Thursday, October 18, 2012

Living Life on the Edge

Jesus lived life on the edge.  By this I mean that he was sold out to his purpose to such a degree that he stayed steadfast in struggles, was unmovable when threatened and remained consistent and compassionate when people turned on him.   He allowed us see some of the struggles of life on the edge when he reveals his prayer as he faced his ultimate battle with the darkness of sin and death.

I have always been of the opinion that life on the edge is a great life. My daughter once said, "Hey, if you're not living on the edge, you're takin' up way too much room."  Gee, I wonder where she learned that concept.  I thought we should look at the benefits of life on the edge and the risks.

The benefits include:
1.    A much better view. You can stand back away from the edge and have people tell you what they see or you can go up to the edge and see for yourself.
2.    A breath-taking atmosphere. I've been to Niagara Falls very often and hear most of the "oooooo...'s" and "ahhhhhh's!" from edge of the canyon surrounding the falls. Most of the noise away from the edge is just about what shop or restaurant people want to go to next.
3.    A growth in confidence and peace. It seems that the longer you stay on the edge the less it bothers you.
4.    Something to tell others about. Living on the edge fills you with stories to tell those who want to know about the edge but haven't had opportunity or desire to go to the edge.
The risks:
1.    You cannot waffle while on the edge. Waffling while on the edge subjects you to a tremendous fall. Walk with Jesus.
2.    You cannot forget about where you are and become careless. Carelessness while on the edge subjects you to a tremendous fall. Spend time in the Bible.
3.    You will bother people while you are living on the edge. People who are afraid will continually urge you to move away from the edge or write you off completely as a foolish person.  Be gracious to people.

I wonder what the others in the boat thought when Peter stepped out on the edge and walked on water with Jesus.  Jonah went out on the edge when he submitted himself to being thrown overboard because he had disobeyed God and his problem was causing a problem for everyone on the boat.  Note the powerful results of his willingness to trust God and live on the edge.  Paul lived on edge and summed it up when he said:

"More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.  Philippians 3:8-16

The edge isn't as dangerous as rumor would have it.  It is sometimes uncomfortable, but always inspiring.  It is sometimes unpopular, but always rewarding.  It is sometimes challenging, but always worth the risk.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Start Changing

God is not a “stop” God.  He is a “change” God.  Ephesians 4 reminds us that we don’t change by stopping, but rather by putting on or starting something different.  For instance it says a liar is still a liar even when he stops lying.  He is only changed when he starts telling the truth.  Likewise, a thief hasn't changed when he stops stealing.  He is changed when he starts giving.

We need to stop worrying and start worshiping.  I love the way God's people break into worship in the midst of the horrors of the Book of Revelation. It is because they see things differently.  Tough things happen to everyone, but taking time to consider what is happening in the context of God's faithfulness is what leads to worship.  The church should be seen as a people of worship, not a people of worry.

Some other stop and start things could be: Stop comparing and start sharing.  Stop saying negative things and start saying positive things.  Stop drinking soda and start drinking water.

Things don't change because we stop doing something.  Change comes when we start doing what we ought to be doing.  What kind of things do you need to stop and start?

By the way,  I am committed to stop watching pastors and churches struggle and to start helping them refocus on God's purposes and power in their lives.  If you want to join me in this effort check out this website and contact me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Visitors Not Welcome

You and I have all experienced the “get ready for company” environment.  Most of our homes are already presentable and an unannounced drop-in wouldn’t be a tragedy, but when we know someone is coming we take extra steps to make sure everything is just right.

Why is it that we don’t have that same mentality when it comes to our weekend gatherings at church?  I have had the opportunity to be a visitor at many churches over the past year.  In most cases I felt like they didn’t know or care that I was coming.  There were the occasional “greeters” that shook my hand and gave me a program, but that was about it.

Many times my wife and I would squeeze down a long narrow hallway, navigating around people who were talking or waiting, then arrive in the auditorium where people sat silently facing an empty platform.  A few may be holding private conversations and others would turn to watch us attempt to get a feel for where we wanted to sit.  There we sat until that awkward moment of “turn and greet someone you don’t know” was used to move the worship team or choir off the platform. 

Romans 12:9-13 encourages us to practice hospitality.  Here are a few things God encourages us to consider.  Don’t pretend to love people . . . really love them.  This means take the time and effort to engage them.  We are told to enjoy honoring others.  We are told to not be lazy, but work hard and enthusiastically in being the Lord’s servant. 

Imagine that the Holy Spirit (God) is inviting . . . calling . . . moving people to hear from Him, to find an answer to a hurt, to renew their hope or to be with His people.  We are his servants and are in charge of this event He has ordained.  God is all about preparation.  He says He is preparing a place for us.  He told his disciples to go and prepare a place for the Passover.  He said the kingdom is like a banquet prepared for many invited guests.  What kind of preparation goes into getting a church ready to greet guests?

Many of the churches I have visited are cluttered and unclean.  They prepare nothing to assist visitors in finding the nursery, a class, a place to sit or people to interact with.  Insider language is used in announcements and even in the message.  The entire environment is not visitor friendly.  There is obviously no anticipation, excitement or preparation for visitors.

Think about the things you do when you know someone is coming to visit your home. 
     1.  You clean a little extra and are even concerned about smell. (Light a couple candles.)
     2.  You make sure there is room in the driveway for them to park and will even move your car down the street, if necessary.
     3.  You watch for them and go out to greet them in the driveway, if possible.
     4.  You make sure they are comfortable, even if it means that you give up your favorite chair or bed.
     5.  You focus on them and engage them in conversation.
     6.  You honor your guests and make them feel at home by telling them where the restroom is, if they need it and to help themselves to the refreshments you have set out for them to snack on.

Why don’t we practice this kind of hospitality in what we call God’s house?  Maybe we don’t anticipate or value visitors.  Maybe we are lazy.  Maybe we are hypocritical and only pretend to love other people.  Maybe we have lost sight of our mission and responsibility to rescue the perishing.

We are encouraged to always be eager to practice hospitality.  God’s people should be the most hospitable people on the planet.  After all, we are the benefactors of God’s great hospitality as He prepared a Sacrifice for us so that He could welcome us as His children.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Leadership and Equipping

Ephesians 4:11-12
"Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ."

Some church leaders act as though they are God’s gift to the church for their own notoriety and glory.  I have heard pastors defensively say, “This is my vision and no one is taking it from me.”  These men are driven by passion and vision, but crippled by insecurity and a failure to understand that their greatest responsibility is to equip an army of people to fulfill the vision God has placed on their heart for reaching and transforming the world.

God has a vision for his church and imparts that vision to pastor/teachers so that they can lead and train (equip) God’s people (the saints) to do His work (seek and save the lost . . . Luke 19:10) and build up the Body of Christ.  No one owns God’s vision, we are only stewards of it.  That means no one can steal it.  Being a steward involves investment in those God sent you to equip.  It involves feeding them, shepherding them (leading) and encouraging them.

Five signs that you might be lopsided in your equipping and leading:

1.  The leadership team is limited to a few individuals who are to act as insulation between the lead pastor, staff and other leaders.

2.  There is no platform or tolerance for strategic ideas from other leaders that challenge the ideas of the lead pastor.

3.  Anger and frustration begin to permeate the messages from the platform.

4.  There is a high turnover of talented staff who become frustrated (lack of utilization) and burned out (lack of investment) in ministry.

5.  Stagnation of growth is blamed on others and their loss of vision, loyalty or lack of engagement (unequipped) rather than a failure of leadership.

God is building His church and has called pastors to shepherd and equip it.  It all rises and falls on leadership and leadership's greatest responsibility is to invest in others (equip).