Wednesday, June 29, 2011

We Need to Have A Tag Sale

In 2000 I sat with a my pastor and another friend of his who also was a pastor from a local church. At the time I was renting a room from a guy I knew at church. Pretty much everything I owned fit in that room. I wasn't what you would call success. They were praying with me about some church junk, and one of them prophesied healing for me in the form of marriage. Wow, that came out of no where.

On occasion, you don't know what you want until you get it.

Today is the 10th anniversary of meeting my wife Mary Anne. We went dutch to dinner at the Way Ho in Bourne, MA. There she was in her floral blouse and light blue skirt. We chatted over a some flaming dish and took a long walk by the Cape Cod Canal. It was nice time. I wasn't really sure what the score was, so we chatted online later that evening.

Thank God for second chances.

Today I am just glad that Mary Anne brought to me what I really needed: healing. She cares about my happiness, she can always be counted on.... try having a heart attack, you need help! She was there when my mother died, she was there every time I came home from a painful visit with my kids... she was there. She's always there.

I have written a lot about the love of my life. Here are few blogs. Valentines Day7th AnniversaryThe Best Wife, and 6th Anniversary.

Like every couple, we've been through some tough times and we are looking forward to a little happiness - well after the current crises is over.

In ten years we have acquired a lot of stuff: 2 houses, a new child, 3 dogs, toys, guitars, and a lot more than I had in my room when I met her. We need to have a tag sale! In spite of all the stuff, we always have each other. That's the best part.

Today I just wanted to say I am blessed. Yesterday we celebrated 8 years of marriage, but the journey has been 10 years.

I love you, Mary Anne!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Missed Opportunities and Overlooked Treasures - More Stupidity #7

-7 Missed Opportunities and Overlooked Treasures - I find it interesting that the church often says one thing, and does another.

Quite a few years ago John Wimber discovered that evangelical churches claimed that bringing folks to salvation in Jesus was there main mission. He then asked the question, how's business?

The truth was that most churches claiming to be evangelical were in fact, not seeing regular salvations!

When John looked closely at what churches were spending time and money doing, salvation was often near the bottom of the list. For a church to be effective, it needs godly vision, solid priorities and dedicated leaders. Too often the church can get so filled up with programs that it can easily miss what God wants to do.

Every church needs to be part of the local community. Churches are not meant to cloister the saints in some sort of secret society. Every community has needs. Within those needs are opportunities for the church to make an impact for the Kingdom of God.

First let me say that salvation certainly comes at the moment of conversion. The road to salvation can be a long one for some folks. Along that road I think there are many missed opportunities. If we focus on getting people closer to the goal, instead of getting to the starting line, we have many more chances for advancing the cause of the Gospel.

Here is an example of what I am talking about. My town has a small state college. In New England rolling onto campus and holding some sort of revival is very unlikely. But when we think about the road to salvation, we can see that college students have lots of needs. They need rides, laundry done, or a home cooked meal. Some students need to have a place to stay for short vacations such as Thanksgiving and Memorial Day because going home is too expensive, or too much trouble. Those are opportunities a church can take advantage of.

One church I belonged to would get "day old" bread from a supermarket. At first they put it on a table in the lobby for families in need. On many occasions it was still there after the entire congregation had left the Sunday morning service. Finally one gal decided that she would take a small team to the projects in the vicinity. In pairs, they simply knocked on doors, and gave away bread - all of it - hundreds of loaves each week. At first folks seemed put off by the team just knocking on doors, but after a month or two, people would meet them at the mailbox building twice a week. Needless to say, many received prayer, food, encouragement, a dozen or so got saved.

Church, we need to look for opportunities, and find a way to love people with the hands of Jesus.

How about going to the local nursing home every Wednesday instead of having another boring book study? Maybe you could have a dinner for the poor, families of those serving overseas, or foster children instead of a pot-luck with 10 trays of baked macaroni that no one else wants? How about putting a sandwich board out for movie night inviting the whole community? Hey, it might not be too late to rake lawns for widows, or shovel snow for the elderly. Maybe the church could buy a snowplow and do lots of driveways, or a limo to pick kids up for youth group? Maybe?

More Treasures within our Midst
Our churches are filled with gifted people, who, given the right training, encouragement, and opportunity, could be a treasure in the Kingdom of God. Too often leadership gets caught up in personal visions, program planning, or a denominational way of doing business, overlooking many that would be successful ministers!

Some of the obstacles to finding these treasures are:
- Leadership trying to clone itself and not staffing for weaknesses
- Training that is too general or too rigid
- A rigid set of programs
- Doing it because it was successful somewhere else
- A program "punch list" of leaders and helpers - filling jobs, not finding callings and gifting
- A condensed gospel as opposed to a full gospel
- The "we never did that before" mentality
- Well it worked at [fill in the name of your favorite mega-church]!
- Lack of understanding of what a "body" is
- Not allowing members to follow their passion!

When leadership is focused on "church" and not on individuals, many members will be overlooked. I also find that churches do not always have a defined track for getting people up and running - or one that is so arduous only the over-achievers can measure up. Why does someone need to be in a church a year to park cars, or a divinity degree to clean toilets?

Where are our mentors?!? If you are not training someone to take your job in the church's ministry, you are not discipling!

If we look at the gifts and roles within the church (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4), we'll find that the body of Christ has many, and diverse individual opportunities. It is IMPOSSIBLE to have a program that will work well for missionaries, home-group leaders and prophetic people. There is no pastor alive that can fill all the roles that a healthy church requires to advance the Kingdom, and produce committed and gifted disciples.

Church, we need to teach believers what the needs of the community are, get people trained in the spiritual gifts, the basics of faith, the laying on of hands and kick them out of the nest!

Leaders need to entertain all ministry ideas and weigh them against what God is doing. Worried about character, wait for #10!

I the mean time, I dare you to pray, "Lord send me someone with the gift of helps, one with prophesy, one with the word of faith, an apostle, an evangelist and a those with healing gifts! Lord let me see their gifting as an opportunity to advance your Kingdom. Send them Lord, and let me release them. Amen.

Friday, June 24, 2011

5 1/2 Steps, Sweat and Solitude...

The title is about as spiritual as I am going to get today. My regular readers know that I had a serious cardiac event a few months ago, that I bought a new Android phone, and that I have been working out for quite a while. Today you get the child of those three parents!

Gyms are interesting places. The YMCA where I live is sort of the Walmart of gyms. It's big, it's got a lot a stuff in a huge building, and the people, well, they are colorful.  I am going to start a page People of the Y. It is some of the same characters you see on the People of Walmart site with spandex.

Come with me on a short journey from desk jockey and couch potato to amateur runner and health nerd as I share the essentials of getting into shape.

-1 Equipment: If you are going to be a health nerd, you need health nerd stuff. First, you need running shoes. It is best to get the ones that do not have the flashing LED's and Dora the Explorer or Diego on them (seriously, get good ones!).

Then you need a musical device: iPod, SmartPhone or MP3 player will do. If it is really sharp looking gadget, then get the Velcro armband holder for it.That way you don't have to hold it when you use the rest room. If it is a cheesy Barbie phone, you may want to stitch a pocket for it in your drawers.

Be sure that you have headphones; at the gym, sharing is not caring!

If you are really cool (like me!) you need a heart monitor to keep track of your pulse. Some of them have alarms so you know when you are about to die on the treadmill. Mine is wireless, and to my surprise, not only does it show up on the special decoder watch I have as well as my SmartPhone, but it displayed on the Precor treadmill too. Freaky!

-2 Apparel: In the old days we had sweat pants and sweat shirts. Period! Walmart could have saved aisles and aisles if that were still the case - but it's not. Now you can get Spandex (please don't if it makes you look like a package of pork tenderloin!), polyester, fake velvet and even sequins. I am just kidding about the sequins - I hope. So what;s up with cheap polyester? It makes noise, lots of noise. The good news is that if you are huge like I was, you won't be going fast. The velvet sweat suit with the nice little piping and stripes, be careful. If you fall on the treadmill, it 's like a long-haired cat caught in a lawnmower. I 'm just sayin. Oh, and remember, Richard Simmons is not trendy.

-3 Diet: Come on, you've maybe tried a few such as Jenny Craig, Atkins, South Beach or the Dill Pickle Diet. If you are going to lose pounds, you need to change the way you eat. Dill pickles are 0 calories, so try them seriously! Dump the sweet drinks, cookies, candy and chips. It's over. You may want to get rid of rice and potatoes too! Only whole wheat or whole grain bread, bagels and crackers if you are serious. Get yourself an 8oz measuring cup. You get two filled with veggies or fruit for each meal plus 3-4 oz of meat or fish. The trick is to chase down stuff that makes it taste good. 3 snacks a day of something nutritious and you're done! I went from 276 to 233 exercising 3 times a week for 30 minutes. Without the exercise while I was sick, I still lost 10 pounds in 2 months.

-4 Music: If you are going to move, you need music. It should rock, you are not meditating! I suggest, Led ZeppelinBurn Service, Steve Miller, Kutless, Tim Hughes and Jason Aldean.

-5 Events: I need a goal, and you might too. Mine is a 5k race. My first for next month is Run, Walk or Crawl 5K in a nearby town.  There has got to be some slow people there! Sure, in high school I ran it in 16:57, but now I'm happy with 35 minutes.

-5 1/2 Noom! - I have a app on my phone entitle Noom/Cardio Trainer. It keeps track of all my exercise and food consumption! (Here is another one that is pretty cool if you don't have a SmartPhone:

How about you, are you as healthy as you'd like to be?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fighting Among Ourselves - More Stupid Things Christians Do #6

-6 Fighting Among Ourselves - A few years ago, there was a division within a local church; it made the headlines. One group of founders had purchased the land that the church was now built on. A second group of believers had donated money for the church building.

The pastors from both groups had originally agreed to work together for the good of the region. A few years into the endeavor the pastors had a disagreement over theology and the church split. That's nothing new - however, the respective founding groups ended up in court to decide who should get the building and land valued at about about $1 million dollars.

The battle went on for over a year, and each court proceeding was made public in the left-leaning, anti-religion newspaper. There were scathing editorials by staffers as well as malicious comments from the church folks on the web articles. What was going on in the church was even worse.

The Bible is very specific on how we should resolve conflicts in the church. The simple fact that the Word of God is so detailed on the issue should give us insight into how important it is!

Please keep in mind, that conflict is not strife, nor is it division, however; those can easily be the root. In Ephesians 4, Paul says this: "Be angry, but do not sin." Sin is always a problem where the result is often hardness of heart and stiff-necked religious people.

So what are some of things that cause conflict in a church?

- Greed
- Lust for power
- Need for recognition
- Love of money
- Pride
- Arrogance
- Inability to submit to authority
- Improper use of authority
- Dishonesty

Teaching people to truly love, and have genuine passion for Jesus, can overcome many of these shortcomings.

How should Christians resolve conflict?

- Go to the one that you have an offense with regardless of who may have caused it. Matthew 5:23-24.
- If this person will not listen, then bring along one or two brothers or sisters in the Lord. Matthew 18:15-16
- Bring it before the church. Matthew 18:17
- Then they should be asked to leave the church. Matthew 18:17b

The problem usually starts when an offended believer circumvents the process by going to someone else instead of the offending party.

There are lots of verses on how a Christian should act, but somehow we overlook all of that because we feel entitled to our anger.

Church, it is time to love - 1 Corinthians 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Church Hopping - More Stupid Things Christians Do #5

-5 Church Hopping - Why is it that Catholics seem to go to the same church for a lifetime, and most evangelicals go to a church on the average, for just a few years. Is God confused about where He wants us?

Choosing a church should be like choosing a spouse, not dating!

I confess, I have been one of these people. But I still don't think that it is normal to hop around. It seems that all that is required to start a new church these days is a resentment and a coffee pot.

If you've been following along in this series, there is more of a problem when churches focus on church, and not on Jesus and people. Churches that focus on Jesus, while providing significance to their members do much better at retaining those members. That in a nutshell is the role of leadership.

Our part is to be passionate about Jesus, and to dialog with Him about ways in which we can grow. If we are mature Christians, our priorities are in order, we are praying, studying, and giving, then Sundays should be a place where we can meet people that need what we have.

The healthy church should be providing us with opportunities to worship in song, giving, various other art forms and service. I haven't been to a church that didn't need help with all kinds of stuff, ranging from elders to toilet cleaners.

The normal and most predictable church services are pretty much music, and teaching. Some denominations have time devoted to the use spiritual gifting and altar calls. If the average church offers the same thing, then why do we need to go somewhere else? I'm just asking.

The Bible says that we should not forsake the gathering of believers. God want us somewhere in fellowship, right? Unless we move out of town, why would God change His mind about where we go? If we are doing our part, won't God do His part?

There are good things about blooming where you are planted.

- You get to know people
- You get to serve, and hopefully work with others that share your burdens and passions
- You get to be known - not to be a big shot, but so that others feel a deeper sense of relationship
- You will be challenged in your attitudes, and opinions
- You will be challenged in your faith
- You will need to work things out with others
- You will hopefully grow up to the "meat" of the word

What are some of the reasons people leave churches looking for greener pastures?

- Pastors are abusive, fall into sin, or take a job somewhere else.
- Division over theology - in particular the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but I have seen them over the colors of hymnals.
- Division over programs
- Taking sides in a couples divorce
- Personal sin
- Burned out from serving
- Lack of leadership opportunities
- Too many good ideas and not enough God ideas
- No room for your gifting

Those are all bad reasons to hit the pogo stick looking for another church.

There is one good reason to move on, and that is that God has instructed you to be at another congregation.

Are you looking to move on? Here are a few things to ask yourself:
- If I find a place to fellowship, can I commit for life?
- If I find a place to worship, am I willing to submit to leadership, serve, and lay down my life for those that God has chosen for me to walk with?
- If I find a place to worship, am I going to pray for the pastor, the leadership and the folks around me?
- Am I bringing religious baggage I need to work through?
- Does this church have programs and ministries that I am passionate about, and would participate in?
- Am I attending as a taker, or a giver?
- Does the church have non-religious activities? IE: Movie nights, ski trips, picnics, dinners and other places that are NOT for prayer, Bible study and worship?

It is a statistical fact: Unless an attendee makes 4 to 6 meaningful friendships within the first year, they will move on to another church.

So, next time you are at a church picnic, get to know someone, it could save you and them a hop or two.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day 2011

I have posted about my dad a few times over the years. He passed away in 1998. HERE is that story. HERE is another post about him too. I have written about who he was as a dad, and as a veteran in both the Korean War as well as WWII. Today I am going to be with my 3 girls at some point, and then head over to have dinner with my father-in-law.

As a son I wasn't too good at it - and as a son of God, I still have a long way to go.

I just wanted to share a friends blog that is really quite wonderful this Father's Day. Her name is Andrea York, and you might have noticed she is pretty regular comment-er on Fire & Grace. In honor of all dads, and the kids who need and love their fathers, HERE is her blog.

Be sure to leave her a comment and click the follow icons if you like. Oh yeah, and you may certainly raz her about the Vancouver Canucks losing the Stanley Cup to the Boston Bruins!

Happy Father's Day to all the dads who read along.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Talking Like Bible Experts - Stupid Things Christians Do Part 4

-4 Talking Like Experts About Things We Have Not Studied - Don't you just hate know-it-alls?

We do not expect a 9-year-old to drive a car; we also do not expect them to teach someone else to drive.

Why is it that we feel the need to answer every theological question? Although I find it interesting that many Christians have not really read the Bible, that is not the entire problem. Often times those that have taught us, tend to round the corners of verses to fit a particular point, or topical teaching. I do that here. It is always a good idea to take a look for yourself!

The Bible is an amazing book, and no one will know everything about it.

Christians seem to find it important to defend God and the Bible. Well, God doesn't need defending. Nor is He threatened by popular culture running off in the ditch.

In life, we will often meet folks that are better educated than we are. It happens all the time. But we don't start telling a doctor how to do a medical test or procedure, or tell the car mechanic how to adjust the intake valves, do we?

I find it interesting that cults seem better educated in the scriptures than many Christians. Cults rely on having answers, and we should too - answers that give life, not simply engage debate.

Early on, I was encouraged to read books about other religions, the cults and the occult. It is good to know what we, as a church, are up against. That said, it is better to know what our gifting is, and stick to that which God has created us for. Each one of us has unique abilities to relate to God and to others with our spiritual gifts. This will include an understanding of the Scriptures pertaining to our gifting.

I happen to think that the church is well taught in some areas, and extraordinarily uneducated in others. Any good evangelical knows Romans 10:9-10, John 3:16 and Acts 2:21. Our Charismatic and Pentecostal friends are well versed on 1 Corinthians 12 and Acts chapter 2. Folks that believe in healing are familiar with Isaiah 53:5 and Mark 6:56. And our friends at the 4 Square, their denomination is based on: Acts 2:42.

Where we fall short is in digging in and getting our own revelation, while developing an intimate relationship with God. We tend to follow the main stream of Sunday morning teaching, missing important areas God may want to work in us personally. For example, I know hundreds of believers in the spiritual gifts, but few, even pastors, who can give a biblical example of each of them. If you'd like to be the first on your block, HERE they are.

When questioned about our faith, it is OK, to say: "I don't know," " I'll look it up," or "I'll get back to you." God can use that kind of humility - especially if it is the truth!! Most folks are much more interested in what Jesus has done for YOU than they are with the tidbits you know from the word.

To put it in a nice neat little list.
-1 Be passionate about why YOU love Jesus.

-2 Don't float Bible verses like magic diamonds in an arcade game.

-3 Keep the Bible chatter to a minimum. Some say don't use verses with those that are not saved. But I believe that the Word has power. One Holy Spirit placed verse is worth a 1,000,000 words. Read Acts - quoting scripture, however; is mostly for religious people!

-4 Don't Claim that only Christians can understand the Bible. That's crazy! Some things are understood with the natural mind, like some of the 10 commandments.

-5 Don't confuse science with faith - and for God's sake if you are against the Theory of Evolution, abortion or Global Warming (and you should be) then you should know why!

-6 Do NOT pound your least favorite denomination into the ground or tout your favorite one. It makes you sound like a religious bigot. Romans 14:22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.

-7 Listen carefully and speak slowly - if God is at work, and then let Him do His job. HERE are a few tips. It is much easier to present a challenge to naysayers such as this. "Ask God every morning and every night to reveal Himself to you in a simple prayer for 30 days." Then we'll talk some more.

I believe that what people find important about Jesus is that He meets them where they are. He doesn't beat them over the head with a Thompson Chain Bible. It is love that is attractive; it is the beauty of His presence - the wonderful and indescribable passion we feel that overflows our hearts - which seems to capture the attention of others.

Revelation 12:11 They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.

What's your testimony?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

5 1/2 Lord Stanley Comes to Live in Boston

Today is a bonus post for my regular readers. Last night my life-long favorite hockey team won the national championship, better known as the Stanley Cup. Congratulations to the Boston Bruins!

Before you dash off to read something more interesting than a blog about sports, consider this. Each one of us has a God given destiny. For the some of the Boston Bruins, last night was part of who they are in Christ - whether they know it or not. I suppose there are some that have chosen this path, and on it they will miss God. For others, this may in fact be the path that leads them to Jesus.

Enough spiritualization, here are 5 1/2 reasons why you should at least checkout the video highlights of the winning game HERE. Or you may read about it HERE.

-1 Because the Action Doesn't Stop: Hockey, unlike football and baseball (snore) plays until there is a reason to stop the play. (like basketball and soccer) There is no stopping for a huddle to make plays, no waiting for a pitcher to wind up and throw another ball. The plays unfold in a high-speed and fluid manner until one of the rules is broken. You are not going to get up and get another bowl of chips or hit the bathroom and take chance of missing a goal! (I actually did this last night to get a glass of water! I was gone 30 seconds)

-2 Hard Hitting: In addition to superior balance, physical strength and hand-eye-coordination, you need to be tough; really tough. This is the fastest team sport in the world. I believe the fastest hockey player ever was clocked at over 35 mph. Skaters smash into each other at 3 times the speed of any football player. It is called checking, and it is not for wimps. Good hits are like good blocks in football, they take a player out of play. Bad hits are extremely dangerous. Both the Canucks and the Bruins suffered serious injuries from "cheap hits" this series. Even good hits are dangerous. HERE is a good legal "hit." HERE is a cheap shot that ended the season for Boston's Nathan Horton.

-3 Goals: The point of the game is to score goals and keep the opposing team from scoring against you. The goal is 4 feet tall and 6 feet wide. You put a fully clad goalie in front, and there are few places to sneak a 1 inch tall by 3 inch in diameter chunk of vulcanized rubber called a puck. Boston's Zdeno Chara can make it fly 105.4 mph. That's quite a bit faster then a MLB pitch. I'm just sayin! Shooters learn to find one of the 5 holes.

-4 Strategy: Every team wants to wins. Professionals are able to adapt to changing strategies. What works in one game, doesn't work in the next. In period 1 (there are three @ 20 minutes) you can bring the puck out of your zone (end of the rink) along the boards (the walls that keep the play on the ice for the most part), The opposing team now places players along the boards and you need to have a new strategy. It takes some skill to spot these subtle changes, called adjustments. My wife says watching hockey is like watching fish swimming back-and-forth in a fish tank. But they are fish with strategies.

- 5 Skill: Like any sport, there are players that do stuff that simply makes you say wow!  Boston's goaltender, Tim Thomas (age 37) made some amazing stops! He gave up 8 goals in 7 games. Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks gave up 23 in the same 7 games. I saw the Bruins win the cup in 1972, and it was all about one player, Bobby Orr ( the most skilled player to ever play the game - see the TV graphic above). This year it was about a team. Each game had an MVP.

- 5 1/2 Spirit...

How about you, has a team you were a fan of won a championship?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Not Living Up to the Level of Our Beliefs - Stupid Things Christians Do Part 3

-3 Not Living Up to the Level of Our Beliefs - Healing, creative miracles, salvation, power over demons and other supernatural abilities are ours - well if we believe. I know it sounds a bit like Peter Pan.

Why is it that we know what God can do, yet we do not pursue the type of relationship with Him that produces Kingdom results?

The fruit of the kingdom of God is power. I am not talking about the fruit of the spirit outlined so eloquently by Paul in Galatians 5:22. The substance of God's kingdom is power manifest in you and in me. The Gospel message is about becoming a disciple of Jesus, not merely a follower. Those that are disciples do what Jesus did, that includes the miraculous. They are not robots waiting for their ticket to the heavenlies when the rapture comes. The violent take the Kingdom by force. (Matthew 11:12)

The Bible says that signs and wonders will follow them that believe. Are they following you? If not, why not? If you are truly born again and full of the Spirit of God, then the job is to advance the kingdom one loving act a time. If you read chapters 12 through 14 of the first book of Corinthians, you will see the complete package. In 12 you will see the power, in 13 you will understand how love and gifting co-mingle in the heart producing supernatural works by your hand. In chapter 14 you will see its outworking in the community of believers.

Do you know what you believe? Maybe it's time to make a checklist.

- Salvation
- Blessing on your family for keeping your priorities
- A return on your tithe
- Spiritual gifting to support your call from on high
- Help in times of trouble
- Interpreting dreams
- Healing
- Power over demons
- Revelation
- Wisdom
- The dead raised

As Christians it is easy to give lip service to the things of God. A quick reflection of our prayer life should reveal what you can expect from God. Are you praying for healing? Most of us can pray for help in times of trouble, but what about interpreting a dream, or for revelation regarding a friends situation?

John 16:24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

Do not be cheated by Satan, it is by your testimony and the power of God that the Kingdom of God expands and lives are changed.

Revelation 12:11 They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.

Isn't it time to pray at your belief level?

Monday, June 13, 2011

It's About Jesus, Not About Church! Stupid Things Christians Do - Part 2

-2 Winning People to the Church, Not Christ - You may be all about your denomination, you may have a great church, a pastor that is amazing; you participate in small groups, you have Bible verses all over your MySpace, your Facebook and your refrigerator - even a Honk if You Love Jesus bumper-sticker - you are a soul winner to boot. You are, after all, out to get folks saved, isn't that the purpose of the church?

Each one of us comes from some sort of Christian upbringing, background or heritage. Our religious experiences and influences tend to shape our view of what church is, as well as who Jesus is. To some, God is a legalistic, rod bearing tyrant, that will have His way, or send you down the chute to Hell. For another, God is so full of grace, He wouldn't want you to be unhappy, so those rules, well, He'll just forgive you if you if you break them. Others think that if they are devout enough, never miss church, try to be good, and help with the poor; they are in good standing with God.

For many Evangelicals and Catholics too, the purpose of conversion is to make another member of the church. Denominational opinions abound - why is that?

In the first century church, there was one church, one way of doing things. There were no buildings, no mega-churches, and leadership was under the authority of the 13 apostles (12 plus Paul). As you can imagine, the factions started right away. Paul vs. Apollos (1 Cor 1:12), while Peter wanted folks to act like Jews. Paul rebuked him for the same (Acts 15:1-12).

1 Corinthians 1:12 What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas [Peter]"; still another, "I follow Christ."

It is in this verse that we see exactly what is happening. Each of the four are expressing whom it is that they believe; whom it is they follow, and whom they look to for answers. The one who said, "I follow Christ," if in fact that is what they were doing, that voice was correct.

It is a rare church that brings someone to Christ, and then wants them to attend another church. Sure, Billy Graham tries to connect folks with a church after a crusade. He planted seeds that others would need to water. That mentality needs to be every believer's heart. We lead people to Christ so that Christ can take over and reign in that person's life.

Church, it essential that everything that we do points to Jesus, not to men, denominations or theology. You may not agree with my Baptocostalmatic theology, but I assure you, God has a church for each one of us! A church where He will allow us to grow to be what we were destined to be. The very essence of what God knit in our mother's womb and knew before the foundations of the earth - to be like Him.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Shooting Our Wounded - Stupid Things Christians Do #1

After 30+ years hanging around the church I have noticed some odd behaviors. I wrote them down and then discovered a book that I have not read, nor do I intend to, entitled: The 10 Dumbest Things Christians Do. After a quick look at the Table of Contents I noticed that Mr. Atterberry and I matched 7 out of 10! I felt like I was a contestant on Concentration waiting for Hugh to let me solve the puzzle.

-1 Shooting Our Wounded - Isn't it bad enough that church people get caught with their pants down; their failures televised on broadcast news? Look, we all sin. It doesn't matter more to God that someone is a televangelist or mega-church leader when they sin. Sin is sin.

What matters is how we act towards those individuals who do sin.

Newscasters make money by reporting the news. From the Baker' of PTL fame, to the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandals in Massachusetts and Ireland, church folks fail - that hurts the church. I am not saying that we should side-step the truth, or cover things up. Sin is sin.

Why is it that the church some how feels a need to shoot it's wounded?

It is not wrong to have an opinion about sinful acts. In fact we should speak out against them. Gossip, name calling, degrading remarks, acting better than, acting unlovingly towards, and judging people, however; is sin. Their is a law written against those things (Gal 5:20-21). I also do NOT have a problem identifying Christians that don't act like one. Hypocrisy hurts the church (wait for number 9).

In the past couple of years a few stories made the news. I wrote about Rick Warren's flip-flop on Prop 8 back in April. I don't know Rick Warren, but he told his congregation that he supported Prop 8 in CA, he then told Larry King that he didn't. So, which is it? He has, as far as I know, not set the record straight.

Hypocrisy in religion hurts the church. Had the elders removed Pastor Warren, he may have had second thoughts about sticking to both stories.

Three years ago there was a sex and drug scandal involving a prominent Colorado pastor named: Ted Haggard. Ted was rightfully removed from his pastorate. Remember we all sin, and there are consequences for that sin.

What makes these two stories different? Repentance; albeit a little slow on Ted's part, he came around to saying the following in a goodbye letter to the congregation:

"I am guilty of sexual immorality. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I've been warring against it all my adult life." MORE...

What much of the church did correctly, starting with removal from a leadership position, was provide counseling, love, and support. Some Christians, however; took up the cause of bashing the denomination, evangelicals in general, his wife, their family - and the list goes on. The holier-then-thou blogosphere went crazy.

What Ted did correctly, was take God up on His offer to forgive, to renew and to bring new life.

How about you, has someone fallen in your midst? Have you been a minister of reconciliation, or a harbinger of the latest gossip? Is it easier for you to talk than pray? There is sin all around us: divorce, addictions, teens with trouble, it's everywhere in the church. Have you thought for a minute what it is like to be caught in your sin?

Jesus saved thieves, prostitutes, and even religious folks, are you a messenger of THAT Gospel?

Church, we are not going to solve the problem of sin with broadcast news. It will be solved with loving confrontation, mercy, grace and recognition of the very fact that we are sinners too. For a wonderful illustration of this fact, read Joshua Harris' essay, The Room (at the end of the post).

Revelation 2:5 Remember the height from which you have fallen!

Matthew 5:24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The End: You Know What I Mean?

Today I am taking a few minutes off from working; that's right, I am back to to work. It has been a tough two days. I was accustom to taking an afternoon nap, or at least a rest. Instead of plying myself with caffeine, I am going cold turkey. The good news is that I am working from home and get to skip 2 hours of insanity on the Massachusetts Turnpike each day.

But I am tired, really tired at the end of the day. Within 2 hours of starting work, I seem to have used up a lot of my creative energy - then I fake it 'til I make the rest of the time.

It's not a very spiritual message, but I must say that I have discovered my limitations quickly. I am still not back to where I once was, and truthfully I wonder if I ever will be. I will say that I have been pushing the exercise, running three times a week about two and half miles. That is where I feel the most normal.

In spite of all that, the cardiologist says that my heart is back to 100%. That's a miracle seeing as 1/3 of the folks that have a viral myocarditis die from it, and about 1/3 need heart transplants. The rest, have varying stages of recovery; I am one of those. Yay God!

At the end of these limitations, lies the end of me. It is interesting, in all the years I have been alive, I am not sure that I have pushed myself to the end of me. I always thought if I had more time that I could do more; if I worked a little harder I could achieve more. Now I struggle to do the things I need to do in the time that I do have. I can't think any more thoughts, take anymore steps, or do one more chore - when I am done I am done.

Interestingly, I am still worshiping, and ministering as God supplies folks for me to engage with. I love to be a messenger for the Lord. I am always hopeful for a God encounter where I get to walk into the good works that have been created for me by God. I get to do what I see the Father doing. It's energizing!

Sunday I visited a local church that which I used to attend for a few years (Read that: "let's says they didn't really have a need for a guy like me.") It is the same place where one of the elders had a word of knowledge about God healing my heart a few weeks ago. I have had their ministry team pray for me each week too. (read that 100% heart recovery!) This week I went up for prayer again. It's one of the coolest things that Christian get to do!

The pastor had some young guy pray for me. It was very nice! In turn, the Lord gave me a simple word about his teaching gift, and the word "education." As soon as I shared it with him, he said, "Have you been talking to my friends?" He was looking to see if the pastor had given me the inside. It is sort of funny to me - well, because it is common place in my world to hear from God. In any event, he received the word because he had been pondering whether or not to pursue some formal education in the ministry for you guessed it, teaching. God is very cool and knows us very well!

How about you, what happens between you and God when you come to the end of yourself?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Taking the Land, Or Kicking the Devil's Behind

We all face problems in life, that is nothing new. There is sorrow, betrayal, sickness, accidents, extreme weather, financial woes, car troubles, kid troubles, and death, just to name a few. No one is immune, and for those of faith, we know that God is not on vacation.

Because I am facing some adversity of my own, I decided to give myself a pep talk. Here are things that I know I need to do.

Stay Focused on Today: it is so easy to think about what will happen a week, or a month from today. The truth is that two days before my heart attack, I was blasting along on the treadmill at 6 mph training for a 5K road race. Think about what was happening a just a few days before you lost a job, heard about a serious sickness, met your spouse, or won the lottery. (Strangely, I feel like there are no lottery winners reading this blog.)

Matthew 6:25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

James 4:13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will[a] go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; 14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.

The Lord provided the Israelites enough manna for one day. That is the promise.

I was talking on the phone with my friend Bill. He asked how I was doing, and I proclaimed that I felt like a unexpected check would come in the mail the next day (Wednesday). It did!

Don't Shrink Back: It can tough out there in life. Our faith is not religious jewelry that we display in Christian debates, but it is a connection to the Rock of out Salvation. God has made us people of perseverance and longsuffering. I know the Driv-Thru Christians don't always like to hear that. We want it now, want it to be easy. But come on, is that the testing of our faith which refines us? Paul said the worst thing they can do is take our lives, and even that is victory.

Hebrews 10:39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.

Accept Help: Adversity is the time when all the faith you think you have gets put to good use. We believe that God will take care of our need, or we don't. In some way or another, many Christians have problems understanding blessing. One thinks that blessing is everything going their way. Another thinks that it is the byproduct of something that they did, while another feels that they somehow have earned it. Worse, some have too much pride to let others be a blessing to them.

Blessing is that which is freely given to us by our Father in Heaven. If we are truly in fellowship, those that love us will quickly be prompted to help out. I know that my church, though they are 55 miles away, have made the trip to visit, and provided other types of help. It is humbling, but it is the Kingdom.

Nehemiah 4:6 So we [all the Jews] built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.

Be Positive: This is the tough when when things are truly out of my control. It is easy to say "This will never get better." I have to remember that 1/3 of the people that contracted the virus I had died from it, and 1/3 never recovered or needed heart transplants. I recovered.

I can be down about the finances, but millions have lost their home sin the US, not to mention how people live in some third world countries.

Colossians 4:2 Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.

Make it Easy: It is is easy to worry, it is easy to complain when we are uncomfortable, and it is easy to feel abandon by God when the ship is breaking up in the rough seas.

God didn't promise me an easy life.

Matthew 11:30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

Who about you, how do handle adversity?

Friday, June 3, 2011

5 1/2 What I Wish I Knew All Those Years Ago

Across the northern hemisphere, school is drawing to an end for another year (well not so much in Europe - but hey, be jealous!). It's no secret that kids don't really know what they need in life, that is why they have parents. Education is supposed to give them knowledge of useful subjects, but does it? Most of what I learned in school did not make me a better person, a more mature adult, and sadly, except for one class, it didn't help me get a job; and worse, I didn't even get into a good college.

Honestly, if you add bad parenting to poor education, you get a guy like me. It's not pretty. I have a few things I wish that my parents and educators would have taught me, but instead I mastered the art of memorization:

-1 Credit is Bad: In my senior Health Class I did very well on the budget project. The problem, I included a lot of borrowed money and no one said a word. The simple economic principal of "never borrow money unless you can make money with it" would have been nice. Unless you own a business, cash is the best way to go. I happen to be a Dave Ramsey fan, he has some sobering thoughts in finances.

-2 Relationship Skills: All my skills came from my parents and media; neither were good. The guys resolved a good conflict with a few fisticuffs, and the girls with some hair pulling. I didn't really know how to end a conflict. I didn't know how to say "I was wrong," or "forgive me." I still think those are two of the basics in relationships. I love stuff like the temperaments, 5 love languages and other facets of the successful relationship pie.

-3 Real Life Skills: I learned all that math and English for no apparent reason. Sure, I use it now, but I learned i on the job. It might have been good to connect it to something - anything! I never saw a purpose in any of the classes I took. I just went in, memorized whatever I needed to, and passed. Of course math and English were not so easy, but history, civics, biology, physics, sociology and even psychology didn't require any thinking on my part. How about buying a car, managing a checkbook, interviewing for a job, budgeting, saving, voting, growing old, and the list goes on. To many of these things were a total surprise.

-4 Second Language: I am so impressed with my daughters' Spaish immersion school, that I only wish that I had learned another language a long time ago. I attended her school fair themed on habitats today. Each one of the first-graders made a scene (didn't we call these dioramas?) with the desert habitat of their animal; Charlotte choose the camel. She did a 5 page illustrated report in both Spanish and in English which she read to each parent as we took turns sitting with the different students. Me, I had to wait until I was in Brazil with no interpreter to learn Portuguese!

-5 Citizenship: There was no real connection to understanding the importance of participation in politics, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. I did have a couple of teachers that tried, but it more about their agenda than actually teaching. It was worse in college. Had I known these things, I would have understood that phrases like "the separation of church and state" are principals, not laws that deny the expression of religion within the government.

-5 1/2 Jesus: I didn't have Him back then, and all the religious folks that I knew didn't either.

How about you, what do wish you learned a long time ago?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hearing God - A Short Story

I often talk about being led by the Spirit. A lot of people think that if they read a Bible verse and it fits what they want to do next, it is God. There are so many doctrines and versus that you can debate in the Bible. I have heard both sides of lots of issues. Isn't that what denominations are, people that disagree on certain versus in the Bible, or place more importance or certain versus? There are those that debate if there could be an apostle in this day and age, if you can really speak in tongues, are there idiots in the church, can believers be possessed by demons... if you ask me, that answer is yes to all of them... but certainly they are debatable.

I guess, I was thinking about times when I was sure that I heard God. A few years ago my kids wanted to go to a conference about 120 miles from the house. The registration fee for the three of us was nearly $100; plus the price of food and gas. I had heard so many good things about Acquire the Fire, that I wanted them to go... and me too! I talked it over with my wife who says "yes" to just about anything she thinks I will like. As we talked, I saw she had a lot of concern about the cost. I was about to cancel the outing, thinking that $100 was a little extravagant for this time in our life, when I head the Lord say, "just go, I will take care of it." I did not know how it was going to happen, but I felt that it was going to be taken care of. So, the girls and I got in the car an headed for the conference over 100 miles away.

We arrived there a little early and walked into the arena area where we enjoyed the first meeting. At the end of the meeting and the music, we saw a friend of ours from church. We got to talking about how good the conference was. The topic of the cost of the conference came up, and we realized that we didn't have wrist bands. "How did you ever get in without them!", she exclaimed. "They have five or six people checking at every door for them." We never even saw anyone selling them, nor did anyone check us when we went in. (Sometimes day meetings are free at these type of events, I honestly did give it a thought.)

Just before the second meeting, absolutely not wanting to sneak in, we went to a table where they were selling the wrist bands. I went over to see what it was going to cost for the rest of the day. They were charging the full admission price for the entire weekend; one meeting was the same as the entire conference. I spoke the to gal at the table and told her that I was sorry that we had gone into the meeting earlier without knowing about the wristbands. She said that it would not be a problem, but that we couldn't go in like that again.

"Thank you anyway," I said. I went to the girls to tell them we were leaving. I didn't even have $100 if I wanted to stay. They seemed a little disappointed, but they understood that it was expensive for me at that time. They started to say how much they had gotten out of the first meetings' dramas, message and worship. We headed for the door when the the gal from the table said that God had told her to just give us the wristbands. I told her that she didn't have to. She held them out and said, "You know we never do this. Ever!"

I told her again, that she didn't have to and that we had just enjoyed being there for the time we already had. She insisted that we take them. One more time I said, "are you sure?" She simply said, "God bless you," and held them out for the us to take.

Then I heard the Lord say, "I told you I would take care of this."

The voice of God is a wonderful and sometimes scary thing. However; we have His assurance that we will hear His voice and know it." The rest of the meetings were really life changing for the kids. They still talk about some of the things they heard that day. Me, I am just glad that God speaks to His people.. and especially me. On the way home, I thanked God that He had made way for us to be there.

Hearing God should be common place in the church. How does God speak to you?
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