Friday, June 27, 2014

And God Said No.


The recent announcement by Isaiah Austin, Baylor basketball team's 7 foot 1" center, that he has Marfan Syndrome and will not be able to continue to play basketball is a powerful illustration of how cruel life can be, and how life can rock your world just when you think you have arrived. The NBA made a gracious gesture in asking Isaiah to attend the NBA draft and then "drafting" him symbolically. watch video Yet it is a tough break for a really great young man who looked as if he had a bright future playing in the NBA.  It is ironic that this condition that prevents Austin from playing basketball in the future is why he is unusually tall, which gave him a significant advantage in the sport. 

Marfan syndrome is an inherited disorder that affects connective tissue — the fibers that support and anchor your organs and other structures in your body. Those with Marfan syndrome are usually tall and thin with disproportionately long arms, legs, fingers and toes. If your heart or blood vessels are affected, the condition can become life-threatening.  Some people experience only mild effects, but others develop life-threatening complications. In most cases, the disease tends to worsen with age.

What is impressive is how Isaiah has handled the news and the attention. He has used the spotlight to emphasize his faith in God, that God has another path for his life and will help him overcome the disappointment. 

Isaiah is no stranger to setbacks, having overcome losing sight in one eye after being struck in the eye by a ball playing baseball when he was in Little League.  He learned to adjust to the lack of vision and the loss of perspective that you have with two good eyes to become an all-conference player in the Big 12, helping Baylor win the NIT last year and get to the NCAA tournament this year.  His focus was on becoming an NBA player but he now says he has a new mission, to help and inspire others through his story.  

Still, it must be extremely difficult and disappointing to have God say no to your dream and to learn at the same time that you have a serious health issue you'll deal with the rest of your life which may also shorten your life. What do you do when God says no to a dream?  Will you handle your heartache and disappointment as well as Isaiah?  I recall something I came across years ago, that helped my perspective on why God sometimes says no to us.  

I asked God to take away my pride. And God said “No”.  He said it was not for him to take away, but for me to give it up.
I asked God to make my handicapped child whole. And God said “No”.  He said her spirit was whole, her body was only temporary.
I asked God to grant me patience. And God said “No”.  He said patience is a by-product of tribulations. It isn’t granted, it is earned.
I asked God to give me happiness. And God said “No”. He said he gives me blessings, happiness is up to me.
I asked God to spare me pain. And God said “No”. He said suffering draws you apart from worldly cares and brings you closer to me.
I asked God to make my spirit grow. And God said “No”. He said I must grow on my own. But he will prune me to make me fruitful.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life. And God said “No”. He said I will give you life, that you may enjoy all things.
I asked God to help me LOVE others, as much as he loves me. And God said, "Ah, finally you have the right idea."

Yes, Isaiah heard God and he has the right idea.  

Friday, June 20, 2014

Do we love things more than people?

I heard a powerful quote the other day which sent my mind in all kinds of directions, "People are created to be loved. Things are created to be used. Many of our problems stem from us getting this backwards. We love things and use people".

Wow!  This is so true and can be a problem in so many areas of our lives, from family to politics. We so often take advantage of people to get the things we love!  It is also a real problem in the church and is one of the main reasons people leave the church, never to return. When pastors use and manipulate their own members in order to get the things they think they need to be successful as a church or as a pastor, members of the church can sense that they are being used.  When that occurs, it's not long before they will be heading to another church or to never set foot in a church again. 

It may be one of the most common complaints I hear from Christians these days. For example, I was recently told, "I just feel so disconnected from the pastor and the church staff.  I am constantly asked to give money to this or that at the church and exhorted to participate in this campaign or this program but I can't remember when I was asked about me personally or even how I am doing spiritually."  
I had a conversation with a young man that had recently returned from a two year term on the mission field. He had grown up in the church that commissioned him.  He told me that he was very disappointed that once he got overseas, it was as if his home church had forgotten about him. No one ever sent a care package and there were no emails of encouragement. The only time he heard from the church staff was when they needed his help with a mission team they were sending his way. When he returned, many asked him where he had been. Most of the church never knew he had been sent on the mission field. He said wasn't expecting much but what he came away with was the feeling that he was being used, not loved or cared for. 

Leaders must be very careful not to love things more than people.  Especially in the church, we can get so caught up in leading, planning, preaching, evangelizing and sending missionaries, in order to make our goals, to grow our church, that we neglect the shepherding part of the ministry. And when we get word of a member's discontent, we often just dismiss their feelings as being selfish.  We have forgotten that the greatest commandment is to love God and to love people. If you fall into the trap of using your people to build your own kingdom, you can significantly damage the faith and the trust of those you are called to disciple.  

That is not to say we must not exhort and challenge our members to give, grow and be involved in ministry.  I also realize as the church grows, each member's voice can become smaller and it becomes impossible to stay closely connected to everyone. That is why it is so important to delegate the ministry and train up other leaders to minister to the members, in small groups or through ministry teams.  Creating community within the larger church is critical.

It really comes down to motive. What is my true motive for ministry?  Am I driven to succeed for the sake of success? If so, you'll probably use people to get there.  Or do I serve in ministry from a heart of loving people.  Will it help if I remind myself fairly often, that people are more valuable than any possession I may desire, including success and are to be loved and not used?  Search me oh God and help me not to love things. Grow my love for you and give me a heart to love people. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Lessons learned from San Antonio Spurs: The Bonner Principle

Perhaps the greatest reason the Spurs are such a successful team, setting records for consecutive playoff appearances, is that they follow the principles that the apostle Paul conveys in 1 Corinthians 12.  It's no secret that Greg Popovich is considered the best coach today and the reason is that he sticks to the same principles, one body, one team with many parts all working together for one goal. As the Spurs attempt to win their fifth title most all agree that they are the epitome of a team that plays "team" basketball.  In a league where the stars are the focus and many games boil down to the star players going one on one, the Spurs stick to the team concept. All teams make an attempt at the passing game but never seem as committed to it as the Spurs. 

Popovich's players all know their goal, their abilities and the role in which they are called to play.  And because they don't try to be more than the assigned role they play on the team, they excel at what they do and so does the team.  Sure the Spurs have stars, Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan, but these stars and the rest of the team know their specific role and put team first before individual accolades.
Matt Bonner is another great example, a player who may not see the court on many NBA teams.  Not many want a slow footed big man that can't jump but he thrives in the Spurs system because they know how to maximize his talents, using his great 3 point shooting to stretch the floor and draw the opponent's big men out of the paint.  The coaches know his limitations but minimize them by using him in situations that call for his strengths.

Players like Patrick Mills last year and Corey Joseph this year, spend the majority of their time on the bench cheering the team on.  Mills made the most of his time on the bench last year waving a towel and cheering the team on and was ready when called on to play this year bringing that same energy to the court. Joseph was called on in the Thunder playoff series and did as well if not better than the starters when he got his chance to play.  

It should be no different in ministry, only our goal changes from winning a championship to making a difference for God's kingdom (much greater).  Our team is the body of Christ and God has given each of us special gifts and talents to accomplish His purposes which He has already prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph. 2:10) Church planters, pastors and all believers need to understand their unique talents and gifts and accept their unique role they are called to play in the body of Christ.  

Paul explains to the Corinthian believers, everyone is valuable in God's kingdom but not everyone can be a Michael Jordan. The team needs point guards, back up centers and forwards. They need scouts, front office personnel coaches and trainers.  All are important and play a role in a successful team. In God's kingdom we need house church pastors, urban planters, missionaries, Godly businessmen and women, children's workers and on and on. We can't accomplish God's work without any of them. Don't worry about being the next Rick Warren or Craig Groschell.  When you know your purpose, find your unique calling, do it well, you'll accomplish incredible things for God and will be an instrumental part of The Ultimate Winning Team.  Video of Spurs team basketball

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