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.

 

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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.

 

 

Rest in Joy, Peter-John Courson

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.             1 Thessalonians 5:18

(Peter-John Courson passed away February 5, 2019. He was the somewhat-known pastor and son of a well-known pastor, Jon Courson)

The internet has created connections that just a few decades ago probably wouldn’t have existed.

Case in point: about 12 years ago while commenting on a blog I often frequented, I began to share some comments back-and-forth with an individual who wrote under the pseudonym “Costco Cal.”

After some time, it was revealed that “Costco” was in fact Peter John Courson, son of well-known pastor Jon Courson (from Applegate Christian Fellowship in Oregon).

At this blog, Pete was a regular commenter who had a wry sense of humor, and often enjoyed the role of being a good-natured provocateur. He liked to ask questions to get people thinking. Sometimes he could push the envelope to the point that some would feel a bit irritated, But, he also showed a strong sense of self-depreciation, able to make himself the butt of his many jokes. Bottom line, Pete was a big personality. Sometimes that big personality left people scratching their heads.

As the fates would have it, Pete and I bumped into each other in the lobby of Harvest Christian Fellowship while attending the 2009 Preach the Word conference. It’s always kind of strange when people who only know each other through the internet meet. But it was kinda fun to actually talk in person. And, during the conference, we texted back and forth some of our thoughts and  reactions to the speaker’s presentations.

As time went by, I learned more about Pete’s life and some of the challenges he faced.

  • As a young boy, he lost not only his mother, but a sister as well.
  • As an adult he fought a 20-some year battle with Crohn’s disease that often brought terrible misery and an on/off again dependence on crippling steroids.
  • Pete had a few intestinal episodes that brought him to the brink of death.
  • A few years back he had to have brain surgery.

Then, most recently, Pete received the devastating diagnosis of having stage 4 colon cancer. And not soon after, he went under hospice care. Finally, he commended his spirit to the Lord.

When I look at Pete’s list of life challenges, it almost seems too much. So much pain and way too much burden. His was a life where we might say the cards were stacked against him.

Yet, Pete plugged through each of those debilitating challenges with great aplomb.

He was like a cork that, although continually dunked by forceful waves, always popped back to the surface. In the midst of a mountain of trials, Pete could always find joy in Jesus and gratitude for the gifts his heavenly Father provided him. He loved his wife and his kids (two adopted from Africa). He was thankful for his ministry. He always seemed to find the silver lining when dark clouds formed.

There were times during our internet interactions where I didn’t always see things as Pete did. Sometimes he chose paths that confounded me.

But this one thing I know: Peter John Courson was fully committed to God. When faced with some of life’s worst difficulties, he was in lockstep with Peter who once told the Lord,  “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Peter stuck to Jesus like Velcro. He clung to the rock even when the winds whipped and the waves roared. Although I’m sure that he felt pain, disappointment and even despair. he never cursed the name of his Creator. Bottom line, he proved to be obedient to the scripture that starts this blog post.

One of the most common things we say when someone passes is “rest in peace.” But for Pete, I say “rest in joy.” For he nurtured joy even though his life was overwhelmingly challenging. Now he is freely and eternally experiencing joy in the presence of  Jesus.

No more burdens, just pure joy.

 

Simple Gospel, Simple Church

I could barely watch the Super Bowl this year.

In fact, I took plenty of extended breaks from the action.

Here’s why: each year it’s harder and harder to enjoy the game under the weight of all the hype, commercials, politics, agendas, and so-called entertainment.

As to the game, sure, it wasn’t a high-scoring affair.  It was more of a punting competition.

Essentially it was defensive battle, which the Rams proved to be on par with the Patriots.

But the Rams offense showed their inexperience, and Brady and Company figured out how to win.

It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win.

Not the most entertaining of games, but they can’t all be entertaining like that.

Sometimes the defenses outshine the offenses.

No, for me, it was just everything else that surrounded (and in some cases infiltrated) the game. There was just so much that was non-football.

Other than Gladys Knight’s incredible rendition of the national anthem, I found everything else to be so hollow, so superfluous, so unnecessary. The word that coming to my mind was gaudy.

Gaudy: extravagantly bright or showy, typically so as to be tasteless.

I thought back to last October and the World Series. And it seemed to me that we got to watch several exciting games between the Red Sox and Dodgers where the focus was firmly on the game.

There were no 4 hour pre-game shows. No hyper-kinetic entertainers. No barrage of overpriced commercials. Seemingly very little politics and social agendas. No over-the-top hype.

Just baseball.

Which made me wonder: when it comes to our churches, and even more importantly, the Gospel, are we over-complicating things? Do we make them gaudy? Are we making it difficult for people to understand our clear, God-given purpose?

For me, the function/practice of the church is fairly simple:

  • Exalt God
  • Equip Saints
  • Edify Believers
  • Encourage Others through Service
  • Extend the Good News

Isn’t that enough to keep us busy?

Yet, the temptation for many churches is to keep adding things to the calendar that don’t really have much to do with my five bullet points above.

Maybe its because exalting, equipping, edifying, encouraging and extending are actually a lot of work. And, perhaps, our people sometimes seem less than thrilled with what we offer.

So we are tempted to jump from the Biblical “5 e’s” and start thinking more about entertaining the saints. A lot of filler, but way less content.

But after some time, I think the saints will end up feeling like I did watching the Super Bowl. They will be left wanting.

It’s a bit like eating doughnuts. Surely tasty, but we ought never think of making a meal out of doughnuts.

I think the challenges before us are huge.

We live in an age of hype, gloss, superficiality…which cuts against the grain of meaningful content and purposeful mission.

We live in a time of extreme busyness, and for some reason, we as leaders of the church seem to think that the church needs to become over-extended just like everyone else.

But what if we just became known for those things that are clear to our calling?

I for one would find that refreshing. And less exhausting. And likely more profitable.

 

 

 

 

The Madison Avenue Driven Church

Some 77 years ago, America saw its first television commercial.

The date was July 1, 1941. The program was a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies.

The short, simple spot was for the Bulova Watch Company, which focused on a watch as the second hand ticked, and a voice-over told viewers what time it was. It cost the company just $9: $4 in air charges and $5 in station charges.

Since then, the commercial has become ingrained into the American conscious and morphed into a type of art form. Some ads are funny, others serious. Some blow our minds and some leave us scratching our heads.

One thing I’ve noticed in recent years is how it has become fairly common for an ad to spend little or no time talking about the merits of the product. Sometimes we never even see the productInstead, the strategy behind the ad campaign is this: the more creative and entertaining the ad might be, the more we should believe the product is worth our time and money. In essence, companies and advertisers are saying, “Don’t judge us on the quality or performance of our product. Judge us on our ability to entertain you.”

It seems the Super Bowl is a big reason advertisers started talking less about the product, spending more time trying to make us laugh, cry or simply say, “Wow!”

At the end of the day, the advertising business exists to make money and sell products. It’s up to them to figure out the best ways to accomplish their goals.

Here’s my concern. In some cases, I’ve wondered if the strategy of the advertisers has crept into the practice of our churches.

Sometimes I wonder if we are spending too much time trying to be creative and entertaining, rather than focusing on delivering the vital, necessary content Christians need.

The Bible calls on church leaders to equip, not entertain.

Yet, I wonder if Madison Avenue has become too much of an influence upon us.

Are we burning our energy trying to make the function of the church more palatable to our tastes, rather than profitable to our souls?

The truth is, keeping believers engaged has always been a challenge. Just like in our 21st century, the world of the first century church was filled with distractions and diversions.

It appears that one challenge the early church faced was keeping engaged when it came to preaching. I say this because Paul gave his protege Timothy this admonition found in 2 Timothy 4:2:

Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. (NLT)

Some Bible versions translate it like this: “preach the word in season and out of season.”

Meaning, even if people don’t seem amenable to preaching, preach anyways!

Look, I am certainly not against creativity. And as church leaders and communicators, we have to give some thought about how we are presenting the things of God.

But, when it comes to the time we stand before the Lord and give an account of our ministry, will we be able to tell God that we faithfully prepared and equipped people, or will we have to admit we spent more time and energy keeping them entertained?

One verse that I believe is meant to keep us sober about our service to the Lord is James 3:1:

Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. (NLT)

Here’s my last thought:

Rather than mimic the ad agencies of Madison Avenue, I think churches should think more like a restaurant.

Think about it: what matters most in a restaurant? It’s the food! If the meal isn’t up to snuff, nothing else really matters. The waiter might be super engaging and the decor absolutely stunning. But if the food is lousy, we feel like we’ve been let down.

I’ve eaten at some places that didn’t look like much, or had slow service, or maybe even cost too much…but the quality of the food overcame these shortcomings. Enough that I would return time and time again!

My prayer:

May the leaders and teachers of our churches focus on quality content, not peripheral fluff.

May we feel confident that the people of our churches are being readied for the challenges of the Christian life, rather than simply keeping them amused.

And may we as God’s ministers always make sure we are giving the people what they need, not just what they want.

And, in time, those two may just become one in the same.

Maintaining Integrity in a Media-Crazed World

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. ~ Psalm 86:11 ESV

Every once in a while a news story makes its way into the press and onto social media. Something happens that grabs everyone’s attention and gets them talking (or more likely, typing).

I usually find out about it because everyone is piling on opinions in my Facebook news feed.

And much to my dismay, people begin spouting their perspectives about a matter without having taken the time – or having the opportunity – to understand all the facts of the matter.

What’s really sad to me is that in some situations things get so heated, people who know very little about an issue or incident become highly aggressive or deeply defensive.

You’ve likely seen that Facebook comment thread where people become more combative and entrenched. Pretty soon the name calling begins, the accusations start flying and feelings get hurt.

A big problem is many people see the world from their particular viewpoint. So, whatever happens in the world, they are already predisposed to see matters from their own bent, whether it be politically, socially or religiously.

Last Sunday evening’s AFC championship game between the Chiefs and the Patriots provided an illustration of what I’m talking about.

At one point in the game, the Chiefs punted the ball to the Patriots. The ball bounced on the turf just before kick returner Julian Edelman could reach it. The ball bounced past him and was picked up by a Chiefs player who summarily waltzed in for a supposed touchdown.

But Edelman claimed he never touched the ball, meaning the ball would still belong to the Patriots at the point where the Chiefs player first touched it. The Patriots challenged the play, meaning the referees would review it and make a determination.

Now, if you were a Patriots you were hoping that the video review would show that the ball never touched Edelman. But if you were cheering for the Chiefs, you likely were praying that the review revealed the ball did indeed touch Edelman, and the Chiefs would hold on to the six points.

NBC, the network broadcasting the game, played the clip over and over again. It was so hard to determine if the ball was touched or not! But in the end, after looking at the play from a multitude of angles, it truly appeared that Edelman’s complaint was valid. (By the way, I was cheering for the Chiefs and so wanted the Chiefs to have that touchdown!) By a distance of less than an inch, the ball passed by his hand, and then nearly scraped his arm.

Yet even with clear video evidence, some Chiefs fans were convinced that the ball did in fact touch Edelman. Or maybe I should say, they wanted to be convinced. Why? Because their hearts and hopes were invested in a Chiefs victory.

It’s hard to admit we are wrong, especially when it includes a person or a group we don’t care much for.

But we should care more about truth above anything else. Even if that truth hurts, or goes in a way that makes our side look bad. Or their side look good.

Think about it: if we find it in our heart to want to conceal truth, what does that say about us?

George Washington said this:

“Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains taken to bring it to light.”

That should be our attitude. To take pains to see that truth would rise and prevail in every situation. Our feelings may be a bit bruised, but (hopefully) our conscience will be clear.

As to these matters that pop up in our Facebook news feeds time to time, we may want to take a step back and take a deep breath before we offer an opinion on something we are not yet fully informed. Consider this nugget of wisdom from Proverbs 18:13:

Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish. (NLT)

And James offers this wise counsel that is often challenging to employ:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. (James 1:19-20 NIV)

Let’s be honest. Sometimes we get drawn into a scrum we really have no business joining. We’re anxious to get in the mix, but in the end we’re just mixed up.

I’m glad that we live in a time where more individuals are able to add their voice to the pressing conversations of our times.

But something tells me that doesn’t mean we should engage in every conversation.

May we have the wisdom to speak as ones who are informed, not just opinionated.

Does the Church have an Identity Crisis?

From my perspective, the church’s grip on it’s compass has a tendency to become a bit wobbly.

Call it a church identity crisis.

Who are we and what are we supposed to be about?

To help us regain our sense of identity, I think we ought to revisit a simple question:

What is the calling of the church?

Here’s what I excavate from the Word:

-Exalt God through Individual and Corporate Worship
-Equip the Saints for Love and Service
-Make Disciples
-Declare the Gospel through Love and Deed
-Practice the Ordinances
-Engage in Congregational Care
-Promote and Practice Prayer
-Preach, Teach and Do the Word
-Depend on the Spirit

In a nutshell, 1 Thessalonians 5:14 tells us what we ought to be spending a lot of our time doing:

And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 

These are our God-prescribed activities.

Along with our activities, the proper attitude of the church is summed up well by Micah 6:8: Walk humbly, do justice, love mercy.

These points of focus help me define my charge as a church leader. They give me clarity, and make it more obvious where my energy is not best spent. And within these points I find plenty to keep me busy!

So, what do I see happening in the church (at least from my very small vantage point)?

As of late, I’ve been keenly aware of some downplaying the role of preaching and the importance of direct engagement with the Word.

I hear some people quoting books and bloggers much more than they refer to the Bible.

In the place of preaching and teaching. some would rather gather in a group and share each other’s opinions than allow God’s Word to take a primary place of influence and authority.

For others, there is a pursuit of what I call “hip church,” or “cool church.” Energy is poured into brand, design, special effects and so on. Creativity is king, even it doesn’t really lend much to the church’s primary purposes. This speaks much to our current culture that is easily bored and needs fresh stimulation all the time.

Some churches struggle with wanting to be liked at all costs. The greatest offense is to hear someone say, “I don’t like church,” so they bend over backwards trying to make church more likable. But at some point (hopefully) the Gospel has to be communicated, which means offense is unavoidable. I fear some people may see very little of what the church is supposed to be about, because fear of not being liked has us pushing our God-prescribed practices into a closet.

I’m praying we will leave our state of delirium, but my fear is the church is going to come to realize – through failure – that by our own creativity and ingenuity, we will simply suck most of the power out of God’s primary tool to generate worship, ministry and witness.

As churches, I pray that we will gladly find our identity in who God says we are and what He says we are to do.

A Tale of Two Candy Tossers

A few years ago I went to the Northwest Ministry Conference, an event held just outside Seattle in Redmond, Washington.

(An aside – I’ve attended a lot of conferences in my time, and heard a lot of words spoken by various speakers, instructors and facilitators. Truth be told, its hard to store all that information in my head. Usually, my biggest takeaway from a conference isn’t all the things I’ve been told, but the encouragement and inspiration needed to forge ahead in ministry.)

One teaching I do distinctly remember at the conference came from pastor and evangelist Kevin Harney. His message was on being generous with the grace and love that God has so freely bestowed upon us.

In his talk he told a story about being in Michigan at a small-town parade for 4th of July.

The parade featured several homemade floats on which people would sit and toss candy to the crowd. Harney observed that there were, essentially, two kinds of candy tossers.

One group took their bags of candy and very slowly tossed the contents to those who lined up to watch the parade. Harney said it was almost like these individuals were looking over the crowd to see who deserved a piece of candy. If someone jumped and yelled and cheered, they would get the candy-tossers attention, and likely earn some candy.

Harney said that some of these cautious candy-tossers were so selective in throwing out their candy, he was sure they would end up at the conclusion of the parade with plenty of candy still in their bag.

On the other hand, there was a group of candy-tossers who were much more open-handed when it came to giving out their candy. They dug their hands into their bags and filled their fists to the brim. They barely took time to look out into the crowd before hurling their candy into the crowd. There was no sizing people up to see if they deserved a piece of candy or not.

Kevin Harney’s point was pretty clear. When it comes to loving others and dispensing grace, a lot of us can be like that first group of candy-tossers. We become very economical! But there really is no limit to how much love we can share.

We have a great example in God of how far the extent of love and grace can reach. Consider a trio of scriptures:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— (Ephesians 2:4-5 ESV)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 ESV)

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

When it comes to God’s love toward us, stingy is not a word that could be used to describe Him. He is rich in mercy and generous with His grace!

And in response to God’s love, we are challenged to spread such love to others.

The instruction from 1 John 4:19-21 is crystal clear:

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

How often do I feel like one of those miserly candy-tossers who ended the parade with plenty of candy in their bag? Way too much.

But to really understand and embrace the grace, love and mercy God offers me should change my heart to be more open to those around me.

R.C. Sproul once said:

In the New Testament, love is more of a verb than a noun. It has more to do with acting than with feeling. The call to love is not so much a call to a certain state of feeling as it is to a quality of action.

To become like those generous candy-tossers, one must realize that love must be rooted in gratitude and grounded in obedience.

Otherwise. we’ll end up with a half-empty bag at the end of our life.