Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Why Teaching The Gospel Isn't Enough

Teaching the Gospel doesn’t change lives, implementing the Gospel does. 

It seems like a small point, but many churches are struggling because they haven't embraced this truth. As products of the Enlightenment, we have all been taught that education changes lives.  It’s true that education is very important. In the realm of Christianity, or even basic morality, however, it’s not enough. Let’s face it, there are lots of smart, really mean people in the world. Some of them may even call themselves Christian. 

When things go wrong, we lament as a society that the offending parties had not been educated properly. If they had a quality education, they would never have committed these crimes or have gotten themselves into financial or relational trouble. Even in the church we have adopted this mentality. When marriages are breaking down, or our kids aren’t behaving properly or our numbers are off, we seek out new teaching curricula. We set up new Bible study groups. We ask people to pray more. We work harder and beg others to work harder as well. But, it doesn’t work.

The educational material available in the last 20 years has been incredible.  We have unparalleled access to books from every century. We have amazing video resources and podcasts from the greatest teachers on the planet. We can research anything we want on the internet. We can pull up info at our fingertips, that the most wealthy and educated people of the last century could never have dreamed of having.  If teaching more often and effectively was the answer, we would have solved all of our problems long ago. Our problem is not a lack of teaching or poor teaching, it’s a lack of implementation.

I’m not saying that teaching isn’t important, of course it is. It’s just incomplete. So, why do we spend so much time teaching and so little time helping people implement what they already know?

Implementation Requires Relationship, Teaching Doesn’t

You can teach others without ever having a meaningful relationship with them. In the past, when Christian truths were taught to large groups, those people took what they learned and worked it out in the setting of their relationships at home. You can be taught by a complete stranger that you never see again, but implementation requires relationship. Real implementation of truth has to occur in and through our daily relationships. This creates a problem for many today. Most people aren’t investing time and energy into building and maintaining quality relationships. We are more relationally hungry than ever, and more disconnected than we’ve ever been. When people learn new things, they rarely work them out in relationships. Social media allows us to broadcast and receive pithy sayings, as if collecting a cool quote or principle were the end goal. Our new facts and theories collect in our brains like moldering books in a forgotten library.   Knowing that Jesus taught us to forgive others in the same way that we have been forgiven is miles away from actually forgiving someone who has deeply hurt you. So, we learn more and practice less. It would be like showing kids a video about baseball, but then never heading to the field with a glove and ball to practice. It just doesn't work.

In the years ahead, I believe that churches who start more Bible studies while having fewer friendships will become weak and irrelevant. Another way to say this is that the Bible isn’t the point, how it leads us to live is.

So, if you feel stuck in place with your faith, I challenge you try a different approach. Don’t buy a new book or attend a new class. Find a friend. Forgive someone. Give to the poor. Sit by the bed of someone in the nursing home. It may be the breakthrough you need.

Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

2015 Blog Survey

I'm looking to make some changes in the blog in the upcoming months in an attempt to do a better job connecting to my readers. In order to do this, I need your help! I've put together a 3 question survey that will take only 5 minutes to complete. Your time will help me improve the blog and reach out to even more people. So, please take a second and click on the link below and answer the 3 short questions. Thank you in advance for you help, it means more than I can tell you!

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Art of Remembering

Happy Memorial Day!

For most of us Memorial Day means two wonderful words: MONDAY OFF! For others it’s a day to gather folks around and fire up the grill. For still others it’s your chance to torture your family by watching every war movie in the history of film. (I enjoy all three actually). At it’s core, Memorial Day is the day set aside to stop and remember those who have given their lives in service to this country. Many people take this time to remember all of their loved ones who have died. Remembering is an essential component of healing, but there are ways to remember well, and ways of remembering that will do damage to us and impede the healing process. Here are some things to think about when you delve into your memories:

Don’t use your remembering to beat yourself up.

We have all said things or left things unsaid that we regret. We have all made bad decisions in the past. We have all let someone down. It’s possible to go back to those moments from our past and feel shame, humiliation, and guilt as strongly as if the event were happening today. The simple truth is: punishing yourself today won’t change yesterday. It’s important to remember in context, which means that of course you messed up, but so did the people you love. We all do. Odds are that you have forgiven those your love for their mistakes and bad decisions, maybe it’s time to forgive you as well. You must always remember with grace.

Don’t get stuck in your remembering.

Sometimes the pain of the past can be so deep that it’s hard to escape it. We think, re-think, and then think again about what happened last year and even last week. It's possible to live in such a way that our mistakes or the pain of our past is never far away from us. That way of living steals the joy and peace that are available to us today. The purpose of remembering is to allow us to live better today. Living in the past steals our today, and weakens our tomorrows. So, go back and remember, but then give energy to the people and choices around you today.  

I hope you have a wonderful Memorial Day, and if today is filled with memories for you, I hope that you will allow them to help you live and love more fully today!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Grief In Motion

This past Sunday was Senior Adult Sunday at our church. I always look forward to this day on the calendar. It’s when our Senior Adults, many in their 70’s and 80’s fill the choir, make the announcements, play piano pieces, and pray. For people like me with no parents or grandparents living, this day makes church feel more like family. The senior adults also choose the songs that the congregation will sing. One of their selections this year was “Bringing In The Sheaves”. This song has made the rounds in popular culture. Barney hummed its tune to put Otis to sleep in an episode of The Andy Griffith Show. It’s made appearances on Little House on the Prairie, The Simpsons, and was even sung by a group of werewolves on Supernatural.

The song was inspired by a poem in the Bible that reads: “He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:6). This poem reminds us that times can be hard. Sometimes the difficulties are our own making, sometimes not. Regardless of how we get there, God will never leave us alone in our suffering. We are taught to keep moving, to keep doing the things we can. In this poem that’s illustrated by planting crops in the midst of a drought. With God, a drought today can give way to bundles or sheaves of crops tomorrow.

Life has moments of pain and loss that can reduce us to tears, moments when the rhythm of our heaving chests are our only comfort. In those moments of fear and grieving the idea of “bearing seed for sowing” seems impossible. Some days, getting out of bed seems like an insurmountable task. But we must. The truth of this poem is that we cannot allow our weeping to freeze us in place. Even in our grief, we must keep our feet moving. We have to face the day. We have to get dressed, and go out our front door. We have to speak with our neighbors and find a way tackle the tasks required of us.  Grief was never meant to be permanent. It’s temporary and it’s healing. Moving forward, attacking the day in front of us won’t erase our grief. It will, however, make space for grief to do its healing work. 

For anyone in grief today, don’t stop living. Keep moving as best you can. God cares about each tear and has a future for you filled with hope and peace.

Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo

Monday, May 18, 2015

20 Albums In 20 Weeks: Beck's Morning Phase

Thanks to the feedback from many of you, I have completed my list of 20 albums in 20 weeks and will begin leaving feedback as I listen. This week was the first week and it turned out to be a mellow one. This week’s album was Morning Phase by Beck.

What Others Think:

Morning Phase won a Grammy for Album of the Year this past year (much to the consternation of Kanye West). It also made 7 different lists of best albums of 2014. Rolling Stone gave it 4.5 out of 5 stars, and Spin magazine gave it an 8 out of 10.

What I Think:

I don’t know if it was the best album released in 2014, I’m not even really sure how you evaluate something like that. I do know that I enjoyed it immensely. The album has a dreamy, ambient quality that is relaxing and contemplative. There’s acoustic guitar throughout, but a mandolin sneaks in from time to time, which I also really liked. I tend to like melancholy music, but those who aren’t so inclined, might not enjoy this album as much.

Favorite Lyrics:

                These are some faults we found
                Hollowed out from the years
                Don’t let them wear you out
                Don’t let them turn your mind inside out
                                (from Don’t Let It Go)

Where It Fits:

This album will make my permanent playlist. It’s a great album for the end of a really long day or week. I could also see this music being a good way to clear your head before a big project or prolonged time of thinking and evaluation. 

Any other Beck fans out there????

Friday, May 15, 2015

If You Love Everyone Equally, You Love Everyone Poorly

If you love everyone equally, you love everyone poorly.

I know it sounds ridiculous. I mean, didn’t Jesus say that we were to love everyone? Is it wrong to love some people and not love others? Yes, that is wrong. As Christians, we are called to love everyone. Personal hatred is not supposed to be an option for those following Jesus. So how can the opening statement be true?

There are three components of the love that we are to have for other people: attitude, actions, and time. The love that we are to have for ALL people includes both attitude and actions. We are to value everyone and to commit to see the best in them. When it is needed, we are to help them, and love them  with our actions. We are to extend this sort of love to everyone whose path we cross in life.

The third component of love is different. It’s impossible to give everyone we know or meet equal time.  You only have 24 hours in a day, and you likely sleep 6-8 of those. The limitations of time are fixed and immovable. That means that you cannot give your time indiscriminately to everyone. If you try, everyone will get a little time, and no one will receive any depth. If we love everyone the same with our time, we will love everyone poorly. So, what do we do?

Accept Your Limitations

You can’t relate to everyone, and if you spread your time too thinly across too many people, your relationships will be stunted and shallow. Own the fact that you have limitations. Once you accept this fact you will be ready to make the wise choices needed for the next step…

Choose Who You Will Invest In  

Once you’ve accepted that you can’t invest in everyone equally, you need to choose who you will invest your life in. Who will get the majority of your time? Who will get the best parts of your energy and attention? Does your family get your best, or the leftovers that remain at the end of the day? Which friends get your honesty, and which get small talk?

Consistency Pays Off

Relationships don’t simply need time, they need consistent time.  Bits of time strung consistently over weeks, months, and years make relationships strong. Strong relationships make strong people. It’s not enough to spend all of your time at work or with your hobby and then plan a couple of vacations a year with your family.  It will take a few days for them just to get used to being around you again, and by the time everyone is ready to relate, it’s time to go home. Consistent time doesn’t have to revolve around epic activities. In fact, it’s those few extra minutes around the dining room table or on the couch before bed that can make all the difference.

You can’t love everyone equally, but you can love a few very well. Commit to being honest with yourself and budget your time wisely. If you do, your relationships will become healthier and more enjoyable. 

Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

There Is No Need To Panic!

I’ve read a few nervous posts about a recent report that stated that the number of Christians in the United States was declining. My life as a Christian brings me a great deal of meaning and peace. So, while I want others to have the same peace that I enjoy, I’m not panicked about the declining numbers in a great deal of churches in the U.S., and you don’t have to be either. Here’s why:

Numbers Aren’t Always Honest

There was a time when being a Christian was a popular thing to be. Or, maybe the other options were very unpopular. Whatever the case, in the past it was easier to declare yourself a Christian than it was to align with something else. There were also advantages with throwing in with the Christian camp, whether you were or not. Your neighbors may have trusted you more, and it wasn’t like there was a Buddhist temple on the corner as another alternative. Also, it’s easy to say you are a Christian whether you are really committed to it or not, sort of like being a Democrat or a Miami Dolphins fan. We live in a generation where religious options are limitless and “declaring” yourself a Christian isn’t that advantageous anymore. In fact, it might gain you a few strange looks in certain places. I believe a big part of the numbers that are shrinking are people who weren’t necessarily Christian, but just didn’t have another box they wanted to check. Losing folks who were never really Christians to begin with isn’t a devastating loss, just an honest clarification.

Our Desire For A Majority Hasn’t Always Been Healthy

Nowhere in the Bible does it encourage the spread of Christianity so as to create a political majority and thereby effect change. That was never the plan. The letters written by the early church shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection offer a different approach.  Those writers described a personal commitment to follow Jesus Christ that resulted in a community of likeminded people committed to service and truth. Change wasn't going to come as a new set of rules for everyone in the nation to follow.  Better rules do not necessarily create better people. That sort of outside-in approach in which obedience is demanded only creates silent compliance or angry defiance. Early Christians were changed by an internal commitment that led to external expression. Those that followed Jesus, cared for the poor, and were eager to offer mercy and hope. That sort of life often leads to inspiration. The best bet for the church of today is to stop obsessing over numbers and start focusing on caring for the people in our communities. Love wins when arguments fail, and that will never stop being true, regardless of the numbers.

Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo

Also, I am a Miami Dolphins fan, I'm committed, and it's pretty awful.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

What To Do When You Don't Know What To Do

The most important thing about you may very well be what you do when you don't know what to do.

We hate those moments of uncertainty, or at least I do . I work hard to make sure that I don't end up in situations that might expose me as someone who doesn't know what to do. Nothing is more humbling or more aggravating that not knowing. But what if those moments are so important that God not only allows them to happen, but actually orchestrates them? Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggeman thinks that might be the case. He wrote that sometimes, "the world for which you have been so carefully prepared is being taken away from you, by the grace of God."

Why would it be grace for God to pull us out of our comfortable, predictable lives? Here are a couple of thoughts:

1)When I'm uncomfortable or uncertain, I listen

When I know the answers, and have life under control, I don't listen. I don't need to. But when my certainty is gone, I am eager to hear something other than my own thoughts. I listen to friends. I listen to co-workers. I read to listen to voices from the past. I even stop long enough to listen to my own heart, which I also ignore when everything is comfortable. Listening is an important discipline, but we very rarely practice it.

2)When I'm uncomfortable or uncertain, I am open to more options

When everything is comfortable and predictable I don't think about other ways to do things. I am perfectly fine with life the way it is. That's not always bad, but eventually we have to explore other ideas and paths in life. New options to old problems can bring new motivation and eventually greater confidence. More churches have died from "doing things the way we've always done it", than almost anything else. 

3)When I don't know, I am less likely to act alone.

Let's face it, not all of us play well with others. Many of us would never partner with others to solve problems if we could somehow solve them on our own. Being faced with an unknown or seemingly unsolvable problem makes me reach out to others. When we reach out to others we realize that there's more to life than solving problems and making money. We find peace in the journey of life, not just the destination. Relating to others teaches us things we could never learn alone.

So, if your life has taken an unpredictable and uncomfortable path, don't panic. This could very well be the start of something extraordinary in your life. Hang in there. Call a friend and listen to the voices you have been ignoring, you'll be glad you did.

Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The 2 Things Baltimore Won't Let Us Ignore

Everybody has an opinion on all that has transpired in Baltimore over the past few weeks. Should it be called protests or riots? Who are the bad guys? How do we fix it?

There are lots of posts all over social media with deeply passionate opinions about what has gone on and what it all means. There’s a reason that the scenes from the streets of Baltimore have resonated so deeply with so many. We may disagree about a lot of what is happening, but here are two things that that are indisputable:

1)Things Aren’t The Way They Should Be

Everyone can agree on this. We don’t all agree on why things are messed up, but there is no denying that things are messed up. People are suffering. Injustice is rampant. Some scream that the protesters have created their own misery with their bad choices. Others scream just as loudly that the system has let the people down, that there aren’t enough good choices for them to make. Whichever camp you fall in with, we can all agree, things are bad. We know this for them, because we know it’s true for us. No matter how good we have it, we all understand that things aren’t all they could be. Things seem broken in ways that we can’t overcome. Things are broken in the world, but more terrifying than that, things are broken inside of us.

2)There’s a better way available.

Everyone also feels a discontent with the way things are. There is a better way to live. There are better options. There are solutions to be had. Some would say that money would solve many of the problems, others say better education. Some say that stronger enforcement of the law would settle things down and keep people safe. Whatever solution you believe in, we all believe that there is a solution.

Those who are protesting are doing so because they believe there has to be a better way. The story playing out in Baltimore speaks to a discontent present in us all. This story has tapped into another story that the Bible has been telling for thousands of years. The Bible teaches that a broken condition overcame the world and all its people. The brokenness was called sin. It began as choices, but it spread like a virus until everything was broken and in a condition that it wasn’t meant to be in. We live in a world that isn’t all it should be, and everyday despite our best efforts we contribute to the brokenness.

But there’s a better way. There’s something more available. The Bible goes on to say that God hasn’t left us alone in our destruction. He is calling us to lives of justice and hope. We can be forgiven for what we have done and what we have left undone. We can be part of a solution instead of remaining part of the problem. That’s why the actions in Baltimore stir us so greatly. Because the story we are watching on the news is our story too

Isn’t it interesting that we were born craving justice? No one has to teach a 2 year old that people shouldn’t take their toys. They know it inherently. They scream the second their teddy bear is ripped from their arms.  I believe that God has given us reminders of how life can be, and what we should be. He invites us back to all we can be with him. That is the heart of Christianity. Not random rants about homosexuality or evolution, but a passion for healing, and a quest for justice. A quest that’s bigger than we are, but one that God has called us to nonetheless.

You can’t bring justice to the entire world today, but you can bring it to your neighbor. You can bring justice to your work place. There’s a place where you can make a difference right now. Someone without a voice needs you. Will you see them? Will we sacrifice our comfort for their well-being? You have more power to change your world than you ever imagined. You were made for days like this.

Monday, May 4, 2015

I Seriously Need Your Help (Musically Speaking)

I am a child of the iTunes generation.

I have rarely purchased an entire album in the past 10 years. There have been some, but mostly I buy songs here and there, sampling music as I go. Not only do I rarely purchase an entire album, I rarely listen straight through to an entire album. I must admit, I’m not proud of this. I just have a really short attention span at times. I understand that listening through an entire album for a while is the best way to absorb the music and appreciate the artist. So, I am beginning a 20 week quest to right my wrongs. I am going to choose an album each week to listen to for the entire week. I have 10 possible albums in mind right now. These are artists I enjoy or albums I’ve wanted to spend more time with. I still need 10 albums, and this is where you come in. I would love to get recommendations of albums that you have fallen in love with. I hope to get 25 -30 different recommendations total if possible. I am not as interested in the “greatest” or most “essential” albums of all time, but the stuff that's had an impact of you and that you really enjoy. From the recommendations, I will make my final list of 20 and get started. I’ll keep you posted as we go and maybe you can find a new album to love in the process. So, leave your recommendations here. If you haven’t become a “follower” of the blog, now is a good time! If you are unable to leave your recommendations here, feel free to leave them on Facebook or Twitter. The ten albums that I’ve chosen for now are listed below. Thank you in advance!

The Smashing Pumpkins – “Siamese Dream”
The National – “The Boxer”
Lyle Lovett – “The Road To Ensanada”
Ryan Adams – “Heartbreaker”
Punch Brothers – “The Phosphorescent Blues”
Jack White – “Blunderbuss”
Bjork – “Post”
Robert Johnson – “The Complete Recordings”
Rodrigo y Gabriela – “Rodrigo y Gabriela”
Beck – “Morning Phase”

Let the recommendations begin!!!!

Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo