Archives For April 2014

I’ve been listening to the free webcast of Exponential and just heard a great message from Michael Frost about rethinking evangelism. It was great to be at Exponential last year, and I’m enjoying the webcast, too ~ though the Orlando weather is making being there so much more enticing! It’s 40 degrees warmer there right now and the wind is about 40 mph slower! (Seriously, who lives in a place where wind causes power outages ~ the current weather warning for us right now!?)

Jumping off from 1 Peter 3:15, he paints a picture of life lived so differently from the dominant culture that Jesus is made evident, questions are asked, and we are able to articulate the hope we have in Him. This is what made the early church so effective. They loved people that were unlike them so well that people wanted to become like them! That’s not the predominant view of those outside the church today. They don’t see us running the best hospitals because we actually love the sick. They don’t see us giving the best customer service because we really do love the guy at table 7. They don’t see us going out of our way to love the unlovable.

It’s not all our fault ~ many often do those things and love their neighbors very well. But we’ve been painted in a lot of public perception as anything but the loving movement that Jesus initiated. Unfortunately, we’ve too often given them a lot of ugly colors to work with. It’s a problem when we claim to be all about grace and forgiveness but don’t show any more of it in our daily living than anybody else does.

Frost says, it is the vocation of every Christian to be intriguing by living a weird, counter-cultural life that looks like Jesus’. By that I don’t mean standing up against the culture, taking up arms in a culture war, or shouting from the rooftops all that we’re against. I’m not talking about picket signs and boycotts. It’s about living a life that’s filled with hope and faith and love. Not just love for God, though. Definitely that should mark our lives more deeply than anything, but also, we should show genuine love for the people around us (even the ones we’re being told to boycott). When we do, that’s unusual. That’s different and questionable. And it causes people to ask questions.

Are people wondering what’s happening in your life? Is there someone outside of your safe church family that you’re loving so well because of the hope you have, that they and others are wondering about that hope… and even finding a little of it for themselves? If not, here are a few really simple ideas to get you started:

  • Volunteer to go along as a sponsor for a school field trip.
  • Stay in touch with other parents and teachers after the event. Join some kind of community service oriented group in your town and take whatever jobs the rest of them don’t really want.
  • Help out with a school’s tutoring or after-school program.
  • Be a mentor for someone who needs one.
  • Listen, really listen to your customers and co-workers. Invite them to share their stories with you.
  • If you work in a church, get out of your building more often and interact with your community IN your community (not just in your safe hovel of books and church clutter).

Sharing the good news of Christ (evangelism) is about sharing life, His life, with the people He’s placed all around you. You don’t have to go door to door or pass out tracts on the street corner. In fact, most of us should probably never, ever do that. But every one of us should live a life that is so strangely loving in our culture, that people take note and wonder what the difference is.

I’ve been preaching through the book of Acts this school year. Each week, we’ve been walking through the story of how the church exploded onto the first century scene. It’s been awesome to see how the church advanced the cause of Christ despite the opposition they faced from both Roman and Jewish authorities. The Spirit within them kept compelling them forward and obliterating the many obstacles they faced. But last night I mentioned that Acts isn’t just about the history of the church ~ it’s about the future of the church!

The church has been given a spirit not of fear.

Paul’s words to Timothy are a great reminder to us.

We have the same Spirit within us today that turned Saul into Paul.

We have the same Spirit that enabled Stephen to speak boldly and even face death with courage.

We have the same Spirit that drew thousands to turn from their sins, lay aside their differences and bias against each other, and follow Christ together.

It’s the Spirit who can enable us to truly love people who are not like us.

It’s the Spirit who fills us with the courage we need to follow Christ and speak boldly even when it’s socially safer to stay quiet and go with the flow.

It’s the Spirit who transforms us and makes beauty of our broken pieces.

I think we’re at a critical point in the church today. Western culture is leaning farther from the Truth the church embraces, losing interest in anything the church is doing, and increasingly taking an oppositional stance toward the church as a whole. We can lament the rise in cultural opposition and the moral decline of society… We can ineffectively cling to a past when the church was the center of society… We can complain that no one listens anymore, that no one cares what God says… OR We can recall that the Spirit of Jesus is still living and moving among His people. We can re-engage the world with the Life they are looking for. And we can re-envigorate our missional muscles as we learn to actually love our neighbor in a spiritual climate that is a lot like the one faced by the early church.

The future is bright for the church. Not because of great new technologies or techniques (while those are awesome and need to be utilized to the full), but because of the Holy Spirit breathing life to the world through us. The next generations of the church may look a lot different than the past several. My prayer (and what I’ve worked toward for the last 15 years) is that whatever outward forms we can see, that inwardly they are a church marked by the Spirit, truly led by Jesus, and characterized most obviously by our Father’s love for the lost.

In The Artisan Soul, Erwin McManus describes life as a work of art. He revisits some of the thought and metaphor that most resonated with me as I read some of his earlier books, like The Barbarian Way and An Unstoppable Force. These ideas have captivated me and haunted me with wonder for the last decade. At times I’ve been tempted to dismiss some of artistic language McManus uses to describe the church and her mission. No… that’s not quite right; I’ve just felt like my life would be simplified if the creative expression of church didn’t make so much sense to me and I could just fall in line with “the way things are done around here.

See, I don’t live in a cutting edge place like L.A. McManus pastors a church there where he likes to say “the city breathes in the world.” L.A. is a city of artists from every curve of the globe. He’s writing from a cultural center for the whole planet. I live in the cultural center of… umm… never mind. We don’t “breathe in the world”. We feed it. Real, actual food that you can pronounce like corn and beef and pork. We breathe in the funk of feedlots and sugar factories – and the amazing aroma of ammonium nitrate. So, there’s not a lot of appreciation voiced for art as it’s seen as mostly a frivolous diversion from what’s really important: work. There’s always more dirt to be moved or another field to irrigate…

I mentioned going to a local art center to one of my students yesterday. His incredulous reply? “We have an art center?!” Here’s the kicker, though ~ he’s an artsy kind of kid. We were at an art workshop together! I don’t fault him, though. Our culture here has made little of esthetics and beauty, so many see art in general as a waste. It’s just not necessary for survival. It’s unproductive.

But it’s not a waste. There is more to be moved here than dirt and cattle and sugar beets. The weight of humanity struggling under the inertia of fear and insecurity longs to be moved toward a life full of love.

It’s not unproductive. The produce of creativity is no less important than that of a good day’s work. In fact, I’d argue that it’ll exponentially multiply the fruit of a good day’s work and make it a whole lot more enjoyable.

And art is certainly not unnecessary. Imagine a world of all brown… we need art. Not only do we need art, we’re made for it. Each of us is an artist. As the book suggests, the life that we create is our very most important work of art.

I’m ok with the realization that I will never “fall in line with the way things are” ~ because I see what could be. I will continue to choke down whatever seeps to the surface when I hear “we’ve never done it that way” ~ because I know that there are new ways just waiting to be plucked from someone’s imagination.

I am an artist. I paint on the canvas of life from a palette of potential that is waiting to be set free. The best thing is, I know the Artisan whose perfect love does just that and I get to spend time everyday connecting Him to students who so desperately want to be free to create a life that transcends anything they could ever do on their own.

[Tweet “I am an artist. I paint on the canvas of life from a palette of potential that is waiting to be set free.”]

[Tweet “The life that we create is our very most important work of art.”]

Did you ever wonder what Job meant when he told God he had “treasured His word in my heart”? (It’s in Job 23.) John 3:16 hadn’t been made into a banner, yet, so we know he wasn’t talking about the most memorized verse in our day.

Devotion, Bible, Encounter

Or what about Psalm 119, which advocates the same thing: “Your word have I hidden in my heart…”? We hear those words and we think about memorizing Bible verses, or at least reading a few. But it seems to me that there is a whole lot more to treasuring God’s Word or hiding His word in our hearts than checking off a box on the annual Bible reading planning.

Don’t get me wrong. Bible reading is a great thing. It’s valuable to have Scriptures memorized, but if we’re not careful we can read and memorize and discuss and analyze Scripture without letting a puff of its fresh, life-giving breath near our hearts. But what if we didn’t? What if we stopped with the check-boxes and plans once in a while and just listened? Don’t misunderstand… I’m not saying to stop reading your Bible. But…

[Tweet “Don’t just read the Bible like it’s a dispassionate religious exercise.”]

What if we could learn to breathe in Scripture and let our spiritual lungs transform it into oxygenated life coursing through our veins? Here are a couple quick things to consider:

  • Read a little. Sometimes God shapes our hearts and minds by focusing us on a few verses or phrases for an extended period of time.
  • Read a lot. Other times, He reframes our thinking with a big picture revealed over several chapters or books.
  • Don’t get stuck in a rut. Don’t let a good habit become a boring routine. Shake it up and read in a different physical space once in a while. Read different translations or listen to audio Bibles.
  • Work it out, then live it out. Engage the text by thinking about it and figuring out how to act on what you read. Then do it.
  • Don’t hold your breath. Scripture is meant to transform you, a gift that you should share with the world. Don’t forget to exhale the life you’re breathing in! Read the Bible with a small community of friends and share with each other how God is working in you through His Word.

This Lent Challenge reading through the NT has been very filling for me. Every day, I’m reminded of the power of God’s Word to strengthen His people. On some days, it’s been one little phrase that stands out, and on others, it’s been a whole big, familiar picture that takes on a new sheen. But last week, there was a series of passages that settled in to feed and disturb my soul. In a world where the status updates and twitter feed are constantly refreshing, these statements still loom in the background, consuming my thoughts as often as I can stop to reflect.

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Hebrews 10:39)

The early Christians faced horrendous difficulties as they sought to gain momentum in the movement Jesus launched. The Roman empire, which dominated the day, had no use for what they saw as an upstart splinter of Jews. And the Jewish culture from which the movement emerged was dead set against letting Jesus’ Way gain any traction. Throughout the pages of Scripture, we find the early Christians facing beatings, jail, and executions at the hands of Jewish and Roman authorities. And yet they persisted. They didn’t shrink back. They were unstoppable.

Is it any wonder? Jesus had told His disciples that He was going to build His church and that nothing would be able to stand against it. He promised, when He left, that someone greater would come who would be a comfort and strength for His people and who would empower them to follow, even through the suffering He warned of. He also promised that no matter how intense the suffering may become, that He would return to claim His faithful bride. Faith in these promises was a consistent hallmark of the early church. Remembering the faith of his protege, Timothy, Paul said this,

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God… for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

I have to confess, I’ve done a much better job stoking the fires of others than I have of tending the flame of my own gifts. I love my students, and there is little that compares to being a part of God’s revealing Himself to them, then through them as they discover how He’s gifted them for service in His Kingdom. I believe that’s part of my gift – seeing potential where others just see brokenness… Seeing the beauty that could be made of someone’s life who may not even see it themselves, and helping their eyes to see. It’s the part that I’ve done well with and that I’m comfortable doing. But that’s not all, and I’ve tended to shrink back from fuller engagement of some of the less comfortable aspects of how God has gifted me. Over the past year, I’ve received a number of nudges and well placed, Godly elbows, but last week’s reading was more of a full on wake up call.

To fail to fully exercise the gifts He gives is to cease to live in faith. And as Hebrews says (11:6),

Without faith it is impossible to please Him…

Ouch. (And right after telling us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” too!) If we want to please God (which I’ve found is always the best option), then we need to respond in faith and not the fear that His perfect love would cast out of our lives. Faith makes room for hope to flourish and for love to move. And that’s what His whole movement has always been about.

Sharing the hope of restoration and reconciliation with a world so desperately in need of both.

Exercising a love so deep, it staggers our own imaginations.

Is there some potential in your life that needs a jolt to be fanned into flame? Some gift that’s just waiting for you to engage it in service to the Giver? I’d love to help you do just that, if I can. Get in touch and let’s see if we can find some next steps to take.

[Tweet “Faith makes room for hope to flourish and for love to move.”]

[Tweet “To fail to fully exercise the gifts He gives is to cease to live in faith.”]

If you’ve been following along in the Lent Challenge, reading through the New Testament in 40 Days, this may be a good day for a bit of a reminder about what it’s all about in the first place. The point isn’t to be able to say you read the whole NT in a little over a month. The point is to soak in Scripture during a period of preparation. The point of reading the Bible at all is transformation ~ and that doesn’t just happen on accident. It happens when we open our hearts and carefully consider what God has to say.

Today, what He had to say for me through the words of Paul in Philippians, is that I need a resurrection ~ the flood of His new life poured into mine.

God brings great things out of life's storms.

Reading through Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, you can’t miss the joy. It’s everywhere. In Paul’s words themselves, in the instructions he gave them, in the gifts he mentioned receiving from them… But if you read through a list of events in Paul’s life (like say, most of the book of Acts), joy wouldn’t necessarily be the first thing to come to mind. Paul was living through some pretty horrific storms. Despite his circumstances, Paul lived with a joy that, while we can’t miss it in this letter, we can easily miss in our own lives.

Have you ever lost track of the joy of life, of ministry, of meaningful work? You didn’t mean to, but irritations and frustrations chipped away at your heart and you found yourself going through a succession of joyless days full of monotony. Paul could have succumbed to this kind of situational darkness after all the shipwrecks and so many days in jail and house arrest, being beaten and run out of town over and over again. He could have… but it seems he didn’t.

As Paul attributed all of these tribulations to the sake of Christ, he connected his own suffering with Christ’s suffering. In doing so, Paul was continually reminded of Christ’s victory over His suffering. He was drawn into that victory with Christ, through the momentary suffering. He knew it was all temporary and that the resurrection meant he could make it. So he was able to say,

I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own… One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul lived in the reality of the resurrection. This reality propelled him through horrible circumstances with joy because of the hope he had in what lies ahead.

Maybe you need that like I do. Maybe we need to remember how badly we are in need of Jesus’ resurrection to be at work in our lives. His resurrection sets off an unstoppable cascade of life-giving water for our weary, thirsty souls. May our circumstances never rob us of the joy of drinking deeply of His resurrection hope. May our momentary afflictions never cause us to waver from forward progress toward the ultimate joy of reconciliation that lies ahead.

My job is to awaken possibilities in others.

– Benjamin Zander

Whether you’re directing an orchestra (like Zander), serving customers from a cubicle, teaching in a classroom, or leading a ministry, what if you thought of your job this way? What if you took the initiative to help the people around you make the most of the potential locked within them? The quote above has stuck with me for several years. When I first heard it, I wrote it down on the nearest scrap of paper I could find and stuck it on my desk. 8 simple words that still resonate and still shape what I do.

Recently, I came across another set of a lot more words that expound on this idea in the form of a book called Multipliers by Liz Wiseman with Greg Keown. After studying business leaders and practices, they’ve come to the conclusion that leaders encourage their people to give their best work by amplifying what their people do, that leaders who are multipliers seem to make everyone around them a lot smarter and more effective, and that leaders can learn to be such multipliers. A few things really stood out to me from this book:

  • Multipliers believe their team is smart and can figure it out. Diminishers believe the team can’t do it without them.
  • Multipliers attract talented people, liberate them to think and do, and challenge them to go beyond what they thought they could handle. Diminishers will eventually drive away people who want to make the most of their talent by ignoring what they know and effecting the death of their imagination and energy levels.
  • Multipliers invest in people by giving them ownership and accountability. Diminishers micromanage by delegating tasks instead of responsibility.

These ideas have big implications in the business world. How much more so in ministry?

Is there any area of leadership where multipliers are more needed? My guess is “No.” The church should never be limited by the caps the leaders put on their own abilities and knowledge and energy. In fact, I believe being a multiplier isn’t just a good business practice that we should adopt, it is our mandate:

Go into all the world and make disciples…

– Jesus

That’s not just a suggestion to go turn people into a bunch of clones of ourselves or to gather a team to get our own vision accomplished. It’s a directive to lead people in following the one who can truly empower them to make the most of everything they are for the glory of God. Take a few minutes and reflect on your own job or ministry. If you tend to slip into “accidental diminisher” mode, do your team a favor and look into Multipliers. They’ll appreciate it, and the joy of meaningful movement may just return to your job again as your team gathers positive momentum.

[Tweet “Being a multiplier isn’t just a good business practice that we should adopt, it is our mandate.”]

In Romans 10, Paul asks an incredible set of questions that have been launching people into Christ’s mission for their lives for the last 2000 years (almost). He sets the stage with the claim that there is no longer a distinction between the Jew and the Gentile ~ that Jesus is Lord of all.

But how can they call on Him to save them unless they believe in Him?

And how can they believe in Him if they have never heard about Him?

And how can they hear about Him unless someone tells them?

And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent?

Sending, telling, hearing, believing…

HowCanTheyHear

As I read these words of Paul yesterday, I thought of my own entry into youth ministry. I spent years as a child thinking that Jesus was Lord for the adults, not for us kids. We had too much fun to have while we were still young, I thought. God wasn’t really interested in us until we were adults, right? But early in my teens, I realized, He is Lord of me, too and had a place for me in His Kingdom’s work. I’ve spent the better part of 20 years learning and trying to communicate that message to students. We are sent to tell, so that others can hear and believe. [Tweet “We are sent to tell, so that others can hear and believe.”]

But there are a lot of competing messages for students to sift through. There are so many voices telling them they are their own “lord”, their own authority. So many optional messages for them to buy into. Even in the church, there are often obstacles to young people hearing the truth of God’s love for them and for their peers, as well as His desire for them to join Him on His mission to reconcile all things to Himself. How can they hear this truth?

They can hear when someone who’s been sent to them does the hard work of living a life that tells them more than our words ever could. They can hear when they are actually, honestly loved by the church. They can hear when grace is the hallmark of everything they see us do. You have been sent to the current and the next generations. Will you tell them? Will you model for them a life that’s lived for His lordship so they can see what it means that “Jesus is Lord”?

Getting ready for Easter, I’ve seen a lot of churches encouraging their people to invite their friends and neighbors to services that week. While it’s true that more visitors will be more likely to come to a church’s services that week, and we certainly should be inviting people, I want to push a little harder. Don’t only invite people to a service. Serve them & tell them why. Love them and introduce them to the Light that brings life to all of us.

Let them hear the voice of the one who has sent you, clearly speaking to them…

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters… (Is. 55:1)