Ephesians 1:18

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints... Ephesians 1:18

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Reaching The Millennial And Why This Millennial Stayed In The Church

Millenials gather for a game at Topgolf 

I had a great conversation recently with several young pastors who have started churches that are reaching Millenials. These church planters were either of the Millenial generation or just a bit older. I wanted to hear how they were reaching the Millenials today and what it is that motivates the Millennial to seek after God.

The pastors all agreed that the Millennial craves community. A large portion of twenty-something adults have not had great, authentic family experiences so they want to experience family and community. These pastors agreed that for the church to reach Millennials, it must provide community for them or they will not stick. The problem voiced by one pastor is that often when the church tries to create community it comes across as fake or inauthentic. For Millenials, community happens naturally.

A good example of a business that is thriving because it is reaching Millenials is Top Golf. They have taken the traditional game of golf and put it into a structure that is more conducive to groups that create community much like bowling. Where golf has been more of an individual sport, now through Top Golf it becomes a group experience which appeals to the Millennial.

The young church planters went on to say that churches must also allow Millennials to question why we believe and why we act the way we do. Millennials need to be able to ask questions without fear or rejections. Their world view is not a biblical world view like ours. They have been taught a secular world view so we must be patient and listen to them and understand their perspective. They tend to be more liberal so if the church focuses a lot on politics and trying to persuade members to be more conservative, instead of focusing on the Gospel, the Millennials will drift away.

They can be biblically illiterate also. We can't assume they even know the basics of Christianity. One pastor commented about how he had to explain where Christmas originated to a young girl. She did not even know that it was a holiday celebrating Jesus' birth.

Millennials also want their faith to be practical and integrated into their everyday life.  That is why the Missional model appeals to them. They will accept a challenge and respond well to activism. They won't stay long at your church unless they are challenged to put their faith into action. Coming to worship to be entertained will not sustain them. 

This is a quote from an excellent blog post by Ryan Cole on why he stayed in the church,  Statistics show that Millennials are are not interested in work and life balance; they are interested in work and life INTEGRATION. The same is true about their faith. They don’t just wanna show up on Sunday if they have not integrated their LIFE >> WORK >> and FAITH together as one!
So a church must do these three things to reach the Millennial, 
  • Provide authentic community
  • Give a solid explanation of the Good News and how and why it changes the way we live our lives 
  • Focus on and involve them in the mission of God
I suggest this should be the goal for every person attending your church, not just Millenials. But it is especially essential to reach the twenty-something's. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Are the church wars coming to an end?

In the four decades after WW2, religion in America resembled more of a horse race than a dynamic disciple making force. At its peak in the 70's and 80's, churches competed and battled each other to see who could be the biggest and most influential church in the city.  Blame it on the good old American competitive spirit, but today many Christians would look at this competitive motivation as sinful, selfish and off base. It's interesting to look back and see what brought on all this competition between churches.

After WW2, soaring birth rates, economic good times and a focus on normalcy and family converged to create a religious culture in America. Most Americans identified as Christians and so as new neighborhoods sprang up in suburbs all over America, new churches were in high demand. Denominations began building churches and adding the believers to their roles particularly in these suburbs. The process was simple, sort of the "you build it and they will come" method. You found land in a new area of growth, built a building, put a pastor in place, promoted your church brand, opened your doors and waited for the folks to come. The idea was that the better you advertised and better you did church, the larger your church would be.

Churches were in essence, a business and we were in the business of getting people in our church and money to meet our budgets. We operated like businesses and other churches were our competition. Ironically, churches within our own denomination were our biggest competition. I was on staff of one of the largest churches in the city during the 80's when we heard that a pastor of another church in our city had proclaimed that his goal was to bury us! His motivation for ministry was to have bragging rights as the biggest church in town. There was even a constant bantering by the pastors who openly criticized other churches and pastors from the pulpit.  And these were pastors from the same denomination!  Church wars were in full force.  

Evangelism was our cry but what really drove us was our desire to win the church wars and rise above all other churches. Some strategies were less subtle than others. My church had a high attendance day three times a year. Something just didn't set with me that we would be motivated to bring our friends to church to set a record!  Yet it seemed to work because we always had a big attendance on those days. 

This competition between churches seems to be coming to an end but as recent as three years ago I still noticed an almost paranoia about churches taking members away. I coached a pastor who had a great church facility in a prime location in a fast growing bedroom community of a major city. He had a declining attendance for three consecutive years and pointed the blame on the other churches in town. He bemoaned that it was difficult to grow because there was a new church plant in almost every public space in town. I asked him if he did a house to house survey of the neighborhood, how many of those families would be going to church on a regular basis. He admitted that probably one in four or five at best would be church goers. So I asked him, "What if you focused on those who weren't going to church, wouldn't there be plenty in that pond and more than enough to go around?"  I had to convince him that the other churches were not the enemy.  

As our religious culture has changed resulting in fewer Americans going to church, churches are focusing more on reaching the "nones" rather than competing with other churches over Christians. Part of the reason new churches are planting as non-denominational or without the denomination in their church name is to reach those who have been alienated from church.  Our enemy is not other churches who steal our members but the evil one who is drawing people away from God and the church!

So now as pastors have set their sights on the real enemy, instead of looking at the churches in their city as competitors, pastors are beginning to see other churches as partners in the real battle to restore faith to the next generations.  Sure there are still a lot of Christians who church hop and churches are still concerned about "closing the back door", but there seems to be an authentic spirit of cooperation now much more than competition.  

One great example is the Christ Together movement, networking with other churches of all denominations in their city to reach their city for Christ. In Christ Together Austin there are over 300 participating churches of all denominations working together ao that every man, woman and child multiple opportunities to see, hear and respond to the Gospel.  i wrote about it and some other examples of churches working together in my post about the new church culture.  Maybe churches are taking Jesus' pray for unity in John 17:20-23 to heart.

Go here to read about the Christ Together Austin movement of God to unite the church for a Kingdom purpose.  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Yes, I too changed my identity!

Identity- Who Am I?

With so much of the buzz about Bruce Jenner, one of America's greatest athletes choosing to become a woman and Rachel Dolezal, a white female who says she identifies as a black female, identity change is a hot topic. During all this discussion, I was reminded of the day in which I too changed my identity.

It happened when I was a teenager. I was pretty much consumed with self and my identity was in baseball and other things until I gave my heart and life to Jesus and exchanged my identity with that of Jesus'.  As Galatians 2:20 says, "My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."  

I can't address the morality of one who chooses to change genders or the rationality of trying to identify with a race in which you are not. These are serious psychological and maybe physiological issues for the experts to debate. I do know that what becomes our identity, including ideologies, people groups, past failure or material things, can determine our lifestyle and actions.

When I became a follower of Christ, I became his child and my identity changed and with that my lifestyle, actions, and the way I saw the world. My identity is made up of many things, gender, race, vocation, marriage, family. But above all of those is my identification with Jesus Christ which sets my purpose and course for life. May I always choose to live from that identity before anything else.  Maybe in all this discussion about identity we can include what identity in Christ is all about.
Click here to view a short video that explains very well identity in Christ.  Identity in Christ

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Why Christians Make Such Stupid Choices

There seems to be an epidemic among Christians who are victims of devastating problems which could have easily been avoided by just making a better decision. You probably know a professing Christian who has made a bonehead choice in a critical area of their life who is now paying the price.  Maybe you have. Everyone makes mistakes but it seems Christians have the propensity to make head scratching choices that seem to run counter to their values and upbringing. 

One of the most crucial aspects of living the abundant life Christ offers us is to be able to navigate through the relational minefields that this world throws our way. Christians should have a big advantage because we have a guide (Holy Spirit), and a road map (the Bible) that helps us make the right critical choices. So why do so many Christians make appallingly poor decisions in the most important areas of their lives? I can give you to two simple reasons:
1) They confuse their emotions and selfish desires with God's will.
2) They fail to consult, trust, or follow God's instruction guide. 

I recall taking a mission team white water rafting at the end of a mission trip down the Arkansas River through the Royal Gorge in Colorado.  During one stretch of the river, there were photographers working for the rafting company stationed on the banks to take pictures of the teams navigating the river. This was an area of the river with some heavy rapids and our raft plunged into a rather deep falls with everyone except two of the seven in the raft being thrown out of the raft, including our guide. 

The guide recovered quickly and was back in the raft to rescue the others who were spilled from the boat.  Everyone ended up safe and sound back in the raft but it was quite an experience. When we finished our trip and were escorted to the sales office where we returned our gear, the rafting company had developed photos displayed on the wall that you could purchase of the teams of white water rafters navigating through that treacherous stretch of river.

When we compared our photo with the others, we could see that our raft was on the far right side of the river, while all the others were traveling on the left side.  The difference was that our raft went directly into what the guide said was "the hole". Our guide, for whatever reason, directed us into a rapid that none of the other rafts went into. Maybe he thought we could handle it.  Or perhaps he couldn't correct the course that we rookie rafters had directed. Whoever's fault it was, our guide had to pay for the mistake. He said when the guides are thrown out of a raft, they have to buy dinner for all the other guides. The picture above was taken moments before all but two of us were thrown out of the raft.

This white water trip down the Arkansas river is a great illustration of life. There will always be obstacles that will cause rapids, or turbulence in our life, making its passage difficult. We can allow the river to take us wherever it wills by just going with the flow and suffering the consequences. Or, we can navigate it by using our instruments to steer clear of the bigger rapids, using our map to know the safest course and change direction to avoid the danger.  Most of the time, when we don't put effort into steering our raft, the river will naturally take us into the most dangerous rapids.  

Unlike the irreligious, Christians are susceptible to allowing the river to take them wherever, believing God is directing the raft and in control so there is no need to steer.  And we can mistakenly think the Holy Spirit is telling me to go full steam ahead when it's really our own libido.  When we crash, it seems logical to blame God, the one who was steering.  "I can't believe God would allow this to happen!"

But in reality, God has given us His instruction manual and map (Bible) on how to successfully navigate life. (2 Timothy 3:16). Yes, God is with us and wants the best for us, but just as a parent doesn't control his or her adult child, God doesn't micro manage our lives. As we consult our map which teaches us well how to navigate the river and put into action the counsel from it, we should be able to avoid the "holes" that could sink us or throw us out of the boat. There are some parts of the river with rapids we can't avoid and we must take them head on but there are many areas of turbulence in life that can and should be avoided. This is a major part of discipleship, understanding what God wants us to do through His instruction guide and maturing to be able to identify the rapids of life, to know how to navigate and make correct decisions. Isn't it ironic that Christians who think they are being more spiritual actually are being irresponsible?

It could be just a funny quirk to the Christian life but this faulty theology is very common in the Christian culture and unique to Christians.  And it seems to surface mostly in the major decisions of life like who to marry or where to work or live. We don't play the God card in the insignificant decisions of life, thinking God is not so concerned with them.  But when it comes to the major stuff, we tend to turn it over to God, turn off our brain and just hope for the best.  

For example, Mary starts dating Tom and is sexually and emotionally attracted to him. However, Tom is not a Christian and his values are distinctively different than Mary's. Yet Mary, thinking God is in control of her life, continues to pursue the relationship, ignoring the warning signs, confident that God has brought Tom into her life. She doesn't really concern herself with taking her time to get to know him or doing any serious work on their relationship. God's brought me the perfect man and to reject him would be a violation of God's will.  

She becomes pregnant two months into their relationship and Tom decides to dump her for another conquest. Mary is upset with God and cannot understand why God would bring this calamity upon her.  She doesn't see that she is the one responsible for her predicament. 
Mary allowed the river to take her into a very dangerous rapid without following her "map", without really trying to steer away from trouble.

God never contradicts the principles of His "map and instruction guide".  So, if Mary had consulted and followed the map, she would have known it was unwise to be "unequally yoked", to be intimately involved with someone that does not share her values and not to be sexually active before marriage. This is a simple illustration but it is a predicament that many young Christians find themselves in. You can understand a non-believer making this mistake, but someone who should know better?

In today's culture, the river seems to be running faster and more prone to taking us into even more devastating rapids. Therefore, it is even more critical that believers rely upon God's guidance through His book and listening to His voice from a perspective of righteousness and selflessness.

I've written more about how to choose wisely in my ebook, The Art Of Choosing A Mate.  

What are some other examples that you have seen where Christians tend to make bad decisions based on faulty theology? 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Body of Christ working to heal wounded warriors

I have just returned from a five day experience that profoundly impacted me. I was recruited to spend five days at the Wind River Ranch, a 110 acre guest ranch a few miles outside of Estes Park to serve wounded warriors and their families. Wind River Ranch gives three weeks of the year to the Wounded Warrior Project hosting wounded warrior families so that they may come and experience rest and healing in God's beautiful country. 

I expected to see soldiers with missing limbs and major physical injuries but was surprised that almost all had psychological injuries instead of physical. There were also families with autistic and emotionally challenged children and wives of soldiers who had to take care of their children as well as a wounded husband.  

One soldier with PTSD could not take loud noises or be confined in areas with a lot of children. Our volunteer team ate our meals with him in a cabin away from the crowd. The first morning he was irritated, very much on edge, and spoke about his frustrations using a lot of expletives. By the third day his language had changed. He was calmer and began to eat in the main dining hall but wore headphones and listened to his music to avoid the crowd noise.  

Friday morning wrangler breakfast
On each Friday morning, the camp holds a breakfast in an open meadow surrounded by trees away from the main buildings. The families ride horseback to the site where the staff serves up a breakfast cooked over an open fire. As I mingled with the families waiting for the breakfast to be served on this Friday morning, I looked up surprised to see our wounded warrior there in the crowd without his headphones!  He seemed to be at peace and amazingly calm. What a transformation in just a few days!  

One of the fathers, a wounded warrior there with his family, stood up and spoke out as we finished our breakfast. He tearfully thanked the staff and talked about how much the week meant to him and his family. He said that he couldn't put into words the healing that had taken place and what his family had experienced.  I looked around and saw many of the wives and some of the wounded warrior dads in tears.

Fun and games with the kids
From the horseback riding, the morning devotions, the wonderful family meals, the hootenanny at night, to the games in the afternoon, all had worked together to bring incredible healing to the soldiers and their families. 
I found that the power of the incredibly beautiful mountains and landscape was surpassed only by the power of God's presence among the staff and volunteers at the camp. 
Hitting the trail

I was informed Sunday that after we left the ranch Friday that our soldier with PTSD spent most of Friday afternoon at the barn and was very relaxed and positive (no headphones on).  That night after dinner, he and another wounded warrior broke down and wept and shared with the staff things they had never told anyone since their return home.  There was lots of pent up anger towards God but both had realized that God was definitely moving during the week through all the beautiful people loving on them.  Our soldier was the last man out Saturday, spending a lot of time with "his horse" and the wranglers, toting a Bible and looking forward to returning next week to visit, serve, ride and play his horn for the next group.  God had certainly started the healing process in his life through the wonderful staff and volunteers and the beautiful setting.  

What is amazing about the ranch is that it was first inhabited and developed by an itinerant preacher in the 1880's named E.J.Lamb.  His prayer was that the land be used by God to bring people to Christ.  Over one hundred years later the property is doing just that, using what God has blessed the new owners with  to bring the healing power of the Gospel to families in need of restoration.  

To read more about Wind River Ranch or donate go to http://www.windriverranch.com/

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Church We Have A Problem According To Pew Study

The latest Pew Research Survey on religion in America does not paint a rosy picture for the Christian church, reporting a decline of "Christians" of almost 8% from 2007.  The percentage of adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% in an equally massive Pew Research survey in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%. And the share of Americans who identify with non-Christian faiths also has inched up, rising 1.2 percentage points, from 4.7% in 2007 to 5.9% in 2014. 

Mainline protestant denominations took the brunt of the decline while evangelical churches actually increased in number, as much a 5 million.  Yet the future does not look promising for either because there is a failure to reproduce generationally both in mainline and evangelical churches. The millennial generation, especially many of the young millennials, are not continuing the faith of their parents. More than 85% of American adults were raised Christian, but nearly a quarter of those who were raised Christian no longer identify with Christianity. 

In the evangelical church, there has always been a high value of making new disciples, to evangelize the lost, hence the term evangelical church.  In my coaching of pastors, much of our energy is spent on developing strategies to reach those who do not believe. Perhaps we should also examine how we are raising up our children to love God and pursue truth.  Somewhere along the line we are losing that battle and if those closest to us fail to carry on with our faith, then how can we expect to convince those outside our family to believe in Christ? How do we leave a legacy of faith without pushing it upon our children or turning them away from the church? How do we best disciple them? They are after all, the future of the church.

I've written about the issue in a recent blog; The Greatest Gift You Can Give Your Child and also the root of the problem; Survey Indicates Religious Faith Not A High Value For Many Christians.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, suggestions and answers.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Greatest Gift You Can Give Your Child

I attended a dynamic worship service this past Sunday at Austin Christian Fellowship where pastor Will Davis Jr. and his wife Susie talked about raising children. They shared some powerful words of instruction and encouragement to parents about raising children in today's culture and landed on what I believe is our greatest gift to children from 3 John 1:4 where John says "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth". 

So the great question to ask yourself is what would bring me the greatest joy in my children when they become adults?  Susie makes this significant statement, "If your goal for your children is to get into a good college, marry a wonderful spouse or a live happy life, this tells a lot about you as a parent."  As followers of Christ, shouldn't our greatest joy be to see our children walking in truth, loving God and serving Him and others. If that is true, shouldn't leaving a legacy of faith be our greatest gift to our children?

Will and Susie gave some great advice on how to leave a legacy of faith in a culture that so wants to take you and your children in a totally different direction?  They explained that the the key is to impress the word of God into your child by making the word of God the backdrop for everything you do.
An important first step is to establish a mission statement for your family. Then talk about it, memorize it, post it around the house, stencil it on your wall or stick it on the fridge so that you children will see it, know it and learn to live from it. This mission statement, should be about what is most important to you and your family. It should be a summary of what would bring you the most joy in your children, your end goal as a parent. So when your child acts up or wanders off, you can remind them that their actions do not match their purpose.    

Do you have a family mission statement? If so, I'd love for you to share it.  
If not, Here is an exercise that will help your family create a mission statement.

Powerful quotes from the message:
  • Make the whole template of God's word your end goal.
  • Our long term goal for our children, the end goal of parenting is to have a faith that carries them through life, not a fear that cripples them.
  • You shouldn't be the one who pushes your children into the dark because you can't handle their darkness. 
  • Leave a legacy of belief and faith, not a legacy of fear. 
  • What leaks out to your children? When you leak, you want to leak the word of God. If it's not in you, it will not leak out. 
  • If you focus only on helping your child to be culturally relevant, to give them the best that culture has to offer, you'll grow a child to be culturally relevant but biblically irrelevant.
  • We parent from a worldly mindset. Because we pursue, worry about, and fight about worldly things. 
  • Help your children love the right things by you loving the right things.  1 John 2:15-17
  • Our children need to see us loving the things of God. When was the last time your children caught you, praying, loving God, serving others?