Friday, January 17, 2014

Living With The End In Mind

On our recent trip to Romania we happened upon a beautiful cemetery full of graves which had elaborate carved wooden cross markers.  Each colorful marker was unique with a carved picture and written summary of the life of the one that was buried in the grave below.  Each painting gave the world a visual obituary, the dead one's occupation, favorite hobby or passion.  Some showed how the person died.  One had a depiction of a little girl being hit by a car.  This girl died when she was 3 years old, so her death was the most defining moment of her life.  
As I walked through the cemetery, I began to try to picture what my grave marker would look like if I was buried here.  How would my loved ones sum up my life?  
This is a great process to help us define our purpose and craft the life we would like to live.  If we can begin with the end in mind, it can help us envision our purpose, values and goals for the here and now. What would your visual obituary look like?  As you begin to visualize the picture you would like, work backwards by setting your purpose based on the picture that you would want to see on your grave marker.  

I exist so that ...
Because I exist to ____________, therefore I must do these things______________, ____________, ___________.  Then set your goals to help you to accomplish your resolutions.

We all live from our purpose, whether we realize it or not.  For many, their purpose, not stated but lived out, is to serve themselves.  As a believer, my purpose changes from serving myself to serving God and others.  And I must constantly remind myself of my new purpose as Romans 12:2 states, so that I begin to make decisions on this new chosen objective and not from my old default ambition of selfishness.  As we live from our stated and desired purpose, we can begin to realize the life that God has for us, regardless of the circumstances.    
When our life is over, your footprint will be left on those you have encountered.  What will they remember about you?  What picture would be on your grave marker?  


Friday, January 10, 2014

Casting Your Net On The Other Side

Painting by Greg Olsen
When Jesus encounters the disciples on the Sea of Galilee after His resurrection, we have this beautiful story of Jesus once again empowering the disciples to accomplish something they couldn't do on their own.  He tells the disciples to cast their net on the other side of the boat. The disciples are obedient and the result is an incredible haul of fish. As with any act by Jesus, chronicled by his disciples, there is an underlining reason or message for us beyond the miracle itself. Yet, we are left to speculate to the significance of this miracle. There is no definitive explanation offered in scripture. The disciples had gone back to fishing, to the the life they had before Jesus had called them to join him in being fishers of men. Jesus shows up and performs a similar miracle to the one in which he performed when he first met them.  You could easily say that the miracle was a wakeup call, a reminder for the disciples to continue their mission without Jesus and if they obeyed Jesus, their success would be bountiful.

But could it have also signified to the disciples and future believers, that they were now going to be fishing for men in different waters. They would be called in the near future to go beyond the Jewish race, beyond Jerusalem, to Judeah, Samaria and the ends of the world to do their fishing?  They would be fishing in the Gentile waters and the haul would be incredible.

And could there also be a message for us today?  Could it be that Jesus is calling pastors, church planters, and all followers of Jesus to cast our nets on the other side, into different waters? Could it be that the lack of growth in the church the past 20 years in the U.S. is because we have been fishing in the wrong waters?   

To be real honest, most churches do a very poor job of reaching the lost.  We have been fishing in an aquarium for the past 50 years.  Church has been primarily to and for Christians.  A pastor friend of mine told me the other day that he preaches consistently that their church is there to reach the lost.  He said he actually had one of his members come to him and say, "I really don't like it when you preach that we are here for the lost.  Pastor that is not true.  We are paying you to minister to us.  Our church is here for us Christians!"  I imagine there are many church members who feel that way, but would never come out and proclaim it.  When it comes to church, we have become more like country clubs rather than mission posts.  

With that in mind, do you think that Jesus is calling us to fish in another pond, to really try to reach those who are far away from God?  Could Jesus be telling us that casting our nets on the other side means spending our time, energy and resources in targeting those who do not know Jesus instead of to those who already know Christ?  Do you think that perhpas God is calling us to cast our nets back into the urban areas to reclaim what we have for the most part abandoned?  

We have been praying at The Missional Association that we can reach those in the urban areas of San Antonio who live in communities that are spiritually bankrupt. And God has sent our way several young men who feel God calling them to plant in urban San Antonio, to be missionaries in the city center.  It has been really exciting to work with these young men, to watch God transform lives and start to change whole communities. It is difficult work and requires a different mindset than planting in the suburbs.  But the harvest is plentiful and the need for workers is great. Please join The Missional Association in prayer for all of the churches and church planting movements that are commited to casting their nets into the waters on the other side of the boat, into the waters of the inner city, that we may reap an abundant harvest for God.  

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Illusion of Control

I find it amusing to watch those control freaks who make decisions to manipulate people and things so that they can feel as if they have exercised some control, even though in the long run their actions have no influence or even a negative affect on what they want to control.  

For example, football coaches at the end of a quarter, who try to "ice" a kicker by calling a time out right before the snap when the opposing team attempts to kick a field goal. There is no evidence that it works (causing a kicker to become more nervous and choke), and many times can backfire like it did recently in one of the bowl games when the field goal was blocked and the ball was recovered and returned for touchdown.  However, the defensive coach called a timeout right before the snap so the score didn't count and the next try was good.  This little exercise in the illusion of control cost the team 10 points. The real reason a coach feels compelled to call the time out is that it is the only thing a coach can do to have an impact on the kicker.  It just gives them the illusion of some sort of control. 

I see the same thing in the government's attempt to control the climate by passing regulations and trying to manipulate the lifestyle of millions of people.  It gives the regulators the illusion of control, a feeling that they are doing something when in reality they have little to no impact on Mother Nature and a negative influence on those they seek to control.

The problem with those who feel the need to exert control or have the illusion of control is that their actions can have very negative consequences on those they manage who lose autonomy with every bit of force exerted over them.  Often, the more control exerted, the more you diminish the potential of those you seek to control. 

As Christians we can be thankful that Jesus gave us freedom to make the right choices that would enable us to live the abundant life.  He laid out the values and the picture of that life by his example yet gave us wide latitude to live that life.  In contrast to the Jewish laws that had become an incredible burden on the Jews as the Jewish leaders sought to manage the lives of their people, Jesus said there were only two parameters, "love God and love others". And then God sent the power, through the Holy Spirit to help us realize this life.  

There is a small prayer that was made popular by Alcoholics Anonymous; God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. This small prayer packs a ton of wisdom, if we would only follow it, not just in our personal life but also in how we lead others.  Wouldn't it be a refreshing change if all of our leaders, church, government, and business, took this prayer to heart and equipped, empowered and encouraged those they lead to reach their potential without the need to control with tons of rules and regulations?

  • What are the things that you feel compelled to control?
  • How do you diminish the ability of those you lead by exercising control?
  • How can you lead those you have been placed in authority over better with less control?  

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