image_pdfimage_print

The World’s First Smart Phone

Siri and I are having issues. I believe I lean too much on her and I forget that she does not have the capability of an administrative assistant, as most commercials would assume. She’ll take me to Cracker Barrel when I want to go to Kroger. She’ll call my blood donation center when I ask her to call my wife. She scheduled me for a dental appointment for April 17th 2086 when I asked her to put it on my calendar for April 7th, 2018. It embarrasses Darlene. She says that shouting at it will not make it better, especially at the church welcome center. I’ve tried all the hacks I’ve heard of. Checking my settings, powering down the phone, tilting the phone at a 40-degree angle, reciting the pledge of allegiance to it ten times. But the phone remains as mystified by me as I am of it.

There’s a smart phone in the Bible. Sort of… I found it in Numbers 22 without the aid of the “find-my-phone” app on my computer. Actually it was a donkey-an upgraded smart donkey to be exact. For a few moments, this Shrek-like donkey spoke when his navigation was questioned. The owner of this smart donkey, Balaam was commissioned to place a curse on the people of God, but evidently the smart-donkey knew better and refused to go a step forward. He wouldn’t cooperate- much like my smart-phone in downtown Dallas.

Balaam shouted words similar to the words I have said to my phone a thousand times:

“You made me look like a fool. If I had a sword in my hand, I’d kill you now!”

Numbers 22:29 (CSB)

And for the first time in the history of the animal kingdom, a donkey replied,

“But the donkey said, “Am I not the donkey you’ve ridden all your life until today? Have I ever treated you this way before?” (Verse 30)

Just a note here- This is exactly the kind of sentence structure Siri uses when I realize that she led me down a dead end road on the wrong side of town. Who knew that a donkey’s first sentence would be so grammatically correct? This causes me to conclude that donkeys are smarter than we give them credit. The next time someone calls me a donkey or other words synonymous to donkey during rush hour traffic, I’m going to take it as a compliment.

The entire story is proof me that the real inventor of the smart phone is God. It just came in the form of a donkey 3500 years earlier.


 

Grace is on a Family Tree

My friend loves Jesus.

That sounds commonplace, doesn’t it?

It becomes less pedestrian when I tell you that his Mom died a drug addict and his father was a devout atheist. My friend was gloriously saved at the age of 10 at a Vacation Bible School event and never looked back. This. Makes. No. Sense. They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree but this apple fell off the tree rolled down the hill, was picked up by a pilot and flew across the ocean! (Figuratively speaking, of course.) And believe me, I don’t have enough white space here to chronicle the entire sordid tale. His story is a monument to the fact that God can save anybody He wants to save, no matter how messed up the family tree.

The New Testament begins with a family tree that had a number of ugly branches. Matthew 1 tells us that in Jesus’ lineage are a number shady characters including a prostitute, daughter of incest, an adulterer, a lying brother, lots of cautionary tales and ultimately an scandalous unwed pregnancy. It’s almost like God wanted to say from the start that this Gospel is all about grace and not about our upbringing. God isn’t as interested in your family history. He’s interested in what happens next. And when it comes to transformation, what happens next is glorious. He flips the script with grace. It’s His specialty. Never count yourself or your family out because of what happened yesterday. It’s an insult to the power of God when you do.


 

The Two Questions that He Keeps Asking

After the resurrection, Jesus returns to the disciples and sets his attention on Peter. You remember Peter. He’s the cussing disciple. The sword wheeling, water stumbling, denier whose tongue sprinted a few miles ahead of his brain on any given Sunday.

Jesus gives the disciples a little fishing advice that produces a record catch and then Peter jumps out of the boat leaving the haul to his buddies. That is SO Peter, isn’t it?

In the middle of this breakfast He asks Peter three times: “Peter, son of Jonah? Do you love me?”

The first time he asks, “Do you love me more than these?”

This is where I could have used a little more narrative information from the writer John. He obviously must have been gesturing to the fish, or the boats, his favorite lures, the disciples, or the water.  We don’t know. But I like that we don’t know. It leaves a mystery and every time I think about it, I think about my own “more than these” things.

I open up my retirement balance sheet. And I hear Him whisper, “Do you love me more than these?”

I open the refrigerator. He whispers again, “Do you love me more than these?”

I think about my family and friends. It gets deadly serious as He whispers, “Do you love me more than these?”

Just the question, “Do you love me?” What a soul searching question it is! Do I really love Him. I mean, hail or high water, do I love Him? Do I love Him when I am broke, mistreated, demoted, deleted, disparaged, rejected… Do I love Him?

The second question comes after Jesus infers that he (Peter) is going to die. (Note to reader: You, too, will die)  Peter looks over at John, perhaps hoping to change the subject. No one wants to talk about their own death. He turns to John and asks, “Hey Jesus, what about John?”

Jesus then says, “What is that to you?” In other words, “Peter, stop looking around. I’m talking about you and you only right now.”  I think the question inside the question is this: “Do you trust me?”

Jesus is asking me that same question. “Do you trust me?”

Those two questions:
Do you love me?
Do you trust me?

Those are the questions he whispers to me and you every day.

When He sees us fretting, anxious, conflicted, and disappointed by our careers, our lives, our future, our kids, our marriage, our finances, EVERYTHING.

He’s asking those two questions.

Stop reading this for a moment and hear Him whisper to you:

Do you love me?
Do you trust me?
Do you love me?
Do you trust me?
Do you love me?
Do you trust me?
Do you love me?
Do you trust me?
Do you love me?
Do you trust me?
Do you love me?
Do you trust me?
Do you love me?
Do you trust me?

I don’t know where you are, but your love and trust fascinates Him. It’s why He created you. He created you so that He could love You and take care of You. I want to see you and me grow up so that we can enter into a relationship of love and trust. He wants both of those from you, more than He wants you to sing beautifully, speak in tongues, heal the sick, or achieve greatness in His Name. Getting your theology right about free-will, Calvinism, or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin– none of that is in the same area code of these two important questions.

He wants our love and He wants our trust.

So do you love Him?

Do you trust Him?

It’s Friday

It’s Friday and He’s there… Suffering unimaginable traumas. He is deserted by fearful disciples, surrounded by tormentors, thieves, murderers, and religious provocateurs. Soldiers gaming over the final scant possessions of the Master of creation, ignore the darkening sky.

Jesus cries out: “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?”

On this holy day, God’s beloved Son embodies the weight of every sin from the slightest tresspass to our greatest of atrocities.

And during this bloody sacrifice, a Holy God turns His back.

“He who knew no sin has become sin.”

Jesus receives enough sour wine to moisten his tongue so that He could make one grand and final announcement. In the darkness of a cruel hill, Jesus shouts:

IT IS FINISHED!

This declaration is not a cry of defeat, despair and death. It is a glorious shout of victory! The masterpiece of redemption receives its final brushstroke. This is the pinnacle moment of grace that crushed the head of a conniving has-been and opened wide the passageway to salvation. The cross- once a vulgar, despicable symbol of shame, will soon top the roofs of churches and cathedrals. It will be displayed in homes and hospitals, bejeweled on necklaces and depicted in the greatest works of art and literature. And the three words Jesus shouted would now be the pronouncement of God’s greatest transaction.

IT IS FINISHED.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace.”
There is peace once again in midst of the exchange.
It is dark.
It is unspeakable.
It is mysterious.
It is ENOUGH.
It is Friday.


 

The Gospel of Enough

I grew up under the theology of scarcity. It centered around the hear-tell rumours that I didn’t have what it took to be a “really good” Christian. There were those repetitive voices outside and inside my head that said, “try harder, do more, get better.”  I gazed up at the impossible bar and counted myself out. My inadequacy labeled me, before I stepped on the scales.

My past haunted me
My scars mocked me.
My failures demoralized me,
My shame poisoned me.

I never would admit it, but I was certain that no one was as big of a poser as I was. I was weak and the more I tried to fix myself the more self-hatespeech would roll around in my head. And then one day I really did let go.

I raised a white flag and surrendered my efforts, my self-hope, self-punishment, and self-focus. I. JUST. LET. GO.

Then I discovered that the whole point of the gospel is that God is enough.

I just have to love him for being enough. It’s always been about God’s total sufficiency. What does it take to be held in the love of God? It takes a person willing to be still. This is the skill I need before everything else– to be still.  He is so much stronger than I have acted like He was.

But I am learning that He is more than enough to carry a struggler. It’s what He does. It’s His specialty and it’s His passion.  He’s not wringing his hands over your failures. He is ready to use each one to tell a story of grace and mercy.

It’s the same story that Mephibosheth experienced 2 Samuel 9. It’s an unfortunate name. It’s hard to say and spell so I call him Phiby. Phiby was the physically disabled grandson of a dead, vengeful King named Saul. When summoned, in his self-marinating humiliation he asked, “What does the King want with a dog like me.” He had nothing to offer the present king. But the king sought him out and he was seated at the kings table out of mysterious grace.

King David said to Phiby:

Don’t be afraid, for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table. 2 Samuel 9:7 (NIV)

In the same way God the Father says to us, “I will show you kindness for the sake of my Son Jesus.”

John the Beloved put it this way:  Consider the incredible love that the Father has shown us in allowing us to be called “children of God”—and that is not just what we are called, but what we are.  1 John 3:1 (Phillips Translation)

Throughout my days of striving to be acceptable, walking with a spiritual limp, striving to find a place, there is a Good Father who has already accepted me, not as a good servant but a beloved son. And that is good enough for me. In fact, He is more than enough.

I’ve seen him among the children and anyone who loves kids like he does, can be trusted. He is merciful to those who need mercy and He is always just. He willing to sacrifice everything for you and He never sleeps.

He is a doctor who can diagnose an illness before the symptoms appear.

He is a baker and when you go to his house there is always the wonderful smell of bread.
But more than anything…. He is a peacemaker.
He is available to you any time day or night.
He fights for the helpless
He makes time for the lonely
He is ready to step between you and your enemies
When you are befuddled confused and indecisive, He has a plan
When the walls are closing in, His doors will open wide.
He listens when no one else is around to hear you.
He consoles you when there are no arms to embrace you.
He weeps with you when all others curse at you
He is redeemer of your yesterdays and foreseer of your tomorrows.
He been to hell and back and He is still standing strong.
When others doubt you, He says, “you can do it.”
When no one knows you, He calls you by name
When few are truthful He will tell it to you straight.
He has set you apart and pulled you together
He lifts you up and He settles you down.
He’s not insecure, detached or ruthless.
All His plans are above board.
He’s written them all down in a book for you.
And nothing catches Him by surprise.
Many have tried to imitate him
And even more have tried to eliminate Him
But no one can intimidate Him
He is independent and self-sustaining and yet He longs for your love.
He could turn the world on its end and yet he has loved you from the beginning.
And He has invited you to come to His table.

 

The Ultimate Fixer Upper Reveal

I just finished reading Joanna and Chip Gaines, The Magnolia Story. By the way, it’s a great read, even for guys like me that end up as accidental HGTV viewers. In the book, the Gaines share amazing stories of how their lives intersected and through courage, faith and perseverance God began to build things in their lives that they never dreamed would happen.

For me there is a biblical moment in every one of their shows, It’s the big reveal. They bring the home owners by their newly redesigned house with a huge photo of the pre-renovated house masking its fresh paint, new porch, replaced shutters and new landscaping. Of course, it’s the dramatic climax of every show as they roll the huge photo away, a moment complete with tears, hugs and ‘wow’s.

The biblical moment for me is the connection we find in Ezekiel 40 when God reveals to Ezekiel the New City and the New Temple.

He brought me there (to the new city). In visions of God, He took me to the land of Israel and set me down on a very high mountain. On its southern slope was a structure resembling a city. Ezekiel 40:1-3 (CSB)

This was God’s big reveal as he walked Ezekiel through the New City and Temple which represent a time when we all will see the glory of God’s perfect work. Complete with eye-popping design, renovation and beauty.

I’m reminded that this world is  a fixer upper. The societal landscape is full of weeds, leaky pipes, stained carpet, faulty tile, and messy closets. They present themselves as lies, injustice, starvation, human trafficking, hypocrisy, hate and dirty politics. But even now, God is at work.

We have the same responsibility that Ezekiel received in verse 4:

He spoke to me: “Son of man, look with your eyes, listen with your ears, and pay attention to everything I am going to show you, for you have been brought here so that I might show it to you. Report everything you see.”

We get to share the big reveal of our soon-to-be home, that Jesus is preparing. It’s what we do as believers.

Remember His promise?

 In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you.  If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.  You know the way to where I am going.

I don’t know about you, but after a rough year of lies, violence, injustice, terror, and protests, I’m ready for our new digs. In the meantime, let’s do the two things He’s asked us to do. Do “big reveals” of the Kingdom to come and  pick up a hammer and renovate the fixer upper we have in front of our eyes today.

Fake News that Many Christians Believe

Frankly, I’m tired of hearing about fake news. Fake news draws in the gullible at an alarming rate. You’ve certainly had friends on social media post links about all sorts of deliberately crafted lies in order to press an agenda. And It’s not just the world outside the church. We see incredulous, hyperbolic news to support the Christian worldview also. But we all know that the concept of fake news is not new. And it’s not confined to social media. It’s not only from TV preachers and Christian music that doesn’t square up to the truth about life or God. Lots of fake news just sneaks into our consciousness like a theif, stealing our joy, courage and authenticity. The enemy has been posting fake news for centuries. Here are four examples of fake news many Christians believe.

God will accept you once you get your act together.

We so often fail to approach the throne with confidence because we feel that Jesus is angry and dissatisfied with us as followers. We magnify all our failures and live in a shadow of shame and self-condemnation.

Here’s a truth bomb from Brother Paul:

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
Romans 8:1

After the resurrection Jesus pursued a reunion with a denier, a doubter, and a number of deserting disciples.

He’s not the ogre waiting for us to forget to floss so he can swat us with his golden fly swatter. He’s not a passive god who sits around drumming his fingers on the throne, watching CNN for the latest on world-sized problems while yawning at our infinitesimal requests.

That’s not who God is. He is with you and He is for you.

Salvation happens when you get all the facts right.

Salvation is not an intellectual hoop to jump through. It is belief in Jesus even though you are sometimes struggling to understand everything. Children certainly don’t understand everything and yet Jesus tells us to come to Him as children with all our uncertainties and struggles.

The church often minimizes the process of salvation to a doctrinal game of jeopardy. On the contrary, your faith is not dependent upon you having the correct view of the 70 weeks of Daniel. Thank you, Jesus!  It has always been about faith and faith is not without its mysteries. In fact, faith is all about the mystery. Celebrate the mysteries and love Jesus.

If you pray right, you’ll get everything you request.

One of the greatest struggles most believers experience is the perplexity of unanswered prayers.  It’s easy for us to view prayer as a giant vending machine with the candy bar stuck in the machinery. The more we invest in it the more frustrating we become with the process. This is the time to move forward in prayer knowing that God has a better view of our lives than we do. Trust that He will work in His own way and His own time. But NEVER stop partnering with Him in prayer. You will find the reward of unanswered prayers: greater faith and dependence upon God.

God wants you to be pain free. 

Pain is one of God’s greatest teaching tools. The pain you experience will further your growth, cause you to depend on Him, and allow you to help others.

Paul’s thorn in the flesh, though a mystery, was painful. Still he writes:

But he (Jesus) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
2 Corinthians 12:8-9
Pain is actually a sign that God has not given up on you!

 

So there you have it–Four fake news items all Christians struggle with from time to time. What fake news have you discovered. I’d love to here about it. Hopefully discovering fake news is good news today!

Praying Before the Day

The second chapter of Joel reminds us to not only live for today. We must live for THE DAY. It’s a constant struggle to keep our focus on the fact that everything around us that we can touch with our hands will all be gone, leaving only our relationships and connection with our Source, Jesus. So how do we live for THE DAY when things once clouded will be seen face to face?

  1. Return to God (v12)

 “Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”

Spiritual preparation begins and ends with prayer. All our striving to be somebody must be overshadowed and minimized. Our prayers should reach the throne of God in wholeheartedness. Turning to God means that we cast aside our own desires for a greater calling: knowing and trusting Him.

  1. Reunite the Family (v.16)

Continue reading “Praying Before the Day”

Solving that Annoying Problem of Church Growth

For some people, church growth can be rather tedious. Parking problems, the new people to get to know, the reduction of political power due to the influx of new people that don’t know you, the extra wear on the carpet, the noise of young children, the overuse of bathroom facilities…you name it. So as we contemplate growth I thought I’d share a few ideas that could very well solve the spread of people throughout the foyer of your church’s worship center.

So, just for fun, may I submit to you 25 tried and true ideas for solving the annoying problem of church growth. Pick a couple and see what happens.

    1. Begin your message with the phrase, “You know what’s wrong with you people…”
    2. Place the Student Sunday school space near the “Ruth class” for ladies 70 and above.
    3. Move Business Meetings to Sunday Morning and open up the floor by asking, “So does anybody have beefs?”
    4. Begin that year-long sermon series on the 70 weeks of Daniel.
    5. Place a Polygraph machine on the front pew to be used during the invitation time.
    6. Place tire puncture strips in the parking lot for cars going the wrong way before Sunday School.
    7. Pick a NASCAR driver as your favorite and complain about all the other drivers (this works best in Alabama).
    8. Place the Roller Coaster “You must be this tall” sign at the entrance of the Worship Center. (And make it stand about 5’8 ½”)
    9. Keep the Christmas Pageant livestock in the church choir room year round.
    10. Announce that on high attendance Sunday, if the goal is met, everyone will kiss the pig!
    11. If your auditorium slopes downward to the platform give every kid under 12 a handful of marble before the service.
    12.  Give the deacons the ability to “gong” the special music.
    13.  Place the outdoor welcome center tent a few feet from the septic tank.
    14.  Replace the pictures of former pastors with pictures of Larry, Moe, and Curly.
    15.  Start arranging marriages in the single department.
    16.  Put a blank for weight on the membership forms.
    17.  Invite the “Cops” crew along during hospital visits.
    18. Demand madatory drug tests for all senior adult excursions.
    19.  In order to feel relevant, say “Dude” 15 times from the pulpit each Sunday.
    20.  Have organist play hockey cheers at pivotal moments of the sermon.
    21. Place armed guards in front of the Sunday School Supply Closet.
    22. Before the offertory hymn have the worship leader scream, “Show Me the Money”
    23.  Charge tolls for use of restrooms.
    24.  Illustrate all sermons or Sunday School lessons with scenes from “Walker Texas Ranger.”
    25.  Use the “The Voice” format for staff hirings.

6 Surprising Things about Leadership

I sometimes hear myself say, “Nothing surprises me. I’ve seen it all. The good, the bad and the slightly unattractive.” But that’s not exactly true. I am constantly surprised.

I’ve seen sucker punches on the church parking lot, midnight hospital runs, camel poop stains on church carpets which incited business meetings, witches getting saved, and also lots and lots of things I can only explain by saying “Well, you just had to be there.”

In fact, leadership surprises me.  I came into the ministry with certain preconceived notions about how everything worked and more than a dozen times, I’ve left a conundrum scratching my head because I learned that I had it all wrong. Just the opposite of my clinical understanding was true. Here are six simple truths that surprise me.


 

Leadership is NOT getting everyone to agree on everything.

Unity is primary to the church. Paul used lots of ink communicating the power of unity and the tragedy of schisms within the church. But if you ever get to the point where you feel you’ve got to get unanimous votes, you’ll set yourself up for failure, disappointment, and unnecessary obsessing. There is power in uniting what your deacons, staff, and leaders do agree on while also respecting those whose opinions vary even in the nuances of a ministry strategy. The most successful leadership teams I’ve seen are the ones that can disagree but choose to galvanize the mission by presenting a united front to the church after a decision is made.

In the words of one older deacon, “I don’t like the drums up there. I’m not comfortable with it. But if that’s what our strategy is going to reach my grandkids, let’s do it. I’ve got plenty of Happy Goodman Family CDs in my car. I’m all good.“

That is leadership and, yes, it is surprising, crazy-talk leadership.


 

Leadership requires fear and hate.

When I think of leadership, I think of the word courageous. But inherent in every leader, there must also be fear and hate.

We must fear many things! We must fear leading alone. We need each other. The warmest words a pastor will ever hear during conflict is, “I’ve got your back.” We must fear complacency, sin, temptation, impurity, and missing God in the mission.

We must also hate a few things. We must hate gossip, lies, shadow missions, and a score of other things that jeopardize our mission and the church. Leaders must hate with great skill the things we should hate.

Think about it. We serve a God who hates. In Proverbs, the Bible tells us of this Holy God who hates seven things:

Haughty Eyes
A Lying Tongue
Hands That Kill The Innocent
A Heart That Plots Evil
Feet That Race To Do Wrong
A False Witness Who Pours Out Lies
A Person Who Sows Discord In A Family

Be a godly leader and hate the right stuff.


 

Leadership is as much about the journey as it is about getting from Paint A to Point B.

Jesus was a traveling leader who had a busy three-year tour of the Middle East on foot, boats and donkey. But if you read the gospels, the destinations usually took a back seat to what happened along the way. Demons, storms, dead guys, Romans, tax collectors, roadside meals, wave walking…. Wow! There was a lot to see along the journey.

As Forrest Gump said: “Now, it used to be, I ran to get where I was goin’. I never thought it would take me anywhere.”

Our greatest moments in leadership often occur along the way and not simply at the destination.


 

Leadership is not about knowing what should be done.

There are lots of people who know what should be done, but churches are often hamstrung because nobody is DOING what should be done. Mental gymnastics and philosophical leadership should be left to the Pharisees. We are called to be disciples. The very word connotes action.


 

Leadership is about failing often.

Yes, this seems very ironic. But if your team is counting on home runs every time they try to lead people, then frustration will soon follow. In the same breath, we must do everything we can to achieve our goals. It’s true: God doesn’t ask us to be successful; He asks us to be faithful. Results are a God thing, not an “us” thing. And sometimes the only way we get it right is by getting it wrong and correcting course.


 

Leadership is not a personality type

Leaders come in all styles, colors, shapes and shoe-sizes. Some of the greatest leaders I know are introverts. They are listeners and when they speak, people listen. Do you know what kind of leaders you need on the team? Quiet leaders who listen and contemplate. Loud leaders who aren’t afraid of a microphone. Skilled leaders who know how to fix a septic tank or a computer. Funny leaders who provide joy and excitement. (I think you know where I’m going with this.)

We need writers, huggers, finger-in-your-chest leaders, poets, carpenters, negotiators, and truth tellers.

There is a place at the leadership table for them all.

So there you have it- 6 things that surprise me about leadership. What surprises you?