Monthly Archives: November 2007

Rotating the New Hotness

A youth pastor friend, Jake, recently brought up the subject of consumerism and its impact on the Church. Unfortunately, the adult generation has treated going to church like belonging to a club or owning a car. We trade up when the current model gets outdated or join a new club when we want to try something new. This attitude has been transferred to youth who tend to view student ministries in much the same way.

Jake said, “Churches rotate the new hotness.” This quip made me laugh at first. Once I got the real impact of the statement, it made me sad. The problem is that people go to church instead of belonging to a church, which should be a local expression of the universal Church.

Rotating churches too often means that students never develop roots in one community of faith. This allows them to be spiritually isolated and soulish in their everyday life. They come for the food and entertainment. Then they leave for the next thing when the “hotness” moves. They don’t learn what it is to go through troubles as a dedicated part of a church because they go to another fellowship if things get dicey.

The danger is whatever you use to attract people is what you have to do to keep them. Over time you have to do more and reach new extremes. Or else you face the possibility of the “Hotness” sign moving to another church.

The “hotness” phenomenon pits student ministries against each other. It can be difficult for various churches to want to work together. Envy can develop between leaders as the “hotness” moves from place to place. Then pastors start talking bad about each other and the unity of the local Church suffers.

While I wish that most pastors were spiritual enough to get beyond ministry envy, I know that I have struggled with it even as a lay leader. We should celebrate the success of each ministry in the area. But it is easy to try to figure out what they are doing right and copy their secret. Only we want add a few twists to make it better.

I believe that most churches need to revisit what it means to belong. While this starts with the adults, it needs to be modeled and taught to youth and kids too. Changing attitudes and hearts toward church is the only way to get people to belong for Biblical reasons.

The High Cost of Serving Jesus

Wanted: True Disciples

Fakers need not apply although all truly repentant sinners are welcome. No overly qualified candidates may apply. It will cost you everything because it cost me more than you could ever imagine. 

Are you looking for a position with incredible advancement opportunities? Do you like to serve others and live for something bigger than just your own appetites? Do you want to change the world? If so, you were made for this job.

This is not a fast-paced, performance-driven environment. Instead it is a slow, deep process that will completely unleash your internal, God-given potential. You will be expected to leave all behind for this post. But you will gain more than you had to let go.

You will be provided all the tools you need to succeed. This includes divine power to do more than you could naturally do on your own.

Your worth in this enterprise is measured by your value as a person not output. Strong performance will be rewarded although it is not a necessity for acceptance. You will discover a whole new reality through this experience and will join a grass roots group of radical determined to love and disciplined enough to ignite a revolution. 

This is the toughest job that you will ever love. Oh, and it’s not a job, it’s a calling.

——————————-

I think that may the message that Jesus would post up in your church if He were to use a flyer to recruit new disciples. My previous blog entry, described the discipleship void in most churches today. It included a number of comments by Charles Crabtree, a leader with the national Assemblies of God. Crabtree said that churches have missed the mark by teaching and calling people to something less than complete abandonment and surrender to Christ. We are called to love Jesus more than our life and anything else we would hold dear.

Crabtree wrote, “I believe the Assemblies of God (insert denomination name here) needs to send out this message: The High Cost of Serving Jesus.” Do you know what will happen? People will come by the millions to a cause that is bigger than their own lives. If we soft-soap the gospel and get by with lackadaisical discipleship, our young people are not going to be interested in something that is not challenging. It is time to confront; it is time to challenge and offer an alternative lifestyle – a life of surrender to Christ.

Crabtree also wrote, “Repentance is not a negative concept. It opens the door to living a new life full of divine power and blessing, but for a reason – to live the Christian life, not just to hear about it.”

Pointing at reason for apathy in churches, Crabtree said it stemmed from the fact that most people don’t plan to do one thing about what they hear in church. Why go through the religious motions if you aren’t going to let God change you?

The gospel is messy. It is costly. It is something that will forever ruin you for ordinary life. It calls us to something beyond our wildest dreams. At the same time, it requires a surrender that should scare us to death. We all need to die so that we can live anew in Christ.

Are you willing to accept the high price that was paid for your freedom? Are you willing to follow Jesus and truly count the cost of being a disciple? These are tough questions that need more than an answer. They need a commitment.

Home

While in meditation and silent prayer recently, I used the word “Home” as the key to help me center focus back on Jesus.

After my time of prayer I came to since that this concept of “Home” is critical for my spiritual progression in God’s family. Jesus as our home means that we can find a place of rest, identity, acceptance and love no matter where we are or what is going on in our lives.

These are some ways that Jesus reminds me of home…

Home is a place where you are free to be you. No makeup or putting on a face for anyone. Our identity is wrapped up in our home and the relationships that take place there. Our sense of home indicates our emotional health.

Intimate, private things occur in our homes. Memories are made there. Home also is our living space where we do everyday things of life.

Home is where we go to rest and rejuvenate. It is a place of protection and daily provision.

People without a sense of home wander around always looking for some place to just be at home. This is even true of evil spirits according to Scripture.

Home is the place you long to be when you are anywhere else. It holds your heart and affection. It is the place we call for help when we are away.

Sacrifices and broken relationships are mended at home. It can be both a place of sorrow and joy. Home can be a physical place or just a special place in our heart.

Jesus is home for me. Do you have a home?

The Discipleship Void

If Jesus said that His followers are to disciple other believers, why then does the Church stink at fulfilling its core mandate? Enrichment Journal, a publication for pentecostal ministers, recently tackled that issue.

Charles Crabtree, a high ranking official with the Assemblies of God (AG), wrote, “Overall, I believe the state of evangelism in the AG is unremarkable. There are pockets of fervent evangelism, but as a rule, I am concerned about the state of evangelism. I do not see a remarkable influx of true conversions.”

Crabtree pointed out the following concerns:

  • Many people are making commitments for Christ but not joining in a local Church fellowship. This produces isolation. Crabtree said, “If a baby (Christian) is no in the care of the home (a local church), that baby is either dead, lost, or in deep trouble.”
  • There is a crisis of discipleship because many new Christians are not progressing in their faith. This is seen by a lack of obedience to Christian virtues and commitment to the faith. Crabtree pointed out that many “converts” do not get baptized in water and do not receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. He commented, “If we continue this trend, I project in 10 years we will have a small minority of Pentecostals in the AG.”
  • A Me-focused Gospel has replaced a Christ-centric worldview. This can be seen as the cross has become less of a focus in much of the preaching today. People don’t want to hear about taking up their cross. All they want is to be left alone on earth and to go to heaven when they die.
  • Crabtree wrote, “It seems the American church says to those who pass through the doors, ‘You’re a good person, and the church can give you added value to the temporal life.’ And it will. But this is no the primary reason the church exists. The church exists to get people ready for eternity, not for tomorrow.”
  • The philosophy of universalism has watered down the importance of theology and doctrine. We have placed ourselves over the Bible not under its authority.

There are many more great points in the article by Crabtree. You can read it by visiting the following link. http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/200801/200801_022_Discipleship.cfm

Crabtree pointed out that there is a big difference between checking yes on a commitment card and actually being a true follower of Christ.

Reclaiming Biblical discipleship is a must if we want to see converts who actually make a firm commitment to follow Jesus Christ. This is a daily decision. Honestly, I find it hard to stick to at times because my soul has other ideas and plans. But at least, I know that the general direction of my life is headed toward God and His lordship not away from it.

Cultural Context Illuminates a Familiar Story

The Bible is like an onion with a never ending succession of layers. You never peel everything off. There always seems to be something deeper to probe.

And it is amazing how the text studies the reader. It impacts us differently depending on what is going on in our lives. The story of the prodigal son is a familiar passage. I have found myself being all the main characters at some point in my life.

I recently developed a new appreciation for the story thanks to some insights covered by Frances Taylor Gench during my New Testament class at Union Seminary. She quoted significantly from Dr. Kenneth Bailey, an expert in Middle Eastern culture.

Professor Gench illuminated the text by pointing out some unique aspects that most casual readers in the West would miss. We bring a Western bias that completely overlooks key aspects of some passages because the Bible is primarily written out of an Eastern context.

In the past, I completely missed the community aspect of the story. 

Here are a few key insights that I found especially illuminating:

  • According to the culture of the day, the older son should have refused the money, admonished his brother to take back his request, and mediated between the father and his brother. By simply taking the money, the older son was not doing his duty.
  • The younger son’s request was akin to saying that he wished his father was dead. In a patriarchal society, it would have been taken as a major insult to the father and the entire community. Word would have gotten around the village as the younger son tried to sell of family ancestral land to go off on his own. Neighbors would have likely wanted to stone the young man for his audacity and disrespect. Thus, the youngest son would have quickly left the area. His sin caused major alienation for the young man from the entire community where he had lived.
  • The language describing that the young man hired himself out to a foreigner reflects the concept of glue  – when you basically get a job by being persistent. You refuse to take no for an answer. It brings to mind the car window washer at the stop light or the undesired guide who stick to foreigners in a Middle Eastern market. This means the owner of the pigs may have offered the young man this duty because he thought he would not accept it. It could have been a way of getting rid of a nuisance. No Jew with any degree of self respect would have taken the job. The fact that the young man took the job and wanted to eat what the pigs were eating showed just how far he had fallen.
  • The young man came to his sense and went back to his father. He had rehearsed a speech that indicated he didn’t expect to be fully accept as a son nor was he asking for that. It is almost as if the son still wanted to prove himself on his own. But the father would have none of that.
  • Likely the village people would have still remembered the sin of the young man and would have wanted to stone him for his previous actions. The father kept a look out. He let his son go, yet he always desired his return. The father went and rushed to meet the son. Instead of forcing the son to walk through the town and possibly face a hostile crowd, the father walked the path of shame for his son. Middle Eastern men did not run. It was considered improper. And they certainly wouldn’t have run to meet a disobedient, ungrateful child.
  • Not only did the father love his son. He restored him by putting new clothes on him. Clothes would restore his status as part of the family. Sandals were to cover his feet, which likely were all worn from his heavy labor. And the ring is a symbol of authority and sonship.
  • It was the duty of the older brother to greet the guests of the feast. Even if he disagreed with what his father did, he should have come in and done his duty. He could have then argued with his father in private after the party. Instead, he publicly refused to come in and made a scene. All the while, he acted as if he had always done the right thing and obeyed his father. Yet, he was in rebellion the vary moment he said those words.
  • The older brother refused to address his father with the proper title and even referred to his brother as the father’s son not his brother. This would have been viewed as the older son basically saying that he was no longer a part of the family because of what the father had done.
  • It is curious that the older son didn’t seem to know what was going on at first. By custom, he should have been involved in the planning of the party.
  • The father likely threw the party as a way to welcome the son back into the family and more importantly to restore his position in good standing with the entire community. The fattened calf was a big piece of meat that could have fed as many as 100 people. This was a large party meant to have sweeping consequences for how the neighbors viewed this prodigal son. The father understood that something had to be done to publicly restore his son or else he could not live there for long.
  • By refusing his father’s request, the older son was basically saying that he didn’t want his brother around. He even made accusations about the younger brother’s wild living that is not supported by the earlier part of the story.

Context can make a big difference. It helps you see the story that we miss just because we live in a different time, place and culture.

Navigating the Dark Night of the Soul

At the recent National Youth Worker’s Convention in Atlanta, Mark Yaconelli taught a session on navigating times where God appears absent and nothing works to revitalize our spiritual life. Commonly called the “dark night of the soul,” Yaconelli described it as a time in our lives when all you hear in your prayers is your own voice. Prayer seems like pretending. It can be full of doubt, confusion and struggles.

Quoting some from the diary of Mother Teresa, Yaconelli illustrated how even mighty saints have had to fight through these times. She wrote, “It’s as if Jesus left me.” Yaconelli said that these times of apparent isolation and futility are critical for us to surrender our soul to God.

The dark night is not just about tragedy. It is not restricted to mystics or overly spiritual people. It doesn’t even always have to be unpleasant. Dark night may refer to a time where God seems hidden and the path to enlightenment seems obscure.

Yaconelli said, “God is seeking to free us from our attachments and restrictions.” Our ideas about God and the things that worked in the past can get in the way of our progression to something deeper. Sometimes things have to stop working so that we will try new spiritual disciplines. The chemical high induced in the brain wears off in our relationship with God just like it does in physical world interactions.

The dark night is a time when you “feel like you lose control of your spiritual life.” Nothing you do seems to work. You tend to lose words to describe what is going on inside of you. Many tend to feel like a hypocrite, especially as they minister to others. Frequently, we continue on because we don’t know what else to do. We respond to something inside of us and keep going thanks to a blind faith. Some respond by sinning. Yet, sin does not work to satisfy either, even if it did for a moment in the past.

This made me wonder, “Is doubt a necessary process for most of us to get to true, lasting faith?”

Getting to a place where nothing works is critical for most of us because we tend to try to control our spiritual lives. God takes away these proven methods so that a greater transformation can take place below the surface. Yaconelli said, “God has to liberate you in secret because as soon as you know what is going on, you will try to control it again.”

Many of us don’t realize that the enemy of our soul is as much us sometimes as it is demonic forces. Unseen transformation frees us from our previous prisons of perception. Who God is in our lives gets bigger because walls come down. We come to discover how much we thought about God and His will for our lives was wrong. Our souls got in the way. This caused me to ask myself, “What prison in my life is of my own making?”

Spiritual enlightenment is not a linear progression. We can drift in and out of the dark night experiences. Some many never experience it. Yaconelli said, “If you think you are in dark night, you probably are not.”

Yaconelli talked about faith as a “gift.” He said it wasn’t just something we muster up on our own. This caused me to stop and think about our need for God to help us do even the basic step of believing. I am not sure where God stops and we begin on the whole faith issue. But I do know that I need God’s help to have the kind of faith that I desire.

Outlining a few action steps for navigating dark night experiences, Yaconelli said that we have to accept the darkness and be willing to enter a state of trust despite not knowing what is going on and when things will work “right” again. We may even have to pray for tears like the Desert Fathers once did. Yaconelli encouraged sojourners to let go of anything that seems forced or false. Less can truly be more as we learn to rest more in the life of Christ.

A critical step is to lean on others, especially those who have proven themselves to offer godly counsel and friendship in the past. This is difficult for many who feel spiritually isolated from other believers.

The most important thing to remember is to trust God in the darkness. God is working even though we may not see it.

Green is the New Thing

Wherever I turn, I hear people talking about green this and green that. No, I don’t mean the color. I am referring to eco-friendly, environmentalism. 

From Wal-Mart and its green purchasing initiative to my dad talking about his church putting in eco-friendly carpet, you would think the whole world has just gone crazy over saving the planet. Don’t get me wrong, I lead the recycling initiative at work, am looking for ways to cut my energy usage and love our National Parks. But I wonder if this is just another case of American “metooism.” Is this just another fad that will fade when An Inconvenient Truth can be found on the discount DVD rack for 99 cents?

Sustainability is a key principle in business now. The new idea is that green (ecological decisions) can save corporations lots of green ($$cost). I recently wrote an interview on the subject for the Pallet Enterprise (my day job). http://www.palletenterprise.com/articledatabase/view.asp?articleID=2454

What stuck out to me while working on the article is how difficult it can be to determine what is and what is not green. It all depends on your perspective and who is paying for the research.

I am all for cutting waste, reusing more stuff, reducing our impact on the planet, and being good stewards as God ordered Adam and Eve back at the beginning. At the same time, I am concerned about how people will use ecological propaganda to sell ideas and products to easily duped Americans. Thinking that you are doing something good for the planet is no excuse to blindly following the latest “green” campaign. Some of these efforts are worthwhile. Others are not.

Energy efficient light bulbs and cars make sense. “Saving forests” by using plastic products instead of wood products generally is not the best environmental decision.

Full disclosure – I do work with the forest products industry. But that doesn’t mean I am anti-environmental protection. Some of the best eco-warriors that I have ever met earn their living from the land in some way or another.

I believe trees are the answer as Dr. Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace, said in his book Green Spirit (www.greenspirit.com). We need to use more wood products because that will make sure that more land is converted and used for forests. Otherwise, people might turn this land into new housing developments or strip malls. That is true deforestation.

Better Youth Ministry? Try the Mormons

Greg Stier recently wrote an article on Youthministry.com titled, Why Mormons Do Better Youth Ministry Than We Do.  It brought up some great points. I have often been amazed at the commitment of Mormons, Jehovah’s Witness, and the like.

Stier’s article can be read at http://www.youthministry.com/?q=node/5296

Stier wrote, “Mormons expect a lot out of their teenagers. We don’t. Mormons ordain their young men into the ministry at the age of twelve. We don’t. Mormons require their teens to attend seminary every day of high school. We don’t.Mormons ask for two years in the field of every graduating senior. We don’t.”

He further commented, “Maybe that’s why we don’t meet a lot of ex-Mormons, while there are hundreds of thousands of former church attendees in the true church of Jesus Christ (of everyday saints) who flee the church after graduating from high school.
Maybe that’s why Mormons give more, work harder and are exploding as a religion.”

Many Christian student graduate from high school and go off to college for a good time. Mormons take two years to witness door-to-door as a missionary. They have figured out what they believe by training and interaction with non-believers. Many of our students don’t know what they believe or even why they believe what they do believe.

I agree with Greg Stier that we are hesitant to challenge our students in mainline churches. We don’t wont to press them too hard for fear of making them run away. But maybe this has backfired? Many of the students leave the church after high school.

There is one big difference between protestant Christians and Mormons. They believe in a works-based to salvation, which is one of the prime motivations for all their good works and hard effort. That may explain why so

The proper Christian motivation comes when we realize our sin and God’s great grace and mercy and live to please Him out of a thankful heart. While the actions should be the same, the motivations are very different. We may want to copy their zeal just not their worldview.

If we expect so little, is it any wonder that students aim so low? 

Here are some thoughts about how to raise the bar:

  • Instead of taking students on vacation-like mission trips, we should encourage and enable adolescents to go on challenging mission experiences.
  • Beyond merely standing up to pray one day at school per year, we should encourage them to lead prayer groups at school.
  • Preach/teach a God-centered worldview where we live for God and not us. This would include a strong emphasis on the Kingdom of God and what the real mission of a Christian is “to bring heaven’s rule down to earth.”
  • Instead of telling students what to think, we should teach them how to develop their own faith and be ready to defend it.
  • In a culture that is abscessed with selfish desires and momentary pleasures, older believers should model out Christian discipline and encourage teens to forego things for the cause of Christ. This calls for students to become true worshipers instead of consumers that just live for themselves.
  • Training up young people starts early in life not middle or high school. By then, they have already developed many of their personal attitudes. Parents and Christian leaders should work with young children to help them develop a love for God and desire to please Him.
  • There is a difference between teaching and entertaining. Unfortunately, we do more of the latter and not enough of the former.
  • The church and families should develop ways to challenge and inspire young people. This would include rite of passage experiences and other ways to help adolescents enter into adulthood. Many students don’t know what it means to be an adult or when they become one.
  • Student ministries must minister to families and not just students. We have to work with parents to achieve the best results. Making healthier families will go a long way in helping students grow in their faith.
  • More inter-generational ministry were older saints are mixing with students would help both groups learn to appreciate each other.
  • Creating an open culture where students can be real to express their struggles, doubts, concerns and fears.
  • One-on-one discipleship relationship with older Christians to help students overcome challenges and develop their own relationship with God.
  • Opening up opportunities for students to lead, work alongside adults and be in frontline ministry.
  • Adults have to model out the hunger, passion, devotion and discipline that we want to see in the next generation. Enough said.

What Does It Mean to Be Saved?

Sometimes we used words like “Saved” in church so much that we forget what it means. What does it mean to be saved? What are we saved to? What are we saved from?

There is so much more to being a Christian than any of us have ever imagined. So many so-called Christians accept a cheap, lifeless salvation. They think of it as getting an access card to heaven. I like to think of it as an invitation to the most incredible way to live. It is like getting the assignment of a lifetime Mission Impossible style.

We have all heard the preacher who presents the Gospel by asking, “If you were to die tonight, do you know if you would go to heaven?” The problem is that most of us don’t think we are going to die any time soon. This is especially true if you are under 30.  Maybe the better question is what if you were to live 40-65 more years, how do you know that your life would make a difference and ripple throughout history?

All too often we ask the wrong questions and subsequently many people don’t care about our answers. The Gospel is about bringing the Kingdom of God to earth. It is as much about the here and now as the afterlife.

The Gospel is something that becomes more relevant not less as we mature in the Christian faith. A well-known preacher, John Piper, once said, “You never, never, never outgrow your need for the Gospel.”

No man will ever sit on the judgment seat. Jesus Christ will decide who is accepted into God’s Kingdom. But that doesn’t mean that everyone will be there. The key question seems to be, “Do you know Jesus Christ and does He know you?”