Thursday, August 28, 2008

Branding or Bonding?

What would you like to see changed at your church? If you are like most church folks (c of c or otherwise), the first thing you thought of was what you'd like to see happen in the assembly - what we have unscripturally called "The Worship" for the last fifteen or so centuries. I am still amazed at how mature Christians still focus on what kind of songs they wish were sung, or whether the style should be traditional, progressive, or - truth be told - short. What do you think would be the #1 topic at any church focus group meeting? What do you think is the single most important "appeal" that your church has to outsiders? What is the most often mentioned "need" that is not being met that causes people to "jump churches"? What defines your church?
I am ready for the church to be more concerned with bonding than branding. As I've said in many lessons, blogs, and articles - church/Christian togetherness, is a God-given tool to help us build spiritual relationships that will help us learn how to love God. Christian togetherness must be a giving experience not a receiving experience! Giving is love in action. It's love growing! It's being like Jesus. It's still the only thing Jesus said showed the world that we belong to Him! Until we "get it" - church will continue to be ineffective as a life-changing effort, disappointing to those seeking a deeper relationship with God, and unappealing to a world that feels no need to give up their Sunday morning sleeping in time.
Some of the "mega-churches" are starting to discover that church can't be about branding without bonding. With all the focus in God's Word on love and with all the "one another" passages spread across the New Testament, it's incredible to me that we have to "sell" Christians on the preeminence of building relationships. Could it be that we only "Restore" what we want to from the New Testament? And if we continue to do what we've always done - wait - maybe we don't want any different results?
If we're going to Be Real - we must be about what God truly wants.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Permit In Hand

After showing several pictures over the last year and a half about the transformation of our basement, I thought it only appropriate to have a final blog about it's FINAL FINISHED CONDITION! Yes, it is really done. I'm holding the County permit in my little hands, which we really got last month, but I didn't get the base board molding finished until this past Saturday, and the caulking on yesterday. Notice the nice, neat, white trim around the carpet. It's tempting to put off the little finishing stuff, but I am so ready to start decorating it. We've got stuff in the store room that we haven't unpacked or looked at since we moved into this house three and a half years ago. As you can see, we've had the grand kids toys down there for several weeks already. Anyway, we're happy and just wanted to share it with you. We will get a chance to truly "break it in" next month as we host all our elders, ministers, and wives at our house for dinner. With the new twelve shepherds coming on board this next Sunday, that will be about 42 people in for dinner. With the two levels available, we plan to split the men and women up after dinner to allow the experienced leaders to share some insights with the new leaders - and of course, to pray. So visualize this space with some long tables and folding chairs. I am very thankful that we have the space to do just that kind of thing. God is good!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Staying A Head!

I always love to read my daughter's blogs about the funny things our grand children say. It's always so cute and precious. I love it when they use words in an incorrect way or at the appropriate time. So why is it that when you're fifty-seven and you totally massacre the English language it's about as far from cute as it can be? This morning I was reporting to my lovely wife what my doctor said about me at my check up earlier in the day. I meant to say, "He's sending me to a dermatologist." Unfortunately, what I said was, "He's sending me to a taxidermist."

I don't know - call me crazy, but there was something incredibly hilarious about my doctor sending me to someone who was going to mount my head on plaque and hang it on the wall of our house with my deer heads. Actually, Donna laughed much more than I did. She could probably visualize a whole new decor for our house once I'm gone. Hmmm. I wonder if it's cheaper than a funeral?

Anyway, was it a Freudian slip, as I've been thinking about our hunting trip to Colorado in three weeks? Was it my subconscious desire to increase my trophy collection? Was it really my discomfort with the idea of a total stranger checking every inch of my skin with a magnifying class? Ah, perhaps I doth psycho-analyse myself too much. It was all just a mouth talking in gear while the brain was still in neutral. Still, if I don't make it back from the dermatologist in one piece - well, maybe I really will be an "off-the-wall-preacher". Ha!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Slipping Away?

We managed to sneak away the other day and finally catch Momma Mia at the movies. If you liked the play you'll love the movie. If you don't don't love Abba, don't waste your money. Personally I can't pass up any chance to hear Dancing Queen. It's a little bawdy and risque' in parts, which keeps it from being a future "Family Night" with the kids kind of movie, and it's got a terrible message about marriage and commitment, but, hey - it's entertaining and that's what you go to the movies for.
Actually, the scene and song that moved me the most, was when the mother was helping her daughter get ready for the wedding and she sang "Slipping Through My Fingers." Wow. She reminisced about her little girl going off to school with her back pack on her shoulder, and remembering her coming to the breakfast table still half asleep, and so on - each time followed by the refrain - "Slipping Through My Fingers". At the end of the song she sang, "Sometimes I wish that I could freeze the picture and save it from the funny tricks of time."
I felt the sadness as I reflected on all the things I couldn't remember - and never would. The thousands of hugs from little arms, the glorious sound of happy children laughing, the precious smiles on the faces of our three special gifts from God. The stories, the quotes, the jokes, the songs, the bedtime prayers, the rocking chair pile-ons, the Bible questions with heads resting on Dad's stomach, and the million other things that have fallen to "the funny tricks of time."
Then I thought, maybe we've had it all wrong. We tend to think that we are molded from our never-forgotten-memories, but maybe it's all the little experiences - that weren't so outstanding but just a normal part of our life - maybe they are far more responsible for who and what we are. God's building blocks may not be the huge unforgettable events of our life, but the small, daily, constant doses of love - maybe they are what really count in the long run. Maybe we were never made by God to file away every tender memory any more than we were meant to see every nail that holds our house together. Still, they hold us up, keep us together, and give us more to be thankful for. After all, what's "Slipping through my fingers" is also allowing me to take hold of eternity.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Big Seven-O

This picture is from a couple years ago, but it's the only picture I have of Jerry and Lynn Jones. I do have another of Jerry, but it's too scary to show publicly. Last night, along with a huge crowd of their friends and family, we were part of a surprise birthday celebration for Jerry. Jerry, who many of us affectionately call "The Pope", turned seventy, and I have to say that he makes seventy look much better than most of us generally think of it. It was a great time of hugs, humor, and humility for Jerry. Lynn and his family organized the surprise and kept it sweet, focused, and fun. I know if they'd opened it up for comments and stories about Jerry from the crowd, a crowd with several preachers, teachers, elders, and old hunting partners, it would have lasted all night. They did a wonderful job and, all humor aside, he is worth the attention and honor.

I will forever be indebted to Jerry for many things in my life, but two things are at the top. He was my primary Bible teacher at Harding. He returned from his doctoral work in New Orleans as I started my second year at Harding ('71-'72), and taught all the preaching classes I took. Jerry had a huge impact on helping me to love and respect the job of preaching. He single-handedly taught me the importance and power of expository preaching and that has been my approach to preaching ever since. I live to expose scripture, make it come alive and have meaning, rather than use it as a source to support a preconceived conclusion. I don't believe I would have been as open minded and truth seeking if it had not been for his directions in how to share the Book.

We only had occasional contact through the years from 1974 until 2004 (Is that really thirty years?). In the late Summer of '04, I faced my greatest challenge and hurt in my life. Men who were friends, brothers, and my shepherds betrayed our relationship and our ministry, and I found myself swimming in shock and disappointment. The amazing element is that it strengthened my faith and my walk with God. He helped me walk with love and integrity, and then He sent more help. Just as this happened, Jerry and Lynn were previously scheduled to do their Marriage Matters Seminar with our church, and he stepped right into the role of friend, comforter, and mentor as if those thirty years had been thirty days. And maybe his greatest feat of friendship was getting us connected with the most loving church family we've ever known - our family for the last three and a half years - the Florissant church.

There are a lot of people a lot closer to Jerry than I am. That is just a factor of time and events. But there is no one who appreciates him any more than I do, and I will always be indebted to him as a teacher, mentor, and friend. So Happy Birthday, Bro. Long live "The Pope"!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fighting Sin

Since writing the last blog about being comfortable with our sins, several people have asked for copies of my outline from that Sunday evening class. Unfortunately, my class came from a sheet of paper with notes all over the place, including top, bottom, and margins, which I did intentionally so that I could let my heart, and hopefully the Holy Spirit, guide me through what needed to be said. That being said, anyone who knows me knows that my driving principles in teaching and preaching are three-fold. It must be biblical, logical, and simple. So there was a very rough outline in what I said. With the possible chance that it may bless others, I want to share the main points. The title is Fighting Sin - Fighting Addiction. Here are the bones:
A. We must recognize we are slave to something - Romans 6:15-18
B. Sin is terrible, addicting, and means we aren't in control.
C. We must honestly remember why we do it - James 4:1-10
D. Addiction triangle: B= belief, leads to A= action, brings C = results, which whether negative or positive feed the belief that we can fill the void in our heart with something. We must change the Belief part - about self & what we need.
E. How to fight?
1. Desire to change. Nothing happens until we want it to.
2. Be accountable for our sins. Confront secret sin. God wants a broken heart. To Him there is no big sin vs. little sins, like society teaches us. Acts 8:18-24 what's the big deal?
3. Get help! We can't do it alone. We need friends to trust & hold us accountable. One another stuff was given to us as a support system. What does God call help? Church! Acts 2:41-47 shows his original intent for people helping people in Christ.
4. Do some Mental Reprogramming of your thinking. Change the belief about yourself. Think powerful and enjoyable thoughts. Phil.4:8 Replace bad stuff w/ good, Eph.5:18. Use songs & prayers to remove evil thoughts.
5. Change your actions. Do things you enjoy that aren't sinful. Too busy to sin. Do what builds self-esteem (healthy). Don't miss things that are positive = church.
6. Help some one else fight sin & addiction. Gave rather than have self-pity. Barnabas helped those who failed -maybe he had been one. (Paul & Mark)
Nothing that improves life happens by accident. We choose it!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Safe Sin?

Several years ago I was impressed and challenged by something I heard Rick Warren say on his Church Growth Seminar CD I was listening to. He said, "The longer you are a Christian, the fewer non-Christians you will know." That is such a true statement for most of us. As we bond closer together and deepen our family relationships as a church, the less we spend time with non-Christians we can witness to. This is especially true for those of us in full time ministry. I'm not out in the community meeting new people, participating in group activities with non-Christians, because all my time is focused on encouraging and equipping my brethren. I have thought a lot about this and I'm still trying to not only find the time to do "outside of church" stuff, but stuff that it available to do!

I share that principle of disconnecting with outsiders as a downside of spiritual togetherness because it's similar to a statement I made Sunday evening in our special Summer class on Social Issues. I said, "The longer you are a Christian the more lightly you will tend to think of your sins." By "lightly" I mean less serious, less terrible, and less unacceptable. We know better than to think that some sins are worse than others, but the reality is that we are the product of our culture that classifies sins as socially acceptable and socially unacceptable. Our sins are Christian sins! They don't hurt anybody and we still look better than anyone who does the really "bad stuff!" Greed isn't as bad as murder! Pride isn't as bad as adultery! Materialism isn't as bad as rape, robbery, and racism!

Our view of our sin is a reflection of how precious we view the blood of Jesus.

Friday, August 08, 2008

A Dad Joke and more

Forget the personal stuff, the deep theology, and the religious ranting. It's time for what my kids call "a Dad joke." It's not original, but I don't know who came up with it - so now it's mine.

A skeptical anthropologist was cataloging South American folk remedies with the assistance of a tribal medicine man who indicated that the leaves of a particular fern were a sure cure for any case of constipation. When the anthropologist expressed his doubts, the medicine man looked him in the eye and said, "Let me tell you, with fronds like these, who need enemas?"

I love puns! They are an integral part of my life, my teaching, preaching, and all levels of communicating. Did you ever realize that puns mean nothing to the hearing impaired? When I use a pun in a lesson that Donna is interpreting for the hearing impaired, she has to explain it and why it's funny. Without hearing the play on sounds - it totally loses it's effect.

I wonder how much we are spiritually hearing impaired? How can two people read the same Bible and get two completely different mental pictures of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Back to the joke! Can you see Jesus laughing at that joke or is your view of Jesus seeing Him scowling and looking like He's had a permanent botox treatment on His face? Do you see a loving and kind Father or a harsh and angry God? Does the Holy Spirit scare you and make you want to lock him in a book, or does he excite you with what he does in your life that you CAN'T know about? Is humor a work of Satan or a gift from God? Are you looking forward to laughing in heaven or to pun-ishment? Sorry, I couldn't help myself.

Even the hearing impaired will hear the last trumpet. Father, help us to hear what you are saying to us long before your instrumental music calls us to attention.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Stop And Smell the Berries

No, Donna is not holding up plums but blackberries. We drove over to Eckerts, a pick-your-own orchard just outside of Grafton, IL. We picked this half gallon of berries in about ten minutes - not counting the ones Donna ate before they hit the bucket. These are seedless and the vines are thorn-less. How nice is that? I'm not a huge fan of blackberries, at least not like Donna is, but I might become one after trying these super-sweet seedless giants - in a cobbler of course. I am a huge fan of fresh peaches and this place had them already picked and ready for eating. It was a fun time, especially since we went earlier in the morning and did it before the triple digit temps hit on Monday.
I kept thinking about all kinds of lessons I could make about the fruit we picked and comparing it to the Fruit of the Spirit. You know like picking only the ones you like or that are easy or thorn-less. Or getting only the ones that someone else picked for us. Or acquiring them when it's cool and convenient. So forth and so on... You can probably make you own lessons. It was just a nice time for us to get away and enjoy getting some things that we hope will entice our kids to come visit us sooner - - - can't you taste the peach pie already? Wait, isn't patience one of the Fruit of the Spirit...

Monday, August 04, 2008

"I'm Not There Yet!"

In my opinion, nothing would impact our understanding of scripture like hearing the tone of voice of the one who was doing the talking. The great disadvantage of written word over the spoken is the tone of voice, the facial expressions, and all the other visual signs that give purpose and intent to what was said. Without that, it's easy for what was intended as encouragement to be interpreted as criticism.

Yesterday I sarcastically asked in my sermon if anyone had ever "Over dosed (OD'ed) on thankfulness." Of course, none of us have. None of us are as thankful as we ought to be. Even the ardent Christian tends to be situational about thankfulness as opposed to it being an attitude or a way of life. By situational, I simply mean we are thankful for specific or isolated situations or good things in life. We don't maintain a spirit of thanksgiving towards God on a 24/7 basis. We react or respond to things rather than view life through grateful eyes. That's the challenge for us all.

I have spent most of my life as a chronic worrier - looking for and expecting that infamous "worse case scenario." And that's in the midst of a life that has been incredibly blessed - where I've won far more than lost, succeeded way more than failed, and prospered and been healthy - not most of the time, but nearly all of the time. At 57, it wasn't that many years ago, about a dozen, that it finally dawned on me how important it was to be thankful. It's the key to spiritual growth, to our personal relationship with God, to our prayer life, and to having "the peace that passes understanding." And here's the most critical part - we are in total control of it and we can choose to make it happen anytime we want! This isn't some superficial "Oh, just get over it kid" kind of slogan stuff that you throw at someone who's struggling. Developing a thankful spirit is probably the most life-changing decision we will ever make.

I love these verses in 1 Thessalonians 3:7-8, which were part of what I used in my lesson yesterday. Paul said, "Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord." It's easy to skip over this and miss how their thankfulness for the spiritual maturity of the Thessalonians actually made them feel good in the middle of their own "distress and persecution". Wow! That's the power of a developed spirit of thankfulness.

I'm not there yet, but I want to be, and I'm thankful that my "want to" is finally heading in that direction.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Please Take My Burden

As powerful and moving as The Shack is, it's easy for us to miss the point. It's not just about getting a warm and fuzzy feeling about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Maybe the focal tragedy is so huge and heavy, that we don't see the fact that we all have a Shack. It's the place in our life where we question God and why He didn't do the things we expected Him to do for us. We all have a shack because we all, at some time, sit in judgement on God. It's not always a matter of facing a tragic crisis. It can be our disappointment that He didn't lift the burden we asked Him to take away from us - which we have been told we should do - right - "Give it to God!" - didn't seem to work. We are crushed and unable to find answers.

We have a loved one who is struggling with her anxiety about the future. It's scary, unknown, and potentially disastrous. Her love and faith in God is wonderful, but why hasn't He taken the burden away from her? Since she is struggling with an anxiety that is "common to man" I want to share a few point for us all to meditate on (and I hope it helps).

First, we need to take responsibility for our anxiety. We're not victims of some ruthless attack or suffering with some unexpected illness, but simply suffering from our own self imposed perspective. We are anxious because we choose to be anxious. We choose to look at the unknown with worry and concern. Why does one person look at the unknown future with excitement, seeing an adventure, and another see only things that cause fear? Choice.

Second, that is also why we need to be careful about blaming God or thinking He hasn't answered our petitions. How much has He already saved you from? How many potential burdens has He already removed? How many resources has He placed at your disposal so YOU could deal with the challenges ahead? How many people has He put in your life to love and support you, and "be there" IF something should happen to go wrong? He's really pretty incredible. We will never know how much He does for us because we really don't know what we need.

Third, and final, the absolute most important cure for anxiety is thankfulness. We are so bad about seeing all we have and all He's done that we allow what "might" happen to scare and sadden us. I watched a survivor of last year's bridge collapse being interviewed yesterday and all she could talk about was how important and valuable life is. She wanted to live each day to the fullest because it was too precious to waste. Thankfulness is all about recognizing what you already have, what God has done, and how incredibly blessed you are. But it's also about priorities. Someone who has just survived cancer isn't worried about finding a job or a house or what tomorrow may bring. If it brings life, everything else is secondary.

When you pray for God to protect a loved one who is in harms way, and He does that for eighteen months bringing him safely home to you, is it really that important to know what's going to happen next month?

If I start to worry too much about the future, I like to go ahead and picture the absolute worst case scenario and then objectively look at it. As I coolly review it, I think to myself, "I can handle it. God will take care of me, as He always has, and the the worst that could happen will only bring me closer to Him. Even if it means home with Him."