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.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Learning from the Spurs Way

"We don't talk about MVP awards. We don't talk about any awards," Gregg Popovich said, when asked if Kawhi Leonard should be MVP. The buzz was all about Kawhi and his amazing late game heroics in the Spurs come-from-behind victory over the Houston Rockets. "We don't talk about championships. We just play the game. Everybody tries to do what they can to make the team better, and whatever records or awards or wins that come, that's the way it is," Coach Pop exclaimed to reporters.

The San Antonio Spurs do things differently in the NBA. While most of the teams pride themselves in having flashy players and promote their players as MVP candidates, the Spurs intentionally keep out of the limelight and focus on one thing: playing their best.  Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs soft spoken forward certainly has risen to become one of the top players in the league and a Most Valuable Player candidate this year.  But you won't hear coach Gregg Popovich promoting any Spur for MVP.

What is refreshing in this world that keeps detailed statistics of most everything and celebrates records of every sort, comparing individuals and teams, the Spurs don't care about any of it. They focus on each player doing their best for the good of the team. Their attitude is that we can't control all outcomes. The only real thing we can control is our effort. When we focus on effort and execution, then we can let go of our need to control the outcome.

I'm reminded of the scripture in Colossians 3:23, Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. When we focus on doing our best for Jesus, we can always be content with the outcome even if we come in second. Sure we want to win but our world doesn't fall apart when we don't.

Our true measuring stick should be our own capacity to excel. There will be others who are naturally better and we will not win every contest or challenge in life. But if we do our best for God, we can always hold our heads high and be encouraged to press on.  The awards may or may not come on this earth, but far greater awaits us in heaven.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Study shows Christians influence in the U.S. declining rapidly. Is the church responsible?

A new survey released last week revealed just 10 percent of Americans truly have a biblical worldview, despite four times that amount believing that they do. *The American Culture and Faith Institute, headed by pollster George Barna, interviewed approximately 6,000 people from the general population and in church leadership in early February.
The ACFI survey determined that only 10 percent of the 6,000 surveyed answered the 40 question survey regarding biblical principles and lifestyle in a way consistent with a biblical worldview (way of understanding the world).

Using 40 questions on both belief and behavior, 20 on each, the researchers determined that someone with a biblical worldview answered positively 80% or 16 out of 20 questions in both belief and behavior categories.  A large percentage of those who claimed to have a Biblical world view answered questions that would not be consistent with the Bible.

For example, among the views adopted are a belief that people are basically good (74 percent) and having faith matters more than what faith a person has (66 percent). Other indicators that are consistent with a biblical worldview include a belief that moral truths are unchanging and absolute; that God created man in a miraculous event (not through evolution); and the Bible is totally accurate in all the life principles it teaches.

The survey indicated that the younger an adult is, the less likely they are to have a biblical worldview. Among adults 18 to 29 years old – commonly referred to as Millennials – just 4% were described as having and living out a biblical worldview. The number rose to 7% among those in the 30-to-49 age bracket; doubled to 15% among the 50-to-64 year olds; and peaked at 17% among those 65 or older.

The study gives a bleak view of the future of Christianity in America and indicates that our churches are failing to disciple. We may be drawing crowds but the big question is how many of those that are attending church are really being discipled?  Can you disciple a person who comes to an hour service an average of twice a month?

One of the problems Christians face is the declining belief that we are responsible for sharing our faith. (1 Peter 3:15).  As many as 25% of the most theologically conservative pastors did not embrace this statement.  Perhaps we are being silenced by the wave of culture which demands that faith is only personal and must be kept to oneself while trumpeting their secular worldview to anyone.

The truth is that the secular world is discipling 24/7 through education, government, media, arts and business.  The two mountains of influence that Christians have, religion and family are having less and less of an impact while education, government, media and arts (film and entertainment) are increasing rapidly. This is nothing new but perhaps this is the greatest challenge the church faces today because we have been swimming up stream in a rapid current for many years and falling further and further behind. This survey helps us take our heads out of the water long enough to see just where we are in the river of culture.

I’d love to hear from pastors and laymen.  As a pastor and follower of Christ, what can you do to counter the secular current of ideas and worldview?

*The American Culture & Faith Institute is a division of United in Purpose, a non-partisan, non-profit organization. The mission of United in Purpose is to educate, motivate and activate conservative Christians to engage in cultural transformation, in ways that are consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The organization does not support or promote individual political candidates or parties.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Life Giving vs. Life Saving

We all have been told when talking about finances that saving is critically important. Yes, in the world's economy, we must save a certain percentage of our income for the future.  When it comes to Gods economy, we take this same mindset when considering our spiritual lives as well.  But nowhere does God tell us to save our lives. He tells us to give it away, Luke 6:38

Our natural tendacy is to save, protect and preserve our life.  So when God leads us to give our life away, we tend to avoid any risk so as not to experience rejection, failure or anything that might bring us physical or emotional pain.  Go on a mission trip overseas?  No way, it's too dangerous!  Share the Gospel with a neighbor? No, I'm afraid I might be thought of as a zealot. Get involved helping a friend whose son is on drugs and spinning out of control? No, I don't want to get involved in that drama. No telling what might happen. Spend a day working and sweating in an impoverished neighborhood?  Nope, I'd rather watch my favorite football team and rest up for church on Sunday. 

I love how Paul describes his life in his second letter to Timothy 4:7, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." He had spent his life serving God, enduring all manner of hardships, from beatings and stonings, to imprisonment to shipwreck.  There was no consideration to save his life. God had saved him so that he could spend his life on something much greater than himself. 

When I get to the finish line and come face to face with Jesus, I'm surely not going to talk about how I saved my life.  I'm not showing him my wonderful collection of rare coins I saved or my cool baseball card collection. No, I think Jesus will be much more impressed with the battle scars from sharing my faith, and the blood, sweat and tears shed from taking risks and obeying Christ when he was leading me to give my life away. Then I can say as Paul did, "I've fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith." 

I was created so that I may be spent.

Friday, February 3, 2017

When seeking a miracle from God; Pray. Believe. Pursue.

Ben Chapman's church plant is growing and flourishing. Luminous church located in San Antonio near the University of Texas at San Antonio caters to college students and young adults and meets in a movie theatre off of I10.
When the the two year contract for their use of the theatre was not renewed, Ben and his church faced a dilemma. They needed a church space large enough for 200+ people close to UTSA, because of their campus ministry. Available properties in this area are rare and expensive. Ben says that the theatre wasn't a good option anyway since they had upgraded their seating to the new high backed recliner chairs. He explained laughing, "they may be great while watching a movie but try preaching to a crowd of people practically lying on their backs. So we were contemplating moving when the theatre management informed us they would not be renewing our contract."

Ben Chapman encourages risk
So Ben and his congregation had no option but to move and prayed for a miracle. A church filled with college aged adults is not going to be able to afford the type of space they needed.  Yet, they believed God would come through some way, somehow and started the search. 

Ben was led to a property within the 15 mile radius of UTSA which they had set as their target. He explained to the owner their predicament and the owner replied, "yes I know, I'm a member of your church!  I just recently started attending." When he told Ben what he was asking to lease the property, Ben's spirit sank.  No way could they afford it.  He explained to the owner that the space was perfect and everything lined up except the price and left feeling as if that door which seemed like a miracle had been closed. 

A few days later the owner called back with a new offer, exactly the amount that the church had set as "affordable". Ben had not told the owner their price thinking it was too low. God however, using the faith and generosity of another believer, delivered the miracle. Luminous Church is moving in March and praising God for a miracle! A great reminder for us all when seeking a miracle; pray big, believe, and then pursue your dream! 

For more stories of God's miraculous movements go to Miracles on the Mission Field.

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 leaders.com 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.