Being Appreciated as a Pastor

October is pastor appreciation month. This year, for some reason, I seem to be getting more appreciated than past years. On Sunday we got called to the platform and handed a nice gift. I had free breakfast and two free lunches. I’ve gotten a steady stream of cards and notes from the kids at our church’s school. This isn’t normal for me.

I’m normally the guy no one knows, who works behind the scenes. I’m not normally recognized.

I was recently attending a service at my parent’s very small church in southeastern Missouri. My father was out of town, but my mother and my family were present. I met the pastor prior to the service, and he knew from my parents that I was in ministry. This was a very traditional church, and they still followed the practice of calling on members from the pulpit to pray. At the time of the invocation the pastor called out for “Brother Link” to pray. I immediately wondered why he would do that when my dad, Brother Link, was not present. And then I realized that I was Brother Link.

I quickly started praying.

I still get weird about people calling me pastor. There are people that know me as a pastor, and depending on how formal they are, some of them address me as “pastor” or “pastor Link” and that feels weird.

Don’t get me wrong. I am called and set apart for ministry. I was ordained into the ministry on October 17, 2004. I’ve got the Bible to prove it. I have the documents hanging on my wall right now. The Church recognized God’s call on my life and set me apart for ministry. But it still makes me chuckle when I get mail addresses as “Reverend.”

There are a couple of reasons, I think. First, I’m no better or higher than anyone else. I know that I will be held to a higher standard when I meet God because of my role in leadership, but between us humans, we are the same. I’m no better than anyone. Please, do not put me or any pastor on a pedestal. We will just get hurt more when we fall off it. The title “pastor” is given out of respect. I know I’m just a normal guy, sinful guy, trying to do right guy. I will make mistakes as much as anyone else. I am grateful for the respect that my position gives because of my title, but am more concerned with earning that respect.

Another reason is that I am always in a support ministry role. That’s part of the reason I keep being amazed that I can work on my TV show project. The church get’s nothing out of it, except the kingdom growth potential. Of course that’s why we do all sorts of things. I’m just not used to being on this side of ministry. I’m more familiar with working to help others accomplish their ministry goals.

As someone who leads a team that supports other ministries, let me say that it is easy for people to forget that what we do is critical. I love the fact that much of what I am involved with has eternal significance. If you are leading a ministry, don’t take the support teams around you for granted. You need them.

Just because I am called “pastor” does not elevate me above those who work with me or for me. I’m the one who bears the brunt if problems occur. I shoulder the blame. I pass on the credit. That’s why I get uncomfortable when I’m applauded just for being a pastor. I know anything I’ve done is because God chose to work through me and those who serve around me.

So, if you are participating in pastor Appreciation month, please don’t be offended if the pastor you are trying to appreciate seems odd about the whole thing. He probably wishes he could turn the whole thing around and show his appreciation for you.

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Mormonism, Christianity, and Cults

I recently learned of the current controversy regarding First Baptist Dallas Pastor Dr. Robert Jeffress and comments he made in support of one candidate. Reporters heard something that piqued their interest, and went to find out. Turns out, shocker, I know, that this prominent conservative Christian pastor thinks Mormons are members of a cult. This is almost as big news as when the Southern Baptist Convention said they were going to pray for Jews.

The problem in this controversy is one of semantics. Non Christian people and Christian people sometimes can’t communicate clearly. When Jeffress says cult, reporters think of compounds with automatic machine guns and explosives. It takes them about 0.07 seconds to hit the oddball religious news alert, and away we go. Now Jeffress is going all over the place talking about it.

As for how the world views cults, Mormons don’t fit their understanding of one. Calling Mormons members of a cult on national TV just confuses people. Our soundbite generation cannot compute that. Jeffress says that he went on to explain more about what he meant, but of course that is too long for a news soundbite. The Hardball clip that’s going around, the commentator can’t get past his own definition cult. Is Jeffress concerned about a member of a cult in the White House? Jeffress keeps trying to define Mormonism as a theological cult.

Let me boil it down for you.

No, Mormons are not going to give all their money to the church and turn up, en masse, all dead with white sneakers and open packets of cool-aid littered around. In that connotation of the word cult, of course the Church of the Latter Day Saints are not a cult. They are a religion. Everyone I have ever met has been very nice, highly moral, and deeply committed to their faith. But not in that Going-to-mass-suicide-and-take-as-many-ATF-agents-with-us-as-we-can kind of way.

Mormons are an offshoot of traditional Christianity. They claim they have a more complete faith than us regular Christians. But there are several defining characteristics that define them theologically as a Christian cult.

For Christians, theologically, cults can be defined using a simple process:

“+, -, x, /”

Christian Cults are an offshoot of traditional Christianity that:

+ Add to scripture
Subtract from diety of Christ
x Multiply what is required for salvation
/ Divide their followers from traditional Christianity

Groups who do those things are generally thought to be non-Christian but traditional Christianity. Yes, I mean that members of those cults are not going to heaven. (Of course, if you dig a bit into Mormonism you see that I’m not going to be in their heaven either, so turn about’s fair play, right?)

So, how do the LDS measure up to that criteria?

+ Mormons claim that in addition to the Bible, the Book or Mormon and other texts should be considered scripture. They add to scripture.

Mormons do not think Jesus Christ is a part of a Triune God. He is Elohim’s only “begotten” son, but not his only son. In fact, Lucifer is Jesus’ brother. He is not part of the Trinity. He is not God, like Elohim is God. (Before you comment and say it, I know that the word Trinity isn’t in the Bible, but evidence for it is. Traditional Christians believe in it. Mormons don’t.) Mormons subtract from the deity of Christ.

X Mormons cannot achieve the highest level of heaven unless they do certain things here on earth. Salvation is not by grace alone, but works are required to enter the Celestial Heaven. Plus, if you want to be able to have your own planet and be a god, you must be married in a Mormon temple. Mormons multiply what it takes for salvation.

/ Mormons believe that they are the fully restored church, and that while most Christians have some truth, it is not complete. Mormons are the only religion that has complete truth on the earth. Traditional Christianity generally believes that as long as denominations hold to certain basic truths, the minor tenets of each group’s polity and practice do not bar them from entering heaven. These differences have to do with worship practices and general theology, but do not impact salvation, and the work of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in that act. Mormon divide themselves from other Christians as the holders of complete truth.

So, am I saying that every Mormon in the world will end up in hell? No. I don’t know the condition of any other person’s heart. In fact, one of the major LDS “mission” fields is Christian people. They often meet people of faith, and then convert them to Mormonism. It is likely that there are some nominal Mormons who have true faith in Christ. But, that faith did not come as a result of any Mormon theology or teaching.

What I am saying is that Mormon theology will lead you to hell. While they use the same words as traditional Christians (God, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit, grace, salvation) they mean something else entirely. If you worship the mormon god, you worship someone other than the God of the Christian Bible. I know that sounds harsh, but when push comes to shove, that’s the cold hard truth of it. Mormons and Christians do not believe the same thing. That’s part of the reason mormon active;y seek to make converts from Christianity. They genuinely care about us knowing the whole truth. I don’t fault them for it, but that doesn’t mean we have the same faith.

What does that have to do with politics? Not as much as some would think. A person’s faith should permeate everything they do, and that won’t stop if that person becomes President. But, as I said before, Mormons are generally great folks with high moral standards. And I’m pretty sure no sitting President is going to try to make Polygamy legal, so no worries there. For me, I won’t vote for someone just because they are a Christian, and won’t vote against them just because they are not one.

Word of note: Please don’t email me or comment and say that I am deliberately misrepresenting the truth. It’s one thing if I have a fact wrong, it’s quite another of my opinion differs from yours.

Facebook Landing Pages

Update: This doesn’t work with the new Timeline of Facebook.

I’ve been working on some social media stuff for my show. I just set up a landing page for the show’s Facebook site using some instructions I found on Mashable. the image looks like this:

Pretty simple really. I’m sure the graphic will change as things progress. Once someone has “liked” the page they bypass the welcome page and go directly to the Wall.

56 is Too Young

A little before 8:00 PM tonight I got a text message saying that there were reports that Steve Jobs had died. After battling pancreatic cancer, Steve Jobs passed away.

I don’t think we fully realize how big of an impact he had on how we interact with technology. Here is a short list:

The GUI. The MacOS changed how we used computers.

iTunes. Arguably, Apple saved the music industry.

First iMac. No more beige boxes and no more floppy disk.

Final Cut Pro. Helped make video production affordable.

iPod. The walkman of our times.

iPhone. Still seeing the ripples of this device in the market.

App store. Changed how we buy software

iPad. Singlehandedly created a new market.

And maybe Siri? Who knows how this will change things.

I’m sure I’ve overlooked a lot. Job’s influence will be seen for years to come.

He will be missed.

October 4th Apple Event: Recap-arama

Today was the latest iPhone announcement from Apple. there has been a lot of hype and rumormongering about what would be coming out. but today at 1:00 PM EST, we got the facts.

The event was about an hour and a half long. It could have been much shorter. there was a huge amount of time spent recapping what we already knew. iCloud, iOS5 and iTunes Match. I get that they were not releasing a lot of new things today, but they could have shot for an hour and cut down a lot of that stuff.

I was more interested in what was new…

Apps:
Cards. This app lets you create cards that Apple will print and then mail to your designated address. $3 in the USA and $5 internationally. Cool. Nothing earth shattering, but cool.

Find my Family and Friends. Now people can let friends and family see where they are by tracking the location of their iPhone. This will be good for parents to track their kids. Might also work for teens trying to find their friends at the mall, I guess.

Lower prices for iPods. There is a decent update on Nano software, which later reports say will also be available for previous 2010 Nano owners. Price drop for the Nano and the Touch. At $199, I wonder if this was planned or in response to the Kinf=dle Fire announcement?

The major announcement was the iPhone 4S.

As I predicted, there was only one iPhone announced today. maybe because my expectations were lower, I have been surprised by the reaction. The iPhone 4 was/is an amazing phone. The 4S is better. Does it really matter if the name of it isn’t “iPhone 5”? Even stock prices dropped a bit.

The 4S has every feature that was predicted, plus a couple.

The A5 chip: Dual processors and fast graphics. Even faster photo taking.

8MP camera: Some very nice features. 1080p video.

Antenna: Supposed 4G real world speed? That’s a bold claim. But if it does download faster, I like it.

Video Mirroring: I love airplay, and making presentations with Keynote is going to be killer. (If you can call any presentation killer)

World Phone: no surprise here. CDMA and GSM.

One of the coolest features is the Siri voice control. This didn’t surface until just recently. Apple bought the company a while back, and now is set to release some truly amazing voice features.

Frankly, it’s a little bit scary. I’m reminded of that scene in Star Trek IV where Scotty tries to talk to the computer. This could be very useful. I could easily find myself using the dictation thing and setting up reminders and sending texts while driving, all hands free.

My disappointment was that there wasn’t just “one more thing.” I was really hoping for an update to the Apple TV software.

One thing I noticed while watching the video of the presentation, the presenters were not as smooth and polished at Jobs was/is. There were a couple of stumbles. And Cook, while efficient, wasn’t and inspiring as Jobs.

Is the disappointment with today’s announcement simply because of the lack of “reality distortion field” that Jobs brings to these events? people used to make fun of that, but it was a very real thing. I suspect that Jobs could give a keynote on ice and get eskimos to buy some. Well, Cook doesn’t deliver like Jobs does. But the gear is just as cool.

I suspect the disappointment will wane as people get to use this device in the real world.

How To Get an iPhone Every Year for Free

Update: New Upgrade-Every-Year plans make this less likely to work. At&T is really pressing customers toward those plans, and away from the 2 year contracts.

Warning: This only works if you have two phones on your account and don’t care what kind of phone you have on the other number. It’s not truly free, because you are locked into a contract, but you can upgrade every year without spending extra money.

This is a pretty simple plan, which I have used and will use again, but some people may not realize it’s possible so I thought I would post it up. We are with AT&T, but this may work with Verizon as well. With the announcement of the iPhone 5S and 5C the other day, many people locked in a 2 year contract may be thinking of trying to upgrade early.

It’s nice to have the latest hardware from Apple. I like the iPhone and my apps. I want to take advantage of every new advance in capability. But I don’t want to pay $600 for an iPhone with no contract. What if I am only one year into my contract but I still want a new phone? I don’t even want to pay the early upgrade fee.

Here’s how I do it. My wife and I are on my AT&T account. AT&T allows people on the same account to switch phones for an $18 charge. So I could give her mine, and get hers for a whopping $36. Not something you want to do every day, but it’s a lot cheaper than $600.

She does not care what phone she has. That is a crucial part of this working out. If the person who uses the second phone on your account wants more than a basic handset, this will be more expensive.

Your goal is to get one of your numbers’s contracts ending one year, and then the next one ending the next year. So that every year you have one number up for a new contract. Once that happens the rest is easy.

To get this going you have to either pay full retail for a basic handset, or elect to keep the phone on your second number after the contract runs out. So, next time your second account is up for renewal, don’t do the contract. Either keep your phone or get a cheap one. Purchase a pay-as-you-go phone for your carrier. In the case of AT&T, that’s a Go Phone. The cheapest Go Phone costs about $15 at most stores. Nicer ones go up in price as you add features. You can easily get a phone for under $50.

For instance, this year my wife’s account is up for renewal. I will get the new iPhone on her account, and then swap it to my account. She will be in a new contract, but I won’t. I will be using the new hardware with only one year left on my contract. This will cost an additional $36.

Now, if it’s time for her to get a new phone as well I need to spend about $15 on to replace her cheap one. As long as the used market for iPhones remains high, this won’t cost me anything.

Using eBay (or something similar), you can fund this entire process where the end result is very little out of pocket. Currently a used 32GB iPhone 5 is selling for $400+ all day long.

So, after you have your account set to go, visit your local AT&T store. Purchase the new iPhone on your second number (the one up for renewal) with a contract and then have them switch the new iPhone to your primary number. This removes the old iPhone off your primary account and leaves the other basic handset on your second account. You could upgrade that phone if you wish during this process. With AT&T Go Phones, it’s as easy as swapping Sim Cards.

At this point you have paid $335 plus taxes and such if you get the 32GB 5S model. You now have the new iPhone on your phone number with about one year left on your contract and your second phone has a basic handset with two years left. Next year you can buy the new iPhone on your primary account. Add about $15 to the $335 of you replaced the base handset.

Then, wipe everything off your old iPhone. Make sure you go into the settings and use “Erase all Content and Settings” to make sure all of your personal information is gone. Then list your old iPhone on your favorite auction site. After your fees you will likely clear about $330-350. (Selling fees are ridiculous! 10% to eBay and then you pay Paypal another 3%. Then shipping and insurance.) If you decided to buy the new base phone, you probably broke even for a new iPhone. Not bad. If you didn’t replace the basic handset this time, you may end up with enough to buy a new case.

So that’s it. If you need help, the folks at the store can help you through it. The trick is to get your contract terms up for renewal on alternating years. And be OK with staying in a contract with your carrier.

A word about selling your iPhone: Be careful. I’ve used eBay to sell a lot of stuff. Nothing brings out the scammers like selling an iPhone. Follow eBay rules. Only ship to confirmed addresses, with tracking and insurance.

Happy iPhone Announcement Day

In just a few hours Tim Cook will take the stage and announce something about the iPhone. And iCloud. And iOS5.

There are still tons of rumors floating around. I think we will see an iPhone 4S announced. I still have my doubts about any iPhone 5 this year.

It’s almost certain that the new model will have a faster processor and an 8 megapixel camera.

There have been reports of voice control, 1080p video capability and other features.

We will probably see the end of the 3GS, and introduction of an 8GB iPhone 4 at $100 as the base model.

And of course we will get a release date for iOS5 and iCloud and iTunes Match.

I’m looking forward to it.