I got mine, you get yours too.

I woke up this morning to a most horrific reality: my coffee maker was dead.  If only I had known last night that would be the last time I set the brew timer for 6:10 a.m., I’d have said something kind and meaningful…or would not have set it at all.  Luckily we had a couple of “Via” (Starbucks instant coffee) packets so that my wife and I could at least have one cup each. After that, we started twitching.

Before leaving for work, my wife asked if I’d mind stopping by Starbucks, getting her some coffee and bringing it to her at work.  Two reasons why I was more than happy to do it: 1) I was going anyway to get myself some and 2) I’d recently been given a gift card to Fivebucks and I was more than happy to spend someone else’s hard earned money on overpriced java.

When I arrived at Starbucks, I found the all-too-familiar sight of a long line of bleery-eyed caffeine addicts waiting their turn with their crack dealer barista.  As I made my way to the back of the line, I also spotted my good friend behind the counter, a barista herself.  Always bubbly, she gave me a loud, warm greeting in the presence of many witnesses.  It made me feel…well…really good.  I mean, knowing somebody behind the counter at Starbucks is like being friends with the rockstar on stage and having them point at you in the crowd while belting out a power ballad.

After shouting an equally exuberant greeting to my barista friend, I took my place at the end of the long line.  No joke; not 1/2 a second later I hear these words from my friend behind the counter: “Jerry, what are you having?” In the next half second I did two things simultaneously: I run my eyes up the line of 10 customers in front of me (most of which were now glaring at me in angered wonderment) and told her exactly what I had come in for.  Not 10 seconds after that I had my 2 cups of coffee in my hands and was striding for the door.

The uncomfortable part of my grand total of 34 seconds in the store was when I walked toward the front of the line just as quickly as I had walked to the end of it.  I swore I heard murmurings of strangers agreeing that they were disgusted by my existence. They were aghast at my good fortune, and sent me dagger eyes to go with my (oops, didn’t I mention) FREE coffee.  I’m pretty sure I finally understand what “gnashing of teeth” means.  Clearly it seemed that there was one word hanging in the air of that Starbucks this morning: unfair.

Have you ever noticed how unfair God’s grace is?  Jesus once told a parable of a vineyard owner who needed some workers for his vineyard.  He went to town in the morning, found some day labor, agreed on a price, and put them to work.  He went out at lunch, found more workers, agreed on a price, and put them to work.  Near the very end of the work day, he went again and found even more workers, agreed on a price and put them to work.  When it came time for the work to stop and the workers to get their pay the workers who worked all day were ticked off because the workers who came at the end of the day were getting paid the same amount as those who worked the entire day, bearing the heat of the day.  The owner’s words were simple and indicative of a God who makes no sense when it comes to fairness.

How about Zacchaeus, that “wee little man was he”?  This punk was a scammer.  A con artist.  A dude well-known for ripping people off.  And as Jesus comes to town He spots the little man in a tree and calls him down “for I’m going to your house today.”  What must the people have been thinking?  I’ll tell you what I’D have thought: “What the?!? Who in the world would want to have anything to do with that maggot Zacchaeus? I got dressed up for nothing!”

And how about the ultimate insult to those of us who think God gives two rips about your best efforts or your shiny shoes: the thief on the cross!  I mean this guy was right up there hanging next to Jesus himself and even started off mocking Jesus like everybody else was.  Then all of a sudden has a change of heart and starts yelling at the other criminal on the other side of Jesus’ cross to stop harassing Jesus, then has the audacity to say, “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42) Are you kidding me right now?!?  This guy shouldn’t have a snowball’s chance and yet here’s the Son of God nailed several feet above the earth, EXTENDING GRACE TO A CONVICTED CRIMINAL!  You’d be hard-pressed to find more grace-filled, unfair words than those Jesus spoke to that criminal that day: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

God is a lot of things, but FAIR is not one of them!  And in my estimation, if you know of His grace you’d be wise to thank heaven for that fact, run to His arms open to anyone, and bury your face in His chest.

So, as I walked out that door of Starbucks this morning I was thankful to know of God’s grace and mindful that this grace is yours for the taking.

When goals become gods

It doesn’t matter who you are.  You’ve got goals.  They’re yours.

You want a spouse.

You want that car.

You want to find a house and get out of that apartment.

You want an office, not a cubicle.

You want greener grass.

You want to lose 20 pounds.

You want to expand your business.

You want corporate to notice you.

You want to stop smoking.

You want well-behaved kids.  Or kids.  Or no kids.

You want to get better.  Stronger.  Beach-ready.

You want more people to read your blog.  And subscribe.  And comment.  And gush about your blog to friends and strangers.

And you’re currently somewhere on the continuum of either getting them accomplished or…well…not.

Goals are good things to have; I’d be foolish to suggest otherwise.  Goals keep us moving.  Or at least thinking about moving.  Goals give us something to aim for, to reach for, to work for, to dream for.  Overall, goals are good.

That is, until you become obsessed with them.  That’s when goals become gods.  That’s when what I do defines who I am.  That’s when my self-worth is found in my net-worth.  That’s when I am identified by who I am to those around me rather than who I am to the One who made me.  That’s when what I want to reach becomes all I can see.

I’m not poo-pooing ambition.  Far from it.  I’m driven to succeed, to produce, to achieve, to progress exponentially, and to be able to look back with satisfaction on what I did with my life.   But goals become gods when we hang our value on accomplishing them, and find that we feel we’re worth less when we haven’t accomplished them.

 

What goals do you have?  And what do you do to keep them in check?

Organicization

While “organicization” is a made-up word, I’ve decided that it perfectly encapsulates what a healthy ministry looks like.  I’ve noticed that there are predominantly 2 approaches ministry leaders such as Yours Truly have when it comes to forward motion in their ministry context: There’s the “if you build it they will come” and the “Let go, and let God” approach.  In a nutshell, the first one is quite literally a “Let’s organize the hell out of this thing” and the second one is a “Let’s have zero structure and leave every detail up to whatever God’s Spirit wants to do; as humans, we’re hands-off and simply along for the ride”.

And just so I’m not unclear: neither of these by themselves are right.  Or biblical.  Or healthy.  And they certainly don’t emulate either Jesus’ example or the picture of the early Church.  (Consider Luke 10:1 and Acts 6:1-8)

If you’re in ministry, be it full-time, part-time, or even on a volunteer basis you’ve more than likely sensed an unspoken (or even written in black-and-white) pressure for forward motion.  This is especially true if you’re a paid ministry leader.  Essentially the human logic goes something like this: We need a job done, let’s hire a person to do the job, and let’s expect them to produce results.  There is not one thing wrong with this line of thinking; either in the corporate/secular workplace, or in the ministry workplace.  As far as I can tell, the Bible has no opposition to paid ministry positions.  The apostle Paul spoke about this on several occasions.  (1 Timothy 5:18)

However, what I’d like to dive into are the two mindsets I’ve found that dominate our ministry “philosophies” so to speak.  In the interest of being succinct, we’ll call these 2 approaches the “organized” approach and the “organic” approach.

The organized approach thrives on policy, procedures, handbooks, rules, protocol, charts, graphs, numbers, and a bunch of other measurable indicators.  The organized approach is generally cut and dried on “Apply A to B, and you get C.”  Not that leaders with this approach are strictly relying on simple math or that they don’t care about people, but most every situation is met with a structure, equation, or policy in order to see a solution or progression.  Taken to the extreme, the organized approach lacks a heart and puts policy over people.

The organic approach holds very loosely to any sense of organization.  The organic approach thrives on spontaneity, brainstorming, consensus, fluidity, turn-on-a-dime directional shifts, and just letting things unfold “naturally”.  The organic approach leans more toward a “if God wills”… people will come, souls will receive Jesus, discipleship will happen, Christians will grow to reach out to those around them; all with a sense of undefinable directionlessness.  Those leaders who employ this approach generally buck against goals, stats, or measurable indicators to actual growth.  Taken to the extreme, the organic approach lacks accountability and is perfectly okay with having no rails to run on.

Whichever way you happen to lean, there are pitfalls of perception found in both.  A leader in love with charts can be perceived as uncaring to the people he/she is leading.  A leader in love with the grassroots can be perceived as lacking confidence, direction, and can even be seen as incompetent.  A leader who loves organization takes the next hill whether anyone follows or not.  A leader who loves organic growth wants to feel good about the next hill and those who may or may not want to take that hill.

Being a leader of organicization (as you’ve probably guessed by now) means being mindful that both approaches have their worth and that both approaches need to be engaged.  I’ve found that people who don’t know their defined role can be as harmful to progress as people who are mavericks when it comes to the overall mission.  This is where “job descriptions” are helpful, without being so constraining that they choke the person’s creativity and offer very little room for enhancement.

Being a leader of organicization means that you have one ear to the chest of God, listening to His heartbeat, while having the other ear listening to the pulse of those you are charged to lead.  Few things are more discouraging to a people being led than the sensation that their leader is out of touch with where they are.

Being a leader of organicization means that when a shift if called for, you don’t first consult the policy handbook to see when the next vote is being taken so as to make a change to the organization’s bylaws.  You carefully and prayerfully consider the options and faithfully move in the new direction; even if you’re in mid-stream.  Being willing to make shifts based on the needs of those you’re leading shows that you are flexible and in tune not just with the direction, but with those being directed.

Being a leader of organicization puts you behind the desk and away from the desk proportionately.  My default position is in my office chair, I’ll admit it.  And whether you even have an office, a desk, or a chair is irrelevant.  Leaning too far toward over-organizing means we’re looking at a screen more than at the faces of those we’re leading.  As such, emails, texts, Facebook posts, tweets, and *gulp* even blogs can be a great vehicle for destructive passive-aggressive leadership behavior.

There’s more to say, but I’m going to stop here.

I’ve been known for long(ish) blog posts, so I’ll stop here and turn it over to you:

  • If you’re a leader, in what other areas can you improve your “organicization”?  
  • If you’re being led, what do you see in your leader that you feel needs to be addressed along the lines of organicization?
*Here’s the actual doodling I did a couple years ago when I first began kicking this around…

When Good News Goes Bad

I laugh a lot.  Mostly because most of what I see is so funny.  But let me start off by saying that I realize what I’m writing about is kind of serious…kind of.

If you hadn’t noticed, the gay marriage issue is one that is currently boiling over everywhere you look.  And it would seem that the battle lines are drawn.  Here’s the apparent scene: on one side are gays and those who support gay marriage, and on the other side are the wretched evangelicals.  Is this your personal view?  I’d implore you to rethink it if it is.

The word “evangelical” is becoming synonymous with “hatemonger”, “anti-gay”, and “hopelessly out of touch and therefore worthless”.  What’s amazingly tragic is that none of those things should ever be or should have ever been used to describe an evangelical person.  Quite the contrary, actually.

The word “evangelical” comes from the Greek “euangelion” from which we get our word “gospel”.  It literally means “one who brings a joyous message of victory; one who brings good news”.  It has at its heart the word “angel” which means “messenger”.  The verb tense “euangelizo” commonly referred to a messenger who would precede the king’s arrival into the city, telling of the king’s victory in battle.  “Evangelical” has always been linked with “good news”.

Today? Not so much.

Ask the average person on the street what they think about “evangelicals” and they’re likely to have little to no use for them.  To our society, the evangelical movement has proven itself not just archaic, but acidic.  We’re not just making noise, we’re making enemies.  We’re no longer idyllic, but idiotic.  What to do with us pesky evangelicals?  Shut them up and then shut them down.  And “good riddance to bad rubbish”, as they say.

But why?  Why are evangelicals considered more and more  radioactive when the heart of the Gospel message we carry is that God has heard, that Jesus has come, and that we are reunited with the King?  Why does American society have a growing disdain for this good news and the people who carry it?  In quick succession, I’d like to share a few of my thoughts and then hear yours.

First, too many Christians have not communicated the gospel without spin.  If they had, we’d see even more people coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ (even more than the not-too-shabby estimated 80,000 daily who currently do).  In America, we’ve taught a shallow gospel, pinned to a dead routine, and wrapped in consumeristic “comfort above all” wishy-washiness.  We’ve taught about a Jesus so full of love that He died willingly on a cross in our place in order to be reconciled to us eternally starting right now and in exchange have asked that on Sundays, you should be nice and come to a church building.  Unless there’s a game on.  Or its race weekend.  Or the kids have ball practice.  In that case…well…whatever.

Secondly, there isn’t good news without bad news first, and its with that point most people struggle.  The good news is that Jesus has come, but the bad news is that He came for you because you were lost in your sin.  (Want to end a conversation quickly? Throw in the word “sin”.)  The good news is that forgiveness is totally free, but the bad news is that’s because there’s no way you could have ever gotten it for yourself. You’re way too sinful, and rendered utterly helpless and hopeless.  The good news is that “all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”, but the bad news is that you can only have one Lord, so if He’s it then you’re not.  The good news is that the grace of God sets you free in every way a human being can be set free; from condemnation, from the expectations of others, from the power of sin, from your past, present, and future mistakes, from the power of death, and from an eternity separated from Him (to name a few), but the bad news is that we think our version of freedom (doing whatever we want) is just…well…better than God’s version.  With our version of freedom, we get to dismiss what’s moral and prop up what we think makes us happy at the moment.  We get to live in a seemingly wonderful world where no one is wrong except the people who say something can be wrong.  With our version, we get to call ourselves enlightened while ignoring the idea of darkness.  Yep, our version is appealing all right…but will ultimately bring about the demise of our society; the one we think so highly of right now.

Finally (for now), I’ll throw in a good ‘ol “Catch 22”.  Its the argument that “Christians are all hypocrites.”  However, look closely and you’ll see that indelibly connected to the human experience is hypocrisy.  Its just that its especially nauseating when an evangelical Christian purports to “love God” and yet isn’t perfect all the time.  And voila! Its super easy to use my hypocrisy as an excuse to ignore me and my message.  Unfortunately, it seems that we have somehow linked the expectation of perpetual personal perfection with following Jesus.  I can’t tell you how many people don’t attend church (for example) because they “don’t have their act together.”  Somehow evangelicals have communicated to the world around us “Get yourself together, then Jesus will take a look at you.”  Geez, I wouldn’t want to be a part of a church like that.  I’d feel weird and out of place!  But therein lies the very heart of the gospel message.  You’re NOT perfect.  Neither am I.  That’s why Jesus came in the first place.  But still we as evangelicals are somehow giving off the vibe that we’ve got something figured out.  That we’ve got some corner of the market on God that isn’t accessible to others.  Hogwash.

The God I love and serve is the God who saved me when I didn’t have one shred of hope to save myself (and I still don’t).  The God I love and serve is a God of compassion, grace, and mercy AND a God of righteousness and justice.  The God I love and serve is a God of “whosoever”; the gates are flung wide open to ANYONE (straight, gay, white, black, male, female, republican, democrat, tall, short, fat, thin, you get the idea) who would take Him at His word and receive His forgiveness.  For the love of the God I love and serve, I have crushed any pedestal I might be tempted to put myself on.  I’m painfully aware of my sinfulness and gloriously aware of His willingness to forgive it all and to adopt me into an eternal friendship with Him, one in which as His son I am only who He says I am.   And none of this is because there is anything about me that is appealing.  None of this is because I’ve figured anything out.  None of this because of me, all of this because of Him.

Its your turn.  What are other reasons that many see “evangelical” as a dirty word?

Why We Leave

I’ve been on Twitter for a couple years now and I’m sure I’m doing something wrong because even after such a long time, I currently only have 233 followers.  *Shout-out to my Twitter followers!*  I notice (and usually take it a wee-bit personally) when someone stops following on Twitter.  It stings just a bit.  Not enough to ruin my appetite for lunch, but still. (By the way, follow me on Twitter by clicking on that link over there.)

And as a pastor, I’ve got to admit that it also stings when someone leaves the local church I’m on staff at.  I take that personally too, even though it often has nothing at all to do with me.  I wonder, “What did we do?” or “What didn’t we do?”

Now, there are plenty of dumb reasons for leaving a church and I’m sure those of you who’ve ever voluntarily left a church for another church up the road can attest to the fact that your reason wasn’t one of the dumb ones.  Of course not.  Never.  But if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to list a few of them.

Too hot. Too cold. Uncomfortable chairs. Untrimmed mustaches on the ushers. Bad coffee. Bad parking. Low lights. Wrong Bible version. Not enough candles. They shook my hand too hard. I got hugged. Stale donuts. Everybody smiles, so they must be fakers. They took an offering. The worship leader’s soul patch. The pastor says “uh” a lot. The lobby smells like egg salad. Children are too noisy and act like children. The teenagers aren’t Amish. The preacher preaches too long (besides, I felt convicted during his sermons). The bathrooms are cramped. Standing too long for singing. Too many baptisms. Not enough communion…

(There are others, but that’s what the comment section is for.)

By contrast as far as I can see, there are far fewer legitimate reasons to leave a church:

  • They don’t believe/preach/teach/obey the Bible. (A lot could fit under this umbrella)
  • They don’t follow the leading of God’s Spirit.

So, let’s hear it.  What are some other dumb reasons or legitimate reasons to leave a local church?