Wednesday, December 11, 2013

3 keys to leadership

There is a lot that can be said about the appearance of Jesus to Peter on the sea shore after his resurrection. As leaders I believe we can take three key thoughts for helping the people in our groups draw closer to Jesus and each other. You remember Jesus asking Peter if he loved Him and you remember Peter saying yes three times, the third with vehemence.
Jesus was calling Peter to love him and the people he was going to be leading. As leaders we have to be drinking from the well spring of Jesus love on a daily basis. Just as Peter repeatedly affirmed his love for Jesus so must we each day. We cannot be like the man who responded to his wife's request that he tell her he loved her, "I told you 30 years ago on our wedding day. If anything changes I'll let you know." Love to be lived must be expressed. What is true of our relationship with Christ is also true of our relationship with our group members. It is imperative they know we are leading them because we love them not because we hold a leadership position.
True we are leaders and leaders - well - lead. Because we are living everyday loving Jesus we have a direction for our group. We want them to love Jesus as much as we. Our example speaks volumes. They cannot know how much we love Jesus until they see how much we love them. As the young boy told his Mom when she reminded him he was not alone because Jesus was always with him, "I know, but, I want somebody with skin on." We are the love of Jesus to our group members.
Jesus makes it clear to Peter that he is in charge of the follower’s nutrition. As we select our series and as we prepare our lessons we must not forget that the follower of Jesus feeds on the Word of God. There are a lot of great lessons to be learned that do not come from studying the Word - and they have benefit for your group. However, non is better for them in the long term than the scriptures. As milk is one of natures total nutrition foods for the Word is "God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16).
Love them
Lead them
Feed them
(I am grateful to Pastor Clinton Browning for the core concept in this Lifter)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Be Brave in the face of Power

Ron Walters is the Senior Vice President of Ministry Relations for KKLA had a great article this month and I have included it below. He hits the nail right on the head.
In the years following the Reformation, new controversies raged within the Church that Luther had left behind. The most heated was, Where had God placed the earth in His cosmos? The defining questions in this debate were, Are you geocentric? i.e., clinging to the notion that earth was the orbital center of all God's creation. Or Are you heliocentric? i.e., believing that the earth was just another planet taking its daily spin around the sun.
To side with the geocentric crowd was the safer choice; it was, after all, endorsed by the Church. Tradition has always been a powerful force. What was good for Grandpa is good enough for me!
On the flip side, those who tossed their cap into the heliocentric camp did so at their own peril. The Church of the 1500s did not encourage independent thinking. In fact, cutting-edge thinking tended to have guillotine conclusions.
However, during that time, one man had the correct answer to the geo/helio debate: Nicolaus Copernicus—but he wasn't talking.
Although Copernicus was the foremost astronomer of his day, he was also a cleric, a highly decorated member of the Church--the same church that fumed over Luther's earlier rebellion. And though his mathematical model of a heliocentric system was spot on, Copernicus just couldn't bring himself to expose the errors of the past and tell the world what he had discovered.
Copernicus worried. How can I tell people that Plato and Aristotle were nuts? How can I explain that Ptolemy didn't know what he was talking about? How do I say you're wrong to conventional thinking?"
For a thousand years the theories of these oft-quoted philosophers held the world's thinking in a stranglehold. Theirs was a science based purely upon observation. What they saw was what we got. The sun rose in the east and set in the west; therefore, they concluded, the sun revolves around the earth.
To compound their flawed thinking, the Church leadership liked the sound of those theories. They liked the idea that God staged His prized creation in the center of everything, not on some isolated, nondescript, obscure planet. Being the center of the universe appealed to the Church. That doctrine would preach!
The geocentric thinkers backed their claims with absurdity upon absurdity:
Every dropped object always falls to the earth. That is proof that the earth is the center of everything. If the earth was not the universal core, every dropped object would fall toward another true focal point.
Wind is a natural result of movement. Therefore, if the earth is in motion circling the sun, there would be an extraordinary display of wind. Where is that wind?
Who could argue with logic like that?
Certainly not Copernicus. For thirty years he kept the truth to himself. Not until his deathbed did he allow his work to be published and the truth to be known. What a waste! He chose to conceal the light from those who lived in the darkness.
On the flip side, many students of truth could not hold in what they knew.
The prophets. Even when the tide of public opinion turned against them, they wouldn't forsake their message—or the God who sent them.
The apostles. Their message was vigorously attacked by well-educated, well-funded and well-dressed opponents. Yet each proclaimer was willing to die for the truth.
The magi. Tradition says they had fame, fortune, and position. But what they wanted most were directions. "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him."
The gospel has always been good news, too good in fact to hide. There's a world of people in search of that truth. And, no doubt, they'll be dropping by during Christmas to hear it again.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Time to pray

Time is a non-replenishing resource. We get the same amount everyday, but, we don't get to "roll over" minutes to the next day. Making the most of each day is a constant effort. We are going to have the same amount of time this week, but, the holiday gives us less for the "everyday" stuff. I believe this gives us an opportunity to reflect on the time we give to prayer.
You may be thinking, "Just what I need another thing to add to my already overloaded day."  Jesus addressed our overloaded day in Matthew 11:28-30:
 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
To understand the power of this promise a little background is needed.
Following the delivery of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) Jesus went on a whirlwind tour healing, challenging and teaching (Matthew 8-9) which left him exhausted and pleading with his followers to pray for more workers in the harvest field. Right after this in chapter ten he sent out the twelve two by two to do what he had been doing, "declaring the coming of the kingdom." So we get to chapter 11 and we find him addressing key issues (is he really the messiah and how was his people to be led by such men as the pharisees). That led him to our text above. So, here is my take on what he was trying to say.
After the prayer for workers he sent the apostles out to be workers. On their return they had a much better idea of the everyday, one on one ministry needed to do the work of evangels so when he then addressed the bigger issues of messiahship and leadership change needed for the success of the evangels they must have paused and thought, "What a minute, this is much bigger than I originally thought." This wasn't about being the faithful followers of a Rabbi but being the hands and feet of the Rabbi. This was not about knowledge but about action. They must have been tired - maybe as tired as Jesus when he sent them out and so Jesus meets them where they are. "Learn of me." He did not say learn of my ministry but learn of me.
Today the path to learning of Jesus is found in our Bible reading and prayer life. The Sunday experience and the Growth Groups embed it - but if we are not constantly in prayer and meditation then the work of evangelism seems to add just one more item to our already filled to-do list. But when we spend time with God he makes is possible for us to do what we have to do so we will have the time and energy to do what we must do. Tell others about Jesus. We really don't have enough time not to pray.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Two Songs - One Message

About three weeks ago Gene Mallett, who succumbed to a two year fight with multiple myeloma last week, asked me to sit and talk with him about his memorial service. When I asked him what songs he wanted at the service he immediately said, "God Tell it on the Mountain and...well...Go Tell it on the Mountain." A couple weeks later while talking with Sheila I learned he had requested a second song as well, "We Shall Overcome." Sounds like a great sermon to me.
Jesus began his Apostles ministry in his second year by sending them out two by two. "Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give" (Matthew 10:6-8). Luke records this in Chapter Nine and then follows that with another sending, "After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves'" (Luke 10:1-3).
Many scholars believe the seventy were the disciples of the apostles who were getting their first taste of "going." Even before Jesus was lifted up on the cross he wanted his followers to know the importance of always proclaiming the kingdom of God. That command he obeyed each day he was on earth and he drummed it into his followers. Before he left he gave the final commission to go and make more disciples who will go and make more disciples.
If the apostles thought the task of discipling the world was too big they never said so. Like the words of the second song they believed Jesus and his church would snatch the lost from the grasp of this fallen world. As Peter proclaimed, "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
Paul underlined the promise of that second song by quoting from Isaiah 45:23, "‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God" (Romans 14:11-12)"
For Gene the waiting is over but he knew too many of his friends and family needed to here the call of God from the mountain so they too could finally overcome the chains of this fallen world.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

We be the church attractional & missional

I am grateful to Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson (Comeback Churches) for their great look at churches wanting to turnaround so they are not stagnant or dying. They are true “churchmen” because they believe the mission of God is to be carried out by the church of God. Here are just a few reasons why the church matters.
The church is the only institution God built and promised to bless, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). It is so precious Christ died for it as we just heard last Sunday, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). I know it is popular to talk about Jesus dying for each of us individually, but, scripture is clear that His death for our sins would be palliative without a communion of believers ready to continue His work of grace.
The church is the proclaimer and protector of divine truth. Paul reminds Timothy to take care of the church even if Paul is not around to help him, “…if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). We are to act like the church because the church is where people learn to act like God followers. Paul tells us that Christ instituted the various gifts of the Spirit so the Body of Christ could work like a well oiled machine keeping itself always ready to point people to God because, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:15-16).
The order of action was Christ – Mission – Apostles/Church. The order today is Church – Gifts – Mission. We exist and our gifts are given so people can have the opportunity to hang out and be encouraged to draw closer to God.
That is why it is so important for us, La Habra Christian Church, to focus outward. Titus wrote, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people (Titus 2:11).” Our reason for existence at 1400 Bella Vista is so we can become the church attracting as well as the church missional. We draw close to each other so we can go and tell our friends, family, co-workers, and fellow students about this gospel message given to all once and for all.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Stick to what you are gluing

I decided to glue something yesterday. I know, I am not that guy. You know, the one with "fixing" skills. But, it was just one metal piece to another and the glue tube said it could be done in three easy steps. I cleaned the surfaces, applied the glue (more or less sparingly) and then held the pieces together; with my fingers. 
The good news is the items stuck to each other. The bad news is the items stuck to me as well. I guess there is one other piece of news - I wont be passing any finger print scans for awhile.
It made me wonder about how we try to get people to "stick" to church. We have special meals with invitation cards. We put together "attraction" sermon series with invitation cards and even newspaper articles. We greet first time guests and tell them how glad we are to see them. We make sure the worship time has plenty of explanations for what is happening. 
With all of that we are still only keeping 15% of our first time guests and we are only seeing 2 to 3 first time guests each Sunday. Maybe we need to be unafraid to let those guest stick to us.
So we loose a little personal time. Maybe we end up taking phone calls and texts at odd hours from those guests. We could even find ourselves having to answer questions like, "Do you welcome gay couples here?" 
When we try to glue our guests to our body we are probably not doing a very good job if some of ourselves don't get stuck to them. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Traits needed for good parenting

Most Americans believe good mothers and fathers must be loving, supportive and protecting, but fewer see the necessity of parents having a commitment to Christianity or religion, according to a LifeWay Research survey released May 7. The survey, conducted in March, gauged opinions of the expected roles of parents at a time when Americans typically begin giving thought to Mother's Day and Father's Day.

According to the survey, "Loving" is the No. 1 characteristic deemed mandatory for both mothers and fathers (80+ percent) with "supporting," "protecting," "encouraging" and "involved" sharing the number two slot. Interestingly the characteristic most depicted in movies and on TV, "fun," garnered only 50% of the vote.

What the researchers found concerning was that Americans don't necessarily see as mandatory traits of good mothers and fathers are religious convictions, including being a committed Christian which showed at 35%. But that is not so surprising when we realize the "religious" and even "Christian" are concepts most Americans equate with legalistic and intolerant.

I am more inclined to see the results as Americans accepting the traits that best typify a follower of Jesus as being the important traits for a parent. It is difficult to be consistently loving, supportive, protecting, encouraging, and involved unless you are living your life to a higher standard than the natural requirements in the world. These qualities are not natural. They are normal to God's followers who set aside the natural for His normal.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A sending God

UK blogger Andrew Jones explains: "Missio Dei [the mission of God] stems from the Triune God: the Father sends the Son, the Father and the Son send the Spirit, the Father and Son and the Spirit send the church into the world." So a missional church is about doing God's work in the world today.
Nice, succinct and to the point - as long as I believe the underlying truth, "There is not relationship with God without Christ" which is the first stage of Jones litany. To agree to this truth is to agree to a darker truth, "without Jesus one's eternal future is in hell." Does that make God intolerant? Yes, intolerant of sin. Without Christ there is no hope for you and I or our well meaning friend who has not accepted Jesus. This truth has kept me up more nights than I can count. Here is what Paul said about "his people."
"I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit—I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel (Rom. 9:1–4).
Brian Jones in Non-Religious Devotional Thoughts 10/14/2013 asks us this series of questions, "How about you? Do you feel great sorrow and unceasing anguish for that non-Christian friend you work with? That Jewish neighbor? That Hindu person who works at the restaurant you frequent? If not, why not? To me there are only two answers to that question: You either don’t believe in hell, or you don’t care that your friends will go there when they die. There’s no middle ground here. Most Christians I meet either don’t believe that their non-Christian friends are going to hell, or worse, don’t care. Are you one of them?"
We may wish they would come to the church but, the commission says "go make" not "come become." The church needs to be attractive - that is part of doing Jesus in the community. The problem arises from making beauty of church more important than making the church mobile.
Mike Breen, pastor at Community Church of Joy near Phoenix, Arizona, says. "The missional church is rooted in not just the New Testament church of Acts, but in the mission of Jesus himself. A missional church lives out the church's three-dimensional calling: to be upwardly focused on God in worship that is passionate; to be inwardly focused on community among believers that is demonstrated in relationships of love and compassion; and to be outwardly focused on a world that does not yet know God."
To do this means an attitude shift described by Pastor Janetta Cravens, of First Christian Church in Macon, Georgia, "We are moving from seeing ourselves as a church who needs members from the community to seeing ourselves as being in a community whose members need the church. We've realized we're here to serve the community in unique ways."

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

We are free to disciple

"Everything is permissible"--but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is constructive"1 Corinthians 10:23.
When I first read this in my pre-teens I rejoiced. Clearly God had set me free from my parent's crushing hand of tyranny. I could hear the Apostle Paul telling me to engage in any and all pursuits that caught my interest. I had missed the qualifying "beneficial" aspect of the "everything" statement which my Dad corrected for me the first time I came into the house with a cigarette in my mouth claiming God over rode parents. My lesson, though hard come by - Dad was a "rod straightens out the child" kind of person - has been an ongoing tutorial.
Like most people who come to the faith I was very interested in the freedoms of that faith. I mistakenly assumed that as long as I practiced my faith in a way that did not harm God, myself, or my church I was free to live out my relationship with God and others as I pleased. I believe the main reason we, the members of His body the church, do not bring others to church is because we truly believe we are free to not bring them. After all, "everything is permissible." As long as we do not sin we are comfortable, even validated, in our personal relationship with God through Christ. 
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Verse 24 following the text reads, "Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others." That is the definition of "beneficial." How we choose to live out our relationship with God is open to enjoying His bountiful creation "as long as" what we do points others back to Him. God feels so strongly about this He gave as His final command, "Go." While it is true Matthew 28:19's opening phrase is better translated, "As you are going make disciples..." it's meaning in the original language carries the force of command to make disciples. We are not asked to go as we please. We are commanded to make disciples wherever we please to go. 
Just as accepting Jesus as our lord and savior is non negotiable for acceptance by Him so making disciples is non negotiable to living with Him.
Disciplining is not an elective and it begins with a simple invitation to our acquaintances to come and see Jesus through His church. If you are uncertain how to disciple someone else I recommend as a great place to start.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

September 17, 2013 - The church is God's missional & missionsal tool for evangelism

"I don't have the spiritual gift of evangelism" is a sentence I am used to hearing. I have heard it since I was 9 years old and our family were traveling from church to church attempting to raise full-time support to be missionaries in Africa. Usually that sentence is made in the context of us (our family) being special chosen ones to take the Good News to the "lost" while the speaker stayed home and attended church supporting the special ones, which usually included the local Pastor.
I have always assumed that rational came from the American penchant for "specializing" all jobs. Doctors have a specialty as do lawyers, plumbers, and chefs. It makes sense to us to think of the work of the church requiring specialists for evangelism as we do for preaching. Makes sense, but, it is wrong.
From its inception the church, the collected body of believers, was gifted so that the church could finish the mission Jesus gave us. That commission is the presentation of the Good News to people in such a way that they can understand its impact for their lives and make an informed decision to accept or reject it. That is why all churches are missional - they want their body to be active in presenting the Good News in their daily lives. The fruit of that is the increase in baptisms and usually numbers of members as well as attendees. When evangelism is set in the context of our family and neighbors it requires that we be missional in our everyday lives.
When evangelism is set in the context of people whose cultures differ radically or whose homes are geographically removed it requires us to support missions to those people and areas. The collected body of Jesus, the church, is God's tool for effective evangelism mission-ally and missions-ally.
I remember my Dad's response to one person who asked about becoming a "missionary." Dad asked who that young man was discipling (being missional to) to become a follower of Jesus. "No one, I don't have the gift of evangelism, yet," he replied. My Dad's answer was a conversation stopper, "If you aren't evangelizing among the people you know you are not going to do any better among the people you don't know."
Jesus' recorded words in Acts 1:8 apply to every church (the collected body of believers) both missionally and missionsally, "But you [all] will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you [all] will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
How is La Habra Christian Church (you all the collected body of believers) doing in these two areas?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Did Y'all Get That?

English is wonderful language. We are able to clearly and concisely express our ideas. When used properly English leaves little room for misunderstanding what is being said or written. Certainly there are contextual and emotional parameters that cloud meaning, but, as to the specific words used the meaning is, for the most part, clear. It is the "for the most part" that trips us up. Take the pronoun "you" for example.
One word used to refer to the second person singular (you the reader) and to the second person plural (you the readers), depending on the context. When used by Westerners it most commonly is used in the second person singular. That is unless you come from the South where we speak clearly to "you" or to "y'all" depending on the context.
However, in communal cultures, such as the culture during the time of Jesus, it most commonly refers to second person plural unless clearly otherwise in the context.
"So what" you ask? Good question.
Throughout the New Testament instructions and commands are often given to "you" which you and I read as to one person (Sherman in my case) when the hearers of that day would have heard as y'all. I believe this misunderstanding has led us to put more emphasis on the individual which has created a false assumption about our responsibilities as followers of Jesus. We assume that we as individuals are responsible to Jesus' Mission, or, the Pastor, as an individual, is responsible for the Church. We dilute the effort of the Church and minimize the contribution of the individual when we attempt to place specific responsibilities on a person rather than the people of the Church. Two passages from the Acts of the Apostles will illustrate.
Acts 1:7-10 records the ascension of Jesus. Just before He is lifted away He has one final instruction to reiterate. That He chose this one over so many others shows its ultimate importance. He could have reminded us of the love we are to have for each other, or, the need to live holy lives, but, he chose to say;
“It is not for you [all] to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you [all] will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you [all]; and you [all] will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Got it? The Great Commission was not given to individuals but to the gathered who were about to become the Church. Luke got it. Following Peter's message Luke records these words:
"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved" Acts 2:42-47.
To make a long lecture a little less long I will summarize:
Y'all be witnesses together, Y'all decide how to do that best in your cultural setting, Y'all do it to direct people to Jesus, and Jesus will do the saving. The Church, not the individual, is God's tool for directing people to Himself through Jesus.
We can hang out together or we can get hung up separately - the former is God's "normal" and the latter is our "natural."

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

You are really lucky - you get to go to boarding school.

I was ten when my Mom and Dad decided the best course of action for my education was to place me in boarding school. Our family had been in Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia) for six months starting a new mission work in the south eastern part of the country while living some 200 miles from that site with New Zealand missionaries. I had been able to attend school with their children locally but now we were moving. I don't remember being concerned that I was not included in the discussion. I assumed my parents had my best interest at heart and went along with all the change entailed. Until:
I remember the day and half trip from Mashoko Mission to Bulawayo interrupted by a shopping spree for my uniform which included a blazer and tie I was expected to wear every day. On the day my Dad took me to Hillside Boarding School I remember being nervous and it must have shown. As we pulled up to the school Dad looked at me and said, "You are really lucky - you get to go to boarding school. Do you know how many of your friends would have liked to be away from their parents as well?" Then we laughed and I my nervousness changed to eagerness. 
Those are still three of the best years of my life. I reveled in the sense of adventure that came almost everyday. How different it would have been had Dad not properly prepared me. How different it would have been if I had not daily felt the love of my parents to that point. How different it would have been had he said, "Thanks for sacrificing yourself for the good of the work."
When Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5, "More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." we can say, "I am really lucky - I get to sacrifice for Jesus."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How to get from here to there

I am one of those men who asks for directions. There I said it. I am not particularly proud of it but I have always preferred to ask than to wander - well, most of the time. There was that time in Athens while walking to the Parthenon I took Judi on a walking tour of the city saying every 30 minutes or so, "It can't be that far - I can see it from here." Other than that...
I have, however, found that asking for directions can be almost as frustrating as just striking out in hopes of landing on the right spot. There is an old farmer's story of a salesman who was trying to find a particular farm in the hills of Kentucky. Seeing a farmer standing beside his tractor next to the road he stopped to ask for directions. 
"Well, turn around and head back about 1 mile to the Topper Store and turn left. Then watch for a barn with checkered roofing cause in a little bit you'll come on to dirt road on your left - take the next left..." After five minutes of directions the salesman headed out only to end up back at the same tractor with the same farmer 30 minutes later. Frustrated he called out, "I followed your directions exactly and still ended up back here."
That's good cause I wasn't gonna go to the trouble of telling you where to go till I was sure you could follow directions."
There is something exhilarating about just starting out to see where we end up, but, if we have a particular destination in mind it is good directions we will need.
You and I want to see more people who do not follow Jesus choose to follow him. For that to happen we are going to have to follow some basic directions. 
We must agree the church is God's tool for directing them:
"His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord" Ephesians 3:10-11.
"So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" Ephesians 4:11-13.
"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen" Ephesians 3:20-21.
There is a lot more in Ephesians directing the church in its primary mission I recommend it as of first importance.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

I was one of the lucky ones

.I knew who I wanted to marry the moment I met her, however, I was pretty sure (OK positive) she would not have anything to do with me. Talk about above my pay grade! She was beautiful, had a great voice, was a knock out, could hold her own in an argument about Paul's misogamist leanings, what a looker, and she had made a decision to serve overseas (the Peace Corps). Did I mention her eyes?
We met during a week my family lead the missions section of the VBS at her church so when she showed up at my school that Fall as one of the College group from the church she was attending while studying at Ohio University I felt blessed. Really! Then she asked me to show her around - me! After a half hour of non-stop from me on the school, town, family she suddenly stopped me and said, "If you don't kiss me I am going to go crazy!" 
For a minute I thought I had said what I was thinking out loud. Then I realized it was her - talking to me. Well, the rest is in the history books, but, I will never forget how incredibly honored and awed I felt when she selected me to be stand next to her. Still do. It is what picks me up when I am down, shores me up when I am low, and warms my heart when it turns cold.
I tell this story to remind myself how I felt the first time I really heard Jesus say, "I love you; the real you; the you you try to hide from everyone else. I love you and have loved you before you even cared if I loved you."
There is no feeling that comes close to revealing our debt of gratitude to Him for saying that to each and everyone one of us. When life trips us, buries us in minutia, batters us with conflict the only force to pick us up and move us forward is this promise from Paul, "The love of Christ constrains us..." (2 Corinthians 5:14).

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Capturing Social Media For Christ

Dancing has never been one of my strong suits, but, that has not stopped people from putting me in positions where I had to do something that appeared to look like dancing. 
As a teen I was taught to dance in the Shona style and my Dad required I perform at my wedding in Zimbabwe by asking the Chief to make it a royal decree. During the Disco era Judi took me to dancing classes to learn the "Travolta" disco. Neither were all that pretty. So you can guess how I feel about Square Dancing. 
I do admire the callers "docy doeing" and "change your partners" cadence and marvel at the way the dancers seem to anticipate each sudden change of direction, but, after a brief trial run put it into the "not a Sherman thing" pretty quick. I realized as I watched from a safe distance that most of the changes being called were in some "Square Dancers Procedures Manuel" and therefore not sudden or unexpected at all. In fact there were no "make'em up changes" that could be thrown in on a whim. "Toss your partner an ice cold drink, now, slug it down before they can think."
I believe change in life is very similar. There are a limited number of options to chose from when faced with any given situation. The fact that those options may not be personally desirable, I believe, is the reason most of us resist change. We want to make up our own set of options and one of them is almost always to reject the change or to to reject the personal responsibility to adapt to the change. 
Social media is a big change for many of the "boomer" generation and not a few of the "buster." I have learned, the hard way, that rejecting it on the basis of my age only leaves me disconnected from family and friends (and even workmates) who have adopted its use. I have had quite a bit of time to adapt to this new reality and am therefore "without excuse" if I persist in rejecting texting, tweeting, facebooking, and, linkdening. 
The core outcome sought by these media are the same as the ones I desired first as a completely "unconnected" person in the bush of Zimbabwe and later as an early adopter of email. Relationship, communication, and inclusion are universals among God's sentient creation. I reject the new methods at my own peril of being left out of the loop and on the side lines.
For that same reason the church, God's tool for administering God's Gospel, resists adapting to the changing environment around us. We do not face extinction but the far worse fate of irrelevance. We have something far more precious than a video of cats meowing the theme from Wolverine - if there isn't one I am sure there will be one soon enough. Capturing our culture for Christ requires that we put our technology where our hearts are. I am trying - I encourage you to do the same.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Without a Vision We Cannot Win

In sports the win/loss record determines the success and/or failure of the team. A win is pretty clear cut for most games. If the basket goes through the hoop more times for the highest score at the end of time, the team wins. In golf if the ball goes in the cup more times with less swings, the golfer wins. However, each season of every sport there are teams that redefine their win. The coach may claim that a win for the team is to rebuild the team from veterans to young players. The win may be to end the season with a 500 win/loss record. The win could also be to fill the stands xx% more this year than last year. When the win is redefined the approach is also redefined.
The same can be said of the church. Knowing what we want people to "go and do" allows us to focus our energies on the most important aspects of our ministry. This last week the Elders approved the following "win" for La Habra Christian Church in the coming months and years.
“LHCC is the place for people to come and hang out and be encouraged to take their next step in growing closer to God."
There are a couple aspects of this vision statement I particularly like. The focus is on people. Our Mission Statement has always caused us to think in terms of people rather than projects as we Share Jesus by Caring for People. Peter reminds us that God is not willing that any should perish but that all come to eternal life (2 Peter 3:9). To that end we focus on the crown of God's creation, people.
"Hanging out" may not seem all that strong a focus until you realize that people do not attach to someone or something unless they believe it is worth while. John Maxwell has said, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Creating an environment where people are willing to "hang" around long enough to hear about God in a context they are prepared to accept or reject is critical to our ministry. As we develop our action steps we will want to find multiple ways for people to "hang out" and be "encouraged to take the next step in growing closer to God." 
May God continue to guide us on our vision to help people grow closer to God and make a choice to follow His Son Jesus. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Siezing the Opportunity

I have heard the phrase "carpe diem" which means to seize the day and it used to encourage us to use every day as an opportunity to succeed in our efforts. However, what is an opportunity? The Apostle Paul encourages us to, "Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Colossians 4:5-6). What opportunity is he referring to?
The etymology of the English word "opportunity" comes from the Latin "ob portu." It was used by ships Captians of the right time to pull into a harbor when the vessels had no motor and had to rely on the currents and the wind. They would wait outside the harbor until the tide was coming which was considered the "ob portu" (literally "into port") knowing that missing that moment would mean another day's wait.
There circumstances must align for "ob portu" to be utilized. First there had to be a port to enter. Second something on board worth docking to deliver. Finally, the right conditions to enter the port.
Looking at Paul's observation I believe we can see three conditions for us to make the most of every opportunity. First we need to see the need among the people who do not follow Jesus in our circle of influence. Once we find the area in their lives that would be most affected by choosing to follow Jesus we look for the second condition.
The second condition seems to be the one we feel less likely to recognize in ourselves which is the ability to be able to demonstrate through our lives and words that Jesus has what they need and can fulfill their lives. Jesus promised he would give us the words even if we were arrested - so relying on the Spirit to supply will allow us to meet condition two.
When we accept the truth of the first two condition - we have what they need and we are able to help them to see that - then we must set sail as soon as there is an opening. We tend to look for opportunities and then try to look for the need and the words. When we have the first two in place we will be ready to respond to the opportunity no matter when or where it occurs.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

How Important is Prayer Really?

Lake City, Arkansas' elementary school canceled their sixth grade graduation ceremony after a parent complained about the inclusion of a Christian prayer at the event, according to Christy Barritt ( The school had received letters from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom From Religion Foundation threatening legal action. Parents then found a church willing to host the graduation and invited all students to participate.
Why would they take such drastic measures for lack on one prayer? 
It turns out that prayer is far more than a ceremonial reference to God. Florida State University released results of five compiled studies that showed praying for close friends or romantic partners can lead to more forgiveness and overall cooperative behavior (also from Barritt). Dr. Frank D. Fincham of FSU said, "The value of the current studies is that we have objective measures to show that colloquial, intercessory prayer focused on the partner changes observable behavior." 
What is true for partners must also be seen as true for one's children. Prayer is a force for God's good being done in the world. When parents pray for their children there will be less anger and frustration. This is not a devout hope but a verifiable truth. In a world in which we are asked to "think positive thoughts" to improve our relationships the FSU study found that positive thoughts combined with prayer led to higher levels of cooperative tendencies and forgiveness.
The parents who canceled a ceremony because it lacked a single prayer were saying the ceremony had no efficacy without the force offered by prayer for the children and the family.
When you pray today take heart that your time with God will positively affect your time with those for whom you pray.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"Does your Dad know you are here?"

"Does your Dad know you are here?"
Those words sent a shiver down my six year old spine and caused me to reevaluate my priorities. 
It was a Summer day in 1952 and like all summer days for children, boring. I had nothing to do, I thought, and my Mom's answer to, "Go out and play" seemed empty of promise until I realized she had not specified where "out" was. Out was a big place. Surely out included my friend, Johnny Tierny's house. It was only over the railroad tracks and along the creek a ways. I was pretty sure I could find it and the walk could be exciting.
Just as I was about to cross the railroad tracks I heard the voice of God - or so it seemed until I turned and looked up to see the Bank's president leaning out of his second story window. He was an Elder at First Church of Christ and like most people in that little town of Olive Hill, Kentucky, knew the "preacher's kid" by sight.
"Yes?" I answered though the question mark was probably very clear to Mr. King. It was the only thing I could think to say and immediately felt guilty. 
"OK, well, I will just call the Church Office and let him know you are alright." 
Up to that point in my journey I was focused on finding excitement. Excitement that I could not find in my own back yard. However, his offer to call my Dad completely changed my priorities. My new priority was to avoid the inevitable spanking for disobedience. "That's OK," I squeaked out, "I was just heading back home anyway" and I turned and began to run home. 
The decisions we make in life are based on our priorities for life. I have found if I keep God close to me, like Louie King six decades ago, I will be challenged to chose the more worthy path. It has proved to be just as exciting and on that same day while playing in the back yard I still managed to climb the Empire State Building and slay King Kong to save the day. Better yet I did not have a date with Dad's belt.
"...the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son" (Hebrews 12:6).

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

It is not just a shepherd's staff

When Moses met God at the burning bush one of God’s proofs that He was with Moses was to have him throw his staff on the ground. “What’s that in your hand, Moses?”
“Uh, well, just my shepherd’s staff.”
“Throw it on the ground.”
“Ekk it’s a snake!” Ok maybe Moses didn’t say ekk but really, if it had been you wouldn’t you have said something like that?
“Now pick it up.”
“By the tail, of course.” God is so practical.
Moses had been carrying that staff for 40 years as a shepherd. It was his symbol of his personal power, protection, and provision for his flock. But from the moment he picked up that snake by the tail only to be holding his staff it became a symbol of God’s miracles in front of the Egyptians and the Israelites.
So the Question for you and I is this, “What’s that in your hand.” What skills, provisions, time, abilities and resources do we personally possess? What do we lean on as our source of power, protection, and provision?
Under God’s direction, are we willing to throw these things down? Release our control and ownership of them so God can change them before our eyes into whatever He wants to remind us that when we pick them up – though they look the same they are now signs of His power, provision, and protection of us?
When we open our hands to God we will have the privilege to be part of his miracles today. My thanks to Pastor Brian Kluth who wrote in his book, Open Handed Giving in a Tight Fisted World, “What may be our prized possessions, proven skills, personal positions of influence, prideful accomplishments, available time, or stored-up resources can become part of a living miracle when we yield whatever is in our hands to be used by the Lord.”

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

How to avoid getting stuck.

"Don't drive through the field - just go around."
"Avoid large water puddles on the road."
"Check the depth of the river before trying to cross."
"When your vehicle length exceeds the width of the river crossing you will get hung up."
Those are only four of the instructions I ignored on my way to getting a Willy's Jeep so stuck so that all four tires could free wheel. Had I followed the instructions I would have saved countless hours, not had to assist in a baby delivery in a muddy field, not had to be towed by a Land Rover out of a river bed, and not had to excavate a dry river bed so my tires could touch the ground.
Following the instructions of wise counselors is a short cut to success. 
Fortunately, I have gotten better at listening to and even soliciting instructions from people who have done what I am attempting. My spiritual growth has been accelerated on more than one occasion by mentors who have directed me to specific books or articles. My relational growth has progressed at the same speed with which I gather advice from friends and family who know me well and see my flaws more clearly than I. My professional life has been better navigated because of the many ministers and professors who have written on experiences and issues I have not yet encountered.
We can all learn from wise counsel. Who are your wise counselors? Which one do you need to contact today for insight and correction. I find beginning the day with the most wise of all counselors, my Lord, opens my mind to the rest of the counselors in my life.
 Proverbs 11:14 
Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. 
 1 John 4:1 
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"I knew what you wanted to say."

Did you ever wish you had an interpreter? If you have taken a vacation in a country where English is a foreign   language you probably have. Even the simplest thing needs charade like antics to become clear. But the worst is when you know a little of the language and think you have a bead on what you need to say and how you believe they will reply.
I tried to get bug spray in Rome and by the time Pam and I had finally found someone who guessed the the right word from our "looks like" "sounds like" communication we were in stitches and the sales lady was laughing with us, or, at us - that is still unclear.
One our new missionary doctors who took great pride in his language learning repeatedly gave a man pepto bismal because the man said he was "wafa mudumbo wangu" only to find that while mudumbo was stomach the actual sentence was not, "I am sick in my belly" but "my pregnant wife is sick." 
I believe one of the biggest mistakes we can make is believing that communication styles have changed but meanings have not. Even the simple changes from "bad" being terrible to "bad" being incredible signal the danger. Given that communication is less than 30% verbal then everything from our posture to our location becomes a giant opportunity to miscommunicate. The real problem is not that we miscommunicate but that we only get one chance to communicate with most guests and if that is a miscommunication we have lost the opportunity to open their eyes to the savior we so desperately want them to get to know.
The care with which we are approaching the face lift of the property and building along with the effort we are making to clarify our vision and what a win would look like with that vision is more than warranted. Because we are dealing with an eternal outcome for those we touch we cannot afford to take any shortcuts or overlook any information that would inform our efforts.
My first interpreter used the three sentences I spoke on the subject of the wise and foolish man to preach a short sermon that ended with 6 decisions. As we walked away from that village I told Watson, "I didn't say all that.' To which he replied, "Yes, but I knew what you wanted to say."
I have spent the last 55 years of my life wanting to say the right thing that will bring people to Jesus. May our present efforts, as difficult as they are, be for that very purpose.