Friday, July 29, 2016

Pokemon Go getting people to church, Gospel Go getting the church to the world.

I see many things through the lens of the Gospel so seeing how Pokemon relates to our faith isn’t so crazy. But I can’t take total credit for the comparison. This observation came from a pastor I coach in a discussion about the Pokemon Go phenomenon. I don’t play but I understand the game sends players with their smart devices all over the place to find and capture Pokemon "monsters".

So it's been credited with getting young computer gamers outside, discovering their city instead of spending all their time on computers in their homes. One of the popular stations where the Pokemon characters are being placed is in churches. One gamer said that as many as 70% of the landmarks where you collect "monsters" are churches. I saw a tweet that said, what if Pokemon Go is just a conspiracy to get young people to church?  

It's ironic that a secular computer game is actually getting people to church.  My pastor friend pointed out in our discussion, "it is unfortunate Christians don't have the same enthusiasm and passion to go and make disciples as the Pokemon players do in capturing their 'monsters’". That ignited a discussion about the similarities between Pokemon and the great commission.  Think about it.  There are a few similarities.

First off, Christians have been given similar instructions as those playing Pokemon.  In Matthew 28:18-19 we are told to Go, get out of the church, your house, your comfort zone and travel to identify people, not computer characters but real people, and to share the love of God with them to make disciples. I guess you could say our task is not to capture them but to convert people to faith in Christ. 

In Pokemon Go I’m told you can accumulate points or monsters to compete against other players. When we participate in the Great Commission, we also receive something to help us with the task.  We receive power from God to help us accomplish His will. Acts 1:8.  

In Pokemon you are playing in a fantasy computer world that is integrated with the real world. In the great commission, you are participating in the Kingdom of God, the real world. 
Where the comparison ends of course is that the Great Commission is not a game, it is a matter of life and death for eternity for real people. 

There may be more similarities.  For those Christians who play the game, I'd like to know what you think and if there are other comparisons.  One thing for sure, it's a strange and rapidly changing world in which we live. 

I'm sure Pokemon is a fun game but I sure wish Christians would get as excited about the Great Commission and spend their time going out into the world to share the Gospel with those who don't know Christ as they do playing a computer game. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Power Of Perspective

There is one crucial thing you must do when trying to find and live the truth, one thing that most people neglect. It's the same as what it takes be a great putter in golf. You must get a correct read of the green. Will the ball go straight or break to the right or left? What is the slope and speed? To best determine all of those factors, it is crucial to see the line you are putting on from all sides. 

I've been lazy at times and just looked at a putt from where my ball rested. When I missed the putt by several feet, I couldn't believe how bad I misread the green. Then I'd walk to the other side and see that the green sloped down a lot more than what it looked like from where I was putting. You would be amazed how different a green can look from different perspectives depending on where you are standing. The green can actually look like you are putting uphill from one side of the hole and downhill from the other!

Life is much like that also. Problems and life circumstances can look a lot different when viewed from a different perspective. So it is always important to keep that in mind and always try to look at an issue more than just from your own eyes. 

For example, when I tend to complain about my circumstances, I just have to put myself in the shoes of those I have encountered around the world and realize how well I have it. One reminder is this fact sheet to help us put life into perspective:
  • If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep… You are richer than 75% of this world.
  • If you woke up this morning with more health than illness .. You are more blessed than the million who will not survive this week.
  • If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation… You are ahead of 500 million people in the world.
  • If you can attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death… You are more blessed than three billion people in the world.
  • If you can read (and apparently you can)… you are more blessed than over two billion people in the world that cannot read at all.
  • If you have a little money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish some place… You are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.
When we walk in another person's shoes, as the saying goes, or look at the problem, disagreement or issue from the eyes of another person or place, we can always get a much more complete picture.  Sometimes we get confirmation that our view is correct. But more often our reality changes. That is what the prophet Nathan did with King David to convict David of his sin, by telling Him the story of the rich man taking the poor man's only lamb. David's perspective was shattered and corrected.  2 Samuel 12.

To get a more complete picture we should:
  • Start with a Biblical perspective. This gives you a foundation of truth and God's perspective.  
  • When you are in conflict with another, set aside a time to talk about the issue. Each person must listen to the other, without making comments. Then repeat back what you heard them say.  Once done, then you can work on solutions to the problem.
  • Build relationships with those who are different from you, older, younger, from other ethnicities, or from different places. Listen to their stories!  
  • Expand your world. Travel.  Go on mission trips. Serve others. Discover how others live. 
We have little to lose and much to gain by taking the time to view life from all sides. Then we see and can better understand truth.   "Another Man's Shoes" poem.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

What pastors can learn from Tim Duncan

I'm a huge Spurs fan.  So I was saddened to hear about Tim Duncan's retirement after 19 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs on my birthday no less! I spent the day reflecting on the character of one of the greatest power forwards ever and what we can learn from him.

Tim was obviously a very talented basketball player, a 15 time all star, leading the Spurs to 5 world championships.  But what made Tim great even more than his basketball skill was his character and leadership traits. Few can be what he was talent-wise on the court but we can be like Timmy in the areas that made him so respected. Pastors would be well served to study his leadership skills and learn from them. Here are some of the traits I so admired.

Tim was a team first guy. In a sport that highlights the individual, Tim was the consummate team player, "the ultimate teammate", always sacrificing self for what was best for the team, whether it was taking a reduced salary or a reduced role on the court. He could have made so much more money if only he would have become a free agent and gone to a big market team. Yet he stayed in San Antonio and helped build a dynasty. You would expect the same from pastors but it's not always the case.  

You see many pastors moving from church to church, climbing the latter of success on the backs of church members instead of staying in one place and building a dynamic church. Three years and they are gone to another church. Then there are those who stay and continue to take raises that would shock you even while their church is declining in membership. Thankfully many of the young pastors I coach have taken a modest salaries or in some cases no salary at all so that their church could give more to missions. Maybe times are changing. Wouldn't it be great if all pastors were as selfless and humble?

Tim was a mentor to many. He took the off season to mentor and teach other big men, not just his teammates but those from opposing teams as well. There are stories from other players on opposing teams who recount how Tim would instruct them even during games. Etan Thomas tells about the time Tim told him during a game after Tim blocked his shot, "that was a good move but you have to get more into my body so you can either draw a foul or not get the shot blocked." Then a few plays later Etan explained, I did it again but he didn't block the shot and he looked at me and said, "much better".

One problem I find many pastors struggle with is insecurity. I'm not sure why it is that a pastor is so protective of his senior pastor position. It could be the expectations from members and the pressure he feels to live up to those. I seldom hear about a pastor who mentors another pastor to step into his shoes or to start another church. Shouldn't all pastors be training one or several young pastors?  If a basketball player can give instructions to an opposing player, you'd think a pastor could do the same for a fellow pastor. After all, we are on the same team. 

Tim was a quiet humble leader.  He lead by example more than words. Tim was fun to be around, someone who never took himself too seriously but took his job seriously. He set an example for others to follow.  He didn't have to try to be a leader, it was just who he was. He seemed very comfortable in his own skin and never tried to be anything but Tim. Players looked up to him and were willing to follow not because of position but because of who he was.  

Many pastors lean on their position more than quality leadership to influence others. Some are often too quick to make changes, demanding the congregation follow without laying a foundation for change with leaders of the church. Leading from a relationship of service, humility and authenticity would be so much more effective. 

I'm sure there are other characteristics of Tim that could help all of us in life. I'm thankful I've gotten to watch him play basketball all these years and I'm sure he will continue to be an influence on others in the years to come. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Falling From Grace: how to recognize when we are on the verge

One of the greatest dangers for Christians is to literally "fall from grace".  I'm not talking about the world's definition, an idiom referring to a loss of status, respect, or prestige. No, I'm referring to the biblical definition apostle Paul expressed in his letter to the Galatians. In chapter 5:4  he wrote that the Galatians, having accepted God's grace were in danger of returning to the bondage of legalism thereby "falling from grace". We face that same temptation as Christians today. We can easily say bye to the grace life and slip into religion.  And it can be so subtle that often times we don't even realize it. 

The best way to tell if you've "fallen from grace" is to ask yourself am I ruled by precepts or am I living by principles?

Let me explain the difference because we can easily get confused. Principles are inward beliefs and motivation for behavior. Precepts are outward actions, training the mind in order to regulate behavior. Chuck Swindoll explained it this way. When you drive down the road and see the "Speed Limit 35 Miles an Hour" sign, that's a precept. If the sign reads, "Drive Carefully," that's a principle.

It is easy for a new Christian or a person seeking God to believe that he must obey a long list of precepts to earn their standing before God. But that is a religious trap and nothing could be further from the truth in the life of Christ.  And it is easy for a long time believer to slip into that trap also.  We can understand and accept God's grace for salvation and then fall back to living by works.  

The Jews based their faith on keeping God's precepts and also created hundreds more to try to regulate behavior.  Even the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament initially meant book of instruction. The Jews later changed the meaning to books of law. Jesus realized that even though the Jews were inclined to follow the letter of the law, their hearts were not right. The rules had the opposite effect, driving their hearts away from a loving relationship with God.

Jesus told them, “You have heard it said, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ (precept), ’‘but I say to you, ‘if a man looks on a woman to lust after her, he has already committed adultery in his heart’ (violation of principle).
When he was asked "what is the greatest commandment?” (precept), Jesus answered with a principle, 
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the laws are based on these two principles.”  

Jesus constantly taught the need to live from principles as opposed to precepts. He warned the Jewish leaders, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence." God desires to change us from the inside out. That is what grace does.  A believer who is living by God's grace is characterized by principle living.

Religion focuses on polishing the exterior and making sure all the rules are kept.  The right kind of obedience to God comes after a heart has been changed on the inside by grace.  Simple religious behavior modification doesn't glorify God it glorifies self. 

Here are some signs that indicate that you may be falling from grace:
       You are overly concerned with what people think about you, so much so that you don't feel free to be yourself and instead feel a need put on a righteous facade. 
       You get discouraged easily and feel like a failure when you make minor mistakes and don’t live up to the rules exactly. 
       You find yourself often judging others outward appearances and actions, either thinking critically or feeling envious. 
       You see most everything in black and whites and judge others by that standard. 
       You set the bar high for those you have authority over and are overly harsh when they fail to meet your expectations. 
       You get a feeling of superiority when you have kept a precept.
       You substitute rules for relationships. You sacrifice relationships for "being right".

Don't allow yourself to fall from grace!  Recognize the signs and seek God. Repent and fall back into a life of grace.  When you understand the principles of the faith and instill those principles into your soul, experiencing the freedom to make choices in life based on those principles, you will begin to experience the abundant life Jesus promised. 

John 8:36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

What are the most important principles that you follow in your life? 

Why do you think people gravitate to following precepts over principles?

When are you most susceptible to obeying precepts instead of following principles?  

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