Monday, December 22, 2014

A Year in Review: The Story I Had Fun Telling

Well, what do you know, it's another review! 

Luke 8:40-56

They knew she was dead. They knew it!

There was this guy that lived a long time ago. He did things. He did amazing things. And he spoke truth. But the truth was so amazing, people had a hard time believing it. They didn't accept it, or didn't want to accept it. 

But he would do these amazing things anyway. He would do them for free. So word began to spread and people began to call him for help, hoping he would do something amazing for them. 

One such time these parents had a young girl who was dying, so they called this guy. He agreed to come, but as you might imagine, people who can do amazing things often get stopped and distracted by other people who need amazing things done. 

And that happened. He got stopped. By another woman who was in need. She'd been bleeding. Actually she'd been bleeding for a long time. This was in a day and age before reliable healthcare. It was also a day before health insurance. (You can decide what has been gained.)

She came up and distracted this guy who did amazing things. And an amazing thing happened. She stopped bleeding. He didn't apply a band-aid. He didn't need to. He just did amazing things. 

Unfortunately for the parents of the young sick girl, the little girl died while the amazing guy was busy doing amazing things. But when the amazing guy heard this, he told the dad not to worry about it. He wasn't being insensitive, he simply had an amazing plan. 

The only problem was the girl was dead. They knew she was dead. 

The guy who amazed said she was only asleep, not dead. But they laughed at him, because of what they knew

So he decided to do something amazing. He took the girl, whom they knew was dead, and told her to get up. And then an amazing thing happened.

She did. 

They knew she was dead. They knew it!

But Jesus, more than just a guy who did amazing things, changed what they knew. It's as if He said, "Is that what you know? You know too much. Here's what I KNOW!" 

He does not depend on our time schedule. He does not require our perspective. He has no need of our knowledge. After all, He is aware that our lust for knowledge got us into the sin-predicament that He fixed. 

Jesus never seemed to bothered by keeping a schedule. Didn't He make last-minute plans to come to dinner with Zacchaeus? Didn't He linger while Lazarus lay dying...then dead? Didn't he discourage Martha from concerning herself over when dinner would be served?

We worry so much over knowing what needs to be done and when. Believe me, I am in the same boat. But perhaps it is time we acknowledge what we don't know. Maybe we should spend more time in awe of what we don't know. After all, if we trust Jesus, then we can know He will do amazing things. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Year in Review: The Story My Kids Still Talk About

True story. My kids still talk about this. This is from August of this year. 

Last month, when we had that giant storm come through and cause all sorts of ruckus, I was awoken in the middle of the night by my wife saying, ‘There’s a tornado warning. I have all the kids downstairs. You should come downstairs.’ 

Jen and I have been married for over 17 years. We’ve had discussions on what to do in a storm. Despite my tendency to scoff and doubt weathermen, I went downstairs and promptly fell asleep on a couch next to one of the kids. Jen stayed up for a few more hours on high alert.

After about an hour of the roof not falling in around us, I went back to bed, seeking a spot where a child's leg would not be lodged in my back.

I think we discovered our differences in storm situations back when we were engaged. She was spending some time in Florida one summer, when the people on TV started telling us to evacuate to nearby schools because of impending hurricane-like weather. Jen looked to me and asked what we needed to pack and if we had an emergency bag to take along. I just laughed while my dad changed the channel to find something else to watch on TV.

We laugh about it now (well, I laugh about it now) but it’s a perfect example of how our beliefs should dictate our actions. My family didn’t take action that day in Florida because we’d never before been hit. (I know you can say there is always a first time, but that’s for another sermon.) Our actions reflected our beliefs.

We might want to ask ourselves, if all of our actions were written down, what someone reading our story would assume we believe. What do we really believe?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Year in Review: The Reminder I Need

I'm posting some of my faves from this past year. I'll post your faves if you tell me what they are. 

It's harder than it looks. That's what one of the teens said after a student led night. I wanted to respond with, 'Yeah, that's why it's called a job.' But that might have been misconstrued as harsh. Besides, if we're being honest and nice about things, we could say this about most things. 

If we are to actually look back and consider what high school was like, it was harder than it looks. The other people, to whom we continually compare ourselves to, also have a job which is likely harder than it looks. And it would be nice if someone looked at our responsibilities and realized that we're not sipping lemonade with our feet in the sand. Unless, of course, your job is to taste test lemonade while sitting on the beach. Then your job is not harder than it looks.

And we all hate you.

Having said all this, just because a job is difficult does not mean we shouldn't work at it. And in the context of youth ministry, we should also be sharing it with our students. If for no other reason than Jesus didn't just call on professionals, we should share the job. Here's why...

We're not liars.
If we tell students and parents and volunteers that ministry is not just about what we, as pastors, do, then we might want to apply that truth. That means including others in the tasks of ministry. That means involving their voices and their ideas. 

We're not superheros. 
Yes, we have a gift. But we don't have the only gift. Our students are not Lois Lane waiting for us to fly in and rescue them. They are partners, younger brothers and sisters, looking for us to guide them into using their gifts and abilities in the ministry. 

We're not going to live forever.
Okay, in the spiritual sense, yes we will. But here on Earth, we will need to be replaced. We constantly need to be multiplied. We need others who will continue the work. Where better for them to gain that experience than under the supervision of those who have gone before? 

Yes, it will be harder than it looks. Both for them who are stepping up for the first time and for us, who are showing them the inner workings of what we do. No one ever said we shouldn't do something base don the degree of difficulty. 

Besides, if we can show one more person just a small glimpse of what pastors do all week, then we have done something very beneficial. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Year in Review: Understanding Women

I'm posting reviews from this past year, but don't be surprised if I add some new content here or there before 2015. Here's one I could have written last week and just changed the ages on and I would have still been accurate. 

At breakfast one morning, my 10 year old son noted that his 12 year old sister is up before him every morning and yet always seems to be around and ready to leave last. It's a true story. Oh, she tries, she tries. But every morning we have somewhere to go inevitably ends up with me pushing the 12 year old to get out the door. 

Without offering any fatherly wisdom to my son's observation at this point, I smiled knowingly.

He continued.

"I have, like, four main things I do every morning. She has, like, ten and I don't even know what half of those things are."

Honestly, I couldn't say it any better myself.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Year in Review: When I Looked Back This Year at the Previous Year

I usually end each year by posting some of the faves and best posts from the year. It's fun to look back, plus it gives me more time to focus on Christmas shopping. With that in mind I welcome you to the first of a few faves.

Recently our church had our Annual Society Meeting, a great time of mirth and merriment that makes birthday parties feel like dental appointments. Since I had so much fun writing and giving my report, I thought I would share the joy here. 

Honestly, what follows is close to my heart, and only a portion of what I shared at the meeting. 

I sit before a blank screen each year and think through what I want to say to this esteemed audience. Realizing this is the twelfth time I have done this doesn’t exactly make it easier, wondering how I can keep this fresh, since I am quite certain many of you have taken copious notes from previous years. Obviously there are a few things I want to accomplish;
    • I’d like to paint myself as the Stephen Hawking of Christian discipleship.
    • I’d like to point out several of the many deserving volunteers who have given much.
    • I want to offer hope for what’s coming while not making all that’s happened so far seem pointless.
    • I’d like to be funny.
So, with all these goals set before me, I set to writing, realizing I may not accomplish any of my goals.
I did ask my wife if she had any good ideas. Perhaps doubting that anyone is actually listening, she suggested I pull out my report from my 5th year and use that. (That would be 2007) The references to people no longer here and programs no longer used might tip off the few of you still listening.
Then she suggested the airing of grievances, a nod to the show Seinfeld and their made-up holiday of Festivus, where family members took the holiday time they had together to tell one another all the problems they had with one another. This seems absurd…and yet, I have been prone to try things just as crazy. Does anyone recall those 6 weeks of sermons this past fall?
If we accept that not everything is perfect around here…
If we consider that things can always be improved upon…
If we are willing to internalize the need for better without allowing it to cause us to feel defeated already…
Then maybe an introspective look at what we’re doing around here would be a good thing. Or, in other words, what would a report sound like if I were to say what I actually think needs to happen?
Our church adopted a mission statement last year which states,
The purpose of the WLFMC is to serve Christ, His Church and our community
by making more and growing better disciples in the Lord Jesus Christ.
More and Better. Those are not words we would use if we were content with what we have. Otherwise our mission statement would read that we are to serve Christ, His Church and our community by doing the same thing we’ve always done and hoping for more of the same.
More and Better. Those words sound, to me, like we have an agreed upon goal that what we have here, in worship and community, is good enough to share with others. I would agree with this notion, offering that this kind of thinking is in line with the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, both given us by Jesus Himself.
How can we make more and grow better disciples through our systems of Christian Education? Our reach is to all ages. While I would normally start with children’s ministries, I realize that real-time results do not often happen that way. There was a survey done last year dealing with families and Christianity.  
It found that if a child is the first person in a household to become a Christian, there is a 3.5% probability everyone else in the household will follow. If the mother is the first to become a Christian, there is a 17% probability everyone else in the household will follow. However, when the father is first, there is a 93% probability everyone else in the household will follow.
An American study found similar results on the impact of fathers. It found:[32]
  • When both parents attend Sunday school, 72% of the children attend Sunday school when grown.
  • When only the father attends Sunday school, 55% of the children attend when grown.
  • When only the mother attends Sunday school, 15% of the children attend when grown.
  • When neither parent attends Sunday school, only 6% of the children attend when grown.

So I believe it is imperative that we consider how we approach discipleship in keeping with reality. So let’s begin with adults, and specifically, men.
We have a system of discipleship we call Connection Groups. This includes our Sunday School classes. We have a concept of scheduling based on the semester schedules of the school systems. Is this because we are all in school or have children and teens in school? No.
But seeking More and Better means we base our systems on those who are not yet here, not of those who are already here. To put it in a way Jesus would, ‘it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.’ So our system, at least in concept, is set to benefit those we do not yet have a lot of; primarily young families, singles and college students.
Why is this important? Because we need to be about seeing adults connect in groups where their faith can grow. If we are to believe even a shadow of the statistics are true, then the development of the faith of one generation will affect the discipleship of the next.
What is my goal? Nothing short of 100%. I don’t say that flippantly, nor will I count 2014 a dismal failure if we don’t have every single attendee of WLFMC in Sunday School or a small group, but: If discipleship is important at all, then it is important enough for all.  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

True Love Project

I was recently offered the opportunity to review True Love Project by Clayton & Sharie King. The subtitle is How the GOSPEL Defines Your Purity, and the Kings do a fantastic job of laying a great foundation.

Because we have all heard, and maybe even taught, that purity should be the goal, which means waiting for sex until marriage. But I hope Christians can agree that purity is so much more than that.

What I received was 3 separate books. There is the classic book, which could be read by anyone, regardless of which boxes you check when asked about age, beliefs, married or single. The book has follow-up questions after each chapter, lending it to use by a leader in a group setting. Like I said, Clayton and Sharie do a good job laying the foundation on what purity looks like and why it is important.

The other two books are more devotional style, one for guys and one for the ladies. I would recommend you get copies of these into the hands of your teens. 40 Days of Purity is the time frame, which may seem like a long time for teens to focus on one subject. But considering that media will spend years filling their minds with their own agenda-driven messages, 40 days seems like a good start.

I was given these books by my good friends at Salem Publishing and YouthWorker Journal. They give me books in exchange for an honest review, which is what you just got! 

Monday, December 8, 2014

What Do We Expect?

What do we expect? I mean, what do we really expect?

I was looking at this info-graphic recently. You can click on the image if you want to expand it. Go ahead, I'll wait. 

In it they show how very little even Evangelical Protestants agree with what has historically been perceived as absolute truth. Perhaps you've seen and read info-graphics like this before. Sadly, I can't say I was surprised by most of the numbers.

What did catch my eye was the statistic that showed only 47% of Christians strongly agree that Heaven is a real place. While it is disturbing to actually consider that half of all Christians don't actually believe Jesus is preparing a place for us, did you catch the wording?

Strongly agree?

This tells me the question was: Do you believe in heaven? And the possible answers were; Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree and Strongly Disagree. I'm going to go ahead and assume Neutral was a possible response to keep survey-takers happy. 

How do you strongly agree with something like this? If the group giving the survey believes in absolute truth, shouldn't there only be two options, Agree or Disagree? I either believe Heaven is a real place or I do not. I don't think Heaven is sort of real. 

This kind of survey taking has implications on us as we get closer and closer to Christmas. I celebrate Christmas because I believe God came to Earth as a baby, through a virgin, with a noble step-dad in Joe. I believe shepherds proclaimed the birth and that wise men brought gifts (a year or so later). I believe in this story because I believe the Bible to be true.

I don't strongly agree because that is lending emphasis where emphasis is not needed. This is absolute truth. I live by these truths with great fervor, which may bring some to assume I believe in them strongly. But save your adjectives, because if I didn't believe in it, I'd be celebrating this holiday with a focus only on myself. 

Truth matters. Do you agree or disagree?

Friday, December 5, 2014

God's Public Relations Guy

I could be the public relations guy for God. I'm smart. I know what looks good. I'm not saying God doesn't, but who couldn't use a P.R. guy every once in a while. Someone to explain why the Flood was a good idea. Someone to extrapolate as to why Pharaoh had to go. Someone to talk to the press when things get a little out of control.

Or perhaps someone to kindly suggest things to God. Listen, I work in a church. I see things. I watch the ups and downs of lots of lives. I see how it impacts the lives of others and how the general mood of an entire church family can move.

There have been moments when I believed it would have been a perfect time for a miracle. Yeah, a nobody-could-do-this-but-God type of miracle. I'm not talking about a Lifetime Movie kind of miracle where the bad boy decides to make a good decision. I'm talking proven, walk-on-water, heal-the-sick, turn-water-into-wine, there's no way that could happen, kind of miracle.

I'd even coordinate the timing. Mid-service, just as the pastor is praying for something big, the big happens. Do you want to talk about something that would make a difference in the prayer meeting attendance? I'm talking about a big time miracle here. Something that has us quoting Tommy the doubter, 'I used to believe because I was told, but now I have seen!'

I've seen these moments come and go while God remains silent. Maybe that's too strong a feeling for some, but they just don't know their history. This is the question that philosophers have been asking since the dawn of time. They've been asking God....why?


Why do bad things happen?
Why does death come here?
Why does evil sometimes appear to win?

Don't you see, God? This could have been when you showed up. This could have been when you made an entrance. This could have been when you showed everybody what you're all about. This could have been.

But it wasn't. You let the moment pass. The opportunity slipped by. How does God not see these missed chances the way I do? It could have been huge. It could have been a game changer. How did He not see it?

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so aremy ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. ~Isaiah 55:9

On second thought, maybe God doesn't need a public relations guy.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Bronze Shield That Made Me Sad

A bronze shield. Who would have thought so much discouragement could come from a bronze shield? But when I read 2 Chronicles 12:10, which tells us King Rehoboam of Judah put bronze shields in the royal treasuries, I immediately thought of how discouraging that must have been.

You wouldn't think so, would you? After all, a bronze shield would defend. It would protect. It would do what it was made to do.

And yet...

If you flip back a few chapters, to the description of King Solomon's reign, you read of excessive opulence. We read of vast riches and people living in the lap of luxury. Foreign Queens visit and swoon over the organization, the ritual, Solomon's wisdom and yes, the riches.

For a few chapters we read of all the wealth Solomon had, including a fleet of ships which seemed to have no other purpose than going around getting Solomon more stuff. 2 Chronicles 9 tells us the ships would come back into port every 3 years loaded "with gold, silver, ivory, apes and peacocks."

Apes? Far be it from me to question the wisdom of Solomon, but apes? Peacocks, sure. When you want a splash of color to offset all the gold everything, bring in some peacocks. Apes? Did they amuse Solomon? I don't mean to monkey around with scripture, but I'm just imagining the mess apes would make.

I digress. We're told that silver was seen as common and everything was gold, including the shields Solomon had made for his army. Gold shields which weighed 15 pounds each. Like I said, silver was common. Everything was made with gold.

But when Rehoboam succeeded his father Solomon, we're told he neglected God and turned away from Him. And God didn't like it. God used the Egyptian army to come and ransack Jerusalem, and they took all the gold and made the Jews servants. So Rehoboam replaced the gold shields with bronze shields.

A bronze shield might get the job done, but when people know they should be using gold shields, your perspective shifts. Some might get the idea that I am promoting upgrading your phone or tablet. But we're thinking much too low. We have been offered treasures in Heaven and still we chase after things in this world.

Perhaps we need to see that all we have down here are a bunch of bronze shields.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Just the First of Many Christmas Devotionals You Will Read This Month

The last two weeks of November have been quite the struggle for me. But to properly share this struggle, I have to go back a couple of know....when big box stores began putting out their Christmas decorations and playing Christmas music in certain parts of the store. You know the stores.

I can be counted along with all those complainers, the self-righteous (and self-appointed) judges who criticize our society for stuffing ourselves with Halloween and then immediately start the gorge of unneeded things for Christmas, all while ignoring the one holiday that celebrates contentment.

Then people...people you and I know, started posting Christmas music videos. I watched it. I enjoyed it. But it wasn't time. You don't listen to Christmas music until the day after Thanksgiving, when it is also acceptable to decorate your home. I've held this standard for a few reasons down through the years:

1. A lot of Christmas music can get annoying if played more than 4 weeks in a row. This is especially true given the fact that much of the music we hear is 17 songs sung by 1,000 different artists.

2. Can we insert jingle bells into any song and automatically make that a Christmas song?

3. I don't accept cold weather coming so early. This really has nothing to do with music, but if you're going to sing about hot chocolate and roasted chestnuts, then I will have to acknowledge the snow outside.

4. I didn't want to become one of those people, putting their Christmas cheer on before it was time. I guess you could consider me the Grumpy Cat of holidays.

So, just what is my struggle?

For the last two weeks I have really wanted to begin listening to Christmas music. Maybe it was just one too many trips past the Christmas section on my way to get a rake, since I still have leaves falling from my trees. Perhaps it was something else. Either way, I have a justification, which I need to provide to keep my holiday dignity.

If Jesus is the reason I celebrate this season (and He is!) then can my jubilation for Him really come too soon? If my celebration of Christmas is really not misguided, misinformed or misplaced (and it's not!) then surely I should not keep it to a predetermined schedule.

Let's not forget that, despite whatever history has done to try and dismantle our worship, this holiday is a reminder for us that God loved us and sent His Son to die for us. This is just the quiet and humble beginning to a rowdy victory party which we will someday take part in with God.

Maybe next year I'll begin listening to Christmas music just after Labor Day.