Thursday, December 19, 2013

Phil Robertson Can Say What He Wants. And A&E Can Do What They Want.

That Phil Robertson sure can cause a stir. I have a couple thoughts on the whole thing, so let me briefly weigh in.

First, I think everyone should take a breath. My guess is that the Robertsons arent' too concerned about all this hullaballoo, and so maybe no one else should be either.

Second, I think we should recognize that this is NOT a first ammendment issue. Phil's right to free spreech hasn't been impinged by congress. If A&E wants to censor the content of their network, that's their call. (now, if comments like Phil's are some day deemed as official "hate speech" and he is silenced by government action; that will be a first ammendment issue)

Third, I support A&E's right to not do business with Phil Robertson based on their religious convictions.

Fourth, I expect to see consistency from organizations like GLAAD (which have spoken very strongly into this issue). I hope that they also will support the right of any American business to choose their business ventures based on their religious convictions.

For the record, I think A&E made a bad short term business decision. It will cost them millions of dollars over the next year or two. But they still hold the rights to Duck Dynasty and the majority of money they will make will be in syndication. I also think the relationship between the show and the network was already on the verge of dissolution, this just sped the process. I think A&E's decision reflects a future-minded mentality. They are posturing themselves to be acceptable to the audience they believe will be most profitable in the years to come. They don't (I don't believe) have any desire to market or pander to conservative or religious America. That's their call, and that's their right.

If you don't like the decision by A&E. Don't watch their shows or visit their sponsors. That's your right.

If you are a Christian, though. This isn't about your rights or Phil's rights. It is about what IS right. So be sure, no matter how you feel or how intense those feelings may be, take the mind of Christ.

"in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others."

Mercy triumphs over judgement.

(those last two lines are not mine, they are from the Bible)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

How I'm Going To End the Creation - Evolution Debate

You may or may not be aware that coffee has a very quick “mold-creation” rate.  If you leave a cup of coffee sitting out for too long, it will quickly begin to develop mold spores.  In fact, I would imagine, that in just a week or two a mug of coffee would develop a bog-like surface if left alone.


I’m placing a full mug of coffee in a secluded room where it will be undisturbed.  I’m also leaving instructions in my will that in 100 years, my grandchildren are to go into that room and document the lives of all the mold creatures that have come to life.

That’ll show those silly creationists.

Monday, December 16, 2013

In Defense of Plagiarism

In recent days the evangelical internet (now there is a silly concept) has been in an uproar about the issue of plagiarism.

First, Mark Driscoll came under fire for apparently using massive amounts of other people's material without properly citing them. In some cases his books allegedly borrowed virtually word for word from other sources. I've not investigated these claims. If they are true, it's wrong.

More recently, a young female blogger reposted the writing by Rachel Held Evans, claiming it as her own. It's pretty clear that she copied and pasted with minimal changes. To her credit, the young lady apologized after being called out for her indiscretion.

Plagiarism is bad. I get it. It's theft. It's false. It's selfish. At times, it negatively impacts the ability of some to earn their livelihood.

I've heard preachers use my words and my thoughts as if they were their own. It made me angry. I had worked hard to formulate those thoughts. I had labored over those words. I wanted the credit for those thoughts. It was my right to protect my intellectual property.


But what about this? It's not apples to apples, but Paul knew about some guys who were preaching the Gospel out of false motives. They were teaching in a way that placed him in a bad light. They were using their platform to harm him.

He didn't care. As long as Gods truth was getting out, he didn't care.

Another time, some Christians were arguing about which church leader was best. Was it Paul with his dizzying logic or was it Apollos with his soaring oratory? Paul didn't care. He didn't care who got credit for the Gospel success. It wasn't he or Apollos that was doing the work, anyway. It was God.

And that's the thing.

Those words of mine that get borrowed... They aren't really mine.

That article of yours that got stolen... It's not really yours.

Those thoughts of that one guy that got pirated... They aren't really his.

If it's true, it belongs to God. All truth is His. He just lends it to us to steward. And if someone hears Gods truth from me, and then passes it off to someone else... Awesome.

And if I don't get credit, that'll be okay.

I think that's what Christ would want. I think he wants me to give up my rights rather than fight for them. I think he wants me to seek his fame, not mine. I think he would rather me be generous and gracious than tight-fisted.

I know it's more complicated than this. I don't think you should copy my work and claim it as your own. But, ultimately, that's on you... And if it does the kingdom good, well then good for me.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Your Next Step is Your Most Important Step

Colossians 1:10 pops up in the middle of Paul’s prayer for the Colossians.  In this mid-thought verse he says, "so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God."  The easy observation from this verse is that Paul identifies three specific results of walking rightly:

  • our lives will be pleasing to God
  • our lives will be full of the fruit of good works
  • we will be increasing in our knowledge of God (both relational knowledge and factual knowledge)
But can you take a break for a minute and think about the idea of walking?  This isn’t the first time the idea of our life as a walk is discussed in the Bible.  It’s not even the only time Paul uses the analogy.  "Walking" is a common and helpful illustration of the Christian life.

Proverbs talks about our walk a lot.

  • Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.
  • Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD.
  • The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.
  • He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.

The New Testament writers also had something to say about how we walk:

  • When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
  • If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.

When you consider the words “steps” and “path” to be synonymous to “walk”, you find more.

  • A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.
  • To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
  • The path of life leads upward for the wise to keep him from going down to the grave.
  • Listen, my son, and be wise, and keep your heart on the right path.

Obviously, all these examples have wonderful truth of which we need to be regularly reminded.  However, they are just a small portion of the many proverbs and teachings we have about the idea of our “walk”, “path”, or “steps”.

Clearly, God is very concerned about WHERE OUR LIFE IS GOING.

Part of the Bible’s stress on walking is that we need to be super-careful about the people with whom we are walking. The people we walk with will impact where we go.

When Marianne and I used to walk our beagle, we would let Emily walk in front of us.  Even though she was securely leashed I think she felt like she was leading us.  The truth is, she didn’t go anywhere we didn’t want to go, and we never ceded directional control to her.  Had we let her set the direction for the walk, we would have never gotten past the fire hydrant in our neighbor’s yard.  Even though she was walking with us, and in front of us, she never influenced where we were going.

One thing to consider when thinking about walking is who is in control of your direction?  If you claim to be walking with God, are you walking where He is going?  Or are you trying to convince Him to go where you want to go?  Why would you ever ask God to “be with you” if you haven’t first surrendered complete control of your life’s direction to him?

One other thought from walking with my wife...  We both went one step at a time.  That seems obvious, but it’s really important.  When you try to take steps that are too big or too fast, you fall down.  When you try to take two steps at once, you fall down.  When you aren’t content to move one-step-at-a-time, you’re cruising for pain and suffering.

The direction God wants you to walk is only one step away.  As Christ said in Matthew 6, "Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring it’s own worries…"  Of course he said that within the context of teaching his friends that they need to "Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need."  Jesus’ point was that our worries, cares, and concerns often drive us off the path of righteousness because we believe we need to take care of ourselves.  Our Heavenly Father will handle the details, He just asks that we stay on the right path.

Paul prayed that his friends would continue walking on the right path.  He prayed that they would not be distracted by temptations, worries, or anything else; but rather that they would keep taking the NEXT STEP along the same path that Jesus has already walked for us.

5 Things We Learned From Liverpool's Thrashing of Tottenham

Forgive me for stepping outside my normal content genre and posting a bit about my favorite football team...

I had to DVR today's game, so I didn't finish it until a little bit ago. It was an absolute joy to watch. I may bask in the afterglow of this 5-0 thrashing for quite a while. From beginning to end, it was a thing of beauty to watch.

More exciting than the win, though, is the lessons which I think were learned today. Each of which bodes well for the future. Here they are:
1. These guys are good. For real. They're good. This wasn't a team fighting to avoid relegation and the game wasn't at home. This is a team playing European football, they were on their own turf, and they were well beaten (even before the deserved red card). 
2. Right now, Luis Suarez is the best football player in the world. Period. 
3. Ironically, an injury to Steven Gerrard, and his resulting absence, may have revealed that this could be the year Liverpool finally win the league for their beloved captain. 
4. Jordan Henderson is coming of age before our eyes. He may be rightful "heir-apparent" to Gerrard's throne. 
5. Raheem Sterling has arrived. He was creative, daring and unstoppable. His mark was on this game from the first moment. Most importantly, though, his physicality caused problems for Tottenham all day long. This is the Sterling we need if we are to make a run at the league championship.
I could go on. Joe Allen was splendid, Young Jon played the part of a cagey veteran. Coutinho's playmaking was scintillating. Did I mention Luis Suarez is the best footballer in the world? This I know, Brendan Rodgers is the right man for the job right now, Champion's League football seems right around the corner, they youth of Liverpool are coming of age, and more money is sure to be spent in January. It is a good day to be a Liverpool supporter.

It is a good day to not walk alone!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

How to Create "Raving Fans"

Twice a month I send out an email to everyone in our church who is in some kind of "leadership" position (and anyone else who asks to be on the list...). Here are the thoughts I sent them last week:

I'm a big fan of Ken Blanchard, so one evening when I had a few spare minutes at Barnes and Noble, I grabbed one of his books and read the first couple pages. The book is Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service. The basic gist of the book is:

Having raving fans means that you have achieved the kind of
service excellence that turns a customer into lifetime customer.
A raving fan is an advocate of your products or services in the marketplace.

As I read, I thought about how the ideas Ken was sharing might apply to church leadership (s a church leader, I often do this). I realized that all of us are trying to create "raving fans"; and every church is a reflection of what kind of raving fans their leaders have sought to create. Here is a list I created of some of the ways we create "raving fans" in churches:

Some have created RAVING FANS OF THEMSELF. Too many pastors have bought into the unbiblical myth that the primary role of the pastor is to be a charismatic leader, and that if the pastor is simply a good enough leader, the people will follow and the church will be healthy. Essentially, the pastor behaves so the people will fanatically follow him.

Many have created RAVING FANS OF THE CHURCH. Churches today are branding themselves and working hard to be innovative and unique so that they stand out from the other religious institutions in their country. Their goal is to bring people into their church and then convert and disciple them. This is not all bad, but this can be severely out of balance in many churches. Basically, the pastors act in such a way so that the people become fanatical followers of their brand of church.

I've observed some pastors and people who "do church" in such a way as to create RAVING FANS OF PROGRAMS. Programs are great ways to accomplish wonderful things, but if they become something that promotes division in the church, they have outlived their purpose.

Some create RAVING FANS OF THE BIBLE. Don't misunderstand me, the Bible is a good thing, and I'm a fan. But I've seen some churches where the Bible is so revered that I sometimes wonder if the written words haven't become an idol. I believe the Bible is the most authoritative document ever written, but I never want to be a person who uses my knowledge of the Bible to beat people over the head.

And by now, you've probably guessed where I'm going.

What would it look like if our churches only priority was to create RAVING FANS OF JESUS? What if you were committed as a leader to do everything in your power to influence people to be RAVING FANS OF JESUS? How would that commitment change the way you lead this week?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Are You Leading Or Are You Just Up Front?

If you're up front, it's because someone put you there.
If you're leading, it's because people are following.

Leading means knowing where you're going.
Being up front means reacting to circumstances.

A leader communicates a compelling direction.
Up front... a confusing direction.

If you embrace hard questions, you're leading.
If you seek easy answers, you're up front.

Leading = Pulling.
Up Front = Being Pushed.

Leaders call for sacrifice sometimes.
People up front promise satisfaction all the time.

You lead because you can do nothing else.
You move up front because it looks attractive.

When you lead, you engage the tension.
When you're up front, it paralyzes you.

Leaders are value-driven.
Up-Fronters prefer polls.

What else?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

6 "Biblical" Tests To Evaluate Your Church

Sometimes, I just like to make lists; like this one from 1 Corinthians. These aren't my ideas, they are summaries of the concepts taught by Paul at the beginning of his instructions to the church in Corinth:
  1. The church finds its existence in the fact that God called us.  We DO NOT exist because of the work of any man, whether it is Apollos, Peter, or even Paul.  We’re sanctified by Jesus Christ and CALLED to be together with each other.
  2. God has provided the church with everything it needs to function effectively.  He calls this provision GIFTS.  Think of these less as specific “abilities” and more as NECESSARY RESOURCES.  If you don’t have the necessary resources to complete a task, then God hasn’t called you to that task!
  3. Division happens when people follow MEN instead of CHRIST.  As soon as your opinion of another person is a cause for separation, your focus is off God and onto men.  Our opinion of one man should never impact our treatment of another man.
  4. The church’s wisdom should always come from the WORD and the WORK of Christ.  Be wary that “wisdom” from other sources is likely just foolishness.
  5. God values the FOOLISH, WEAK, LOW, and DESPISED.  Do we?
  6. Every church should set aside time every week to BOAST IN THE LORD.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How to "Take Care Of" The 10 People You Most Dislike

I’ve been thinking that one of the best ways to get “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly” might be to make a list of the ten people you least want to pray for.

Then pray fervently for them for each of the next ten days.

The idea is kind of frightening, and reminds me of how much of my sinful nature remains in me, and how much I need the Spirit to cut into me with his sharp sword.

Monday, December 9, 2013

5 Tools to Help You Patiently Wait on God

Psalm 40:1-2. I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog.

If you are truly waiting PATIENTLY for the LORD, you don’t get to decide when to stop waiting…even if you’re in the miry bog (not to be confused with the miry blog). How can you be content in the miry bog while you wait? Here are five suggestions:

1) Spend your time remembering the many good things God has done for you; and the many bad things from which He has saved you.

2) Invest your life in the lives of people around you. Meet their needs, and stop thinking about your own.

3) Meditate on God’s Word. Psalm 19 says it will “revive your soul.”

4) Enjoy creation. God made this planet for your pleasure, get out and take advantage of it.

5) Be creative. You are made in God’s image, so you are a creator (small “c”). Start a project or take on a hobby, you’ll be glorifying God by doing so.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

3 Ideas for Prayer While You Are Suffering

He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

We all suffer. It is a part of life. Not only do we have a high priest who suffered as we do, Jesus suffered far more than we ever will. As he approached the hour of His suffering, he set a wonderful example for us of how to pray when we suffer.

3 Things to Pray When You Are Suffering:
  • If it is possible (all things are possible with God, so we should never be afraid to ask)
  • let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. (God loves when His children tell him specifically what they desire)
  • Yet, I want your will to be done, not mine. (submission is the key to prayer, how will you respond if God chooses to say "yes" in a way you don't expect?)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

10 Rules for Working With Students

Several years ago, upon completing over a decade working with students, I compiled 85 Theses on Youth Ministry. Here are ten of my ideas for working with students:

1. Its all about relationships.

2. Your philosophy of youth ministry needs to be rooted in a biblical understanding of salvation, discipleship, the church and the world.

3. You have gifts, your leaders have gifts, your students have gifts. Figure them out and utilize them.

4. You must have medical release forms.

5. Parents have more influence on their children than you do. Deal with it.

6. Youth Ministry is a long-term investment, five year results are more important and more honest than five month results.

7. Develop students who are loyal to the kingdom, not to you or your programs.

8. Know who you are teaching; Know what they need.

9. You are teaching them Jesus; Jesus is what they need.

10. All rabbit trails lead somewhere. It's your job to know where.

Monday, December 2, 2013

When Will We Become People of the "AND"?

I'm tired of having to pick sides. It seems like the (global) church today faces a new schism each week. We are forced to decide whether we are going to be conservative or liberal. We must either be pro-life or pro-choice. We must choose either doctrine or practice. I sometimes feel as though I am split in more directions than Voldemort's soul (google "horcrux").

But what if we stopped choosing sides? What if instead of forcing people into "either/or" decisions we found ways to unite paradoxical ideas? Wouldn't be great if we didn't have to choose one side "instead of" another? How wonderful would it be if we could choose one side "and" another? After all, isn't "agree with one another" one way that we live out Jesus' command to "love one another?" (it is.)

What if in the church we:

  • Worked to protect the lives of the unborn AND sought to address the sociological issues that lead to teen pregnancy and single mothering.
  • Seek to create a social safety net AND support legislation which rewards those who work hard to earn money.
  • Protected a biblical ideal of marriage AND spoke up for all people to receive equal treatment under the law.
  • Celebrated gender diversity AND embraced the image of God in every person.
  • Provided food, shelter and clothing for those in need AND held people accountable for the poor life choices they make.

I could go on. What can you add? Which "instead of" can you replace with an "and?"

8 Steps to Fix the BCS Mess

This Saturday, Michigan State and Ohio State will play for the B1G championship. This borders on a "no-win" for OSU. I've already heard "experts" suggesting that if Ohio State doesn't win convincingly, that Auburn should jump them and get into the National Championship game.

That's right.

A team could win 25 consecutive football games and not play for a national championship because they didn't win by "enough" against another top ten team. Silliness.

I wrote the following post 3 years ago, but it is still absolutely relevant. It's not the only possible solution for the BCS, but its a good one. It's definitely better than what we have now, and its definitely better than what we'll have next year (when selecting 4 teams simply means that we have more slots for SEC teams now).

-------------------------- A SOLUTION FOR THE BCS ------------------------------

Over the past few years, a few things have happened that have clarified some realities about the college football landscapes.  More than anything, these changes have made it really simple to fix the BCS mess.  Here are the big changes:

Traditional bowl games mean nothing anymore.  The Pac10 is going to get left out of the Rose Bowl this year despite having a top 5 team.
Traditional conferences mean nothing anymore.  TCU is joining the Big East and Nebraska is joining the Big 10.
Super-Conferences are now a reality.
Every conference is moving toward a final championship game.
Since these things are now realities, I suggest the following steps to determine a National Championship.

1. Form 8 Super-Conferences.  With 120 teams in the FBS, you need to have 15 teams per conference.  Every conference will be divided into 2 divisions, meaning teams can play 7 divisional games, 1 rivalry game in conference and still have 3 non-conference games.

2. Every conference has a championship game.  Division championships will be settled ON THE FIELD because everyone plays everyone.  Conference championships will be settled ON THE FIELD because you can’t be the conference champ if you can’t win your division.

3. Eight conference championships meet in a playoff.  (if you don’t win your conference you can’t be the national champion) The playoff is seeded similar to the NCAA basketball tournament.

4. Conference Championships are played the first weekend in December.

5. First round of playoff is played the third weekend in December.

6. Semi-finals are played on New Years day (2 of the BCS bowl games).

7. Finals are played one week later (1 of the BCS bowl games).

8. The other BCS bowl game is played on New Years day between the top two second place finishers.  (use your polls and computers to figure this out)  Other bowl eligible teams fill out the bowl schedule.

Here are your conferences: (although they’ll look a bit different as each conference will have 15 teams)

  • Big Ten
  • Big Twelve
  • ACC
  • Pac 10
  • SEC
  • Independence East (Conference USA, Big East)
  • Independence Central (MAC, Mountain West, Military Schools, Notre Dame)
  • Independence West (WAC, Sun Belt, other indepents)
  • (other names are fine for the last three conferences)

Benefits of the sytem:

  • Championships are still determined on the field
  • Every game matters, because no 2nd place teams make it
  • No conferences receive preferential treatment
  • All bowl games remain intact
  • Season takes no longer
  • Playoff system still allows for Cinderella teams (some conferences will still be weaker and have weaker champions).
  • Teams won’t be forced to run up scores, because only W-L record will matter. (sound nice, Northwestern and Indiana?)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Let It Be (a Christmas carol)

You tell me, was Paul McCartney a closet fundamentalist?
or was he at least influenced by Horatio Spafford?

When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me, 
speaking words of wisdom, let it be. 
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me, 
speaking words of wisdom, let it be. 

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be. 
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be. 

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

And when the broken-hearted people living in the world agree, 
there will be an answer, let it be. 
For though they may be parted there is still a chance that they will see, 
there will be an answer. let it be.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blessed assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

Let it be, let it be, ..... 

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

And when the night is cloudy, there is still a light, that shines on me, 
shine until tomorrow, let it be. 
I wake up to the sound of music, mother Mary comes to me, 
speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Let it be, let it be, ..... 

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

(truth is, for all my hymnologically impaired friends, McCartney's song has more Biblicity than Spafford's. Do you know the passage?)

Monday, November 25, 2013

16 Reasons to GIVE THANKS to God This Week

During the week of Thanksgiving, my sermon was based on Psalm 107 which repeatedly tells us to GIVE THANKS to God. Sometimes giving thanks is the best way to work our way out of a slump. So today, try giving thanks, specifically because:

1) He is good.

2) He works wondrous deeds.

3) His love endures forever.

Here are some specific examples I gave of each of these attributes of God...

Give thanks because of who God is:

  1. Creator -- even in its broken state, creation still trumpets the goodness of God.
  2. Sustainer -- if He ever removed His hands, all would fall apart.
  3. Provider -- He provides all our needs (not necessarily our wants)
  4. Healer -- every earthly healing is a small taste of the eternal healing that waits for us all
  5. Savior -- history is full of stories recounting God's saving action on behalf of His people
  6. Redeemer -- He spared no expense to buy us back from our rebellion
Give thanks because of what God has done:
  1. He chose Abraham -- from Abraham he launched a new nation and inaugurated a redemptive plan
  2. He rescued His people -- by humbling the world's superpower, God displayed His power
  3. He delivered a remnant -- in the midst of judgment and destruction, God saved a few to carry on His plan
  4. He sent His Son -- Jesus came to do for us what we could never do for ourselves
  5. He sent His Spirit -- a comforter, a guide, a counselor, a convictor, He is with us forever
  6. He launched His church -- a global community, united by love for Christ and the experience of salvation
Give thanks because of what God has promised:
  1. An inheritance -- reserved for us by God. We have hope that this life is NOT all there is
  2. Complete salvation -- in the future we will experience salvation from the power & presence of sin
  3. Eternal life -- death is not the end. On the other side of the grave is a brilliant, exhilarating & perfect life
  4. All things new -- no more sorrow or pain or death. Eden Restored!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

3 Rules for Healthy Debate

DEBATE is not a four letter word. (its six if you haven’t already gone back and counted) Sometimes we treat it as a curse word, when in reality, healthy debate can often be the catalyst for the most efficient learning. Unfortunately, healthy debate is rarely found among those who hold different ideas from one another. More often, fighting is more characteristic of those discussions, and sadly this seems to be more prevalent when those who claim to follow Christ are involved.

I've been batting around the idea of what characterizes healthy debate. I think right now I want to suggest three necessary elements (somewhat parallel for the linguistic creativity junkies). These three elements are interrogate, restate, debate.

Interrogate — ask, ask, ask. Too often discussions (particularly internet discussions) consist of two people/sides firing a barrage of propositional statements at one another, accomplishing nothing but fortifying their own positions. The first element of productive debate is the process of hearing what the other is saying. This can only be accomplished by asking questions. Here’s a good rule of thumb: "make no declarative statements which aren't preceded by at least one interrogatory statement." (of course your questions must be intended to gain clarity, not to fortify your position or entrap the other person)

Restate — It seems to me that the most effective means of clarifying your counterpart’s ideas is to restate them continually until agreement is reached that you are both on the same page. Even if your goal is to convince the other person that they are wrong (a bad starting point to be sure), you cannot show them that they are wrong until you show them that you understand what they are saying. Here’s a good rule of thumb: "make no propositions until you have stated your counterparts position in your own words to their satisfaction."

Debate — state your point. Do it concisely and precisely. Define your terms. Avoid ad hominem attacks. Don’t overstate. Avoid absolutes unless they are absolutely necessary. Be courteous. Speak less than you listen.

A great Bible verse to guide debates is James 1:19. "let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger".

All that to say, debates whether heavy or light, detailed or general need to be done appropriately if they are to build the body of Christ. This must begin with more efforts to understand the other side before dismissing and dissing. (how’s that for a good finishing line?)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Jesus Led By Example. We Lead By Following.

These are the main thoughts that went out with my last "Leadership Email" to The Gathering leaders. Although the email is targeted specifically at those leading ministries and groups at The Gathering, anyone can sign up to receive the entire email at the end of the post.

In the great state of Michigan everyone knows "The Captain". He is Steve Yzerman, a Canadian hockey player who led the beloved Red Wings to multiple Stanley Cup Championships. Since Retiring, Yzerman has overseen the revitalization of Tampa Bay's hockey team, the Lightning, and was the architect responsible for building Canada's gold-medal winning team in 2010.

My son, Liam, was almost named "Stephen" in honor of Steve Yzerman's contributions to my favorite hockey team!

Despite being one of the greatest leaders in the history of hockey, Steve Yzerman is not a loud or boisterous person. In fact, he's quite soft-spoken. Yet the example he sets with the way he plays and lives has been sufficient to lead many hockey players to several championships.

Early in his career, Yzerman was an unstoppable goal scorer. He was often mentioned in the same breath as legends like Wayne Gretzky. But his team was terrible. They were known as the "Dead Things." Then Steve Yzerman changed his game. He became a more defensive player, he stopped scoring and started creating, he began throwing himself in front of opposing player's shots (risking injury but blocking goals). His teammates caught on. The Red Wings stopped paying "pretty hockey" and started playing winning hockey. The rest is history.

The best leaders lead by example.

Christian leaders lead by Jesus' example.

When confronted with throngs of people and hoards of children, Jesus modeled kindness and compassion for his disciples. After a long day in the desert, Jesus humbled himself and served his disciples by washing their feet. In the ultimate act of leading by example, Jesus sacrificed his own life for the life of his followers.

If you want to be a great leader, figure out how to set a Christ-like example in your context. Model the behavior you desire to see (especially kindness and compassion). Serve those who are following you. Above all, sacrifice your own desires and ambitions for the good of others.

The ultimate leadership example has been set for us. Now we must lead by following.

Subscribe to The Gathering Leader's Email

* indicates required
Email Format

Thursday, November 21, 2013

7 Steps to Myth-Busting Prayer!

The Bible records many prayers for us. What better way to learn how to pray than to study these prayers and glean lessons from them? Here is the prayer of Nehemiah from the first chapter of his book:
Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. 
We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name. 
They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.

And here are 7 of my observations from this prayer. Notice that each of these focuses on exploding myths we tend to believe about ourselves and the world around us. Perhaps we could call this, "Mythbusting Prayer". I'm going to try to implement some of these thoughts into my own prayers this week:
  1. Recognize who God REALLY is..."the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant"...He is a lot bigger than we think.
  2. Recognize who you REALLY are..."hear the prayer your servant is praying"...You are God's servant, praying to determine what the master wishes. Prayer is not you telling God what you wish for him to do!
  3. Recognize what you have REALLY done..."I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you"...Not only have you sinned willfully and personally against God, but you are part of systems, communities, and organizations which have rejected God and sinned against Him (often by how those in His Image have been treated). Don't come to prayer like you've done nothing.
  4. Recognize what you have REALLY not done..."We have not obeyed"...Seriously. You have not obeyed.
  5. Recognize what God REALLY wants you to have..."I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen"...In spite of all the badness eminating from us, God desires to be with us. We can pray CONFIDENTLY knowing HE desires restoration and HE will act to bring it about.
  6. Recognize what is REALLY appropriate to ask for..."O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant"...The most important thing we can ask for is the ear of God. Since He hears, we can freely ask, knowing that what we receive is the grace of God demonstrating what it is we truly need.
  7. Recognize that prayer teaches us what we REALLY need..."Give your servant success today."...What if Nehemiah had been unsuccessful? Does that mean he prayed wrongly? No, it means his prayer was heard, and God in his graciousness did not grant a prayer that would have been harmful for Nehemiah. Prayer requires us to surrender our will in the knowledge that God is sovereign and God is love!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

9 Creative Prayer Ideas for Your Small Group

I've had two conversations in the past couple days about the importance of prayer in the life of the church. In light of those conversations, I thought I'd post these thoughts about praying in a small group. 

Prayer should play an important role in the life of every small group. Some groups do a great job of emphasizing prayer, but others struggle a bit to make it a piece of their community.  Often, prayer is an intimidating thing for people to do in a group. Here are a couple ideas that might help make prayer less difficult and that might help your group become more "prayer-focused" in the process:

1. Silent Prayer.Choose a soft (preferably prayer-focused) song and tell the group you're going to play this song and while it plays everyone is going to just engage in silent prayer.  Once the song is done, the prayer time will be over. If you want, suggest a pattern of prayer that might be helpful for them. One possible pattern is the "ACTS" pattern (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). Another pattern is to focus on the 3 Relationships Christians have (with God, with other Christians, with those in the world). After the prayer time is over, take a minute to let people discuss how they felt about the experience. 
2. Speak to the Chair.Place a chair in the center of the room and tell your group to imagine God is sitting there. Without bowing heads and closing eyes, have people simply talk to God. Let them say thank you or ask questions or make requests.  Remind everyone that the goal is to focus on God, so they must resist the temptation to respond to what others are saying. After a while, thank everyone for participating and give them a moment to pray silently and bring closure to the time. 
3. Thanksgiving Statements.Instead of having everyone pray, just spend time having people thank God for things. Allow anyone to speak, and allow them to speak as often as they like. But limit the prayers to one sentence prayers of thanksgiving.  Before you start let everyone know how you will signal the end of the time. 
4. Scripted Prayer.There are some good prayers in the Bible. Sometimes it can be beneficial to read them aloud as a group. Many of the Psalms will work for this. The Lord's Prayer is also great to read as a group. If you want something a little more different, find a prayer in the "Book of Common Prayer" and make enough copies for everyone. Encourage people to consider the meaning and depth of the words as they read them aloud. 
5. Written Prayer.Give everyone 5 minutes with a pen and paper.  Have them write out their prayer. After you are finished have anyone who desires read their prayer aloud. Encourage everyone to keep their prayer with them and refer back to it throughout the week. 
6. Prayer for One AnotherGo around a circle and have each person pray a short prayer of thanksgiving and encouragement for the person to their right (or left). They can say something as simple as "Lord, please bless ____________ as they go through their week." It might be helpful to give a couple minutes to people to talk to one another prior to doing this so that their prayers can be more informed. 
7. Week Long PrayerHave each person in the group commit to praying for one other person in the group for an entire week. Have them set aside time each day to specifically pray for that person. Give people an opportunity to talk to one another about their prayers before and after the week. 
8. Scheduled PrayerSet aside a time during the week when everyone in the group is going to stop what they are doing and simply pray for 5 minutes. Try to set it up so that it happens at a time when everyone can participate. The following week, have people share how this exercise impacted their day or their week. 
9. Focused PrayerIf someone in the group is in need of prayer, and if they are willing to share that with the group; have the group gather around and lay hands on the person. Choose 3-4 people to pray while everyone else prays silently. Make sure you follow up the next week to find out how the situation is working out (sometimes an exercise like this will alert a group to things beyond prayer that they need to do for one another. Read James 2:15-17).

A Practical Guide for Small Group Leaders


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

13 Reasons Christians Can Never Walk Alone

This is the greatest soccer story ever told... seriously. And the song that tells the story is the anthem of Liverpool Football, "You'll Never Walk Alone."

One of the greatest blessings we have been given is a group of people with whom to walk through life. Jesus gave us the church so we would never have to walk alone. Sometimes in our pursuit of a "personal" relationship with God, we forge that He has called us to be part of a community. That calling must be a priority for us. Check out these 13 reasons why Christians can never walk alone!

1. When we were saved, we were baptized into a body (1 Cor.12)

2. Christ's final command was to "love one another". (John 13)

3. Christ's one prayer for the church was "unity" (John 17)

4. Man was created in the image of God. Unity with diversity. (Gen 1-2)

5. It is not good for man to be alone. (Gen. 2)

6. The mission of the church cannot be accomplished if we do not love one another (John 13,17)

7. The message the apostles taught new believers from the beginning was to "love one another" (1 John 3)

8. A mature church is a unified church. (Eph. 4)

9. Our "spiritual worship" is necessarily tied to our love for each other. (Rom. 12)

10. Jesus' example was to sacrifice solitude in favor of service. (Luke 9)

11. We are called to think more highly of others than ourselves. (Philp. 2)

12. Jesus expected us to seek first THE kingdom, not our kingdom. (Matt. 6)

13. Righteousness requires justice and mercy to our fellow man. (Amos)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

10 Things You Can Pray For Other People

This list borrowed from Colossians 1:

1. Be thankful for the people God has brought into your life

2. Be thankful for the good things you have heard about other people

3. Be thankful that others have come to faith in Jesus

4. Be thankful for the love that people have demonstrated to you and others

5. Be thankful for the hope that can sustain people through their suffering

6. Pray for the increase of people’s knowledge of God’s will

7. Pray that people will have and demonstrate wisdom in their daily choices

8. Pray that people will understand the life circumstances in which they find themselves

9. Pray that people’s lives will be pleasing to God and bring glory to him

10. Pray that people’s lives will produce fruit, specifically that they will bring others to know God

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Don't Be A Fool

A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!"

On the surface, it would appear that this is an astute business man. He worked hard, he profited, he invested his profit to secure his wealth and provide for the future. This sounds like good sound stewardship.

Yet, in verse 20, God calls this man a fool. Why?

First, he was foolish because he had a faulty view of success. As we are all sometimes guilty of doing, he believed that his success was solely a result of his own hard work. Yet when we look more closely at the story, we can see that Jesus told it very intentionally to demonstrate that success in life, work, or anywhere else is something that God provides for us.

In the story, it is the farm that produces the fine crops, not the rich man; and Jesus describes the farm as “fertile.” It was ready to go. This man literally reaped the benefits of God’s creation. That the land produced more than he expected is another evidence of God’s provision. Any time we receive more than we expect, we should remind ourselves that this is from God, not something we deserve. While the man certainly invested and worked to produce a crop, without the hand of God he never would have succeeded.

His greater mistake, though, was responding wrongly to the blessings of God. He chose hoarding over generosity. Here was a man who had been given far more than he expected, far more than he needed, probably more than he even wanted. Perhaps he could have given some of his crop away? Perhaps he could have used his excess to meet the needs of those in need. Instead he chose to build bigger barns.

Have you ever seen the television show “Storage Wars”. It follows a group of people who purchase storage units which are in default. The show is part of a recent trend in television which includes shows like “Pawn Stars”, “American Pickers” and several other shows which follow a new industry being born in our country which is based solely on people’s massive accumulation of stuff and their inability to hold on to it.

Take a moment and contemplate how many self-storage units have sprung up in cities across America in the past decade. They are everywhere. We have so much stuff that our houses can’t hold it, so we build bigger barns.

One summer, several years ago, I spent a week in Chicago with a group of high school students.  We went to several different soup kitchens and helped make the food, set the tables, serve the meals, and clean up.

During those evenings I met some incredibly fascinating people.  After the men and women ate their meals, some of them were willing to stay around and talk.  I listened to their stories about which churches served the best meals in their basements, and which parks the police were most likely to kick them out of, and what was the best way to keep your bag full of things from getting stolen.

They didn't talk very much about their storage problems.  No one complained that their closet was too small. One guy commented that he wished the basket on his bicycle was larger.  It wasn't quite big enough to hold all his stuff.

All his stuff.

He could almost fit everything he owned in a bicycle basket.

An enormous number of people in our world would look at the storage units which have become so prevalent in our country, and would salivate at the thought that maybe someday they could live in a house so large.

Bigger barns.

Let me take a minute and point out what this story is NOT about. Jesus is NOT saying that wealth is wrong. Jesus is NOT saying that it is wrong to have nice things. Nowhere does Jesus ever teach that everyone should have the same amount of everything; in fact, he touches just the opposite. He teaches that everyone is given different amounts of different things. Some people have been blessed more than others financially or materially or with intelligence or athletic ability. God gives to all as He deems best, but His expectation of all is the same.

Use what He has given you as He would use it.

God said to the rich man, “You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?” Nothing you accumulate on this earth will last. So Jesus said, “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly possessions but not have a rich relationship with God.”

The rich man died. We all die. And we cannot take it with us. From an eternal perspective, money is not important and money does not last.

But seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.

Gain All You Can; Save All You Can; Give All You Can

I talked about Rick Warren's perspective on money last week. Here is a short clip of him talking about it. He speaks more "boldly" than I do on the topic which is good... If preaching on money is offensive, please be offended by him, not by me!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What Were You Doing 10 Years Ago?


Before Facebook, before Twitter, before Instagram or Snapchat... There was Blogger.

And I was blogging. Those blogs are no longer accessable to the public, but every so often I look into the archives to see what kind of person I was back then. "Disturbed" seems like a good description.

Ten years ago, I wrote this:

I think that Celine Dion would make a great hit-person. if you saw her walking toward you, the last thing you would think was that she was there to kill you. (Celine, if you are reading this, i have nothing against you, i think you are a magnificent musician). But here's the best part, as you lay there dying in a pool of your own blood...getting cold from the blood surrounding you, but also because you get cold when you die...she could sing to whatever you wanted. i would probably choose Ave Maria, not because i have and special fondness for Mary or anything, but it is just a great song.


Monday, November 11, 2013

5 Commitments That Could Revolutionize Any Church

We commit to focus our efforts on pleasing God, even if that means not pleasing some people.

We commit to investing in our neighborhoods, even if that means investing less time at our building.

We commit to speaking the TRUTH in love, even if that means we’ll be accused of being unloving.

We commit to serving with all we have, even if that means losing all we want.

We commit to die to ourselves, even if that means living a way we never would have imagined.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Once for All. The Most Important Words in the Bible?

Hebrews 9:26 says:

But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

Three words in the middle of that verse define the distinction between Christianity and every other religion in the world.


Virtually every world religion shares one fundamental similarity. At the heart of the religion is instruction for achieving "eternal life", or whatever else might be the ultimate goal of the religion (eg. Nirvana, Heaven, etc.). Another way to say this is to say that the majority of religions tell you what you need to do. I think this concept of religion resonates with most people.

Let me provide a few examples.

Buddhism is built on a process of holding to or believing four noble truths. The fourth of these noble truths instructs Buddhists to follow the eight-fold path, which is a list of eight activities designed to help the Buddhist gain liberation from attachment and suffering. Following the eight-fold path means doing the following:

  • Right View
  • Right Intention
  • Right Speech
  • Right Action
  • Right Livelihood
  • Right Effort
  • Right Mindfulness
  • Right Concentration

According to the Buddha, apart from doing these things, one cannot hope to rid himself or herself of attachment or suffering, and has no hope of reaching nirvana.

Islam is a religion which many consider in the same family as Christianity. Muslims find their roots in Abraham's family tree (albeit their branch is Ishmael, not Jacob). Muslims are monotheistic, a trait they share with Judaism and Christianity (and maybe some "Christian-like" cult groups).

The core of the Islamic ethic is rooted in the Five Pillars of Islam. These five activities are the core of the Muslim's hope to one day find their way into the heaven of Allah:

  • The shahada -- a confession that there is no God but Allah and Muhammed is his prophet
  • Ritual prayer, five times a day
  • The giving of alms to aid the poor and further the advance of Islam around the world
  • Fasting during the month of Ramadan
  • A pilgrimage to Mecca (those who are physically unable or cannot afford a pilgrimage are exempted)
(I've listed here the Sunni Muslim pillars. Other branches of Islam have slightly different but essentially similar pillars)

As with the Buddhist, performing these duties is essential for the Muslim if he hopes for a "good ending" in the after-life.

Most people assume (understandably so, due to the obvious emphasis of nearly every world religion) that our destiny in the afterlife is directly tied to what we DO in this life. Many people even assume that this is the perspective of Christianity, that our adherence to the rules in the Bible affects our ability to make it into heaven.

This is the misunderstanding that Hebrews 9:26 corrects.

First, let me point out what some might view as the ethical foundation of Christianity. Many people would view the eight-fold path and the five pillars as parallel lists to the ten commandments of Judaism and Christianity, or the three commandments of Jesus in the new testament (Love God, Love your neighbor, Love one another). However, the Bible is CRYSTAL CLEAR that someone who adheres to the ten commandments and/or the three commandments all their life will NOT earn their way into heaven.

The message of Christianity is that no to-do list of good deeds will ever be sufficient to eradicate the sin that separates us from God (if this post wasn't getting too long already, I'd discuss how our first three years of life and college put us so far behind on the good deed-bad deed ledger that we can never hope to catch up).

If you'll notice in this verse, Jesus does ALL the work. Nothing is left to us. While other verses explicitly discuss our weaknesses, this verse clearly implies our inability to be right with God on our own.

Instead, we rely on the fact that Jesus has already accomplished the necessary work to make us right with God. We only need to rely on His work on our behalf.

His sacrifice was ONCE. It requires no on-going work on our part, it requires no repetition, it requires nothing in the future. It was a one-time historical event that eradicated the penalty of sin for all who believe.

His sacrifice was for ALL. We can understand this to mean that his sacrifice was good for all people of all races, tribes, creeds, etc. We can also understand this to mean that his sacrifice was good for all time, it left nothing undone that needed to be done.

According to the Bible (Hebrews 9:26 particularly), my eternal destiny is completely dependent on ONE past historical event. My ability or inability to follow a list of rules or an ethical code has no impact on my standing with God. phew!

It boils down to this:

Religions require an ongoing process of deeds as the only way to be purified from wrongdoing.
Christianity recognizes one righteous act by God was sufficient to put away sin.

How do you respond to this truth?

  • For some, this brings great relief as they willingly place their reliance in Christ's work
  • For some, this brings confusion as it conflicts with life-long deeply held notions about religion, God, and Christianity
  • For some, this brings frustration as they still cling to the idea that they are good enough on their own to be okay with God and therefore they don't need someone else
  • For some, this causes laughter as they simply cannot conceive of such a simple salvation

How do you respond?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

What is Salvation?

I was recently involved in an interesting discussion about the nature of faith and salvation. As I thought about some of the things we discussed, I went back into the archives and found this draft I wrote many years ago about salvation and evangelism. It's worth consideration:

What is “salvation”? Many within the church misunderstand salvation, and therefore we must be certain to hold a proper concept of salvation before we attempt to explain it to others. Ephesians 2:8, 9 says, “…it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Salvation comes directly and only from God. It is something that can absolutely not be achieved by any action. Herein lays a common and serious misunderstanding of salvation. We are not saved by something we do. We are saved by something we have, namely faith.

Faith is not something we can develop, it is not something we can find, and it is not something we can purchase. It is the gracious gift of God. This is encouraging for the evangelist. If the possession of faith of others was dependent upon our abilities, we would likely fail, and at best we could have no confidence that any would be saved. However, it is not up to us. We are assured that faith will happen through the preaching of the Word (Rom. 10:13-15). Thus the role of the evangelist is to proclaim the truth of God, depending upon the work of the Spirit to regenerate the darkened mind of the unbeliever.

If faith is the true measure of the evangelist’s success, how can he/she know when he has been successful?

Life change must be the measure. True faith is evidenced by life change (James 2:14-26). Thus it is imperative that our evangelistic method be more than just a cognitive exercise; for a cognitive exercise will most likely produce only a cognitive awareness.

Our method, while appealing to the mind, must also be experiential in nature. Faith, when received will lead to baptism (Acts 2:38), a new way of life (Eph. 5:8), and ultimately the multiplication of one’s own faith into others (Matthew 13:23).

Therefore, our evangelism must present the faith as the entrance into a community of believers, living counter-cultural lives, bearing witness to Christ’s work in them. This experiential element of evangelism may for some, be far more powerful than any well-crafted argument.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

10 Easy Ways To Be Generous Today

Jesus was the most generous man who ever lived. He gave up the most and received the least in return. Even though He was God, he gladly opened His hand and let go of his high station. He then humbled himself and took the world's most severe demotion, eventually allowing himself to be killed by His own creatures. All of this, He gave freely so that we might be made right with His Father.

God has given us so much and His expectation is that we open our hands and use those gifts to be generous. Here are some simple ways you can be more generous today:

1. Say something encouraging to someone you've never paid a compliment to before

2. Pay the tab for the car behind you in the drive-thru line

3. Send flowers to your wife for no reason (wives, send bacon to your husband)

4. Put a little extra in the offering plate at your church

5. Give a hefty tip to the cashier at the grocery store

6. Bring dessert to your neighbor

7. Make a micro-loan through Kiva

8. Send a handwritten note to a friend you haven't seen for a while

9. If you eat out, ask to see the manager and tell him/her how wonderful your server is

10. Smile and hand a $5 bill to a complete stranger

Don't Worry; Be Generous!

I just finished this graphic for Sunday and it made me smile, so I posted it here.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you." (Luke 12:22-31)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Your Focus Might Be on The Wrong Person

It's Christmas season...

As we approach this season when it is fairly easy to be focused on the work of Jesus for us, it’s a good time to remind ourselves that our lives should always be focused on Him and on what He is doing in our lives. Think about Philippians 2 which encourages us to focus on the needs of others before we focus on the needs of ourselves.

Do you remember those old, “You might be a redneck” jokes? At the end of each of these statements, insert the expression, “Your focus might be on the wrong person.”  And, if any of them apply, refocus yourself.

If you are wondering why no one else recognizes how valuable your work is…

If you are irate that someone didn’t pay enough attention to you…

If you are stressed out because of circumstances beyond your control…

If you are upset that you can’t get access to the important people…

If you are angry that you didn’t receive the proper thanks for something you did…

If you are certain that no one can replace you…

If you are frustrated that no one is listening to you…

If you are sure that your way is the only way…

If you are disappointed that someone else didn’t give you what you wanted…

...Your focus might be on the wrong person

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Yes, But...

Every so often I have a Sunday morning experience that I am quite certain is not unique to me. I call it the Yes But. Anyone who preaches on a regular basis has probably observed the Yes But at some point in their ministry.

The Yes But sounds something like this, "Pastor, I agree with what you said, BUT..."

Sound familiar?

Before you decide I'm being overly critical of the Yes But, though, let me finish. I have discovered that the Yes But can teach me a great deal about the words I just spoke.
Sometimes, when confronted by the Yes But, I find myself feeling defensive. I immediately begin planning my response. I look for ways to show the Yes Butter that they are clearly in the wrong.

You can be certain that this response clearly indicates that the words I just preached were not God's, they were my own.

The more defensive I am of the words I preach, the more likely it is that they reflect my ideas, not God's.

Sometimes, though, when confronted with the Yes But, I don't feel the least bit defensive. Sometimes I feel quite peaceful, and sometimes, I have found myself feeling a genuine concern for the spiritual journey of the person speaking to me. When I don't feel the need to defend my words, it is likely that they were really Gods words.

The beauty of speaking the word of God is that I never have to defend myself. As long as I can say, "I am simply preaching directly from the Word of God", I never have to worry about the Yes But. I can always say, "you don't have to agree with me, but please make sure you aren't disagreeing with God."

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

What Does This Mean to You?

How did you first interpret the image above?

Did you read:

"You be for me."

or did you read:

"You before me"

I'm not suggesting that this is some subliminal test to determine whether or not you are a selfish or unselfish person. But I found it disturbing that even though I originally meant to create a graphic that said "you before me" (Philippians 2:4), I found myself reading it the selfish way... and I created it!

Perhaps I'm just a selfish person.

But maybe this is a good reminder that it is sometimes easy to view those around us as nothing more than a tool to get what we desire. This is not Christ-like thinking. In fact, it's the exact opposite.

You've already been given the mind of Christ (if you are "in Christ"). So start thinking like Him. He was actually God, yet didn't think that was something he should clench his fist around. So he willingly took a demotion and chose to be born as a mere mortal. And once on earth, he allowed himself to be abused and even subjected himself to death.

A proper view of others begins with a proper view of ourselves. Stop grasping and clutching to have the perfect image or to always get "the win". Instead, seek ways to put the interests of others ahead of your own.

You Before Me.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Truth About Opinion Polls

Do you remember when the evening news would report things that recently happened without citing statistics from the most recent poll regarding said events?

I can't watch "news networks" anymore without the anchors referring to one poll or another several times in each five minute segment. I feel a little like I am being told what to think, or whether my opinion is valid.

Should I feel bad that only 25% of Americans agree with me?

Should I have a sense of pride that my opinion is shard by 82% of surveyed homes?

This has been a long time coming. Decades ago we began this journey which has slowly eroded the idea of truth and morals in favor of opinion and majority. The actions of government officials are no longer judged by whether or not they are good for the country, but by how they impact the official's popularity rating. Legislation is no longer driven by the nation's best interest, but by impact it will have on re-election.

Let me suggest this:

If 90% of Americans believe the moon is made of cheese, it is still not made of cheese.
If only 10% of Americans believe Canada is our neighbor to the north, Canada is still our neighbor to the north.
If 75% of Americans believe that people should really only have one arm, will you cut one of yours off?

This is really just a lament. I'm not sure we can go back. I'm not sure we should.

But maybe next time you see numbers on a poll you can remind yourself, "Those numbers are not necessarily a reflection of what is true, what is best or what is right."