A Brighter Light

I was in a discussion recently with some new friends.  We were talking about our modern culture, the state of our country, etc. when he said this…”I’m excited about the future.  I see some really dark times coming…and ‘the Light’ always shines brighter in the dark.”

Looking forward to dark (troubling) times?  Not me!  I want as little conflict as possible.  But what he said struck a chord with me.  Dark times are inevitable…we will not be able to avoid them.  We might delay them temporarily but, if we believe the Bible, they are coming.  So how should we prepare?

We should practice letting our lights shine (Matthew 5).  If we practice this when things are good, then when things become dark, we’ll be ready to allow ‘the Light’ to shine through us.

Just a thought when considering the political climate in our country…It’s time for the Light to shine through the followers of Jesus.  No matter what happens…may we truly be “the Light of the World” in the midst of the darkest of places and times.

Bridezilla

Did you ever see the television show, Bridezilla?  It was a reality series about young women who were getting married (thus the “bride” part) and were behaving as badly as anyone could ever imagine.  They were the WORST! BRIDES! EVER!!!  Arrogant, spoiled, self-centered, passive-aggressive (or just plain aggressive) best describe these young women.  I wanted to use the word condescending, but that implies behavior that is too congenial for these people.

How did they get that way?  What happened in their lives to make them feel so entitled?  Who told them that this behavior was acceptable?  The people who put up with it for all those years…parents, friends, siblings, boyfriends, etc….that’s who!

Nobody begins this way.  Oh sure, everyone begins life with a streak of selfishness.  Both of my children’s second word (daddy was their first word…because I’m telling the story now) was MINE!  You see these behaviors are fostered over a period of time culminating into a crescendo of ME!

Aren’t brides supposed to be happy?  I mean, didn’t they choose to have this day with all of their friends and family in attendance?  Isn’t this a happy occasion?  Why all the drama???

The church is the bride of Christ.  That title is implied by the sections of scripture that call Jesus the bridegroom.  It is substantiated by Paul’s comparison of marriage and the church in Ephesians 5:22-33.  We are the bride.

But are we becoming the Bridezilla?  Are our actions becoming so arrogant, self-centered, passive-aggressive that people with any sense of decency would consider us spoiled?  Are we so intent on having our on way that we forget that “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first?”  Do we cry foul when we are pushed outside our comfort zone?  Do we act shamefully when things don’t go our way, or we’re (individual Christians) not the object of everyone’s attention?

I think this might be something we should think about.  And let’s also think about why we’ve become this way…because church leaders either allow it or have become that way as well.

The bride (church) is intended to be the support system of the groom (Jesus).  We are to represent Him well, not just in our faithfulness to come sit in a semi-circle, sing and listen to someone’s poor attempt to bring Him glory.  How we act when we are stressed, uncomfortable, disillusioned, etc. are the measuring tape for whether we are the bride…or just bridezilla.

Choose who you’ll serve…yourself, or God and others.  Go ahead…CHOOSE.  Your thought process will help you decide if you’re part of Bridezilla…

Passwords

How many different passwords do you have for various functions?  Computer access?  Burglar alarm?  I tunes account?  Facebook? etc…

For many years, I tried to make all of mine the same.  It was my nickname along with my basketball jersey number in 7th grade.  Recently, I was not allowed to use this because the security guru for a particular site said that this would be too easy to guess.  Really?  If there is anyone on the “inner-web” that even remembers that I played basketball in middle school, much less what my jersey number was, I want to meet them…because my mother doesn’t even remember it (on her “good” days)!

Okay, enough of that…what’s your church password?  I’m not talking about the password to our wifi account, but a real password.  I know, you’re thinking, “Church Password?  Is that really a ‘thing’?”  And partly you’re right…we don’t require password access to attend worship at our church…what would it be anyway?

kneelatthecross#   singloud^^^   rememberyourtithe$$   ???

However, we do work with passwords.  These are little words and phrases that are telling signs that you are a “church veteran.”  A funny example of this is in this youtube video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iboc3V_7CNY .

I hope that we’ll all be careful about what we say…especially to those who are “church rookies” or even “undecided.”  Let’s make sure we are sympathetic to people who don’t know our vernacular so that they can have “access” to church as well.  Be intentional and careful to make sure that these folks can feel like an insider as soon as possible…after all the church’s most important function is helping folks gain access to God.

So, how does it feel when you type in the wrong password, or just can’t remember?  I get both aggravated and intimidated because I know one of two things is going to happen…I’m either going to have to go through a Herculean effort to regain or create a new password, or I’m never going to be able to enjoy that site/application again.  So when our words tell folks that their “access is denied,” they will have to make a similar decision…am I willing to face the embarrassment of asking for a glossary of CofC terms, or should I just decide that I’ll never attempt to be an insider at that church again.

Hopefully, if we are careful with our words, people will think the only password at our church is peoplemattertoGod1.  Think about it…

The small stuff

I can never decide which cliche to believe.  Do I live by “don’t sweat the small stuff…and it’s all small stuff.”  Or do I live by “every detail matters…big successes come from doing the small things well.”

Both have merit, and depending on the situation, are very true.

This past week, our church had our first weekend with the new 9am worship opened.  As far as major things are concerned, it was a success!  All the big stuff went well.  The snags?  There were only a couple, and they were all “small stuff.”

So, what do we do with this?  Do we work on the small stuff or ignore it in favor of rejoicing in the big stuff.  Well, if you know me, you know I want to sure up the small stuff.  And that’s what we’re doing.

However, there is one thing I hope to avoid…REACTING!

Often when change occurs, leaders have knee jerk reactions to small stuff.  Their actions are simply a reaction to stimuli, usually in the form of isolated comments.  In dealing with small stuff, it is important to discern which small stuff needs addressing and which needs to be allowed to take its course.

If it’s small stuff, there is no need for a leader to be a white knight who’ll fix the problems of two people to the detriment of the whole.  So comments like “everybody thinks…” “nobody liked that we…”  “all my friends were…” have to be studied, quantified, and given their due diligence.  Usually when this happens, we find that “everybody” consisted of a few people who should be more mature and servant minded that they are…that “nobody” is a number drawn from a sample of one…and “all my friends” is a number derived by someone with very few friends.  Research…quantify…discern a proper path.

So, that’s where we are…we’ll fix the stuff that is imperative to fix and we’ll allow some things to play themselves out to a conclusion.

Stay tuned…it could end up a lot like coffee…both bitter and sweet.  Should be fun.

 

Times, they are a Changin’…

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone…Times they are a changin’.

Bob Dylan wrote these lyrics when I was two years old…and times are STILL “a changin’.”

Several months ago, we began to realize that in order to reach more people, changes must take place.  So, we began planning a new 9am worship opportunity for Sundays.  Not exactly uncommon thinking on our part.  Opening a new Sunday morning service seems to be the stock answer to growth barriers.  But when we started considering “how” we’d do this, the idea that we landed on seemed outside the box to us…but very commonplace among the fastest growing churches in the country.

With two weeks to go until the launch of the 9am assembly, some have immediately caught on to the plan/vision…others are still feeling their way around…and still others may not even be aware that anything is changing.

This past Sunday, we had a packed crowd, great singing, joyful celebration…and it felt good.  There is just “something” about days like these.  I was told that someone said something like, “I’m going to miss these packed crowds when we open the new worship time.”  To those who feel this way, I’d like to ask you to consider a few things.

First, big crowds aren’t the goal of worship…heartfelt worship is the goal.  Where two or three are gathered, He is there.  And even though many people are drawn to crowds (the only place I like a crowd IS AT CHURCH), having a crowd is not the goal of worship, but is a natural result of being obedient to the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20).  If we continue to make disciples, we will have crowds.  We can’t help it.  But never forget that the goal of worship is for God to be honored.  Big numbers aren’t the “win.”  Creating devoted discipleship is the win.

Second, the preacher in me loves big crowds too…so if you find you miss it, partner with us to be a champion for numerical growth.  The beauty of this plan is that following the great commission will bring us TWO opportunities for packed worship instead of just one.

Last, I’ve been told (okay, maybe threatened) that some people won’t be happy with this change and will leave.  To this I respond…You’re right.  Some people will not stay to see this transition through.  And even though I hope this doesn’t happen, I realize we are going to continue to call our church family to a higher level of commitment…and some will refuse.  It’s easy to see that the church we are today is not the church we were eight years ago when we moved here…and with every change that has propelled us forward, some have chosen to make their way elsewhere.

I hope you realize that the people I see on Sunday mornings now are not the same people I gazed upon when I took the job.  And the people I’ll see when we count noses to see if we met our Vision 2020 goal will not be the same people I gazed upon last Sunday entirely.  Not to beat a dead horse, but again…things are always a changin’ including who decides to worship with us.

Be warned…this is not the last time change will happen.  Change is inevitable…it cannot be stopped.  With growth will come new opportunities and challenges, and the only way to deal with them is to question our current mindset in hopes of breaking free of self-imposed limitations.  Just like a human body, growth within the church body must take place, and often painful…to cease growing is to begin dying.

So, as the “waters around us grow” and we begin noticing that we are “drenched to the bone” in transition, may we all praise God that he has led us here and trusted us with His calling.  And may we remember, when following Him we’ll always be aware that, “times they are a changin’.”

Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. “Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth;  Will you not be aware of it?  I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” ~ Isaiah 43:18-19

 

Surprised?

Okay…this cup is gonna’ be served black with no sugar:

March 30, 1981.  2:27pm.  President Ronald Reagan is shot.  Unbelievable!!!

My roommate, Olan, and I sat in shock as we watched footage of the shooting played over and over on the evening news.  We were crowded close because all we had was a portable 9 inch television in our dorm room.

Also in the room was one of Olan’s friends, Emmad.  Emmad was from Syria.  Emmad was Muslim.  Emmad wasn’t like us.  As Olan and I drowned in our frustration and anger, Emmad’s response:  “Big deal.  This happens everyday back home.”

I suppose the element of surprise is measured in degrees of the commonplace.  What we get used to no longer shocks us.  And as I look at our nations political climate, racial brokenness, and the sense of hopelessness so many feel, I have to ask, “are you surprised?”

Really?  Christians, are you surprised?  If you read Luke 21:9-15, Jesus tells us that the world is going to become a nasty place.  He warns us that disciples will be under attack.  Yet when we see this happening before our eyes, we wring our hands and worry rather than do what Jesus commands…be a witness.

Long ago, we stopped carrying crosses.  That’s too much work.  Most Christians today choose to eschew carrying a cross as a testimony of who we are and do everything we can to pull ’em off our shoulder so we can make comfortable furniture with the wood.  We want to live like everyone else, talk like everyone else, and see the world like everyone else.  And then we’re surprised that our churches lack power.

Stand up.  Take a deep breath and make sure everyone you know realizes that you see the world this way…yes, the world is bad, races are at odds, politics is in the trash, and this is exciting because it gives us an opportunity to tell the world something important:  Jesus is not the BEST answer for our world’s problems…He is the ONLY answer.

Surprised?  You were warned…2 Timothy 3:1-5.

 

One sentence, 10 words, two letters each

I once heard a football coach say that the most powerful sentence known to man (spoken in English) consists of ten words, all of which contain only two letters.  I feel confident this coach was repeating someone else who was wiser and more philosophical, but be that as it may, the lesson has stuck with me for over 40 years.

The sentence: “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

I know, I know, I know…all of the bible thumpers within the sound of my keyboard are screaming, “I can do all things THROUGH HIM (Jesus) who strengthens me”…  “(God’s) power is perfected in (my) weakness”… “I am the vine, YOU are the branches.”  So before you get in a tizzy, let me acknowledge that I agree that God is Big, Powerful, and in Control.

However if you look at these scriptures from another angle, you might also see that each statement includes two characters.  “I can do all things”… “perfected in (my) weakness” … “YOU (we) are the branches.”  The implication is that no matter how Big, Powerful, and in Control our God is, He chooses to do His work through us…the second, and weaker, character in the equation.

What this does is place responsibility squarely on our shoulders.  If the world is to be changed…God can do it, but He’ll use us to get it done.  If our neighborhoods are to be safe…God can do it, but He’ll use us to get it done.  If our churches are to be strong…God can do it, but He’ll use us to get it done.  See a pattern???  We are key players!

So, remember, whatever God is doing in your family, church, community, etc., He plans to use you to do it.  So, stop complaining about not being in the loop and get in the loop!  Stop wondering what “they” are going to do about something and get ‘er done!  Stop saying “everybody” thinks this or “nobody” will help and take the initiative to be a catalyst for good, even if you have to do it alone!

If you want to be the leading character in your life, God will make it so…but at some point, you have to step up, risk it all, and press forward.

If it is to be, it is up to me.