Thursday, April 28, 2011

God's Incredible Family!

For the month of May I will be presenting a short series of lessons on God's Incredible Family. It is my belief that much of what we struggle with as a church (everywhere) can be traced back to its transformation from a simple family to an institution. Along with becoming an institution the church then became a place, a time, a keeper of orthodoxy and traditions, and the definer of faithfulness, evangelism, giving, and worship. Those were never part of the intended purpose of of God's people getting together. In today's culture of individualism, anti-institutionalism, and consumerism, the more the church protects and pushes that agenda the more the unchurched and marginal members are turned off to "church".
We must recapture the biblical concept of God's family! There is a reason God used the family image to define, describe, and direct his people. It is the natural conclusion of love. It is the the only group identity where people are, and stay, bound to one another, because love is what you are not just what you feel. Families thrive and remain committed to one another even when they get angry, strongly disagree, get irked with one another, and can't agree on what TV shows to watch. They don't split and start the Eastside Smith Family verses the Westside Smith Family. Because they are family they love each other even when it doesn't feel good. They support each other even when they really don't care much about watching soccer, dance recitals, or graduations. It's what families do. They each have responsibilities and they all do their part to take care of family treasures, property, and the family image in the neighborhood. Everyone helps to pay for what the family does. The older or more mature the young ones get, the more they contribute. It's what family do. Rules are sometimes needed and understood, guilt rarely works, pulling together in hard times is a no-brainer, and love is always the tie that binds.
If you want to see what a church family looks like, read Acts 2:47 and remember how those early Christians just wanted to be together and use every tool God gave them to help each other grow spiritually. Instead of trying to come up with a new set of goals, vision statements, and borrowed Church Growth ideas, why not ask the simple question, How can our church be more of a family? How can we be defined by our love for one another rather than a one hour program on Sunday morning that we can't all agree on anyway?
Maybe those people we are trying to reach with the Good News of Jesus are really looking for a family and not a religious corporation. God is "our Father" not our CEO. The Bible, especially the New Testament, makes a lot more sense when we hear the Holy Spirit talking to a family rather than an exclusive Sunday morning club.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Building Integrity

This is the final lesson in this series. This one is already on our web page - I listened to part of it yesterday mainly because I'm getting my next voice treatment this Friday and I wanted to hear how my voice was sounding. I was a little surprised at how much time I spent using Daniel as my example of integrity. Good stuff, but it really is just the intro. I feel very blessed and humbled about this series. I am thankful for the years of experience that God gave me in order to share things I never could have earlier in my live. I would love to share these with any church that might like to have some kind of family seminar, retreat, or workshop.

Building Integrity
A. Examples of "little" things we do that compromise our integrity with our children
B. Read about Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego in Dan. 1-6
C. Integrity is like trust - fragile and hard to repair
D. Integrity or lack of it, reveals the real us
E. How can you teach what you don't have? Yet we all want our children to have it.
F. Where does it come from?
1. Integrity comes from a deep desire for honesty. (Genuine & total!)
A. Integrity is what you are when no one is looking
B. What is your integrity worth to you? An overpayment? An IRS refund? Etc.
C. Keep your word at all cost! Be obsessive about being honest!
2. Integrity comes from a deep desire for consistency.
A. The misery of inconsistency, yet we learn to live with it?
B. Who would question your integrity? Why? Are you okay with that?
C. Integrity should drive you - not anonymity!
D. Build it intentionally! Use opportunities - discuss what is right & why? Pray.
3. Integrity comes from a deep desire for peace.
A. Integrity is the gift you give yourself.
B. There will always be misunderstandings, but there doesn't have to be guilt! Look at the charges against Jesus - misread & misunderstood, but all wrong.
C. Phil.4:4-7 God wants us to be at peace - with Him!
*The best way to teach the value of integrity is to be at peace with God and your kids see it.
4. Integrity comes from a deep desire to please God.
A. The deception of pleasing self:
B. The pressure to please others:
C. The peace of pleasing God first:
Conclusion: Integrity is what happens when we fully embrace the presence of God

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Different Kind of Egg Hunt

It is still amazing that a tornado swept through north St. Louis County, just a few mile south of us, damaging over twenty-five hundred homes - several hundred totally destroyed - and there where no fatalities. The pictures that they are showing on the local TV news look like a war zone. The tornado hit the airport closing it down for Sunday and causing Donna to reschedule her return flight until Tuesday. Another "ripple effect" of the storm was that it turned our Saturday morning Easter Egg Hunt into an indoor activity - without the hunt. It was way too wet, and it did cut the usual number of children who attend by half. It was still a great event with lots of wonderful sharing, teaching, and connecting with scores of families from our community. I took some pictures, many of which ended up being out of focus and had to be deleted. You can see the decent ones on our church web page at and click on Church Photo Gallery and then on the blue "Easter Egg Hunt". I am so thankful and appreciative of all the folks who put so much work into making this great annual event so wonderful. It is one of the best planned and executed events that we do all year, and we did touch the lives of a lot of our community friends.

Another "ripple" in the storm involved our friendly goose who has been sitting her nest in our back yard for the last three weeks. We've been checking on her several times a day and were looking forward to seeing her little babies swimming behind her in our pond. Not gonna happen. Saturday, I noticed she was gone - for more than just a break - and walked out to find her eggs out of her nest and just on the edge of the pond.
The nest was just off this picture at the lower left corner.

I remembered waking up in the early morning darkness to a lot of honking from multiple geese - or at least it seemed like a lot of geese. It may have just been a very upset mom. I assumed it was another animal that knocked the eggs out of the nest, because we've seen that happen before, but then I noticed that the nest was washed clean without any feathers or nesting material at all. After the worst of the storm Friday night, I stepped out on the back porch and I could hear the pond's overflow spill-way roaring with flooding water. I think the nest just got flooded and washed away. Mom and Dad were gone and they have not returned. I guess we were a lot closer to the storm damage then we thought.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Why Are Churches Declining?

I'm not sure which is more discouraging; hearing folks complain about the widespread decrease in church attendance, or hearing what some think is needed to reverse the trend. I believe that part of what most churches are experiencing has it's roots in the turmoil of the sixties (decade not age group). That was when, I believe, church members first started wanting and asking for changes in the assembly. Words like "relevant" and "contemporary" started being used to defining what people were seeking. And that, for churches that blur the distinction between God's commands and man's comfortable traditions, set the stage for decades of arguing, struggling, dividing, and polarizing as churches gradually began to define themselves by their worship styles, preferences, and purposes. I repeat it regularly every time the subject comes up, but as long as you define yourself by your style of worship on Sunday morning, the less you look like Jesus and represent the Body of Christ.
The second, and bigger element in the "why are things changing" department, goes back several centuries. Even as a historian I don't dare venture a guess as to the date. But somewhere, Christians getting together to grow in love for one another and to help each other grow in Christ was replaced by a passive, non-participatory, one-dimensional, formal worship service, with times, places, and specified rituals to perform. Attendance not only became the definition of faithfulness, the assembly of the saints became a receiving experience and not a giving opportunity. It stopped being about helping others grow, and became the single most important part of our religious experience - and "IT BETTER MEET OUR NEEDS OR WE WILL TAKE OUR BODIES AND OUR BOUNTY TO A CHURCH THAT DOES."
Now we have workshops, retreats, books, seminars, degrees, and experts to tell us how to "meet needs" on Sunday morning and attract larger numbers to our "sacrifice of praise to God." I believe with all my heart that one of Satan's greatest victories was not having so many bars, brothels, and bad people, but simply turning the words of Jesus up-side-down. Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than it is to receive." Satan got us all to believe that didn't apply to our assembly time.
Today we are seeing, I believe, the natural evolution of "what's in it for me" as people simply say, "I don't need it." In their minds, if it was all about attracting them, meeting their needs, and entertaining them for an hour or so - it's not working any more. Remember, we are the ones that said it's all about the Sunday worship, and we are the ones who grew up believing it's supposed to do things for ME, and we're the ones who expected that worship service to be all things to all people thus making it a perfect prescription for judging, for church-hopping, and for failure.
A simple tool for building love for one another and for God should only be judged by how well it helps people develop a deeper relationship with Jesus. Yes, I know there are mega-churches with tens of thousand of members. I praise God for anything that glorifies Him. But are they mega-churches because they are attracting people to Jesus, or because they've got the "best game in town"? I don't know - I'm just asking.
The Hebrew writer said that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." If the church is the body of Christ, shouldn't we "really" look just like His body looked in the beginning? Back when Christians getting together was all about giving instead of receiving? We might be surprised to discover how attractive that is to a world with "needs."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Missing Point?

Wednesday morning is my usual sermon preparation day. I like to think that my gradual transition over the years, from finishing my sermons on Saturday night to actually having them done four days early, is sign of maturity and being more conscientious, but it's actually more about my shear love of what God has called me to do. This week, since we were in Arkansas the first part of the week, I actually spent part of Tuesday afternoon preparing this week's lesson on Building Integrity. It is the final lesson in my eight part series on Extreme Makeover: Building Better Homes. I knew I'd be on the road Wednesday morning, (again, my usual sermon prep time) and I wanted it done so I could stay on my usual track and routine of weekly tasks.
I've said all that so I could make this point - the down side of finishing early is all the additional ideas that come to me over the next four days. I plan on that, and most of the time I jot them down in my sermon notes and use them on Sunday - unless they are too big and I know I don't have time to include them. Printing a final draft of a sermon, is like sending a manuscript off to a printer. The moment you say it's finished, you find things you wish you could add. Or to put it another way, it's like buying a dozen Krispi Kream doughnuts and telling yourself you're only going to eat one. Later you add the forgotten clarification of - I meant one - at a time.
I don't know if this will make it into Sunday's lesson on integrity, but here is a "Rootism" that has been on my heart today. Our integrity is defined and diminished by what we don't care about. That may not seem incredibly profound - until you start realizing what you DON'T DO THAT YOU SHOULD. If integrity is what you are when no one is looking, what does that say about us when we don't do things we should, because we don't care about them. We do the BIG STUFF - the SEEN stuff, but what about doing what is right when no one sees us? Picking up trash, rather than disgustedly thinking, "Someone needs to pick that up!" What about helping someone who dropped something, or who is having a hard time getting into their car with children and groceries? What about using that turn signal to let others know what you are planning to do? What about wiping off the sink in the public bathroom after you wash your hands?
The list is endless. It's all the little things we see, or choose to ignore, and - without saying it - we just don't care enough about it to do what's right! Doesn't that speak to the very essence of integrity? It's not just about telling the truth and not cheating on your taxes. It's being driven by a heart that is at peace with God. A heart that doesn't see burdens and guilt avoidance, but just consideration and compassion. A heart that truly wants to be like Jesus.
God tells us "As water reflects a face, so a man's heart reflects the man." (Prov.27:19) Head integrity is image management. Integrity in the heart, is instinctive thoughtfulness.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Building Faith

(I am out of town today, so I don't have access to my usual picture file. If you've forgotten what the Extreme Makeover logo looks like, just scroll down a couple blogs and you'll see it.)

Extreme Makeover - Building Faith (The lesson is on our web page)
My Top Five passages in the Bible about family: Joshua 24:15; Eph.6:4; Prov.31:10-31; 3 John 4; and the one I want to emphasis for this lesson, Matthew 16:24(...gain the whole world, but lose your soul) Building faith in our family is the most important thing we will do as a family. Move it to the top of your list before it's too late. Make it important!
Four Principles To Remember About Building Faith In Our Families:
1. Faith building means you are on a journey together!
A. At first, we are kids raising kids - learning and growing ourselves.
B. Recognize it as a process we all must go through on our own. John Westerhoff's, Will Our Children Have Faith, talked about the four levels of faith: Experiential Level, which is faith through your parents our someone who mentors you; Affiliative Level, which is being part of a groups, so it's really a group belief; the Searching Level, which is testing and doubting parents beliefs; and the Owned Level, where we seek God ourselves and know what and why be believe. Unfortunately, in some families, Jesus never left the church building.
C. Keep it a sense of growing together - I'm not perfect, I make mistakes and apologize, and to make it clear it is worth it.
2. Faith building is learning by observation not obligation!
A. There is a danger in fundamentalism, institutionalism, and legalism when they define "church" for young people. Lose respect for externals, rebel & reject meaningless acts or rituals, and they heat the inconsistency of church parents vs. at home parents.
B. Dolores Curran, "Faith is rarely passed on because of nuances in doctrine and theology. It is passed on because of the difference it makes in daily life."
C. Our goal is to guide them from us to Jesus.
3. Faith building comes from a positive and meaningful joy parents have about their faith!
A. What makes you happy makes your kids happy - they adopts our joys
B. Negative beliefs, critical opinions, unhappy & selfish members, and un-Christ-like comments bombard our kids = why they aren't going to church as adults!
C. Meaningful? Do they see me drawing closer to God? Do they see - Col.3:8-17?
4. Faith building supports family bonds, but it is not a prerequisite!
A. Love, support, & inclusion are what families do! Even if they don't share the same beliefs. Even if one or more loses their faith!
B. Open doors bring healing and hope - closed ones don't!
C. Jesus shows us how to deal w/ faith building in his disciples. Patience, love, & forgiveness w/ Peter! Available & understanding w/ Thomas. Grace is who we are, not just what we have!
Conclusion: No parent wants their child to fail. What about lose their soul? Matt.16:26? Move faith to the top of the list of family priorities. Who will pay for your attempt to "gain the whole world" for yourself or for your children?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

When Will I Get It Right?

When I comes to understanding God's will, as it's recording in the Bible, everything depends on interpretation - the way you choose to see it. Unfortunately, very few people ever read God's Word with completely objective eyes. Most of us had a great deal of "prerequisite" ground work done to our brains, long before we started reading just for ourselves. And, depending on what kind of ground work it was, you may see or interpret scripture completely different from many others - even whole huge populations of people. (PB = Pragraph Break) If you believe it's a book of laws, rules, and binding patterns, you read it that way - looking for new laws, rules, and patterns that you might have missed, and to reinforce the ones you've always known were there. If you were taught that Christians have an official and formal worship, you will interpret many verses of scripture to be referring to that event, and you will have a basic assumption that there must be acts or prescribed rituals that must take place and must conform to what God expects. Because you started out with those basic assumptions, which you were raised to accept, you will interpret lots of scriptures to be referring to that formal worship rather than just Christian interaction in general. (PB) Others read the same passages and see God simply wanting his people to be together and support each other in their commitment to have a deeper relationship with Jesus. One person sees principles of love building, and other sees binding patterns that can not and must not be changed or omitted if one is to be doctrinally correct, which to many, is the same things as being saved. (PB) It sure does seem that everything depends on interpretation. What if I pick the wrong one? Since I have changed or modified my interpretations many times through the years, how many other, or more, changes do I need to make to get it right? With so many different interpretive approaches to understanding God's Word, which one is right? Are any of them completely right? (PB) Maybe everything doesn't depend on interpretation. Could it be that more than anything else God just wants people to seek him as best they can, with what they have, and with all their heart? No, everything doesn't depend on interpretation. Everything depends on the grace of God.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Building Traditions

It is understandable that folks who have read any one of my three books on worship might conclude that I am anti-traditions. I'm not. In fact, I love traditions! I love family traditions, AND, I even love church family traditions, but what I don't like are traditions that become law and/or are elevated to a position higher than God's will (or made synonymous with God's will). In the family, they can and should be valuable tools to help build family togetherness. Traditions can be a wonderful tool for good or a selfish tool for destruction. A good contrast is Matthew 15:3-9, where Jesus condemns the traditions replacing God's will, and Luke 2:41-42 where Jesus' family honors the customs of God's people.
Here are some thoughts to remember about traditions in the family.

1. Traditions are for bonding not binding! (A good way to determine when a church traditions is good or bad too)

A. This is why some children grow up and limit family ties while others deepen them.

B. The difference between burden and bonding - duty vs. belonging?

C. Bonding is a sense of belonging and closeness.

D. Problem: the potential conflict between "freedom" and "belonging" since they are both powerful emotions that are also direct opposites.

E. Balance: keep it fun, meaningful, and loving (not laws).

2. Traditions should foster family values!

A. Togetherness - enjoy it, plan it, anticipate it!

B. Thankfulness - for each other, for memories, and every day together.

C. Christ Centered - Jesus is an official member of our family. (Eph.6:1-4)

3. Traditions are to be cherished not worshipped!

A. Cherish your uniqueness - our family chooses to do it this way!

B. Use the tool, don't let the tool use you! Focus on the principle or value you want to foster in your family.

C. Keep it simple, memorable, flexible, and doable! Things change, so must our traditions. Remember, it's the little things that count the most, and they will change with age and needs.

D. Warning: age appropriate traditions may not have anything to do with the number of years a child has lived. Their heart decides when they are "too old" for something that means a lot. Try having a Family Trivia Night where children can show how much they know about you and your family history. It's also a great way to teach it. Remember, some traditions are ageless and timeless - if they still bond the family together.

Conclusion: Don't just choose to get married and choose to have children. Choose what kind of family you will have. Use traditions to help build it.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Spring Sprang

This may be more for family than anyone else, but this is our cherry tree nearly in full bloom. It doesn't last long, but when it does, it's a beautiful sight. Clearly Spring is upon us - finally. We had a big thunder storm early this morning that turned the pond brown, and I'm trying to decide if the grass is too wet to mow for the first time this Spring. Decisions, decisions? Anyway, the white blossoms of our cherry tree are always gone by the time any family comes to visit us. Every year, during the week of our musical, the cherries are ripe and ready to be picked. We usually let the birds do it. They love us for that.
Our front yard azaleas only last a short while too, but they are pretty.
These are the three trees on our side yard with the pond in the back. It's hard to tell, but the first one is red, the second pink, and the cherry tree is white.
Here is the real Spring story. This goose has made a nest right at the boarder of our yard and the common property around the pond. She has been sitting on her eggs for a least a week now. She rarely leaves the nest, but when she does, she and her mate will come charging back to protect it if you try to get close to it. So far, no one has messed with her. Not even some people who have walked their dogs back there, but they've all been on leashes so far. (See the white crane on the other side?)
This is as close as she will let me get. A zoom picture from our porch. (Can you see the turtle just to her right?) What worries me the most is what the HOA lawn care workers are going to do when they come to mow around the pond, which they will either today or next couple of days. I thought about putting up some kind of markers or signs, but she won't let anyone get close. I don't think she'll be as courageous with the big riding lawn mower when it arrives. I don't know what to do. I guess it's true, I'm not my goose's keeper.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The One Left Out

I put together my lesson for Sunday yesterday. My plan is to share the main points on my blog next week, as I have been doing since the series began. This topic is very different from the other seven on the Extreme Makeover list. All the other topics are qualities or virtues what we all need to care about and grow in, but this one is - well, a concept or an idea that can be either good or bad, depending on how we use it. I'm talking about traditions. Traditions are a tool to use that can support all the other qualities on my list. In the family, traditions are a very important part of building togetherness and closeness, and give us warm memories that we cherish and want to pass on to the next generation. I had a lot of notes of things I wanted to be sure and cover in this lesson. I was able to include most of them in the outline, and as usual, it's probably way more than I need to be covering in one lesson, but that's the nature of dealing with huge subjects in just one lesson. The one "note" on my list that I didn't put into the lesson was the importance of respecting the traditions of others. It's just too big a point to make as just a passing sub point in one sermon. Still, I think it's very important. I especially think it's important because I've already made the point in the lesson on Respect that you don't have to agree with someone to respect their opinions and view points. I spent too many years being judgemental, critical, and smug about people who practiced traditions that I didn't subscribe to or doctrinally agree with. I don't have to agree with it, and I have no business assuming that because I don't participate or agree, the ones who do must be ignorant, insincere, or shallow. Gut check! Is it really about the tradition or the heart? Because something looks strange or doesn't make sense to me, does that mean it's not honoring God when it's coming from a sincere heart? Many scream, "It's has to have biblical authority!" Would you like to dissect a Sunday morning communion and find out how much of what we do comes from our traditions and not the Bible? The heart is the most important report card to God. I believe He respects any attempt to seek Him, glorify Him, and become more like Him. As long as the tradition isn't made law and elevated above God's will, I should respect it. Paul did that on several occasions, and no one was tougher on legalism than he was. Maybe I can find space in my lesson after all. (Sorry - blogger's still not accepting any Return/Enter Breaks - hope that's not a new tradition!)

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Blog Smog

Okay, before I start getting TOO impatient, for the last two weeks my blog has not allowed me to use any line breaks/returns. It's in the blog, but when I hit publish it takes out all Returns. I've pulled up the Edit screen and re-did the returns multiple times, but it always takes them out when I hit publish. I've tried everything I can think of and could play with, including all the recommendations in the HELP emails section. Any ideas? It's hard for someone who thinks in outlines to see them destroyed by a computer glitch. Hope it doesn't bother your reading of the blogs. Sorry. PS. Just for fun, I have a Break/Return after every sentence in this blog! I'm not laughing.

Building Responsibility

The lesson should be on our web page, but for those who might be interested in a "bare bones" overview of my lesson on Building Responsibility this past Sunday, I offer the following. The Rich Man and Lazarus, in Luke 16, gives us an excellent example of how responsibilities, or lack of being responsible, has consequences. My bud and co-worker Jerry, pointed out to me that if we didn't know the whole story, all of us would have labeled the Rich Man as "responsible". Great point. I did address that, without referring to the story, in Main Point #3 below. What is so important about being responsible? At the very least it includes... 1. Survival = even the world expects it 2. Self-respect = we all know we need it 3. Character = be a person of convictions 4. Maturity = it's value increases as we grow 5. Accountability = there will be consequences My premise is: Healthy parents train and teach their children the joy and self-respect that comes from developing a sense of responsibility. They must see it in their parents. Things to remember about building responsibility: (a primary source was Dolores Curran's, Traits of a Healthy Family) 1. There is a direct connection between being responsible and having good self-esteem. 2. Being responsible is more than doing chores. 3. Being responsible doesn't always mean being neat and tidy. * Typical definition from parents: neat room, done homework, compliant * A responsible child is one who is trying * Do not equate success & achievement w/ being responsible! (i.e. Rich Man) 4. Responsibility must be matched to capabilities. 5. Responsibility must be enveloped by affirmation. 6. Responsibility can't be learned without experiencing the consequences of irresponsibility. * Over-protective parents who accept or cover the cost of their child's irresponsibility are picking the temporarily easy way, the temporarily guilt-free way, the always wrong way. * Mistakes, failures, & poor choices are learning experiences - never made better by more bad decisions. * Be their parent now so they won't need a parole officer later! * Learn soon, save long-term! * Irresponsible children become irresponsible adults * One counselor said, "Either you raise your children full-time for twenty years, or else you end up raising them part-time forever."

Saturday, April 02, 2011

2012 Plans

Come with us! We try to take a special vacation every two years - usually a cruise of some type. It takes that long to save for it or to pay off the last one. We tried to brake that rule by sticking in a cruise on this last off year and found out that we, nor any of our travel companions, could afford it. So now we have our next one booked and mostly planned. Since we loved our last vacation so much - due to it being in the middle of Winter - we decided to plan this next one during the same time period. There's nothing like a warm weather vacation in the middle of the bitter cold St. Louis Winter. Our plan is to take an eleven day cruise next February (5th) out of Brisbane and cruising the Fiji Island and other South Pacific islands. Originally we wanted to do a Holy Land/Med Cruise, but with all the turmoil in that part of the world, and with the higher cost of that cruise, we switched to looking for a warm weather trip in February.

We'd love to have you with us. You can look up the details at and click on Cruise Search. Right now we only need a dinner table for six, but we'd love to reserve a larger one to include you. I'm so excited about it that I'm actually looking forward to next winter.