Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Letter to my friend who lost someone

I am hurting with you today.
I am not the one to tell you how to get through your relationship because I wasn't asked and try not to butt in. Know that you will always have my love, prayers and support.
But if you're truly breaking up, I also have a prescription for you. If you really want the best life you can have, you have to make radical steps to get through this, allow God to heal you, and grow:
1- Let God forgive you. Allow God's grace to get in all the places where your life wasn't what it should be, where anger, bitterness and hurt changed how you were. Allow God to tell you how valuable you are, how special you are, who you are.
2- Put your time and energy into prayer, reading and learning scripture, and getting to know what God wants of you. Romans 12:1-2
2a- Check every decision- about what to say, how to react to an ex, a friend or anyone else, or what to do- through the question- "How would Jesus want me to do this?". It will make decisions and choices much slower for a while, but that will speed up as you know God and God's word more.
3. Lose the habits that hurt. Substances you take in, ways of talking to or about people, unhealthy eating and living- all these make your life worse not better, and teach you to lean on people or things, not on God. If you really want a happy wonderful life, you have to detox from the bad things (and conversations) that might be in your life now.
3a. That probably means throwing things out, and probably means there are people you shouldn't be talking to.
3b. It also means leaving behind blame. You need to simply stop blaming- out loud or in your thoughts- anyone else for what is happening, has happened or will happen. Change your way of thinking- people aren't good or bad, they make good or bad choices. People don't make you mad, happy, sad, right or wrong- you choose that. Don't choose to allow blame to be part of your life. Take responsibility for what you do, and look at everything outside of what you do as simply part of life. That doesn't mean you let others do things that hurt you without stopping them, but it means you don't blame or accuse- it just brings you down.
Many times, a lot of the anger between people comes from your reactions to each other. Choose not to curse someone out, not to gossip and not to be petty or bitter- for your good, and theirs.
4. Don't get involved with another person romantically for at least 6 months, preferably 1 year. You are leaving a long-term relationship- don't rebound into something else. Spend your time improving you, getting to know God and learning what a woman of God looks, sounds and acts like.
4a- Don't even begin talking to someone you might be interested in unless you know they love God MUCH more than they love you. If you follow #2 above, find someone else who is more attached to God than anything else. Then try to help them follow God more, not get them to fall in love with you. Then- if you are both doing your best to follow God- God will take care of making the relationship what it needs to be in Christ.
4b- Don't live with someone before you are married. I promise, God doesn't want you living with someone before you have a lifelong commitment to them. Don't let finances, frustration or loneliness get you into another intimate relationship without permanence at any point after 2017.
- Before 2017, see #3 above!
5. Get in church- here or somewhere- where you can sit, listen, learn and be loved. Don't go in to be something or do something- you need time to heal. Go in to allow others to speak words into your life, to love you and help you grow. Go in to learn the word, to take notes and live them out, to pray with people and have people pray for you. Go in to be quiet and learn.
6. Find 2-3 "3 a.m." truly Bible-based Christian believer friends (People who will do anything they can to help you, even if you call at 3 a.m.!) Don't count on people as your support system friends (call anytime, share details of life) who don't absolutely live out the fullness of the Christian life. People like Jesus- you know at least a few of them.
6a. Don't surround yourself with people who say anything's all right if you feel good, or that God works in everything, or that God has a plan for everything. That's not scriptural. God has plans for you- as you put God first. If you are on the fence, obeying when you want and doing what you want, not seeking God's will, there is no promise in the bible for you except God's mercy and love. God gives you free will, and only is able to do amazing things in your life when you follow Christ. If your "friends" say everything will work out, without regard for what you do or how you follow Christ, love them, but find new best friends. 6b. God's Spirit and scripture will show you people you should listen to, and that you should not listen to. Scripture also shows you that obedience is part of God's blessings:
Matthew 6:33 "Seek first his kingdom and righteousness and all things will be given to you."
Romans 8:28-which properly translated says "God works in all things for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose." "Things" don't work together- God works in all things.
- in both of these, see that obedience to God precedes God's work and blessings for us.
7. Know that i love you, have been praying for you,and will continue to pray for you. Follow this prescription and God will do things you can't imagine in you. Whether or not you do, I will help however I can- but this is where God wants you to work.
Matthew 6:33- I love you!- Pastor Joe

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Pastors, here's a nugget for you from another discussion. Please pray, search your hearts, be honest, then add your comments.
One of my teacher/mentors told me that if you had a proper passage and were preaching a message (as opposed to giving an exegetical report or teaching a lecture), after 15 minutes you were repeating yourself. I've found that to be true.

When I go over that time (or actually about 20 minutes), I'm usually doing one of 3 preacher no-nos:

1. Trying to get my points across again because I didn't do well enough the first time. People don't need to pay because you didn't do well enough the first go-round. Prepare your sermon so that you are saying what you need to say in the best way possible. One definition of poetry is "the best way something may be said." Make your sermons poetic- struggle to make every phrase, every word, exactly what it should be. Then you don't need mulligans or do-overs.

2. Trying to include another sermon that I want the people to hear. If you are listening to God for what you are going to say, then trust God to give you the right message.
Now part of this may be indecision caused by a lack of Bible study and prayer about your messages. If you aren't sure that what you're saying is god's message for the week, the answer isn't to squeeze parts of 2 other messages in, but to seek God's face until you have God's message.
Also- if the Lord really is the Lord, your 20 minutes isn't the only message from God they hear this week. Trust the Spirit to work in you and others- God will speak to God's people- you're not the only voice they hear from God.

3. Adding unneeded fluff to the message God gave me. Again, poetry- make every thought, every illustration, every phrase, even every break (laughter, movement or change of topic)- serve the message God gave you for these people in this place and time.

The average adult in America today has a 26 minute span of conversation, broken into 5 minute segments. I'm not blaming TV, but there is a coincidence. Every time you go over 5 minutes, they need a break. If you don't give one, they'll take it anyway. And if you go over that time, you won't have the audience all with you for the whole thing.
If you really think more than 10% of your people are listening to the whole 40 minute message, do the math and think about your adult members so that you know I'm right, There may be 4 note-takers, but there are 5 guys who have been thinking about playoff scenarios for half of the message, 2 women who think dinner is burning (or today, that they need to make a call-ahead), and 3 young adults who need God's help with their thoughts about certain brothers or sisters in the church. Right?

Simply put- Your message should be able to be summarized in one sentence (remember the old thesis sentence in school? It still works!); have less than 5 points, and bring home one great truth of life in and with Christ in 20 minutes or less. Anything else is diluting the power of what you say, hurting the reputation of the preacher, and hindering people's learning in the Kingdom.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Why is Everything So Complicated?

Complicated by Avril Lavigne

Why can't everything just be black and white? Why is there so much grey in this world of ours?- CB

Good question
Sometimes life comes at us, hits us and we still don't know what happened. Sometimes we can't understand people, the universe, God or even ourselves. We do our best, but it doesn't seem to make sense- or be the best set of choices for anyone involved. 

So how do we deal with that?  What does that say about our faith, and what does our faith have to say to that?

Sometimes life just hits us, and we don't see the black and white, the right and wrong- we just experience being run over by the truck. Part of that is how fast things are going, and growing, and learning, and sharing and happening. Our great-grandparents would have checked out after 2 of our months- but we keep on going- school fast, work fast, travel fast, vacation fast, rest short, start again. There aren't porches on our houses because we no longer sit on them and watch the grass grow. It has changed. There is no gray in life because life is moving too fast to have shades and colors...

Sometimes, though, we say we want black and white, but only on our terms. My white absolutely doesn't include smoking, but it does include speeding. Your black may include a mix of social faux pas and murder. When each person decides what's okay and what's not, there is no clear black and white. Even people of the same faith have different whites and blacks, and different levels of sin and righteous acts.

The things that came to me today about this, though, is the gray we create out of black and white. I'm not going to argue the details of our varying "rights" or "whites" and "wrongs" or "blacks" with you. 

But I will use an example from my life to explain how we "gray" our lives.
I feel compelled at this point in life to stop speeding. Even there, I will admit to some gray- most people speed. Even here, I am classifying the speeding I feel convicted about to those times when for fun or schedule I go more than 5 miles over the posted speed limit.

I speed. I enjoy speeding- I like, as Top Gun describes it, going "Mach 2 with my hair on fire." I enjoy going around people, beating people to a location, just going fast with the music up. 

But here's how the world becomes more gray. There are sometimes consequences for our actions, even justified. I would say I don't speed with other people's kids in the car, or when it's dangerous, or without being polite to all the other drivers. I would say it's just me, and even the danger is only on me. But I'm wrong. Even "private" things affect your attitudes, perceptions, how you see others and their words, lives and actions, and how you feel about yourself, God and others. 
For example:
- Friends have seen me speeding by and commented on it. It becomes gray when I have to explain, defend or rationalize something I chose to do knowing it wasn't "white." 
- I have friends who are policemen and deputies. If one of them were to stop me for speeding, what would I say? 
- I have a fear response when I see police cars- whether or not I am speeding, because at times I do speed. 
- I am tempted (although I usually don't give in) to pray for God's protection on my law-breaking. And when you start saying those prayers, you make promises and pray in ways that don't build your relationship with God in healthy ways.
- Because of this, I have an emotional trauma- guilt- when I speed. When experiencing guilt, I am also more likely to judge and/or make comments about other peoples' failings- guilt response. 

So- for say 15 minutes in a 3 hour drive, I do all of this, and put up with all of this? In the end, it's not worth it. But I have taken a simple, easy-to-follow rule, and added gray, if not black, to my life. 

That's my stuff. I don't know what attitude, habit, way of dealing with people, stress, conflict or relationships you allow to "gray up" your life. But I think we can avoid some of that by simply doing what we know to do, and avoiding what we know not to do, no matter what we "think" or "feel" about listening to the wisdom of our God, society, church, family and friends. Makes the world more black and white, don't you think?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Do you Make A Difference?

What do you spend your life on?
I spent the equivalent of a day working at Gaston Memorial Hospital this past weekend. I usually average about 20 hours a week serving as a chaplain.
I preach and teach each Sunday at church, and try to serve as pastor to our small congregation.
I spend 3/5 hours 3 days a week helping children & teens with their schoolwork.
I spend time each day reading the Bible and trying to talk with God about my life, faith, family, friends, church and co-workers, patients, families and the world.
I try to keep up with my wife and help her disciple and raise my two favorite children.
I spend about 30 minutes a day reading and writing to try and help others.
I read either a paper-pages book or a book on my Kindle app on my Blackberry each day.
Those are the things I spend my life on.
Sometimes I also spend time watching sports & other TV and looking at things on the computer-too much, at times, but I've cut back.
Others may be more famous- others certainly make more money. But at the end of every day, I can honestly say I loved God and did things to help others. I am thankful and proud of that.
What do you spend your life on?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


1 Love God
2 Love Others
3 Make Disciples- TOP THREE!
4 1on1 with wife & both kids each day
5 No "Target #s
6 Exercise Each Day
Read each day
8 Read Bible more
9 Pray more
10 Make new friends
11 Keep in touch with old friends (love FB & Twitter!)
12 Live each day as if it might be your last
13 Love each day as if it might be your legacy!
Pastor Joe Bell @Joe2355 (On Facebook & Twitter- Follow me!)

Monday, December 31, 2012

Aren't we Blessed?

Tom didn't have an easy life. His parents had drinking problems, and sometimes beat him and his little brother. His brother ran from the family at every chance, spending most of his time with friends and even some strangers. Tom tried to help his parents when he could, and tried to do what he was supposed to. A neighbor invited him to church at 7, and Tom learned about a God who could help him through the pain of his family. When he was 12, his dad was arrested and spent the next 6 years in prison. The family's financial condition got worse, and his mother more difficult.
But Tom's Sunday School teacher told him something that encouraged his natural optimism. She was crippled, with difficult arthritis since early adulthood. But she started every class helping the class to see how blessed they were. That resonated with Tom, who began every greeting with "Hi! Aren't we blessed?" His faith, attitude and hard work helped him in school, in the first of many after-school jobs, and with others.
When we met, he was in his 30s. He had a beautiful wife, a good job and two wonderful kids. He was blessed. He didn't count that his wife had been in a terrible fire and wasn't the beauty that God had created her to be. He didn't count one child with Down's syndrome and a work environment where he was challenged each year to do more. He counted his blessings- and he was blessed.
As we start a new year, I echo Tom's words. "Aren't we Blessed?"

Saturday, December 29, 2012

War & Football- Instruction for Life

I grew up with three men in my family who had fought honorably in war (my father & brothers-in-law), and in a state where football had become somewhat of a reaction to losing a war 80 years before and resulting poverty, social upheaval and a bad national reputation (Alabama- Roll Tide!). So I learned was that life has analogies- and sports or war teach about life.
Lessons from that: Love your team, hate the enemy (not really in sport- some get that wrong). We prepare harder and do our best and we don't have to worry about others. You don't choose who or where you play or fight, you just strap it on and go do it. Life is a team game- the guy next to you depends on you and you on him. Don't let your team down. Fighting with honor isn't easy, but living without it is worse. I am here because of the sacrifice of others for us- I must make sacrifices for those after me. Fighting with honor is hard, and may kill you- but living without honor is worse.
Love God and your team, and be willing to die for both at any time- then you will learn what life really is.