Perspectives on Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral Issues: Host – Lowell Qualls

Posts tagged ‘Community’

Hungry, Thirsty, Unknown, and Naked

Matthew 25:35-40 is a text social justice folks mention in hopes of mobilizing people who are apathetic about the needs of others.  These verses, I’ve observed, are quoted most often when talking about reaching into the heart of a broken city … a broken-hearted city like my own – Richmond, Virginia.

Take a look at the New Living Translation’s version:  35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.  36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’   37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you?  Or thirsty and give you something to drink?  38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality?  Or naked and give you clothing?  39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’   40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

The words of Jesus.

Rarely are these words … His words … quoted in the context of judgment, but that is in fact what Christ was talking about.  Take a look:   31 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne.  32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.   34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.  35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty … etc.

Maybe the most startling statement Jesus makes when preaching this sermon is verse 46.  It certainly is to me:   46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

He talks about separating the “sheep and the goats.”   According to Jesus, when He comes to judge the world, the righteous (the sheep on His right) and the unrighteous (the goats in His left) will be assigned their place in eternity.

I gathered from reading Michael J. Wilkins’ commentary on Matthew the following:  Jesus had given some clues about the events that would accompany His return (24:4-35), and then He taught lessons about watching, waiting, and being prepared for His second coming (His “first coming” being His birth in Bethlehem, His ministry, His death, and His resurrection).  Those lessons (24:36-25:30) include the parable about the homeowner and the thief, the parable about 2 kinds of servants (faithful and unfaithful), the parable of the 10 virgins (prepared and unprepared), and the parable of the talants (productive and unproductive).

When Jesus talked about sheep and goats He was talking about followers of God verses people living independent of God.  He made clear there was a reward for followers and punishment for the independent.  What is really cool is the surprised reaction of the sheep – those who would be rewarded:  “Lord, when did we see You hungry, thirsty, being a stranger, naked, sick or imprisoned” (the last two categories found in the other Gospels).

The Lord was referring to Isaiah 58:6-10, where God declares that true righteousness (right with God, right living, right motives) is displayed by caring for the needy.

But NEVER does Jesus in the New or God in the Old Testaments indicate that acts of mercy and kindness lead to salvation and eternal life!  Jesus was clear about that, and Paul made sure the people that received his letters were totally informed.  One example of Paul’s teaching is found in Ephesians 2, verses 8 and 9:   “God saved you by his grace when you believed.  And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.   Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”

Jesus was very clear:  acts of mercy and kindness are evidences that the sheep are already righteous!  The surprise of the sheep indicates that these acts of mercy and kindness were not intentional meritorious acts to gain access and entrance to the Kingdom of God, but were evidence that the sheep belonged to the Kingdom.

In light of my previous blog (“It’s Time” – October 11, 2011), I’ve been thinking long and hard about the motivation behind acquiring a specially-equipped truck, with all the bells and whistles and amenities.  I’ve come to a point where I’m asking myself, “Does it need to be ‘perfect’ before I begin to do what God is calling me to do?  Does the step-van/food truck need to come first – before I’ll venture out into the unknown?”

So … would anyone in the Richmond area consider joining me in an experiment.  First, prayer – asking for God to lead us.  Second, doing some “prayer-trips” around the city, looking for the places where needy folks are currently NOT being served by those already involved in such projects and ministries.  I think then, thirdly, it will be time to put a few propane burners in the back of my pickup, some previously prepared soup that we can warm up when we’re on location, something to serve coffee, some good water, along with cups, bowls and spoons.

What say you?

The Bridge

The Bridge

The Bridge - to Christ, Spiritual Maturity, and Hope to the World

The Bridge.  A new name, a new vision, a new pastor, a new approach to ministry, a new congregation.  By the way … I’m that new pastor.  I took the position in October, and it’s been great!  I love the people – “the survivors” is what I call the folks who made it through the turbulence of transition from former pastor/former church to new pastor/new vision.

Maybe you noticed the logo caption.  We, the people at The Bridge, want to be a bridge to Jesus.  We will never change the message!  It’s Jesus Christ, the Lord, Son of God, born of a virgin, lived in Palestine, taught disciples, was crucified, dead, buried and RISEN!  And coming King!

While we’re orthodox in our beliefs we will tend to be unorthodox in our approach to reaching out to the “dechurched” and the “unchurched.”

Matt Chandler (Google Matt, and look for him on You Tube as well) describes the dechurched as people who attended church when they were younger (pre- and even post-adolescence) but, for a ton of reasons, decided church wasn’t their thing.

I’ve come to the conclusion, after years of observation myself, that the dechurched may have thought attending church was pointless, irrelevant, dead/lifeless, populated by hypocrites, and constantly wanting more and more money.  The dechurched may have been hurt in a plethora of ways while attending church, and they’ve decided, “Who needs this!?”  Unfortunately, they may have seen hypocrisy in their own home and decided, “Why go to the trouble of going to church on Sunday morning when there are better things to do?”

The dechurched, after years of wandering the planet, wondering if there is a personal God that’s as sick of “church” as they are, believing that Jesus Christ is who He said He was, and investigating every spiritual nook and cranny there is have finally decided, “If I can find a group of REAL Christ-followers – authentic, transparent, loving, kind, other-centric, missional and more – I’ll check it out.  If I can find a group of Christ-followers who are honest about their imperfections and don’t make excuses for their misbehavior (they actually ask for forgiveness and want to make things right), I might check it out.  If I can find a diverse congregation that does not try to be politically correct but (instead)  tries to love each other the way Martin Luther King dreamed, I might check it out.”

It is my hope that The Bridge will be all those things!  I want to hang out with people like those I described above.  I want to build relationships with honest-to-God and authentic people who get the Gospel, believe it, and want to live in a community that looks and sounds a lot like Jesus if He were living here, and now.

Sounds idealistic?  Sounds impossible?  I don’t care what it sounds like – this is the vision I have for The Bridge.  Before my life is over I want to be with a group of people who want to do “Church” the way Jesus intended it to be.

Give me some feedback!  What did I leave out of my vision.  That’s an honest question.  I want to know.

A “Joseph” Generation

A “Joseph” Generation

August 9, 2009 – WEAG

INTRODUCTION:

There’s a broad spectrum of people that attend church, so I’m sure there are some here today who are checking out this church, wondering if God is real, taking in the atmosphere, wondering if there are business connections or networks to be joined, etc. You’re seeking something … You’re seeking Someone. That’s GOOD! You are welcome here!

If you aren’t a committed follower of Jesus, what you’re about to hear is typical of what we talk about … when you’re not around. The content of today’s message is not atypical, in other words. We, the church, know we’ve got some growing to do. We’ve got issues. We know we’re in process – moving from seekers of God to lovers of God. We come together every week, in a million locations around the world, 24/7 … not just on Sundays … and we LEARN. We study. And we grow.

We, the people who call WEAG our home base – our church – are no different.

I say “we” because Becky and I are members of West End. And while we’re not on the pastoral team, we’re on the ministry team!

I say, “we” … we are part of the WEAG Ministry Team because every person at WEAG is in ministry … of some kind or another. Ministry is just a church word that means – service. We are organized and energized to serve the interests of Jesus. What Jesus wants done, we want to do THAT!

We believe that God is real and that He forgives sin, don’t we, church? We love Him because – because He first loved us. Because He paid the penalty for our sin – which is spiritual death – eternal separation from a holy God. Because He willingly died in our place, for our sins. Because He’s alive – resurrected from the dead!

We want to learn more about Him, what’s important to Him, and how to please Him – which includes what He enjoys hearing when we worship and praise Him. We, the people of West End A/G, want to be the best Jesus-followers we can be … and we know that in order to be Christ-followers, we will change. WE MUST CHANGE! We haven’t arrived. We, the Church of Jesus Christ … we get it: we’re not perfect. We never will be … but that’s no excuse. We MUST grow.

Now, those of you who call WEAG “home,” if you agree with what I just said, would you say, “Yep … that’s us.” (Ha!)

Pastor John asked me to speak on Tuesday of this week. I was in Orlando, at General Council, and immediately I knew what the topic would be. I just didn’t know the biblical text. But I found it!

Nowadays, all I seem to see, all I want to read about, all I want to talk about is leadership, leadership, leadership. I live and breathe the subject. I consume all I can on the subject. I’m constantly studying it. I have been for years! And because leadership development has captured my heart, my passions, my imagination, my life … because leadership development is now my calling and vocation … I AM A HAPPY MAN!

And in the course of my studies I’ve taken note: Leadership is either on display … for all to see … or it’s missing!

You can feel it … sense it … when leadership is present. And you can feel the hollowness, the emptiness, the void when it is absent. Leadership is either present or absent. There is no middle ground – no grey area. And I think you instinctively know what I’m saying is true.

When John asked me to speak, the Holy Spirit took me to Psalm 105.

Throughout the Bible, you will find potential leaders in various stages of development. And then, once they become recognized leaders, you’ll read how they brought necessary change … because that is one thing ALL leaders do. When leaders lead, changes follow … either for the good or for the bad.

Throughout the Bible you will see examples of leaders and observe their leadership. The Bible gives us an honest report of the good, the bad, the inept, the humble, the hesitant … military leaders, governmental leaders, religious leaders, early church leaders. From the dominating leader to the servant-leader – you’ll find them all in the Bible.

Look at Psalm 105:16-22

16 [God] called for a famine on the land of Canaan, cutting off its food supply.
   17 Then He sent someone to Egypt ahead of them —
Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
   18 They bruised his feet with fetters
and placed his neck in an iron collar.
   19 Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character.
   20 Then Pharaoh sent for him and set him free;
the ruler of the nation opened his prison door.
   21 Joseph was put in charge of all the king’s household;
he became ruler over all the king’s possessions.
   22 He could instruct the king’s aides as he pleased
and teach the king’s advisers.


1. Coming Conditions Will Call For Josephs

In Joseph’s day, God created circumstances that required a Leader to emerge that would change the course of history. God cut off Canaan’s food supply.

Take note: God … who is always GOOD … did something that appeared to be BAD at the time He was doing it.

Could God be doing the same thing, right now, in the world? Not just in America, but the world? Could God be creating the environment that will require godly leaders to arise, and step into the spotlight? Are there people – men and women in the church – THIS CHURCH – that will hold in their hearts the answer to the wearied and worried cry of humanity?

There’s famine in the land. People are crying out for bread, but not just any bread. They want … they need … the Bread of Heaven. There’s a spiritual drought in the land, and the only thing that will satisfy the thirst of disillusioned humanity is the Living Water. Jesus referred to Himself as the Bread and the Water that would satisfy the souls of men.

If Jesus satisfies your hunger and thirst, will you say, “That’s me!”?

Before you go rushing out of this building with slogans and t-shirts, bumper stickers and spiritual clichés, let me tell you – YOU’RE NOT PREPARED.

You’re not prepared for what God wants to do … what He’s going to do in our generation.

I know that! ( … and statistical studies will back me up) We can’t lead our world anywhere before we look, sound and live differently than our unbelieving friends. The divorce rate in the church is 30% … the world is 37%. We cheat on our taxes, we surf internet porn sites, we lie when we do business … and we’re the Church??? Did Jesus say, “I will build My Church,” and intend for it to look so … so … worldly?

If you believe that God is the Sovereign King of Heaven, the Creator of the Universe, and the all-powerful, all wise and knowing, everywhere-present God … and you don’t think He’s got a hand in what is going on in our world right now, there’s a disconnect between what you say you believe and what you really believe.

I’m not trying to mess with your mind, or lay a guilt trip on you. That would never bring about needed change in your lifestyle anyway, right? And I’m not manipulating facts. I’m calling it the way I see it. I have a strong opinion about the current state of the Church … in America. If you don’t see it my way … okay.

But you can’t just disagree with me and not have another theory on why things are happening the way they are, and why they might be happening this way at this time. I’d love for you to send me an email. Give me your opinion. You’ve heard mine.

Back to my point I’m making from verse 16: Like the famine in Joseph’s day, God is doing something. He called for a famine then. He can do the same thing today … but I suspect He’s going to do something on a much bigger scale. He’s not just going to mess around with Canaan. He’s going to shake the world.

BEFORE He sent famine to Canaan, He sent Joseph to Egypt.

2. Coming Conditions Require the Character of Joseph.

God began a process of preparing a leader to provide His solutions for Joseph’s generation. I believe God is in the process of doing the same thing – right now. Today. And He’s doing it in the lives of people IN THIS ROOM.

God took Joseph to school! Joseph thought, as most teenagers do, that he was ready to lead … AT 17!!!

He lacked wisdom. He totally offended his brothers because he had no filter in his brain or on his mouth. From the original story, told in Genesis 37 to 50, we can gather than he was a spoiled kid. That wasn’t his fault. His dad showed favoritism to such an extreme that it was inevitable – a family feud would be ignited by Joseph’s big mouth. The family would be thrown the into chaos.

What I’m about to tell you is surreal. God was in it. God had given Joseph his personality and his parentage. From his mother’s womb, God had everything in mind that we read about in Joseph’s story.

God knew that Joseph would require a certain confidence to stand before Egypt’s king and make the declarations he did! God knew that Joseph would be willing to do and speak anything! But first God had to work on his raw gifts. He had to sharpen his mind, temper his ways, and develop his character.

Now … how would you go about raising up and training a Joseph?? If you knew there were days ahead – days that would require spiritual leaders using God’s wisdom, speaking God’s words and knowing God’s WORD, how would you begin? And when?

WEAG has been intentional when it comes to investing in kids and young people.

The Assemblies of God has over 330,000 churches, in 214 countries, with 60 million members. The A/G has grown from 300 people meeting in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1912 to 60 million strong! We haven’t had our 100th birthday yet! And it is estimated by church demographers that by 2020 – if Jesus doesn’t come back first – the A/G will have over 500,000 churches and number 100 million strong.

Now … this is not an A/G pep rally, and I’m not selling the A/G, but I sure am glad I’m a part of it.

And … in the US … where it began, the A/G has 2.9 million members. And in that number … 2.9 million … there is a sub-group, numbering 1 million. That sub-group is made up a kids and young people under the age of 25!!

Do you get what I’m saying??

Why does West End pour so many resources into its kids and youth and college ministries??

Because God will, out of that population, raise up a generation of Josephs! Raw, edgy, hip, passionate, determined, mighty, fearless Josephs. They are in this building … and in this room.

You don’t have to be under 25 to be a Joseph. You can be 85, like Caleb. He was one of two spies that Moses sent into the Promised Land that reported, “We can take this land, in spite of the giants, the walled cities and the armies of idol worshippers!”

It’s a shame those two were in the minority … 10 spies said, “It can’t be done. We’re like grasshoppers in their sight. We’ll lose. We’ll die. We can’t win.”

Forty-five years later, after all the smart people, the financial experts, the nay-sayers and negative report people … a whole generation … had died off, Caleb, at age 85, said, “I’m as strong as I was when I was a 45 year old. God has given me strength to do battle.” And he looked over the land of Promise and he said, “Give me THAT MOUNTAIN!” And he went and got it!

Now … to have

3. The Character of Joseph Requires a Challenge

It won’t take me long to make this point.

When God taps a Joseph … and He may be tapping YOU this morning … and this is tough … you’ll go to God’s version of Leadership School.

There are seekers in this room … I know that. People who are considering making the leap, believing the Gospel, giving their lives to Christ … and when some will hear this, they’ll stop seeking the God we serve. They’ll stop dead in their tracks. And they might say something like this: “Are YOU CRAZY???”

And the answer to that question is, “No.”

We’re grateful, not crazy. We’re forgiven. We’ve not lost our minds. God threw our sinful record into the sea of His forgetfulness. He’s won our hearts. He’s loved us into His kingdom. We have gladly accepted His rule in our lives … because we’ve lived without Him … AND THERE’S NO FUTURE IN THAT! We were once far from God, but now we want to be as close to Him as we can possibly be!

And if it requires that we lay down our lives for Him, we’ve considered the cost. We’re not stupid. We’re not uninformed. AND we don’t have messianic or martyr complexes.

We know that being a Joseph in the future requires God’s version of Boot Camp now. But we don’t run from that reality. We embrace it. Because there are lost and dying people out there who will never hear that Jesus loved them so much He died for them. They will never hear that God raised Him from the dead! They will never know that there’s a heaven and a hell. They’ll never hear a clear presentation of His story, in their language, unless we willingly go.

Joseph was rejected and betrayed by his brothers, fettered and sold into slavery, bruised, falsely accused of rape by a desperate Egyptian housewife, put into prison for years – with no hope of release, and forgotten by his cellmates.

But the whole time … from 17 to 30+ years old … he maintained an A average in God’s school for Emerging Leaders. He aced his character-development classes. He passed the tests each time they came.

And when he was ready, and not a day before … when he was ready to lead …

4. God Literally “Set Him Free!!!” to Lead

He blew Pharaoh’s mind with his wisdom and spiritual depth. And not only did his dysfunctional family benefit from his rise to power in the throne-room of the king … not only did he literally save the lives of the people who trekked from famine-torn Canaan … but his strategy for battling the famine that eventually made its way to the breadbasket of the world – the fertile valley of the Nile – saved another nation, too. Egypt. God gave him the strategy.

“Leadership is a combination of strategy and character. If you must be without one, be without the strategy.” – Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” –  Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Joseph of ancient history had been prepared in God’s school of Leadership to make decisions … some decisions that would literally mean LIFE or DEATH.

CONCLUSION:

Are the days we’re living any less critical than the days of Joseph’s emergence?

Actually, they’re much more critical. What’s at stake? The eternal future of our generation. The eternal future of our family and friends. Is that reality on your radar?

At some point in time – in the not-too-distant future – God will keep a promise. He will usher in the literal Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. And He – Jesus, the Son of God – will reign forever and ever. There is coming a day when time as we know it will be no more. Before then, you must decide!

Some people, on their spiritual journeys, aren’t looking to Jesus as Savior and Lord. They not convinced they have a sin problem, and that there’s a holy God out there somewhere that can not co-habitate with sinners. Instead, they’re looking for something else … fulfillment, satisfaction, meaningful purpose … something to plug the hole in their soul.

Our mortality cries out for immortality! We want more! We have eternity in our hearts. This is why people go on spiritual journeys in the first place. We all want something to believe in that is bigger, better and beyond our selves. We’re so desperate for something to believe in, we’ll eventually find something … to worship.

It might be Michael Jackson; it might be a crystal good luck charm; it might be a politician or a political cause. Some might worship Mother Earth, and live to save a sick environment. Some will join the church of Tiger Woods; their communion will take place at the 19th hole, and their small group might be a radically committed foursome. Some might choose to worship at the Altar of Intellect, worshipping at the great university libraries of the world. Others might choose to put their best time into “World of Warcraft,” or wear out an X-Box 360. Some here might be tempted to put their trust in Oprah; they might religiously attend her televised meetings – never missing a broadcast … less they be “left behind” and considered un-cool or uninformed.

Many here … many here … may choose to worship The Golden Dow – whose temple sits in the middle of Wall Street, and whose priests ring a golden bell at the beginning and end of five, 8-hour services a week.

I could go on and on with idol possibilities. But none of those gods satisfy completely.

We know they don’t love us. We know they’re powerless to change our hearts, lighten our load, or heal our emotional and psychological wounds. And they certainly can’t forgive our sins.

But friends … Jesus can. And does, 24/7, 365! He saves us! He heals us! He loves us unconditionally.

And He’s coming soon.

God is setting the stage for the single-most important spiritual awakening the world has ever seen. This spiritual awakening will not be geographically confined – like The Great Awakening that occurred from 1730 to 1751. The next GREAT AWAKENING won’t look anything like ANYTHING that has happened since the resurrection of Jesus!

What will you do with this information … this sermon … this challenge?

First, I’m praying for A Joseph Generation to arise here at West End! I’m praying for young and old, male and female Josephs to pick up the Cross of Jesus Christ, and take His story to neighbors and nations.

If you believe in the eternity described in the Bible … if you believe the sermons preached by the Son of God, Jesus … you know …

You do not want anyone to miss heaven!

Second, I’ve been praying for persons attending today who have been looking for God in all the wrong places. Even after hearing the description of Joseph’s life today, they are … right now … saying to themselves, “This is the something I’ve been looking for. This is worth investing my life in. Jesus is the SOMEONE I can put my trust in. I know, full well, I am a sinful person. I know I need a Savior if I ever hope to live in the presence of a God so holy, as much as He loves me, Who can’t allow me into His presence unless my sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus, His only Son.”

The first invitation is for those who wish to take the Good News about Jesus to neighbors and nations, to the end of the block or the ends of the Earth; who are willing to trust God; lay down their lives, put aside their plans, for a greater and more important plan.

If you fully understand what it means to say, “God, I’m willing to be a Joseph to my generation,” come.

The second invitation is for those who aren’t ready to take the message to friends and neighbors, but for those who are ready to believe the message. You’ve been thinking about it. Today is your day of decision, and you have decided … I’m going to become a follower of Jesus Christ.

To those who are reading this message on my website, if you would like to accept Jesus as your Savior and Lord, take this prayer as a guide and pray it. Put as much of it as you can in your own words. And if you can think of anything – if anything comes to mind while you’re praying – that you want to specifically acknowledge as sin in your life, take some time to articulate what you want from God. (It may sound something like this: “Lord, I can remember when I was immoral [describe it to Him in your own words] … and it has haunted me/made me feel unforgiveable/made me feel guilty for so long. Please forgive me for that sin. [And if you think, after you’ve finished praying, that you should forgive someone, or ask for forgiveness of someone, make plans to do so.].”)

PRAYER: Jesus, I believe that You died for my sins, in my place, and I believe that God raised You from the dead. I give You my life for Yours, and I intentionally choose You as my Lord and Master. I invite You into my life with thanksgiving and deep gratitude. Amen.

“What Do You Do?”

Recently I was contacted on my Facebook page by a young missionary.  We are now “friends” – if you know anything about Facebook.  He asked, “What are you doing in ministry right now?”  So I told him what I’m doing, and then I had a brainstorm.  I thought, “Maybe others are curious about what I’m doing right now, too.”

Lowell speaking at Trinity

Lowell speaking at Trinity

Whether you are or your aren’t … here goes.  My letter to Jerod.  I replied:

Before I answer that question let me give you some of my background.

I’m 55 years old, and have been an A/G pastor since I was 20.  Good grief!  Just writing that made me feel old … for about 2 seconds.  Anyway …

In 35 years I’ve served four churches and one parachurch organization.  Because I’ve been the following:  an Associate, Senior/Lead, parachurch assistant director, and Pioneer Pastor … I’ve been able to encourage pastors who find themselves in any one of those positions at this time.

I’ve had the good fortune of traveling the world – seeing foreign missions operations first hand, and I’ve worked with inner-city parachurch organizations everywhere I’ve lived as well.  I can safely say, I believe in the Great Commission … and I’ve lived it as well.

So … what sort of ministry am I involved in?  That’s complicated.  I formed a small ministry – it’s call E-Perspectives International Corporation … or EPIC.  It serves as the umbrella for the following “activities” – writing, conference and seminar speaking, pulpit supply, and counseling. 

Teaching in Belize

Teaching in Belize

My favorite part of what I do is counseling … but that’s a misnomer … it should read, “listening.”  By that I mean I’m a safe person to talk to about dreams and visions … before an idea is taken to a board (or a spouse).  Usually when pastors envision something the first response they get from their leadership team or the wife is, “Are you nuts?!”  So … I listen … and help a guy process – OUT LOUD – what he’s been thinking up to this moment.  I’d say I’m a better than average listener – and that makes pastors feel secure.  They know I don’t have an agenda of my own – I don’t want their church or their pulpit.  I just want to help them accomplish what God

I love pastors.  Oh, and let me add – I’m a pastor’s kid.  That’s another dynamic I bring to the table.

When I’m invited to speak my favorite messages are the ones most (if not all) pastors HATE to preach.  I’m referring to the sermons about money, giving (especially to Missions), and how a congregation should value their leadership – especially their pastor.  (Most guys I know shy away from saying things like, “You know, folks, I’m a gift from God.  Ephesians 4 says so.  How ’bout treating me better.”  You know what I mean?  Ha!)  I also take assigned topics – because Pastors know what their people need to hear, and maybe hearing it from another source will get a better response.

 

That’s me, in a nutshell – me being the nut.  If you’d like to talk, give me a call.

Oh, and the “E” in EPIC stands for “Eternal.”  I try to describe, using God’s own language, how He feels about things that do and don’t last forever.  We Christians spend way too much time and energy on temporary things.  (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

If any of you – my blogging friends – know of a pastor or missionary I can help out, minister to, speak for, etc., let me know.

When Is A Church Too Big?

I opened the Editorial Page in my local paper – The Richmond Times-Dispatch – and read the following opinion.  Since I’m attending a large (mega) church, I was fascinated with the perspective of the writer.  The title of the Op/Ed is “All Size.”  Think about it.

“A new study has documented what many parishioners at megachurches already knew: Such houses of worship are neither cold nor impersonal, and can offer as much community as many smaller churches do, if not more.

“Those findings help explain the explosive growth of megachurches, which — according to another newly released survey — shows no signs of abating. Other factors might be at work, too. Megachurches are not doctrinally narrow or rigid, but they are clear about certain points of dispute. In anage when many mainline churches have drifted toward cultural relativism and liberal theology, 92 percent of megachurch members believe hell is a real place, and four out of five believe the Rapture really is coming.

“Most megachurches work hard to create intimacy within the congregation by offering dozens, if not hundreds, of small groups that focus on everything from Christ-centered personal finances to motorcycle riding. (That might help explain why the megachurch member is more likely to have friends in the congregation than the member of a traditional church.) The churches often grow by attracting people who come for the community — and stay for the communion.

“Megachurches have their critics, who point out (often with some justification) the emphasis on worldly issues rather than otherworldly reverence. But megachurches clearly have found a formula that draws many who otherwise might spend Sunday morning on the golf course. Based on our limited understanding of the Scriptures, the Final Arbiter will be pleased if more people come to Him — no matter which route they take.”

I agree with the writer.  Large churches have some down sides, but there are a slew of ups.  I’m not suggesting anyone abandon their small(er) church for a larger one – NO, no, no.  Not for a minute.  What I am saying is, let’s stop the criticism of larger churches – and the comparing, competitive spirit in the criticisms – and let’s get on with “being the Church.”  United.  Loving.  And humble.

Some of The Keys to UNITY

It’s been a while since I’ve written.  Vacations, unplanned and planned weekend trips, business complications, and book and magazine writing deadline challenges have all contributed to the lack of attention I’ve paid to this blog site.  But I’m back!

I’ve been thinking about UNITY a lot recently.  It’s going to take something extraordinary to bring a sense of unity to our nation, considering the political climate that’s been created in this election season.  That’s challenging enough.  But I’m also aware of churches that are going through leadership crises, and the missing component in many of those church settings is unity.  I’m also aware of many families in crisis – many because parents aren’t unified … and children are alienated from their parents.

Let me talk to you about some keys to unity.

In Amos 3:3 (New Living Translation) you can read it yourself:  “Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?”

Practically speaking, no … it’s impossible for two or MORE people to walk together without agreeing on a direction.

Agreement is a wonderful thing, presuming, of course, that the group isn’t made up of lemmings.  (I remember seeing a television documentary on the lemming … a sub-arctic rodent … and was amazed.  Lemmings play follow the leader, even if the leader is leading them off a cliff.  I looked up the word “lemming,” and found that it has come to mean, “doomed conformist.”)

When you’ve got LEADERS in a room, the last thing you have to worry about is conformity.  When LEADERS are in a room, the potential for chaos can ratchet up exponentially and precipitously the longer there is silence.  True LEADERS are always ready to fill the silence with an idea, or fill the void if someone doesn’t step forward to point out a direction to go in.

So … when you call together an organization’s leadership council, board of directors, or deaconate … and you say, “In order to be the most effective company, or business or church we can possibly be, we need to take time to talk out ideas, exchange information, or work through solutions to challenges,” that is a good idea!  Board retreats are a good idea.  They hold tremendous potential for forward movement; they can be great morale-boosters.  Board retreats can be occasions to foment strategies, increase effectiveness, and provoke excitement.

But … board retreats can also expose an organization’s weaknesses.  You might find out not only who’s NOT “on board” (pun intended) with the program, but who has an agenda of their own!

I was watching the replay of the US-Spain gold medal basketball game, and I heard this from one of the commentators:  “The United States has always had the best players but, we’ve seen in recent competitions and world championships and Olympics, they didn’t always have the best team.”

Friends … been there, seen that … and it’s painful – to watch a group of people with awesome gifts, be they a men or women sports team, leave an audience scratching their heads in wonder, asking, “How did they lose?  What went wrong??”

I’ve seen companies go bust because they couldn’t decide what to name a widget.  I’ve seen churches in turmoil because they couldn’t agree on what color to paint the nursery.  I’ve seen families torn apart over a few dollars in a last will and testament.  Sad.

On the flip side, I’ve seen companies, organizations, sports teams, families and churches succeed, surpass expectations, thrive, and exceed growth projections.  The DIFFERENCE?  UNITY.  I’m going to share a portion of the Bible with you, and make some applications, on the subject of UNITY.  The Bible has a lot to say about UNITY, but I’m only going to speak from Ephesians 4.

Ephesians 4:1-6 New Living Translation says, Therefore I (Paul), a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.  Always be humble and gentle.  Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.  Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.  For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.  There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.

Paul starts this passage by observing:  “You have been called by God.”

Have you ever seen a person in sales that couldn’t sell?  I have.  I’ve seen pastors in the ministry who didn’t like people!!   You don’t stay on the baseball team long if you can’t hit or field the ball … and it has nothing to do with desire.  You can desire all you want.  You won’t succeed.  The kind of success I’m talking about has everything to do with innate talents and giftings that go hand-in-hand with a heart that contains a calling.

If the question of calling is not an issue, then Paul writes, “Always be …”  Those two words are huge.  They imply that you and I have a choice.  “Always be …”

Always be humble.  No false humility allowed.  If you’re good at something, say so … and if you’re not, say so.  Humility involves having an accurate appreciation of who you are … who you really are.  And if you don’t know something about yourself, ask your children.  They’ll tell you more than you want to know.

Always be gentle.  I heard someone say, “Meekness is not weakness.”  Gentleness is “power under control.”  Moses was described as the most gentle man who ever lived – and yet he was able to lead, some estimate, 1,000,000+ Jews out of Egypt.  And Jesus described Himself as “gentle and humble in heart.”  Jesus was anything but weak!

Always be patient.  It takes a strong person to put up with people, and to endure discomfort.  Fighting back is engrained into us.  Personal survival is part of our DNA.  Patience is not only a virtue – it’s a rarity.  But truly patient people tend to be the wisest among us.  They wait for all the facts before making a judgment.  Patient people built the pyramids.

Always make allowances for other people’s faults.  I’ve got a great book – “The Spirituality of Imperfection.”   If you not only know that nobody’s perfect, but you can live with it, you can impact a city.

Always be loving.  “Love is a decision.”  Arranged marriages work because the couple decides to love each other.  And you never wait until you feel like forgiving someone – you’ll never do it!  Love is probably the biggest key to UNITY.

Let me conclude this part of my talk by saying, YOU DON’T EVER WANT TO PRAY:  “Lord, make me humble.  Lord, make me gentle.  Lord, make me patient.  Lord, make me loving.”  You don’t want God to “make you” ANYTHING.  The way He tenderizes people is the same way I tenderize a good steak.  First, from my experience, He’ll say, “Are you SURE you want Me to do the ‘making?’  Why don’t you just go ahead and do the right thing!”  God is the most loving Person in the Universe, and He’s totally trustworthy and kind … but He’s also strong.

Paul concludes with:  Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.  For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.  There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.

There’s that CHOICE thing again.  Paul didn’t suggest praying about UNITY.  He said, “Make every effort …”  Don’t you wish UNITY didn’t require effort??  (For you leaders/pastors:  The reason unity is so hard is because LEADERS always think they’re right.  You won’t lead long if you think you’re wrong most of the time.  Leaders are strongly opinionated.  I know that’s true … and I don’t want to hear any more discussion about it!!)

Warren Wiersbe wrote, “Unity … is the responsibility of each person involved … and is a job never done.”

If you’d like to see unity break out in your church, family, business, or board room I’d like to suggest you pray this way:  “Lord, create in ME a clean heart, and renew a right spirit in ME.  Don’t let ME try to get away with waiting for everyone else to get their act together while I choose not to get my act together.  And today, Lord, as I make the effort to keep unified with my compatriots, please add Your blessing to those efforts.  Please make up for my shortcomings with Your grace.  Let Your grace be like humidity.  Even though we can’t see it, we want to feel it.”

My second suggestion is this:  try to be a better listener.

Third, don’t take ownership of an idea.  You’ll just be setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration … and both tear away a UNITY.  Be patient.  Communicate your idea.  Let the group own it.  Don’t be so anxious to get the credit, which is a big part of the ownership issue.  You’ve heard it said, “There is no “I” in TEAM.”  Well, don’t just preach TEAM, live it.  Take “I” out of “I”dea.

Fourth, be HONEST … and be gentle when being honest.  In a group like this it’s probably not a good idea to be “ruthlessly honest,” or “lovingly brutal.”  Be kind.  Be considerate.

Finally … if you need to, FORGIVE the person who offended you at the last meeting.  If they haven’t thought to ask you to forgive them for the offense, do a Jesus-Thing.  He prayed, “Father, forgive them.  They don’t even know what they’re doing.”  And if the offender does come to you and ask for forgiveness, DO IT.  Let the offense go.  Don’t be concerned that your gracious forgiveness will leave you vulnerable to those who would take advantage of you.  I’m not suggesting that you throw caution to the wind when it comes to a habitual offender.  That would not be wise.  All I’m saying is, trust God to cover your back.

Saint Mobes

Jim Moberg is a saint.  You may have never heard of him, but he’s a saint nonetheless, and I say that, beautifying him, because he has taken hospitality to a saintly level.

At Jim’s place, what’s his is yours.  Need a bed?  Done.  Need a meal?  Pull up a chair.  Need some conversation?  You got it.  Need an internet connection?  Plug in.

mobes-at-kaanapali.jpgThis hospitality thing in Jim’s life could have come from good genetics, but it didn’t.  His gift came from a new birth – a second birth.  If he were so bold, Jim would tell you that he’s generous because he’s been the recipient of God’s love, forgiveness, and grace.

His face may never adorn a cathedral’s façade, but that doesn’t matter to Jim.  He may never receive a Nobel for showing warmth and kindness, but Jim won’t lose any sleep over it.  He’s got something better than fame or reward.  He’s got satisfaction.  What Mick Jagger complained he could “get no,” Jim has by the boat load.  And he’s hospitable for the best of reasons.  Jim’s a Jesus freak.

When he reads this – my tribute – Jim’ll blush a little and say, “It’s no big deal.”  But it is.  It is a big deal, Jim!  You enrich the planet.  You model the love and grace of God.  You’re a good friend.  If you worked on your ping-pong, you might be perfect.  Ha!  Kidding aside, I wish Jim could bottle his version – his recipe – for hospitality.  You’d love its taste.  It goes down sweet and smooth, and refreshes its recipients to the bone.

Good for you, Mobes!  You’re the best.

Oh, and can I come back?

(St. Mobes is the guy on the right … with Ryan, Brandon, and me)