Friday, July 10, 2015

Leadership Tidbits

I've been listening to leadership lessons this morning. I had read in one of Ronnie Floyd's books that the most common reason pastors are fired (or leave before being fired) is not because of theological issues but because of leadership issues. I don't feel pressured by my church to leave but I don't want to "lead" them to the point of wanting me gone, so I thought a few hours would be a wise investment. My real motivation is to improve my ability to lead the church to accomplish God's mission.

Here are some key things from the various speakers I engaged.

Andy Stanley says vision must be so simply stated that everyone can get it. Better to have a vision statement that is not fully fleshed out but well understood than to have an elaborate all-bases-touched vision statement nobody can remember. I'm praying about some statements to bring to our key leaders for feedback and improvement.

A panel of youth leaders discussed issues regarding cultural trends. I gleaned from that to be connected to the people I serve (any age) because that's how I can know what is important to them. The idea is not to get out in front of their preferences and lead them where they want to go, but to learn what consumes and directs their lives so I can show how the Bible answers their questions, brings clarity to their confusion, or guides them in uncertainty. The worst thing a sermon can be is disconnected from the people the preacher intends to impact with it. The same can be said about the life of the pastor not just the sermons he preaches.

Christine Caine says, "Your thoughts are like a train, they will take you somewhere." She was teaching from the Great Commandment to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. It's so easy to let our minds become corrupt with worldly thinking. Leaders are not immune to this; maybe they are more prone to it. We can think about the metrics of membership and budgets. We can think about growing an online audience. We can measure success as a secular corporation would. Before you know it our thought-train is far down the wrong tracks.

Ed Stetzer points out that all believers are to show and share the gospel, to demonstrate it and declare it. Our lives and our message must be centered on the gospel. Leaders must teach our churches to do this and must lead the way doing it.

Johnny Hunt talked about loving the people. I've heard him share that his mentor Adrian Rodgers would enter the sanctuary early, walk through it slowly, engage many of the people, and be the last the leave after the service. A hand shake, eye contact, and a few moments to listen will go a long way in gaining trust for leadership.

Todd Wagner's video series on being a godly man included this quip: Silence in the midst of sin is a sin. Leaders have to speak up. And we must do so in love. Isn't it easy to just remain quiet when controversy comes up? It is for me. People look to leaders to speak up. Maybe they need clarity. Maybe they need to know they aren't the only ones who recognize a problem.

I will plan to spend more mornings listening to what godly men and women can teach me about leadership. And I'll ask the Holy Spirit to help me put it into practice.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Put It Into Practice

If you want to be the best you have to practice. Other than Allen Iverson, I can't think of a professional athlete who has said publicly that practice is overrated. Steph Curry recently said he wanted the coaches to point out what he was doing wrong so he could correct it and be better.

Riley didn't want to go to summer football workouts this morning. I can see why. He had a friend over and they would have preferred to sleep in. It's summer, isn't it? These are optional workouts and many of his teammates are skipping some, most, or all of them.

For a group of boys who haven't won a football game in two years I cannot understand why they wouldn't want to get in all the practice they can, even if it is optional. To me, optional workouts are opportunities to get even better.

It all comes down to an attitude of desiring to be the best you can be. That's also true for parts of our lives other than sports.

Daily I am confronted with the responsibility to live my life to glorify God and make his name known to all people. And daily I realize my faults and failures that led to a distorted witness. Every day I have the option to put into practice what I claim to believe.

Sometimes I don't want to do what it says. I made Riley go to practice but God doesn't make me obey. Often I wish he did.

Do you recognize yourself in my confession? What are we to do when we don't do what we ought to do?

Confess the sin of disobedience. Tied to disobedience may be apathy, selfishness, uncontrolled passions, or a number of other sins. No matter the sin, we can confess them and be assured God will forgive us.

Yield to the Holy Spirit moment by moment. The popular Christian song forty years ago said, "One day at a time, sweet Jesus..." For me, a day is often to bite too big to take. But this moment is manageable. "Jesus, help me honor you right now in this moment facing this situation." If you can pray that prayer in each moment of opportunity or temptation you can win the battles.

Celebrate the victories. I'm one who is prone to focusing on the losses and minimizing the wins. In baseball, a batter is great if he wins the battle with the pitcher one time out of ten chances. Not many players in the Hall of Fame can boast of a .333 lifetime batting average. So focus on the times (or time) you put God's word into practice and faithfully obeyed. I've learned how adjusting my perspective helps me stay the course...or makes me yearn to return to the course after veering off.

Live out your faith in community. Faithful living is much easier, much more rewarding, and much more purposeful together with others taking the same journey. You need to be part of a local body of believers: a church. And get involved with a small group that studies the Bible, shares life and ministry, encourages you, and holds you accountable.

I want to do my best as a follower of Jesus and I believe many believers feel the same way. Everyday we have to get up, get in the game, and get it done. And we are not alone. We have each other and we have the Bible and we have God's Spirit. We can do this! "Hear God's word and put it into practice" (Luke 8:21).

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

True Equality

Have you noticed that when we compare ourselves with others we look for the highest level of comparison. By highest I mean most desirable. For example, Johnny Bench and I are both baseball players. Merle Haggard and I are both singers. AJ Foyt and I are both drivers. Billy Graham and I are both preachers.

See what I mean?

Even in our likenesses there are huge differences. And I'm really not much like Johnny Bench, Merle Haggard, AJ Foyt, and Billy Graham. Those are misleading comparisons.

Personal claims have hit the news recently that make me wonder if pseudo-comparisons are being implemented. "I'm African American." "I'm married." "I'm in love."

I tweeted on June 16, "Despite having a DQ Blizzard today, I identify as skinny." I'll not post a picture but you can trust me that this is wishful thinking.

In a culture infatuated with moral relativism, we need a standard of truth. We need clarity in assessments. We need honesty.

As a Christian, I believe that the Bible reveals the truth, clarity, and honesty we need. With God as its author, the Bible shows us who Jesus Christ is...his person, his character, his will.

Read the Bible and you will find this truth: we are all sinners in need of a Savior (see Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23).

As our society struggles to equalize everything from wages to sexual preferences, we must remember that we are all sinners in need of a Savior.

The greatest need is not for...

  • marriage equality (recent SCOTUS decision)
  • wage equality ($15 minimum wage in California)
  • talent equality (all the technology used in a recording studio)
  • opportunity equality (immigration reform).
The greatest need is for a Savior and the realization that we are all equally in need of a Savior. Can we look at every other person on the planet and see that we are all equal?

A Southern Baptist pastor needs a Savior just as much as an atheist does.

A Republican needs a Savior just as much as a Democrat does.

A capitalist needs a Savior just as much as a socialist does.

A CEO needs a Savior just as much as an entry-level clerk does.

An American needs a Savior just as much as an Asian does.

A heterosexual needs a Savior just as much as a homosexual does.

I need a Savior just as much as you do. You need a Savior just as much as everyone else does.

The Great Equality Debate should begin and end with realizing we are equally guilty of sin, equally in need of a Savior, equally loved by God, equally died for by Jesus, equally reconciled to God when we believe in and follow Jesus.

My friend Mark Lanier wrote a song entitled "The Ground Is Level." Here's a link to it.

We are all sinners in need of a Savior. All other inequalities can distract those who have the Good News from sharing it with those who need to hear it. All other inequalities can distract those who need to hear the Good News from seeing their greatest need, greatest opportunity, and greatest gift.

Only one difference matters. Only one distinction separates people. Those who believe in and follow Jesus Christ will spend eternity in heaven; those who reject Jesus Christ will spend eternity in hell.

But until we die we all stand on level ground at the cross: sinners in need of a Savior.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

VBS Week

One of the great weeks on the church calendar is the week of Vacation Bible School. It's different than when I was a kid. No macaroni glued to cigar boxes. The music is a modern style. Decorations are more elaborate. We can post albums of photos online instantly.

But somethings remain the same. Jesus Christ is the center of attention. Kids that never go to church come to VBS. We say the pledges (not all churches do and I understand that). And it takes volunteers to make it happen.

I am thankful for the 20-something volunteers who are here early and stay late every day. They prepare for their responsibilities and love on the 50-60 kids. I wonder if a church with 10 times the kids also has 10 times the volunteers. Or are we just blessed with great volunteers? I think I know the answer to that.

Let me be honest, sometimes I wonder if the church understands what the church is all about and is supposed to do. Then VBS Week rolls around.

For many years I've harped about what we call churches with small membership. It's easy to just say there are big churches, medium-sized churches, and small churches. But membership has nothing to do with whether your church is big or small. All churches are big or small not based on numbers but on vision.

I'm proud to pastor a small membership church with a big vision.

I must go now. I can hear kids in the hallway. It's time to rotate!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Loving Sinners

You'll hear a lot of talk these days about how Christians are supposed to love everybody like Jesus did. Usually the declarations come from people who do not embrace Christianity and are not disciples of Jesus Christ. They may attend church or claim to be Christian but their lives don't bear the fruit to back up their claims. That's not to say that authentic Christians won't say the same thing, but I see much more coming from people outside authentic Christian faith.

I get their point. Jesus loves everyone. He demonstrated his love by giving his life for the sins of the world. Just a few hours before he died on the cross Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Jesus demonstrated the greatest love, the perfect love. And Christians are to love each other with that kind of love. We are to love our neighbors with that kind of love. (See the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 for an explanation of who your neighbor is.)

Yes, Christians are supposed to love everybody like Jesus did. Jesus' love for everybody compelled him to do something about sin. Sin creates a barrier between God and the sinner. Hear these words from the Bible that describe how God's love for us resulted in action.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (1 Peter 3:18)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Clearly, Jesus loved everybody and his love for everybody resulted in actions directed at the problem of sin. And we are to love everybody like Jesus did. We can't die for the sins of the world. We can't even die to pay the penalty for our own sins. Only Jesus can do that and he already did. Our love for everybody results in actions that help people in sin's bondage see the way to forgiveness and redemption and freedom found only in a commitment to Jesus Christ.

Was Jesus ever content to leave sinners in their sin? No! He stated that his purpose was to "seek and save" the lost (Luke 19:10). Save them from what? Save them from their sin. When Jesus began his public ministry he said, "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matthew 4:17). To repent means to turn from the carnal way you are living and toward the way of life in Jesus Christ. Jesus called for people to change from ways that seem right to them or from ways that are considered right by the culture.

And Jesus did this because he loves everybody. So Christians who are content to let sinners continue in their sin unabated and unchanged are not loving everybody like Jesus did. And non-Christians who cry for us to love everybody like Jesus did do not yet understand the love of Christ and the word of God.

Followers of Jesus, we are to love everybody like Jesus did so we cannot just leave sinners in their (our) sin and we cannot ignore the ethical and moral decay prevalent in our culture. Remember when Jesus told a woman to "go now and leave your life of sin" (John 8:11)?

So what can we do? First, we should pray. Pray that the Holy Spirit will convict us of our own sin; and then confess that sin. Unconfessed sin hinders your fellowship with God and the flow of blessings from God into your life. Pray that other believers will confess their sins, too. Professing Christians who live without regard to their own sins do more harm than good in helping those without Christ see their way to him. Pray for those in your relationship circles and for opportunities to speak truth (in love, always in love) to them regarding biblical principles and cultural issues. Pray that revival occurs within the church and awakening occurs within the culture.

Second, don't dodge opportunities to speak the truth in love. But do be careful in choosing the words you'll say and the tone with which you'll say them. Jesus was most often gentle in his conversations; we should follow his example. It seems to me that those who are outspoken about homosexuality, abortion, poverty, immigration, and other hot-button issues have strongly held opinions. All caps, bold text, screaming, and name-calling probably won't accomplish what you think it will. Those are wedges not bridges. Those hurt not heal. We can be bold (confident) without being mean-spirited.

Third, live out the "good deeds" and the "Good News" for their good and God's glory. Christians are to be salt not to agitate and aggravate wounds caused by sin, but to heal the wounds and restore and preserve the image of God within us. Christians are to be light not to burn and blast the eyes of the sinner but to illuminate the need for and way to the Savior.

I think we all agree that Christians are supposed to love everybody like Jesus did. Let's make sure we are really doing it like he did.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Back to Work

Vacation is over. Those are sad words, aren't they? Worse than the drive home from the vacation spot is the drive to work the next day.

That's my mentality this morning. I'm trying to get over it. It's early and I have plenty of day left to make the change.

A healthy view of vocation should lead us to anticipate the days off AND the days on. That's a good plan for preachers, bankers, line workers, farmers, teachers, secretaries, jockeys, clerks, and everyone.

Why do we so look forward to days off and so dread going back to work? Probably because we have a negative view of work. Some have such a negative view of work that they'll do just about anything to avoid it. It's hard work avoiding work!

God has always tasked humanity with work. Even before The Fall there was work. It wasn't a burden. Even with the affect of sin on work it still doesn't have to be something we dread.

Work can and should be one of the ways Christians honor God and give him glory. "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men" (Colossians 3:23). If you view work as something you must do for someone else then you may get discouraged, overwhelmed, or just plain sick of it.

But when work is an opportunity to honor God and when work is a platform from which to proclaim his glory, then the labor becomes less laborious.

OK, I'm feeling better about getting back to work.

Monday, May 25, 2015

New Memories

Memorial Day is a time set aside for Americans to remember and show gratitude for service men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. We often mix in our gratitude for veterans and current armed forces personnel.

Because men and women have fought and died for our freedoms, we enjoy life like most in our world do not. I am thankful.

My grandfather served in the Army during WWII. He never talked about it. I never heard any stories. I never saw pictures or medals.

When my grandmother died last December we began going through box after box of pictures. Wow, what memories! I had a great childhood with lots of family.

Tucked away in one of the boxes or drawers was a treasure of pictures and postcards from the war years. My grandparents were so young. Dado was a handsome soldier. Mom was a beautiful young bride and mother.

We're not sure where those pictures and postcards are. Misplaced, not lost.

But new memories fill my mind. I read each postcard. I soaked in each picture.

If I never see the pictures and postcards again, I'm glad I got to spend a few hours filling in some of the blank spots in my understanding of my grandparents' lives.