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, January 27, 2015

The One Thing Pastors Must Do From The Pulpit

Mark Miller posted a great blog on this subject:  Inspire
After reading his blog, I was inspired to repost a blog I wrote a couple of years ago on the same subject. 

A mediocre person tells. A good person explains. A superior person demonstrates. A great person inspires others to see for themselves." - Harvey Mackay

I came across this quote the other day, which I quickly put into my most favorite quote folder.  It made me think of the former great football coach of Baylor University, Grant Teaff.  Teaff was an incredible motivator who turned that football program around in the 70’s leading them to the Southwest Conference championship with the miracle on the Brazos in 1974.  His inspiring stories and coaching moves are legendary and considered the key to his greatness as a coach.  I was fortunate to be a student athlete at Baylor when we won the conference in 74.  

One legend was how he used the illustration of eating a worm to inspire his team to victory.  Coach Teaff wanted to emphasize taking care of details so he shared the ice fisherman’s secret to catching fish.  Coach Teaff said the secret was to keep the worms warm.  He explained that the ice fisherman would keep the worms in his mouth until it was time to put them on the hook.  Warm worms attracted the fish and that small step was the difference between catching a lot of fish or coming home with an empty bucket. The coach then pulled out a big long earth worm and put it in his mouth, saying the difference between winning and losing was taking care of the small details.  The players went berserk, ran out on to the field and pulled off an incredible upset.  Coach Teaff used a great visual to get across a point but more than anything he inspired his team.

If I were to give what I thought is the most important thing for a pastor to strive for outside of being Biblically sound, it would be to inspire his flock.  When you prepare a sermon, Bible study, lecture or testimony, think about what you want to accomplish.  Shouldn’t you always have a goal to inspire others to change.  What sets the great preacher apart from the good is inspiration.

When I walk away from a great sermon, I'm motivated to change.  As I thought more about the significance of inspiration, I could see how important it is for all those who want to make a difference in the world.  Whether you are preaching, teaching, coaching or parenting, inspiration is such a critical ingredient to helping others change, and yet so many miss the opportunity.

Preaching today often is either all intellect and no inspiration or all hype and no substance. There is a trend in many churches today to emphasize teaching and imparting information in the name of discipleship. The goal is to dump a lot of information and hope some of it sticks.  The problem is that without inspiring others to own it, apply it, and share it with others, the information is just that.  Inspiration is what separates the mediocre from the superior communicator.   We can criticize the preachers who preach to thousands each week for their lack of deep content but what most every one of them has in common is that they do a great job of inspiring.

Whether you are a preacher, coach, parent, teacher or mentor, to be great, you must consistently inspire others.  Aim to inspire. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

What Matters Most

My wife and I took a Caribbean cruise over the Christmas holidays to get away from the mad rush of buying presents.  We had spent weeks getting rid of stuff preparing for our move to Austin the following week after we returned, so we really didn't need anything else to move.  Everyone should move every 10 years or so to keep from accumulating more stuff. It's amazing how much stuff you collect over the years that you never ever use.  But back to the cruise.  

The highlight of the cruise was meeting a couple from Dallas, Bruce and Anne. Bruce was a principal of a private elementary school, and was one of the kindest persons I think I've ever met. He greeted every waiter and worker on the ship with a smile and a complimentary statement.  Everyone was his friend and he seemed genuinely interested in each person's life.  He would often reach out and gently put his hand on someone's arm when encouraging them with words, "you did such a wonderful job". I could see how he must be a great principal, one who is loved by the students, parents and teachers.

I thought about Bruce this past week as I was studying through Galatians, reading Paul's exhortation to the members of the Galatian church in Galatians 5:6, where he writes, "the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love". Paul admonishes the Galatians not to fall back into keeping the law.  And he makes this incredible proclamation that what matters most for any Christian is to live out your faith through love.  

It is such simple charge, taken from Jesus' answer to the question, what is the greatest commandment, that we tend to brush it off.  Yeah, I know we should love others. I learned that in Sunday School as a kid.  But Paul reminds us here in Galatians and also in 1 Corinthians 13, that nothing else really matters if we don't have love. It is a powerful lesson for all of us in this complicated world full of all kinds of extra stuff.  
Bruce was a great living example of one who exhibited his faith through love. His unique expression of love was through words of encouragement and through touch.  He did it remarkably well and I took note. I consider myself an encourager but he put me to shame. He showed me that I can be better at encouraging others, if I'd just make an effort especially when I don't feel up to it.  

Each of us has unique ways in which we express love to others, our "love language", but however we express it, what matters most in our life as a follower of Christ, is to love God and to love others. To "agape" others. This is a sacrificial love that demands nothing in return.  We often get caught up in doing so much, trying to earn respect and standing from others and arguing about doctrine and methodology, that we forget what truly is important.

The principle of all obedience to God is love; therefore faith cannot work unless it is associated with love. Paul's simple principle is a great reminder for us how to live the life as a follower of Christ. Just as I simplified my life and got rid of a lot of material stuff, we would also benefit from ridding our lives of excess "doctrinal" stuff that can hinder us from living the simple life of faith in Christ expressed by our love for others.  

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Ferguson and Justified Sin

NY Post photo
A lot has been written and debated this past week over the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri.  I watched in horror the unbelievable destruction of property and was amazed at how easily people could choose to do evil.  Here are a couple of my observations that I haven't heard or read in all of the discussion.

We all have a natural bent to sin as humans and there is a fragile barrier that keeps a populace from doing evil and living only for themselves.  When the people of a society feel justified or are given a license to do wrong, they will jump over the wall of law and order and act irresponsibly, selfishly and/or criminally. Sin is destructive to oneself, but justified sin goes even deeper because it almost always is perpetrated on someone else. It also brings a sense of righteous indignation and therefore brings about little guilt or remorse. 

When there is a justification to sin in any of society's systems that are created to maintain a safe and productive society, these institutions begin to crumble whether it is the government, an organization, company, or marriage. 

In a marriage, when both the husband and wife slip into justified selfishness, when you begin to justify an affair, your anger, your impatience because your wife or husband is not treating you right, then you can bet that the marriage is on life support. And the same goes for the government.

The two things that keep order in a society are strong moral values that are embedded into a culture or fear and control by the ruling power.  Justified selfishness erodes our moral values and when they deteriorate, then the state has to exercise more fear of punishment on the populace to control them.  So when there is a widespread entitlement to act selfishly, society either slips into anarchy or into a police state.  

My second observation is that people watch and listen and take their clues from their leaders and the power of suggestion can easily motivate people in the wrong direction. We are prone to sin without any prompting, so when those in authority give the impression by an action, inaction, words or even their silence, that it is ok to misbehave, we will jump at the opportunity.

Ferguson is an example but we've seen this before.  College students and young people have done similar acts of destruction when their team wins or loses an important game.  You'll see criminal behavior, breaking into and looting buildings, burning cars, sofas and the like, tearing up property, all in the name of celebrating a win. Who gives them permission to do this?  Where did young people get the idea that it is ok to do evil when their team wins or loses?  Could it be that the leaders of the institution, by their silence, somehow give permission to do this.

Our society's tolerance of sex outside of marriage is another example. Few of our leaders have proclaimed outright that teens should have sex any time they desire but when we pass out free condoms and emphasize safe sex to our teenagers, it sends a message to teens that it is ok as along as you are safe. It may be a subtle message but you can see the power of suggestion and the consequences. We have a whole generation of teens who view casual sex as the norm and as a result we have a huge increase in unwanted pregnancies, teens with STD viruses, abortions and an abundance of single moms.  
  • Justified sin is the undoing of all of our basic social institutions.
  • People look to their leaders and take their clues from what they say or don't say.  
  • When our leaders lie, or abuse power, their followers will feel justified in doing so also.  
  • Whether you are leading your family, church, business or country, you have a great responsibility.  Clear communication of what you expect from your followers and embodying the values your organization deems important are the keys to leading well.    
Can you think of a time when something you said, did or failed to say or do gave someone "permission" to do the wrong thing?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Who Pastors the Pastor?

One of the primary purposes of the church, the body of Christ, is to help a believer grow in Christ in a community of support, encouragement and love. This great togetherness is what made the early church so effective, as we see in Acts 2:44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. 

In our country one of our values is individualism and although this is a very positive value, it can become detrimental when we attempt to mature as a believer in isolation. As our culture of high tech gadgets encourages even greater isolation, the Church, becomes even more important for a believer. There is one person who attends your church that may be missing out on just the thing that all believers need in order to grow in Christ. That person is the pastor!  No one gets less of the ministry of the body of Christ than the pastor! 

Paul David Tripp makes the point emphatically in his important book, Dangerous Calling. In this mandatory read for church planters and anyone in ministry,Tripp explains that pastors are just like everyone else in the church, with the same temptations and sin issues that we all have. Pastors are in the process of sanctification just like you, and they need the body of Christ, just like all members. But the reality is that the pastor and his wife usually receive none of the benefits of the church that the members do. 

I coach many pastors and I think that very few realize what they are missing in the church. They are always giving, preaching, counseling, visiting the sick, exhorting their flock to be more like Christ. This is just what they are supposed to do, what they are paid to do. When I share with a pastor the statement "no one gets less of the ministry of the body of Christ than the pastor", there is that pause as they process the statement, then a slow awareness of this fact and almost always an acknowledgment that this is true.  

The problem starts when the members of the church put the pastor on a pedestal and think of him and his wife as some kind of super Christians. After all, he is "called" into the pastorate, probably been to seminary and been trained to be a pastor. He has to be a mature believer and above any of the hurts or hangups that we common believers have. 

The pastor often begins to believe in the idea that they have arrived. After all, God has anointed me and with my education, training and experience, I deserve to be up on this pedestal. This becomes a problem because the heart of a pastor who believes he has arrived begins to harden and this can easily give way to sin in his life. He can become impatient, angry, self-righteous, judgmental and controlling. And when you believe you have already arrived, you are very resistant to change.    

There are many more pastors who really know they haven't arrived and they still feel the pressure to maintain the image of super-spiritual pastor. They live with the guilt of being a poser, living a lie. I can't afford to let anyone see the real me or I might be thought less of or even fired.  Therefore many pastors isolate themselves from the flock and live without the interconnectivity and necessary ministry of the body of Christ. No one is safe living separated and unknown. Each of us, whether a pastor or lay person, needs the eyes of others in order to see ourselves with clarity and accuracy. We need the accountability and encouragement to press on and the love and grace when we have blown it.  

Ask these questions to see if you as a pastor or your pastor and family may be missing out on the ministry of the church. And if you haven't read Dangerous Calling, order it today!

  • What is your initial reaction to the statement that the pastor and wife receive none of the benefits of the church that members do?  Do you agree? Disagree?  Why?
  • Can your pastor be real and share his own hurts, hangups and habits to the members? 
  • How free do you feel to be transparent in your small group or Bible study?  
  • Does your pastor attend a small group that he doesn't lead? 
  • Does he have a spiritual mentor that he meets with consistently? 
  • Does the pastor's wife have a group of ladies that she can be open and honest with and trust?  
  • How often is your pastor invited to your home or any members home just to hang out?  
  • Do you give your pastor and his wife significant away time?  
  • Is there counseling available to the pastor, his wife and family?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Accepting ourselves for who God created us to be

It's not a big deal when an aging movie star attempts to stay young with cosmetic enhancements to their face and body. But this was different. The recent photos of Renee Zellweger’s new look have social media all abuzz, and had many of her fans scratching their heads.  Many were disturbed because Zellweger had so radically changed the look of her face. It's not that her new look was that bad.  Most would agree that her new look was beautiful.  What made Renee's change hard to accept is that the unique look that she had surgically altered is what we loved about her! Her natural appearance, her narrow eyes and high cheek bones, along with her personality gave her that lovable quality that endeared her to us. She was unique and beautiful, not by the typical standards of today’s models, but because of her unique facial features.
I don't want to be judgmental. I think most all of us do some enhancing along the way, even if it’s only with makeup or hair coloring. Few of us live in the world of those who can afford to get a whole new face. What I find so fascinating and troubling is to see a person who felt the need to change a unique, beautiful and loveable face into such a generic appearance.

I have no clue what motivated her to change but it may be a good insight into the human psyche and the culture that influences our choices. Isn't it ironic that the thing that drew people to Renee, the features that gave her that unique face that actually made her a star, are the features she disliked most about herself.  When we look at a picture of ourselves, we are often drawn to the one or two characteristics that we dislike.  It’s human nature.  And maybe for Renee Zellweger, her eyes and cheeks were what she disliked about herself.

Wouldn't it be great if we all focused more on enhancing our inner being, our character and integrity, than our physical appearance?  It is a lot less expensive but requires much more time and work.  

Here are some of the questions and points you could use for discussion with teenagers. 
  • How does the world and today's culture push us to conform? 
  • What is it that makes us want to be so much like everyone else?  
  • How much pressure do you feel from your peers to change and conform to the fashionable standards of our society?
  • Why have we lost our ability to see the beauty in the unique? 
  • Why do we make fun of people who have unique physical features?
  • Is it wrong to want to change or enhance our physical appearance?
  • As believers in Jesus Christ, can we actually rejoice in how God made us and accept our uniqueness?
  • In this crazy upside-down world, how can we learn to have a healthy respect for our own unique bodies and to also respect others who are different?
  • What does the Bible say about outward appearances vs. the inner man or woman?  
  • What are your unique features and characteristics that God has  given you?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Survey Indicates Religious Faith Not A High Value For Many Christians

The recent Pew Survey on the importance of teaching your children values reveals why mainline denominations are declining and signals an ominous future for mainline churches.  The survey conducted earlier this year as part of the Pew Research's new American Trends Panel asked respondents how important is it to teach a variety of qualities to children.  They were asked which three of the 12 values were most important.  

The values chosen in the survey listed in the order of how the respondents listed their importance were:
Being responsible   94%
Hard work                 92%
Helping others         86%
Well-mannered        86%
Independence          79%
Creativity                   72%
Empathy                    67%
Persistence               67%
Tolerance                  62%
Obedience                62%
Religious faith        56% 
Curiosity                    52%

I am shocked that religious faith rated next to the lowest overall of the 13. Those numbers are certainly skewed lower by those who have no religious faith. But what is interesting is how low the value of faith is to Christians who attend mainline protestant churches.  Only half of those surveyed said faith was an important value and only 22% said that religious faith was one of the top three values. If you don't instill faith as a value into your children, then what is important to you?  

No wonder the mainline protestant churches are in a decline. The future is in the children of its members today and its members don't even consider teaching faith to their children as important? And Catholics valued religious faith only slightly higher.  

I can understand not wanting to push religion on your children and wanting your children to decide for themselves. But the world, the culture we live in today, will do everything possible to persuade them away from faith and if you fail to even give them a choice by not demonstrating what it means to be a follower of Christ, your children may not have a fighting chance to become a Christian.  

Contrast that with those who attend evangelical churches and you'll find that 60% of the evangelicals consider faith to be one of the top three values and 84% said it is an important value. I find that even a bit low when you consider that we are taught that your faith in Christ is the center of most everything we do.  

What I can't fathom is that curiosity and tolerance were rated higher for those who attend mainline protestant churches than religious faith.  Does this surprise you?  Check out the survey here.   I'd love to get your thoughts on the study.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Are More Rules The Answer To Our Society's Bad Behavior?

I took this photo recently at a Staples store because it reminded of the scripture in Romans 5:20, The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase.  The photo is a great illustration that rules have a way of making us want to break them.

I read a post in the Harvard Business Review this week claiming NFL owners can’t manage their players without better rules.  Their answer to the criminal behavior of players is to add more rules!  Do these players not know that beating your wife or driving while intoxicated is wrong?  Are more rules the answer?  

I would think that adding more rules is like putting a Band-Aid on cancer. It may give the league a feeling that they are doing something, a feeling of control, but it doesn’t solve the problem.

The Pharisees during Jesus' time had a similar solution to problems.  They were the religious policemen of the time and they made sure the hundreds of laws and rules were obeyed.  But Jesus knew that their pious actions were a smoke screen to hide their depraved hearts. Jesus didn't mince words. "Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean." Matthew 23:26

We learn in the New Testament that without God's grace and transformational power to change us, the law commands without supplying a motive to obey. In fact, it creates a feeling of rebellion within and we are compelled to break the law for no reason.  Adam and Eve disobeyed God's first commandment and humans haven't changed.  We are still breaking rules and disobeying laws.
The two ways we maintain a society of law and order are to either instill a morality from within or impose a set of rules and regulations from the outside.   So a person will either act in a civil manner because of what they have been instilled to believe (from inside) or because of the fear of punishment if they are caught violating the law (outside).  

Our society tries to change people from the outside by creating laws because government has no power to transform the inner life. So we learn to conform from the outside. All we have to do is to put on the facade of obedience, just like the Pharisees. We learn to talk alike, act alike, think alike, keep the outside clean! We find ways to break the law without getting caught.  If we don't get caught, keep the outside looking good, we must be okay, even though we have enmity in our hearts!

More rules without dealing with the root cause is only a bandaid solution.  It could actually make the problem worse. Until we can change the inner man, we will be struggling with the same bad behavior over and over. And as Paul tells us, only the law of the Spirit can overcome the law of sin and death.  Faith in Christ is a much better antidote than more laws.  Unfortunately, our authorities have pretty much abandoned this solution so I guess we are stuck with more rules.