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?)