Posts Tagged ‘call’

Re-Framing Your Life

May 31, 2017

In their book Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans tell a story about a woman named Janine.  In her mid-30s, she was starting to reap the benefits of decades of dedication.  Her willpower and hard work had gained her a number of accomplishments.  She was the picture of success and achievement.  But, she had a secret.  Some nights, after driving home from work, she would sit out on her deck and cry.  She had everything she thought she should have, but she was profoundly unhappy.  Who wakes up every morning as the picture of success and goes to bed every night with a knot in her stomach, feeling as if she is missing something, and that she has lost her way?  In America, 66% of workers are unhappy with their jobs, and 15% actually hate their work.  Janine had a dysfunctional belief.  She believed if you are successful, you will be happy.  She needed to re-frame her thinking:  happiness comes from designing your life with God.

In their book, Bill and Dave also tell a story about a man named Donald.  He had worked for more than 30 years at the same job and had made a lot of money.  His home was almost paid off.  His kids had all graduated from college.  He had money for retirement.  He had a solid career and a solid life.  Get up, go to work, pay the bills, go home, go to bed.  Wake up the next day and do it all over again.  Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.  But, for years he had carried the same question around inside of him as he went to coffee shops, dinner tables, church, and the bar.  The question would wake him up at 2:00 am.  He would look at himself in the bathroom mirror and ask, “Why am I doing this?”  Not once had the guy in the mirror had a good answer for him.  He had a dysfunctional belief.  He believed that a life of responsible and successful work should make him happy.  He felt stuck.  He thought he didn’t have any other options that to continue to struggle through an unfulfilling life.  He believed it was too late to change his life’s work.  But, he was wrong.

Many people today operate under the dysfunctional belief that they just need to find out what they are passionate about.  They think that once they know their passion, everything else will just magically fall into place.  But, most people don’t know their passion.  Only 20% of people between the ages of 12-26 have a clear vision of where they want to go and what they want to accomplish in life.  80% of people of all ages don’t really know what they are passionate about.  In the United States alone, there are more than 31 million people between the ages of 44-70 who want an “encore” career – work that combines personal meaning, continued income, and social impact.

Many people today struggle with dysfunctional beliefs and don’t know how to change them.  This is why we go to church.  This is why we read the Bible.  We all grow up with beliefs and ideas that we think are true, but really aren’t.  They shape who we are, what we do, and how we live.  But, we don’t realize they aren’t true.  And if we do discover they aren’t true, then we don’t know how to change them and how to re-frame them.  This is why we need Jesus in our lives.  This is why we need the Holy Spirit leading us through life:  because all of us need to re-frame our thinking in our major ways.  But, we don’t know how to do it.  And we can’t do it alone.

Your life cannot be perfectly planned.  None of us are perfect.  We all make mistakes.  There is no one single solution to your life.  If you keep looking for the one right answer, you’ll never find it.  Our God is a much more creative God than we realize.  When we surrender our lives to Him, He doesn’t just open one door of possibility for us.  He opens many doors for us.  He gives us choices we never had before.  The Holy Spirit leads us to design a life that makes sense.  Life is all about growth and change.  It’s not static.  It’s not about answering the big life question once and for all and then it’s done, never having to be re-visited ever again.  It’s about going on a journey with Jesus, with a Christian community, for the life of the world.  There will always be twists and turns, sunshine and rain, cold and heat.  There will always be signs and wonders, plants and animals, unexpected guests and new friends.

We need God’s help to think differently.  We need Jesus’ help to live differently.  We need the Holy Spirit’s help to dream differently.  We need the church’s help to focus our attention on the right things, to develop disciplines and practices that will pay off, and to help us get out of the rut we are stuck in.  We need to take off the blinders that keep us from seeing the possibilities God has waiting for us.  We need to understand where happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction really come from.  We carry around too many dysfunctional beliefs.  And we need the Bible and the church to re-frame our thinking and our lives.

God doesn’t want us to waste our lives.  God doesn’t want us to feel miserable or stuck.  God wants us to soar like eagles as we discover how He designed us, and how the Holy Spirit can help us design a life that makes sense.  But, we have to be willing to let go of our dysfunctional beliefs.  We need to let the Bible re-frame how we think and how we live.  And we need to be willing to follow Jesus down some life paths that we never thought we would walk down.

 

Your Questions

May 1, 2017

This month, we are taking a look at the questions that people are asking about God, faith, and life.  If you had one question you could ask God, what would it be?  What is the one question that keeps you awake at night?  We don’t have time on Sunday mornings to discuss all the questions that were submitted, so here are some responses to three others:

1.At what point does temptation become sin?  Or is temptation sinful?  What about Matthew 5:28 where Jesus says “If a man looks lustfully at a woman, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart?

There is a difference between temptation and sin.  It is possible to be tempted and not sin.  Sin is giving in to the temptation, and acting inappropriately on what has been seen or heard or felt.  Hebrews 4:15 says “15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”  This verse is telling us that Jesus was tempted in every way that we have been, yet he never sinned.  The sin comes when we take action on the temptation.  When Jesus talks about lust in Matthew 5:28, this is more than just noticing an attractive person.  This is more than feeling drawn to someone you are not married to.  This is dwelling on someone in your heart and in your mind.  It is allowing your imagination to go down a road it shouldn’t.  While perhaps not acting physically inappropriately, it is an inappropriate mental action.  It allows your heart to stray and your mind to go to places it shouldn’t.

It is hard for us to say “no” to temptation in American society today, because so much of our advertising and our cultural philosophy encourages us to give in to temptation.  We are told that all of our desires are good.  They are not.  We are told that all of our feelings are healthy.  They are not.  We are told to indulge every emotion we have.  We shouldn’t.  Hebrews 2:18 says,

“18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”  And James 1:13 says, “13 When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.”  God will never tempt you to disobey God.  He will never lure you towards evil or to act vs. your original design.  Because Jesus was tempted too, He is available to help you whenever you ask.

2.What does God say about drinking?  Should we drink or not?

We know that drinking alcohol is not a sin because Jesus drank wine.  Some people will argue that the wine is Jesus day did not have as high of a level of fermentation as our alcohol has today.  That may be true.  But, there is nothing wrong with one or two drinks.  What the Bible says is a sin is getting drunk.  Ephesians 5:18 says, “18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”  In other words, instead of being filled with alcohol, be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Drinking too much is a problem.  Some people get addicted to getting drunk.  Some people are in denial about it.  Getting drunk can ruin your life.  But, if you don’t get drunk, having a beer or a glass of wine is fine.

In Romans 14:1-15, Paul was addressing a controversy in his day around eating meat that had been offered to idols.  Some people thought it was OK to eat the meat, because they didn’t believe in the idols.  Others thought it was a sin, because it had been offered to idols.  Who was right?  Paul’s answer was that there is nothing wrong with eating meat offered to idols.  It was not a sin.  However, if you cause a weaker Christian to sin because you are eating meat, then you shouldn’t do it.  Don’t put a stumbling block in someone’s way.   This verse can be applied to our present day concerns about alcohol.  Having a drink is not a sin.  But, if it causes a weaker Christian to sin, then give up your freedom to drink, for their sake.

3.What does the Bible say about Christian values for families?

Colossians 3:20-21says, “Children obey your parents, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.”  Ephesians 6:1-3 says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise— so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

 These verses remind us that parents need to teach their kids to obey.  Parents should not give their kids everything they ask for.  Parents need to discipline their kids and teach them right from wrong.  Parents who always praise their kids are not doing them any favors.  This teaches them the world revolves around them when it doesn’t.  They will raise kids who are brats that nobody wants to be around.  On the other hand, these verses also tell us not to embitter our children.  Parents should not expect perfection from their kids.  They should not be the kind of parents who are never satisfied.  You can crush a child’s spirit if don’t notice their accomplishments and tell them when they are doing a good job.

The Bible gives us a pattern in Luke 2:52 when it tells us that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.”  These are the four key areas we need to help our children grow in.  They need to grow mentally, physically, spiritually, and relationally.  We need encourage our kids to grow mentally by letting them know the importance of an education.  We need to teach them the value of reading, writing, doing their homework, turning in their work on time, and getting good grades.  We need to encourage our kids to grow physically.  Less than 1% of kids will grow up to be professional athletes, but we can teach them how to take care of their bodies, how to eat healthy, how to exercise, and the values of good sportsmanship and working with a team.  Kids need to learn how to win and how to lose.  We need to let our kids lose.  We need to let them fail.  They need to experience failure if they are going to become mature, healthy adults.

We need to help our kids grow spiritually.  We need to read stories to them from the Bible.  We need to teach them to pray at meal time and at bed time.  They need to see that faith is important to their parents, and that we don’t skip church for less important matters.  And, we need to help our kids grow relationally.  They need to learn how to make friends and be a friend to others.  They need to learn how to share and how to care for others.  Social skills are important, and kids need to see their parents modeling healthy relationships.

I hope you will join us on Sunday mornings this month as we continue to reflect on people’s questions, how to think about our faith, and how the Bible relates to the everyday, practical realities of our world.  Don’t be afraid to ask any question.  That’s how we learn.  God wants us to keep learning all the time.  Asking questions is what helps keep our faith growing.

 

What are the Big Rocks?

August 1, 2016

There’s a story about a teacher who took a glass jar into his class and filled it with big rocks.  He asked the class if they thought the jar was full.  They said yes.  He said no, it isn’t.  He then poured some small pebbles into the jar around the big rocks.  Then he asked the class, is the jar full now?  They said yes.  He said no, it isn’t.  Then he poured some sand into the jar.  Then he asked the class, is the jar full now?  The class said yes.  He said no, it isn’t.  He then poured some water into the jar.  He asked the class if the jar was full now.  They said yes.  He asked them, what is the moral of this story?  One student said, “No matter how full your life is, you can always squeeze more things into it.”  He said no.  The moral of the story is:  if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in.

The point is that we have to make sure we have the most important things in our lives first.  It’s easy to get busy doing so many good things, that we don’t have time and space in our lives for the most important things.  If we don’t get the most important things right, we won’t get the rest of our lives.  What are the Big Rocks for the Christian Church?  What are the most important things for us to focus on?

We believe that our Big Rocks are the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.  The Great Commandment is found in Matthew 20:37-40, where Jesus says Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  The Great Commission is found in Matthew 28:19-20, where Jesus says Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you, for lo, I will be with you always, even to the ends of the earth.

When we put the Great Commandment and the Great Commission together, we see that our Big Rocks are Loving God, Loving our Neighbor, and Loving our Neighborhoods.  These are the three big areas of focus for our ministry.  We want to help people come to Believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior for the first time and then to spend a lifetime growing deeper in their knowledge of God.  We want to help people Belong to a community and a purpose that is bigger than all of us.  Loneliness and isolation are the great social dysfunctions of our time.  We were all created with a sense of belonging.  And we want to help people Bless their neighborhoods and serve the community where we live.  We have been saved to serve.  We have been Blessed to be a Blessing.  We call these three Big Rocks:  Believing, Belonging, and Blessing

These are our Big Rocks – Believing (spiritual growth), Belonging (relational growth), and Blessing (missional growth).  Some people think that the Big Rock is numerical growth.  But, churches that make numerical growth their Biggest Rock, often do not grow spiritually, relationally, and missionally.  However, churches that focus on spiritual growth, relational growth, and missional growth, often discover that God is causing some numerical growth to happen as a result.  We do want to reach more people for Christ.  But, numerical growth typically follows spiritual, relational, and missional growth – not the other way around.

This month marks the beginning of a new school year here in Terre Haute.  It also marks the beginning of my second year “back home” as a pastor in this community we love.  Kim and I are delighted to back in the Wabash Valley again and we are grateful that God has led us to be a part of this community.  I have a lot of hope for this coming year.  I believe that God is doing something in our churches and in this community.  I believe that if we keep our eyes open, we will see many opportunities for ministry and new doors that will open for us to make a difference in people’s lives and in our community.

I want to invite you to join us for another important year of ministry.  I don’t know what God is going to do, but I believe He is going to do some significant things, and I want us to be a part of His mission on earth.

These are our Big Rocks – Loving God, Loving our Neighbor, and Loving our Neighborhoods.  We call these three rocks Believing, Belonging, and Blessing.  We want to help people grow spiritually, relationally, and missionally.  Please pray for me.  Please pray for our church.  Please pray for our community.  Pray that we can stay focused on what is most important – our Big Rocks.  And pray that we will be open to all the ministry opportunities God brings our way.

 

Your Questions

June 1, 2016

Recently, I asked people to submit some questions about faith and life that they would like to hear some sermons on.  I am now preaching a six week series on some of the questions, but I don’t have time to cover all of them.  Here are some of the other questions that were asked, and some ideas to think about:

1.”My boss is an atheist and every time I try to talk to her about Christ, she becomes defensive and has lot of reasons.  How can I witness to her?”  That’s a good question.  There are no easy formulaic answers.  It requires a lot of prayer and discernment.  Many people react negatively to Christians they perceive to be too “pushy”, so you have to be sensitive.  Jesus engaged people more with questions than answers.  Instead of trying to give your boss answers, you might want to try asking her more questions.  What does she enjoy in life?  What is frustrating for her?  How does she cope with problems?  Does she ever feel lonely?  Does she feel empty?  Does her life have a purpose?  Sometimes questions have a way of opening people up.  If she realizes something is missing in her life, she might become more open to a spiritual conversation.  But, don’t rush it or force it.  It may take a long time.

2.”What is the difference between believers and angels in heaven?”  The Bible doesn’t spend much time on this question, and there’s probably a lot more that we don’t know, than what we do know.  But, 1 Corinthians 6:3 says “Do you not know that we will judge angels?”  So, when we enter the new heaven on earth, we will judge angels.  This probably means that we will be higher than the angels since we will be judging them.  Hebrews 1:14 tells us that angels are ministering spirits sent to serve us on earth.  So, they minister to us now, and perhaps they will continue to minister to us in heaven.

3.”I hear people talking about a moment in time when an experience happened that made them realize God was right there with them and it changed their life. How do we make ourselves open to know when that happens? Does this moment come for everyone?”  That’s a good question.  There is no “one size fits all” answer that fits everyone.  When we read the Bible, we see that different people have different experiences of God in their lives.  We are all different and God chooses to work differently in some than in others, based on what we need.  Some people have dramatic conversion stories when they became a Christian.  For others, it was more of a slow process over a long period of time.  Neither is better than the other.  The important thing is that we have a relationship with God through Jesus.  How it happens may be different for each person.  They key is to be open and to allow God to be at work in your life.  I believe that engaging in spiritual practices – studying the Bible, praying, attending worship, fasting, extending hospitality, solitude, stewardship, and the Sabbath – these kind of things open us up to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Being too busy can be an obstacle.  Sometimes we need to slow down, turn off the noise, and be still.

4.”In regards to psychics, mediums, and people who claim to talk to the dead, are they “gifted” from God or the devil?  What if their abilities are used for good, like police work?”  In Deuteronomy 18:9-13, God commands us not to practice divination, sorcery, engage in witchcraft, cast spells, consult mediums or spiritists or consult the dead.  Doing this kind of thing can open up our lives to evil forces that can overpower us and ruin us.  It is “playing with fire” and we will likely get burned.  God wants us to consult Him with any questions we have.  The Bible says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  To consult any other spirit is dangerous.  Satan is called the Deceiver and we never know if we can trust any information we might get from another spiritual source.  Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, so if we want the truth, we need to look to Jesus, not someone else.  Some people look to other spirits as a way of gaining control of our world.  Christianity says we should not try to be in control, but that God is in control, and we need to trust Him, and look to Him, not to anyone else

5.”What is the Methodist Church position on Masonic organizations?” I don’t know. I don’t know if  there is an official position.  Prior to last summer, I had spent the last 17 years in California.  There, I don’t remember seeing any Masons, and I wasn’t even sure they still existed.  So, it was never a big issue that I looked in to.  If you look it up on the web, you will find some people who think Masonic organizations are compatible with Christian teaching and some who do not.  I do not feel qualified to speak to this without doing a lot more research.  The key is always to compare a group’s teachings and practices with the scriptures and see if they are consistent and compatible with one another.

6.”God, Lord, Jesus – which one is the proper title?”  There is no one proper title for God.  There are many names for God that are used.  One of the foundational beliefs of Christianity is the Trinity – that we believe in one God Who exists forever as three person – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  In the Old Testament, when Moses met God at the burning bush, he asked God what His Name was, and God said, “I Am Who I Am” or “Yahweh”.  The Jewish people also believed God’s name was too holy to say, so they would often call Him “Lord” instead.  After a while, the Greeks added some vowels to the name Yahweh and that became Jehovah.  Jesus is the Messiah.  The Greek word for Messiah is Christ.  Whether we are referring to the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit, it’s all the same God.  Any of these titles are acceptable.

I want to encourage all of us to keep asking questions about faith and life.  This is how we learn.  Being curious and inquisitive is a good thing.  We shouldn’t be afraid to ask any question.  The more we seek, the more we will find.  The more we search, the more we discover.  The more we want to know, the more our faith will make sense.  Any answers that we give are not meant to shut down conversations, but to stimulate more conversations.  Let’s keep asking, seeking, and knocking.  The more we do that, the more we will become like Christ, and the more mature we can become as His disciples.

 

 

The Absence of Leadership

January 4, 2016

In the 2015 year end issue of Time magazine, they ran an article called “The absence of international leadership will shape a tumultuous 2016.” Here is part of what they said:

“In a world of emergencies, leadership matters – and in 2016 it will become unavoidably obvious that the world lacks leadership. The days when heads of the G-7 industrial powers like the U.S. and Germany controlled geopolitics and the global economy are gone for good. The international group of today is the expanded G-20, which is much larger – including important emerging powers like China and India – yet agrees on much less. The result might be called a G-zero world, a global caucus whose members don’t share political and economic values or priorities. They don’t have a common vision for the future. Many years in the making, a G-zero world is now fully upon us.”

The article goes on to say “Few U.S. officials … are able to make a clear case for the role they think the U.S. can and should play in a new world. Europe can’t help – its leaders are too busy coping with migrants, maneuvering around populist political rivals, working to keep the U.K. in the E.U. and helping Greece find long-term financial footing. China won’t fill the G-zero vacuum – it’s more active on the international stage, but only in pursuit of narrow national interests. Who will take the lead in destroying ISIS, stabilizing the Middle East, containing the flow of dangerous weapons, mitigating climate change and managing international risks to public health? No one. The world’s main wildfires will burn hotter in 2016, because no one believes he can afford the costs and risks that come with putting them out.”

Wow. Those are some strong statements. And yet, to my ears, they accurately describe the world we are living in today. “The absence of leadership. Leadership matters. The world lacks leadership. People agree on much less. We don’t have a common vision for the future. Leaders can’t make a clear case for the role they should play. Who will take the lead? No one. No one believes he can afford the costs and the risks.” Wow.

Regardless of what you think should be done on specific issues, the overarching theme is that we live in a time that is desperate for leaders. We are so desperate, that polls seem to be telling us that American voters are becoming increasingly supportive of presidential candidates who will provide strong and tough leadership, even if they are narcissistic, dangerous, emotionally unhealthy, unreasonable, undiplomatic, careless, and offensive. We are so desperate for leaders that we are now willing to consider electing leaders who could lead us to an even worse place than we are today. But, who cares, as long as they are leading us somewhere, right?

Approximately 2000 years ago, a leader was born into our world to save us from our chaos, our infighting, our selfishness, our short-sightedness, and our tendency to self-destruct. His name was Jesus and he is The Most Interesting Man in the World. He stepped into a leadership vacuum in his own country and showed people a different way to move forward. People wanted to make him a political king, but he walked away from it. Zealots wanted him to start a revolution and overthrow Rome, but he didn’t do it. He did not condemn people, but He told them to go and sin no more. He told people to turn the other cheek, to bless those who curse you, and pray for those who persecute you. He turned the thinking of our world upside down and modeled an alternative way to live. He rejected hatred and revenge. He rejected fear for faith. He brought hope to the hopeless. He reached out to the marginalized and paid attention to those who were ignored. He lived to please God, not other human beings. He did the right thing, even when it wasn’t the popular thing. The religious leaders of his day were not providing healthy, positive leadership, so He did, and it ended up costing Him His life. He stepped into a vacuum and provided the leadership that was needed.

A couple of thousand years later, we still study His teachings and try to walk in His footsteps. We live in a world crying out for leadership. As Jesus’ followers, we have a responsibility to provide leadership in the places where we live, work, and play. Our churches are in need of leadership. Our schools are in need of leadership. Our communities are in need of leadership. Our households are in need of leadership.

Who will step forward? If we keep waiting for someone else to step forward, we may be waiting for a long time. Why don’t we step forward? Why don’t we provide leadership? Isn’t that what Jesus calls us to do? Leaders don’t have to be extroverts. They don’t have to be public speakers. They don’t have to be loud. They don’ have to be rich. Many leaders are quiet, working behind the scenes, doing the day to day functions that need to be happen to get things done.

Leaders pull people together to solve tough problems. Leaders aren’t afraid to talk to people who have different opinions and perspectives. Leaders aren’t afraid to have conversations with people who see the world differently. But, leaders are proactive rather than reactive. Leaders think and dream and plan. Leaders aren’t afraid to experiment and use their imagination. Leaders aren’t afraid to fail if they might learn something in the process. Leaders are both principled and pragmatic at the same time. Leaders work to discover common values and common ground.

Most of us will never become international leaders. But, I believe most of us can be leaders in our households. I believe we can be leaders in our businesses, our churches, and our schools. I believe we can be leaders in our local communities. Jeremiah 29:7 says “Seek the welfare of the community where I have sent you, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare, you will find your welfare.”

Have you considered that God might be calling you to make a difference in your local community? Have you considered that God might be calling your church to make a difference in your local community? Our world is desperate for good leaders. The need for leadership begins in the homes we live in, on the streets where we reside, and in the neighborhoods where we exist. What if the community saw the church exercising leadership that was lacking from other sectors? What if our cities saw our churches as key players in providing leadership on the tough issues of the day? What if our regions saw us as positive, proactive leaders willing to join hands with others for the common good? I think that is the kind of witness people today are hungry for. I think that is the kind of leadership needed in 2016. What if we made a new year’s resolution to provide that kind of leadership? We live in a leadership vacuum. Someone is going to step in and fill that void. If we don’t step in, someone else will. Where does God want you to lead in 2016?

The Age of Generosity

November 2, 2015

In 2009, Joshua Cooper Ramo wrote a best-selling book called The Age of the Unthinkable. In it, he describes how we have arrived at a moment of peril that not long ago would have seemed unimaginable. All around us, ideas and institutions that we once relied on for our safety and security are failing – and the best ideas of our leaders seem to make our problems worse, not better. He argues that we live in a time of ceaseless, unthinkable change, yet many of our organizations are stuck in bureaucracies that are inflexible and out of date. The unthinkable has become the inevitable, and we wonder where the leaders are who can bring people together to address tough, complex problems.

Recently, David Brooks wrote an article in the New York Times called Enter the Age of Outsiders. He said that whereas our world used to function as planets revolving around the sun, with a gravitational force that kept them connected to the center, now we live in an age where the outsiders have the greater gravitational force, and they are pulling us apart. Our political systems and social systems used to work, but they no longer do. The secular vision of capitalism no longer appeals to many people and our democratic system has become dysfunctional. We are losing confidence and heading for an Age of Exhaustion. But, he suggests, our real problems are mental and spiritual.

We can make a difference in our world if we address the mental and spiritual issues of our time. Our problems will not be solved by political solutions alone. They will not be solved by economic solutions alone. They will only be solved if we also address the mental and spiritual issues that exist beneath the surface.
One way to do this is to “swim upstream” against the dysfunction of a self-centered culture. As followers of Jesus, we have to learn to “go against the grain” and not participate in unhealthy patterns of blaming, shaming, intransigence, arrogance, and narcissism. Instead of being completely focused on ourselves, we need to pay more attention on God. Who is God? How does Jesus want us to live? What changes does the Holy Spirit want to make in our lives? How can we become more like Christ? We can become more humble, teachable, and open. We don’t have to go along with every idea, but we compare them to the teachings of the Bible and see if they are consistent with what God has revealed to us.

In this age of frustration and cynicism, we don’t want our churches to be dysfunctional. It is important that we understand who we are, what we are called to be and to do, and to carry out our tasks with competence. In an age when so many organizations and institutions have become dysfunctional, if our churches can function in healthy and missional ways, we can be an example and a witness to others. We can be a breath of fresh air to those who are looking for places of healing that know how to get things done. We can be a quiet example of what people can actually accomplish when they set aside their own personal agendas, humble themselves, and come together.

What does it look like to live generously? How does a generous heart, coupled with generous actions, change the tone of our communities? If we reject the me-first, individualistic, accomplishment paradigm of our culture, and reverse it to become generous, team-oriented people who seek the welfare of the community where God has sent us (Jeremiah 29:7), what kind of impact can we have? Can we actually be used by the Holy Spirit to bring a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11)?

It begins with God. It begins with us. It begins with our own spiritual condition. It begins with our local congregation. It begins with our neighborhood. It begins with our local community. Through our daily words and actions, we can begin to usher in an Age of Generosity. We have been saved to serve. We have been blessed to be a blessing. We have received grace to be generous with others. The more we give away, the more we will gain. The more we share what we have, the more others’ lives will be touched. The more we share our resources, the more our communities will be recalibrated. Living generously can change our hearts, our relationships, and our communities.

We could buy into the cynicism, pessimism, and dysfunction of the current culture. We could be overwhelmed by the Age of the Unthinkable and the Age of Exhaustion. Or we could let Jesus change our lives and follow a different path. We could usher in an Age of Generosity and see what happens.

 

The Race Begins

August 3, 2015

I love sports. I love them. I started running cross country and track when I was in the 5th grade and I still run 5 miles a day, 5 days a week. I grew up with the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati in the 1970s. I watched Secretariat win the Triple Crown. When I graduated from Terre Haute North High School in 1979, I watched Larry Bird lead Indiana State to the NCAA basketball championship game vs. Magic Johnson and Michigan State. I moved to Detroit in 1991 to pastor a church there right after the Pistons had won back to back NBA titles, and I lived there when the Red Wings won a Stanley Cup. When I lived in San Diego, I watched Kawai Leonard play for San Diego State University before he helped the San Antonio Spurs win an NBA title. I love March Madness. I play fantasy baseball and fantasy football with my two sons. I love sports movies like Moneyball, Remember the Titans, Sea Biscuit, and Hoosiers. I love the competition, the hard work, the drive, and the determination. I love the struggle to overcome obstacles and push yourself and your team to succeed. I love it when the gun goes off to start the race and when the runners cross the finish line.

Today, I am beginning a new race. My wife Kim and I have felt called to move back home to Terre Haute, Indiana, to join what God is doing in Vigo County. I started today as the new pastor of the Northside Community Church across from North High School in Terre Haute (www.northsidecommunityumc.com) and as the pastor of the Emmanuel Methodist Church in West Terre Haute, about a mile north of St. Mary of the Woods College. It feels like my younger days when I would line up at the starting line, with energy and anticipation running through my veins, waiting for the gun to go off.

Sports are a metaphor for the Christian life. We see references in the Bible that describe following Jesus to running a race. For example:
• 1 Corinthians 9:24 says, “Do you not know that in a race, all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.”
• Galatians 2:2 says, “I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain.”
• Galatians 5:7 says, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?”
• 2 Timothy 4:7 says, “I fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
• Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” And
• Ecclesiastes 9:11 says, “I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong.”

Athletes spend more time in practice than they do in their actual games. They know that if they want to succeed in their games, a lot of training is required. They have to eat right. They have to get enough sleep. They have to take care of their bodies. They have to run and lift weights. They have to develop skills and hand-eye coordination. You can be born with all the athletic talent in the world, but if you are not willing to practice, if you are not willing to work hard, you won’t become a great athlete. It takes a lot of perseverance, persistence, and determination. You have to keep going even during those times when you feel like giving up.

The Christian life is the same way. Just as athletes must go through physical practices, Christians need to go through spiritual practices. Spiritual practices include things like scripture, solitude (prayer), Sabbath, stewardship, service to the community, hospitality to the stranger, and fasting. If we want to be strong Christians, we have to develop our spiritual muscles every day. This is not always easy. Some days, we feel tired. Sometimes, we get discouraged. Some months, we just want God to do everything for us. Developing our spiritual muscles is a daily discipline. It means denying ourselves things that would weaken us, in order that we might reach our potential and become stronger. It means developing certain habits and disciplines that are not flashy or sexy or that will gain us a lot of attention. It means staying focused on the prize, the race, and the goal that God has set before us. It is not always easy, but it can always be rewarding.

So, I am lining up at a new starting line, ready to begin a new race. I am eager to see what this race will be like, how it will unfold, and what the Holy Spirit will do before we cross the finish line. I would like to invite you to begin this race with me. If you live in or near Vigo County in Indiana, I invite you to come this Sunday, August 9, to the Northside Community Church at 9:00 am or to the Emmanuel Methodist Church at 11:00 am. And I’ll be there most every Sunday morning after that.

When you first start running, it’s hard, because your muscles aren’t used to it. But, after you’ve been running for a long time, it becomes natural. Your body begins to do it even without thinking. Our journey with Jesus is the same way. When you first begin, it’s hard. It can feel awkward and unnatural and tiring. But, after you’ve developed your spiritual muscles, it becomes natural, and you run the race without even thinking about it.

The starting gun goes off this Sunday morning. The race is beginning. I would be honored if you would run with me. I have a sense that this race is important. I believe this race matters. I believe something significant is going to happen in this race. And I would love to have you running with me.

A Double Crisis

May 3, 2015

Near the beginning of Mark Labberton’s book Called, he writes, “The church has lost its way in the world. What’s more, it doesn’t know it. This is a double crisis for a community that Jesus said is to be the light of the world, the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13-16). It is a crisis brought on by failure to be and to do what is most central to the church’s identity and purpose: follow Jesus.”

It’s a double crisis. The church is lost in a world that is lost, and the church doesn’t realize it is lost. This is similar to the world in which Jesus was born. Israel was lost in the world that was lost and they didn’t know it either. In Matthew 10:6, Jesus says, “Go to the lost sheep of Israel.” In Matthew 15:24 He said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” In Luke 15, Jesus tells three stories of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son. And in Luke 19:10, Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Many in the church have thought of people outside the church as being lost. But, the church itself is now lost, having lost itself in a world of rapid, discontinuous change, and confused about what to be and to do in a foreign land.

In his book, Mark Labberton gives examples of different kinds of churches that are lost. There is the
• Self-absorbed church – it is a small, inwardly fixated club, sometimes bland, but mostly focused on itself
• Invisible church – it has become so much like the culture it is hard to distinguish any difference
• Siloed church – segregated by class, ethnicity, economics, race, or culture
• Bad-news church – always talking about what is wrong with the world but not really engaging it with any kind of hope
• No-news church – it doesn’t seem to have anything to say to the lost world

What would it take to become a good-news church? For the church to claim it knows the Way, it needs to demonstrate convincingly that it has good news deserving of that name. In a world of violence, of fear, of poverty, of injustice, it has to show up in relationships and actions of life-giving power. In other words, the church has to show a different view and practice of power than the world around us displays. It has to show it knows the Way in a time of explosive global change and confusion.

As one who has been in ministry for over 30 years now, I believe that the local church can still be one of the best contexts in which people are formed as disciples of Jesus Christ. Some churches greatly encourage me at the same time some churches greatly discourage me. I have visited some churches where I walked away thinking – why did they do that? Nothing there touched my heart. They didn’t address any of my questions. Are they trying to answer questions anybody is asking? What planet are they living on? They didn’t talk about anything that is happening in my world. Sigh.

But the good news is that there are some churches that do seem to “get it”. Some churches are working hard to listen to people and to listen to their communities. Some churches are following the Biblical command to be humble and to speak into their local context from a position of weakness. They don’t act like they know it all, but they have a strong confidence in God and how God walks with us through all of the uncertainties, anxieties, and confusions of life. They talk clearly about Who Jesus is and the good news that He brings. They remind us that God does not hate our world, but God so loves our world that He sent His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him, will not perish, but have everlasting life. These churches are trying hard to walk their talk. They know that words and beliefs are important, but that faith without works is dead. They know that our post-modern, post-Christian world will have trouble believing unless they can see tangible expressions of Jesus’ good news, what that good news is, why that good news matters, and how that good news can make a difference in their lives and in their communities. They understand that our culture has become skeptical of the church. But at the same time, they also understand that our culture is looking for something to believe in. Our culture doesn’t know where to look or even what it is looking for. But, if they meet a redemptive, missional community that seeks to bless, to heal, and to serve, they will stop and notice. If we will truly love them unconditionally, we can capture their interest.

I don’t like the double crisis. I don’t want the church to be unaware that it is lost in a world that is lost. I want the church to recover what it has lost by learning to follow Jesus again. When Jesus invited His disciples to come and follow Him, He never told them where they were going. But, they were willing to follow Him anyway. They wanted to see what He would do, what He would say, and where He would go. Jesus continues to invite us to follow Him today. We don’t know where it is going to lead us. We are called to walk by faith and not by sight. But, we follow anyway.

I believe Jesus is calling us, like our ancestors before us, to move back into our neighborhoods, to think and to act like missionaries, and to live out our calling as sons and daughters of God. In a world that sometimes feels like it is falling apart, we are called to share the good news, to love one another unconditionally, and to put our confidence in God. If we follow Jesus, He will eventually lead us through our crisis, until we come out on the other side. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.