Showing posts from August, 2015

Hearing and responding to the Still Small Voice

This morning when I least expected it, I experienced a sudden, spur-of-the-moment prompt to go out of my way and do something good for someone. This happens pretty regularly, especially when I have been enjoying prayerful communion with God. I call it the Kind Little Thought.

For me, Kind Little Thoughts have been prompts like telling my boys I love them before they go off to school (rather than just grunt at them), reconciling a conflict more quickly than I want to (when I feel I'm in the right, it's easy to be slow to reconcile), or expressing something I appreciate about someone (instead of just thinking it and not saying it).

Now, here are three convictions I have about the phenomenon of the Kind Little Thought:

The Kind Little Thought is more often than not the Still Small Voice (of God within me).The Kind Little Thought is an invitation to open a valve and release God's love by doing the corresponding Kind Little Action.Kind Little Actions, done with no strings attach…

How to tell what's really important: use the "down the road" test

One axiom that has risen to the top for me is, "Don't sweat the small stuff." Being able to separate what's really important from what's simply bugging me or clamoring for attention is a critical skill for negotiating life when there is so much coming at us on a daily basis. 
Take your phone for example. Which platform should you work with? iPhone? Droid? Something else? And once you get your phone, which apps are the best ones to use? How useful will this phone be in keeping you abreast of what's happening in your personal world and in the world at large?
So many choices. So little time.

How do you weed out the truly important from the unimportant? Here's a took I recently found in Real Simple magazine's September 2015 issue: use the "down the road" test. This means asking, How important will this be a few years down the road? Real Simple asked five thinkers to identify something we stress over that won't be a big deal down the road. All…

Why Jimmy Carter may be more influential in his 90s than when he was president

Jimmy Carter's cancer has brought him into the public eye in a new way. With his mortality so close at hand, many Americans are reflecting on Jimmy Carter, the man. And I, for one, like what I see. It is good for my soul -- and for the American soul -- to have a political leader to look up to. As I remember him, Jimmy Carter was a marginally effective President. But I have a feeling his imprint on America may be greater in his 90s than it was when he was the most powerful man in the world.

Carter has attempted to live quietly and steadily as a public servant. There is a constancy about him that the rest of us would do well to observe and take in. Here's one way it has showed itself: Carter goes to church.

When Jimmy Carter was president, the news on a weekend would go something like this: "The president went to church this morning. And in other news..." The president quietly went to church, and that wasn't the real news. There is a lesson in this for us.


How does one follow Jesus? In a zig-zag pattern.

Living out Jesus' teachings is almost never a matter of going forward in a straight line. But God already knows that about us, and he cares much more about the "forward" part than the "straight line" part.

Here's how one of my friends is going forward, albeit it with some zig-zagging. A couple weeks ago at Sanctuary, I preached on Jesus' command in Matthew 5 about how it's better for his people not to make oaths. Why? Because our word should be as good as gold whether or not we attach "I really mean it this time" phrases like "I promise" or "I swear." Here's what my friend told me today:
Since the sermon a couple of weeks ago about being people of our word, I have been very aware of commitments that I make and honoring them even when (especially when?) I don't feel like doing so.  This is how I used to live my life, unfailingly, thanks to my wonderful parents.  Somewhere along the line, my word became a maybe d…

Which is your trump card -- performance or tenderness? A very short story.

What do you tend to do when people aren't pulling their weight or showing proper respect or getting with the program?

Many centuries ago elders of a monastery came to a wise monk named Abba Poemen to air a frustration and ask for advice. Too many monks were falling asleep during worship services. The elders asked, "When we see the brothers fall asleep in services, should we wake them up so they will be more attentive?”

As a hard working Jesus-follower and pastor, I am right there with the elders. I would want people to participate in worship all together so the worship service would "work" and God would be glorified. I wouldn't want the sleeping brothers to irritate the brothers who are making the effort to remain focused. My compassion would be stirred toward those who are putting in the effort. What does this say about me -- and all of us who feel the reasonableness of the elders' suggestion? Perhaps that we are too in love with effort and results. That ou…

Why being an effective leader means curbing anxiety

If you're a leader, your decisions affect other people. If you're a leader who is anxious, look out. Anxiety puts us in an impaired state, and the results can be disastrous.

I know. I was born into a family of worriers. It's easy for me to bring anxiety into my roles as a pastor, leader and father -- and every time I let that happen, the effects are harmful. If you sometimes struggle with anxiety and are in any kind of leadership role, I hope you find today's post helpful.

In his book Healthy Congregations, Peter Steinke writes about the three main systems of the brain.
The neo-cortex is the center of rational thought. The limbic system is the center of emotions. The reptilian system is the center of raw, fight-or-flight responses. This is the least reflective and most compulsive of the three systems.
All three systems are important, but leaders must have the emotional maturity and the self-control to operate out of the neocortex. This is the system that gives us the ab…

Jesus, salvation, and The Walking Dead

I'm a big fan of the TV series The Walking Dead. Actually I am a charter watcher, having followed the show from its first episode. This morning as I am meditating on a story Jesus tells in Luke 13, it stirs up my end-of-the-world imagination. That's right, I'm about to connect Jesus with The Walking Dead.

Imagine the zombie apocalypse is just breaking out, and the realization is settling over people that the world they have known is falling apart. Grocery stores have been looted. Gas stations are shut down. Law enforcement is failing. Large cities declare martial law, but the epidemic sweeps through the armed forces. With growing desperation, citizens begin seeking safe places. (So far I think I'm on roughly the same plot line as the series that begins this coming Sunday, Fear the Walking Dead. It chronicles the outbreak of the virus in Los Angeles.)

There is a very rich man in this city who lives on a sprawling, walled-in estate. In his benevolence, he issues an open …

How many people will be saved?

"How many people will be saved?" It's one of the million-dollar questions. Well, what if you could ask Jesus straight up? Good news -- Scripture records just such a conversation. Let's see how Jesus answers it.

In Luke 13:23, someone came up to Jesus in one of the Jewish towns he was working his way through and asked, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?" Bingo.

Here's Jesus' bone-jarring answer: not many.

This morning as I let that sink in, I trembled at the thought. Not many. And maybe the not in the not many includes people I care deeply about. Some of them are undoubtedly church friends.

I have more to say (and I will post again about this), but I think I'll stop there for now. Shall we let "not many" sink in? What happens if we do?

Why I have no hope of going to heaven

I have little hope of going to heaven. In fact, I don't even want to go to heaven.

Why? Because if we mean by "heaven" the final destination for God's people, then heaven isn't somewhere we go at all. Heaven isn't up in the sky. Heaven is here.

When we say "heaven," most people think it's the place you go when you die. You are with God and his people, and you live forever in eternal bliss. The trouble is, that's a half-truth. It's not the biblical hope.

Imagine it like this. Say you are living in a house that has been your beloved home for a long time, but it has fallen into disrepair. The plumbing is bad, the roof leaks and the house is infested with termites. You have painted the walls, and you even bought new kitchen appliances. You love the house, but it needs extensive work.

Now through the generosity of a rich relative, you suddenly come into an inheritance huge enough that you can have your beloved house completely remodeled. You …

The urgency and patience of Jesus' love

"Repent or die" -- would Jesus really talk like that?

Well, it depends on who you ask. Let's ask two of the most liked Jesuses of our pop culture: Bro-Jesus and Yogi-Jesus.

Us: "Bro-Jesus, would you ever say 'repent or die' to us?"
Bro-Jesus: "Bro, of course not! I'm on your side. I got your back. I would never threaten you. Come on, bro. Relax."

Us: "Yogi-Jesus, would you ever say 'repent or die' to us?"
Yogi-Jesus: "My child, I came to bring you love and peace. How could a chainsaw nurture a butterfly? Let us return to thoughts of compassion."

And then there's the Jesus of the New Testament, or Real-Jesus. He's a lot less popular in our pop culture than the counterfeit Jesuses. In the first paragraph of Luke 13, Real-Jesus tells people that although some Jews in the land had died tragic deaths, that didn't make them worse sinners than the Jews living in Jerusalem where those things hadn't happe…

Six ways to create community when you don't live near each other

On July 20, I posted about how commuting to church isn't a bad thing. Commuting to many activities, church included, is increasingly the norm in our cities. But what can you do to create and strengthen community with people when you don't live near each other? Here are some thoughts based partly on personal experience and partly on what I see other innovative church leaders doing.

(Disclaimer: I'm not saying I'm a ninja at all these things. Some of them are aspirations I have for me and/or Sanctuary, our little church of commuters.)

1. Burst the bubble. When we are distributed around the city, we don't shop at the same neighborhood grocery store as our church friends. But we do shop at the same grocery store as other people -- namely the people in our neighborhood. Being distributed around town helps us stay out of the "Christian bubble" that would find us talking to each other but to no one else. Why not allow God to use that to his missional advantage?


Does Jesus prohibit Christians from being put under oath?

In Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus commands his followers not to take oaths. So what happens if we have to be sworn in at court or when becoming a citizen or when enlisting in the armed forces? Should we refuse?

Some Christians have thought so. For almost three hundred years it was common for Christians to refuse to take state oaths. This is one of the reasons they were often despised and persecuted by the Romans. But when Constantine became a Christian and decriminalized Christianity in 313, that changed. There was a budding new relationship between church and state, and Christians saw prudence in making exceptions in the prohibition against oaths. The more refined position has been known as the make/take distinction:

Don't make oaths on your own.But it's okay to take oaths when required by the state. Most Christians have lived by this code since the 300s, although there are exceptions including the Mennonites and Quakers. 
Oath taking seems like an odd thing for Jesus to get worked up…

Vision and division in leadership and the church

This morning I spent unhurried time meditating on some controversial words of Jesus:
Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. (Luke 12:51-52) In Jesus' time, it was expected that the Messiah would bring peace, and that hasn't changed. People today expect that if they go to a Christian church, they should expect an environment where people get along with one another. But the let's-all-get-along church may be the furthest from Jesus' actual presence. It's one thing to like the idea of Jesus and another to live under his table-overturning reign.

Jesus is saying something about the nature of his leadership and about leadership in general. A leader with a strong picture of where to go will not attempt to make everyone happy. In fact, we could say:
Vision brings division. Vision is "where we can go if we really want to.&…

What makes a great pastor? The answer may surprise you.

What makes a great pastor? We might think of things like strong preaching, courageous leadership, compassionate presence, community involvement, and so on. But what if those measures are completely off base? What if the measure of a great pastor isn't even something the pastor does?

A comment by pastor Larry Osborne recently caught my attention:
... when I stand before God, the ultimate measure of my ministry and stewardship will not be found in how many people we jammed into our campuses on a weekend. It will be measured by what those people did once they left the building. (Foreword to Gaining by Losing by J. D. Greear) Osborne is making that point that God will evaluate him not by the size of weekly attendance at his Sunday services but by how the people of the church act between Sundays. It's a key insight. But there's another point to be made here too:
A pastor is measured by what other people do. There are two surprising implications. First, your pastor is measured b…

A simple but spiritual question you can ask anyone

"So is it true you're into black powder shooting?" I asked Brian. He is a big man with a long goatee and a shaved head -- an intimidating presence to say the least. On top of that, he doesn't offer up a lot of information about himself. We have recently been joined as extended family, and I faced a choice -- try to get to know him or just let it go and move on.

I decided for the former, not because it was the easiest thing to do but because taking Jesus seriously means following him in entering other people's worlds. Theologians call that being "incarnational." So I had heard Brian is into black powder shooting and historical mountain man reenactments, and that's what I inquired about.
Brian's demeanor immediately changed. For the next half hour we talked about flintlock rifles, primitive camping, berry moonshine, outdoor toilets, canvas tents, tomahawk throwing, and a host of other things. By the time we parted ways, I was taking notes on where…

Recognizing God when he shows up

"Where have you seen God lately?" That's the question my pastor friend Greg asks his congregation on a regular basis. The idea is that God is likely to show up in your day, often in unexpected ways and at unexpected times.

Last night I saw God show up in a wedding I performed for two non-Christian extended family members. They honored me by asking me to officiate for them, and as we prepared the ceremony, I went over with them the things I normally say in a wedding. I usually talk about how God prepared the day for the couple, how marriage is God making two people one, how marriage isn't just about people but points back to God, how a Christ-centered marriage has all the best qualities, and so on. My relatives aren't overtly religious, and by the time we finished with the ceremony, there was no direct mention of God.

I must admit, I struggled with this for a couple days. I felt like I needed to be able talk overtly about God, especially in a wedding. Yet the more…

The most important six seconds of the day

It might only take six seconds to change the day for you and someone else.

Here in Starbucks, I was quietly doing some reading when a woman walked near my table to ask the barista for more sugar. She had a couple of coffees she needed to doctor up. The barista helped her, and she got to work on her coffees. A minute later she returned, this time with an empty half-and-half container. (One might wonder about this particular Starbucks.) The woman laughed apologetically and held up the container. The barista thanked her and walked a full container over to the condiment station. He said something about how this was milk, and it would take him a few seconds to bring a new half-and-half container out. The woman getting the coffees said, "Oh it's okay. These are just for some painters. They'll take anything."

The comment caught my attention. "These are just for some painters. They'll take anything."

She could have said, "I'll wait. These are for some …