An Audience of One

I live before the audience of One – before others I have nothing to gain, nothing to lose, nothing to prove. ~  From Os Guiness’ book “The Call”

Throughout the course of my life, I’ve been able to choose some cars that I would classify as fairly “cool.”

My first car was an Opel GT, which looked like a miniature Corvette.

I’ve driven trucks, SUVs and sleek sedans. In the last 20 years, 4 wheel drive has been pretty standard.

But when grandson Jude was born in 2015, I realized that with this new addition to the family, I needed a vehicle that provided more passenger space.

So, I went bought one of the most uncool cars known to man.

I bought a minivan.

Some of the memes that have taken shots at the minivan include these zingers:

  • The minivan: time to admit you’ve given up!
  • Mom’s minivan: less conformist than the bus.
  • “I used to be cool” – the only sticker you should put on a minivan
  • “Cool minivan!” – said nobody ever
  •  “I just bought a minivan. Now I’m turning in my man card.”

Not a whole lot of love out there for the minivan, is there?!

But, my minivan has a least one ardent fan: Jude.

Simply put, Jude thinks my minivan is the best!

Recently, I asked Jude what his favorite type of car is. His answer came without hesitation. “A van!”

And why not? The doors slide open automatically and there’s a DVD player hanging from the ceiling. And the stereo plays Beatles and VBS songs.

We all fit in the van’s cabin. Even the dog has a spot on the floor.

Last year while on a family trip to the east coast, Jude’s mom and dad had to rent a car. And they ended up with a van just like mine. Which thrilled Jude to no end.

So, for all the minivan hate going on out there, I’m actually quite happy.

Because the only person that matters to me is the opinion of the person who gets to ride in my van. If Jude’s happy, I’m happy.

I think that’s how it’s supposed to be with God.

So often we worry about what others think.

But the only thing that really matters in this life is what God thinks.

His opinion should drown out all others.

Winston Churchill once made this declaration:

“I hear it said that leaders should keep their ears to the ground. All I can say is that the British nation will find it very hard to look up to the leaders who are detected in that somewhat ungainly posture. Nothing is more dangerous…than to live in the temperamental atmosphere of a Gallup Poll–always feeling one’s pulse and taking one’s temperature.” 

The Apostle Paul, in Romans 12:2 made this important statement about not going with the flow, but rather going with God in all things:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

According to Jesus, it’s what God thinks of us that matters, not what others think .

Remember, it was Jesus who taught us to pray in private where no one could see us, rather than in front of people in an attempt to get credit for being spiritual (Matt. 6:6).

In other words, we are to live for God and not others.

So here’s the question: Do we strive to get attention and applause from others without considering what God thinks?

Jesus invites us to let go of that competitive struggle and to trust that God’s opinion of us is the only one that ultimately counts.

How would our lives be different if we truly lived our life to an audience of One?

Certainly our sense of pride, envy and competition would fade, because we would no longer need to worry about proving ourselves to others.

I don’t know who wrote it, but this two-line poem does a great job at redirecting a person’s mind to be about living for God’s sole attention:

Only one life, ’twill soon be past

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Advertisements

We’re Not Quite There…Yet

It’s the Monday after Easter Weekend.

On Friday evening we held a Good Friday service full of scripture, song, reflection, imagery and communion.

On Sunday we went into full celebration mode, starting the morning with a fellowship breakfast, kid’s crafts and a humongous egg hunt. Then, at the service, we experiences rousing music, testimonies, a kid’s message, and a sermon that focused on the victory that comes from knowing Jesus. It was a blast thinking about the risen Savior in so many ways.

If there is a scripture that I think best described the spirit of yesterday’s events, I’d say it comes from Romans 8. Read it through and soak in the messages of hope, assurance and victory:

Romans 8:31-39 (NIV) ~ What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us,who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

From the cross to the empty tomb, Easter provides an amazing narrative of how God has fully provided for our spiritual needs.

But now its Monday, and I’m back in my office doing church stuff again.

  • I have a message to write for next Sunday.
  • One of our church members is in hospice.
  • We have some couples struggling with marriage.
  • Others are trying to navigate parenthood.
  • All of us are still faced with the daily battle with sin.
  • Some of us feel like our faith hangs by a thread.

To be honest, after all that celebrating on Sunday, it fells a little deflating to come in on Monday and be facing the same old battles. Didn’t we just spend yesterday exalting God’s victory over all these struggles that continue to ail us?

Here’s the reality: the battle has been won, but we have yet to experience the victory in it’s fullness.

Although Jesus fully paid for our sins, we still wait to understand what that fully looks like.

Rather than whisk us all up to heaven for the ultimate party, God still has us on this planet to carry out his mission.

That’s because not everyone has laid claim to the victory God provides to whoever will receive it.

I think the challenge is this: to lay claim to an attitude of victory, even as we navigate the multitude of challenges this life throws at us.

This is what I see going on in 2 Corinthians 4, where Paul attempts to balance the struggles of this world with the awareness that one day our struggles will be no more.

In 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, Paul writes:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

 And later in the chapter, Paul comes to this conclusion:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

All in all, I’ve come to this understanding: We do have reason to celebrate. And we ought not miss the opportunity to do so! But, that doesn’t mean we cease from our labors.

The fields are still ripe for harvest.

God wants more people to come to the party.

He's still risen the day after

 

 

Good Friday Message 2019

In the song we just sang, the phrase “you are worthy” is repeated over and over again. And it’s a great reminder that the reason Jesus was able to conquer sin and conquer death was because Jesus is truly worthy. That’s what makes Good Friday truly good!

Jesus was able to accomplish what we are not able to do.

Of Jesus worthiness, Thomas Brooks said this:

“Our sins are debts that none can pay but Christ. It is not our tears, but His blood; it is not our sighs, but His sufferings, that can testify for our sins. Christ must pay all, or we are prisoners forever.”

And that He did!

….

When we think about the events of the crucifixion, the most common symbol we refer to is the cross.

The cross was a well-known implement of execution in the Roman world.

And it was to a cross that Jesus was nailed to suffer and die in our place.

But what was it that was used to attach Jesus to the cross?

It was metal nails, three nails to be specific.

Two in each of his wrists, one to secure his feet to the wooden cross.

The question I have, and perhaps some of you have wondered as well, is: How is it that the creator God of the universe…the one the Bible describes as all-powerful, could be constrained by three measly nails?

And the answer is this: by His design and by His decision. The reason the nails held Jesus in place because of God’s will to do so.

Interestingly, Rick Warren posted this truth on Instagram a couple days ago:

“Jesus could have saved himself – but then he couldn’t have saved you.”

Perhaps no scripture captures the essence of what really took place on that cross than what Paul wrote to the Philippian Christians in Philippians chapter 2.

In it we discover something theologians refer to as THE KENOSIS, a Greek word that speaks to the idea of “emptying out” or “self-emptying.”

Beginning in verse 1, Paul reveals the motivation of his teaching: His desire is that the Philippians embrace humility and selflessness toward one another.

Here’s Paul’s exhortation:

1 So, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

But then at verse 5, Paul decides to use what I would describe as the SUPREME EXAMPLE of selflessness to illustrate his point:

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied (kenosis) himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

For me, I sum up this passage like this: Jesus’ determinate obedience results in my life-saving and life-transforming blessing.

….

At any point of Jesus arrest, trials, torture and crucifixion, Jesus could have said, “No more of this!”

In fact, when Jesus was arrested Peter tried to thwart God’s plan from going forward.

Do you remember how Peter took out a sword in an effort to defend and protect Jesus?

To which, according to Matthew chapter 26, Jesus replied to Peter’s efforts by saying:

 

52“Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53 Are you not aware that I can call on My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?”…

When nailed to the cross, Jesus could have effortlessly popped the nails out of place and climbed down.

But He didn’t.

He remained in the pain, the agony and the suffering.

Even to the point of death.

Why? Because Jesus’ death was not arbitrary but intensely strategic and purposeful.

As often described in the New Testament, God’s plan for salvation was conceived “before the foundations of the world!”

And this mission of Jesus was revealed to Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, before Jesus was even born.

If you recall from the first chapter of Matthew, an angel of the Lord came to Joseph in the form of a dream to help Joseph understand what God was doing through Mary.

Here’s what the angel said:

20 “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which s conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Jesus went forward for one reason: He knew it was God’s plan for Him to die. And He knew it was God’s plan because by His death He would become the final sacrifice for the sins of the whole human race.

The nails in Jesus’ hands and feet were only us able to hold him because he allowed them to.

But what really held Jesus on the cross was God’s passionate purpose to draw us out of darkness into light; out of death into life; out of sin’s bondage and into the Spirit’s freedom.

God is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-wise.

But for our sake, He placed limitations upon Himself that we might escape sin’s curse.

Of the cross work of Jesus, Matthew Henry said:

“Come, and see the victories of the cross. Christ’s wounds are thy healings, His agonies thy repose, His conflicts thy conquests, His groans thy songs, His pains thine ease, His shame thy glory, His death thy life, His sufferings thy salvation.”

 

Move into communion…

Thank You, Society

This morning I was struck with a strong sense of gratitude.

The reason was this: I wondered to myself what life would have been like if Aaron had been born 40 years ago.

As I recalled my teen years (1970’s), I remembered how people with special needs were often ostracized and ridiculed.

I know this personally, because I was among the numbers of those whose profound immaturity, insecurity and lack of understanding caused me to keep a clear distance from those who were mentally challenged.

Such people would often find themselves the butt of one my cruel jokes.

In a word, my behavior was pathetic. Yet, such behavior was pretty much the norm in society.

Then I wondered what it would have been like if Aaron had been born 80 years ago.

And, based on the accounts of those who lived in the mid 20th century, I learned that at this time in history, the common response to dealing with a person with Down syndrome was to place them in an institution, completely separated from society.

In fact, when we first adopted Aaron, it wasn’t uncommon to have older people ask us why we weren’t putting him in an institution.

To me, the sad thing about putting such people in institutions was that their potential to enrich and bless society would never be realized.

But Aaron wasn’t born in the 30’s or the 60’s. He was born in 1992. Which means his life has been met with much more compassion, understanding and inclusiveness.

Bottom line, society has greatly improved its relations with special needs individuals.

Aaron leading worship at VBS

Although there have been a few isolated incidents of teasing (primarily during the school years), by and large Aaron’s life has been full of affirmation and inclusion. The good stuff has dramatically outweighed the bad.

He’s fully engaged at his work, in his church and in his community.

Simply put, Aaron has a life, and a full life indeed.

aaron seahawks

The Ultimate Seahawks fan

He has relationships that are meaningful and he enjoys work that is purposeful.

Thanks to the compassion and generosity of many, Aaron gets involved in life rather than being a spectator. Or even worse, someone who isn’t even invited to the table.

So, with a sincere heart, I say, “Thank you, society!”

In some ways, the world can seem like its going downhill fast. There are some aspects of society that make my jaw drop in disbelief…sometimes even despair.

But on this front –  the care and inclusion of those with lesser abilities – my experience has been that society is courageously rising up and beautifully ringing the bell.

 

The Essentials of Transformation

When it comes to the changes God wants to bring about in our lives, the list can seem a mile long.

We know our faults. We know our struggles. We know our embedded temptations.

Each one of us has our own unique patterns of sinfulness.

I may struggle with something that doesn’t seem to be an issue for you, and likewise, you may battle a particular sin that doesn’t seem to have such a grip on me.

Yet, at the core, I tend to think all of us share the same “common to man” areas where God wants to bring about transformation within our lives.

But be warned. These areas of struggle do not give in easily! They can be quite stubborn to remove.

So, here’s my short list of what we so desperately need:

Transformation from self-exalting pride to God-glorifying humility

This is an issue of worship. When we are full of ourselves we have little room to exalt and glorify God. Of all the sins listed in the Bible, pride is the transgression that seems to be particularly condemning because it is so odious.

Galatians 6:3 is direct in it’s exhortation:

For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

Pride is one of the most deeply embedded sins to remove. Why? Because it’s hard to admit we are so frail and finite.

Satan appealed to pride when in the Garden he made the false claim to Eve that she and Adam could become like God. No wonder the Bible tells us that pride comes before destruction!

Of pride, Francis Frangipane said

“God can never entrust His Kingdom to anyone who has not been broken of pride, for pride is the armor of darkness itself.”

When we worship God, we are saying we are not great, but He is. We admit that we are fallen, limited human beings in contrast to the infallible, immutable, omnipotent Creator of all things.

Transformation from self-centeredness to becoming others-focused

It’s super easy to be obsessed with ourselves because we constantly live with ourselves.

The temptation to tend, satisfy and please ourselves seems unending.

But core tenet of Christianity is that we seek to get our eyes off ourselves and think about the needs and concerns of others.

Three quick verses that make this point:

Philippians 2:4: Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Romans 12:10: Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

John 13:34: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

Author Bob Goff wrote: “Every act of selfless love is a declaration of faith.”

What’s amazing about being selfless toward others is that rather than being emptied, we are divinely refilled. No wonder the Bible makes the claim that it is indeed better to give than receive (Acts 20:35).

Transformation from self-sufficiency to God-dependency

As a child, one of the first phrases to depart from our mouth is this declaration: “I can do it myself!”

And from that point on, we live like we truly believe that we can take care of ourselves.

Yet, in reality, God is the one who takes care of us. It just sometimes takes us some time to figure that out.

Jesus, in his amazing Sermon on the Mount, shared these words with His listeners:

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”

Not only does God know we need them, He is the one who provides them.

And God does not only provide for us physically, He’s also in the business of meeting our needs relationally, emotionally, and spiritually.

The problem for us is that our pride and independence often keeps us from becoming God-dependent.

Yet, at the core of the Christian message is the proclamation that we can’t meet our needs and that we are dependent on someone outside of our selves.

Spiritually speaking, self-sufficiency could be given another name: self-righteousness.

The idea that we attempt to justify ourselves by our own means.

Robert Murray McCheyne offered this amazing reflection about the problem of such spiritual self-dependence:

Self-righteousness is the largest idol of the human heart – the idol which man loves most and God hates most. Dearly beloved, you will always be going back to this idol. You are always trying to be something in yourself, to gain God’s favor by thinking little of your sin, or by looking to your repentance, tears, prayers ; or by looking to your religious exercises, your frames, etc; or by looking to your graces, the Spirit’s work in your heart. Beware of false Christs. Study sanctification to the utmost, but make not a Christ of it.

Self-exaltation. Self-centeredness. Self-sufficiency.

Note that each one of these shares a common denominator: self.

Self is the biggest hurdle in the pursuit of transformation.

May we be willing to embrace and apply the words of John the Baptist: “He must increase, I must decrease.”

God’s Search for the Willing Heart

For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. (2 Chronicles 16:9)

This past week we were down in Mexico at a beautiful resort in near Puerto Vallarta.

It was a week full of tacos, iguanas, swimming, taxi rides and ocean views.

Every evening the resort provided a 2 1/2 hour show in an large, open-air lounge area called The Santuario, with performances covering everything from traditional Mexican music and dance, jazz, classic rock and more.

Many of the acts attempted to be interactive with the audience. Sometimes the artist would invite a person to dance with them. Other times they would put the microphone in front of an audience member, encouraging the person to sing out a line from a familiar song.

In reality, most people in the audience had no interest in being singled out to participate.

And their body language really showed it!

If the performer began to walk over in a person’s direction, that person often shrunk back, as if somehow they might make themselves invisible.

Overall, most people in the crowd were thinking like this: you performers do the performing, and we in the audience will do the watching and listening.

All except one person: my son Aaron

While most people leaned back in hopes of not being noticed, Aaron fully leaned in,

Throughout the shows, Aaron would sing along, dance, clap and cheer.

He was fully engaged and loving every minute of the presentation.

As a result, almost every performer would, at one point in the show, work their way over to Aaron and invite him to become part of the show in one way or another. Which he gladly did!

And it makes total sense. If I put myself in the shoes of the artist, who am I more likely to want to get involved in the show? A person who gives off signals that they don’t want to participate, or the person who communicates excitement and connection with the performer?

This little scenario, which played out night after night, got me thinking about the way God works with his people.

To those Christians who are spiritually hesitant, distant, uninterested or double-minded, I imagine God gives them some space.

But to those believers who are spiritually curious, excited, engaged and involved, I picture God leaning in and inviting them in for even more.

Sometimes we wonder why we aren’t growing much as a Christian. I would say that, many times, its because we are sending God signals of halfheartedness, indifference and disengagement.

James wrote these words of reminder in his New Testament epistle:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8)

When it comes to our relationship with God, he doesn’t act as a demanding taskmaster.

God looks for collaboration. He looks for synergy. He looks for the willing heart.

All this reminds me of an expression I heard long ago: it’s easier to steer a moving truck rather than one that is parked.

As God looks about for those He seeks to engage and use for his purposes, may he find us already active, engaged and moving.

In Aaron’s case, he communicated to the various performers at The Santuario that he was ready, willing and available. He was fully focused on what was going on right in front of him.

Those are the kind of people God loves to engage and employ.

 

 

 

 

Making Wise Choices with our Time

Sometimes life refuses to give us a choice.

Simply put, we don’t get to choose everything that happens to us.

If, on a snowy day, a car takes a split-second to slide into my lane, I will likely experience some damage to my vehicle. Not my choice.

Sometimes we are afflicted by a serious illness. Never anyone’s choice.

A crumbling economy or economic collapse? Not too many volunteers.

But, on the other hand, life is full of choices we DO get to make.

Everyday!

The challenge is to make them wisely.

And, fortunately, there is a lot of good advice to ponder.

Seth Godin recently posted a short blog piece that got me thinking about how I make choices in the midst of my busy life:

If it’s an obligation, then you don’t have a choice. Pretending you do is simply a way to create frustration. Free yourself to simply do what you have to do. On the other hand, if you do have a choice (and you probably do) then it doesn’t make sense to treat it as an obligation. Own the choice.

Seth’s post reminds me of how challenging choices can be, particularly in regard to relationships, whether they at be at work, the home or in the community.

Several years ago while at a small pastor’s conference, I heard some incredible advice about making wise relational choices.

The speaker (whose name escapes me, but I do remember he was a professor of counseling at Fuller Seminary) shared that, in most situations, we have three options to what we say “yes” to:

  • We say “yes” to something because we want to say “yes.” (“Do you want to go fishing?” “Yes!”)
  • We say “yes” to something, even if we don’t feel like it, because in the end we believe our “yes” is the right thing to do. (“Will you take the trash out?” “Hmmm, I don’t really feel like it, but if it doesn’t get done, the house will start to smell.”)

The third type of  “yes” is the one that gets us in trouble:

  • We say “yes” to something that we strongly don’t want to do for a variety of reasons, and because we say “yes” instead of “no” we harbor negative feelings and resentments.

In most cases, our speaker declared, this type of “yes” ought to be a “no.”

Sometimes we are obligated to do something. Such is life.

But in many instances, someone (including ourselves) can make us feel obligated even though we are not.

As a pastor, I could fill my life up doing things other people think I should be doing.

Problem is, if I did so, I wouldn’t have much of a life.

So, I have to make choices. I have to prioritize. Sometimes I have to say “no.”

The idea isn’t that we should only do things we are excited about.

Taking out the trash, cleaning the dishes or changing a diaper aren’t high on our list of recreational pursuits.

But they are necessary.

The trick is figuring out which things really aren’t necessary.

And, even more importantly, which choices are actually harmful.

 

What Comes Out When the Squeeze is on?

“A diamond is a chunk of coal that did well under pressure.” ― Henry Kissinger

Pressure.

Life is full of pressure.

We can feel the squeeze of pressure in a variety of ways. Sometimes its related to our job. Maybe its a relationship. Sometimes we feel pressure because of illness. In some cases, our pressure comes from a lack of resources. All in all, there a several ways pressure can become a dominating force in our life.

A big question is this: when we are feeling the strangling grip of pressure, what is produced?

On the negative side, pressure can often produce anger, blame, cynicism and bitterness. Or pressure can cause us to lose hope and want to call it quits.

But for the follower of Jesus, pressure is meant to lead us down a different path than hostility or despair.

In the last book of the Bible, the book called Revelation, Jesus spent some time evaluating 7 different churches that were located in Asia Minor. To most of the churches he offered varying degrees of both commendation and condemnation. One church, the church at Laodicea, thought they were worthy of an A+ grade, but Jesus had nothing good to say about them.

But there was one church of which Jesus could not find any fault: the church at Smyrna.

Smyrna was a poor, persecuted church. As believers, life was a serious struggle.

But when the Christians of Smyrna were squeezed, they released a sweet fragrance.

See, that’s the dividing line. For some, pressure causes people to see the worst in us.

But others, like the Christians of Smyrna, pressure typically produces attitudes and actions that are winsome, attractive and helpful.

For an Old Testament example of pressure, consider Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers. After many years of a roller-coaster existence (which included an unfair stint in prison), Joseph rose to prominence in Egypt, helping that country build up a great storehouse of food.

When a great drought afflicted Joseph’s family in Palestine, the brothers headed to Egypt to see if they could attain food to fill their pantry.

Which. of course, led to a most memorable (and highly awkward) reunion between Joseph and his brothers.

But in the end, Joseph made a declaration to his brothers: “What you meant for evil, God meant for good.” The good being that Joseph’s status in Egypt guaranteed his family’s survival.

Joseph had experienced years of crushing pressure, but at the moment of truth, he saw things from a truly different perspective. A higher perspective. Rather than punish them, Joseph actually blessed his betraying brothers!

Joseph’s amazing reaction to pressure reminds me of this quote from Hudson Taylor:

“It does not matter how great the pressure is. What really matters is where the pressure lies – whether it comes between you and God, or whether it presses you nearer His heart.”

Earlier I mentioned the wonderful fragrance produced by the Smyrnan Christians when the pressure was nearly unbearable .

What makes it more interesting is that the name of the city, Smyrna, is a Greek word for myrrh. a perfume that was used in ancient burials.

Like myrrh, produced by crushing a fragrant plant, the church at Smyrna, crushed by persecution, gave off a fragrant aroma of faithfulness to God.

I’ll close this post with a pair of verses from James 1 that can help put the reality of pressure into perspective. Rather than make us bitter or despondent, pressure can actually produce something in us that wasn’t there before:

For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. ~ James 1:3-4 (NLT)

What does produce in our lives? Many of us would say pain. Which is true.

But pain is not the end result. Pain is part of the process.

The final goal of pressure is the production of a life that has much in common with diamond.

Without enduring the adversity and pressure of its environment, the diamond would never become the treasure it was meant to be.

May the trials and tribulations you grow through bring incredible value in helping you forge a remarkable, useful and multi-faceted life.”

Engagement over Entertainment

“Within suitable bounds, recreation is necessary and profitable; but it never was the business of the Christian Church to supply the world with amusements.”

CHARLES SPURGEON

Sometimes, in regard to the topics of my posts, I feel like a broken record.

Obviously I have a few hobby horses.

One of them is this: the problem of the church becoming too focused on the peripheral and superficial, that in the long run we end up not being who we are called to be.

So what brought this to my mind once more?

The NBA Slam Dunk Contest.

Back in the early years of the contest, which started in the mid-80’s, it was all about the dunk.

Players leapt through the air, putting their bodies through multiple gyrations before attempting to slam the ball through the rim of the basket.

But as the years passed, particularly around 2000, gymnastics began to give way to theatrics.

Soon players started including props and costumes to their dunk routines.

A few examples:

  • In 2008, Jamario Moon relied heavily on theatrics by blowing out a cupcake with a birthday candle on the rim before dunking (a jam he termed “The Birthday Cake”).
  • Nate Robinson won the 2009 contest on February 14 in Phoenix, Arizona. The 5’9″ guard dressed all in green as “Krypto-Nate” and jumped over 6’11” Dwight Howard characterized as Superman.
  • Blake Griffin won the 2011 slam dunk contest by jumping and dunking over the hood of a Kia sedan on February 19 in Los Angeles.
  • A dunk by Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, who, while making his dunk, stuck a sticker with his smiling face on the backboard a reported 12’6″ from the ground, two and a half feet beyond the regulation NBA rim.

For sure, the entertainment value of these dunks is quite high. Some are played for drama, others played for laughs.

And, in the grand scheme of life, slam dunk contests are for the most part unimportant.

But here’s the thing: for a person raised on the dunk contests of the 2000’s, with all the hoopla and hype, a stand-alone dunk – even an impressive one – can seem downright boring.

So rather than appreciating the sheer beauty of an amazingly executed slam dunk, the feeling is for the dunk to be palatable, it must be gussied up.

Maybe you see where I’m going with this.

I often employ Acts 2:42-27 as a template for normal, functional church life. In these six verses, the activities of worship, learning, loving, serving, and sharing are described as core to the church’s endeavors.

It’s not about show. It’s about obedience. It’s about doing those things God prescribes because they are spiritually productive.

Yet, for some, these things can seem a bit monotonous. They grow weary of hearing the teaching of the Word. They require a host of conditions to be met in order to feel like worshiping. They are more interested in being served than serving.

And for these people, leaders of the church often find themselves at a crossroads.

Does the church decide to adapt to make such people happy? Do we add a lot of “filler” to satisfy them? Do we agree that the basic functions of the church are too tedious, and thus we must figure out ways to keep people entertained, in hopes that they might engage?

My point is not that ought to make church as dull as possible.

Psalm 33 encourages the church to offer it’s worship with skill.

2 Timothy 2:15 challenges the teacher of the Bible to be prepared in order that they might present well.

Simplicity does not mean we become sloppy, overly-casual or negligent.

But it’s hard to worship skillfully or teach adeptly or serve intentionally when we are pouring energy into activities that don’t really serve the core functions of the church.

When we intently focus in on the necessary 4 “E’s” of the church – exaltation, edification, equipping and evangelism – I imagine we will have way less time for entertainment.

Should church be boring? No way!

But rather than being entertaining, the church should be engaging.

Aaron Halvorsen wrote:

No one can serve two masters, and neither can a church pursue both silly amusements and true gospel preaching. At some point, either the church will allow the seriousness of the preaching of the gospel to win the day, or the church will choose entertainment of its “customers” as its ultimate pursuit. When the latter choice is made, the urgent gospel of salvation from judgment will no longer be allowed to threaten the good vibes of the entertaining church. 

Some people come to church expecting entertainment. But may what we have to offer through the vibrant practice of church life prove to be more appealing that simply being spiritually amused.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Golden Buzzer Moment for Humanity

My son, Aaron, is a huge fan of competition shows. It doesn’t matter if its cooking, singing, dancing, whatever. Thus, he had me up late watching America’s Got Talent last night.

And I’m glad he did, because for the last ten minutes of the show, I saw a few things that warmed my heart and gave me little hope for humanity.

The final contestant of the show was Susan Boyle, who came in second place on Britain’s Got Talent nine years ago.

Nine years ago, Susan Boyle walked onto the BGT stage for the very first time to an array of smirks and eye rolls.

Why?

Because Susan Boyle didn’t look like a typical performer. She was 47 years old at the time – not the typical age for an up-and-coming singer. Her appearance could be described by words like simple, old-fashioned, even frumpish. To say she was unpolished is an understatement. Susan Boyle was incredibly ordinary and understated. On the television screen, the words unemployed accompanied her name.

Judge Simon Cowell, known for his brusque and biting personality, could be seen rolling his eyes and muttering “wow” (not in a positive way!) during the exchange between the judges before she sang. Boyle explained, through her thick Scottish accent, that she had never married and shared her flat with her cat. It seemed everyone was set to watch someone implode on television. Bottom line, she didn’t seem in any way like a popular singer.

And then Susan Boyle opened her mouth to sing. And what came out of her lungs simply blew everyone away. Her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” turned any disdain into disbelief. The audience sat with their mouths agape, and then rose into a unanimous standing ovation. Simon Cowell looked utterly amazed.

Here’s the video from that fateful first audition.

Now, fast forward nine years to the present. A brand new rendition of the “Got Talent”  shows called America’s Got Talent: The Champions has been airing since late January. The competition features winners, finalists and other successful contestants from America’s Got Talent and other international franchises of the series, competing against each other for spots in a championship final.

Lo and behold, Susan Boyle was invited to participate, and at her first performance, she was awarded the “golden buzzer,” which meant she was released from going through the voting process and automatically put in the finals. Obviously, she still has the pipes!

Then, at last nights finals competition, Susan Boyle took the stage, singing the song that got her music career (of which she has sold 20 million albums) rolling.

Here’s a the clip of her final’s performance.

As Boyle sang, the thing that first caught my attention was how poised she was during her performance. And her voice was stellar. She smoothly worked her way through the song like a warm knife through butter. All in all, she was extremely graceful.

But there was something else that I noticed: Susan Boyle appeared to be incredibly gracious. She seemed to be a person who, in many ways, had not been changed by her fame. In the short interview that preceded her golden buzzer performance, she exuded kindness and humility.  Boyle was asked, “Do you consider yourself a champion?”

Her response:

“I consider myself a champion for people who don’t have the confidence to do things. For people who don’t have a voice. For ones who people tend to ignore. I feel I’m a champion for them.”

She also declared that she was excited to show Simon how much she had grown.

To my ears, instead of coming off like a diva or prima donna, Susan Boyle had simply become a better person.

How often does that happen to a person who falls into fame?

And then there was Simon Cowell, sitting at the judges table. After Boyle’s performance, each of the judges effused praise. But what would Simon say?

Simon’s first words came in the form of a contrite confession. He simply admitted that his actions nine years prior were “disgusting.”

Once again, how often does a person of such celebrity admit that they acted in a callous, creepy manner?

In fact, in a 2018 interview, Simon Cowell revealed that it was his rude reaction at Susan Boyle’s first audition that caused him to reevaluate himself as a person. In the interview, Cowell stated:

“When that clip arrived on my laptop and I saw me, I said, ‘I actually hate my guts right now’. Because we were really sneery,” he said. “That was the tipping point.”

So, what was it about last night’s show that I found so fascinating?

Yes, Susan Boyle turned in a near-perfect performance.

But that wasn’t what captured my attention.

No, what struck me was how, in many ways, Susan Boyle had not changed, and conversely, how much Simon Cowell had.

Susan Boyle has determined to not venture far from to her roots, which keeps her humble and thankful. Simon Cowell realized there were things in his life that needed to change, and he took some necessary steps to make that happen.

For me, humanity greatly benefits from people who make these types of decisions.