there, a series of other events transpired. Many missional opportunities.

I started making hospital visits. We began another Bible study so more folks could attend. We took up collections for a local family. We ended up on two TV news programs and newspapers. Eventually, I submitted a proposal to become the BMW corporate chaplain. They rejected my offer, but told me on the side,

We can’t let you be the chaplain because if we do, the atheists and other groups will want their chaplains. But we don’t want you to stop what you’re doing. You’re having a positive effect on the employees.

I decided to submit another version of my proposal to my local church. They loved it and hired me part-time, asking me to build a counseling ministry. What I did not know is that they had been praying for a counseling ministry at their church. They also paid for my MA Biblical Counseling degree.

Just Stop It

Once I repented of my grumbling, clarity came, e.g., I started and finished my MABC on the BMW production line. I’ve always said that “BMW is a vehicle” in that it takes you from point A to point B. The Lord used that miserable job to get my heart realigned to His higher purposes. And through that awful job, BMW took me to this fantastic ministry.

Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions. – Deuteronomy 32:11

Sometimes the Lord stirs up your nest because He wants to teach you how to fly (Isaiah 40:31). In typical human fashion, we begin this process by complaining about the Lord’s “nest stirring.”

Imagine what might happen if you stopped complaining and started exploring what the Lord may be up to in your life. For me, it began when I looked across the production plant floor at BMW and saw 2000 employees, “not counting the women and the children.”

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The Danger Of Prepping For Discipleship

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Predetermined preparation for a discipleship (counseling) session “in advance” is not the best way to do soul care because you never know what you’re going to get with a person. It’s similar to a doctor preparing all that he plans to do with a person before he meets the unique individual. It’s unwise.

Even if you have an idea of the problem–“my patient has a common cold,” you still should not spend a lot of time “preparing in advance” other than praying for the Lord’s wisdom when you meet the person. In John 3 and John 4, you have two people with the same problem, but Jesus’s approaches to Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman were radically different.

Why did He counsel them differently? Because even though they had the same problem (they needed to be born a second time), He had to customize His care to them.

There is a pneumatic element (Spirit-led) to soul care, which implies that you can’t “prepare” for an upcoming meeting because you don’t know what the person is going to say to you. Or it could be that the person’s problem or situation changed since you last talked to them.

Every Box Is Different

As Forrest Gump said, “You never know what you’re going to get in a box of chocolates.” At least not until you open the box. “Are you saying that I should not prep for a discipleship opportunity?” Your “preparation” is your entire life, which includes your current studies, plus all the Lord has taught you throughout your life.

The kind of “prep” that I’m talking about includes your pre-salvation life before God imposed Himself on you through regeneration. You preparation “draws from” your entire life, and you should be ready to use any part of autobiography at the moment you need it when caring for someone.

The danger of “pre-determined preparation” is that you may prescript what you want to say for to a person before you ever meet with the unique individual. If you do this, you could miss what he or she needs from you

Conference or Counseling Prep

I “prepare” for a conference in a similar way that I prepare for counseling. Meaning, my life is a constant state of preparation. I hold my “conference plans” loosely because I do not know the town, the people, the church, or the individuals where I’m going to equip.

Let’s say that I’m going to do the same lecture in two towns, within a two-week period. Though the goal may be the same, I customize the conference content to the uniqueness of the communities where I’m speaking. Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman needed the same thing, but Jesus tailored His care uniquely.

I go into a community, asking the Lord to help me get a sense of who these people are, what they need, and how I can “sculpt” my training to fit their uniqueness. I prefer this approach over having “five pet sermons” that I preached to every group I meet.

Pneumatic Discipleship

There is a pneumatic element to discipleship that is different from preaching. The preacher prays, preps, crafts, plans, and scripts his sermon all week. On Sunday, he monologues that message to his audience. Counseling (or discipleship) is not like that. At all. It’s an interactive dialogue, and you will not know what to exactly say until you’re sitting in front of the person.

Her body language may cause you to change what you planned. His speech, inflection, nervousness, inhibitions, anger, impatience, deception or vulnerability will also shape your care. Perhaps the couple walks through the door with a problem that is different from the reason they told you they wanted to meet. It happens all the time.

And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say. – Luke 12:1-12

While you may have a general idea of what you want to do, your goal is to rest in the Spirit of God to “give you the words you need,” as Jesus told His disciples. This aspect of soul care is invigorating. It is a high call to trust in God.

It’s not a call to be sloppy, never studying, never learning, never prepping, never changing, and never growing up in Christ. It’s a call to live in that “pneumatic sweet spot” that is mysteriously placed somewhere between undeviating preplanning and winging it because you’re sloppy and lazy.

Preparation and Pneumatic

The person who has an undeviating pre-plan is not a good counselor. The person who does not see all of life as preparation, and is not a constant student will also do poor soul care. Mature, ever-learning, pneumatic disciplers are the best.

Passive Voice Lacks Clarity and Direction

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The following, though not all, has some paraphrasing from Stephen King’s book on writing. You don’t want to read this book. It’s vulgar, explicit, and mostly unedifying. But he makes some good points on writing well.

(If you want a book on writing, read Strunk and White or Willam Zinsser. They will help you.)

A lot of writers write in the passive voice. In most cases, it’s a poor writing style, and I’m not sure how we come to write that way. It’s almost always better to write in the active voice.

Active voice writing has the action moving from the subject to the object. “The boy hit the ball.” The flow of the action advances from left to right, which releases the reader to keep moving along with your prose.

Passive voice halts and hiccups along the way, which is taxing to the reader. “The ball was hit by the boy.” It lacks confidence and direction. While there can be a false sense of humility attached to the passive voice writer, it’s a clunky and cumbersome style of communication, especially when over-done.

A single dandelion is interesting, and you may even be compelled to pick and blow on it. A yard full of dandelions is a nuance. The timid writer likes passive voice the way some spouses like passive partners. Passive voice is safe to them; there is no troublesome action to contend with in the sentence.

The timid writer will say, “The meeting will be held at seven-o’clock.” Don’t do that; don’t write that way. Stop it. Change your style. Throw out your chest, stick out your chin, and put that meeting in charge. Here you go, “The meeting is at seven.”

There!

Don’t you feel better?

It’s not that there is no place for the passive tense. Suppose a fellow dies in the kitchen, but his body ends up somewhere else. You might say, “The body was carried from the kitchen but was placed on the sofa.”

You can accept this, but you don’t have to like it.

The active voice sounds so much better: “Biff and Mable carried the body out of the kitchen and placed it on the sofa.”

Passive voice is weak, it’s circuitous, and it’s frequently torturous as well. Here is an example: “My first kiss will always be recalled by me as for how my romance with Mable was begun.”

Oh, my. Who threw up?

It’s better to say, “My romance with Mable began with our first kiss; I’ll never forget it.” Having two “with” words is too much so close together, but the active voice is more precise, directive, and natural on the eyes and easy on the mind. Notice how straightforward the thought is to understand.

Your reader should always be your first concern. If your reader is not of primary importance, your writing will bounce around in the private echo chamber of your imagination.

Translated: People will stop reading you.

Counseling Success Six Years After Counseling

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Tonight, our family went to a friend’s 60th birthday bash. He and his wife were born a couple of days apart, so we all had a double celebration. It was a great event.

One of their daughters, along with a few other folks, spearheaded the event. After we arrived, I spoke with his daughter; she thanked me for helping her and her husband through some marriage issues six years ago. I remember it well.

Later in the evening, the husband approached me and expressed gratitude, though he admitted to lying and damage control during our counseling sessions. The counseling did not have the intended effect, as it was a few more years before he came to an end of himself and cleaned up his act.

He told me that after our counseling season ended he began listening to Drive-By Marriage (DBM), our 31-lesson marriage series, on his way to and from work. It was DBM that the Lord used to capture his heart. He repented and had been walking out repentance for the past three years.

Post-Counseling Success

While I was so encouraged by his gratitude, I was struck (again) by the reality that the counseling season is so often not the season when change happens. Most counseling times are periods of watering and planting, not change (1 Corinthians 3:6). Too often, counselors and counselees are put “in a spot” by elevating their season together as a time for a change to happen when change rarely happens during that short period.

God grants repentance, not disciplers (2 Timothy 2:24-25), and it’s unusual for folks to change after two, four, or six counseling sessions. My friend is an example of this truth. He transformed several years after we met. It was only after he came to “an end of himself” did transformation come his way (Luke 15:17). And that “end” did not happen during counseling.

A Spouse’s Perseverance

He was full of joy and gratitude for what the Lord did for him, and I rejoiced with him too. Later I stopped to share with his wife my gratitude for the grace of God in her life as she persevered with her husband. Too often, spouses are exasperated, exhausted, bitter, and even angry about what is happening to them and their marriages. Though it was hard on her, she persevered and stayed the course.

I told her that I remember standing beside my son’s baseball field, taking a call from her, from another city in South Carolina. She was struggling so much. She was at her rope’s end. But she stayed the course. She fought. She persevered. She is a testimony of God’s grace. While we rejoice at his transformation, I did not want her testimony of God’s grace to go unnoticed. She received my encouragement with tears.

As for this old counselor, it’s good to hear about the victories, even if they come six years after you meet with a person. God is so good to all of us. He persevered with me for twenty-five years before transformation came.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8

Mexico. Revisited.

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My pastor friend in Mexico has done an excellent job in working through the problem of having me come for a series of meetings. After another round of talks with his pastor friends, they are okay currently with me speaking, though I won’t be speaking at one church because I’m divorced.

This issue is not something for Christians to respond in anger. Paul was clear in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, as he laid out how to respond to those who have unbiblical perspectives; he said knowledge leads to arrogance but love builds unity.

Though you or I may have knowledge about this matter, to beat our collective chests while looking down on those who have training in legalism would be sinful. We hold our perspectives with humility and love, not with condescending attitudes.

I sent this email, below, to my friend in response to the “dust-up” because he asked for my perspective on this issue. Part of my response to him addressed the idea of a sinner teaching behind a pulpit, which is a big deal for these pastors.

Different But Unified

Thank you for your thoughtful email. We are not struggling in any way. All is well with our souls. We will do whatever you want us to do. I do not want to be a stumbling block to anyone in Mexico, so if not coming will accomplish this right goal, then I do not wish to teach in your area.

But if everyone is “in faith” for our visit, then let’s do it. I would only ask that I be used in all possible ways because I’m not looking for a vacation. I go to meetings and conferences to work hard, not to relax, and I want you all to get the most from us. Our joy is to serve, not for you to serve us (Mark 10:45).

As for divorce? I believe Paul told Timothy that a pastor must have no more than one wife. I have only one. My first wife committed adultery and two years later dissolved the marriage. I did not divorce her. I sought reconciliation right up until the judge pronounced us divorced, and it’s a matter of court record that I was against it. I was clear on that matter.

She then married, divorced, and remarried a third time before I ever met and married Lucia. My first wife is no longer my wife, and I only have one. Though I was a pastor for five years, I am not now. I do not see myself as disqualified from being a pastor, though I do not believe the Lord has called me to pastor at this time. I have no desire for the noble office.

Missional Christians Teach

There is no teaching that I’m aware of that says I cannot teach Christians God’s Word. God redeemed me by the power of His Word. I’m also not aware of any forgiven sin that disqualifies a Christian from teaching God’s Word to other Christians. Doing so is at the heart of the great commission.

As for the pulpit? It’s not sacred; it’s a piece of wood (or metal) that some folks use as a means to hold their Bibles, notes, and water bottles. God dwells in people, not in inanimate objects. People are spiritual. Preaching is a spiritual event. The context is not relevant since any context is acceptable for sharing God’s Word, i.e., wood, rock, metal, or nothing at all.

I said the following on my family blog, which I write as an oral commentary on our family’s lives so our friends can see the “other side” of our lives, not just the ministry side of things.

Ironically, it would have been “better” if I had murdered my ex-wife rather than her divorcing me. (I say this in hyperbolic jest only, as I have no ill-will toward her.) But sometimes you can’t choose the sins that follow you through life. I just happen to have the “leprosy sin” of divorce.

I am aware that some folks have a weak conscience on this matter of divorce (1 Corinthians 8:1-13), which is why I would rather not come than to cause one of my brothers to stumble.

Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. – 1 Corinthians 8:13

Therefore, if [divorce] makes my brother stumble, I will never [teach to them], lest I make my brother stumble. – RLTV

I’m at your service. You tell me what you want me to do, and I will do it. But if I do come, I request that you fill up our time helping others.

Grace and mercy to you, my friend.
Rick

Divorce Is the Unpardonable Sin

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I just got word from my friend in Mexico that they do not want me coming down there to speak in their churches. My friend does, but not his friends. They found out that I was divorced, which is the unpardonable sin when it comes to speaking in Christian pulpits.

This worldview is not the view of my friend; he’s a supporting member of our site and has much respect for me, as I do for him. He did not think about this minor (divorce) detail, which he knows now that is not a small talking point with these pastors. Though the fact that we don’t hide that I’ve gone through a divorce on our website, it did not occur to him that he should say that I was. And he shouldn’t have “majored on a minor,” as though that tidbit is a disqualifier.

But some folks, due to their religious preferences and prejudices, have another perspective. Mercifully, the Lord brought this out for those pastors, and they are asking us not to come to Mexico to share the gospel of Christ. As one pastor said, “I will not permit him to speak in my pulpit.” (I say “mercifully, the Lord brought this out” because it’s far better to find out now than after we arrived in Mexico.)

Murder, Yes – Divorce, No

Ironically, it would have been “better” if I had murdered my ex-wife rather than her divorcing me. (I say this in hyperbolic jest only, as I have no ill-will toward her.) But sometimes you can’t choose the sins that follow you through life. I just happen to have the “leprosy sin” of divorce.

My friend is sad. He has used much of our content in his preaching over the past few years and genuinely loves me and our resources. I’m sorry for him.

My children were listening to the phone call through the speaker, as was Lucia. They don’t understand, though they shrugged it off with mild sadness that they could not go with us for this trip. Ansa hugged me and said that she loves me anyway, and always will. Her love for me is more important than a handful of legalistic pastors.

It’s been a while since someone has disqualified me from Christian ministry. I don’t think about it any longer since my identity is in Christ, not in what the Lord has permitted into my life. I suppose it’s been thirty or so years since I walked away from fundamentalist’s teaching preferences. I do remember my friend (and pastor) in Commerce, GA telling me that I could speak in his pulpit anytime that I wanted to as long as I was not dating or remarried.

Oh well.

Pray For My Brothers

It is possible these Mexican pastors will change their minds, though it seems unlikely since they believe so firmly and the trip is less than a month.

As for me? I’m a sovereigntist; God is in control of all things, and I know that He works in mysterious ways. I don’t say that simplistically. I do believe it, and because of that, I’m not struggling with this turn of events. God is good. He opens and shuts doors.

From my viewpoint, it was God’s work in me as I went through a divorce that gave me (and this ministry) a significant platform to help hundreds of thousands of people. We just won’t be serving a group of folks in Mexico.

Apparently.

But then the Lord could do something different for them and us.

Stay tuned. Pray fervently. We are one in His body.

Dear Hayden, We Finally Made It To Klamath Falls

RMlogo Adam and Hayden Palm and Rick Thomas

I missed seeing you, though we did go to your grave. I blubbered; it’s what I do. I cried when I walked into your parent’s home. It was even weirder for Lucia and me to sleep in your bed. I felt like royalty when I was in your childhood home.

Adam took us to your grave. It’s still surreal. I know you’re not there but it was as close as I could get and I wanted to pay my respects, as they say.

Monday

The week in Klamath Falls was fantastic. Dan and Ann picked us up in Medford. It was an excellent two-hour introduction to the rest of our week. That was Monday. That night I went to Gordon’s home and had dinner with most of the elders and their wives. That helped a lot as it set my mind on what I needed to do for the week.

I don’t like pre-scripting a week of meetings before I arrive. I want to get to know the people, and then begin the process of asking God for the best words to say to serve them well. Of course, I had been prepping before arrival, but I did not want to assume I knew God’s mind before I got here. Meeting Dan, Ann, and the elders helped me in the process of getting to know the folks.

Tuesday

On Tuesday I went to my first ladies Bible study!! That was a ton of fun. I always wondered what you women did in those things. It was supposed to be from 1 to 3, but it went until 4:30. Janet said that she was on the edge of her seat. I think that meant she enjoyed it. It was all Q & A, which permitted us to cover a lot of things, the things they cared about and wanted some input.

Before the Bible study, I met with Steve for an hour or so to cover some things on his heart. My hope was to meet with as many folks as possible, whether individually, couples, or groups. I did all of those things.

Repeatedly.

All week long.

Tuesday night I met Adam. I must say that I might have a “man-crush” on him. I see why you said, “yes” to him. He’s a good one. We hit it off. In fact, after the conference on Saturday, he and I went to Starbucks for about 90 minutes, if not longer. I like him, but I need not tell you about that. You know.

I also met the rest of your family that night. Of course, I had already met Rob and Alisha (great hosts), and Chandler (Sis) came by that morning, so I got my hug in then. Then Alec that night. And, of course, Elise. She’s a sweetie.

Wednesday

Wednesday was amazing. Triad and Hosanna Christian Schools came together. I spoke to about 200 kids, parents, and teachers. That was so awesome. So much unity. Taylor asked why I came from South Carolina to talk to them. It caught me by surprise. I cried. I did tell her that I was a teenager, and I wished someone would have helped me through those years.

After that meeting, I met with the Student Council for Triad Christian School. That was another 45-minutes of serious (and funny) interaction. Those young men and women are fantastic too. These morning sessions went into the afternoon. And to top it off, several teens came to me asking personal questions. Just wow!!

Alisha took us to meet Barney and Rhea at their place. We ate at that lodge. This time was perfect as we needed to spend some time with them, and it was a double-bonus because we met Barney too. He’s understated and brilliant, all wrapped in one. Rhea is beautifully missional, and more.

That night, Lucia and I went to Sweetwater Church where I spoke at their Wednesday church meeting. I met Char. And I talked a long time with Anthony, another highlight of my week. The good Lord is doing some good things in his life, and I think you would want to know that. 2017 was a hard year for them, but he’s doing well as he’s making his plans while trusting in the Lord to order his steps.

Thursday

Thursday, I was up at 6 AM for a Bible study with your daddy and Glen. It was good to meet Glen. That was nice. He sent me a note as we were leaving, thanking us for coming. He encouraged me.

Then there was a sound check at the BBC building at 11 AM. We got things squared away for the big conference on Friday and Saturday. I left there and met with Chris and Shawna for lunch. It was a good time getting to know them.

The Huertas showed up during the afternoon. It was a big surprise, which Brandi wanted to do to bless your mom. And it was a big surprise. We have it on video.

Thursday night I went to IBC to speak to the college and career folks. We had dinner and then I talked for 90 minutes or so. They were loud and interactive. They laughed a lot, which was great. You never know what you’re going to get with any group; they were terrific. I made a lot of good memories that night. Malea was there, rolling on the floor laughing. I like her. She was at the school meeting on Wednesday as well.

Friday

On Friday, we went with the Huertas to within one mile of Crater Lake. Big sigh right here. The one-mile path was snowed covered, which is an understatement. I was disappointed that we couldn’t see the lake, but God knows these things, and that is okay.

We did make it back in time to take a power nap before the conference that night.

You’ll be glad to know that 147 folks showed up from a half-dozen churches. It was way cool for Klamath Falls. They came from Colorado (Huertas), Portland, other towns in Oregon, and California. Amazing.

I thought it went well.

Saturday

On Saturday we were back at it early, which took the entire day. I had lunch with Jim Turner, the author/speaker from Oregon. We connected. After the conference, I went out with your hubby, which was good for me.

I made it back home just in time for a three-hour meeting with Bob and Tanya at their home. It was a joy to serve them. I got home at 10 PM that night.

Sunday

Sunday morning I went back to BBC and spoke to Gary’s Sunday school class. That time was unique and amazing. I wished it was longer. I’ll just leave it at that, but it was perfect.

From there, we high-tailed it over to IBC for their church meeting where Bob preached, and they baptized Claire as well as Paul’s son. It was a beautiful meeting from beginning to end.

We had to get a couple of souvenirs, so we were late to your parent’s home, but we were able to make it for an hour or so before we headed out with Steve and Wendy back to Medford for a night in a hotel before wheels up at 6 AM.

Monday

The wheels just touched down in Greenville, SC as I finish this post. Perfect timing.

I just wanted you to know what we did this past week.

It was all because of you! God is still using you, but you know that, right? Enjoy your “stored-up” treasures from last week; there will be more coming your way.

See you soon!!
Rick