8/5/2014 What’s on the inside?

My Navigator teammate John Purvis has developed a picture of disciples and the process of making disciples using the anatomy of a tree. I don’t remember all the fine points, but I do remember that the core of a tree is called the “heartwood”–it’s the most beautiful part for woodworkers, he told us. Being the oldest and densest part of the trunk, it provides the tree’s stability…unless it’s not there.

My brother-in-law posted this story and picture on Facebook:

Saturday, at 2:30 in the morning, wind driven rain followed by a loud explosion and a tremendous thud that shook the entire house, then dead silence and utter darkness, no lights, no hum of air conditioners, no nothing. Turns out that a neighbor’s massive oak fell across the road and took down the power lines, snapped off the pole they were attached to, causing the transformer to blow, and damaged a house on the other side of the street. As the photo shows, the tree was diseased and the core was gone.

Tree with no core

I’m sure the tree looked great from the outside right until the time it fell.

This could be a picture of someone’s life…or a church. If we don’t attend to the basics (Paul wrote, “Train yourself for godliness,” in 1 Timothy 4.7), we can rot from the inside. And, to change the metaphor, it will be like the house with no foundation in Jesus’ story of the wise and foolish builder in Matthew 7.24 – 27: “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

The difference? “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them…” We have churches filled with people who come, and even if they listen to the sermon, if they don’t put it into practice, they are like the house with no foundation, the tree with no core.

7/7/2014 “Take heart” or “Take cover!”

“Take heart!” or “Take cover!” This is my takeaway from two excellent sermons I heard recently.

Jim DeJarnette, music minister at First Presbyterian Church, Colorado Springs, preached on David and Goliath and noted a key verse:

1 Samuel 17.32
David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”

He compared this to John 16.33:
“…in this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.”

What’s our message to the world? How are we encouraging those around us? Do we bring the “Take heart” message? Or are we constantly wringing our hands over the economy, the government, or the culture?

Ed Rowell, lead pastor at The Ascent Church, Monument, CO, preaching on 1 Peter 2.9-12 challenged, “Should we change our tactics with respect to the culture wars? Nothing in history has ever worked the way we do it today. Why don’t we take Peter’s words seriously? We want to ‘stand up and fight.’ I believe that response won’t work.” Peter’s counsel was to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you…abstain from passions of the flesh…and live honorably.”

He went on to say, “Living honorably is not easy. We live in a world that’s increasingly confusing. We can respond to the culture’s moving away from God’s values with anger. Social media and cable news are not doing us any favors. Nothing has been gained by walling ourselves off and throwing rocks at the world.”

He continued, citing Rodney Stark’s excellent book The Rise of Christianity, that Christians changed the world between AD 33 and AD 300 by caring for the sick, the poor, and the marginalized, by honoring women, in general, by serving. And at the same time bringing a message of hope.

My thought during Jim’s message and later confirmed by Ed was that instead of a hopeful “take heart” message, more often than not, Christians today are yelling, “Take cover!”

One of the folks who sends forwarded emails, often about President Obama, and many false, seems to have taken me off his list after I challenged him with what I wrote on May 30, 2014. Christians seem to be in the forefront of forwarding rumors and declaring calamity.

Where is our “take heart” message? Do we not hear the words of Jesus to us? “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Can we share Jesus’ words with others?

I want to be more “take heart” than “take cover.” Will you join me?

6/15/2014 Helping Others Make an Impact

A recent on-line issue of Clemson World told about a garden on the Clemson campus that provided an opportunity for handicapped kids and adults to practice gardening skills. The man in charge of it said, “The garden is less about me having an impact and more about giving the campers a place where they can have an impact.”

This is a nearly perfect description of disciple-making. It’s not about me making an impact as much as it is about helping the one I’m discipling have an impact. Isn’t this what Jesus did? “And he selected twelve that they might be with him, and that he might send them out to preach.” (Mark 3.12, 13)

And Jesus served in such a way that his followers were prepared to follow in his footsteps.

5/31/2014 Time with God: Habit or Lifestyle?

From time to time I hear pastors preach from, say, John 15, the vine and the branches, about the importance of continuous communion with Jesus, and contrast that with the practice of daily time with God. They will say something like, “Don’t just carve out 15 minutes to have a ‘quiet time,’ check it off, and then go about your day.” Or, “Don’t settle for a ‘quiet time’ when you can have moment-by-moment communion with God.” Sometimes this feels like the pastor is saying that we have a choice: a specific time designated for prayer and devotional scripture reading versus walking with God all day long.

I believe they go together. The people who walk with God are the people who also practice specific, private, spiritual disciplines like time with God, scripture memory, and bible study.

We know, for example, that playing scales is not the objective of piano practice. The objective is beautiful music, artfully executed. But one can’t do that without the training that comes, in part, from playing the scales. To change the metaphor, no one cares how much weight a football player can lift in the weight room, but without time in the weight room, the big plays on the field won’t happen. Legendary football coach Bear Bryant used to say, “You can’t live soft all week and play tough on Saturday.”

So don’t “settle for” daily time with God as only a spiritual discipline, but don’t neglect it either! Jesus lived in constant communion with The Father, but, “He often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer,” (Luke 5.16) and, after a busy day of ministry, “Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.” (Mark 1.35)

5/302014 It’s Lying, and It’s Certainly Not Loving

It happened again today. I received an email with photo documentation purporting to show some well-known government official doing something (you choose) stupid/unAmerican. Of course the photo had been doctored as I discovered with less than a minute’s work using www.truthorfiction.com, and the story was false.

So the person who originated the hoax is certainly guilty of lying.

What are the people who spread the false story around guilty of? Slander?

And what are all those who read it uncritically, filing the “information” away, guilty of?

I often receive these emails from folks who claim to be Bible-believing Christ-followers. To us, God’s word is clear:

Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. (1 Peter 2.17) 

Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. (Romans 13.7)

Are we honoring our elected officials, whether we voted for them or not, when we make up or pass around or uncritically listen to stories about them which are false?

One final observation, I often write personal, and, I hope, polite notes to the senders pointing out that what they just sent to their entire mailing list was false. Then I wait for the email, again sent to their entire mailing list, apologizing for their error. Alas, that rarely comes. When it does, I commend them for their integrity.

Lying and slander and rumor-mongering are wrong whether we do it face-to-face about someone we know personally or whether we do it by email about people we don’t like.

Maybe all we need to do is apply Matthew 22.39, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus ranked it #2.


5/30/2014 I’m not ready for that – part 2

I have another response to the brother who said, “I’m not ready” to come alongside people in their spiritual journey. (Please see blog entry May 17, 2014)

Gordon Saunders, career missionary with Greater Europe Mission, told the story of a 90-year-old lady living in a nursing home. In addition to leading a bible study, she noticed that Sunday afternoons were slow periods, that the people seemed down. So she gathered them together just to tell each other stories and laugh. In the process she would have further opportunity to get to know them and share spiritual truth as necessary and appropriate. Gordon challenges us to model this lady:

1. Be there
2. Pay attention
3. Do what you can

4. Tell the truth

“There” is wherever we are whether we’ve intentionally travelled somewhere as a missionary or whether we’re in a nursing home, at work, in our neighborhoods, or at school. Wherever “there” is, we can all pay attention to what’s going on and figure out what the needs are. Then we do what we can if it’s only getting people together to tell jokes. Then we tell the truth about God, about the world, about life.

How can you not be “ready” for that?

5/17/2014 I’m not ready for that.

A friend of mine was leading some men through Ways of the Alongsider, a bible-study from The Navigators that teaches folks how to come alongside others in their spiritual journeys. At some point, one of the men said, “I get it! You’re asking us to share the gospel with people and when they believe, help them grow in the faith so that they can repeat the process.” My friend said, “Yes. Of course.” Then the man said, “I’m not ready for that yet.” 

I can think of a number of comeback responses:
  • If you’re not ready now, what are you doing to get ready? Luke 12:47, 48 is clear:
And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.
  • Are you less ready than Matthew when he was called in Luke 5, who immediately threw a dinner party for his unsaved friends?
  • Are you less ready than the Woman at the Well in John 4 who immediately went and invited her village, filled with people who probably didn’t even like her, to meet Jesus?
  • Are you less ready than the demon-possessed guy in Mark 5 who asked Jesus for more training, but whom Jesus sent to his home town to tell his story?

It is chilling that our allegedly bible-believing churches are filled with people who are willing to admit they’re “not ready” to do what Jesus has clearly asked us to do, aren’t doing anything to get ready, and are allowed to be members in good standing without even being challenged.

I find that most people in most churches will be “ready” after they’ve had “one more course.” But it’s always one more course. No wonder the harvest is still plentiful and the laborers are still few.

2/19/2014 The Church’s Mission

I wrote in “Participation” on February 17, 2014, that God’s work is not intended to be done by paid professionals. The wall in Nehemiah’s day wasn’t built by gifted wall-builders but by ordinary people from many other walks of life. Therefore, what is the mission of the church?

One answer is that since the church is composed of its people, then the church’s mission is the people’s mission: “make disciples.” Note, however, that when Jesus gave the “Great Commission,” he didn’t give it to an organized church. And when he told them in Matthew 28, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” the disciples’ understanding of how to do that wasn’t an organized church model. Jesus had chosen 12 that they might be “with him and that he might send them out…” (Mark 3.13).

I propose that the mission of the church is in Ephesians 4.11, 12: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,…” To say that the church’s mission is to make disciples is like saying that the mission of a trade school is to build houses. Instead, the mission of the trade school is to train, equip and empower plumbers, electricians, carpenters, roofers, etc. so that they can build houses.

When pastors misunderstand their mission, they try to do all the work themselves or mistakenly feel that they are the only ones who can do the work. When the people in the congregation misunderstand, thinking it’s the “church’s” job to make disciples in some magical way, they don’t actively participate other than to invite people to meetings. The result is that Jesus must still be saying, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.

2/17/2014 Participation

One of the great success stories in the Bible is Nehemiah building the wall around Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. There are many lessons, but a primary one is Participation.

Nehemiah succeeded in building the wall because he managed to get nearly full participation. Read Nehemiah chapter 3 and note the number and kinds of people that were busy working on the wall: priests (verse 1), goldsmiths and perfume-makers (verse 8), government officials and women (verse 9). Note that these were not necessarily “gifted” wall-builders. But they were all on the wall!

In the same way, the job of making disciples will not get done unless everyone is engaged in the spiritual multiplication process. Paul articulated the plan to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2:

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.

The coach’s job (Timothy) is to train teachers (“reliable men”) who will learn to teach others, thus multiplying their efforts. I can’t think of a job at any level where people who do the job aren’t expected to teach others.

I was at a car wash a few years ago, and I noticed a young man slowly wiping down my wheels. I thought to myself, he looks like a trainee. Sure enough, as I watched another man came around to watch. “Get that spot over there! Treat it like it was your car!” The trainer told me, “This is his first day. He’ll get better. It will take him 20 minutes to finish this car. I could do it in 5. It took me 20 minutes when I first started, too.” Here was a man who took pride in his work and pride in teaching the new guy how to take pride in his work. This was a car wash! He expected growth and competence from the new guy.

It should not be different in the church. Nehemiah’s wall was not built by a few paid professionals. Disciples won’t be made in large numbers by paid professionals either. It is their job to train everyone else to “Get on the wall.”

1/13/2014 Death Panels and the Kidney Machine Exercise

Back in October, a well-known ministry, which I respect, published an article decrying a high school for using the “kidney machine exercise.” Basically, the exercise is a group decision-making process involving the allocation of scarce resources. In this case, there is a kidney dialysis machine, a set of candidates who are given various characteristics, and a panel (the class) to determine who should get time on the machine. The ministry called this practicing for ObamaCare Death Panels.

Without making any judgment on the Affordable Health Care Act (ObamaCare) and without knowing exactly how or why the high school teacher conducted the exercise, I wrote to the ministry with an alternate view…

You should know that the kidney machine group exercise has been around for at least 40 years. I used it in an Air Force leadership school in the late 70s. It’s a good “rainy-day” activity that involves leadership, group dynamics, interpersonal skills, etc. How are the decisions made? Who dominates the discussion? Can the participants reason with each other with respect or are there one or more bullies? With respect to not wanting to put a value on people based on arbitrary criteria, the option to choose randomly is always there. I observed one group making the decision that way. “I’m not comfortable with this discussion. Can we choose the people randomly?” Everyone agreed.

If you don’t like kidney machine and its association with ObamaCare’s “death panels,” you can do the same exercise and call it the lifeboat problem. There are 10 people in the water, and the lifeboat holds only 5. This was a real-world problem during the sinking of the Titanic, and the honorable men chose to let the women and children go ahead of them. By contrast, 150 Haitians were killed when the boat they were in capsized. The boat had a capacity of 25, and my experience with Haitians leads me to believe they have no concept of “capacity” nor a mechanism for choosing.

People make decisions on criteria of their choosing all the time. For example, I was recently criticized by a fellow believer for going to Starbucks. My friend chooses to boycott Starbucks because of their support of the homosexual rights movement. There are at least two values at work there. One is the value that one should boycott businesses you don’t agree with. This is not a value I share. The second value is that a business’s stance on homosexuality trumps everything else. Also not a value I share. What if I value Starbucks’ commitment to helping poor farmers in developing countries more than I devalue their position on homosexuality in this country?

The real point of the kidney machine (or lifeboat) exercise is for people to have criteria for making decisions (even if one criterion is choose randomly) and be able to articulate their position in a compelling way. Those are skills everyone needs.

And a larger lesson may be, Do we have to continue to provide fuel for those who think that Christians are against everything? Can we try a little harder to exercise 1 Corinthians 13 love? “Love is patient and kind…it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way.”