Monday, April 30, 2012

Traffic Lessons: Responding to the Roadblocks of Life

What do you do when the road is closed?

  • Do you sit at the sign waiting for the workers to finish up and re-open the road?
  • Do you turn around and go home, since you can't go where you had planned?
  • Do you call friends and tell them how frustrated you are that someone closed the road?
  • Do you pray that God would miraculously open the road?

Probably, you do none of the above. You probably take the detour.

While detours are often inconvenient, they are also very helpful. Even though we don't think of it this way, they often keep us from harm and prevent us from destroying our vehicles on roads that are not safe for driving.



What do you do when life's road is closed?

Everyone has experienced the frustration of  a good plan stalling because of an unexpected roadblock. How do you respond when life doesn't go the direction you thought it might.

  • Some people just stop. They refuse to move on with life until they can do it the way they had planned.
  • Some people quit and retreat to the safety of doing nothing.
  • Some people just talk about their frustration, but never take another step forward.
  • Some people pray that God would intervene even though they aren't doing anything to change the situation.

Some people, though, choose to take the detour.

Do you believe that the Bible speaks truly when it says, "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it."?

God always provides a way out! He always provides a detour!

Even if you don't know where the detour is going, you know that it will take you around the unexpected roadblock.

So next time you find yourself blocked from your planned route in life. Don't stop. Look around to see what new route God has provided and just take that first step. Let him reveal the route to you as you go.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

If You're Overly Concerned With What the Church Provides For You...


… you’re probably a spiritual infant.


This model is based on the idea that the process of discipleship is a process which is intertwined with a person’s developing spiritual maturity. Observe an infant. Their primary concern is themselves. Everything they do/think/say revolves around what they want or are trying to get. Even young children spend far more time thinking about themselves than about others. Even though no one enjoys self-centered children, the reality is that almost all children are self-focused.


Around adolescence that begins to change, though. With the noticing of the opposite gender, children (now pre-teens) begin to think much less about what they can do or have themselves, and become far more relational beings. Particularly, they are interested in what they can have or do together (often with the cute boy or girl in class). This is a world transforming shifts that is somewhat messy and quite awkward at first; but ultimately manifests itself in a marriage relationship. The individuality of childhood is gone, replaced by a team mentality (ahh, if only it always worked that nicely…).


Amazingly, when that oneness of two is expressed to its ultimate, the result is often multiplication. Childbirth recalls the messiness and awkwardness of adolescence as the team struggles to discover how to balance the desire to continue focusing on each other, while still appropriately caring for the needs of this new addition. Healthy parents learn that their focus has to drastically change. Their expressions of care and love are now primarily outward rather than toward each other.


Thus we move from caring only for ourselves, to uniting ourselves with another and caring for each other, to using our unity to create and care for others. Here are the discipleship take-a-ways I’m thinking about:


1) The first stage of spiritual maturity is one in which the individual is self-focused, regularly wondering, “What does the church provide to meet my needs?” 
2) Spiritual maturity is not necessarily reflective of age or time as a believer. Many older and long-time Christians continue to focus most of their attention on their own spiritual development. 
3) Churches need to provide discipling opportunity for “child” Christians. Ministries that focus on specific demographics or life-stages provide these opportunities. 
4) Ministries that are targeted at “people with ‘x’ need” are designed for immature Christians. Therefore, something in those ministries needs to be designed to move people from a “me” mentality to an “us” mentality. 
5) Small groups that don’t focus on any one demographic are the ideal discipleship opportunity for growing Christians… But they are not the final destination. 
6) Groups that never grow/multiply and don’t act missionally are like the 30 year old who still lives with his mom. 
7) As parents, our service is directed at our offspring. What if we took a view of “service” that we were mainly called to serve our spiritual offspring? This has revolutionary potential.


This has been sitting in my mental crockpot for a while.  One of these days, I'm going to pull it out and really unpack it...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pastors and Saints. Who Equips Whom?

Ephesians 4:7-13.

The role of the pastor is to equip the saints to do the ministry of the church.

Like this:


Too often churches get this equation mixed up.


Far too often, church-goers pay their pastor to be a Christian for them. They want nothing to do with being equipped for ministry, they simply want to equip the pastor to do the ministry for them. The result is a ridiculously hopeless spiral.

Church pays pastor.

Therefore

Church has high expectations of pastor.

Pastor cannot meet expectations without "programs" that meet every persons needs/desires.

Programs cost money.

Therefore

Church has to pay more.

Therefore

Church has higher expectations of pastor...
What's the alternative?

  • Church desires to do ministry. 
  • Pastor works with church to enable them to do ministry according to their gifts.
  • Because the ministry is "gift-based" instead of "program-based", the resources required (gifts) already exist.
  • Therefore
  • The money given by the church can be distributed missionally instead of institutionally

Monday, April 23, 2012

Breaking Free From Our Evil Step-Mother

You can read the first half of this post here.

Things were different, before we lost our Father. Things were better before we came under the foot of the evil step-mother.

The great villain of Cinderella is the step-mother. She is the cause of Cinderella's misery, and is also the impetus behind the harsh new life that has become Cinderella's reality. By forcing Cinderella into a life of constant menial labor, she has taken away her joy, her purpose, and perhaps on some days her will to live.

I have an evil step-mother.

I need to be careful here. I do not really even have a step-mother. I do have a step-mother-in-law. Her name is Jane. She isn't evil.

I do have an evil step-mother. Some people might call it sin. Some would call it depravity. Some would say it's Satan. Paul wrote a lot about our evil step-mother using a different metaphor. He said that we were enslaved to sin. Cinderella was enslaved to her step-mother, we're enslaved to sin.

Our inability to deal with sin keeps us living in a way in which we weren't created to live. Just as Cinderella was forced into menial, unending labor, sin has transformed work from a gift of God into a harsh reality. 

When God created the world, he gave Adam the gift of work. Maintaining the garden was a task which was enjoyable for Adam, it was an enjoyable pursuit. Adam could draw a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment from his work. But when we lost our relationship with our Father, sin stepped in and enslaved us.

Cinderella needed to be rescued. We need to be rescued.

Cinderella had to live with nasty step-sisters. Her life was devoid of loving relationships. One of the greatest consequences of our lost relationship with our Father is the relational dysfunction we all deal with. Broken relationships are just a part of life: 

  • Marriages dissolve on a regular basis. 
  • Parents and children find themselves constantly at odds. 
  • Virtually all of us have experienced relational tension with friends and co-workers. 
  • Everyone has been touched by the pain of relationships that are characterized by something less than the "love" we all desire to experience.

Cinderella's greatest pain goes beyond the loss of her Father. The depression of her situation is based on a situation more severe than her demanding step-mother or cruel step-sisters. All the bitterness of Cinderella's situation is compounded by her understanding that there is no hope for relief. She is destined to live out her days engaged in back-breaking work, without a father, without a friend, enslaved by a wicked woman, without love, and without hope.

Cinderella needed to be rescued. We need to be rescued.

We have dreams of things getting better, and sometimes, when we work hard or catch a break, they do. But only for a while. 

Humans have forever had this grand idea that we can
fix the world if we just work a little harder at it. 

However, the more energy we put into it, the more broken it seems to be. All our efforts have international peace seem to have resulted in more war. Our attempts toward religious tolerance seem only to polarize the fundamental zealots. The more prosperity we experience in America, the deeper we go into debt. At some point, we all realize that we are like Cinderella. Things are not getting better, and no matter what we do, they aren't going to get better.

The only solution for Cinderella was to marry the prince. No matter how hard she worked, nothing she could do would resolve her difficulties. The only hope for Cinderella was a change of identity. As long as she was "Cinderella the orphan" she was under the thumb of her step-mother. As soon as she became "Cinderella the princess" everything changed.

The same is true for us. Prince Jesus changes everything. When we give ourselves to him, he restores our relationship with our father.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Here I Ramble About Old Days at Disney and Spiritual Lessons I Learned

Disney World has been billed as the happiest place on earth. I've been there enough to know this is absolutely not true. During my several family vacations to the Mecca of Mice, I've endured extreme heat, hurricane force wind and rain, surly park employees, cranky guests, long lines, bad food, over-priced beverages, broken rides, crowded shuttles, hotel room mix-ups, and crying children. My wife almost had to throw down with an angry woman who wouldn't stop harassing her. I nearly got locked out of a breakfast with the princesses. Our kids used to break down at the end of nearly every day.

We plan to go back in a couple years.

As bad as Disney World can be, it can also be that good.

Watching my children at Disney World is one of the greatest experiences I've ever had. I love the way my son's eyes light up whenever we get close enough to see the "huge golf ball" that signals our arrival at Epcot. It is a riot to watch the two of them hop with anticipation as we wait to enter the park. I'll never forget my daughter's repeated pleas to ride the "mommy-rail" (monorail) one more time. I have a picture on my desk of the four of us getting ready to ride the raft to Tom Sawyer's Island in the Magic Kingdom. Emma is fiddling with her Minnie Mouse ears and Liam is grinning from behind his pacifier which matches his black and red Mickey ears.

One year we went to Disney World in the fall. The convergence of our trip and Halloween made for a very "princessy" autumn. Since Emma was going to be Cinderella for halloween, we decided to go all out and make it the "Year of Cinderella". My mom spent several months sewing an elaborate dress for Emma to wear. When Emma wore it, there was no question about which little girl had the best princess outfit. I couldn't begin to tell you all the details, my fashion sense is not nearly developed enough. I do know that it was blue and shiny. My wife spent the time leading up to our trip working with Emma's hair, preparing it to be fixed precisely like Cinderella's. We found a perfect crown and great slipper-shoes. Finally, the day came for Emma to have breakfast with Cinderella. The rest of us were just extras.

Liam and I almost missed it. Because security had recently been beefed up (due to 9/11), someone had to wait in line to have all our bags searched. Marianne and Emma went on ahead to check in at the castle, Liam and I waited in line.

and waited.

and waited.

Finally, we got through the line and raced through the park at full speed; Liam riding, me pushing. I never knew his stroller could corner like that. We arrived at the palace out of breath, sweaty, and stressed (at least I was, Liam was just sucking on his pacifier playing with his hair). Marianne was stressed too. They were about to close the doors and if we hadn't made it, they weren't going to let us in, even though we had already paid a ridiculous sum of money to reserve our spot. Once we were all there, though, we headed up the winding stairway to the big breakfast.

It wasn't a surprise that Emma was the belle of the ball. Her beautiful dress, fair skin, big eyes, and quiet demeanor made her a big favorite of all the princesses. She didn't really care about any of them though, she was only interested in Cinderella. Liam was only interested in Captain Hook, who was occasionally running past the windows outside.

Little girls are fascinated with Cinderella. I'm trying to figure out why. Disney does a great job of selling Cinderella. Everywhere you go in the Magic Kingdom, you see her. She's at photo-shoots, her picture is all around, and she even has her own song-and-dance show at the castle a couple times each day. As popular as Mickey and Minnie Mouse are, I think Cinderella is likely the most popular Disney character of all time.

Of course, Cinderella pre-dates Walt Disney by hundreds of years. He just animated her. The Cinderella story has been passed on from generation to generation far longer than most fairy tales. Around the world, people know and love the Cinderella story in its many varieties and evolutions.

In America, Hollywood loves the Cinderella story. Rarely does a year go by which doesn't include a movie borrowing the Cinderella story for its plot-line. Why has Cinderella resonated with people throughout the centuries? Partly, it is because little girls like to think that they could be princesses. But I think we love Cinderella because the Cinderella story is our story; and it is God's story.

Most tellings of the Cinderella story open with a great loss. Cinderella's father dies. Although great detail is rarely given to Cinderella's relationship with her father, we know that the loss makes her an orphan. We know that she loved her father deeply. We know that she must now deal with a vast relational vacuum. We know that her life has changed forever, and that the change is not for the better.

We share in this story through Adam and Eve. Through their choice, which we affirm every time we choose to do wrong, we lost our Father. The central relationship we were created to enjoy and participate in was lost to us. To be human is to experience a relational vacuum because we have lost our relationship with our Father. Like Cinderella, this loss was accompanied by a cataclysmic shift in lifestyle for all humanity.

Sometimes, I find myself wondering if things shouldn't be different.
  • I watch the news and feel like I live on the worst planet on earth (hmm. that's an interesting expression).
  • I see stories of neighbors fighting, people being murdered, politicians lying, wars being fought, children starving, and worse.
  • I get depressed.
  • I want things to be different.
Things were different before we lost our Father. Things were better before we came under the foot of the evil step-mother.

The great villain of Cinderella is the step-mother. She is the cause of Cinderella's misery, and is also the impetus behind the harsh new life that has become Cinderella's reality. By forcing Cinderella into a life of constant menial labor, she has taken away her joy, her purpose, and perhaps on some days her will to live.

I have an evil step-mother.

I need to be careful here. I do not really even have a step-mother. I do have a step-mother-in-law. Her name is Jane. She doesn't seem to be evil.

I do have an evil step-mother. Some people might call it sin.

(to be continued...)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Let It Be...

You may not have caught the subtle irony this Sunday, but on a day when I brought my Liverpool hat on stage with me, I was also preaching from a passage which spawned one of the top hits ever by a band from Liverpool, England. Perhaps you've heard of them?

Below is a post I wrote many years ago which compared the Beatles' song to an old, familiar hymn illustrating the meaning of Mary's words "Let it be..."

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.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Am I Pretty?


This weekend I mentioned the YouTube phenomenon of girls asking "Am I pretty?" Below are some clippings from an ABC News story about this. You can read the whole article here.
Naomi Gibson, who lives just outside Denver, always makes a point to tell her 13-year-old daughter, Faye, that she's beautiful. So when she started getting calls from media asking to interview Faye about a video she had posted, she couldn't believe her ears.

"I was floored," Gibson said.

The video was called "Am I Pretty or Ugly?" and asked anyone who watched the YouTube video to comment on her attractiveness.

Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, says that teens have always had a fervent desire to be accepted.

"This is just an extreme version of something that's very normal," Klapow said, adding, "Another piece that's normal is impulsivity. Give them a medium that is so easily accessible and so potent, you get the problem we're seeing."

Gibson had already instituted rules to try and protect her daughter, requiring Faye to tell her when she posted a video so she could screen it. Initially, Faye had been using YouTube to showcase her singing and dancing talents as a way to detract from the bullying that she has been a victim of since she was 11. Now, Gibson says that the privilege may soon be revoked.

"I took away her Facebook and Twitter account because of bullying. She needs to stop putting herself out there. Now people are walking around asking her if she's pretty to her face. It's hurting her more in the long run, I think," Gibson said.

For Faye, the pain of not being accepted is inescapable.

"I feel like I could just go away and never come back…I feel like I've been standing all these years and keep getting torn down," Faye said.

Gibson is hoping that Faye's and her experience can help alert parents before their children's insecurities spiral into something dangerous.

"Hopefully it will open up the eyes of the parents," she said. "The kids aren't letting their parents know what's wrong, just like Faye didn't let me know. Hopefully, parents can get more proactive. [Faye's] internet usage is limited even more, I have the computer locked after a certain time. I've taken all the steps that I needed to take, here's another step I need to adjust and move on from."

I think the saddest part of this story is that the mom still doesn't "get it" at the end. Her daughter didn't need to have her computer time limited (although that was probably appropriate). What her daughter needed was to feel "accepted". The reason she is turning to on-line strangers is because she doesn't feel accepted.

Dear Parents:
Please understand the importance of accepting your children for who they are. They will not be you, and they will not be the person you always wished you had become. They are who God made them to be. They have their own gifts and talents and skills. Allow them discover and develop those talents. Assure them that they don't need to be beautiful or popular or athletic to be successful, but instead they only need to be using the gifts God has given them. Affirm them in that pursuit...all the time...over and over...

Don't let them turn to strangers for the one thing they desire to receive from you!