Saturday, October 31, 2009

Vision Casting: Simple Rhetoric or Responsible Leadership

What's a vision? Is it just a fancy rhetorical catch-phrase or is it a sign of responsible leadership? Or, could it be both? First of all, in the context of organizational (or in this case, congregational) leadership, a vision is an idea, a picture, a dream, a visual plan of what you want your congregation to look like. In other words, a vision is what appears when you allow your thoughts to take to you to grandoise, best-case-scenario places.

Assuming you understand and can agree with that definition - is it simplistic and unnecessary rhetoric or a sign of responsible and cultivation leadership? My opinion, probably a little rhetorical and a lot responsible.

Does your congregation have a vision? If it does, do you talk about it frequently? Do your leaders pray about it? If you don't have a stated and shared vision, why not? Do your Elders not see it as an important part of the growth process? If you don't have a clear picture of how you want your Church to look, then what's the point of what you're doing now? What does it mean if you're not working towards an intended consequence?

Having a solid vision statement is the first of a four step growth plan. Following the vision statement is an explicit plan of mission or purpose. Next come umbrella goals then driver goals.

Here's a common example of not having a clearly defined vision. Some congregations have continued the tradition of having annual or bi-annual gospel meetings. Most do it out of tradition and not because it is part of the growth plan. So as a result, each year the congregations pass around the same few preachers and have (in their own judgment) unsuccessful meetings - which is generally determined by responses and attendance. Why? Mostly because there is not a strategically defined vision - or a comprehensive growth plan. So the Elders go with what they know, what they are comfortable with - which ends up being what they have always done.

When you're not sure how you want the congregation to look, how will you know if you're there?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Considering Romans 14

Click on the picture for a readable image.

Romans 14 is such a tough chapter. Not really tough to understand, but tough to do. It seems that the summary verse is 13. It says, "Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother." What's so hard about that? Have you struggled with fulfilling this scripture? Have you been on the other end of someone else struggling to fulfill this scripture? We do this in the church - too often. Instead of considering ways to encourage and help strengthen our "weaker" brothers we expect them to rise to our level of spiritual maturity. And when they don't, we isolate, alienate and marginalize them.

Try to be objective for a moment and consider whether or not you are guilty of this. Think about this question as a litmus test for yourself - do I doctrinalize issues that are were not meant to be doctrinal? This seems to be the starting block for much of the issues we have. We read issues, contexts and opinions into scripture - when in fact it does not belong. This was the issue that came up in Acts with the Jewish brethren who insisted that their gentile brothers ought to meet their traditions before they could be accepted into the body. That was wrong. So why do we do the same thing? Why do we carry on our traditions, call them scriptural or doctrinal and insist that others follow us down this road?

It's past time for us to come together under the umbrella of scriptural unity. Understanding that we will not always agree, we can not continue to doctrinalize issues that make us uncomfortable and expect to be able to call names because people don't follow "our" doctrine.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tested in Wal-Mart

Preachers have got to have their 'A' games at all times. I mean, we're never off work. Yesterday, I was in Wal-Mart and I ran into a great lady that we worship with. After we said hello, she says "Jeremy, I've already talked with one of the elders, but I need to ask you a question." Okay, anytime a person starts with, "I've talked with one of the elders," there's a 50/50 shot at it being a not-so-fun conversation. This one turned out okay. She had a textual question for me. Whew, sigh of relief. Then she stumped me.

"What was the name of the angel cast out of heaven?" I knew what it wasn't. And I felt like I had a good guess, but I told her she'd have to wait until Sunday for the answer. By the way, it's in Isaiah 14.


Friday, October 23, 2009

It's a eu⋅phe⋅mism! 

OMG! (oh my god)
Freakin', Frickin or Friggin' (depending on your preference)
What the crap!?

These are a few popular euphemisms that I've seen in text messages and hear from folks (especially teens) all the time. Here's the the definition listed at the substitution of a mild, indirect or vague expression for one thought to be offensive, harsh or blunt.

Do you say any of these words? When you read them, don't they seem obnoxious or at least a little tacky or uncouth? Have you ever given thought to what you're saying - or allowing your kids to say? You may as well be swearing. When we use these words, everyone knows what we mean. We choose not to swear because it's wrong - because it's a sin. So why would we say these words? If you don't want your kids saying the "real" words, do you really want them saying these?

Something to think about.


Raising Faithful Kids

As a Christian who's raising kids, what are your biggest concerns? What do you worry about most when it comes to your kids and faith or your kids and God? I recently had an aha moment and came to the realization that my kids are growing up. I've got one in school now. Another will be in school next year, with others heading in that direction. My two oldest have been asking more questions about faith, religion, etc. and that has put this put this topic at the front of the line for me. Which is really where it should have been in the first place.

Here's my two main concerns, thoughts, worries (not really sure how to label it yet). What can I do to keep my kids from rebelling against God when they become teens? We've all seen it happen. Great family, great parents, doing the right things, and yet when their child becomes a teen - the spiritual train wreck happens. What did those parents do? Was it them that at all? Could they have done something differently? Are there any consistent factors that I can point to and learn from?

The second concern I have is to help my kids acquire and develop a faith that they have chosen before they leave for college. I don't want my kids being spiritual giants, youth group leaders, etc. if all the while they don't understand, appreciate and truly own their faith and take personal responsibility for their relationship with God.

Have you gone through this? Do you have some insight you could share? After giving this more thought the past several months, here's a few thoughts thoughts I have.

1. Be intentional. Don't go through the motions and expect that everything will be fine, just because you are going through the "right" motions. What goals do you have for your kids? What values are you going to try to impress on your kids? What are you going to do to fulfill this? Be specific and be intentional.

2. Teach them that their religion, spirituality, faith, etc. is not based, or found in "going to church." Their spiritual health and well-being is based entirely on their relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Everything else is either secondary or simply an indicator of the strenghth of that relationship.

3. Make sure they know that just because I'm a preacher or an adult that I am not a "Spiritual Superman." Although I may not share all of them, I've got to make sure they understand I am just like them with regard to sin, temptation, bad decisions, struggles and successes - all rolled into one. I think this earns me more creditability and respect. Those are two checks I can cash when they are teens.

What do you think? Blessings.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Uncomfortable Peter

Notice Peter's situation in Acts chapter 10. Look at the circumstances that would have made him uncomfortable. The close of chapter 9 has Peter staying at the home of a tanner. We think, so what? What does it matter where he stayed? Well, here's something you may not know about a tanner in the first century. A tanner was a leather worker - they made stuff with leather. And back then, they didn't buy the leather then turn it into purses, sandals and jackets. They had it from start to finish. Think bloody, nasty, smelly, etc. The Jews didn't think much of them because of this. That's understandable because the Jews were so interested in cleanliness.

Then after God had Peter staying with a tanner, he sent him to a gentile's home! That never happened. A good Jew might let a gentile stay in his house if he needed to, but never the opposite. This was a social perception issue and a religious issue - the cleanliness thing again. In a matter of two days, Peter went from uncomfortable to really uncomfortable. Why? For what? You know why. Because he was called to a higher purpose. What would have happened if Peter had refused to leave his comfort zone. What if he said no thanks and never went? How many souls did Peter impact because he chose the Lord over himself?

How comfortable are you?

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Work In Progress

I've been preaching a mini-series in Jonah and have really grown through this study. There are some great and deep theological lessons in this text. I'm intrigued by Jonah's response in the belly of the fish and God's response to him. Even when he "looked towards God," he wasn't buying God's theology. Yet, in spite of the tension and conflict that still existed - God chose to use Jonah. Unlike Jonah, I don't have the courage to blatantly disagree with God (though I do disobey Him on a fairly regular basis). And even in my sinful state, He still chooses to use me. I've only recently realized that He does this for my benefit. Like Jonah, I am a work in progress.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Somtimes All We've Got is . . .


I've walked through valleys when it seemed that the mountains were closing in, and every decision was the wrong one. Ever felt like that?

I've tried to logically think through the situation, making a list of pros and cons and even asking for advice. But in the end, all the answers led me to consequences that I was trying to avoid. Ever experienced that?

It's often a slow and sometimes painful experience. That is, getting to where God is standing and patiently waiting for me to meet Him at. But in the end, no matter how long it takes, I always end up on my knees in prayer. Ever tried that?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Purpose of Gospel Temptation accounts?

Hebrews 4:15 says, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin."

This verse is clear. During his lifetime, Jesus went through every type or form of sin that we go through. Since that's the case, what was the purpose of the three temptations documented in the gospels? It certainly couldn't have been to fulfill this verse. In the gospel accounts of the three temptations, Jesus is essentially tempted with the primary typologies of sin - the pride of life, lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes (1 John 2:16). But not everything that we are tempted with - that happened throughout the course of his life.

So what was the purpose? If he did not endure that experience for us, then perhaps God put that trial in his life for his personal preparation? Luke 4:1 says that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Clearly, God put Jesus in that position. The context gives us the answer to the question. This was the beginning of his public ministry. And it was God's final test of preparation for Jesus.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

God Has No Grandchildren

God had no grandchildren only children. You can't ride the coatails of your parents faith!

My friend Dan Wheeler posted this on Facebook today. I love it! We have all got to find, establish and own our faith. 2nd hand clothes may work fine. But 2nd hand faith will fall apart. Whose faith do you own?

Have a great day!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Thank God for Family

Not sure if you can relate to this or not, but having four young children really puts a damper on individual time with your spouse. In fact, damper probably doesn't really describe it. We get a few dates each year. And they all revolve around the times when my sister is visiting from Harding. The first thing she does, after starting her laundry;-), is watch our children so that we can go out on a date. I hope we tell her 'thank you' and "we appreciate you' enough. We often joke that she watches the kids to pay for my water bill. But I know that she loves us, loves our kids, and loves to help us out.

You know, I hope that I think of others like she does. I hope that people consider me a blessing in their life. Have you been a blessing to someone this week?

Monday, October 5, 2009

God said it, I believe it, that settles it.

You've heard that saying before; and I've even seen it on some t-shirts. It sounds nice, and I suppose there's some truth to it. But this slogan is representative of a mindset that has caused a lot of trouble in and for the Church. Specifically, in terms of the overall decline of the Church, it's contributed by negatively impacting the faith of 'churched' kids. This thought process essentially promotes an ignorant faith mentality.

For two consecutive generations we've failed to teach our kids to ask 'why' when it comes to their faith. Instead, we've insisted that they continue with, and not question, traditions and teachings that have been established over time. And as a result, we lament the fact that our kids don't know the Bible (like previous generations) - and they don't. We grumble at the fact that they have a greater interest in fun than their faith - and for the most part they do. Whose fault is that? More importantly, how can that be fixed? And whose responsibility is it to work towards fixing it?

The past two generations place a higher importance on transparency and authenticity than previous generations did. Said another way, where older generations were more obedient, recent generations are more inquisitive. To ignore this reality displays a great deal of ignorance and foolishness, and as we are experiencing the consequences are severe. We've insisted that our kids accept our faith and religious practices without question. At best that's illogical; and at worst, its unscriptural.

If Christ's body is going to continue to flourish, grow and prosper, we must teach our kids that it's not only okay to ask why, but it's their responsibility. And we have to be consistent in the demonstration of our faith. That means that we don't do things just because that's they way we've always done them. We do things because that's pattern and command we have from the NT. And when our sacred cows are challenged we have to be able to defend them with concrete scripture (not quotes from men) and be willing to give them up for our kids sake if we can't defend with them with scripture.

When our faith and religion is truly transparent and authentic to our kids (and our practice matches our words) we'll start to see a change - and the Church will start to grow again. Until then . . .

Friday, October 2, 2009

Theology 101

If you knew that you were going to have just one chance at telling someone about Jesus, what scripture would you use? Ever think about Romans 3:23-25? Many years ago Jimmy Allen (Professor at Harding) brought this scripture to life for me. Check it out.

23For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed.

We could probably spread it out and include vs. 21-26. But for me, these three verses are Theology 101 and speak right to my heart. Paul lays it all out (step-by-step for slow folks like me) in a plain and succinct manner. Here's the root of the theological problem: I am a sinner and because of my sin I'm not able to reach God on my own. BUT, because of His grace and mercy, he sent Jesus so that I could have a relationship with Him. When Jesus died on the cross, He became the place where I could meet God and have a direct line of connection - that's available all the time. That's powerful. That's life-changing, never-be-the-same-again stuff. Next time you have a chance to talk with someone about your faith, try sharing this scripture.