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

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.  


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.