Hardship and The Holidays

December 1st, 2017

By Pastor Brad Heintz

When America experienced a big recession in the early 1980s, downriver Detroit experienced a depression because this blue-collar community was dependent on the auto industry and other related businesses. Growing up in this community, as a pastor’s kid, we would experience the generosity of thankful believers during the holidays. My father told us not to expect much that Christmas due to the financial struggles of our members. I remember a man, who ran a catering business, rang the doorbell one night and gave my parents a box of fruit. He apologized that that was all he could give this year. My parents told him thank you and said not to apologize because his gift was from the heart. By the end of the holidays we had experienced such an outpouring of love through homemade cookie plates, pies or homespun crafts. These gifts showed that we were loved, people cared and it was a real sacrifice.

This year our community is hurting from the hardships caused by Hurricane Harvey. You might be feeling the financial pinch from trying to get your homes back, or from helping others get their homes back. You might be feeling the stress of hardships during the holidays. You might be feeling that this Christmas it is just not going to be the most wonderful time of the year.

We shouldn’t be surprised that hardships happen around the Holidays because the very first Christmas was full of hardship and oppression. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. It was a hard first Christmas for Jesus who was born in a barn because there was no room in the Inn. Why was there no room? Everyone had to report to their hometowns to pay taxes to the foreign occupation by the Roman Empire. The Bethlehem Holiday Inn was over capacity (Luke 2). It was a hard first Christmas for Mary who had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem while nine months pregnant (Luke 2). It was a hard first Christmas for Joseph, who had just faced public disgrace for marrying a pregnant woman and then escaped to Egypt under murder threats (Matthew 2). It was a hard first Christmas for God, the Father, who gave up God, the Son, so that Jesus could save the world (John 3:16). But that is what Christmas is all about. Showing love through the hardships.

One of my favorite verses to share this fall has been John 16:33. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome this world!” He overcame our hardships caused by our problems, sins and struggles by giving his life as payment on the cross. He rose from the dead to guarantee deliverance for all who put their trust in Him. This is why he was born. This is why we can show love through the hardships of the holidays.

So I encourage you to give from the heart this Christmas. Just show your love and don’t worry about living up to other Christmases. Let this Christmas live in how you love, who you love and when you love. That’s what God did and that’s why we call it Christmas!

Pastor Brad Heintz is the founding pastor of Living Word Church in Seabrook, Texas, a vibrant family-style, non-denominational gathering of believers who take a pure, simple and real approach to faith and life. www.LWCBA.org

Storm Stress

October 1st, 2017

By Pastor Brad Heintz

By the time you are reading this article, it is over a month since Hurricane Harvey camped out on the Gulf Coast, and yet we are still feeling the impact. Like an unwelcomed house guest, Hurricane Harvey came ashore and didn’t leave for such a long time! Finally when Harvey left, everyone was asking, “How did you weather the storm?” We all had an answer. It was either, “A total loss, some loss or we were spared.” A month or so later, the stress from the storm may be settling in as agitation, tiredness, depression, strained relationships or even physical illness.

This past Friday, I had breakfast with my adopted Dad, Rush Warren. There was something surreal about getting back to a normal routine after Harvey. Breakfast with Dad is something we try to do every Friday, which didn’t happen during the storm or the weeks after.

Usually, I get to the restaurant early to work on my message for Sunday and then have breakfast. But this time I ran into people I knew from Living Word Church and had some great conversations about the impact of Hurricane Harvey. Each couple shared how they are trying to handle the stress of the storm. One person said, “Do you realize that every person in our area not only experienced the storm but personally knows someone who flooded?” It is traumatic in so many ways and our recovery is going to take a long time. So what can we do? Learning to turn over whatever is bothering us to God and people who care can make a world of different in how we cope. Seek out God through your house of worship. Seek professional help from a therapist or counselor who is trained in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Seek out a good listener who will hear your story.

A friend of mine noticed the days after the storm the bars were packed, the beer aisle in the grocery store was empty and the churches were filled. When you are in a difficult situation what do you do? How is your coping mechanism working for you now or is it causing mores stress? When I am in a difficult spot, I turn to my God, His Word and other followers to help.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

I encourage you to find help that truly heals. If Jesus has the power to overcome death, he can deliver on his promise to help you overcome (John 16:33).

If you are reading this article and live in the Houston area, Hurricane Harvey impacted you. The question is, ‘How much and for how long?” Was it a “total loss,” “some loss” or “no loss” for you? Are you coping well, not coping at all or just getting along?

Total Loss and Despair
If you were completely impacted by Hurricane Harvey, do you feel as if everything is just gone, contaminated, lost? Let God and His Word speak into your situation. He will help and often he helps through people.

Psalm 34:17-18 (The Message) Is anyone crying for help? God is listening,
ready to rescue you. If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there;
if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.

Some Loss and Frustration
If you had some impact from Hurricane Harvey, you have probably said, “I’m not as bad off as others.” And that is true. Yet, you may feel a sense of frustration and maybe a little stuck. Let God and His Word speak into your situation.

1 Peter 5:6-7 (NIV) Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

No Loss – Guilt
If you were spared, during Hurricane Harvey, are you feeling a twinge of guilt? That’s normal. But now what do you do with it? I encourage you to gain perspective.

It is he who saved us and chose us for his holy work not because we deserved it but because that was his plan. 2 Timothy 1:9 (LB)
Were you spared so that there was someone who could help? What is God’s purpose in all of this? Don’t let survivor’s guilt linger; replace it with actions that help make things better.

Please don’t let the storm continue in the form of stress related problems. Learn to turn it over to God. Seek help from others and receive true peace.

Making room on your plate

March 1st, 2017

By Pastor Brad Heintz

The other day I was craving some comfort food and asked my daughter, a hostess at T-Bone Tom’s Restaurant in Kemah, what their lunch special of the day was or like I call it, “blue-plate special.”  After enjoying my lunch, as an extra treat I was able to bring half of it home and then used it as a topping on a delicious chef’s salad that night.

When my wife recently received difficult health news, first we prayed together and then I asked her what she wanted to do?  She said, “I’m hungry and I want to go to Classic Café for some comfort food!”  The lunch special, a.k.a. “blue-plate special” sounded good, but the Chicken Fried Steak sounded better, so we shared it!

All this talk about food makes me ravenous for more … information that is!

How did blue-plate specials get their name?  According to Wikipedia, blue-plate special is a term used in the United States by restaurants, especially diners and cafes.  It refers to a low-priced meal that usually changes daily. The term was very common from the 1920s through the 1950s.  One can still find a few restaurants and diners that call their daily special a blue-plate special, and as an extra bonus at times, it’s even served on a blue plate.  Sadly, this is a vanishing tradition.

Another vanishing tradition is what I would nick name a purple-plate special or Lent!  Lent is a Christian season of 40 days before Easter (minus Sundays) where Christians traditionally take on the spiritual discipline of self-sacrifice in order to connect with the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made on the cross.

It started in the Early Church as the timeframe when new believers would make room in their schedules to learn about the faith and then be baptized on Easter Weekend.  Over the years this time developed into 40 days of self-sacrifice, spiritual discipline and preparation for many Christians.  Some people give up meat, sweets or meals as a spiritual discipline.  I’ve even seen others give up Facebook, video games or TV as a self-sacrifice.

The number 40 is a special number in the Bible.  Noah experienced 40 days and nights of rain.  The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.  Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days in the wilderness after His baptism.  The disciples spent 40 days with Jesus after his resurrection.

My adopted dad, Rush Warren described Lent as, “Making room on your plate for God.”  One morning while eating breakfast at The Pelican Grill, he shared a story about when he went out to lunch with some co-workers.  Around the table were a Muslim, a Hindu and a Christian.  (I know some of you are expecting a joke or punch line right about now.) The Muslim and the Hindu co-workers all ordered their lunch and the Christian ordered water.  They asked him why he didn’t order lunch and Rush shared that he was fasting.  They both nodded in understanding since they both have used the spiritual discipline of fasting or, as Rush would say, “Making room on your plate for God.”

What if for the 40 days before we observe the death and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter, we make room on our proverbial plate for God.  This may mean giving something up like a meal, TV show or even sleep.

Maybe you have gotten out of the habit of worship on Sundays?  Now would be a great time to make room on Sundays for God.  Maybe you could set the alarm 30 minutes earlier during the week and make room for God daily through prayer and reading of His Word?

What if you spent the next 40 days making room in your life for God?  Do you think He could wipe away all that was bad in your life like Noah, prepare you for what He has promised, like the Israelites, empower you for ministry like Jesus or pour out the Holy Spirit like the Disciples?  I think He will because he has moved heaven and earth to make space for you on His plate.  Give it a try and let me know how God filled the space you made for Him!

I’m so sorry if this article made you hungry or if I left out your favorite restaurant.  After Easter, invite me to lunch and let me know how God filled your plate!  Just let me know.

Having been freed from a lot of tradition myself, I find keeping the spirit of this season more helpful than the letter of it.  Lent, or my purple-plate experience starts March 1 and concludes Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017.  How about you?

In God We Trust?

January 1st, 2017

By Pastor Brad Heintz

As we begin a new year making New Year resolutions and even inaugurating a new president, a question comes to mind. Is it time to stop overlooking a few things? For example, do you ever see a penny on the ground and just walk by it because it is just a penny?  At face value it doesn’t seem worth much or does it? I used to think that a penny was only a penny until I heard a story that changed my mind completely. Here’s how the story goes:

Several years ago, a friend of mine and her husband were invited to spend the weekend at the husband’s employer’s home. My friend, Arlene, was nervous about the upcoming weekend. The boss was wealthy with a fine home on the waterway and cars costing more than her house. The first day and evening went well.  Arlene was delighted to have this rare glimpse into how the very wealthy live. The husband’s employer was quite generous as a host, and took them to the finest restaurants. Arlene knew she would never have the opportunity to indulge in this kind of extravagance again, so she was enjoying herself immensely.

As the three of them were about to enter an exclusive restaurant that evening, the boss was walking slightly ahead of Arlene and her husband. He stopped suddenly, looking down on the pavement for a long silent moment. Arlene wondered if she was supposed to pass him. There was nothing on the ground except a single darkened penny that someone had dropped and a few cigarette butts. Still silent, the man reached down and picked up the penny. He held it up and smiled, then put it in his pocket as if he had found a great treasure. “How absurd,” Arlene thought to herself, “what need did this man have for a single penny? Why would he even take the time to stop and pick it up?”

Throughout dinner, the entire scene nagged at her. Finally, she could stand it no longer. She casually mentioned that her daughter once had a coin collection and asked if the penny he had found had been of some value. A smile crept across the man’s face as he reached into his pocket for the penny and held it out for her to see. She had seen many pennies before, she thought to herself, what was the point of this?  “Look at it,” he said, “read what it says.”

She read the words, “United States of America.”

“No, not that,” he exclaimed, “read further.”

She asked, “One cent?”

“No, keep reading,” he said.

Arlene then read, “In God we Trust?”

“Yes!” he said excitedly.

Arlene questioned with intrigue. He went on to explain, “And if I trust in God, the name of God is holy, even on a coin. Whenever I find a coin I see that inscription. It is written on every single United States coin, but we never seem to notice it!  God drops a message right in front of me telling me to trust Him. Who am I to pass it by? When I see a coin, I pray, and I stop to see if my trust IS in God at that moment. I pick the coin up as a response to God that I do trust in Him. For a short time, at least, I cherish it as if it were gold. I think it is God’s way of starting a conversation with me. I am blessed that God is patient and pennies are plentiful!”

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I was prayer walking recently through the streets of Seabrook, asking God to bless each household and to help heal our land. I was asking Him, what do you want us to do?  At that very moment I looked down and saw a penny!  On that penny was God’s answer.  He wants us to put our trust in Him as an individual, a household, a community and a country.
So the next time you are out and about and you see a penny… pick it up and may your response be to put your trust in Him. And then drop that penny in the mail to the elected leader of your choice. They may need the reminder as much as we do, “In God We Trust.”

Pastor Brad Heintz is the founding pastor of Living Word Church in Seabrook, a vibrant family-style non-denominational gathering of believers who take a pure, simple and real approach to faith and life.

Pause to Simplify Christmas

November 30th, 2016

By Pastor Brad Heintz

Growing up, Christmas just seemed simpler.  In this modern age of celebrating Christmas, everything seems busier, more crowded and less inspiring.

When I was young, I remember looking in the TV guide to see when the Charlie Brown Christmas was on TV and then making sure we didn’t miss it.  I remember gathering around the family dinner table to prepare for Christmas with a word from God and prayer. I remember Christmas Eve pageants and candlelight services that couldn’t be missed.  I remember not getting what we wanted, but always getting what we needed under the tree.

But that was then and this is now.  Have you ever wondered if we are missing something with our modern Christmas?
I love not missing the Charlie Brown Christmas show and playing it on my DVD when it is convenient. I love that I can hit the pause button when needed. Growing up, there wasn’t a pause button on the TV remote. There wasn’t even a remote! There were no such things as DVDs, or DVRs. Live streaming was something you did on a fishing trip! I love modern technology and the pause button. I can pause a show when my teenage daughter decides to talk with me. I can pause a football game when my wife is serving dinner. I can pause…

So why aren’t we using the pause button with our modern Christmas?  ‘Tis the season to add to our schedules, deal with crowds and traffic, fill to the brim our baskets, stocking and even tummies and yet, we don’t hit the pause button until we collapse. Is it time to simplify Christmas? And if it is, how do we do it so we are not swept away with the live-streaming video cast of our umpteenth Christmas gathering that shows the massive amount of gifts we don’t need or want?
Just hit the pause button!

I believe this is how we simplify Christmas, by pausing to prepare and then prioritizing to purposefully celebrate Christmas.  Before we start something seasonal, take a moment to pause. Take a deep breath.  Connect with God. Ask, “What does this have to do with the gift of the birth of Jesus Christ?” And if the answer is nothing, then we can prioritize by doing something that does connect with the reason for the season, Jesus.

Jesus Christ was born to give his life so we can have the greatest gift ever – a personal relationship with God that lasts into eternity.  When we pause, we can thank God for the gift. We can connect with the true spirit of giving.  We can simplify our modern Christmas.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16

After we pause, don’t forget to hit the play button, sing the carol, give the gift and enjoy the celebration!

If you like the pause button this Christmas, just wait… there is also rewind and fast forward.   But that’s for next time.  This year just simplify your Christmas, pause to be inspired and celebrate His Birth!

bradxheintzPastor Brad Heintz  is the founding pastor of Living Word Church in Seabrook, a vibrant family-style non-denominational gathering of believers who take a pure, simple and real approach to faith and life.