Categories
Christian Living

1-2-3 Jump

Photo by Carla MacNeil via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Moses. Abraham. David. Joshua. Daniel. Jonah. Isaiah. Nehemiah. [Insert your Bible heroes name here____.]

There is one important reason that you know their names and not the names of the thousands of people God may have called at the same time. People with higher status in their day. From better families. People who were probably more recognizable as they walked the face of the planet. 

God gave those men an opportunity to do something for Him.

And they jumped. They actually did it.

We don’t know if God had called others who didn’t listen first. But the point is that you know their names because they jumped.

They heard God’s voice in the desert or in a burning bush or through a prophet or in prayer or in the belly of a whale.

And they acted.

They could have heard God’s call and ignored it. And God, in His grace and benevolence, may have allowed them to live a very nice and safe life.

But they didn’t.

They heard God’s voice, turned around, and… jumped.

Here’s the thing that blows me away: That same rare voice heard in the desert or the belly of a whale or in a burning bush… He lives in us as we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit.

The question for us isn’t:Where will we have to wander to hear the still, calm voice as He lives inside of us.” The question is… “When He calls us to do something, do we jump?

I don’t know what God has called you to do today. But I have committed my life to the idea that when I hear the still, calm voice– sometimes loud, booming, audacious voice– that I will jump.

Jump first. Let God count the cost.

Categories
Christian Living

If Prayer is a Verb…

If prayer is a verb…

  • You’ll knock on the door of your enemy to say you’re sorry, even if they wronged you.
  • You’ll nail the interview because you studied up.
  • You’ll check your friend into rehab.
  • You’ll get an A on the test because you got a tutor.
  • You’ll confront your boss about the things he says to you.
  • You’ll wait for your neighbors car to pull in; you’ll walk over and talk to them about Jesus.
  • You’ll go back and find that homeless woman and learn more than just her name.

God can do anything. He’s huge and good and loves it when we seek Him. But sometimes He doesn’t answer prayer because He has already provided an active solution to your prayer request.

Never forget. Prayer is a verb. Prayer isn’t passive, it’s active.

What are you praying with your feet today?

Categories
Church Leadership

Training to Save Lives

On June 1st, 2009 Air France flight 447 left Rio de Janeiro for Paris simply disappeared. 228 people and a giant plane vanished and was never heard from again. Family and friends arrived at the airport to pick-up loved ones who never arrived.

Did it blow up suddenly? Was it hijacked? Was it accidentally shot down by a renegade fighter pilot?

For nearly two years no one had any idea what happened. Families only knew that their loved ones were not coming home.

That changed when the flight data recorder was recovered recently, 2.5 miles below the oceans surface.

The cause? It was operator error. A pilot mistake caused the planes engines to stall and the jet basically fell from the sky at 100 feet per second. The plane fell 7 miles out of the sky in 3.5 minutes.

The French government’s preliminary report describes what happened:

The Air France jet’s 7-mile plunge into the Atlantic Ocean began suddenly when the jet’s instruments went haywire. Ice had blocked the jet’s speed sensors; the pilots could not tell how fast they were going. Warnings and alerts sounded almost simultaneously.

In response, the pilots made a series of mistakes, according to the French Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses, the agency that investigates aviation accidents.

Instead of flying level while they diagnosed the problem, one of the pilots climbed steeply, which caused a loss of speed. Then the aggressive nose-up pitch of the plane and the slower speed caused air to stop flowing smoothly over the wings, triggering a loss of lift and a rapid descent.

They had entered an aerodynamic stall — which has nothing to do with the engines, which operated normally — meaning the wings could no longer keep the plane aloft. Once a plane is stalled, the correct response is to lower the nose and increase speed.

For nearly the entire 3½ minutes before they crashed into the ocean, the pilots did the opposite, holding the Airbus A330‘s joystick back to lift the nose.

Read the rest @ USA Today’s, Alan Levin

For some reason the pilot’s brain was telling him, “I need to go up, I have the joy stick pointed up, we are OK.” But the situation called for him to do something counter-intuitive– to point the joy stick down so the plane would gain speed and the engines would turn back on, air would flow over the wings, and they could continue on their journey to France unharmed.

A lack of training of the pilot to do something counter-intuitive cost 228 lives.

What does this have to do with me?

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” – Colossians 4:5

Our instincts lie to us in the most important moments.

  • God puts us in the path of a hurting student, we get a clue as to what is going on in a casual conversation, and our instincts lie to us. They will be OK. It’s just a phase. It’s really none of my business.
  • God puts us in the path of a student who doesn’t know Christ, they ask us… “So, why did you come to my soccer game, I mean it’s really cool that you came, I just don’t know why you want to be in my life.” Our instinct tells us to play it cool and just keep building that relationship while we miss a golden opportunity to introduce a student to the only relationship they really need in high school.
  • God puts us in the path of an exasperated parent, they tell us they are struggling and they are arguing with their spouse a lot, and our instincts lie to us. Adding one more thing and meeting with me won’t help them, I’m just the youth pastor anyway.
  • God puts us in the path of a young woman being exploited and our instincts betray us. I don’t really know her, I just met her randomly at the train station. And I don’t want to get in any trouble. Meanwhile, a trafficker continues to sell this runaway to any creep with $100.

If you don’t have training to know when and how to respond, in Jesus’ name, in a counter-intuitive manner to your instincts you will miss more often than not.

Making the most of every opportunity means that you need training to see every opportunity and know what to do in each of those instances. Mention that to anyone in your church and they will LURCH BACK! “I wouldn’t have a clue what to do in any of those situations?”

Herein lies the problem. A lack of training is costing lives in your community.

Economic times are tough. And into that economic reality a new lie has found fertile ground and grown amongst church leaders that people in ministry and especially people in the laity don’t really need training– they just need to feel things out and listen to the Holy Spirit, you’ll know what to do.

Nonesense. That is a lie from the mouth of Satan himself!

A life with Christ has nothing to do with passively sitting on your hands, singing some songs, and dropping some cheese in the offering plate.

Your ministry as a leader isn’t about your teaching. (Nor success measured by your ability to attract a crowd.) It’s about what people do with your teaching, otherwise you’d be called a teacher. Teach them to save lives and kick them out of your pews and into their reality! Live it out in your own life. Lead them to places that they would otherwise not go on their own… that’s how you lead!

Want to see your church explode? Refuse to teach new things until they have tried what you’ve already taught them. (James 1:22-25) We don’t have a lack of preaching in America, we have a lack of application.

Training saves lives both in the physical world and the spiritual world. As a leader you will never make a more wise or cheap investment as training your people to both listen to the Holy Spirit and re-orientate false instincts to God-ordained ministry instincts and skills.

Categories
Social Action

Wanted: Maladjusted Activists

No application necessary. Work from home.

Position available immediately.

Categories
haiti Social Action

What have you done for me lately?

A year ago the earth shook and the world changed.

Billions were given.

Tens of thousands have gone to help.

Yet not much has changed.

  • The poor suffered.
  • The rich got richer.
  • More people died needlessly.
  • The UN has effectively lied, spending money studying and asking questions while accomplishing little.
  • And America sleeps in their comfy beds tonight feeling like they did something because they texted a donation to the Red Cross.

We’re left now with more questions than answers.

  1. If the international aid organizations aren’t going to do something, who is?
  2. People are stealing aid given while government pockets are filled with bribes, who will prosecute perpetrators when the government is the worst offender?
  3. How can we help this country get back on its feet while at the same time lessening dependencies on the outside world?
  4. When will the colonial view on international missions be put away and replaced with working alongside of Haitians to build housing for people in tent cities, advocates standing for justice, and training of teachers, city planners, and tradespeople begin?
  5. Where is the army of Sean Penn-like camp managers?
  6. Who will hold accountable those who make empty promises?

The answer to all of these questions is you. The cameras will shine on Haiti today. And you will feel sorry for what is going on.

Don’t.

Our Haitian brothers and sisters don’t ask for your pity today.

But they are asking for you to help them in ways that answer the questions I’ve posed above.

Know that the media elite will leave tomorrow; having satisfied their ratings and your curiosity, they will board private jets tomorrow and go back to New York, while children still sleep on muddy cardboard beds.

1.5 million people are asking the question, “Who is helping us?

The answer is you.

Turn off the TV and do something.

Categories
Christian Living

In defense of blunt

Some writers have explained the English constitution thus; the king, say they, is one, the people another; the peers are an house in behalf of the king; the commons in behalf of the people; but hath all the distinctions of the people; but this hath all the distinctions of an house divided against itself; and though the expressions be pleasantly arranged, yet when examined they appear idle and ambiguous; and it will always happen, that the nicest construction that words are capable of, when applied to the description of some thing which either cannot exist, or is too incomprehensible to be within the compass of description, will be words or sound only, and though they may amuse the ear, they cannot inform the mind,for this explanation includes a previous question, viz. HOW CAN THE KING BY A POWER WHICH THE PEOPLE ARE AFRAID TO TRUST, AND ALWAYS ABLIGED TO CHECK?

Thomas Paine, Common Sense – January 1776

Thomas Paine, and his best-selling pamphlet, united ill feelings towards King George and solidified the people into a full-fledged declaration of independence from England and the war which followed.

Words, written bluntly, did that.

Paine didn’t dance around things or talk about them in a way so as not to offend. He went for the jugular with his pen and twisted when he found a vein so as to cause maximum damage. He went for the kill and got it.

As I’ve been reading Common Sense it reveals to me over and over again a simple truth: We have gone soft.

Something was wrong in his world. And he knew that others felt the same way. So he published his words with the hopes of putting his frustrations into action.

If he were to say those things today about our country? We’d call him a terrorist. (Or another label… even if we agreed with him, we’d have to disarm his words with a label.)

The pen is still mightier than the sword

Political-correctness is very effective. It leads to stalemates and exchanges of niceties. But being nice never leads to action. Compromise is the best you can do.

Meanwhile, the world is in desperate need of truths to be told, lies to be exposed, and convictions to be stood upon.

Millions will die in the coming decade because we are nice.

As believers in Jesus, we acknowledge that millions will go to hell because we are too nice (or want to protect our job) to do anything about our churches reaching 5%-10% of the general population of our country.

I’m 34 years old. I don’t have time to waste being nice.

This is what I tell people when they ask me, “If you know things you write will make people mad why do you still do it?

Have you ever met someone in their 70s full of regret? Looking back on their life they tearfully tell you the things they wish they had done, said, or the person they wished they could have been?

I have. And those conversations drive me to do and say things based on my convictions today. I’m not going to sit back and play nice as it only leads to compromise and regrets.

You are who you are on purpose

I’m stupid enough to believe what the Bible teaches me. And I hope you are, too.

God doesn’t have you where you are at by accident. You don’t live where you live accidentally. You don’t work where you work accidentally. It’s no accident who your co-workers are. Or your friends. Or the board you sit on nor the role you play at your church.

You were created for this moment to have the thoughts you have today and to say them. Fear God alone, not the consequences of putting to action the things God has laid on your heart.

Knowing that, have no fear. Just say it. Do it. And live it.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10

No regrets.

Categories
Christian Living

Towards Simplicity

Photo by Steve Minor via Flickr (Creative Commons)

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Simple Gifts – Elder Joseph Brackett, Shaker

This has hardly been our theme song for 2010. Yet, Kristen and I have made some serious moves towards simplicity this year. Ever since I read Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, I’ve been fascinated by the concept that less is more in my life.

The Simple Things

  • Quantity time with the kids, individually. As the kids are getting older we are making sure to schedule time for mom and dad to spend big chunks of time with each of us 1-on-1.
  • Gardening. I can’t tell you how many deeply simple Biblical principles have been illuminated to us through our garden this year. For me, the biggest one has been– You have to prune daily, you have to weed regularly– Otherwise good things will take over your life and bad things will choke out your growth.
  • Staycation- I suppose not everyone lives in a vacation destination quite like we do. But there was something so beautiful about renting a house 45 minutes away and spending a week with family.
  • Financially sound – I was shocked when I looked at some graphs on Mint.com the other day. I told Kristen, “We did a really good job this year. We’re ahead in every category and on target or ahead in every goal.” It’s amazing what can happen if you’ll just live within your means. In 2010, we were able to give or save 25.4% of our income.
  • Meaningful roadies- In November, I lamented a lot about being away from home 14 weeks in 2010. (27% of 2010) At the same time, most of those trips were really meaningful. And not all of that was away from family. (Including the mission trip with Kristen, probably the most valuable trips of our marriage.)
  • Friendship – It’s incredible to have a life full of friendships. (Or as a co-worker calls them, “Adam’s bromances and brarriages.”) While having a bunch of great friendships is huge to me… nothing has made me more excited than to see Kristen develop some deep friendships with a few women in our community group.
  • Real food – We’ve far exceeded our desire to buy/grow 25% of our food from organic sources in 2010. While it might not sound immediately like a step towards simplicity: Going to the farmers market (and even visiting the farm where our food comes from) has not only connected us to where our food comes from– we feel a lot better. There’s nothing finer than enjoying a salad or eating fruit that you’ve grown yourself.
  • Acting on convictions – Putting what you believe to action really is a step towards simplicity. That might not sink in at first, but remember that regrets and the conflict caused by sitting idly on your convictions creates stressful complexity. All year long I’ve asked myself, “Am I making the most of this opportunity? Am I acting on my convictions? Will I regret it if I don’t say that?”
  • Towards a small world – No doubt, I have many friendships all around the country and around the world. But taking the step to try to focus some of that energy onto the block we live has been rewarding. We’re looking to allocate more of our time/resources towards that in 2011.
  • Journalling – I’m headed into my seventh year of journalling my life online. This little discipline has transformed my life. It’s really interesting when I interact with people who are thinking about starting a blog. “When will I have the time? What will I say? Will people read it?” I come at it daily with the exact opposite thoughts. The time I spend journalling brings me life. What I write just comes out of my life. And I don’t care if anyone reads it.

It’s funny how simplicity is different for everyone. When I think of my life, filled with a calendar full of meetings, digital gadgets, hours online per day, on and on… I still consider it grounded in simplicity. Perhaps that makes me a digital simpleton?

I don’t have grandiose plans to drive this further in 2011. With baby #3 coming soon I think we’ll just be happy to hold on to the progress we’ve made in 2010. You know, keep it simple.

What steps towards simplicity are you taking? What are things you’d challenge me towards in 2011?

Categories
Church Leadership

Rejecting the priesthood of the staff

And Reaffirming the priesthood of all believers.

That the pope or bishop anoints, makes tonsures, ordains, consecrates, or dresses differently from the laity, may make a hypocrite or an idolatrous oil-painted icon, but it in no way makes a Christian or spiritual human being. In fact, we are all consecrated priests through Baptism, as St. Peter in 1 Peter 2[:9] says, “You are a royal priesthood and a priestly kingdom,” and Revelation [5:10], “Through your blood you have made us into priests and kings.”

Martin Luther, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nobility, 1520

Most people on church staff have no idea how to turn the reigns of their ministry over to the church. It seems counter-productive to lead without holding the reigns. The attitude is generally that church staff are the experts, seminary trained, denominationally ordained and battle-experienced to do the work. And the people in the pews won’t do anything even if you asked them to. On most church staff’s the concept of the priesthood of all believers is taken figuratively, dismissed as impossible in the literal sense.

Hogwash.

There is an inverse relationship in the church today between the increase in church staffing/overall spending and the decrease in the number of people we reach per capita.

The Vortex We Created

Somewhere along the line we, as church staff, started to think that we could do ministry better than people who don’t work at the church. We bought the lie that because people are busy that they can’t be functional body parts described in 1 Corinthians 12. Instead of leaning on Scripture to correct, rebuke, and train in righteousness to call believers to their responsibilities– we assigned them books on Christian leadership which affirmed that we were the ones called to do the work and they were called to write checks.

Worse yet, we started to believe that being a pastor was a vocation of leadership and not a holy calling.

We turned saints into spectators. Then we handed them literature that told them to pursue excellence in leadership and got mad when they left our hard-working church of 500 for a megachurch of 10,000.

Many Luthers Wanted!

We need brave men and women to publicly state the obvious– the current strategy isn’t working. It’s not a liberal thing. It’s not a conservative thing. It’s not an emergent thing. It’s not an old-fashioned thing. It’s no modern. It’s not post-modern.

It is the church, universally failing to reach more than 10% of the population on any given Sunday.

There is no hope that a staff-led church can reach your community much less the world. (My pastor has only been to my house once, he doesn’t know the names of any of my neighbors.) It is not mathematically possible because it is outside of the design. The hope of the world is not that we flock to bigger and bigger megachurches with more refined experts. It is the opposite.

The hope of the world lies in individuals and families embracing a simple strategy of neighbors loving neighbors. As we, the body of Christ– messy, broken, and dependent– embrace our role as the God-ordained priests on our block, the church can get back to the designed multiplication strategy.

Thought questions

  1. How is the identity of your pastoral calling tied to the responsibilities of being church staff? If you weren’t on staff would you still feel like a pastor?
  2. I make the argument that there is an inverse relationship between increased spending/staffing/programs and reaching people. Looking back at the last 30 years of history in your congregation, do you find that to be the case? Why or why not?
  3. Read 1 Corinthians 12. What are spiritual gifts lacking on your staff team? What are ways your current staff structure may be handicapping your church?
  4. What are ways that your staff’s ecclesiology or even church polity are getting in the way of the priesthood of all believers?
  5. What are practical ways you and your staff team can reaffirm the priesthood of all believers in 2011?
  6. Do you know the names of all the neighbors whose property touches or is adjacent to your own residence? What are ways you can love your neighbors better in the next 14 days?
Categories
Christian Living Church Leadership hmm... thoughts illustrations

Abram’s Call: An advent monologue

Photo by Stephen Weppler via Flickr (Creative Commons)

[Lights up]

[The main character, Abram, walking his dog through his middle class neighborhood.]

[His phone rings, the ringtone is Usher’s OMG]

[Abram bounces his head to the song as he pulls the phone out of his pocket.]

[Abram’s glances at the caller ID and stops cold. He raises his eyebrow for a brief second, thinking about letting it go to voicemail.]

Abram: Ah, man. I don’t really have time for this today. Give me a break… OK, whatever.

[Abram swipes to take the call]

Abram: [With a little frustration in his voice] Hello?

God: Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

Abram: You don’t even say hello anymore? For once it’d be cool if you would at least say who it is. [pause] OK, OK… what do you want me to do? Leave the country and go somewhere? What do you mean by “leave?” You mean go for a little trip? Or do you mean I need to pack up my house, quit my job, and move? Are you OK? Have you been creating planets again? A little more clarity would be nice here.

God: I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you.

Abram: [pausing, looking inquisitively at his dog, who just raised his leg to pee on a bush.] What does that even mean? You don’t even say hello, you tell me to leave the country…. and now, a great nation? All I ever asked you to do was to help me be a better dad. A great nation? I’m not into politics. I don’t want to become a great nation… I just want to now how to talk to my kids about the tough stuff… you know… sex and why the Cubs suck. Stuff like that. [Pause, catching up to the reality of who he’s arguing with.] Any way we can talk a little bit more about the blessing part of it and a whole lot less of this moving somewhere else bit? I mean… I’ve got my kids in a great school. There better be one heck of a blessing for me to talk about pulling the kids out of school. You know, I’ve got a wife. I’ve got to sell her on this idea. Blessing, yeah… talk about the blessing some more.

God: I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

Abram: [Letting out a little doubtful snort] You want me to tell that to Sarai? Have you met her? [raising eyebrows and envisioning getting punched when he tells her.] She’s pretty comfortable in our neighborhood as it is. She loves our house. She’s got a whole bunch of girlfriends. Our kids our happy. We’re safe. And you want me to go home and tell her that leaving all of that is going to make our name great? She’s gonna throw that back in my face, you know? And I don’t think I like the sound of “you will be a blessing.” I can’t sell that to her. She’s going to want to here that you are going to bless us. Not be a blessing, get a blessing. Work with me here, G.

God: I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse.

Abram: [turning his heart from despair, slowly to more of a realistic tone.] Well, now we’re talking. Sarai’s gonna dig this part of it. So when our kids start at a new school and the other kids tease them because they don’t look right, don’t dress right, and live in a neighborhood they clearly don’t belong… you’re gonna have their back. And you’re going to make it pretty obvious that people are getting blessed because they bless my family, right? I’m getting the idea that you aren’t asking me if I’m willing to do this… so you’re starting to speak my language.

God: And all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

Abram: [long pause, having been stunned into thinking deeply about those words] Whoa. OK… so what’s you’re saying is that if I go home and convince my wife to move from a house we love to a place to be determined later… that every person on the planet will be blessed through me? I’m not even sure how to respond. I guess I get to respond just by doing it, right?

[Abram realizes that God has hung up]

Abram: Hello? You still there? Yeah, I’m out here walking the dog… this canyon must have a dead zone or something. You’re breaking up.

[Pulling his phone down, he sees the screen displaying “Call ended.”]

[By this time, the dog has gotten tired of standing on his walk. So he’s laid down on his side. Abram puts his phone back in his pocket, stares off into the distance some more.]

Abram: [under his breathe] Yeah, easy enough for God to call me like that. Now I’ve got to go home and try to convince Sarai. How would God know? Not like He has a wife.

[Pulling on the leash and getting the dog going.]

Abram: Come on. Let’s go. Good dog.

[Light out]

Narrator: So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

Genesis 12:1-5

Epilogue: It’s one thing to take the call. It’s another thing to put the call into action.

Categories
Christian Living Culture Social Action

Correlating Poverty to Religion

Image by Charles M. Blow / New York Times

“A Gallup report issued on Tuesday underscored just how out of line we are. Gallup surveyed people in more than 100 countries in 2009 and found that religiosity was highly correlated to poverty. Richer countries in general are less religious.”

Interesting stuff.

Jesus told the rich man, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” Matthew 19:20-21

Second thought

I’d really like to see a similar chart correlating the amount of money a religion spends vs. the number of participants per capita. I have a feeling that all of the spending in westernized Christianity doesn’t correlate to increased impact.

HT to How to Break Anything & New York Times