Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Getting stuck in traffic is bad, but getting stuck in life is worse ...

Of all the places I've lived, the San Francisco bay area has, by far, the worst traffic I've experienced.

Traffic in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Chicago, and Dallas wasn't fun either. Even Honolulu's rush hour traffic can sometimes be daunting. But traffic in the bay area was a nightmare!

A key reason for the particularly bad traffic in the bay area is once you're on a freeway and traffic gets bad, you're pretty much stuck to sticking it out where you are. Unlike some cities, there are few parallel roads to exit onto as a means of getting around bad freeway traffic.

For example, Phoenix roadways are laid out in a grid design. So when traffic gets bad on the freeway, you can take an exit and travel roadways that parallel the freeway to get around the congestion. Driving surface roads may be slow going, but at least you're not stuck sitting on a freeway.

The same isn't true for bay area traffic. When I lived in the Green Valley area but had an office in Daly City (next to San Francisco), what should have been a 30 minute drive was often a 2.5 hour test of endurance during rush hour. With more than seven million people living in the region, and many of them trying to get where they're going by freeway, you rejoiced at those few times when parallel roadways were available!

Whether it's in traffic, or in life, we seem to like creating juxtapositions.

"Juxtaposition" means "an act or instance of placing close together or side by side, especially for comparison or contrast." We do this with our thinking all the time by creating thoughts or opinions that parallel a truth.

Part of the problem of creating a juxtaposition when it comes to truth is our opinions may parallel a truth, but they may not lead to the same place!

Often as we study scripture, we tend to create juxtapositions, our own thoughts that we lay alongside or parallel to God's Word. The problem with that is we usually wind up acting off our juxtaposition rather than the truth itself.

But our thoughts are not the same as God's thoughts. Our thinking usually doesn't take us to where God is directing. The contrast of our thoughts to God's are described this way in Isaiah 55:8-9:

8 “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. 9 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts."

As much as we may try to run parallels with the truth of God's Word, we cannot arrive at the same destination simply by a juxtaposition. Our own thinking at some point veers away from the perfect mind of God. To get to the same place in our thinking, we have to make our thoughts His thoughts, and our ways His ways. The Apostle Paul put it this way in Romans 12:2:

"Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect."

Our juxtapositions to God's truth looks more like "... the behavior and customs of this world ..." than they do holy living. Paul addresses that in Ephesians 4:20-24:

"20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy."

We're called to get off the parallel surface streets of our own thinking and get back on the freeway of God's Word, or to set aside our preference for our own juxtapositions for the actual truth from God. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:5, "You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had." That requires letting God transform our thinking to be like that of Christ.

How are you steering your way through life: by transformed thinking, or by creating your own parallels to what God's Word actually says?


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Some popular writers may lead us astray ...

Just a little deviance of an inch or two and an archer will fail to hit his mark as his arrow falls short of the bulls eye.

And a little deviance with the Word of God will cause us to fall short spiritually as well.

That's my concern as I read the writings of some Christian writers who are becoming popular voices in addressing the ills of the church.

Many of these writers capture attention by giving eloquent voice to the frustrations many of us have about what's wrong in the church. Let's face it, the church is not all it should be today, not even close. So these writers gain attention by bringing to light some of the problems within the church.

However, there seems to be a trend of these writers pointing their fingers at the conservative, the conventional, the traditional, and sometimes the cultural Christian. But rarely ever do they include liberal Christians as being among those who contribute to the problems in the church. There also seems to be an inordinate concern about what today's media sources think about the church.

Next, these writers set about to prescribe solutions for the church. Going back to the mission of the church and focusing on reaching the lost for Christ often is not part of the prescribed solution. Instead, a major focus on pursuing social justice, increasing involvement in the community, having better relations with the media, embracing culture, placing an emphasis on art, youth and beauty, and becoming more social services oriented are chief among the solutions they offer.

I appreciate the fact that some of these writers have highlighted some key issues that need to be addressed in the church. But only some. And some of their answers for change in the church are right on the mark, but others are far more culturally sourced than biblically based.

The danger to all this is, a little deviance with the Word of God results in a whole lot of failure.

Instead of putting aside political or social views and looking directly to God's Word as the guide for the church, we often get something more or something less. They add to, or leave out. What seems to be a consistent theme is that if the church really follows what scripture teaches the church should be, the world will hate us ... just as it hated Christ. Because no matter how much we may truly care, and serve, and love, and give, and help, and do our best at being the body of Christ on earth to a lost world, this world will still reject us.

But these writers seem to be angling for a formula where we can be the church and be loved by the world. After reading their books, you would think they long (lust?) after hearing the media say, "Well done, good and tolerant, watered down, non-biblical church."

It seems the church often responds like a pendulum, swinging too far one direction, then in an attempt to correct, it swings back too far in the other direction.

In my lifetime, I've never known a time so crucial for the people of God to open their Bibles and look directly to scripture for definition of, and guidance for, the church. The church belongs to Jesus Christ, it's His and not ours. He has defined it, He has Commissioned it, and He has given us great clarity in His Word about what the church should be, and how we should be the church.

While there can be value in reading all the books coming out about the church, maybe we need a renewed focus on opening God's Book and re-reading what He has to say about the church. And then apply what He says. That is likely the safest way for us to come close to hitting the target with regard to being the church.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

If you're not called to be a trail blazer, here's a job for you ...

Not everyone is called to be a trail blazer.

In fact, I believe few are called to take on the work of blazing an entirely new trail. But that doesn't mean there's not important work for those who are not original trail blazers.

One of my favorite beaches on earth is Limantour Beach located near Petaluma, California, about an hour north of San Francisco. It's part of the Point Reyes National Seashore and has several beautiful stretches of sandy beaches.

What I enjoy about Limantour Beach is that set back from the beach itself are several miles of trails that snake along the coastline, offering some spectacular ocean views, as well as some interesting sights inland.

As I have hiked these trails over the years, I notice that at times the trails become crowded out with growth from the wild grasses growing naturally alongside the man-made trails. Sometimes, the trails become so clogged that small teams of men and women are sent in with equipment to clear out the trails. If this wasn't done from time to time, the trails would eventually become so overgrown with the natural grasses and plant life that the trails would become lost altogether. The result would be that hikers, bicyclists and horse riders would lose their path to some of the most scenic areas of Northern California.

Like those teams who help keep open the oceanside trails that have already been blazed, we Christians have a responsibility to help keep open the trail that leads to God. With a plethora of information available to us today, it's easy for weeds to grow up and attempt to crowd out the purity and clarity of the Gospel. Besides new trail blazers, what is often needed are men and women who are willing to take on the labor of keeping the path clear of weeds so that others may see and follow the path that leads to God.

Does the labor of your life help provide a clear path to God for others?


Friday, March 25, 2011

Put on your ruby slippers ...

What movie do you think of when you hear the term "classic" movie?

There are a lot of good movies out there, but classics are those that are set apart because their quality exceeds the norm.

Surely, one of the great classics has to be "The Wizard of Oz."

I think this movie is probably more entertaining if you watched it as a kid, which I did. It was funny and dramatic, and had a message, a combo I always enjoy.

At the heart of this movie is also another "classic" ... a classic problem within human behavior. We see it by the simple story of seeing four persons --- Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Lion, and Scarecrow --- each having a very real need, each one knowing what they need to do to accomplish the need, and each one being so afraid of doing what needs to be done to achieve their needs that they nearly fail at the pursuit.

That is a "classic" or common story line in our lives. We know what we need, want or desire, yet we're afraid of doing what needs to be done to meet the need. We also know how empty our lives will be should we not do what needs to be done to bring about the needed change. We understand the theory, but are so afraid of turning it into reality that often we don't try, or give up somewhere along the journey.

By now, I must have experienced at least thousands of times where I have sat with people who saw the great need for change in their lives, who understood precisely what they needed to do to bring about the needed change, but who were afraid of taking real action to make their journey of making the needed change a reality.

If this was in the movie, Dorothy would have never returned home. The Lion would have never found courage. The Tin Man would have never gained a heart. And the Scarecrow would be nothing more than straw stuffing.

In real life, the result of giving in to fear is as dramatic, if not more so.

Have you stepped out in pursuing making the changes you need or want? Or are you allowing fear to keep you from making the journey of turning your life theory into reality?


Thursday, March 24, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: "The Jesus Inquest" is a lot of schtick ...

When the message of a book is wrapped up in a quirky method of communicating its content, you often wind up with a whole lot of schtick and a lesser quality book. Such is the case of "The Jesus Inquest," written by Charles Foster and published by Thomas Nelson.

Foster is a brilliant writer and lawyer, a tutor in medical law and ethics at the University of Oxford, and a fellow of Green Templeton College. In "The Jesus Inquest" he set out to make the case both for and against the resurrection of Jesus Christ by writing as if he were a lawyer arguing both sides of the case in the setting of an inquest.

The method sounds interesting, but quickly falls flat.

Instead of being a legal drama providing compelling arguments that hold the reader, readers quickly get lost in a faux back and forth banter between lawyer X (arguing against the resurrection) and lawyer Y (arguing for the resurrection). The result is more like reading the dry record of a court case, including the legal caricatures raising every possible argument (almost no matter how ridiculous) in an attempt to prove their points.

What is disappointing is that Foster does have some excellent content and insights to provide, but they get lost in all the schtick of the book. Had he presented his material in a more straightforward manner, readers would have something of greater value and interest to read and use as a resource. Instead, you get a lot of schtick and little thoughtful presentation.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It takes more than "faith" ...

Whatever was wrong with my shoulder was becoming more like a drama series as I was passed from doctor to doctor.

During the 1990's I injured my shoulder, but it took some detective work to figure out exactly what was wrong.

I started with an appointment with my family physician. He took some x-rays, completed an exam, scratched his head, and a few visits later figured out he didn't know what was wrong.

That led to a referral to a surgeon, who really worked at trying to eliminate the possibilities, but arrived at a dead end. Unlike many surgeons, he said he didn't simply want to conduct surgery to explore what was wrong but, instead, wanted to refer me to another doctor.

But this time, I was sent to see a specialist. The third physician had a reputation for being one of the top three shoulder specialists in the nation. His entire practice focused solely on shoulders.

He discovered the problem!

As it turned out, I had a partially torn rotator cuff and an impingement of the shoulder. I had arthroscopic surgery to repair the impingement, but the doctor recommended I live with the tear in the rotator cuff, as he gave me only a 60 percent chance of being able to rehab my shoulder to the condition it was in at the time. So I have lived with the tear, and over the years have worked hard to strengthen my shoulder.

Finding out what was wrong turned out to be a timely, slow endeavor. As I went through all the exams, tests, and re-exams, I realized I didn't have faith in the system that was passing me along, but in knowing there would be someone who had the skill to make a correct diagnosis. I discovered I had faith in my specialist, and he got it right.

Systems don't always take us where we need or want to be, but making the right personal connection makes all the difference in the world!

The same is true as Christians. Unfortunately, many have designed a spiritual life that is far more about having faith in faith than it is about having faith in God. They do all the things we're told should be a part of our "spiritual system" of faith, and yet remain less than whole and unfulfilled.

That's because their faith has been in their faith, rather than the God of their faith. They have trusted in a spiritual system rather than a personal God. The aspects of faith, from the study of scripture to the practice of prayer, are means of bringing us into personal interaction with God, but instead are often substituted in place of that personal connection.

In Mark 11:22-25, Jesus addresses this issue with straightforward simplicity:

"22 Then Jesus said to the disciples, 'Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, "May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea," and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. 24 I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. 25 But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too'.”

Often when we read this passage, we look at the issue of having faith, or the power of praying and believing, and miss the very first thing Jesus said: "Have faith in God." Not in faith. Not in prayer. Not in belief. But in God.

Certainly, we can have assurance as to the roles and values of faith and prayer and other aspects of practicing our faith, but these are a means of living out our faith in God. Christianity is about an intensely personal, real relationship with our Creator and not about the elements of "the faith."

What are you trusting in: aspects of "the faith," or in God Himself?


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

This is very daring ...

It's not education.

It's not knowledge.

It's not talent.

It's not even giftedness.

It's not necessarily resources.

It's not opportunity.

It's not a "dream" or having vision.

It's not motivation.

What is that "special something" that the highest achievers seem to have that causes them to succeed past points others usually don't?

Often, it comes down to the person daring themself!

No, I'm not kidding.

Many an educated, talented, gifted, intelligent person with resources, opportunity, a great dream, a vision to achieve the dream, and the motivation to achieve will fail to take the biggest steps, leap the tallest hurdles, and stretch themselves the farthest because they fail to gather the courage to dare themselves to do so.

Great achievers see the same things and dare themselves to go for it!

They see the risks and know the potential pitfalls better than most, yet they dare themselves to not let the dream go left unrealized. They dare themselves to have the faith, do the work, and pay the costs.

Others fail because they do not dare make the dare!

What more could you achieve if only you dared yourself to do so?


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Now that's provocative ...

Whether you're a leader or a follower, every one of us brings a certain amount of influence into the lives of other people.

When we have a moderate to strong influence that motivates attitudes and/or actions from others, we're actually provoking the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of others. That's a huge step into someone else's life, one which comes with very real responsibility. To that end, we have clear biblical guidance about the influence we bring to bear:

"Let us think of ways to motivate [provoke] one another to acts of love and good works" (Hebrews 10:24).

When you look at that statement, we see our influence with others should be to provoke a greater Christlike response. "Let us think of ways ..." indicates that we should give focused thought, effort, and even creativity to this kind of influence.

What kind of feelings and responses do you provoke from others? How does your influence with others motivate them to "acts of love and good works"? How can you improve your influence so that you provoke a greater Christlike response?


Saturday, March 19, 2011

To finish strong ...

"Nail the landing" is what many people think is vital to success.

Well, of course, to end well you need to finish well.

But, in order to be able to end well, you need a good start. More failures come from bad starts simply because it's harder to get on track and have the opportunity to finish well if you get off to a rocky start.

However, if you do your homework, plan well, prepare, and get off to a good start, having a good finish is often little more than making some corrections along the way.

All because you started well.

If you want to finish strong, nail the start!


Friday, March 18, 2011

Like turning a book into a movie ...

There's a new movie out I want to see. It's called "The Lincoln Lawyer."

I want to see this movie because I've read the book, of the same title, by one of my favorite novel writers, Michael Connelly.

I love a great movie!

Action. Adventure. Comedy. SciFi. Drama. Western. Even a decent Romance.

A good movie is like a short vacation for the brain, a simple entertainment where the imagination can be engaged.

I also love a good book.

The majority of my reading is non-fiction, often some "heavy" content. But I also enjoy a good novel. A well written novel, like a good movie, is also a simple respite for the mind.

What is really enjoyable are those rare occasions when a really good book becomes a really good movie. Not a lot of books translate well into a good movie. Either you prefer the book, or like the movie better, but it's almost like a "magical" experience when a good book comes to life on the big screen. I'm wondering if "The Lincoln Lawyer" will succeed in the transition.

But those are movies and novels. Real life actually offers something more compelling. The translation of the greatest book ever given to humanity into real life experiences.

God has provided us with the Bible as our guide book to life. His intention is that we do more than read it as a temporary respite or source of enjoyment, but take part in bringing its message to life by becoming primary "characters" in the translation of the Word to the living. God wants us to read, and then live out, what He has to say to us in scripture.

How are you doing in translating the greatest book, the Bible, into real life?


Does the Holy Spirit have to do this with you?

Have you ever wondered how the Apostles of Jesus Christ were capable of turning the world upside down with the preaching of the Gospel?

I think part of the reason is that these followers were so committed to Christ and His Commission to the Church that only the Holy Spirit could hold them back!


Look at this example from a missionary journey of Paul and Silas:

"6 Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. 7 Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. 8 So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas" (Acts 16:6-9).

Often today, a believer won't get off the couch until they have profound direction from God about what to do. Maybe if lightning hits --- twice --- and in the same spot, they might respond. Otherwise, a great deal of time and opportunity is lost in looking for some specific message from God about where to go or what to do.

But the apostles went about following Jesus differently. They knew Jesus had already given some very clear direction to His followers: "18 Jesus came and told his disciples, 'I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age'” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Paul's approach was to go, and leave the steering to the Holy Spirit! He would go where he thought he should, and if he was headed in the wrong direction, he would trust the Holy Spirit to correct his course. But he wouldn't wait, he couldn't wait, the world needed to hear the Gospel!

Paul's enthusiasm for sharing Jesus Christ with the lost was so great that sometimes the Holy Spirit had to re-direct and contain him!

Does God have to hold you back? Are you so desirous, so committed, so enthusiastic about sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ that sometimes the Holy Spirit has to rein you in or re-direct you?

Or are you still sitting on the couch, asking God for a sign?


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Above the din ...

During my childhood and pre-teen years, my father moved my family more than 20 times. That's a lot of new schools to start!

Being the "new kid" in yet another school can be an awkward experience. You don't know anyone, you don't yet "belong," you don't yet have any friends to hang out with. The one thing you're looking for is a chance to connect with someone.

But with so many kids who already have made their connections and already have their friends, sometimes you feel like a lost voice. Fortunately, it seemed as though there was always someone who took note of me and extended a connection, which led to another connection, and soon I had a new circle of friends.

It's easy to be lost among the sea of others and chorus of voices. It's even easier to tune them out. We share this planet with nearly seven billion other people, so many voices we learn to tune them out until they become mere background noise that we soon don't even hear.

Each of us have dozens, or hundreds --- even thousands --- of people pass through our lives, most of whom aren't even on our radar screen. They're tuned out. We don't hear them, much less notice them. The only people who come in clearly to us are the ones we choose to tune in to. Which means the connections we actually make are just a fraction of the opportunities to connect with others if only we would tune them in.

Among all the people who have, and who currently do share this globe, God is aware of each one. And He is aware of you! He knows more than your name, He knows your mind, your heart, your needs, your desires. He has tuned you in! You're not simply on His radar screen, you're at the center of His attention.

But have you tuned in God? Do you see and hear Him clearly? Does His Word come in loud and clear above the other voices? Have you received the connection He offers? Who have you tuned in to being part of your life? Who have you tuned out?


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

So adamant you go through the roof! ...

Many of the greatest things we've ever accompished in life are the things we have become the most adamant about.

Now there's a word you don't hear very often. One dictionary defines the word "adamant" as "utterly unyielding in attitude or opinion in spite of all appeals, urgings, etc." It's often when we have become the most adamant about achieving a pursuit that we have experienced our greatest "successes" in life.

In Mark 2:1-5, we read the story of four men who were adamant about helping a friend, and see the dramatic outcome of their efforts:

1 When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home. 2 Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them, 3 four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. 4 They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. 5 Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, 'My child, your sins are forgiven'."

Before these four men could accomplish anything, they first had to see their friend's need and see Jesus as being his only answer.

It's easy to surround ourselves with people who call themselves our friends but never take the time to understand what's going on in our lives and what our real needs are, or even more, to actually care about our needs. And it's easy to be that kind of "friend" as well.

But such wasn't the case for the paralyzed man Mark writes about. He was blessed with four friends who cared so deeply about his needs they became adamant about achieving a solution for him.

To get their friend to Jesus so that he may be healed, these four men worked together on a task they couldn't accomplish on their own. It would take the combined strength of all four men to carry their paralyzed friend to Jesus. They didn't individually see the challenge of helping their friend as too big to handle and so pass it off, but instead, they pooled together so they would be capable of accomplishing the task.

Having united in their task, and being adamant about their objective, these four men did whatever it took to get their friend to the feet of Jesus. They didn't let a crowd blocking their way discourage them. Instead, they climb on top of the house Jesus was in, tore a hole in the roof of the dwelling, and lowered their friend down in front of the Savior. They were determined to overcome any obstacle that tried to deter them from getting their friend to Jesus.

The result was everything they hoped for:
"Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, 'My child, your sins are forgiven'.”

There's likely one other thing these four men did that isn't mentioned in this passage. They probably paid the cost involved in getting their friend to Jesus. In order to get around the crowd and get their friend in front of Jesus, they had to tear up someone's roof. Someone would have to pay to fix that, and the cost for repairs was likely factored into the adamant mission of these men.

Like this man Mark writes about, it's going to take some real effort to get your friends to Jesus. But first, you have to see their need for salvation, and see Jesus as their only answer. And then you have to get adamant about helping them get to Jesus.

Just how adamant are you about bringing your friends to Christ?


Saturday, March 5, 2011

How relationship-building has hurt the church ...

You would think an almost constant effort at encouraging Christians to make relationships with non-Christians would be a good thing. But a key point to building relationships has been missing, and the result has been the near death of evangelism.

By the way, do you remember the term "evangelism"? It's one we rarely ever hear from church leaders any more.

That's part of the problem!

People have come to know Christ as Lord by participating in evangelistic events. But non-believers are more willing to listen to the Gospel message from someone they know and trust. Thus, building relationships is a vital part for more significant and effective evangelism.

The problem is that leaders mostly talk about building relationships without explaining the purpose for doing so: so that we may have a better context for sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ!

Here's the simple point: relationships do not automatically equal evangelism.

Simply creating a friendship with a non-Christian does not mean that through some mystical means your new friend will become a Christian. That fact has been proven as we see Christians making lots of relationships but with little evangelistic result. They're doing what they are encouraged to do (make relationships) but not understanding the primary purpose for doing so.

What makes this more problematic is that many churches have "placed all their eggs in one basket," meaning they are relying almost entirely on relationship-building as their method of evangelism. Throughout the history of the church, from Peter preaching to a crowd of people he did not have relationships with, we have seen that evangelistic events can be an effective means for sharing the Gospel. However, events often don't have outcomes as broad as does sharing Christ through relationships, but that isn't a sound means for eliminating all of them.

People who really aren't so open to making relationships might be open to attending an evangelistic event. And any number of people are open to making new friends. Both should be done with the idea that, as Christians, we want to use any opportunity --- from friendships to structured settings --- to share the Gospel with those who don't know Christ.

In other words, we need to evangelize through all means possible!


Friday, March 4, 2011

Lost respect and celebrity idols ...

Who do you think most Christians respect more: the popular mega-church pastor who preaches to thousands every Sunday, has written a couple books, is often a keynote speaker at Christian conferences, and has a production team who helps him design his sermon series, OR a bi-vocational pastor barely making ends meet as he struggles to work a full-time job while pastoring a church of 75 persons or less?

The answer is obvious ... and sad.

Christians have lost respect for "the little guy," those who serve in ministry positions in small churches, or rural areas, and especially ministers who hold secular employment so they can afford to serve in their ministry.

In America, there are more than 350,000 churches, most of which are made up of 75 persons or less. Yet, in our warped Christian "culture," we don't hold the same respect for the small church minister as we do those pastors who speak from sprawling stages with theatrical set designs displaying the title of the latest sermon series.

We've bought into the stereotype that "big" means superior talent, and "small" means little skill and giftedness. Actually, that sometimes is true. Sometimes, grand ministries are big because of great leadership and great servants. Sometimes, small comes from lack of knowledge and limited service. But neither of these are always true.

The man in the New Testament who most impacted the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, was a tent maker! There were times when he supported himself by making tents so that he could serve.

Whether tent maker or celebrity pastor, it's the same God who calls both and the same Spirit indwelling and empowering both. Yet we tend to idolize the guy who has significant resources and assistance available to him and wonder what the tent maker is doing wrong to be stuck with a small church. However, it's the pastor of the small church we call directly in the middle of the night when life comes crashing down around us. The mega-church pastor is someone we listen to on Sundays but during the week he leads a staff of other pastors who oversee an army of volunteers, and it's often a "volunteer" who will respond to our need when we call the church!

Even more, Jesus Christ himself didn't have a church, just 12 guys who stuck with Him, even though they often didn't "get it." Jesus didn't have a church building to speak at every week. In fact, He didn't even have a home (Luke 9:58).

The issue isnt' a debate about big church or small church, but how we view church leadership. Personally, the man who has been the greatest spiritual example in my life is someone who led two different churches to mega-church growth, who led the development of a Christian college into a Christian university, who has written 29 books and preached around the world. But it was the pastor of a small church on the edge of the Ozarks in Arkansas who first sparked the thought that perhaps God was calling me to vocational ministry.

My life has been impacted by men of faith who lead grand churches, as well as humble ones. It's not the scope of ministry that made the difference, but the quality of the character and their obedience to God's call on their lives.

It's a shame --- a very real one --- that we use worldly measures of "success" to understand the church and assess ministry. Instead, we need to come to a clear understanding that God has not called us to "success," but to obedience, and He shapes the outcomes of our obedience into grand or humble results.

As the Church, we should focus on simply being obedient, and then together celebrate how God chooses to bless the results of such obedience. Sometimes it will be in grand ways, sometimes in humble ways, but it is all for Him, through Him, and by Him. To God be the glory!


Thursday, March 3, 2011

It's not about the risk ...

"Taking risks is the gateway to change and achievement" is often what you will hear from a variety of leaders and those considered to be "successful."

I can understand the initial thought behind such statements. Some of my own best experiences have come after taking the most significant risks I've faced.

A few years ago, I had the freedom to move to Hawaii. I didn't know a single person there. I didn't have any means of generating income lined up. I would be moving to Oahu, but the only thing I knew about the island was the time spent changing planes while on vacation to Maui.

The move would bring significant change. I had grown up living in the suburbs on the mainland, with a couple rural experiences. But living in Hawaii would actually mean a change to urban living in a city of high-rises in Waikiki.

Taking the risk turned out to be a real time of blessing and, in some aspects, three of the best years of my life.

I wound up living on the 26th floor of a high-rise among a very diverse and international population where I was an ethnic minority. And I loved it!

Okay, I admit living less than two blocks from the beach was a significant plus for the experience. But, the blessings of my time living very differently in a very different place couldn't have happened without taking some very real risks.

However, the "success" of the move wasn't the result of taking risks, but rather, of exercising faith. It was a matter of following God's direction for my life, trusting Him with change, and stepping out in faith.

Like my experience in Hawaii, moving forward, creating positive change, and pursuing God's will for your life more often isn't about risk-taking as much as it is an exercise in faith.

When we put our trust in a loving, omniscient, omnipotent, holy God, risks melt away. When we examine the great events in scripture, we miss the greater point if all we see are the great risks taken by men and women of God. The extraordinary things God achieved through these biblical characters came out of their stepping out in faith in God, not from simply taking a risk.

It's a risky thing simply to cross the street in a sidewalk of a busy intersection. Life is full of risks. Moving forward, creating change, maturing, and discovering God's best for you comes from exercising faith, even in the face of risk.

With that said, the opposite is true. Not moving forward, not growing, remaining stuck where you are, and not discovering God's will for your life come when we fail to trust God with our lives. One of our greatest failures in life comes when we see trusting God as a risk too great to take. Discovering fullness of life in Christ is not about the risks involved, but the faith exercised.

Are you stuck because you see trusting God as too risky a venture? Or are you moving forward by walking in faith?