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 Church Leadership

Your Ministry of Discouragement

Having just spent a week with Christian leaders I came home with a raw heart.

Surely, I came home tired.

But I also came home perplexed by our unique ability to discourage one another.

Speaker shoes

When I went to my first convention in 2002– the whole thing was weird for me. It all seemed larger than life. The speakers, bands, seminar leaders, and myriad of volunteers all seemed bulletproof. I’d never seen anything like it and…

They are not. They are no different than you or I.

Now that I sit in different rooms during NYWC I see the event through their eyes as much as the eyes of those who have driven from all over the country to attend.

Imagine their perspective. For most, coming to convention is the highlight of their year. They are eager to present. But they are also eager to reconnect with lifelong compatriots, catch a friends seminar, or even to just be with people who remind them that they aren’t crazy. For many first-time speakers and artists it is actually an affirmation of years of hard work to be invited to speak. It’s a really big deal.

And so they do their thing. (Teach, lead worship, or even perform their talent) They are all the way into it. Their heart is there. They’ve given themselves to countless hours of preparation. They bought a new shirt. They got their nails done. And for a good chunk of them this is the largest audience they’ve ever spoken to. They are feeling big time because it’s one of the few places in youth ministry where we gather to acknowledge big time people.

And when they complete their task– most are both eager for feedback and too raw to receive feedback constructively. That’s why we’ve created spaces for them to just come and relax. For most, their hearts are just too raw and they need some time before and after.

This really isn’t any different than when I’ve taught or preached. (Thankfully, I’ve never been in a band!) You leave the platform feeling exposed, you seek out feedback, you want to know that what you did or said moved people or helped somehow or was just good and not bad.

It’s a raw state that anyone who speaks or performs experiences.

Inevitably, as folks bump into me, they want to know what people were saying online while they presented. If I’m on my A-game, I’ll have selected and saved a few tweets to share. I’m careful to show them things that will affirm. But folks are savvy and they know that if I’m showing them 1-2 things that there are likely a lot more. So when they ask, I suck at lying, so we look at them all.

And it’s depressing. You can feel the shoulders slump as they are shown a mirror they weren’t quite ready to look into.

There are lots of tweets quoting people. Awesome.

There are lots of tweets about how people feel as a person is singing or speaking. Awesome.

And there are lots of tweets about flippant things as people try to say something smart so that they can get re-tweeted. Not awesome.

It’s not awesome. It hurts. It sticks. And it bitters the entire experience. No one wants to read that someone thinks their hairstyle sucks. Or the color of their shirt is wrong for the color of their skin. Or that they look kind of like a celebrity.

It’s as if we get so caught up trying to out smart-aleck one another that we forget that these are real people who will likely read about themselves on Twitter, or Facebook, or Google. Yeah, when you @reply a person on Twitter it is very likely they are going to see it! Geez, you think?

That’s the problem. We don’t think. We forget that people are not objects. We forget that this is real life. And we forget that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

This isn’t about convention, it’s about you

In the same breathe lets acknowledge some truth. Anyone who speaks at convention knows that criticism, even over silly things, is part of the game. It shouldn’t be but it is. And they all get over it.

And just like when a student comes into our office and rips on us for 20 minutes… we all know that flippant negative remarks aren’t about us. They tend to be about what’s in the heart of the critic rather than style of the critiqued clothing.

Think about this for half a second: Who called you to a ministry of discouragement?

Planks

As I was thinking about this yesterday, I wondered how many people would like the same treatment this week? How would they like it if they taught a Bible lesson on Wednesday night in full knowledge that while they were sharing all of their pupils were having a dialog about their words and trying to one-up one another on Twitter or Facebook.

What would it be like to teach on Sunday morning, have people shake your hand as they left, and then read that there was a rowdy debate about whether or not you’ve gained some weight.

You would feel horrible. You would cry out to God, “Why have you called me to minister to these people? Why do I deserve this? I share the message you’ve laid on my heart and all they care about is where I bought my shoes!

And yet we do it all the time. Not just at events like NYWC, we do it all the time… all the time! We post some smarty-pants comment about a person not knowing or caring that this same person is going to see our tweet, click on our profile, and think… “Youth pastor at First Baptist, eh? What a jerk!

My plank is just as big and as weighty as anyone else. But being common doesn’t make something correct.

You are entitled to your opinion

I think there is an important distinction to mention here. There is a distinction to be made between a flippant remark, something sarcastic or a dagger about someone’s attire, and comments made about content. I’ve never known a person to not appreciate feedback on content. Even if it’s in strong opposition to what’s been presented. That’s on-topic and relevant. And I’ve also witnessed some incredible dialog as the result of comments made on content.

On top of that, when you pay to attend something you feel empowered to judge it. You watch television for free and when something isn’t to your liking you just change the channel and get over it. But when you pay to see a movie that you don’t like and you feel a responsibility to tell other people.

I get that. And I affirm that. You’re entitled to like or not like something. But you aren’t at liberty to tear down for the sake of making yourself look good. It is one thing to not like a movie. It’s an entirely different thing to make fun of someone who came to encourage you.

Change is needed

As I sat and thought about this phenomenon while coming home yesterday, I just couldn’t get two things out my mind.

First, a passage of Scripture I memorized long ago.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. Ephesians 5:1-7

Second, a song we sing with children.

O be careful little mouth what you say

O be careful little mouth what you say

There’s a Father up above

And He’s looking down in love

So, be careful little mouth what you say

O, that we would be a people known for lifting people up instead of tearing them down.

Categories
Christian Living

The God of Discomfort

God doesn’t call us to a life of comfort.

As an overweight, gainfully employed, hyper-educated American Christian– that phrase convicts.

Recently, when I spend time in God’s Word, the Holy Spirit has illuminated in me this truth in a brand new way. God doesn’t call us to live a comfortable life. He calls us to a radically life of discomfort.

I tend to read my culture and my experience into the Bible so much… my life is pretty cushy. I tend to think that since I’m typically comfortable in life, the people God lifted up to me as examples must have lived equally comfortable lives, right?

Wrong.

On and on, the Bible is full of stories of people called to live uncomfortable lives. There are endless examples!

When I hear people talk about what they like or dislike about their church it bothers me to hear so much talk of comfort.

  • We want music we are comfortable with.
  • We want to be around people like us, people who make us feel comfortable.
  • We want the preaching to challenge us, but never to make us uncomfortable.
  • We want a church with a great kids ministry so we can feel comfortable about leaving our children there.
  • We want comfortable seating.
  • We want to serve the church in ways that are convenient and comfortable for us.

When I hear Christians (myself included) talk about the life we want to live, we all desire comfort!

  • We want jobs we are comfortable with.
  • We never want to be sick, that’d be uncomfortable.
  • We want comfortable shoes.
  • We want a comfortable bed.
  • We want a big, cushy Lazy-e-boy recliner to watch football.
  • We want to marry someone who is comfortable to be around, and our friends are comfortable with.
  • We want friends we are comfortable with.
  • When we think of vacation, we want things to be über comfortable!

As I stare at my Bible this morning and ponder this, I’m left with this question:

What if God is calling me to live a life of radical discomfort?

What if following Jesus makes those around me uncomfortable?

What if the church I’m called to be a part of never feels comfortable?

What if steps of faithfulness lead me to great and greater steps of discomfort?

What if my desire to be comfortable is leading me further away from Jesus instead of closer to Him?

Categories
Church Leadership hmm... thoughts

The Peak of the Christian Life

pinnacle-of-christian-life

Question One: What is the chief end of man?
Answer One: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
Westminster Shorter Catechism

If you were to ask most preachers the question, “Practically speaking, what does the peak of the Christian life look like?” most of them would give an answer related to the answer given in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. (Even if you don’t come from that tradition.)

The theologically correct answer to that question sounds like this, “You are in God’s sweet spot when you follow God’s call wherever that is. So it’s different for each person. For me, being in God’s sweet spot has meant being a pastor at this church. But for you, the pinnacle of the Christian life could be ____. Anything less than following God’s call to that is not the pinnacle.

But if you listened to their preaching you’d hear a much different message.

A lot of preachers accidentally lift themselves and their calling to an unhealthy place. Preachers, in their messages, often imply that their calling to become a pastor is a higher calling than anyone else in the church. (Read 1 Peter 5:1-10) They use their obedience and their life as an example of getting into God’s sweet spot. Sitting there, listening to them preach and use themselves as the pinnacle of the Christian life week after week… you might start to believe that working for a church is the pinnacle of the Christian life. While I don’t think that most preachers really believe this to be true, it is easy to use themselves as an example to illustrate their sermon. And more often than not they use themselves as a heroic protagonist in the story… thus the implied status that they are the example of the peak Christian.

The truth is there are a lot of people attending and even working at churches that believe that lie. (Heresy) Even if the preacher never directly says that that working at a church is close to the peak of the Christian life and being the lead preacher is the peak, most people believe that a pastor must be somehow superior unless they are taught otherwise.

Next, you see this pattern emerge all the time! A person feels stuck in their spiritual journey. They desire something “greater” and decide that they need to take a leap of faith. Out of an earnest desire to experience the peak of the Christian life, they start pursuing something else. They follow the leadership example they hear year-after-year and walk away from where God has them in order to chase “the pinnacle of the Christian life” by serving at a church. And those people further perpetrate the lie by testifying, “I used to be an accountant, but God called me to become the Pastor of Finance at this church. Even though I am making much less money I am happy to be in the Lord’s service.

Financial sacrifice does not equal a ministry calling. But listening to the testimony of a lot of preachers, you’d think it was. As if God was going to cosmically bless a ministry simply because you gave up earning potential?

The irony continues once you make that leap. Once you get on staff at a church you learn a dirty little secret. The priesthood of all believers is true.

You want to reach a majority of the community you live in for Jesus Christ? (I believe most churches do.) It simply will not happen through the church staff or its programs. [Even the biggest megachurches only have a tiny reach into their community.] It will only happen when the people in the congregation take hold of what the Bible teaches and takes the Gospel to the places they have access and influence. (Places 99% of pastors have no access or influence.) This mega-change in a community is just as likely to come from a house church of 12 as a megachurch of 20,000. Just like in Acts, God is not interested in the size of the Temple. He is interested in bringing the message of the Jesus to the people where they are. Did Peter, Paul, John, or Timothy grow endearing church organizations? I think not. It was never the goal of the early church to create a massive, efficient organization. The early church built no cathedrals, had no mega-meetings, and lifted nothing but spreading the message as far, deep, and wide as they could in their lifetime. This is a far cry from the little-church-kingdom building we see among clergy today.

I belive most Christians aspire the peak of the Christian life. It’s a good thing to aspire to! Let me encourage you with this. To reach the peak of the Christian life probably won’t mean an Abrahamic move. You likely won’t be called by God to sell your land and move your sheep, goats, and wife to a foreign place. Nor is it likely that God wants you to stop being an accountant, teacher, nurse, or business person to work in a church. The church needs more Christ-followers in the workplace and fewer business people dressed up as pastors.

More than likely you can reach the peak of the Christian life right where you are, in the career you are in, with the friendships you have.

“But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:25

If you are seeking something more significant in 2010 I want to challenge you to first do your very best right where you are. Don’t forget to consider that God may have you in the right spot– it may just be you that needs to change.

Look at your life through the eyes of Jonah and ask yourself… what am I running from? That’s most likely what God is calling you to.