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A Word of Advice from Jesus’ Mother

There are many universal sayings that all mothers end up reciting at least once if not a thousand times.

Wash your hands before eating.
Play fair.
Don’t follow the crowd.
Be yourself.
Trust me.
Get some rest.
Pull those weeds in the back or they’ll kill the tulips!
Listen to your father.
Don’t go out with a guy just because he asks.
Stop whining.
Don’t cross your eyes. They may stick.
No throwing frisbee in the house.
No snacking before supper.
Don’t wear that much make-up.
Show respect.
Don’t do that!  You might poke your eye out.
You might get worms. You don’t know where that’s been!
Give it your best.

But perhaps the greatest advice from a mother is recorded as a side-note tucked away in the Gospel of John. It came from the mouth of the mother of our Lord. It was at a party.

It wasn’t a life or death situation. The words had very little to do, at first glance, with eternal destinies or climactic discoveries. Just a simple statement in the midst of uncertain, perplexing, awkward circumstances.

When the celebration of a marriage hit a stump, and the pitchers of refreshment were depleted. Mary, the mother of Jesus, turned to the servants and simply said, “Do whatever He tells you to do.” She knew exactly who her Son was. She could have expounded upon the majesty of her Son, the royal blood that ran through His veins, His very nature as Creator and Master of the universe.

She was well aware of the glory of Jesus. But instead, she simply pointed to Jesus and with determination and authority in her voice, she said, “Do whatever He tells you to do!”

Jesus turned, furrowed His brow, and then, He honored her despite the whole timing issue of when the Messianic works was to begin.

“Fill the pots,” He told them.

“But you don’t understand, Jesus. Those clay pots are for the ceremonial washing of hands and feet!”

Mary looked on, perhaps assertively, with her arms crossed. Her attitude was unchanged by Jesus words. She said it again. “I said – do whatever He tells you to do.”

“It is glorified bath-water,” one servant said, as he gritted his teeth.

“Do whatever He tells you to do.” Mary replied, this time politely with more grace. Mothers have a way of overseeing the details.

They filled the pots.

Then Jesus said, “Now, draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

“You’re joking, right?” a cynical servant asked with a coy smile.

“Do whatever He tells you to do.” Mary repeated.

And at that moment bath water became the toast of the town. And if you listen closely, perhaps you can hear the words of that proud and courageous mother. Her words still apply.

Do whatever He tells you to do.

Minister to the homeless. Do whatever He tells you to do! Follow Him to a foreign land. Do whatever He tells you to do! As you budget your time and resources. Do whatever He tells you to do! As you proclaim the Good News in your school. Do whatever He tells you to do!

The mother’s advice through years of weddings, funerals, challenges, and crises, in the big things, in the little things, in the plans for today and the dreams of tomorrow – it’s really some very good advice.

Do whatever He tells you to do!

It may seem like something strange. It might go against your natural instincts. It won’t be the first time. He’d startled his people before with his plan:

Reach in the mouth of that fish and pull out a coin.

Here’s some mud for your eyes.

Sell everything and follow me.

Drop those nets.

Lay off 80% of the army and give the rest lamps and horns. That ought to do it!

Avoid becoming a salt lick. Don’t look behind you.

Five loaves and two fish will do. Let’s pray and start passing it out to them.

Hit it with your stick. There’s water in the rock.

Five smooth stones. That’ll teach him.

March around the wall.

Roll that stone away. He’s not dead. He’s just a sound sleeping miracle waiting to happen. Let’s wake him up.

Rise and walk.

Don’t bring anything with you.

Go and teach all nations!

Do whatever He asks you to do!

So what crazy thing is He telling you to do?

Has he called you to start a homeless shelter? Has He called you to memorize the Gospel of John? Has He called you to minister in the nursing homes, bars, the halfway house, the merchant marines, in India, China, Alaska, Greenwich Village or Congress? Has He called you to give up your stereo, your car, your cable? Has He called you to paint your neighbor’s house or scrub toilets? Has He called you to start a church? Has He called you to try to reconnect with that kid who beat you up and stole your milk money in the third grade?

Do whatever He asks you to do!

Why? It’s a no-brainer. Whenever Jesus tells you to do something, glory happens. He is worthy and when you close the book on your life, you will not have a hint of regret. When you dive into God’s plan, you will discover that He is more powerful, more trustworthy, more intelligent, and more intuitive than you could ever think of being.

So take a deep breath and dive in. You’ll be glad you listened to Mary’s advice.

7 Pastor Traps on Mother’s Day

Beware of the trap game. In sports, the trap game is a game played against an opponent generally deemed to be easy to defeat. As a result, a person or team may not prepare as they are looking ahead to next Sunday.

For pastors, Mother’s Days are often trap Sundays. But there are a few traps we can avoid on this very important and highly attended Sunday.

Trap #1: Publicly honoring the youngest mother. What is the distinctive achievement here?

I’m young. I had a baby.

After 52 years on this earth, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is not a goal implied in Scripture. Go figure. It says be fruitful and multiply but it doesn’t tell you to begin before you’re 17. All mothers should be honored and singling out the youngest mother feels bad in so many ways. And it could be mortifying for some in your church, including the youngest mother.

Trap #2: Forgetting that there are women in your church that wish they were mothers. Imagine going through the hardest struggle you’ve ever experienced in your life and watching all your dreams vanish. Then imagine that someone creates a Sunday where they place of your greatest pain is the theme of a worship service. Of course you’ll want to honor mothers. Just honor them with a keen sensitivity toward infertility and the wounds of others.

Trap #3: Stretching, squeezing, twisting and prodding a scripture or a sermon series to make it fit Mother’s Day.

Especially if you are going through a series on the 7 deadly sins, the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse, or The Bad Girls of the Bible.

Your people don’t need you to gracefully pirouette across the hermeneutical landscape and seamlessly land on the perfectly deft Mother’s Day sermon text at the just the right time. You’ll be more impressed than they will, Rev. Fancypants.

Trap #4: Honoring Mothers in contrast with those Nutty Dads. Notice the two most used, most implied topics of these 2 traditional days.

  • Mother’s Day Sermon Thesis Statement: Mothers, you are honored and cherished.
  • Father’s Day Sermon Thesis Statement: Fathers, get with the program.

Trap #5: The “Mother Worship” Trap. When planning your worship service, make sure the songs are about the Trinity not the quatrinity. (I know… Not a word.) The point is this: Our mothers, no matter how awesome they are, (and they are awesome) didn’t die for our sins. Worship every Sunday must be about God.

Trap #6: Not mentioning that it’s Mother’s Day. There are some that are so “non-seasonal” they decide to not even mention it. By doing that you are only magnifying the oversight in people’s minds. You have to do or say something whether you are making it the primary context of your message or you’re simply wishing mothers a Happy Mother’s Day. Not mentioning it is like asking people to not think of pink elephants. And now, please understand. Pink Elephants have nothing whatsoever to do with mothers. It is merely a common analogy that people use. Mothers and pink elephants have NOTHING to do with anything about each other. Am I clear on this point? Thank you.

Trap #7: This final trap is the most important one for pastors. Don’t forget to call your mother.

 

4 Prayers I Wish I Didn’t Hear in Worship

Public prayer is an awkward experience in most churches. It’s really a strange set of circumstances. Someone comes up to the microphone and is speaking to God and we are praying along. Hopefully. Sometimes, if you think about it, it would sound a little weird from God’s perspective. Prayer should be the ultimate spiritual communion between God and man, but like most things we have a tendency to make the sacred things seem rather human. So I submit to you these lower forms of public prayers along with their scientific classifications.

  • The Sidebar Info-Prayer: Someone forgets to make an announcement but suddenly discovers that if they announce it to God in prayer everybody will overhear it. (Check that puppy off the list!)

“Dear God, we pray that many will come to the church bake sale where there will be an innumerable array of baked goods- all selling for under ten dollars in the Activity Center at 5 PM tonight. And I pray that we will all remember that the proceeds are going to the YouthMania Super Spiritual Conference in Panama City.”

  • The Intercessory Argumentative Indignation Prayer: A person prays in worship while simultaneously commenting his or her own opinion.

“Lord, thank you for the gift of music. We pray that our leaders will do more Hymns and less songs about Oceans and the like. We long to worship with the inspiration of the hymns from the hymn books that we donated so long ago and pray that the drums that are placed on our stage will not damage the ears of the listeners.”

  • The Ditto Prayer: The ditto prayer can only be recognized after hearing someone pray more than three times in a worship service. It’s basically the prayer that the speaker prays every time he is called on to pray. It can usually be said in one breath and by now I think God has gotten the message.

“Dear Lord, thank you for this day. We pray that you will take this offering, bless the gift and the giver, use it for thy glory. Go with us now as we seek to do thy will, and forgive us of our many sins.”

(This is the Baptist “Hail Mary”.)

  • The Prayer of Our Lady of Too Much Information: We think it’s important to pray for everything but there are some prayers that we need to trust that God knows the details already.

“And help Laura who is struggling with whether to get a divorce or not because they are just so incompatible in their communication skills. And we pray for Frank who has a cyst right behind his ear and the fluid is…” (I will go no further.)

When I hear people praying these prayers to God, I sometimes fantasize about being Episcopalian but the form and theology is foreign to me and I don’t want to have to wear a robe. Also, I like our music. The modern songs and the hymns… And my son plays the drums. So there’s that.

 

Four Foolish Filter Fails in Bible Study

I was having coffee with a friend the other day. He’s one of my favorite people in the universe and I love his take on the Bible and church. Our church models are very different. Still, we marveled that even though our churches are about as different as Switchfoot and Lecrae, we’ve both experienced the same awkward moment when our fellow leaders and group members take the Bible completely out of context. Context is key if we want to disciple and lead believers into an authentic faith. All this started me thinking about all the cringe-moments I’ve experienced through the years. I’d categorize these as “filter fails.” They are fails because the Bible requires at least a moderate amount of contextualization. (I’ll call them filters, because contextualization reminds me of my AP English class my parent made me take in the 9th grade. The scars are there, trust me.) At best, a lack of appropriate filters has twisted a minor phrase into a cross-stitch verse that was never intended to be hung above a fireplace or sewed on a doily. At worst, they have lead cults, crusades and Bentley owning, name-it-claim-it, TV preachers.

So let’s take a look at 5 of the most frequent filter fails on teaching the Bible.

1.Failing to understand what’s really going on the story.

I have a confession to make. I am guilty of this. I use Bible Gateway™ key word search to look for that perfect verse to summarize a Biblical truth. One verse that I absolutely loved was Habakkuk.

The Lord replied,

“Look around at the nations;

   look and be amazed!

For I am doing something in your own day,

   something you wouldn’t believe

   even if someone told you about it.

 

Now if that’s not a verse destined for the wall art section of a LifeWay Store, I don’t know what is. Right?

 

Well… Let’s look at the context. It’s not hard. Just read a couple of verses after that, where we learn about God’s ultimate threat of destruction of the people with whom this promise is speaking. God is sending the dreaded Chaldeans to wreak havoc on the people of God. So although Habakkuk 1:5 sounds like a great life-verse, certainly in its context, it’s not exactly the kind of amazement you’d ever really want.

 

2. Ignoring the Voice

If you’re knee-deep into church culture you have heard it in songs, cheers, sermons and in pregame interviews of famous Christian athletes.

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

Philippians 4:19

It’s often referred to in contemporary circles like this: I can solve this promise, score this touchdown, win that award, and (I’m sorry but it’s true…) marry that girl. But often, the person referring to the verse forgets the voice of the writer.

Paul was in prison. In earthly terms, like girls, football, acclaim, financial success, Paul would seem like a loser. Paul is writing a letter from prison about being able to endure not achieve. He’s enduring a loss of freedom, loneliness, uncertainty and pain. Speaking in modern terms, this is not a Joel Osteen kind of verse. It’s a Martin Luther King Jr. kind of verse.

Now, you don’t have to agree with me 100%, but I want to submit that Paul’s voice, his circumstance, and the entirety of the book of Philippians is not well served by a trite, fist-bumping take on it. Watch your toes. I’m dropping the mic.

 

3. Evangelical Cherry-Picking to Drive a Point Home.

This is the main reason expository Bible study is so effective. In expository Bible study you aren’t simply going on a fishing expedition to string together related verses on a subject. You are going through the narrative to understand what God is up to in the passage, while also realizing that you have to understand and ask some really important questions:

  • What is the culture?
  • When was it written?
  • What’s going on around the writer?
  • What has God revealed so far to the people in the book?

 

Expository Bible study is much like practicing legitimate journalism. – Who, What, When, Why Where and How. This is elemental to understanding and teaching scripture with integrity. History is important. What was going on the culture when the passage was written? Progressive revelation is important. It goes without saying that Peter, even though he was a knucklehead every now and then, had more revelation than amazing Isaiah. He got to see more revelation by the simple fact that he was born later and happened to be a disciple of the Son of God Himself! Therefore, we can’t look at the annihilation of the enemies of Israel in the Old Testament as a proof text to carpet bomb towns. Otherwise you’re going to have to throw out a lot of Jesus teachings.

4. Jumping the Gun

I saved the worst for last: You head off alone. Bible study and Bible teaching will be cold, ineffective, and futile if you don’t have Someone working with you. (You see what I did there with the capitalization, don’t you?) The Holy Spirit must guide you as you study scripture or prepare to teach. Scripture comes alive when we have a dialogue with the Source of all knowledge. This is what makes reading the Bible so incredibly transforming. There’s something going on between the reader and the text. So prayer is a vital link to understanding the text. Prayer makes the Bible a dialogue.

There are other fails out there, but these are four that you surely want to avoid.

Letting God Out of the Box

I’m always amazed how the church as a whole
is so quick to throw rocks at the sheep in the fold.
We question each other’s theology,
spar over worship philosophy.
We’ve got more fusses than one tongue can tell
while outside the world is going to hell.
We are driven by creeds, and motions, and clocks,
haven’t we learned not to put God in a box?
Would Jesus approve of our political labels
or would He come in and start busting up tables?
Does He tire of us telling Him what He should do,
what gender must teach, what strategy’s true?
Is the Bible the life source or inflexible judge?
Is the church a haven for sinners or a group with a grudge?
Do we think we can settle for boycotts and strife
instead of seeking the lost and giving dead people life?
What were we thinking when in front of the press?
we majored on minors choosing to curse and not bless.
I have to tell you from my point of view
I keep wondering what in the world Jesus would do.
Would He have us disputing which method is best,
or making transformation be our holy quest?
After all that’s what this journey’s about,
not who has more sheep or who has more clout.
I despise the reports of our ugly catfights.
I’m appalled by the task of reading sinners their rights.
When you preach condemnation, consider this fact,
they don’t know Jesus. How’d you expect them to act?
And please understand, I’m not where I should be.
When i’m pointing at you, I’m pointing at me.
There are times when i haven’t lived up to His Name,
when i’ve only the man in the mirror to blame.
But now is the time to reject the mask,
to heed the call, and get back to the task,
to burn the political, decaying façade
for an all out pursuit of our passionate God.
Let’s spend our time living meaningful lives
giving mercy to sinners not dangerous lies.
Let’s bear the cross and drop the rocks,
proclaim the good news and let God out of the box.

 

7 Things that Happen When We Worship Together

You and I came to the game late but we are invited to stay for eternity and as we worship God begins to teach us new concepts, new subtleties, new songs… What is God teaching you as you worship.? Here are a few things He’s been teaching me.

  • When we worship, life becomes a festival rather than a contest. Not a show… Never a show…
  • When we worship, it spills over into our lifestyle and our family budget. We begin to appreciate simplicity over the complexity of accumulation. It wasn’t ours in the first place, so we don’t have to fight to own it. It’s best given away. And once we do, life becomes less difficult. Fewer locks. Fewer statements. Less paperwork. Less maintenance. We can whittle life down to important things and we see that the best things in life are not found in malls.
  • When we worship, God invites us to take a step closer to him today. Worship one minute more, give one more thing away, encourage one more person. We do this not out of our desire for approval or blessing but because life will make more sense and because we need to experience Him one step closer.
  • When we worship we see more clearly. When the Church worships, His presence is palpable and mysteriously real. When silence is found in our worship, We sense can apprehend the mystery of incarnation. It grabs us and we want it more.
  • When we worship, we see that we are all in recovery. We are all broken, even the most beautiful, well-read, popular, intelligent, successful achievers are struggling today.
  • When we worship, we intentionally surround ourselves with hurting, needy people. 
The recovering drug addict, the guy who had an awful marriage and worked to make it functional, the kid who grew up in a dysfunctional family, the person who has a chronic disease, the woman who experienced sexual abuse, the guy who was unemployed for three months, the kid with Down syndrome, the family whose house was robbed while they were on vacation, the former stripper, the couple that faced infertility, the guy who went for help for his addiction to porn, the blind guy, the man who lost his wife,
the grandmother who lost connection with her grandchildren,
the child of alcoholic parents, the parents of an autistic child, 
the falsely accused. I believe everybody–even atheists, need to be around real, authentic, passionate worshipers because it’s the very best community anyone could ever imagine. And our worshippers so welcome atheists with open arms because we’ve all started out disconnected from God.
  • I look forward to Sundays. It is the highlight of my week. I’m reminded of the grace of Jesus and the worship never ends.

I am Constantly Amazed

I am constantly amazed by the faithful love of Jesus. He champions the threshold of my beginnings and endings. He initiated the relationship and never lets go. I am still overwhelmed, surprised, consumed by His love. He is trustworthy, when I am sick. When I struggle with sin, he refuses to write me off. He is the friend of sinners.

He is faithfully consistent. Truly there is no shifting shadow in the deep love of Jesus. When I cast my gaze across the horizon… the October breeze that refreshes the land after the long summer, I know that every falling leaf, every blade of grass, every bird and cloud is a reminder of His creative hand. They all were conceived first in the imagination of the Artisan of the cosmos. 

And as I reflect on the life I’ve lived here, mostly fearful of everything, I realize that I never, EVER had anything to fear. He has been and always will be, relentlessly faithful, continuously sufficient, and absolutely available. I am still captivated by this lowly carpenter and faithful redeemer- I’m still struggling awkwardly to construct the right syntax and composition of words to describe the One who is truly indescribable. I will continue to try until the book is closed and my time comes.

King Jesus, your presence is palpable and your depth is dependable.

April Fools Day

I was thinking this morning, (April Fools’ Day) how wonderful this day would be if Donald Trump held a press conference and said two words: “April Fools’!”

Wow, Donald. You really got us. You got us good! We actually thought you were going to desire and win the office of President. You so funny.

But alas the day has passed and I guess he’s really serious.

I was also hoping that those fearful, angry evangelicals would also join the chorus and say, “April Fools’!”

But they didn’t either. This is really happening. The emperor has no clothes. Fear and anger have replaced love and mercy. We are divided and we will get what we are asking for: lots of countries mad at us, no character, angry shaming, name calling, bad interpretations of the Bible, sucker-punches, twitter wars, and childish rants that promote torture, revenge, pride, and excess. (All that stuff Jesus warned the church against.)

So onward we go.

(This would be a great time to pray for our country and the Church.)

10 New Names and 1 Idea!

In the eighties, church job titles were pretty simple. We even had decision cards that you could fill out if you felt “called” to “special service.”

You might feel called to be a

_____ Pastor
_____ Music Minister
_____ Youth Minister
_____ Minister of Education
_____ Foreign Missionary

(Check one.)

That’s it. Check the nature of your particular call to ministry and we’ll tell you about the closest Christian College where you can go to get a testimony.

But sometime around ’89 a trusted denominational leader went to a business conference and the wave of new ministry vocations began to trickle down to your typical Baptist Church. These names, I suppose, were to clarify the positions and to give people a better understanding of what they actually do.

1. Pastor of Spiritual Formation

Pastor of Spiritual Formation which is … well.. they kind of form… no… they shape the uh… spirituality of the deacon and leaders? I give up. I imagine he’s like the Minister of Assimilation – whatever that is.

2. Magnification Pastor

Then there is the Magnification Pastor. (This is a real position in several churches. Several big, successful churches, so I can’t be critical. It’s working.) Logic would tell me that the Magnification Pastor would be the Senior Adult minister. He’d do his weekly column in extra-large print. This title of Magnification Pastor is not for every minister. If the Pastor was a grumpy, stick-in-the-mud, youth-minister-firing, church-split-waiting-to- happen guy, would you really want to magnify him. In truth the magnification pastor is someone who preaches or leads worship on Sunday.

Some Sundays.

When he’s not at Catalyst.

3. Executive Pastor

Executive Pastor is the Minister of Education. We call him Executive Pastor to get rid of the stigma that the Ministers of Education have carried for years- that he’s the guy who gives the announcements and knows where the overhead projectors are stored.

4. Children’s Pastor

The Children’s Pastor is simple enough. It means that they minister to the needs of children and their parents. The Children’s Director is even more specific. The Children’s Director does everything the Children’s Pastor would do but this person is a woman.

5. Administrative Assistant

The Administrative Assistant to the Pastor of course is the same as the old Pastor’s Secretary but the Administrative Assistant actually controls the Pastor, knows CPR and how to use anti-virus software.

6. The Minister of Technology

This is the guy (or gal) who knows how to use the anti-virus software but also adds presentation software, feedback, mic chords and automated thermostats to his sphere of responsibility (or blame).

7. Minister of Ecclesia

Talk about seeker sensitive! You say Minister of Eccelsia and the average Joe knows exactly how you spend your time.

8. The Minister of Connections

I visited a church in Maryland where every staff member’s name and email address was listed with one exception. The pastor’s email address was intentionally omitted. Under his name was his administrative assistant and her email address. But she was called the Director of Connections. So one would assume, if you want to contact the pastor, you’ve gotta have connections.

9. Creative Pastor

Here’s another: The Creative Pastor. I can’t help but wonder how makes the other pastors feel? And should we actually use adjectives in a job title. “If the Creative Pastor doesn’t know, go ask the Intellegent Pastor or the Attractive Director. If all else fails you might just have to ask the Monotonous Pastor. He’ll know. He always knows.”

10. Executive Pastor of Operations

I visited a church website recently that had an Executive Pastor of Operations. I had to call about this title. It kept me up at night. What is a Pastor of Operations? Is this legal? Does he do hernias? I learned that the Pastor of Operations is what we used to call the Facilities Manager. This man supervises the janitorial staff as well as the mantanence and repair of the church. That’s his vocation and ministry. My first thought was, “Wow! They must have an incredible middle school program!”

11 ????

Personally I think I’d be a great Minister of Apology. Every day I could get a list from all the other staff members in my mega-church. You know, the Minister of Technology, the Student Pastor, the Director of Childhood Ministries, the Pastor of Operations, and the Magnification Pastor. They could give me this list of people that I should, on behalf of the church, extend a deep and meaningful apology. But the Minister of Apology just doesn’t sound as hip and postmodern as the other members of the staff. Perhaps they could call me the Minister of Apologetics. But then again Apologetics means never having to say you’re wrong.

On top of that, if I became the Minister of Apology I would be doing the work of the most powerful person of the staff: The Receptionist.