Monday, May 31, 2010

Crazy drivers ...

How people drive is about as different as there are number of drivers. But if you really want to know how someone drives, have them follow you in their own vehicle to a specific destination.

On more than one occasion, I've had different people follow me to a location we were both going to. On a few of these occasions, I've had some get completely lost from behind me and have had to pull over and wait for them to catch up. Even though I kept my speed low and constantly checked the rear view mirror to make sure I was holding back enough to stay close to them, they still would putz along just enough to allow traffic to separate us or get caught at stop lights.

I've discovered the people who were really relying on following me to get to the same destination made sure they stayed close and kept their attention on where and how I was leading them. The others spent more time talking to passengers than paying attention, and kept allowing themselves to be distracted until they finally became separated.

Sometimes our following Jesus is much like how we drive a car. Those who really want to be with Him make sure they stay close and keep their focus on where and how He leads. But so many others spend their time engaging with others and allowing themselves to be distracted from the single most important journey they will ever have: into and through the kingdom of God to be with Christ.

Hebrews 12:1-2a says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith ..."

In your journey, what is your attention on? How do you make sure you stay close enough to Jesus that other things don't distract you from His leading? What do you do to make sure it's Christ alone you're following?


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Let's talk about sacrifice and service ...

Memorial Day is a great opportunity to not only remember and honor those who have given their lives in service to our country, but also to step back and, seeing their example, take stock of our own service and sacrifice we make as Christians.

Imagine this scenario: a Marine grunt goes in to see his sergeant. He complains that he is constantly being relocated, he is away from his wife and children for months at a time, that his work day is long, and what's required of him is demanding. So the sergeant asks what he wants, and the grunt says he would like eight hour days, 40 hour weeks, delegation of some of his duties to others, a permanent residence with no more relocation, and a sizeable raise.

Wouldn't you like to see the sergeant's face while listening to such requests?

Certainly, providing the Marine with such requests would make life more safe and comfortable for him. But his work as a Marine is about making certain sacrifices in order to best serve his country. Fortunately, as we remember today, our country has been blessed throughout its short history with men and women who have been willing to make great sacrifices for the best interests of America.

That is an example the church needs to look at.

Again, we are fortunate that throughout the history of the church, there are many who have been willing to sacrifice everything for the cause of Christ. But there are many more who aren't.

Let's look at two different roles.

First, let's look at the service provided by those in vocational ministry. We human beings have a bad habit of trying to fix things with a "pendulum response," swinging too broadly one way or the other. In the past, we have expected far too much of those serving in church leadership (especially those serving in bi-vocational positions). We placed such a great burden on them that they were burning out in large numbers. Even today, more than 1,500 ministers resign and leave the ministry every month.

However, for some time now, we've swung the pendulum the other way. There has been a strong emphasis on ministry being like "any other job" --- working 9 to 5 and being unavailable beyond that. We've looked around at other jobs and have seen other professionals having time to play golf, go boating with friends, and do a lot of other things we were missing out on.

But here's the problem: ministry is not like "any other job." As a leader in Christ's church you're leading followers through spiritual warfare. Given that, the "job" cannot always be contained to 40 hours in a week, or eight hours in a day. Bad things happen in the middle of the night that people need their spiritual leaders for. Yet today, we have a lot of people serving in ministry who, like the Marine grunt, find the demands of "war" too inconvenient for them and their families.

That's where the service requiring sacrifice comes into play. Every potential church leader needs to sit down with spouses and family before entering the ministry and work through the issue that serving in church leadership will require some sacrifice, and it's better to make some decisions together as to what you're willing to sacrifice and how you can do that as a couple or a family. Working together will help you be better able and willing to face those times of sacrifice when they come.

And for those who want ministry to be just another job, perhaps with some service but without the sacrifice, it would probably be wise you find an actual job elsewhere.

Now, for Christians not serving in vocational ministry, we see that often about 80 percent of the work done in the church is carried out by about 20 percent of the people. Real service and sacrifice is extraordinarily shallow among those whose Leader calls His followers to give their whole lives in service.

A primary inhibitor to service or sacrifice is the "worship" of children by parents. Today's parents wrap their lives around the activities of their children, then say they can do little or nothing else because they are too busy.

Here's a simple question: who signed the kids up for all those activities? Parents, you actually can create time to serve in the church and minister to the community by not signing your children up for every activity offered in your city. Maybe they will have to pick one or two sports to be involved in. Instead of playing every sport, taking dance, learning an instrument, studying a language, and doing mixed martial arts, you may have to limit what you offer your children so all of you can actually do what is the greatest calling in all of your lives: serving Jesus Christ.

Making Jesus Christ the Lord of our lives is taking on a life of service and sacrifice. Jesus said it this way, "Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me" (Luke 9:23).

Today, as we make time to remember those who have been great servants by offering the greatest sacrifice --- that of their lives --- let's use this as an opportunity to consider the service and sacrifice we are offering. After all, it is impossible to follow Christ without both service and sacrifice.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Beyond the call, there's some talent ...

Leadership of any type is a big job and usually demands unique talent and skills, including leadership roles within the church.

My last blog post was a simple defense of those who consider themselves to be ordinary, and enjoy being so. We often hear church leaders say God does extraordinary things through ordinary people, and that's very true. However, what we rarely acknowledge is that God also uses some highly talented and skilled people for some of His most demanding work.

Before anyone jumps to a wrong conclusion, let me first state that any effective work in any type of ministry first, and foremost, relies on the call of God on that person's life, and His enabling and empowering through the Holy Spirit to be capable of being used to accomplish anything in a ministry capacity.

With that said, I think we often overlook that some of the greatest characters in scripture weren't just "ordinary folk" but very gifted, skilled, and educated persons.

For example, the greatest character we see in the Old Testament is Moses, who was chosen by God to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. While Moses had a rough start, he grew up in Pharaoh's household where he would have had the finest education and training available to anyone. Moses basically grew up as a Prince of one of the greatest nation's on earth at the time ... good experience to have if you would later be responsible for leading a few million grumbling people through the wilderness for forty years! While Moses relied foremost on God's guidance and enabling to succeed in such a demanding leadership position, the talent and skills he developed as a leader in Egypt were also a real benefit to him.

In the New Testament, the most dynamic person we see after Jesus Christ is the Apostle Paul. More than any other apostle, Paul greatly impacted the world in spreading the Gospel. Yet Paul, like Moses, was not just an ordinary guy. As a scholarly and disciplined Pharisee, Paul would have been the equivalent of a seminary-trained religious leader. While the Holy Spirit gave Paul the words to write in his letters that comprise a large part of the New Testament, you can also see the sharp intellect of an intelligent and capable leader.

Throughout scripture, we see God prepare many for service by first putting them through experiences that would educate them, hone their talents and provide them with needed skills. For example, Daniel would be schooled in King Nebuchadnezzar's household before rising to promise as a leader. Joseph would endure hardship before rising to second in power over Egypt. And other characters in both the Old and New Testaments faced a time of being equipped before being used in a great way by God (there are many exceptions ... David became famous as a teenager by defeating Goliath, but before he would become king he had the opportunity to learn by serving King Saul).

These examples should be both an encouragement and a challenge to today's leaders to learn from. What it shows us is that beyond the call to ministry, there is often talent, education, and skills needed to grow into the leaders God wants us to be. God often starts with the ordinary, but then fashions those He calls into the leaders He wants them to be. That often means study, honing talent, and building skills.

God has called YOU to do something in service to Him. How are you being equipped to be as effective as possible for the ministry you serve in?


Friday, May 28, 2010

3D Christianity ...

In the near future you may find yourself sitting on your couch watching television while wearing the latest pair of reusable glasses for three-dimension broadcasts.

With movies like "Avatar," "How To Train Your Dragon," "Alice In Wonderland," "Clash Of The Titans," and others garnering great popularity with audiences, 3D has become the latest rage. So much so television has entered the fray with some TV manufacturers now cranking out 3D capable television sets. And recently, ESPN announced it is developing, and will soon launch, a channel with limited offerings in 3D. If you thought you got intense watching your favorite sports teams in the past, imagine what it will be like when it appears as if a 300-pound lineman is about to come right through your flat screen and tackle you!

The improved quality of 3D feeds viewers' desire for a fuller experience, as if they were a part of the story they are watching. Going beyond entertainment, we often feel the same way about life. Deep down, we long for fullness of being in our lives. We want to feel and be a whole part of this human experience.

For the Christian, we gain that deeper spiritual dimension through relationship with the Holy Spirit. Better than a pair of funny glasses, the Holy Spirit adds fullness of dimension to our lives by guiding us into a deeper dimension of life --- the spiritual life --- and helping us understand truth as revealed in the Word of God. John 3:6 says, "Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life."

If your life is feeling flat, spend time cultivating your relationship with the Holy Spirit. Allow the Holy Spirit to help you gain a whole new vision of life, truth, and purpose. No funny glasses required.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Prejudiced against ordinary?

There's a misconception among many leaders that everyone should want to pursue something extraordinary.

In fact, a few days ago someone posted a tweet on Twitter saying, "Surely we weren't made to be ordinary." That bothered me, because it seemed to indicate that ordinary people are lesser than those who may be rather extraordinary.

Masses of people around the world are not only happy being ordinary, they are both satisfied and content with their ordinary state. They enjoy a life of loving their spouses and children, working hard in their jobs, serving in their churches and communities, and having a little fun in life. They absolutely could care less if they ever sat foot on a stage, had their name published somewhere, received a standing ovation, or spoke in public.

However, these ordinary people, as a whole, accomplish more extraordinary feats than most extraordinary people ever will. Every day, ordinary firemen run into burning buildings and save lives; ordinary policemen put on bullet proof vests and protect their communities; ordinary nurses soothe the hurting and dying; ordinary teachers spark a love for learning in a child; ordinary people help their ordinary neighbors with needs, and on it goes.

Great things are accomplished every day by ordinary people who step up to accomplish something extraordinary, then return to their ordinary lives. Unlike those who long to be extraordinary, these ordinary folk keep life going, and will routinely offer themselves for the extraordinary as needed.

I titled this blog "Extraordinary Living" and explained why in my first post. The thought behind the title is that living an extraordinary life is to follow in the steps of Christ. As Christians, we have died to sin, have been buried with Christ, and raised to walk in newness of life. We have received the Holy Spirit, who teaches, guides and empowers us to deny ourselves, take up our own crosses, and follow Jesus. There is nothing more extraordinary than to live a life of transformation in service to Christ.

Many ordinary people are doing just that, rather extraordinarily.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Ready! Set! ... uh ... uh ... uh ... Go?

You've been dreaming about accomplishing something in particular for years, the opportunity to do so suddenly arises, and almost as quickly it's gone!

So is the opportunity and the dream.

What happened?

You hesitated.

Hesitation is a leading killer of both opportunities and dreams. Sometimes we get only one chance to make a dream come true, and if we hesitate when finally faced with opportunity, we may miss out.

Here are a few steps we can take to avoid hesitation and missing out on opportunities:

1. KNOW WHAT YOU BELIEVE: An unsettled set of core beliefs will result in hesitation, because you're unsure of what really is important to you. If you have to first think about whether something is important to you, opportunity could be long gone while you think things out. Make the time to sort through now what you really do believe so you can be prepared to act from your beliefs.

2. CREATE COMMITMENTS: Once you know what you believe, decide what you're committing yourself to now and in the future. Creating commitments is like the runner getting in the crouch stance, ready for the start gun to sound. Because you've established what you're committed to, you will quickly embrace opportunity to make commitments become reality rather than miss out because of hesitation.

3. DILIGENTLY SEEK OUT OPPORTUNITY: If you're consistently looking for opportunity, you'll be better prepared to see opportunities when they appear, or see the chance to create opportunity when possible.

4. BE FEARLESS! Once you know what you believe, have committed yourself to act by grabbing or creating opportunity, and you're diligent about seeking opportunity, don't be afraid to jump when opportunity finally presents itself. Be confident in your beliefs and commitments and go for it! If it turns out what appeared to be a good opportunity wasn't so good after all, you can always redirect yourself back to your original commitment. Better that than to miss out on real opportunity by hesitating!


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dumping false innovation can help grow your church ...

You have great programs at your church:

... small groups are full ...

... VBS is packed with kids every summer ...

... men and women have great spiritual "highs" at their annual retreats every year ...

... there's plenty of participation and enthusiasm, but you really are not seeing the growth you thought all those great experiences would bring.


Many churches create and "thrive" off a cycle of false innovation.

Regardless of the constant hype of how great, awesome, terrific, mind-blowing, and life changing things are around your church, many churches are doing the same things over and over and over and over and over again and don't realize they are doing so.

Often, what church leadership teams take as creativity and innovation is doing the exact same type of programming every year but simply tweaking the content and slapping on a new promo package. The problem is, it's still the same kind of programming.

For example, you offer VBS every year. This summer, the theme will change, and the promotional materials will change. But you'll still offer a very similar VBS program.

Another example, you have a group of adult home groups starting new Bible studies. The content is different, the promotional material is different, but they are still the same (perhaps with a few new ones) home groups doing Bible studies.

Yet another example, every year you offer the "spiritual growth powerhouses" of men's and women's retreats. The content will be different, maybe a different leader and location, and the promotional materials will change, but they are still men's and women's retreats.

What has happened is that you've trained your people to do the very same things, over and over and over and over and over again, just with different content. To try to make it appealing, you promote it differently. But because it is "more of the same" every year, you're not spiritually maturing your people, but rather, teaching them how to have a series of "spiritual highs and lows."

This is not truly creative and innovative program offerings that move your people forward, it moves them up and down, then back to where they were.

Real innovation and creativity would be scrapping VBS this year to move kids forward the next step in a summer camp at home that includes activities, service projects, etc. In other words, the whole program changes instead of simply the theme and the promotional material. You'll bring VBS back, but it might be a year ... or two, or three ... before you do.

The same with small groups, and retreats and all the things you do. If you really want to be innovative, creative, and effectively move your people forward in a discipleship process, you move on to the next thing, rather than do re-runs that are re-wrapped.

Doing the same things with the same general format but tweaking the content provides these results:
  • No real innovation or creativity (beyond the promo materials and themes).
  • Creates comfort zones because your people know they'll be doing this year what they did last year ... and the year before that, and the year before that, and the year before that ...
  • This results in limiting growth.
  • Ministry leaders who slap on new themes and new promo materials become managers who regurgitate the same stuff each year. This isn't challenging leaders to be genuinely innovative and creative.
  • You're not using the real talent you believe your leadership team has by simply developing new themes and promotional packages. Your leaders will really have to use their talent, and be more reliant on the Lord, if they have to generate a fresh new program every year.
If you want to offer opportunities for your people (of all ages) to mature, try throwing out your regular schedule of annual events and get truly creative and innovative about what the next step in their development would be. Then offer something new to feed those needs.

For example, why do many churches have a revival as an annual event? If the church was truly "revived" last year, why do you need a revival this year (unless you anticipate spiritual death each year that requires spiritual revival each year)?

If you want to live up to the hype of really awesome, life-changing, mind-bending, heart-transforming things happening at your church, then get real with fresh, creative, innovative opportunities that provide a maturing discipleship process rather than an endless roller coaster of the same stuff to provide the same 'ol highs and lows you've experienced for years.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Better than celebrity ...

If tweets could be heard, these would have been loud!

Both tweeters were Christian leaders who, at different times and locations, were tweeting on Twitter about seeing a celebrity in an airport.

On both occasions, it was just a sighting of a celebrity walking through the same terminal they were in. The whole episode may have lasted 30 seconds, but you would have thought they were getting personal introductions by the level of excitement both showed at simply seeing a celebrity "in real life."

What is it about celebrity that makes even church leaders squeal with excitement?

I think somewhere in our culture we have developed the idea that to be known (which is the definition of celebrity) is to be valued. And to be valued is a cherished thing in our broken lives.

We should feel valued in our relationships, but that's often where we're hurt the most.

We should feel valued in our own homes with our own families, but that's often where we're the most harmed.

We should feel valued in our Christian fellowships, but that's often where we're the most judged.

In the places where God has designed for us to know that we are valued, and to be embraced with love given with abandon, we are often the least appreciated.

If you want to hold to finding value in being known, look at these words in Jeremiah 1:5, I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”

Can you imagine the value Jeremiah felt in receiving that message from God? Can you imagine how truly cherished he must have felt knowing that God has always known him, and has valued him before the Lord ever created him? He was created from the value the Lord had for him!

It's the same feeling of great value you and I can know, because the message God gave to Jeremiah is the same message He has for you and me: God knows us! He knew us before He made us, and He created us from value, with value, to be valued.

God knows us with a perfect knowledge, and from that He has valued us so greatly that He gave His Son to save us. You are truly priceless to Him!

Being known by God is better than celebrity. It's to be so valued that we are loved with abandon.

God knows and values you. But do you know and value Him? Which would excite you the most: some personal time in the Word and prayer communing with God, or five minutes with your favorite celebrity?


Friday, May 14, 2010

Rethink possible ...

Take 30 seconds and watch this video:

I love that commercial! Everyone one of those kids in the spelling bee were so good no one was being disqualified.

Imagine if that was the same in the church. Imagine what the church could be like if we all tried for such excellence. The Apostle Paul imagined a church like that, and he encouraged it as he wrote to the Corinthians, 24 Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! 25 All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26 So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. 27 I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified" (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

So many preachers constantly talk from the pulpit about how hard it is to live the Christian life. Yet, the power of the One who spoke all creation into existence, the power that gave us the empty tomb, dwells in us in the form of the Holy Spirit. Maybe we should talk less about just dragging through this life to crawl across the finish line, and rethink the real possibilities of walking with Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Maybe it's time we focus more on encouraging believers to run this race of life to win with excellence!


Sunday, May 9, 2010

The miser ...

One Sunday a miser attended worship service at the church he had been a member of for many years.

As the sermon concluded, the ushers began to pass the offering plates down the pews. The miser pulled out his wallet, grabbed a bill, and tossed it into the offering plate. As the plate passed by him, he got a passing glance at what he had put into the plate ... a $50 bill! He had intended to put in only a $5 bill. But the offering plate was gone from the pew, so there was nothing he could do at the moment.

When the service finally concluded, the miser quickly made his way to the lead usher and asked if he could have a private conversation with him. He explained his error, describing how he had intended to put only a $5 bill into the offering plate but had, quite by accident, put in the $50 bill. So, he asked, would it be possible to receive change for the difference?

The lead usher explained to the miser that he could not do as requested and "make change" for the man since there was no way of validating what the man had actually put into the offering.

"Well, I guess that makes sense," said the miser somewhat wistfully. "That's okay, I'll get credit for it in heaven, won't I?"

The lead usher wisely responded, "You'll get credit for the $5."

The man thought he could be rewarded for "accidental generosity" when his heart was truly that of a miser. Like the miser, we often want credit for more than we should. But "God's economy" doesn't work that way. Look closely at Luke 6:38, "Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back."

Are you really as generous as you think you are? When you receive from what you truly give, will you be blessed, or disappointed?


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

It's not your church ...

It's not "your" church."

It's not "our" church.

It's not "their" church.

It's not your momma's church, your cousin's church, or Uncle LeRoy's church.

It definitely is not the preacher's church. It's not even a denomination's church.

And it's not the neighborhood's church. It isn't even the town's church.

It's Christ's church!

Regardless of all the claims made with our language, the church belongs solely and entirely to the Lord Jesus Christ.

He died for it, He built it, He sustains it, and it is for His church that He will some day return.

When I point out the fact that it's His church, not ours, I always get someone who says, "Yes we know that, it's just a matter of language to say 'my church' so people know what I'm talking about."

But YOU don't have a church (if you do, you have significant spiritual problems!).

I don't have a church.

We don't have a church.

They don't have a church.

Jesus has a church, one which the children of God are privileged to be a part of.

But it's NOT our church. It's Christ's church.

Maybe the church would be much better off it we actually treated it like it wasn't ours. Because it isn.'t

Imagine what might happen if we really saw the church as not being ours, but being the Bride of Christ, a living organism that is Christ's. Just think what might happen if preachers' didn't see a church as their organization to lead, but Christ's family to serve, watch over, protect, and nurture. Think for a minute what could happen if every child of God saw the church as Christ's body on earth and understood they were a vital part of that living body.

When something belongs to us, we tend to treat it casually. When something of someone else's is entrusted to our care, we tend to be more careful, more respectful.

How then, shall we treat Christ's church?