Living fully alive

Taking truth from scripture and applying it to our daily lives so that we may live from our calling and experience life to the fullest.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The biggest obstacle to accomplishing your goals

I was in a men's small group discussion about our new year's resolutions. We were asked to come up with and share one word for the year, a word that would sum up our personal goals and pursuits for the next few months. There were many great words like focus, family, faith, service, availability but as we went around the group sharing, there seemed to be a common struggle that everyone was addressing. The biggest obstacle to achieving our goals was busyness. Almost every man wanted more time to read his Bible, pray, serve, spend time with family and the excuse was that there just didn't seem to be enough hours in the day to do what we all deemed "vital" to our joy, health and quality of life.

Everyone seems to be busy now days. Even my 89 year old dad complains about not having enough time to get done what needs to be done each day.  But busyness is not the problem.  How we manage our time is the issue. I know that It's become even harder in today's high tech, faced paced world to carve out time for God.  It's ironic because we thought all these hi tech gadgets would give us more time. Instead it seems to be just the opposite. We can easily get pulled away from the very important activities by the tyranny of the urgent.  Our co-workers and friends have instant access to us by way of smart phones and we become slaves to our computers. But we don't have to be controlled by all of this. It's just a matter of the will and priorities. 

We can use those same tools that make us busy to manage our time and accomplish the vital. There are countless Bible reading apps and programs for your smart devices that will help you be consistent in a devotional time.  You can listen to the audio Bible, podcasts, or Bible studies in your car to and from work each day. You can set a timer to go off periodically on your phone to remind you to stop and say a prayer.  Yes, we can overcome our busy, out of kilter life if we so choose. Busyness should not be an excuse. We have the ability and time to do whatever we really need to do if we set our priorities and make time for them. 

Jesus set the example of one who had to accomplish his father's will in an incredibly short amount of time.  And yet Jesus took time to be with the father and to get away from the demands of the crowds to spend time alone in prayer. On the night Jesus died in his great prayer of John 17 he said to his Father, "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do".

We can accomplish God's will also without sacrificing the "vitals".  Actually we can't do the Father's will without it. The graphic is a great tool to help prioritize our time. The four boxes categorize our time. Most people spend a majority of their time in boxes III and IV.  Box II is the one we neglect the most and it is the most important. Here are are some steps to take to help manage your time and accomplish the life you really desire. 

* Decide what and who is important. Outline what is vital, your priorities. These are usually things in box II, those that are not urgent, like prayer and Bible study, personal development and family time. 
* Discover where your time goes. Make an inventory of the activities that you do each day and which categories they fall into to. Making a list and then color coding activities to the box categories is a good way to visualize where you spend most of your time. 
* Get into a routine of spending a certain amount of time each day on the "vitally important" things. 
* To achieve this, cut back on the things in box III, those that are not important and not urgent, like watching tv, surfing the Internet or playing video games.  
* Don't allow the not important but urgent distractions (box IV) like email, texts and phone calls to interrupt your quality time. Put your phone away while you are spending time with your children, spouse or friend. 
* Use your high tech tools to help you spend more time in box II. 
* Find someone to hold you accountable.
The new year brings new opportunities. What is your one word for the year?

Friday, December 30, 2016

Disappointing Christmas Worship Services

I am curious about your Christmas worship experience at your church. Churches today have different philosophies and styles concerning Christmas and I'm wondering if I am out of touch with my expectations.  My wife and I were invited to a friend's church for worship the week before Christmas. We went with high expectations because the church is a traditional large main line denomination with a solid reputation. We were looking forward to singing some Christmas carols which our church, a small satellite church, was not singing in their morning worship services. 
We sat through the worship service, literally, and left very disappointed, trying to make sense of what we had just watched.  

The service started with a choir singing a somewhat different rendition of a familiar Christmas carol. Dancers with flags came on stage and moved around the stage in sync to the song. This was followed by a couple of songs that we had not ever heard before sung by a praise team with more dancers.  We were given candles and during the third song and had a lighting ceremony.  The song ended and we kept holding the candles awkwardly not knowing what to do with them.  There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason for the candles except that we needed to have a candle lighting time during the service. 

The two traditional hymns were altered with different arrangements as if the soloists were singing on The Voice and were changing a well-known tune to make it their own. All the songs were performed well enough.  But it was definitely a performance. We never stood or sang along with the choir or praise team. The only participation was the candle lighting ceremony.  The pastor preached his sermon and we sat and listened to two more Christmas songs, including a solo of another odd arrangement of Silent Night.  My wife said it should be illegal to mess with Silent Night!

After the service I realized we had sat through the entire service and never sang along to any of the songs. We were never prompted to sing. I'm not sure I've ever gone to a worship service and did not participate at all. My friend who had invited us, was also confounded over the service. Later in the week during the same church's Christmas Eve service, my friend who is a 40 something former pastor, texted me to let me know that the church was consistent in this service also, singing mostly secular Christmas songs. He texted, "you won't believe their first song, "Feliz Navidad"! Then later said they had another candle lighting ceremony to a rock in roll version of Joy To The World. He was beside himself, wondering just who was in charge.  

To me it seemed as if the church was trying a little too hard to be cool or culturally relevant. I'm not sure how others perceived the services but when a somewhat traditional church does this, it can come across as pretentious and contrived, even hokey. This church has a new pastor, (middle age) so I'm guessing they are trying to reach younger generations. But it reminded me of the a 70's style traditional church trying to be contemporary by playing 80's music. It doesn't work and can turn off not only your older members but the younger ones you are trying to reach as well.  

I feel for my friend who attends the church. My advice to him was to talk to the pastor and share in a loving way your feelings. He needs the input of experienced leaders.  He doesn't need to hear complaints and whining but constructive critique that will help going forward. 

Also, I received this post from church after I had written this blog as if God was speaking to me. Ironically it is also titled Disappointing Worship Services. The final paragraph is great advice:

As we worship Christ together this week, may he give us this expectation. May he rewire our hearts so that our joy and goal would be found in honoring him. The Father is working the entire universe toward that glorious end. May we relinquish our selfish expectations for our church’s surroundings, people and future, and instead take up the expectation that Christ will be honored in our worship service, and in lives of worship. Place your hope in that invincible purpose, and you will never be disappointed.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Study reveals a lack of discipleship for a shocking percentage of evangelicals

A recent study conducted by Lifeway and Ligonire ministries indicates a distressing amount of evangelical Christians don't believe foundational Christian doctrine.  

When asked if they agreed or disagreed with the statement, God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam, 46% of self-identified evangelicals agreed or somewhat agreed.  

Another statement in the study that raises some questions about what Christians believe was about salvation:
By the good deeds that I do, I partly contribute to earning my place in heaven. A third of the evangelicals agreed with this statement.  I would not be surprised if this was the response of Christians in general but to have a third of those who profess to be evangelicals say that salvation is based on some works is a head scratcher.  

There is an emphasis on discipleship in many evangelical churches today but I wonder just what we are teaching Christians theses days if so many don't believe in the basic tenets of the Christian Faith.  Are we failing to disciple believers or have we not taught and emphasized the basics in our discipleship?

There was a period of time where discipleship focused on teaching doctrine but we seemed to drift away from the basics to arguing about lesser doctrinal differences. Perhaps we got lost in the details. In the past few years evangelicals have shifted discipleship to more practice, missions and application of our faith, all good things. But have we so focused on the mission that we have forsaken the basics?  Have we just assumed new believers had a foundational belief system that you are saved by grace through faith and not by works? Have we forgotten to emphasize that Jesus is the way, truth, and life and no one comes to the Father except through Jesus.  

These two tenets of our faith pave the way for the way we see the world and live in it.  But they are not politically correct and go counter to the world's values of "inclusion" and "tolerance". However, if we compromise on these beliefs then we don't have the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we have a pagan synchronized religion.  Perhaps we need to go back to the Gospel 101 and re-educate every believer about the pillars of our faith and how these are what distinguishes Christianity from all other religions.  

Thursday, December 8, 2016

How to help your child, employee or congregation take more responsibility

I've had several conversations recently with frustrated parents and grandparents over the lack of responsibility their older children or grandchildren have even as teenagers and young adults. One mark of a mature person is the ability to make wise decisions.  And the same goes for a company, church or organization.  What makes them successful (bear fruit) is their ability to make good decisions from the leadership down through all of the organization. And the one big obstacle that hinders good decision making skills is the inability for the leaders to know when and how to release control and delegate responsibility and decision making to others. Too early and bad choices are often made.  Too late and the leader gets burdened with an overload of stress and work which can also lead to bad decisions.  

In a family, do you give your teenage son or daughter the authority to make decisions on their own? Sure there are many things you would like for them to decide for themselves each and every day, but there are other decisions that need to be made with the parents approval. How do you conclude which decisions they can make on their own and how do you communicate this?

Here is a great visual tool (The Decision Tree) that will help you as a leader or parent in the decision making process from the book Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott. The Decision Tree will help your organization be more productive (bear fruit) by identifying clearly, which categories decisions and actions fall into, so that an employee, child or volunteer knows exactly where he or she has the authority to make decisions and act and how to grow and empower others to get along without you. 

Decisions are arranged in categories based on their importance and impact on the organization. The analogy of root, trunk, branch, and leaf decisions indicates the degree of potential harm or good to the organization an action is taken at each level.
Poor decisions at any level can hurt an organization, but if you unwittingly yank a leaf off a tree, the tree won’t die.   A Root Decision if poorly made and implemented could cause major harm to the person or organization.  Giving a teenager or employee this visual picture and using it to categorize your decisions will give them a better understanding of what choices they can make on their own and what needs to be decided by the group.

Leaf Decisions  Make the decision. Act on it. Do not report the action you took.

Branch Decisions Make the decision. Act on it. Report the action you took daily, weekly, or monthly.

Trunk Decisions Make the decision. Talk about your decision before you take action

Root Decisions  Make the decision jointly, with input from many people. Leadership gives final approval.

The goal is to provide employees or volunteers a clear upward path of professional development. Progress is made when decisions are moved from root to trunk to branch to leaf.  As an employee demonstrates a track record of making good decisions in the trunk category, for example, it will be satisfying to both the employee and the person to whom she reports when those decisions can be moved to the branch category.  This works similarly with a child. The more responsible he or she is making branch decisions, the more responsibility they will be given to make decisions. 

The Decision Tree also raises the level of personal accountability.  Whenever we work diligently and brilliantly, without having to be told exactly what to do, it gives more ownership to the employee and unburdens the manager or executive of work.  It also teaches the child responsibility, confidence and increases their decision making skills. 

Where might the Decision Tree work in your life?

Work place.

Home, with your children.  

Monday, November 21, 2016

Old ways become new ways to reach the world for Christ

Craig Hasselbach in Nepal
There is a sense of urgency that many mission agencies, ministries and denominations are feeling to go make disciples all over the world, and God seems to be calling a new breed of missionary to accomplish the task.  

Pastor Craig Hasselbach is one who is leaving the pastorate of a large successful Colorado church to take the gospel to places where the name of Jesus has never been heard. He explains here how God moved him to transition from the pastorate to more of an apostolic role in the Kingdom during a mission trip to Nepal. 

For centuries the church has responded to the Great Commission by sending missionaries to preach the good news. These missionaries' primary job was to win individuals to Christ. Some started churches in which they pastored. Others met one on one or in small groups to disciple in order to bring families into the Kingdom. For the most part, the indigenous people looked to the missionary for their spiritual nourishment.  

This model continues all around the world. However more mission sending agencies are going back to the first century missions model.  This method, modeled after the apostle Paul's strategy, focuses on intentionally training and equipping new believers to disciple others. Many mission organizations believe this is a more efficient method of multiplying believers and producing gospel-centered movements, especially in countries where the Gospel has never been heard. 

Craig is working with Nexus International and has formed a ministry called Pastors Without Borders. The mission is to reach the unreached by planting gospel-centered churches around the world through young indigenous Christ-centered believers. Check out his blog.  

What's different from the traditional method is that Craig will not be located full time in any one country. He will spend time discipling and training indigenous leaders in several countries to start churches that will plant more churches. Craig will stay until a leader is trained and a church launched and then will visit the new churches much like the Apostle Paul to encourage and offer training. But the indigenous pastor will be the leader of the Church in each country. His goal is to plant 14 churches that will plant a minimum of 3 churches each, which will plant at least 3 churches. 
There are other mission organizations with a similar vision and methods. East-West Ministries has been training and equipping indigenous leaders for several decades. In 2013, they set a goal of making one million disciples in 5 years by using this method in countries primarily in the 10/40 window.  Many others are using the T4T training method as they seek to rapidly train and equip disciples who will make more disciples.  It is an exciting time in history as we do kingdom work until Jesus comes.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Big and Small, God uses it all!

I experienced two amazing extreme versions of following God's vision to bring people to Christ in the past couple of weeks.  These two expressions of faith were as far removed from each other as possible, one as extravagant and immense as one could imagine, the other as humble and primative as could be here in the United States. But both incredibly moving and inspirational and both reminded me that God can use every person I whether rich or poor. 

The grand experience was visiting a life-sized replica of Noah's Ark. My wife and I vacationed in Kentucky for a week and decided to experience the Ark Encounter, which had opened this past summer.  This "theme park" was the dream of Ken Hamm whose vision was to educate the masses about the Genesis account of the ark and flood. So he decided to build the ark based on the dimensions from scripture. It is 510 feet long and 85 feet wide and 51 feet high, the largest wooden structure in the world. It has three decks which spam more than 120,000 square feet. 

It is a truly awesome structure out in the middle of nowhere, much like what it would have been during Noah's time. We spent a couple of hours with a few hundred visitors walking the three levels inside the ark, reading the educational material and seeing the exhibits. It is an impressive and massive undertaking, reportedly 33 million dollars to build and much more to operate. 

Within a few days of the Ark Encounter I spent a Sunday on a small mission project at a RV park, helping clean up and build some picnic tables for this very low income neighborhood. Our church chooses to do mission projects when there is a fifth Sunday instead of meeting for worship. This RV park was actually the permanent housing for about 300 people, all living in small RV's.

When I arrived, I was directed to the back of the park to help with another project, where there was this odd looking structure that had been built out of cedar branches. There I met a woman named Donna who explained what we were to work on. This woman said she was the park manager. She was probably in her fifties but you could tell had weathered a rough life and was wearing a tie-died shirt.  She was enthusiastic and animated as she told us all about this structure was similar to an Indian longhouse, how it could withstand a tornado. It stood next to a smaller version which had been used as a greenhouse. 

"Pastor" Donna on the right
Donna explained that they decided they needed a church building to house their Bible study during the winter and thought a bigger longhouse would be perfect. She said that she had given the idea to one of the residents and explained how this uneducated man who spoke little English, looked at the old structure and built a larger version just by sight without any drawings or plans. 

We were to help put the outside covering on the building which was rolls of heavy plastic.  She described in detail where to start and end leaving the bottom third uncovered for ventilation. Donna told us they would put a stove inside to heat the structure, running the stove pipe through the roof to carry the smoke out. 

When I asked her if they had a pastor she said "no, I guess I'm the pastor."  I was amazed at the excitement and passion this woman had as she talked about their small church.  They would meet here in this longhouse during the winter when the weather turned cold on Sundays and for Bible study during the week. Her enthusiasm for God inspired me. This middle aged lady with the smoker's voice living in an old weathered tiny RV took her job as manager to a higher level, one as a priest or pastor to her community.  I have a notion that she was not ordained or anointed by some church authority to do this. She just stepped into the void doing what God wanted her to do. 

Two visions, one grand the other incredibly primative, both expressions of faith you'd be very surprised to see in the United States.  And I'm not sure which I was more impressed with. All I know is God uses us all in amazing ways when we say yes to His dreams he gives us. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The one thing we want most from our leaders is missing

I voted yesterday. Yes, neither of the candidates is my first, second or third choice. Through the whole process I've wondered if God is playing a joke on us or maybe just giving America what it deserves.  I know many people share my concern for our country and are really dismayed by our choices for president.  The reason is pretty simple but I haven’t heard many express it.  The one characteristic that people want most from their leaders is lacking from both candidates for president.  A survey of thousands of people around the world found that the characteristic they most desired in their leaders is integrity.

So we have two candidates, one who has a record of habitual lying and corruption of power and the other who comes across as a pompous, impetuous billionaire with a reputation as a womanizer.  If we want candidates with integrity, candidates that are honest, moral, principled, stable and virtuous, all words to describe integrity, how then did we end up with Hillary and Donald?

Perhaps this is an indictment on the people of America, that we have chosen candidates with the least quality we want in leaders. Maybe we don't really value character and integrity.  Perhaps we have fallen so low as a nation that we want leaders who get things done by whatever means possible more than persons of integrity.  So we are left with two candidates who specialize in getting their way; Hillary with a history of manipulation and down right criminal actions and Donald who has mastered the art of negotiating and making good deals by whatever means possible.  

I long for the time when I supported a candidate I really admired and liked personally.  Unfortunately I don’t have that choice in this election so I seem to be left with voting for policy over personality.  I’m left with deciding which candidate will help bring to fruition the type of country in which I want to live and the government in which I want over me.

So my second observation is this:  As I see it, Trump and Clinton, personalities aside, are extreme caricatures of the government types they represent.  There is Hillary the consummate politician who has used and abused her government power to gain wealth and even more power. She distrusts business and the free enterprise system and relies on government to “fix" the country.  So in her administration there will be more regulation, more taxes and controls on businesses.  There is also a distrust of the regular American citizen to make decisions for themselves. So there will be more and more government intrusion into the lives of American citizens, more thought police, rules and more government control. The government's role in Hillary’s administration will be to make life more equal for those who don’t have as much as others and safer for those who are abused by the capitalistic system.  

Then there is Trump, the outsider with no government experience, the capitalist who has used the economic system to gain wealth and power. His side distrusts government and wants to limit the power and control that the government has over business and the individual.  He will reduce regulations and make policy that will help the American business owners prosper which in turn will mean more jobs for Americans and theoretically a renewed economy and more opportunities for all people.  As I see it, these are our choices.  It’s all a matter of which country in which you want to live.