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

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.  

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A broken society? How does the church respond?

The recent headlines and picture of child and spousal abuse from NFL football players has everyone talking.  The old debate about corporal punishment which has gone on for a few decades has resurfaced.  I find it interesting how a picture can incite us to demand justice or change our behavior when we know that the picture is just the tip of the iceberg. Both incidents actually represent the consequences of much greater ailments in our society, that of broken families, out of wedlock children, and fatherless children.  

What is worse, a father who disciplines his child to the point of abuse or a father who is totally absent from a child's life?  It doesn't make headlines when men abuse their children by abandoning them because we don't see the heart rending pictures of this abuse. Yet, I would think it is far more destructive to our children than over zealous discipline.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if our society would get as upset about the failure of men to be responsible in raising their children and being a good husband and father?  What will it take for us to realize that our society is only as good as the families that are in it?  

How does the church respond to a broken society? For over 4,000 years, our values and standards of right and wrong have been fairly consistent.  And the primary method of instilling those values has been through the family and church or synagogue.  This has led to an orderly, productive and safe society, especially in the western world and the United States. Things are changing faster and more significantly than ever before. We are losing the family and the institution of marriage is on the rocks. The media and our public education system have replaced the family as the instructors of values and morals.

And now there seems to be a deathly silence from the Christian community. Does the church have so little influence anymore that it has become insignificant in shaping our society's values and morals? What do you suggest the Christian response should be?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Rethinking the idea of our "Calling"

I am all about living out my "calling" as my blog title infers. So I would like to share a perspective on living out our calling that maybe somewhat different than the general idea that I was taught when I was first getting into ministry.  This is not gospel, just observations on my part that I think will help us to live out our calling with freedom, joy and passion. 

I was brought up to believe certain things about finding my "calling". Looking back now I see that they were a flawed or limited view of the idea of God's calling in one's life.  

Myth # 1 God will always communicate your "calling" in a dramatic, supernatural or clearly spoken way.
Many have responded to a sermon or an altar call to go into the ministry and believe that is the way it generally happens. God tells me what I'm to be or do and I say yes. But, I don't believe one has to hear an audible directive from God to have a "calling".  All believers have a "calling", and I believe as Ephesians 2:10 says that God has already prepared the way for us to do good works. But discovering that calling comes about in all kinds of ways, often developed through our unique experiences in the church and through ministry and life in general.  
I got very involved in the church during my high school and jr. college years. I never intended to go into the ministry but was involved in ministry as a volunteer even while I pursued a career in broadcasting. I followed the doors God opened for me and eventually switched careers. I can look back now and see how God was laying the foundation for my "calling" in my teenage years.  There is no cookie-cutter method of discovering our calling. The process of finding my 'calling' was unique to me. God works differently in each person's life. If you wait for God to tell you just what to do in the way that others have said will happen, you may be missing out on what God has prepared for you. 

Myth #2  I must have a career in the ministry if God has "called" me.  
When people hear someone say they have found their "calling" in life, they automatically think of vocation. That I believe is a limited view of "calling". A better perspective is to view a "calling" as the same as our purpose. Another way to define "calling" is the means in which we live out our purpose and mission in life. I like to view our "calling" as both the vision and the means. Our primary calling is God's purpose for our life and our secondary calling is our occupation. Our occupation (secondary calling) is the means by which we fulfill our primary calling.  So we could be a pastor, children's coordinator, doctor or whatever job that gives one the opportunity to live out his or her primary calling.  There are a myriad of ways to live out your "calling" other than being a minister. But many theologians will argue that you must have a specific "call" from God to be a pastor, that it is much like the priesthood of the Old Testament.  My denomination holds to the "priesthood of the believer" doctrine developed from 1 Peter 2:4-10, that all believers are priests in Christ.  Yet even in our denomination many believe the uniqueness and difficulty of the pastorate demands a specific call from God. I'd love to hear what you believe.  

Myth #3. God will always call us to go and do things that we would never want to do.  
I find it interesting that we say, I have "surrendered" to God's call, like I'm going to prison or off to a lifetime job that I'll hate for the rest of my life.  God's "calling" should allow us to serve Him with a passion and joy, doing something that we love.  I expect to sacrifice material and physical things and go to places I may not choose to go on my own. But my calling is lived out serving with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, doing what God designed me to do well. Yes, he often pushed me out of my comfort zone, challenged me to do things I didn't think I could do, but I never dreaded following God's leading.  Following His call should be a great adventure, experiencing God in incredible ways as God helps us overcome the trials and disappointments of life to glorify Him. 

Myth # 4. Once you are called, you are called to do this for life.  
I was told that if God called you to be a youth minister, you were always to be a youth minister, that you were abandoning your call if you changed ministry positions.  I don't think this was the prevailing thought but many believe a call is to a lifetime sentence. This thinking happens when you mistake your primary calling with your secondary calling.  As I stated in Myth #2, our primary calling is our purpose and our secondary calling is our occupation.  Your primary calling (purpose) will never change, but your secondary calling, the way you live out your primary calling, may change many times over the course of a lifetime.  
A friend of mine was a high school football coach for years until he retired and then moved to Ireland to serve as a missionary. His job allowed him to use his skill to fulfill his "calling" to reach kids for Christ.  Now he is using those same skills in Ireland, to reach young men for Christ. He is still pursuing his "calling" but now in a different setting.  

I love this quote from Brian Schroller;  There is a glorious life and we merely need to grab hold of it and help others do the same.  Give a man a clear sense of the larger story, (primary calling), help him determine his uniquely created role to play (secondary calling), and teach him to walk in conversational intimacy with the Father.  Now you've really got something!

As we seek to find the best pathway to living out our calling, we discover that God will provide the opportunities and direction if we seek Him first. The best way is to seek God in everything we do.  Jesus then becomes our life, our passion, and He uses our unique abilities to accomplish His purposes in His Kingdom.  

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Key To Reaching The Millennial Generation

There have been many studies and articles proclaiming how the Millennial generation (born from1984-2004) has left the church.  Our Missional Association church planters for the most part are trying to reach this generation. I think many churches can be successful attracting young married millennials but when it comes to reaching the single adult in their twenties, most are falling way short.  This is concerning because a recent PEW poll showed only 26 percent of the millennials in their 20's are married. When they were the same age, 36 percent of the Gen Xers, 48 percent of baby boomers and 65 percent of the Silent Generation were married.

What this means is that 74% are single, so if you are not reaching single adults it stands to reason you are not reaching many Millennials.  The large singles ministries of the 80's and 90's fizzled out as the baby boomers got older and most churches have abandoned specific ministries for single adults and focused only on married couples and couples with children.

I was part of that large singles ministry experience, being a pastor to single adults in Austin in the 90's.  We had over 300 singles, almost half of those below 35 years of age, attending Sunday morning classes specifically for singles. We offered specific ministries designed to meet their needs.  We started a Metro Bible study that met on a week night.  At its peak, this "singles sort of get together thing" as we called it, had over 700 singles on any given Tuesday night.

Ministry was incredible with these singles because they had the energy, enthusiasm, and time to serve God.  I loved to take a team of 16-20 singles each summer on mission trips to churches in small towns in other states.  We would host sports camps for youth and teenagers and share the Gospel to kids who probably had never been around young singles who were passionate and excited about God.  Most all the young men and women in their town had left when it was time to go to college and seldom returned and the only Christians these kids saw were adults the age of their parents or older.  So our young singles made an incredible impact on these kids, loving on them and sharing the Gospel.  Our church also benefitted tremendously from their energy and passion, as they served in the different ministries of the church.

But somewhere along the way, churches lost their zeal to reach singles.  Maybe they didn't see their value. Perhaps it was because most pastors are married with children and they don't really understand singles and don't see their value to the church. They are much more comfortable with families and so their programming and sermons are directed toward families with children.  The perception is that singles don't tithe and they come with so much baggage.

One of the singles that served with me when I was a singles minister has remained single. He confided to me that it is really difficult for him to go to church nowadays. He feels like a fifth wheel and there just doesn't seem to be anywhere he fits in.  He said, "people think I am gay and I have to overcome that stigma everywhere I go". This is a very talented man who has been in ministry and could do amazing ministry in the church. But he is often ignored because he is not married.

I also run into countless young singles in businesses in which I am chaplain, through Marketplace Ministries. Most of them do not go to church, yet most will say they have faith in God. They have all kinds of excuses but I get the feeling that if someone would offer to pick them up and take them, they'd go.

New churches could do well to target the millennial singles. And so many of them need the community, structure and relationship with Christ that they'd find in your church.  But to reach them you'll need to be strategic:
Recruit a single adult to lead the ministry.
Instead of hiring a married pastor with children to lead the ministry like many pastors do, look for a young Christian single who is outgoing and a networker. A single adult leader will have much more time and involvement with singles than a married pastor. Whether you pay them or make them a staff member depends on your budget. You could also recruit a core team of singles to lead the ministry. Whether one leader or a team, provide them with some resources, give them a vision for what could happen and the freedom and encouragement to build a community of single adults that will reach out to other singles.
  • Involve them in ministry.  Encourage them to serve in all areas of ministry in your church. Recruit them.  Ask them to serve.  
  • Create Single Adult Missional Communities. Missional groups larger than your typical 10-12 person life group work better for single adults. These groups focus on missions and community and growth. New singles to the group provide energy and excitement. You want to always be growing and serving together. 
  • Preach and teach and provide ministries about issues that are relevant to singles.  For example, when I was Singles minister I would hold a Single Mom's Expo each year and invite single moms from all over the city.  It was a Saturday designed to pamper the single mom, to make her feel special. We provided childcare (a VBS experience), would serve them lunch, and have a speaker that would give them practical and spiritual advice and encouragement. We collected lightly worn clothing from the congregation and set up a clothing store where the single moms would get to pick out clothing they could wear to work. We put on a fashion show with our single ladies modeling clothes that had been donated. And I had tons of door prizes donated from merchants in the community. We invited them to come to church the following day and introduced them to singles in our ministry.  At the end of the day many of the ladies would be in tears, walking out with a bundle of clothes and feeling inspired. 
The single adult is a big percentage of our population that the church has ignored. Any church that values singles, provides space, resources and time for them will reach them.

Read more what the millennials are looking for in a church here.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Bike secrets to the abundant life in Christ

I recently had a conversation with a pastor friend who shared with me that he was having difficulty trusting God.  Does it surprise you that someone who often preached on the topic of grace was afraid to release control and trust God? Yes, pastors, theologians and regular believers, we all have issues. On one hand, letting go and trusting God may be one of the most difficult things to do. Yet, on the other, it is also the key to experiencing the abundant life that Jesus came to give us!
We all can accept an idea as being true but our struggle is moving from head knowledge to heart, from embracing to embodying the truth. This is where the rubber meets the road.  Truth is not worth much if we can't or don't apply it to our lives.  My pastor friend knew the truth, he just didn't or for various reasons, couldn't trust God enough to put his life in God's hands and live it out.

The big question for all Christians is how do I actually "pick up my cross and follow Jesus"?  I've discovered that as I attempt to live out this life in Christ, the depth of this new experience is incredibly difficult to comprehend.  It's like jumping into the ocean and being told to discover what's on the bottom.  Where do I begin and how do I accomplish this? How do I live by and in God's grace and not do this life on my own?

The wonderful thing I've learned over time is that I don't have to discover it all or do it all, over night. I can relax and learn from God as I pray, read and study his word allowing God to shape Me.  Begin to take your steps as a baby would learning to walk. Don't allow yourself to slip into shame and guilt of the performance lifestyle that our culture demands. You don't have to measure up to God.  He is our standard but Jesus has taken your place and He will help you live the life He has for you.  

One of my favorite poems gives us another wonderful picture of this life in Christ: 

A Tandem Ride With God
I used to think of God as my observer, my judge, keeping track of the things I did wrong, so as to know whether I merited heaven or hell when I die. He was out there, sort of like a president. I recognized His picture when I saw it, but I didn't really know Him.

But later on, when I met Jesus, it seemed as though life was rather like a bike, but it was a tandem bike, and I noticed that Jesus was in the back helping me pedal. I didn't know just when it was He suggested we change, but life has not been the same since I took the back-seat to Jesus, my Lord. 

He makes life exciting. When I had control, I thought I knew the way. It was rather boring, but predictable. It was the shortest distance between two points.

But when He took the lead, He knew delightful long cuts, up mountains, and through rocky places and at break-through speeds; it was all I could do to hang on! Even though it often looked like madness, He said, "Pedal!" 

I was worried and anxious and asked, "Where are you taking me?" He laughed and didn't answer and I started to learn to trust. I forgot my boring life and entered into adventure. And when I'd say, "I'm scared", He'd lean back and touch my hand.

He took me to people with gifts that I needed, gifts of healing, acceptance and joy. They gave me their gifts to take on my journey, our journey, my Lord's and mine. And we were off again. He said, "Give the gifts away; they're extra baggage, too much weight." So I did, to the people we met, and I found in giving I received, and still our burden was light.

I did not trust Him, at first, in control of my life. I thought He'd wreck it, but He knows bike secrets, knows how to make it bend to take sharp corners, jump to clear high rocks, fly to shorten scary passages. And I am learning to shut up and pedal in the strangest places, and I'm beginning to enjoy the view and the cool breeze on my face with my delightful constant companion, Jesus.

And when I'm sure I just can't do any more, He just smiles and says... "Pedal."
(Author unknown)

I love the poem because it gives such a wonderful picture of grace. Jesus is in control of the direction, yet I'm pedaling!  He doesn't want me just being an observer. But Jesus is pedaling also, providing the power.  

As you dive into the deep "grace life" of Jesus Christ, as you allow Him to pedal, you'll discover many riches.  These are some that I have found or experienced, that I believe are available to all who choose to follow Christ, some we may experience right away, while others may take longer.  I pray you are experiencing these and more.  
  • You will discover a new purpose for living, so much greater than living for self.
  • You will be able to rest comfortably knowing that you don't have to have control of people and all things in your life.
  • You will begin to make choices that benefit others more than yourself, loving people, not using them for your benefit. 
  • You will swim against the stream, bucking the trend of popularity, power, and the materialistic life our culture promotes.
  • You will be able to face your fears and not be afraid to fail. 
  • You will begin to choose to risk pain and suffering over security and comfort.
  • When you put your head on your pillow at night, you will rest in peace, not anxious and worried about what may happen the next day, month or year.  
  • You will be excited about what each new day brings and look forward to the adventure that Christ has prepared for you.
  • You will begin to love God and live out the principles and truths that you preach or teach.
  • You will understand grace more and more and yet you'll discover that the ocean of God's love and grace is deeper and wider than you ever imagined.  
What other tangible riches of His abundant life have you experienced?