The distracted driver

I’m one of the .001% of people who love to run. I love the lead-up to running. I love the run itself. I love the post-run soreness.

I love it all.

Most of all, I like that I can’t run with my cell phone. When I run, I can’t hear a text message. Or an email. Or a phone call. For the next hour, it’s just me and the road.

It’s an incredibly stress-free time.

image credit: Flickr user Zanthia

Until I see the person who’s not focused on the road. I tend to keep an eye on drivers when I run. Probably because I value my life.

Most people are focused on driving. In fact, they move over to avoid hitting me. I stay on the shoulder of the road, but they give me even more room. I’m thankful for those guys.

Every once in a while, though, I can’t lock eyes with the driver. They’re distracted. They’re fiddling with the radio or texting or…well, I don’t care what they’re doing. They’re not focused on the road. As long as they stay in their lane, everything is ok. But then the drift starts to happen. They begin to slowly slide my direction. I’ve had to jump into ditches to avoid the drifters.

The same thing happens in life, too. Drift happens, and we begin to focus on things that are less important than the task at hand. And in that process, we put others in grave danger.

You endanger others when you

  • Are a husband, and stop focusing on your wife
  • Are a pastor, and stop focusing on serving others
  • Are a leader, and stop focusing on relationships
  • Own a business, and focus only on the bottom line financial
  • Lead a non-profit, and get caught up catering to large donors.
  • Are a small group leader, and only focus on keeping your house straight
  • Are a coach, and only focus on winning the game
  • Are a parent, and stop spending quantity time with your child(ren)
  • Are a politician, and stop focusing on serving people.
  • Are a friend, and only focus on yourself.
  • Are a teacher, and focus only on your curriculum.
  • Are a follower of Jesus, and take your eyes off your King. (re: Hebrews 12:2)

When you aren’t focused on primary things, others can get hurt.

Keep your eyes on the road. And if you see me running, wave and give me a bit of extra room. :)

 

 

Wal Mart, customer service, and your church

 

image credit: CreationSwap user Esther Gibbons

When I think of customer service, I don’t instantly think of Wal Mart.

In fact, when I think of Wal Mart, I think of two things:

Typically, customer service hasn’t jumped out of the aisles to scare me at Wal Mart. Until recently.

I was looking for aluminum baking pans. I went up and down the grocery aisles. Looked at every end cap. Even walked through the milk area twice thinking maybe I’d missed them.

Asking for help

Then I broke a cardinal man-code. I asked for help from a Wal Mart associate. Thinking the pans were somewhere in the grocery section, I asked someone who was working in that section, stocking shelves.

I instantly felt guilty for asking them. They were in the middle of something else, deeply engrossed in unpacking and stocking cans of something. I knew I was a distraction from him accomplishing his job.

“I’m sorry to bother you…really, I know you’re working on something else. But could you point me in the direction of the aluminum baking pans? I can’t find them anywhere. Just point me in the general direction and I’ll get out of your hair.”

I must have had a wince on my face, anticipating a pair of rolling eyes, sharp tone, and general disdain.

But I got none of those. In fact, I got exactly the opposite.

“No bother at all.” she said.  “I am 99% sure I know where they are. Let’s go find them together.”

So the employee walked me across the store, away from the grocery section (I’m dumb…I know), to the home goods aisles, and right to the aluminum baking pans.

“Wow. Thank you so much!” I said.

“No problem at all. Glad to help.” she returned.

I was floored. And felt valued. And I found what I was looking for.

And in the process, my feelings about Wal Mart, which weren’t necessarily negative in the first place, took a drastic turn upwards. Suddenly, this store became a store that valued me, a customer. I may have gone in for the discounts…but I’ll return because of the stellar, friendly, customer-focused customer service.

Customer service and your theology

I began to wonder if we treat people like this on Sunday mornings in our local churches. Especially staff members.

It’s easy to feel like we have more “important things” than helping someone find a different classroom. Or find the welcome desk. Or get information about another ministry. Our role is much “bigger” and more “important” than that…we preach, we lead children’s ministries, and we equip volunteers. We set up hallways, hang banners, and operate the computers. We don’t have time for little things like, “Do you know where the baby dedication happens today?

We quickly forget that, though our roles are important, it’s the people that we’re called to serve that are vital. Creating lasting, memorable experiences is unbelievably important in our churches. The experience someone has on a Sunday morning doesn’t trump the Gospel…it fleshes the Gospel out.

You can help someone have a better, more beautiful picture of Church by the way you serve them, instead of just handing them off or pointing them in another direction. The way you carefully and skillfully and patiently lead guests has lasting impacts on the health of your local church.

The way we treat others reveals our theology.

We serve a God who is infinitely patient and gracious with us. To love others any less is cheapening grace.

“The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth.” – Exodus 34:6

Questions:

When guests leave your church, do they feel valued?

When someone needs help, do they feel like they’re a burden on you if they ask?

Have you ever gotten so engrossed in your specific ministry that you were bothered when asked for a little help?

Is your church more “product” focused than “people” focused?

 

 

Let’s be Dangerous

image via Creation Swap, Jordan Chesbrough

Jim Elliot is one of my favorite missionaries.

He was a missionary in Ecuador in the 1950s, attempting to bring the Gospel to the Waodani people. The Waodani were savages, and violent to those outside their tribe. You can read his journal HERE.

Elliot and his team, who included Nate Saint (you can watch his story in the film, End of the Spear), spent months trying to communicate with the Waodani. They had made some contact, and decided to set up camp in order to build a closer relationship. However, Jim and his 3 companions were killed by 10 Waodani warriors. Jim’s wife, Elizabeth, continued to minister to the Waodani. She encountered much success, as many were converted to the Gospel through the work Jim, his team, and eventually their wives would do.

Jim’s most famous quote is

He is no fool who parts with that which he cannot keep, when he is sure to be recompensed with that which he cannot lose.

But I ran across another, longer quote that is so perfect for modern-day followers of Jesus. It challenged me. I think it may challenge you, too.

We are so utterly ordinary, so commonplace, while we profess to know a Power the twentieth century does not reckon with. But we are “harmless,” and therefore unharmed. We are spiritual pacifists, non-militants, conscientious objectors in this battle-to-the-death with principalities and powers in high places. Meekness must be had for contact with men, but brass, outspoken boldness is required to take part in the comradeship of the Cross. We are “sideliners” — coaching and criticizing the real wrestlers while content to sit by and leave the enemies of God unchallenged. The world cannot hate us, we are too much like its own. Oh that God would make us dangerous!

HT: Challies

“Faith” and “safe” are incompatible. Be dangerous. Live courageously. 

 

*image credit: Creation Swap user Jordan Chesbrough

 

I Hope you Enjoy Your Boring Train

One of my mentors growing up made a drastic change in his life. He used to be a guy that people loved to be around…one of those people that laughed and joked and had a great time. He was infectious.

Then one day something happened.

He got on the boring train.

He began equating “holiness” with “seriousness.” No longer did he have time to joke around. Life’s too short for that. If you’re going to be holy, you’ve got to be serious and focused and intense. Truly holy people didn’t have time to joke around, because there are more important things to do.

Boring train…all aboard!

photo credit: Creation Swap user Chris Powell

The Boring Train is Empty

I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but this whole thing really rubbed me the wrong way. Mainly because I no longer enjoyed being around him…and apparently none of our group did, either. Instead of being a bridge over troubled waters, he created troubled waters and burned the bridge.

I’d love to say that my uneasy feelings were motivated by a deep desire to honor God, rooted in the Truth found in the Scriptures. But I was more pragmatic. He made me feel creepy. Ever said a joke to a guy and had them just stare right back at you, stone-faced? Not a great experience.

Laughter & a Good God

As I spent more and more time in Scripture, I realized that my creeper radar going off pretty strongly in my head growing up actually had some roots in Scripture. Check out what the Psalmist said:

Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. – Psalm 126:2-3

I don’t know if you fully caught that. Did you see the response from the nations? When they heard the people’s mouths filled with laughter and their tongues singing songs of joy, they said, “They must serve a great God!” Laughter and joy became attractional for the church. Outsiders began to notice the community of God-followers because they were laughing. Not handing out tracts. Not going door-to-door and inviting people to Sunday morning. Not because of a billboard. But because of laughter. Laughter pointed to the greater reality that God was good.

Want to be sensitive to seekers? Laugh a little.

Want to show people that we serve a good God? Laugh a little.

Want to make much of the grace of God? Laugh a little.

Want to show people that holiness isn’t boringness? Laugh a little.

Want to live in a way that shows people how great God is? Laugh a little.

To those of you who think that holiness and boringness should go together: enjoy riding the boring train.

Get it? Enjoy riding…oh, never mind.

Question:

Have you ever equated holiness with seriousness? Ever thought that laughing could honor God?

 

* Photo credit, Creation Swap user Chris Powell

 

 

 

The art of the spoken word

Over the past few months, I’ve had the chance to preach at my church, Grace Community Church, three times.

And I’ve loved it. Each time, though, I’ve learned quite a few things. Some about myself. Some about the art of preaching. You can read what I’ve learned HERE and HERE.

Well, this past Sunday was no exception.

5 Observations about Preaching

1. It’s incredibly easy to get distracted.

I notice every single person that stands up to leave. Every one. And I try oh so hard to not get distracted by them. Remember that next time you get up in the middle of a sermon.

2. To preach well, you have to give of yourself.

When I preach, I pour myself, my life, my personality, my research, my stories, my heart and my mind into the craft. And this past Sunday, I had the privilege of preaching 3 times. It was a beautiful exhaustion.

3. Beware the death blow.

Want to know how to deal a crushing blow to a pastor? Right after they say ‘Amen,’ find them in the hallway and tell them which part(s) of their message were a disaster. They’ll love you for it. And by love, I mean…watch out, because they may swing at you.  Preachers should elicit feedback, but it’s okay to wait a day or two.

4. If you want to get better, you’ve got to work at it.

I work to get better every single time. I evaluate what I said and how I said it so that next time I can communicate more effectively. And, hopefully, I’m improving.

5. Preaching is an unbelievably incredible motivational tool.

I talk so much about the importance of community. In fact, that’s what my sermon was about on Sunday. And I talk so much about community that I can almost forget how powerful the public, spoken word can be in someone’s life. We saw people taking steps of faith in droves on Sunday, as they took a step towards community by signing up for small groups.

Question: Has God worked in your life through hearing someone preach?

 

 

When “I don’t feel like it” gets in the way

So my wife and I thought it would be a good idea to save a few bucks on some furniture for the office in our home by buying it unfinished. Sounds like a good plan, right? I mean, it can’t be that much trouble to stain and paint a desk and chair. That’s what I thought.

To make the story shorter, I’m not good at painting or staining.

image by Sam Hughes

We bought the things a few months ago and I’ve just gotten around to finishing them. I’m not good at it, I don’t enjoy it, it took up a lot of room in our garage, it made a mess of the floor (well, I should probably go ahead and claim that as my fault), and it caused a fair amount of stress because of how long it took for me to finally finish.

Spiritual difficulties

But isn’t this sometimes how the Christian life goes? It’s not easy, it takes up a lot of “space” in our life (as if it’s ours in the first place!), it’s messy, stressful, and not fun. Often, God calls us to do things that we don’t want to do. Don’t believe me? Check Matthew 18:21-22

Then Peter came to him and asked, ‘Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?’ ‘No, not seven times,’ Jesus replied, ‘but seventy times seven! I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.'”

Imagine if someone sinned against you in the same way seven times in one day. That’s pretty rough, right? Peter’s no slouch. He’s saying he’ll forgive a person seven times in the same day for the same sin. But Jesus completely blows him out of the water by saying that you are to forgive a person, not just seven times, but seventy times seven!   Jesus calls us to forgive…and forgive…and forgive…and forgive…etc. The reason we are to forgive is rooted in God’s forgiveness of us, first of all.  We offer grace and forgiveness to others because we realize that we are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness.  Secondly, we offer forgiveness because judgment is coming.  After the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-34), Jesus says that God will not forgive us if we do not forgive our brothers from our heart.

This verse causes me to lose sleep at night.

We’re not called to forgive others because we feel like it. If we were to wait until we felt like forgiving people, most of us would never get around to it.  We’re called to forgiveness whether we feel like it or not because God has forgiven us, and our debt to Him was beyond anything that any person could ever “owe” us.

I forgive others, not always because I just want to, but because I trust God knows what He’s doing (it’s usually a good idea to trust a God who created the earth and rose from the dead, neither of which I can do).

Ultimately, I’m glad that I bought the unpainted furniture.  I saved some money, I am proud that I finished it, and it looks good in our office.  It also pointed me to my relationship with God.

What’s He calling you to do today that you don’t want to do?


 

 

Theological laziness

Image by Redeemer Fellowship

We tend to take the easy road. The one that’s quicker, easier, and microwaved.  And that’s not all so bad with a lot of things.  Emails are much faster than letters.  Cell phones are much faster and more efficient than landlines.  Buying a book on Kindle is faster and cheaper than buying a physical copy and paying for shipping.

But when it comes to theology, don’t do it. Becoming a parrot is much easier than becoming a theologian.  But it’s not helpful for the Church.  And in the long run, it will leave you intellectually and theologically paralyzed.

At points in my life, I’ve felt pigeonholed into giving the right answer, quoting the right author, and listening to the right preachers.  Learn to think, talk, and write like the good guys.  Sure, I was encouraged to read the other writers/pastors, but just so I would know their side of the argument.

But we need to think for ourselves.  Read.  Study.  Listen.  And arrive at our own conclusions…not just haphazardly arrive at the same conclusions as the popular conservative, conference-speaking, book-writing pastors of our day.  Because we can read the Bible for ourselves.  And we can think for ourselves.  And we can develop theology ourselves.* We don’t have to consult other men and women when we are articulating our theology.  And when we consult them in place of thinking for ourselves, we miss out on a great benefit of study: discovery.

God still speaks

Call me crazy, but I still think that God speaks today, and He’s not just speaking to the popular pastors.  He’s speaking to me.  And you.  And all other believers.

Standing on the shoulders of giants is different than standing behind them yelling, “Yeah…what he said!”  Standing on the shoulders of giants means that we learn and grow from those who have gone before us.  Standing on their shoulders means we don’t simply lay hold of their conclusions…the ones it took them years to arrive at.  That borders on intellectual thievery.

Most people tend to take the easy way out.  When it comes to theology, don’t short-circuit the work on God in your heart.

Have you ever been lulled into taking the easy way out when it comes to understanding the things of God?

Disagree with me?  Leave a comment below and let’s discuss it!

*Hear me correctly: I’m not trying to divorce myself from our church fathers.  There’s a depth and richness to their writing that’s difficult to find today.  And there’s great wisdom in learning from those who have gone before us, and who are continuing to presently pave the way.  I’m just not linking myself so tightly with them that I can’t use the brain that God has given me to actually do what it was intended to do.  Think!

 

The Battle

The battle against sin is a tough one, isn’t it?  The more and more we fight against it, the more and more it seems to keep creeping up on us.

And if you try to say you don’t really have any sin you’re dealing with, you’re fooling yourself.  (See 1 John 1:8)

John Owen, a Puritan, in his book The Mortification of Sin, says,

“Indwelling sin always abides while we are in this world; therefore it is always to be mortified.”

Why is this fight against sin so tough?  Because we’ve got flesh and bones…and a Spirit.  And they don’t like each other.  (see what I mean HERE)

The Apostle Paul understood that, and explained the battle well HERE.

Our battle with sin is a battle to the death.  That besetting sin that keeps following you won’t give up until one of you dies.  It’s relentless.  It doesn’t take a day off.  And the moment you take a day off, it’s ready to strike.  Owen again rightly points out:

“Sin will not only be striving, acting, rebelling, troubling, disquieting; but, if let alone, if not continually mortified, will bring forth great, cursed scandalous, soul-destroying sins.”

If you’re serious about fighting against sin, why not do some real battling?  Bring someone into your story.  Confess your sins to someone other than God.

Setup boundaries.  Understand your triggers.  Know your weaknesses.  But don’t try to go at this alone.

Eternity is worth it.  And that’s what’s at stake.

I’ve been listening to Mumford & Sons a lot lately.  Check out this video below…seems they’ve done some real battling against their addictions.  I’ve posted some of the lyrics below it.

May you find a new resolve to fight against your sin.

The Cave

So make your siren’s call
And sing all you want
I will not hear what you have to say

Cause I need freedom now
And I need to know how
To live my life as it’s meant to be

And I will hold on hope
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again