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February 17, 2014, 2:34 PM

Limited time offer, act now before it's too late.



I'm "home" at this moment in Detroit and its part of the nature of the beast that when visiting with my parents I assimilate into their routines a bit. One of those routines is the old school television shows on for most of the morning. Today it was Roy Rogers and The Lone Ranger back to back.  This post isn't about those shows, but, boy, the drama sure does play out differently in the happy land of black and white.  I'm writing today because I happened to get caught up watching the commercials. 

They are, in my opinion, more poisonous and greedy than any offering we get during our prime time programming.  Yes, we can complain about the immorality and scandalous nature of the images we see, but they are NOTHING to the targeting and manipulation of your daytime, old folk, medicated crowd. 
The commercials are an intended marketing to the gullible or the desperate. 

To the observant, that appears to be just what it is: marketing to the gullible and desperate. I could see through the flashing letters, the "heartfelt testimonies", and the call-now, limited time offer urgency. It's a baiting tactic to create a lack of security and confidence that only "they" or their product can provide. 

  • If you or someone you love have ever gotten sick from something, there is probably a lawsuit you can be a part of and profit. Just call. 
  • If you're on Medicare, you can get them to pay for everything you don't need. 
  • If you're on this prescription, you are eligible for another medication that will fix all the problems the first one caused. It's a vicious, money making cycle. 

And that was just ONE commercial break. One. There are at least three during each thirty minute program. 

To the unobservant, it looks like they really, really care about your well being and will only be able to help if you CALL NOW!!! I'll admit, that cane that stands on its own and can adjust to whatever terrain you're on, looks pretty sweet. 

My imagination ran, as you expect it to, to the church. 
For lack of a better term, we are a commercial for our faith, for our salvation, for our level of faith. We provide the world a window into our very own moral system, and to what extent we think our product will help to the casual observer.  Within each commercial break, we are provided the opportunity to showcase what we've got.  Are you selling something that creates an urgency? Or are we one of those commercials that is dismissed immediately because of its ridiculous and "crafted" nature? 

 When given the opportunity (things stink, or take a sudden and unexpected turn) how do we approach those who have not chosen our path? Meaning, are we trying to sell them a faith that looks like it solves everything, while holding back the reality behind what we're selling: we don't really believe in its effectiveness either.  There is a danger to saying Jesus is the fix-all solution and then showcasing just how much we doubt that after the commercial break ends.  We need to be buyers and sellers of the same product we use on a daily basis. 

Perhaps it is because we are selling, most often unknowingly, a half-hearted faith that speaks about its effectiveness but the reality is far from it's intended practical and daily use. The commercials the church could make would look nice and orderly, much like our Sunday services, but the reality of most lives would speak to another message all together: we don't really believe most of this stuff either. Sustenance and reliance in God makes a great song, but looks really hard and impractical outside the walls of the church. 

Church, it's time for some truth in advertising. And that means we don't just make better commercials, it means we back up the commercials we've already made. 




February 10, 2014, 2:48 PM

Unlikely heroes.



It takes quite a laundry list of characteristics to be considered the hero.  I remember once, while working the bus ministry as a teenager I happened to be in the right place at the right time as the bus had to hit the brakes sharply.  In that fraction of a second I reached out and grabbed a young'n who was in the aisle and stopped him from flying forward into who knows what calamity (we werent going very fast at all).  Well, it must have looked worse than it really was because after we regained our footing, Matt, one of the adults working on the bus with me made the statement:  "you're a hero."  He meant it wholeheartedly, and meant to honor me for reaching out and making sure the young rider wasnt hurt.  I heard him say it and thought "nope, I am most definitely NOT a hero. In fact, I didnt really do anything at all except stop myself from falling over.  The kid was part of holding me up."  Of course, reveling in the glow of the glory being heaped on me, I never spoke up against his account and my story was regaled upon others as soon as we arrived at the church.  

As it all blew out of proportion, I felt even more self conscious about how much the hero I wasnt, and it actually hurt my self esteem more than it benefited me.  It took a good long time and a lot of reading to understand that who I am and the characteristics I have are enough for someone to genuinely consider me a hero.  Yes, its God who thinks I'm a hero (and you too), which oddly enough makes it even harder to believe sometimes.  Its like asking your mom if the picture you drew is good or not.  It may be the worst looking, poorest drawn horse she has ever been forced to witness, but she is going to say its the best purple and pink-spotted horse she's ever seen.  God's the same way, but not in the patronizing way, in the trusting and believing sort of way.  

Look back at the people HE CHOSE to be the heroes of our favorite Bible stories: Noah.  Now, yes, Noah was an exemplary human and faithful to the core.  So much so that God saw him as the ONLY faithful human on the planet.  Noah did some amazing things, its after the flood that we find anything really to criticize or draw his resume into question.  He wants to get drunk.  He wants to get drunk so much that he plants an vineyard, waits to harvest it, then makes wine from what he has harvested, gets drunk in a cave, passes out naked and ends up cursing one of his sons.  That as premeditated of sin as I've ever seen.  Talk about perseverance though...  

Abraham lied, blatantly lied to protect his own skin while putting his wife in harms way.  Isaac deceives Abimelech, and plays favorites with his sons.  So much so that he creates a rift in their relationship that results in treachery.  Jacob is a scoundrel.  Moses was impulsive, and on multiple occasions was ready to throw in the towel on the promised people.  Aaron lead the people in worshipping the golden calf, then brazenly lied about it to Moses! ("we threw the gold in the fire and POOF!  Out came this calf!!  Its a MIRACLE!!!).  Rahab was a prostitute. Sampson was........ well, Sampson was pretty much a jerk to everyone.  

But all of them, ALL of them heroes.  All of them celebrated in Sunday School and sermons.  Why?  Because God does amazing things with people he thinks are heroes.  And this comes back to my statement above: you're the hero.  Now in light of the list of characters above, that may not make anyone feel better about themselves.  That was not my intent.  My intent is to give us hope.  Hope in the fact that God can do amazing things with anyone.  God can feed the hungry with the hero that walks in your shoes.  God can comfort the mourner with the hero that looks back at you in the mirror.  God can even stop a little boy from bonking his head on the floor of a church bus with a dopey teenager who was only trying to keep himself from doing the same.   

Will you be the hero your story deserves?  Walk in the light, seek first His kingdom and righteousness, and become the hero that was created the day your were born.  




February 4, 2014, 2:07 PM

The Airplane Safety Speech



I've been chewing on this thought since hearing it presented at the ICOM last November, and I want to walk through it here with you.  Why do we still have the airplane safety speech before EVERY flight??  I know its federally mandated and required, but cant we just move on since no one is paying attention?  When's the last time YOU listened attentively to the whole thing?  I'm guessing we paid moderate attention to it the first time we flew, but when it gets to the part about how to buckle your seatbelt... yeah, time to see whats going on in the Skymall.  Its almost like you can see the hopelessness behind their eyes as they pick up (again and again) the pieces of the seatbelt, and pretend they're showing us something fantastic and new each and every time.  And lets not forget the stylish display of the deflated life vest that clashes so well with their sharp uniforms and nice hairdos.  

What would happen if we started to take that bit of instruction seriously??  First, we would probably shock the socks off our flight attendants.  I'm sure they're used to the bored stares of the people watching them buckle and unbuckle a seatbelt that my 3 year old could operate without instruction.  Imagine them seeing attentive eyes, alight with interest when they show us how to put on an oxygen mask and how to inflate that life vest!  Oh the thrill that would come from a round of applause for an exceptionally performed safety display!  We could institute a rating system, with penalties for bored resuscitations, and bonus points for the dramatic flair.  

Back on topic...  We check out because we dont think that speech applies to us.  If you really thought you were going to need the information on the airplane safety placard, would you have gotten on the plane in the first place?  NOPE.  We dont think we will crash, therefore rendering the safety information null and void.  I'm not saying you need to approach every flight as if it were your last... dont get me wrong.  I have perused many a Skymall magazine during the safety speech, and only touched a safety placard when I need to shove it to another of the row's pockets to make room for my stuff.  There is a really good message in how we treat that information.  

This is how a lot of us receive and treat the Gospel these days too.  Yes, preachers are like flight attendants, repeating what sounds like the same message over and over to blank stares and nodding (off) heads.  We have the safety protocol that is necessary to survival ready to go each week, often with a creative wrapping to gain interest.  The problem is, most of us dont think that applies to us.  Its like when the flight attendants address those seated in an Emergency Row, when we dont see a door to our right or left we check one more thing off our list of things to NOT know.  Its not my problem see, there's no door here.  Find another row to spend your time preaching at.  

Dont think I'm trying to play the pity card, and "woe is me" for us poor, old preachers.  This is a message to all, whether you're the one speaking it or not:  it applies to you.  Those things that Jesus thought were important?  Yeah, they're important  The message you hear every week asking you to live a Christ-like life everywhere?  That's as important as knowing that your seat bottom can be used as a floatation device in the case of a water landing.  The call to be compassionate and generous to the weak, widowed, orphaned, and poor?  That was important enough to Jesus to be the deciding factor between being a condemned goat and a saved sheep.  

So please return your seat backs and tray tables to the upright position.  The time is now for the Church (thats you and me) to show the world just how important and relevant the Word is to us.  And lets offer a ray of hope to our dedicated men and women flight attendants next time we fly by acknowledging their message and concern for our safety in the case of an emergency with interest and appreciation.  




January 27, 2014, 9:50 AM

I was provoked into doing this.



I have read a couple blogs this morning, both sent to my email box, both VERY high on my priority to read list, and both provoking emotion from me today.  I will provide links to both at the end, so you can see my "source" material for this mornings blog rant.  

What are we provoking from the world?  In the Church and Culture blog James Emory White speaks of Christian groups being labeled as "anti-gay hate group activists."  Now, I know I'm speaking to the choir here, but we are not that... right Church?  Sure, we are opposed to homosexuality and ALL sin, but we are not out there provoking the world into classifying us as a hate group are we?  Are we?.............  

My reluctant response is this:  yes we are.  This response we are receiving from the world has been provoked from some source, it did not materialize from nowhere.  Someone, somewhere, somehow has placed it in the media's mind that we are a hate group that only exist to condemn people while we ride our sparkling white horses into heaven.  No, I'm not accusing you or I of being extremists, but I am wanting to draw our attention to what reaction are we provoking from the world by our outward expressions of faith?  Mind you, if you are not provoking anything from the world in response to your faith, maybe you arent presenting any signs or symptoms of faith in the first place!  

We are called to provoke Love from others, using what we've been blessed with to draw love out of others (Hebrews 10: 23-24).  There are certain relationships that I have that I am guilty of provoking anything BUT love from...  Sometimes that was intentional, other times its merely a by-product of simply existing (my neighbor comes to mind).  This guilt hangs on me, and is shameful, because that is the representation of Christ that I am outwardly to this person.  I am provoking hate and resentment, not love or good works.    

What are you provoking from your neighbors, coworkers, fellow students, and peers? 

 

The second blog that provoked an emotional response from me was one entitled Got Church?  Now, I was not drawn in by the cheesy title, in fact I expected it to be another "we need to be gathering together and prioritizing Sunday mornings" blog... but it is so much more than that.  I was drawn to a quote my friend Jonathan Trotter made on facebook about what level of love or contempt I am creating in my children for the Church.  If our kids grow up listening to us talk about the church, if they end up getting their theology about the church from the backseat of a mini-van, what will it be? Will it be about beauty and mystery and the Bride of Christ? Will it be about God's Kingdom, here, now, as a great force for good in a desperate world? Or will it be about something else entirely?

What our children think of "church" is directly related to how we think of "church."  How our children will feel about Church after we're gone is directly related to how we feel about Church while we're together.  Are we building and growing a generation that will remain or are we already claiming them as lost? 

Check out the blogs below, and be provoked.  

Church and Culture -- Defining Hate

Jason Micheli -- Got Church?




January 20, 2014, 10:33 AM

10 reasons why Peter is my favorite Bible character of all time. (you know, outside of Jesus...)



-- I will die for you Jesus, even if EVERYONE else does, I will never deny you!! - Matt 26: 33, 35 - its nice to see that Peter understands the situation.  Jesus has just told them plainly that he will be deserted; and Peter decides its his place (again) to argue with the Son of God. 

-- "The disciple Jesus loved was sitting next to Jesus at the table.  Simon Peter motioned (elbowed) to him to ask "who's he talking about?" - John 13: 23 -24.  This one makes me think that Peter has learned a little bit about keeping his mouth shut!  "Pssst John, YOU ask him who he's talking about! You're the disciple that Jesus loved after all..."  Anyone else wonder if Peter was assuming it was going to be him and that he was about to endure another "teachable moment?"

-- "A curse on me if I'm lying - I dont know the man." - Matt 26: 74.  He certainly takes his oaths very seriously.  Honestly, I may have actually thought less of him here if he didnt go all the way in and step knee deep in his own pride, arrogance, and short-sighted ego.  

-- "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  - Matt 16: 16.  Even he gets it right once in a while!  What do they say about a dead clock?  Even it gets the time right twice a day?!  This statement from Peter, in the midst of a shifting culture concerning Jesus (from rabid support and acceptance to desertion and suspicion) is profound enough for Jesus to stamp our future on it.  

-- "They tax the people they have conquered."  - Matt 17: 26.  Doh!!!  It had just been asked if Jesus paid the temple tax... and Peter makes this statement about those who are taxed having been beaten and under control of the government!  How does Jesus reply?  He manifests a coin in the mouth of a fish and sends Peter out to get it.  Peter, just so you know, there is no power or authority greater than Jesus.  What was going through his mind as he dug a large coin out of the mouth of a fish?    

-- "How many times should I forgive someone?  Seven???"  - Matt 18: 21.  I like that Peter threw out a number, which I'm assuming he thought was a VERY generous amount of forgiveness.  I only wish I could have seen his face when Jesus drops the 490 on him.  "oh.........  ok."

-- He was a slow runner. - John 20: 3.  I cant blame him for this, but as one who has rarely outrun a speeding tortoise, this gives me hope.  (and way to not rub it in John..... oh wait, you put it in the NEW TESTAMENT that you run faster than Peter, nevermind).  

-- "I'm going fishing!"  - John 21: 3.  Again, I cant blame the man for this outburst...  he was locked up, scared to be arrested, afraid of pretty much everyone...  He runs back to what he knows, and thats fish.  I wonder if he was thinking about whats next? Meaning, do we just go back home now that he's gone?  The best part?  As soon as he comes up with his "plan" everyone else jumps on it!  "We'll come too!"  

-- "I shouldn't be doing this..... but since God sent me I'll come in." - Acts 10: 28 - 29 (my paraphrase).  Peter responds to God's call to go to Cornelius, but he cant leave it at just face value.  Before stepping foot inside, he tells everyone just how wrong it is for him to even be there!  Now, I know he followed God's call and that he baptized the entire house... but what message was he sending at that moment?  I'm betting there was a servant or two thinking: "thank you so much Peter for the reminder of just where we Gentiles stand with the loved and chosen Jews!"  

-- "who was I to stand in God's way?" - Acts 11: 17b.  Through it all, and every lesson learned, Peter finally gets his head around the mission and power of God manifested in Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.  When he sees the house of Cornelius filled with the Spirit (prior to baptism, by the way...), there can be no denying.  This is a testimony of hope for hard hearts and the plain stupidity that fills those of us trying desperately to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and his disciples.  So often we are the ones standing in God's way, because we're making foolish decrees, swearing boldy about how great and right we are, or just trying so hard to blend into the world around us.  

Thank you Peter for giving this slow running, short-sighted fool hope!  




January 13, 2014, 11:33 AM

Wondering where all the answers come from



I am inundated with questions as a father, husband, and preacher.  It just seems to be a fact of life to be asked questions.  "Why is the sky blue?"  "Will you help me with this?"  "Do you think its scriptural to _____________?" 

Where do the answers for these questions come from?  Because I sure dont have all of them.  I like to read blogs and articles, most of them propose answers to various issues, polls, and problems... but what if they're wrong?  What if we're wrong?  What if the answers we thought we knew are based on partial knowledge, bad historical decisions that got passed down, or are simply based on 100% speculation and assumption?!  What if?

What if in trying to find answers we can stand on, we've forgotten the questions we were supposed to be answering!!!!  In the midst of the storm, instead of asking "why is this happening to me?" maybe we need to remember the question:  "Why are you afraid?" (Matt 8:26).  When we cant find our way out, up, or through life's mire: "Do you believe I can make you see?" (Matt 9: 26).  When we have to try and balance what we know God wants us to do and whether his promises will actually stand: "Why did you doubt me?" (Matt 14: 31).  

Maybe more than all these questions, what comes as the root of the problem is that we've forgotten the answer to one of the most important questions Jesus ever asked:  "Who do you say that I am?"  (Matt 16: 15).  How have we answered that question?  Most of the time we choose doctrine or rules to try and answer that question.  For example, Jesus you are the Lord of THIS church, with THIS name, and with THESE beliefs.  We have begun to define Jesus by how we answer all other questions about all the other things we have thought are important enough to distinguish us......but what if the question that holds the key to figuring out all the other questions is to simply identify Jesus' place and identity within our own places and identities?  

So who do we say that He is?  Are we saying he is a mean-spirited dictator who wields his condemning judgment on those who disagree with us or sin differently than us?  Are we defining Jesus as a God ignorant of the poor and hurting by marginalizing the poor and hurting?  Do our actions (or lack thereof) paint a picture of God who is content to check off his weekly attendance and communion register and be dismissed while we pursue our own desires and passions the rest of the week?  

"Who do you say that I am?" I know how I want to answer that question, its connecting the answers in my heart with the "answers" in my head that proves that I havent answered that question how I know I should.  I long to walk with God through the garden in the cool of the evening... I long to stand on the edge of the Red Sea with an army behind me and knowing there will be a miracle in front of me...  I wish I could see the waves and feel the wind of the storm while we cross the lake (and Jesus sleeps in the back of the boat), knowing I'll get to the other side and enjoying the ride of my life!  

I wish I could answer that question with the peace of knowing the blood dripping from the cross alleviates me from guilt, the need to judge, the arrogance of pride and envy, and the uncertainty of the reaching hands of Grace...  But my life consistently proves otherwise. I'm too caught up answering all the wrong questions to make certain I've answered THE question.  

Whats your answer? 

 

 




December 30, 2013, 11:15 AM

too many titles came to mind, so I'm calling it: "Part 2"



There was some good football on yesterday (12/29/13), with many teams needing to win or go home.  Unfortunately, I was distracted through most of my attempts to watch said football.  First, because family and friends... and it was an excellent afternoon of both.  Second, because I couldnt help but regret some things I wish I'd communicated clearer in my sermon.  This second thought was cemented in the commercials that blast us with their messages and sales pitches every few minutes during a game.  I found myself watching in a detached manner the unbridled joy the people in our commercials felt when using a product.  Cars could jump on trains, beer was the missing ingredient for a rock concert being truly epic and not just a run of the mill event, food helped families sit together around the dinner table and actually smile at each other without a single cell-phone being present.  

If all that were reality, oh how our spending would change (or would it??).  Cars would be purchased with grand adventures in mind; dinners prepared that pleased everyone; insurance would be purchased without any worries of denied claims; and money invested with reckless abandon in a stock market that makes everyone rich.  Deep down, I think we understand that we are being lied to and lead on because reality looks a lot different in real life than it does on TV.  Driving your truck over rocks and through streams of flowing water voids the warranty.  Those miracle drugs that will cure everything that ails you have side effects a mile long.  Any investment you make, despite the market outlook, is made at great risk and "results may vary."  And sometimes, the best part of waking up is not necessarily the fact that you have coffee, its that you were able to walk to the bathroom under your own power.  

So, as preachers are so apt to do, I draw our focus from commercial media and marketing to us, the church**.  If we were to fashion some commercials that advertised us, what would they look like?  We would be hugging our children (who were smiling and hugging us back after running and jumping into our arms); we would be handing out blankets and coats to the homeless in the snowy months; there would be shots of us raising our hands in worship corporately; For sure there would be images of people rising out of a baptistery being greeted by crying parishioners; And dont forget the images of a preacher delivering the most intense but beautiful sermon ever while "In the Arms of an Angel" plays in the background.  

Yes, we would build up the same expectations for the world that fast food companies do to us. We see images of skinny people eating Big Macs and thinking not a second thought of the aftereffects of eating a calorie infested, cholesterol raising monstrosity. The only aftereffect of eating a Big Mac in the commercial is smiling... and probably some beach volleyball.  We would hand the world the image of God's people in a commercial and invite them to join our community, promising life together, smiles, unconditional acceptance and love, the fruit of the spirit so ripe and overflowing in us that there would be no way to escape our joyous exultations.  Our homes would be portrayed as places where Bible study is central, not an afterthought.  Prayer was done at times not associated with meals or beds.     

If that is what we'd want the world to see, what are we delivering as those who follow Christ in the real world?  Do the Fruit of the Spirit make cameo appearances at the expected times only?  Are we living up to the expectations the world has of us?  I'm going to say no, because the "popular" opinion, or at least the one that gets the most airtime has us pegged as hypocritical, holier-than-thou zealots who are more apt to swing the hammer of judgment and condemnation than apply the balm of forgiveness and mercy.  

The product has to match the advertisements... otherwise we're just as guilty as your average fast food joint, promising the moon but delivering some rocks pulled from under the porch.  

 

**Now, lets be clear and define "church" because there might be some confusion.  One view makes it looks as though I'm really after butts in pews, and call that church growth.  No.  The church I refer to here is the Body of Christ, the Kingdom of God, the ekklesia (def. the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth; the assembly of faithful Christians already dead and received into heaven).  As one who works for an institutional church, my language lends itself to the jargon most closely associated with the position.  So, knowing that, we can look further than just church attendance as my end goal, but the reinvigoration of the individuals who constitute the Body of Christ globally.  




December 16, 2013, 11:38 AM

Where does Church Growth come from?



*Preamble to this blog series:  I am not an expert (at anything, really).  I am not offering a program, or formula for church growth in this series of blogs.  I am going to offer my opinions formed from 15 or so years of congregational ministry, and ideas formed from reading various books by "experts" and those who have successfully helmed churches to growth in number, effectiveness of ministry, and evangelism.*  

  It sounds almost childish to ask any question about where something comes from, doesnt it?  I recall both asking and hearing the "where do babies come from?" question, and the response was always the same:  "go ask your mother."  So when I ask the question of church growth, I cant help but be reminded of the innocence of a child genuinely seeking to understand something that eludes their ability to understand... and all I've gotten back in response is "go ask someone else (an expert)."  
  A popular movement in our group was the "church growth" wave of the 90's and 2000's.  Experts were brought in to evaluate and consult with leaderships, throwing statistics around and suggesting concrete rules to follow that will grow every church.  Some of that may have worked with your church, but the few that I've worked with that have been through that process (before my time with them) have either not seen the expected growth from following those principles, or have settle back into the habits prior to those statistic-led suggestions.    

  Lets converse on this concept for a few blogs, shall we?  Because if we're not in the business of growing, we are in the business of dying; And no one wants to admit that.  Quickly, let me define "being in the business of dying" because it sounds a bit too morbid for me to just leave hanging out there.  As individuals and as institutions, we must be active in growth or development, and breaking through the status quo of simply existing.  We can never be satisfied with having arrived at our destination when religion or spirituality is involved (whether that is relationship with Christ, with attendance numbers, or financial giving goals) while on earth, because nothing here on earth can serve as a proper destination for one seeking to follow Jesus.  Period.  If we feel like we have arrived, or are passing the torch on to someone else (younger, more energetic, or interested), we have settled into the business of dying.  

  Look around next Sunday and see if there are any signs of new life amongst your gathered group of regulars.  Most likely there will be some people whom you do not know personally because they are in a different age group than you, or because socially you havent mixed with them.  But those people, despite your unfamiliarity with them, have probably been around enough for you to at least garner some recognition.  Most likely what you will see when you look around is a group of people that you are very familiar with, and can share at least some of their story if asked.  This is not an attack, this is simply an observation on our communities that are intended to be growing, but have reached a level of stagnation.  

  Take the opportunity next to look at the leadership of your church.  Put aside disagreements or loyalties and ask yourself if you believe they honestly want the body of believers meeting where you are to grow.  I can speak with authority on this:  there is not be a single preacher, elder, deacon, or board member who desires their congregation to fail, be stagnant, or die off.  Every one of us wants growth.  There may be varying reasons for that desire (pride, financial security, empty pews, etc...), but the desire is there in every single one.  Peeking inside closed meetings, almost every conversation revolves around church growth.  "How do we get more people involved?"  "How do we fill empty pews?"  "How can we get our congregation to give more?"  All of these have a basis in church growth.  We need/want more people, money, participants, servants, volunteers, leaders, children, families, ministries, missions.  You name it, church growth is involved.  

  So where does this growth come from?  The obvious fallback answer is often:  "we pay our minister to do those things."  Is there any preacher out there who doesnt want their congregation to be healthy, growing, and thriving?  Sure, there are some exceptions, but lets dismiss those as sick or extraneous and talk your average preaching/lead minister.  We ALL want our congregations to be the best.  When we gather as preachers we brag about you, the best things about you, and we spin tales of how we are ALL on the brink of revival and explosive growth.  Stories and suggestions are shared with what works for this group, and that group.  We look longingly at those folks whose churches are growing, hoping some of that will rub off on us and our flocks.  Every preacher wants their church to grow, and they work hard to see that happen.  

  If we accept that fact (that your leadership wants and works for church growth), then why arent all of our churches growing?  Why arent all parking lots full on Sunday morning?  Why do we have empty chairs and rows unoccupied?  Let the excuses flow.  Let the well reasoned arguments of why things arent working right now fill in the blanks here: ______________.  We have buzz words like "we're not in a season of growth right now" to help us feel better about not growing.  "Maybe the congregation just isnt on fire yet for the message."  "We're laying the infrastructure for massive growth in the future."  It all comes down to this:  we're not growing, we're dying.  

  Church growth does not happen from the top down in 90% of churches.  There are some that will grow because of the presence of a dynamic preacher and people will be drawn to them.  Those mega-churches are the exception.  Much like professional athletes, those leaders are the minority, given singular gifts and intellect.  Church growth happens from the bottom up.  It happens in relationships formed outside the walls of our sanctuaries.  Our churches grow where life happens:  on the baseball fields, in the cubicles, when we treat our servers with respect and generosity, when we pray as a family at the table, when we smile when we are cut off in traffic... Church growth happens when the Kingdom of God shows up in the unexpected places...  And the population of this messed up world see the quiet love of a God shown in kindness, forgiveness, and generosity of those who believe.  When the fruit of the Spirit becomes how we respond to this world, we will begin growing the Kingdom of God the way it was meant to be grown.  Not with statistics, but through the character shown to us in the life of Jesus.

  Everyone expects the preacher to act holy all the time, sharing the Gospel in every circumstance and every conversation, and baptizing those people into active, giving participants on a regular basis.  If he's not doing that, why should I?  Yes, that is part of our calling, to share the Gospel.  But we also have to spend time in the office.  Preaching is not easy, and takes time to prepare.  Remember, more people are afraid of public speaking than they are of death.  Your preacher regularly tackles the #1 fear of our nation on a weekly basis.  I'm not offering an excuse, but hopefully showing you a glimpse into the time and effort that goes into making every Sunday something special and meaningful so we can do the same thing next week.  We are one person on staff, with only two hands, 24 hours a day to give to you and our families...  If its left to just me, I can only do so much and I will inevitably let you down.  

If we leave church growth up to the experts, or those paid to minister, we are limiting ourselves to the power of one or two people in the midst of a crowd.  Church growth is in the hands of the crowd, the mass of people who gather regularly to hear those one or two speak into a mic, but live and operate outside those special walls.  What are you doing to grow the church?  If all we have to offer is regular attendance and an occasional hour or two of service to a specific project, we are offering nothing more than a pittance to the growth of the Kingdom.  The civil rights movement would have died had it been left solely in the hands of just MLK.  He was amazing, but the power of his message was truly felt and realized when the crowds took it and ran with it.  The power of the movement came when everyone else took his message and demanded response.  If it were left to one, it would have failed...  

The power of your church's growth is in your hands.   

 

 




December 9, 2013, 11:46 AM

Running Scared (or a "White Knuckle Ride" part two)



I am afraid of the dark.  I am afraid of spiders.  I am afraid of what people think of me.  I'm afraid that every word I mutter sounds as stupid or is as stupid as I think it is.  

Now its your turn.  What are you afraid of?  Write it (them) down.  Really.  Do it.  For yourself to read only. 

 

Whew. Its nice to have that out in the open.  Lets me be honest:  I'm a little ashamed by those first two fears.  I'm 37.  I've been mugged.  I've seen cancer close up.  And yet being alone in the dark scares me.  Dont get me started on spiders.  There are two responses to seeing a spider:  it dies, or I leave.  We cannot coexist indoors.  

Be warned, this article spends a lot of time here at the beginning on me (chris).  If you arent interested in getting inside my flawed psyche, advance down to the "enough about me" paragraph.  

I work HARD to not let those two control me.  I've stepped up as a father into the role of "Chief Spider Killer."  I've used my bare hands to squish a few.  My heart races, yes... but I control the temptation to run and scream like a child.  Its become a little easier to control the whole dark thing,  too.  I simply work to avoid situations where I would find myself alone in the dark.  

But I cant control you.  I cannot tell you what to think of me, nor should I.  And that scares me.  It scares me so much that I let it control me.  If I think someone is unhappy with me, or that I will soon face criticism, I will worry and stress and start to shut down.   I am afraid that I have become a full-time representative of the "Easier Said than Done" department.  I have countless phrases, slogans, and speeches dedicated to how easy and plain it is to follow Christ.  Those get wrapped up into sermons, blogs, and the sharing of articles written by other people much smarter than I.  What purpose do those words have?  They are fuel for a life further built on the guilt of never living up to the standards set by millions of pulpits the world wide.  By the way, this blog is another one.  

Fear wins.  Fear hurts.  Fear hits me where it counts, which also happens to be the same places that hurt the most.  Do you know who gave fear this power over me?  Me.  

I let your thoughts rule my own.  I let your heart take mine hostage.  Sure, I can put up a brave front and act like it rolls off my back.  Trust me, it doesnt.  I think that every week will be different.  But its not.  Its the same drivel that sounds like last week's drivel.  "Do this, and you'll be more like Christ."  Forget the fact that life in between takes everything I explain so fluently and flushes it into the sewers.  

Enough about me.  Lets talk about what you're afraid of.  What controls you? Fear of the unknown?  Fear of failure?  Fear of rejection?  Fear of being alone forever?  Yes, we're getting to the meat of it now.  Fear wins.  Because we let it win.  Fear lets us ignore the world and focus inward, on that precious real estate of our egos, pride, and self-worth.  Why should we care for others when we have so much attacking us?  What can we offer anyone else when we cant even protect ourselves?  

Jesus, dont you care that we are about to die?  How can you sleep at such a time as this?  Surely you've noticed that you are SOPPING WET!!!!  The boat is half full of water, the other half is full of panicky people!  Fear won over the hearts of the Apostles in Mark 4.  Fear stripped away all that they had learned and experienced so far at the feet of Jesus and threw it into the wind and waves threatening their security.  

What was learned in the sunshine disappeared during the storm.  When threatened, the entire house built on the authority of Jesus, fell.  

What has threatened your delicately built house of cards?  I've witnessed first hand the power uncertainty (fear) has over long held beliefs and traditions.  Remove or challenge one piece and the house totters.  Fear enters and it is believed that everything else will follow suit and crumble.  Therefore, the grip is tightened and the slack taken up.  Grace is pushed aside for the sake of aggressive defensive positions. Forgiveness or peacemaking is shoved aside for shouting and desperate cries to the back of the boat.  Fear wins.  

We cannot be threatened by Truth sticking its nose into our delicately arranged lives.  For when Truth enters, what it replaces becomes solid ground, a foundation built on Christ and nothing else.  That cannot be shaken, no matter how big the spider, or how solid the darkness becomes.  If you are threatened by Truth, what you are holding on to is fear.  We ARE going to make it to the other side.  This storm WILL pass.  It may take us to the end of our days, but calm waters are ahead.  

The truth is:  spiders are more afraid of my bumbling size than I am of their creepy eyes and legs.  The dark is simply the absence of light.  Hitting the switch exposes that what I'm really afraid of is what the dark exposes in me:  fear.  

 




December 2, 2013, 11:30 AM

White Knuckle Ride



Revisit with me a topic from two weeks ago (11/17 - sermon audio on this site).  Lets talk about riding out the storm.  In Mark 4: 35 - 41, Jesus and his closest friends hop in a boat to "go to the other side of the lake."  Jesus himself declares that this trip will take them to the other side.  Read into this with me, reader:  HE TELLS THEM THEY WILL MAKE IT TO THE OTHER SIDE.  This is the word of God being declared in all authority, truth, and confidence.  "Gentlemen, we are going to land over there... but before then, I'm taking a nap."  Jesus takes a cushion with him, because he knows that the trip is going to be a success.  Let me be clear, THEY WERE GOING TO MAKE IT ACROSS!!!  There should be no confusion about what was going to transpire, which was a departure and landing of an intact boat with all its passengers. 

Enter the storm.  Boom.  Crash.  Flash. Gust.  Whoosh.  Splash.  

Exit any and all confidence, faith, belief, and trust in Jesus. 

The storm took away all ability for solid believers to apply what they learned in the sun to times in the storm.  Imagine a different scenario with me:  What would the ride have looked like if they accurately heard and interpreted Jesus' statement that they would make it to the other side and trusted in the fact that the Son of God was riding along with them?!  

The storm would have turned into a roller coaster ride and not a ride to certain death!  Sure they would have had white knuckles as they gripped the sides of the boat and held on for dear life.  But the confidence they had in the presence of Jesus would have turned terror into thrill. I'm betting Peter would have been screaming his lungs out AT the storm:  "Is that all you got?!"  Thomas would have been in the back saying: "I cant believe that guy..." and shaking his head disapprovingly.  The others would not have been as vocal, but I'm sure they would have been slapping each other on the back and yelling:  "That was a big one!!!" when the boat pitched and yawed.  Yes, this ride would have been scary and exhilarating and looked all together different with a small bit of belief.  

Lets apply this:  the storm is coming.  Maybe its already here.  Cancer stinks.  Divorce stinks.  Death stinks.  Finances in general stink.  Health Insurance (or lack thereof) stinks.  Watching a child rebel stinks. Walking into a dead end job morning after morning stinks.  Being sick stinks.  Homework stinks.  Dieting stinks.  Mortality and our failing physical bodies stink.  

The storm is here in all its glory and ferocity, and its called "Life."  Here's the challenge and question:  Are you holding on, white knuckled, eyes wide, mouth open KNOWING you are going to make it to the other side?  OR are you throwing your hands up in despair because the storm has masked all those sermons, online devotionals in your email inbox, and the truth of living a life in Christ spent mostly in the sunshine?  

Its not an easy ride, nor am I discounting the garbage this broken and fallen world has thrown at you.  But Jesus is right there in the boat with you.  He wont always calm the storm, but he's in the boat with you.  He has compassion and mercy to spare.  He has a promise hanging over us; the promise of eternity of a new Heaven and a new Earth.  Its a trip getting there, and its gonna look a whole lot like we're in the tiny, under-equipped boat that leaks... but we're going to make it to the other side.  Just hold on, keep your eyes open, and let out a scream or two along the way.  

 




November 25, 2013, 10:01 AM

It has become....Self Aware



Any good science fiction reader will understand the terrifying nature of the title of this blog.  There are countless stories of a dystopian future involving machines, computers, or robots that have become "self-aware" and want to eradicate those pesky humans.  Unfortunately, this is not a science fiction story, nor will it deal with angry robots or computers seeking ways to eliminate us.  For those of you looking for that, I apologize and give you permission to continue your leisurely internet browsing.  If you were hoping for something a little more meaty, then please keep reading.  

I'm a little worried about the concept in my title, not because of its fictional implications, but because of the power it has over our churches.  We are not self-aware, and its to our detriment.  For many, church is something so rote or routine that it takes little to no brain power to participate in.  We have the pieces down to an art, or worse: a habit.  We wake up at the same time, which we have worked out down to the second how much time it takes us to shower, tuck in our shirts, get the kids up, feed them breakfast while we gulp down a cup of coffee and make sure everyone gets out the door with both shoes on so we can arrive at church with it all together.  We allow ourselves those precious seconds and panic ensues if something goes wrong in that pattern of activity.  

But we make it... every week.  Walking through the doors with a smile (fake or real, doesnt matter as long as its a smile). We know where the bulletins are, we know where our friends sit, and we know where we sit.  The start time is always the same, and it usually means we begin by standing together.  Then we move into a reading, a prayer, and communion which means we put on our thoughtful face... you know, the face that means we are thinking about how hard it was on the cross.  We hear a sermon, listening for the cues that he's finally wrapping up, and we shake hands on our way out to our well thought out lunch location.  

We have this down to an art form.  Operating in the realm of "Christianity and Religion" without letting it mess with any of the precious internal workings of our lives.  This is the moment where, if you're satisfied with that level of belief, that you continue your leisurely internet browsing elsewhere because we are about to become self-aware. 

You had your chance!  We must wake up, church.  Religion has become a habit, one that we can participate in without even thinking about it anymore, much like our taking out the trash schedule, and commute to work.  We only wake up when things go wrong.  And then, when things go wrong, we pay attention until we're through the traffic jam and can get back to our regularly scheduled programming.  When God began this relationship with his people (yes, all the way back in the beginning) he courted a partner that would involve themselves in the dance.  He doesnt want someone who just stands there with slack jaw and blank eyes waiting for the song to end.  He was looking for someone who would dance.  

If we are going to be that partner in this life, we must become self-aware.  Has our pursuit of God become merely religion?  Meaning a habit, something we can pursue with mindless efficiency?  Or will be open our eyes, engage our brains and become aware of our surroundings and the deterrents we have put in place to encountering God in this crazy dance of life?!!!  WE must become the self-aware machines rampaging through the barriers that have limited us for so long... God is waiting to be re-discovered around every corner.  




November 18, 2013, 1:26 PM

at the Rock-Bottom Cafe



Good Day Reader.  

I like to celebrate winning.  Some people may call it "Trash-Talking", but I prefer to call it "Pointed Celebration!"  What is really happening is that I like to win, be on top, prove myself smarter or better than everyone else.  Its all about ego, pride, and domination.  Churches like to be on top too.  To be the biggest, most progressive, most inclusive, most attended, most beautiful and modern facilities...  The list goes on.  It has become a part of our culture as the Body of Christ to compete with each other, whether its spoken directly or not.  We like to be top dog.  

Lets go further with this and look inside our own heads:   "I'm glad I'm not like her...."; or "My kids are so much more behaved than theirs.";  or even "At least I dont struggle with sin like he does."  There is a hierarchy in place, spoken or not, in churches.  Those that are best dressed, and have it all together are placed on pedestals.  We dont intend to marginalize, but its in our nature to do as such.  

As we continue our thoughts from Sunday's sermon (11/17), when we fall to the default, or very basic character of Christ in our lives this becomes a non-issue.  Looking through the interactions between Jesus and pretty much everyone, we see him existing in the margins, connecting with people no matter their place or social standing. As we build our lives, marriages, families, and ministries we must reach into those margins and model our rock-bottom foundation on the character of Christ.  The storms will come, and are most likely already here.  We will go toe-to-toe with cancer, divorce, failure, rejection, financial ruin, bullying, disappointment, and a slew of other storms that threaten our foundations.  If we are built on sand, or the foundations of culture, popularity, acceptance, or even doctrine (not theology) we will fall (like the foolish man's house going SMASH).  

However, being at the very rock bottom, foundationally speaking, provides us the strength we need to not only survive the storms, but thrive.  Important SIDE NOTE:  we are never promised happiness in the storms, prosperity despite the storms, instant healing in the storms... we are simply promised the "get to the other side" through the storms.  That may mean a life of deformity, oppression, sacrifice, and unfulfilled dreams.  It may not be a pleasant journey, but it will be a successful one when the destination is reached (in our case, Heaven!!!!!).  

Which takes us forward to next week.  Finding ourselves at rock bottom, and being thankful for it.  Turn to Luke 18: 9 - 14.  I confess that while I have not prayed like the Pharisee here, I have had thoughts and intents like the Pharisee.  Forgive me please, I'm still in recovery.  I dont want to be at rock bottom because, well, it isnt popular enough or sensitive enough to my fragile ego!!  Its too easy to look around and wish I were a mega-church pastor, with a twitter feed that resembled your most beloved celebrities.  Its easy to look up from rock bottom and assume I'm being punished or oppressed, or missing opportunities.  And in that I take the character of Christ and brush it aside for pride.  

Church... I fear for us if we cannot become self-aware, knowing the devastation we have wrought in our plights to avoid rock bottom.  We have created idols of success and fertility in other institutions.  We have secularized our financial beings.  Leadership has become about reputation or financial savvy more than about shepherding and pastoring.  Rock bottom has become what happens to churches who get it 'wrong' and close their doors.  Rock bottom is to be avoided, not celebrated like in the parable of Christ in Luke 18.  

I am a recovering Pharisee.  Please join in me in my quest to check my ego at the door and thrive in the character of Christ... at rock bottom.  

 

 

 




November 7, 2013, 9:08 AM

Play Like Champions Today...... and SkyMall.



Its not often I get to work SkyMall magazine into a blog title, so I jumped at the opportunity! I was perusing said magazine whilst waiting for that magical clearance of 10,000 feet to re-engage the book I was reading electronically on a recent flight.  This sign caught my eye:  "Play Like Champions Today" signed by the great Lou Holtz from Notre Dame Football (item #SSM184).  A sign like this hangs above the exit of the Notre Dame locker room for players to tap on their way onto the field.  Its a simple reminder that if you want to be a champion, you play like a champion, no matter the month, score, or opponent.  

I wondered what would happen if I hung a sign like this on the way out of the auditorium at the church I serve in KC.  Well, lo and behold, I visited a church that had just such a sign hung above its main door that very week.  I spotted it from afar and had to make the trek back there to read its inscription.  It said:  Leave to Serve.  I then knew what I would find on the other side of the door, and my suspicions proved true: Enter to Worship was pasted above the door to motivate upon entry.  

My curiosity was piqued and I decided that I needed to see if this sign elicited any response, or attention at all.  Neither did.  In fact, I noticed another alarming tendency:  while this door was used for an entry, I saw few using it to exit.  I wonder if this sign did indeed have an impact on the people, much like the decree to Play Like Champions Today does to the football players at Notre Dame.  

I do believe this sign creates conflict among those passing under its command.  If you jump up and hit the Champions sign, you are declaring to everyone that you WILL play like a champion and that your team can count on you to elevate your game to that level. If you dont play like a champion, you have lied to your teammates.

What are we saying if we walk under the sign telling us to Serve and do nothing? After all, when we walked in we were totally fine with the Worship part.  In fact, we have very strong opinions about how good we are at worshipping and how others obviously missed the part where their worship was declared wrong.  We take pride in our ability to gather on time, walking in with high expectations of what is going to be presented.  We enter expecting great things....... but are those expectations being realized on the way back into the World?  Are we walking away from our well-dressed, orderly gathering to take the energy and passion of a limitless and loving God outside these attractive and safe walls?  

Nope.  We're not.  In fact, we're probably looking for another door, with a less descriptive charge on it.  Maybe a "Leave with Good Intentions" sign would be the exit we want.  I'm betting we'd have a ton of traffic under the "Just Leave, and Maybe Get a Bite to Eat" door, as that affirms in us to do what we were going to do anyways.  

The sign thing has pushed a greater concern into the forefront of my mind, and it has nothing to do with a sign.  It has everything to do with us and how we view the Church, our Leadership, and our role in both.  I cant tell you how many times, how many conversations have revolved around a question or statement like this:  "I wish this church would just ____________________."  Or a question like this: "Why cant someone here ___________________?"  These are verbal clues to a greater problem staring down the throat of the Western Church.  
We are viewing our Church, our Leadership like shopping malls; places we go to window shop and occasionally plop down some money on what we think is a solid investment.  Afterward we walk away wondering what windows will be there next week for us to peruse, and whether or not we should go find another mall with different windows for us to discover.  

To be plain: the health of the Church and the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven cannot be left up to the power of church staff and a small group of men judiciously elected.  If we want a healthy Church, what are we doing to create a healthy church with healthy ministries?  If we want a community to know us what are we doing to model the Bride of Christ to them (outside of looking dapper on Sunday mornings)?  

If you find yourself asking questions like "Why doesnt this church just _________________?"  Or "Why dont the elders ______________________ instead of asking for someone else to do it?";  Perhaps the next question should be: "What am I doing to Play Like a Champion Today?"  
 




October 14, 2013, 10:44 AM

Inadequate



Good Day Reader!  Its been a while since I've sat down and threw some of my thoughts at you.  For some, this is a good thing, for the rest: thank you for being patient as my wandering mind has been occupied with building remodels and retreat sermon building.  

Today I want to talk about my feelings of inadequacy.  THAT sounds like fun, doesnt it?!  It isnt fun, but I know we'll get somewhere here in a second or two, so stick with me.  

The profession I am in is one where I am called to share God's Word with people, interpreting it and crafting sermons into digestible and (hopefully) interesting segments.  Who am I to undertake such a great task?  Who am I to think that my interpretation and calling to interpret is greater than yours?  It isnt.  Ever.  Period.  Totally.  For Realz.  (insert whatever definitive you like here: ________).  This understanding of my limited understanding makes me feel inadequate and unworthy to be the mouthpiece of God.  Why Me?  Couldnt he have found someone with a voice that is broader, stronger (both figuratively and literally), and doesnt have that weird breathy tone that mine does?  

Yes, yes he could.  

BUT (there's always a but with these things) there is something that needs to be remembered about the character of God:  He LOVES me.  Period.  Totally.  For Realz.  

This past weekend I got to speak and present to an amazing group of teenagers and adults at a retreat with the focus: Reckless Abandon.  I was asked to bring 4 messages that would be a spark for those in attendance to live a life recklessly for God.  Sounds easy, there are many, many examples of folks in the Bible who laid it all on the line.  

I thought about all the typical stories and characters one in my position could use to be relevant and successful in getting a message across.  Instead of one of the "easy" ones grabbing a hold of my imagination, I had a story work its way into my mind and grab a hold of me so tightly that there was no denying it.  So, instead of preaching about heroes who built arks, became kings of Egypt, walked on water, or spent their life spreading the gospel, I spent four sermons talking to teenagers and adults about a prostitute.  

Yes...You heard that correctly, a prostitute.  Grab your Bible and turn to Joshua 2.  Keep your finger there and get to Matt 1:5; Hebrews 11:31; and James 3:25 too.  Rahab.  This woman moves from a wildly successful prostitute in Jericho to Great-Great Grandma of David.   She had a house built into the wall, in view of the gates and entry into the city, a place of importance and much influence.  The King of Jericho also knew exactly where to find her, which alludes to a higher end of clientele.  This woman was good at what she did.  I guarantee she was confident, and had no feelings of inadequacy when it came to her place in the order of things in Jericho.  

And then two spies show up.  Men from Israel, the nation that has been a plague on the countryside of Canaan.  Taking every town, wiping out kings, and claiming the land wherever they set foot.  Jericho knew what was up, and knew what was coming.  The spies get into town and for some reason (we wont got into the why or what of it) they end up at Rahab's residence/business/house.  And because of a story that she has heard about something God did 40 years ago, she immediately changed allegiance, stepped out on faith with a God she did not know, made the choice to believe, and lived through the destruction of Jericho.  

But thats not the point of this blog.  God shows up, big time.  Jericho falls.  Rahab is spared along with her family.  God's people hold their end of the bargain and she is brought out alive.  Imagine with me the walk back to Israel's camp after Jericho is taken.  The army is ecstatic having witnessed (again) God's power.  They have the plunder of the town and blood on their swords.  The mood is jubilant as they are welcomed back.  

And at the back of the line, walking quietly, eyes down is Rahab.  She is covered in the dust of the town she knew.  She is in shock after witnessing God's power. Where did she sleep that night?  What did she eat?  Did anyone offer her water?  I can only imagine the whispers she heard as people realized there was a group of people pulled from the wreckage of Jericho.  "What are they doing alive?"  "Did we forget to cut their throats?"  

This woman was not Jewish.  She was a prostitute, and the last of her city to be alive.  You want to talk about feeling inadequate?  She did not belong.  She did not have a clue about Jewish culture, tradition, dietary restrictions, laws, commands, or the any of the story.  

And God loved her.  

God showed himself reckless as he opened his arms and surrounded this woman, her past, her future. Everything was wrapped up in his embrace.  His love outshone her inadequacy, and she found herself in the spotlight of grace.  How do I know this?  Read Matthew 1:5.  This woman finds herself included into the nation of Israel, the tribe of Judah, and into the most important genealogy EVER.  Read Hebrews 11.  This woman is listed right next to ABRAHAM as an example of faith.  

If you ever feel inadequate, non-existent, out of place, or just downright down, look no further than a prostitute who found herself surrounded by the arms of God.   

While I feel inadequate to tell the story of God, I know that there is one thing that makes that feeling of inadequacy shrink into the background.  God loves me.  




August 5, 2013, 10:33 AM

I think I prefer snuggling with Jesus...



Yes, you read the title right.  I like snuggling with Jesus.  I like the warm-fuzzies, the reassuring words, the blessings of being close to Jesus.  What I dont like is all the effort I need to put in to maintain any form of relationship with Jesus.  Cant we just cuddle?  

I have an idea for a new product that I think will sweep the nation, especially those churches who are more interested in cuddling than growing:  The Jesus-Snuggie.  Its all warm and fuzzy and clingy... and then you can take it off and move about your day unencumbered by all those rules and regulations that come with a Christ-filled life.  Yep, that and the "The Aroma of Christ" cologne and perfume... gonna make me rich. 

My fear is that the only Biblical input many of us receive each week is the hour or two we spend on Sunday mornings in a building somewhere.  If thats all you get, you are a Jesus-cuddler, not a Jesus Follower.  What scares me even more is that those silly sermons I write and present might be the only Biblical input someone may be getting each week.  We're both in trouble if that is all you get!!!  Thats more of a handshake with Jesus, and doesnt even come close to the cuddling stage of the relationship.  

We, the global Church, CANNOT grow if all we do is snuggle up once a week then head back to a distant silence with Christ the other 166 hours.  

 

So are you a cuddler or a follower?  




July 1, 2013, 11:20 AM

why I prefer False Humility over no humility at all...



Well, at least you tried... right?  Wait, thats backwards, isnt it... I'd rather deal with the proudest person on the planet than try and wade through the pretense of false humility.  Let me be honest: I've tried to walk that line, struggling with the ego that comes from a job offer from a very large church, accepting that offer, then realizing my pride only aided in me being chewed up and spit unceremoniously to the side.  Was it ego that caused the fall?  No, but it certainly aided in the agony afterward!  

Folks, humility... yes, genuine humility, is KEY to the life of a disciple.  I cant help but look back at Jesus' closest friends and the trouble they got themselves into by posturing for better places in the coming Kingdom they expected Jesus to establish at any moment.  They were definitely feeling big in the britches about their place alongside Jesus, and be honest, so would you and I.  Am I condemning them for it?  Can I condemn anyone for pride? No.  What scares me is the opportunities we have to hide our pride behind a false humility, or the mask we put on of being "the meek" while barely controlling the hunger for station and reputation inside.  

We must be content with leading from the back of the line.  Thats doesnt mean yelling up to the guy holding up the line at the front!  It means showing the world that its OK for them to walk on us; Demonstrating to the world that we dont mind a little more persecution because of our beliefs.  After all, we're Blessed... we have a better place coming than anything this world has at the front of the line... 

Yes, another post from the "Easier Said than Done" department of Christian Living.  But what does it say to the world when we speak of humility and our willingness to serve, and talk of our understanding of the "last shall be first . . . " and then elbow people out of the way on our trek to get a deviled egg?! (those things always go fast and early at potlucks).  

I cant get over the idea that what has really messed things up today is NOT any litigation, legislation, or regulation for or against Christianity; the problem lies in the fact that Christians are no longer discernable from the rest of the population.  Meaning, we have allowed ourselves to look, act, and respond just like everyone else.  Doesnt the indwelling of the Holy Spirit make us different?  Shouldnt our knowledge, hope, and understanding that being Blessed make us different? 

Let your humility be true.  Whether your slapped in the face by ignorance, or standing on the foundation of righteous truth........ above all, humility.  

Thanks for reading... I'm off to update the title on my business card...  I've always loved the word "Potentate."  




June 24, 2013, 10:27 AM

The Swamp. . .



Yesterday (6/23/13), we began slogging through the swamp of Matthew 5:4 - Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Yes, its a swamp.  My mind wandered to the stories I've read or watched where our heroes came face to face with a swamp that stood between them and their ultimate goal.  

Did Jesus intend for his words to look so daunting and overwhelming?  Probably not, but the truth of the matter is that human nature (and even culture) sees mourning, depression, anxiety, and despair as insurmountable obstacles to traverse on our own.  How many commercials, articles, and products are we exposed to that are designed to "help" us through depression and anxiety?  I remember when my high school handed out stress balls to seniors the week before finals.  I promise we didn't use those for anything BUT relieving stress... and yes, that includes throwing them.  

We want a quick and easy way through the swamp, one that keeps our feet dry, keeps the bugs at bay, and ultimately smells more like home than what a swamp usually smells like.  As difficult as the swamp looks, sounds, and smells, we cannot avoid it.  As followers of Christ we must follow his steps no matter where they lead (that last statement is courtesy of the "Easier Said than Done" department).  

Jesus understands you, and me.  He knows how human nature works.  He knows how hard we work to protect ourselves.  He also knows exactly how to get the best out of us.  That process of growth and excellence begins with being Poor in Spirit and Mourning.  The two hardest steps up this mountain towards Godly character are right off the bat: Dependence and despair.   ONLY by taking these first two steps will we be on the right path towards Christ-like character.  Think about Jesus' humble beginnings here on Earth: born a carpenter not royalty, in a manger, far from home, and into a cultural mess that saw a tyrant commit mass genocide in an attempt to kill him.  As he walks through the humble beginnings we see the shaping of the character of Jesus that cares about the "'least of these."  We see compassion born from roots mired in hard work, without entitlement.  

Will we join him in that swamp?  Growing, developing our character into disciples built to guide others through the swamp of what life throws at them.  That was his final message to his closest friends, and that is the message that rings through the Beatitudes.  

I like the poem "Footprints in the Sand", but I've also grown disenchanted with it.  If only every long walk with Jesus was on a beach!!!  If only we could feel the sand between our toes and the sun on our faces as we transit through this life!!  Unfortunately, most of life looks more like a bog than a beach.  Will you still follow alongside him? 

 

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June 17, 2013, 10:28 AM

Blessed.



Its easy to say we're a blessed people.  We have a lot of the world's wealth; a lot of the world's food supply; houses without holes; cars with tires, windows, and gas stations on every other corner;  pets; a change of clothes or two or twelve; etc... etc... America is a blessed country.  We have freedom, which is something we should be proud of.  

Why do we struggle then with living through the Beatitudes?  After all, we already have the "Blessed" part down, don't we? All that needs our attention is what comes after that....... and therein lies the problem.  We want the "blessed" part but not so much the Poor in Spirit part. 

Lets remind ourselves a little about the context of the Beatitudes, so we don't wander too far from them:  The Sermon on the Mount was spoken to a Jewish audience, with a Jewish story, and a Jewish context for the words laid out before them.  They had an understanding that far exceeds ours when Jesus told them about being "blessed".  For them, being blessed meant they had a part of the Kingdom being established by God eternally.  It had little to nothing to do with physical conditions, possessions, attitudes, emotions, or anything else on a daily level.  Being blessed held them to the understanding that all this is temporary and endurable because what comes next is far superior and worth waiting for.  

The mess of western culture and context that we associate with the word "blessed" is what (in my opinion) takes us so far away from the meaning of Jesus' words in the Beatitudes and makes them a little easier to ignore in their entirety.  Being poor doesn't sound like a blessing.  Mourning doesn't sound like a blessing.  Humility?  No thanks.  

Its about focus... and I'm using that word literally, what do we focus on?  I have poor eyesight and require glasses in order to make any sense of things that lie more than 3 or 4 inches from my face.  Without my glasses I could not distinguish these words as I type them... in order to focus on what is ahead of me, I need my glasses.  However, if I want to close my world off into a much smaller circle and free up my mind, all I need to do is take my glasses off.... Boom, my focus is shifted drastically.  What is going on outside my circle of sight is no longer "relevant" to me because I cant see it clearly anyways.  Mind you, that leaves me very open for a football to the face, but that's a different story of relevance all together.  

We need a shift in focus, much like the removing (or adding) of glasses.  Our eyes need to shift from being so caught up with this world and what it needs to offer that we have this far off and unfocused gaze about us.  We must know that this world only has temporary pains, temporary gains, and temporary trials that are not worth our continued focus.  Our eyes must be found drifting to the place that is eternally pain free, eternally healing, and eternally peaceful.  Because we are blessed.  

Be blessed today not because you're making a sufficient salary or hourly wage, but because you find yourself dependent on God alone. 

 




June 3, 2013, 10:33 AM

an act of simple obedience



Howdy. 

What if I were to start this blog entry with a menial task for you to complete before reading further, perhaps grabbing a small glass of water to have on hand for instructions to follow.  Would you really go get a glass of water?  I wouldnt think less of you if you just kept on plowing through the words, ignoring the glass of water and figuring you could just pretend you have a glass of water when we get to that point in the message.  

Well, what if you were in a hostile foreign country, where the indiginous people really, really didnt like you and you were told to grab some food knowing FULL well that you would probably be denied service just about every way you turn?  I would question the order myself.  

I've always wondered about what issues the disciples were having trying to find food in Samaria while Jesus chatted with the woman at Jacob's well in John 4.  First off, they didnt take the Jewish route AROUND Samaria, instead plowing right on through much to the shagrin of pretty much EVERY Jew.  Second, they were all Jewish men who were forbidden by law to associate with a Samaritan, more or less ask them for food, drink, etc... 

But here they are, following a simple command of Jesus to find some food while he rests by the well.  They miss the entire exchange with the woman Jesus talks to.  All they get to witness is the dramatic conclusion of the woman running back into town to tell everyone about the Messiah.

Its that simple command to go get food though that sticks out in my head this morning.  Would I have been so willing to walk away from Jesus in a hostile town and try and barter or purchase food from someone who hated me?  Do you have any idea what the Samaritans would do with your food before they gave it to you?  Without hesitation though, off they went.  A simple task made much more complicated by their prejudices and preconceived notions. 

What has Jesus asked you to do that has you dragging your feet or making excuses to get out of?  I'm not talking about those big things like dropping your pursuit of money and running to the mission field in Africa... I'm talking about those pesky little habits that walk you right to the doorstep of temptation.  I'm talking about those tiny little expressions of forgiveness and compassion that we would rather brush under the rug.  What about those small displays of moral fortitude and integrity that may not result in a promotion but instead keep your feel on solid ground? 

Are we an obedient folk to the little things?  Because its the little things that will define us in the end.  You probably wont fully remember 1 sermon I preach for the next ten years... but if I treat you like dirt just once, you will never forget it... The same goes for a small act of kindness or compassion, those are remembered long after their expiration date.  

Take some time to work on the 10-Second rule this week, doing the thing that you're pretty sure Jesus wants you do to, and do it within the next 10 seconds.  I'm looking forward to hearing the stories next week of all your newfound obedience adventures. 

 

chris




May 20, 2013, 10:38 AM

Why Simplicity is Important



Good Day Reader! 

Who wants one more thing to do this week?  Anyone?  (insert cricket noises here).  

Of course not! No one wants more things to add to an already busy schedule.  Even if your schedule is mercifully not packed to the brim, adding more and more responsibility until it is packed to the brim is not smart or healthy.  

Too many of us are living with schedules that have us moving, running, lifting, driving, sitting, learning, and watching non-stop.  Then you get to church and I have more challenges or programs to throw at you.  Or, I lay on the guilt for having too many other things going on that take you away from focusing on the important pieces of your life like following Jesus and all that goes along with that journey. 

Needless to say, it gets more and more overwhelming until something has to go.  Too often I'm afraid its the journey of faith that suffers in the due course of doing life.  After all, we can study late Saturday night for our Sunday morning class, or even fit it in on the way into church.  We can leave our Bibles in the car conventiently there for pickup on the way into the building.  

Where I'm going with this is here:  we must simplify.  I dont mean dumbing things down, I mean streamlining our thought processes and making our faith journey one of instinct and not a conscious decision we weigh against every other decision we try and make throughout the day.  How much easier would it be if making the Christ-like decisions were as natural as breathing and self preservation?!!!  How much freedom would come if we naturally directed our attention to the things that took us closer to God and not away (through distraction, temptation, or outright sin)!  

This is the premise to the upcoming sermons series on the book The 10 Second Rule.  We need to retrain ourselves to react instinctively to the things that we're sure Jesus would want us to do.  And do those things within 10 seconds of feeling that prompt.  We will have an area in the lobby that you can share your stories of what happened when you followed your prompts.  I shared a story of making a very difficult phone call I "had" to make this week based on my prompting that something needed to be done based on some information shared with me from a former youth group member.  I could have easily shook off the prompt and assured myself that someone else would take care of it....... but that only allows me to make more excuses why I dont want to follow Jesus fully. 

I'm sure the priest and the levite had excellent reasons why they didnt stop on their way into Jericho to help the man who was robbed, beaten, and left by the side of the road.  Their excuses would sound fully rational to us, as busy, rushed beings.  The problem is, those excuses are becoming louder and more convincing than the voice of Jesus crying for mercy, forgiveness, peace, and compassion!!!  

We must become an instinctually reactive people, reacting to this world and its opportunities through the characteristics and eyes of Jesus. 

You've got 10 seconds to make it happen.......... GO!!!

 

 

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May 13, 2013, 8:46 AM

Why the story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well is so important...



 

Because Jesus likes you.  And if that doesnt give you a little hope on this Monday, I'm not sure what else I can say that will. 

 

Lets travel back to this story, and look at some of the finer points that prove just how much Jesus likes you.  Grab a Bible and turn to John 4.  
It starts with Jesus being hungry and thirsty.  He sent his guys out for take-out, and sat by the well to get some liquid relief.  You may notice though, we dont ever see Jesus get a drink, lunch, or rest.  In fact, when his guys get back to the well with lunch, he says he's already full!  

What had Jesus filled up on?  Loving You.  Despite the flaws, bad habits, neglected sinful nature, and poor attitudes, he is sustained by loving you.  This woman was a mess.  She couldnt sustain a relationship, and was very likely the talk of the knitting club.  Jesus didnt mind all that, nor did that stop him from reaching out to her and revealing a major piece of the mystery directly to her.  "I am the Messiah."  Doesnt get any clearer than that.  Seriously, who else had heard this from Jesus up to this point in the story???  And here he is confessing his true nature to an adulterer... a Samaritan... and a woman!!!  

Do not confuse Jesus' affection for you despite your flaws as an excuse to not address those flaws.  Jesus loves us beyond measure, just the way we are... and he refuses to let us remain just the way we are.  

When he offers us the hope of being the Way, the Truth, and the Life we must be growing into a Christ-like life.  If you're not growing......well, you're dying.  

Jesus likes you just the way you are, and he loves you enough to not leave you that way.  

Now THATS the good life!

 

\

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May 6, 2013, 9:56 AM

Whats the point if it isn't relevant?



Really, if it isnt relevant to you or I right now, whats the point?  

I could preach a million sermons about how great heaven will be, and how great it will be to live in the physical presence of God... and if it isnt relevant to you right now... they'd all be a waste of breath.  I dont care how crafted or powerful the words would be, if we dont look at heaven as relevant, if we dont have a firm grasp of our temporary citizenship here, then its all moot.  

I struggled putting together relevant thoughts on Jesus' statement of being the Resurrection and the Life for this week's sermon.  Why?  Because I'm not really considering dying any time soon.  The idea of resurrection sounds really nice, but I'm hoping that I dont have to experience death any time soon. (Unless Jesus comes back very soon, I'm all for that!!).  I guess thats why I ran to the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac in preparation and presentation of this statement of Jesus.  

I am just like Martha in John 11.  I have the head knowledge and belief that Jesus is who he says he is, but struggle with that making its way into my heart.  I'm living the "Yeah, but..." responses to Jesus' statement of being the Resurrection and the LIfe.  

When Jesus arrives in Bethany, days after Lazarus has died... the town is in mourning, the sisters are a mess, and everyone is pretty much wondering (maybe even a few out loud) why Jesus took his sweet time getting there if he loved Lazarus so much.  

Jesus is about to make Resurrection and Life relevant, and very much a factor in the present... despite everyone looking backwards to the past or way out into the future.  Here's how I see it playing out (note, I'm adding some emphasis and paraphrasing the responses).  

John 11: 21 - If you were here, my brother would not have died.  Where were you Jesus?  We gave you plenty of time to get here.  

vs. 23  "Your brother will rise again."  

vs 24 Sigh.  I know, I know.  We'll all rise and have a grand party in heaven... but my brother is still dead.  

Martha struggled with the power and presence of Jesus being relevant to her life, her circumstances, and her grief.  She pushed Jesus ahead, out of the "I AM" and into something gold and shiny that doesnt really have any value in the present.  

Naturally, Jesus exploded their world view, as well as their limited view of his power and relevance.  

 

So....  Readers... where are you in this scale of belief?  Pushing those characteristics and commands of Jesus off until a "better" time?  Still playing Martha and delaying the power of Jesus in your life by pushing him ahead into irrelevance?  I struggle with this... and all the ammunition we need to fight that temptation is right there in two powerful, little words:  "I AM"  

 

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April 29, 2013, 9:03 AM

Putting Psalm 23 back into perspective



Good Day Reader!

Early in yesterday's sermon (4/28) I read Psalm 23.  Now, like many of you, I've had this one memorized for most of my life.  Which was why I am surprised to say that it had a very real, and very different affect on me while reading it.  I didnt mention the line of thinking that came about in those fleeting moments because I wanted to stay on track with the sermon... but I dont have to worry about that here.  

For those few seconds I was thrown into the story of Much Afraid from Hinds Feet in High Places.  This book was published long ago and works as an allegory for a life spent seeking and following Christ.  I was pushed into the title character's place and it seemed that everything that scares me or is looming in front of me came to the forefront of my mind.  It reminded me of the characteristic of sheep, when they're following the shepherd and sense that the path they are on is a deadend, they stop.  It doesnt matter if its just a curve or a short hill that seems to block the path, if it looks like it ends... thats where they stop.  When this happens the shepherd has to take a firmer role in leading the sheep.  

What is blocking your path?  What has you stalling out in your pursuit of the Shepherd?  For me its uncertainty and lack of confidence in my abilities to lead and help grow a Church.  The path seems to drop out of sight just a few paces ahead, even when I know the circumstances and calling of Jesus is right over the ridge... I feel my footsteps faltering.  

I've seen and heard of financial problems grinding relationships to dust.  I've watched marriages dissolve, friendships shatter, and Christian walks trip up.  All because the path the Shepherd chose for us goes in a direction we cant see or understand.  Pride can keep us from following the Shepherd, maybe even more effectively than fear.  

Thats where Psalm 23 got me yesterday.  I need the Rod and Staff of the Shepherd to be more than comfort today.  On this path, I need their aid in the discipline to keep moving forward.  I need their aid in remaining sure-footed, guiding along the path that hasnt revealed itself yet. 

Psalm 23 is more than calm streams and green pastures.  It is just as much about walking through shadowy valleys and being in the presence of enemies.  The constant presence through it all though is the Shepherd.  He hasnt left us.  He hasnt abandoned us to the dwindling sustinance of the pasture... he is moving us forward.  Are we following?  

Psalm 23 (NLT)
A psalm of David.
1The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
2He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
3He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
4Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
5You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
6Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
forever.



April 22, 2013, 10:23 AM

I much prefer the "I WAS"...



Good Day Reader, 

As I contemplate further and further the character of Jesus painted in the "I AM" statements in the book of John I have to offer that it is becoming more and more invasive to my peace of mind.  There is a relevancy to these statements that puts Jesus front and center in places I never expected (or maybe even wanted) him to show up.  It is a true testament to the level of God's understanding of us today that these statements walk all over my consciousness on a typical Monday morning in the office.  When he speaks of being the "I AM" he brings his character into today.  When I spoke of preferring the "I WAS" I meant that it is much simpler to speak of Jesus in the past.  I like telling the stories of the things he DID as opposed to the things he wants to DO through me.  I like telling about how Abraham proved his faith so completely, and not trying to echo that faith with my choices on a daily basis.  Yes, the "I WAS" is much more comfortable to write about in the blog.  But, seeing as how I cant get away with that, lets refresh our memories about where we've gone so far:

Lets walk through the three that have been covered in the series so far: bread, light, and the door.  You see, when I type them like that I'm already seeing where Jesus' character has driven itself into my day so far, and its only 10:01 am.  I officially started my day with breakfast while perusing the newswire online.  I wish I could say I had a wonderful sampling of fine toast with a delectable peanut spread on top.......alas, I had a low-calorie protein shake.  As much as I want to lament the lack of cinnamon roles or french toast in my morning diet, I am drawn to Jesus' statement of being "the Bread of Life" to his followers.  The concept of the sustainability of a loaf of bread is relevant and fitting I think to all of us.  Its a universal staple to the diet on a global scale. If you have bread, you have the means to live one more day.  I have a great friend currently serving as a missionary in AZ to the San Carlos Apache Nation.  He recalled a time in his youth ministry internships in St. James, MO where all he had was a loaf of white bread and ketchup packets from a local fast food joint.  Yes, he filled himself with ketchup sandwiches......and he was grateful.  He speaks of God's sustinance in his life at that time.  Was he hungry?  Yes, but not to the point of despair.  Was he wishing for something more?  Yes, but not to the point of walking away from the outstanding ministry in front of him.  He was fed.  He was sustained.  There was a satisfaction outside of the physical meal that kept him following......it was the understanding that Jesus provides beyond our physical needs.    What have you had for breakfast?  Are you being sustained beyond the grumbling of your stomach? 

The Light.  Whats the first thing I did when I stepped into my office?  Turned on the light.  I'm at the point where even the slightest of shadows affects my ability to see clearly.  This frustrates me.  I want to be like my girls who apparently dont need any light whatsoever to see clearly.  I've taken to repeating the nagging messages spoken to me long ago: "How can you read without the light on?"  Light provides clarity, light breaks through the shadows and allows us to see the dirt, grime, and muck that needs swept away.  If I left the light off, I could ignore the dust bunnies and water marks on my desk.  Just like if I avoid the "I AM" and stick with the "I WAS", I can avoid addressing those habits that expose a hard heart and sinful creature.  Yes, lets leave the lights off... I think we'll all be more comfortable with that.  

And finally for this entry, the Door.  I wish Jesus had used the idea of a Window instead of a door, if I can continue to speak honestly.  Windows are much easier to deal with because for most of the year I leave them "as is."  When the weather gets nice in the spring I open one or two around the house to let the breeze in.  When it gets too hot, or is too cold, I close them up and ignore for a few months.  AND, I can throw some blinds and curtains over the windows... that gives me the freedom to ignore them further!  Doors on the other hand, well, there's no ignoring the doors.  We have doors on every room.  We have to walk through doorways to get anywhere!  Want to go out to get the mail?  Yep, there's at least one door you need to traverse.  Using the bathroom?  Yep, the door takes on a huge significance there doesnt it?!  
Its either In or Out today.  Are you on the inside, or outside of the door? 

He is the "I AM", and that matters today, tomorrow, and forever.  Find Jesus today, in those times that seem as insignificant as turning on the light or turning a door knob.  No more "I WAS" living. 




April 1, 2013, 10:35 AM

A day better than any other



Good Monday Reader... 

First: Thank you to everyone who made this past weekend excellent!  From Friday's service to Sunday morning, we had a lot of people chip in extra time, and I appreciate you.  

Second:  What affect do the events we celebrated this past weekend have today?  Outside of the fact that it is April Fool's Day, this is a Monday just like the 51 other Mondays that will happen this year.  The fact that we serve a risen Savior changes everything.  It must change everything.  Otherwise the power of the resurrection is limited to a once a year event, much like the 4th of July.  

Thats it for this entry.  Does the resurrection change anything in your life?  Are you living as if death has been defeated?  Because when we KNOW that death was defeated, what is there to be afraid of? 

 

chris


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