Thursday, March 25, 2010

He Calls Us To Be Equipped

“It will all come together because our hearts are in it.” That statement always makes me cringe just a bit. I mean it is absolutely crucial that we bring our servant’s heart to everything we do for God, but we also need to bring a fair amount of ability. None of us would expect to get hired for a job that we were woefully unqualified, or even under-qualified to have. Employers want to hire someone with education and experience. The church should be no different. Make no mistake, however, the church can (and I believe should) serve as a safe place to get an education and/or experience. The trouble is we often give people too much responsibility too soon. When we do this, we set them and those they serve up for failure. That’s not okay.

I’ve met the truck driver who was “called” to be a Junior High Pastor, the just-out-of-college Youth Minister with little or no leadership skills, and the young man with a guitar who was given the overwhelming job of running the church music department. These men were effectively set up for failure. They were put in positions of leadership without a support structure or mentor. They were given far more responsibility than they were equipped to handle, and sadly their inexperience caused brokenness and damage to the cause of Christ.

There are definitely examples of God doing supernatural work using the humblest of people. I think of Bible heroes like David who killed the giant Goliath; Moses who led the Israelites and received and delivered the Ten Commandments despite his lack of faith and leadership skills; the woman at the well who was a prostitute, yet Jesus sent her out to tell her story without ever having taken a public speaking course, and I’m betting she led many people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I believe these are fabulous examples of God’s miraculous power, but these stories are the exception and not the rule.

Samuel was called to do a great work for God, and to prepare him for that work he spent years and years under the tutelage of Eli the priest. In Exodus 35 we read about the building of the tabernacle as overseen by Moses. He wasn’t interested in only men who had the “heart” for the job—he was looking for men that God had gifted with both talent AND education. We read this is verses 30-33: Then Moses said to the Israelites, "See, the LORD has chosen Beazley son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts- to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic craftsmanship. Moses wanted the Israelites to see that the Lord had chosen men with both heart AND skill. That should be our qualification model as well.

Many people hold up the disciples as examples of unqualified men chosen by Jesus to do extraordinary work. They were (among other things) fishermen, tax collectors, and a tent maker who moonlighted as a persecutor of Christians! But, Jesus didn’t pluck them out of their professions and say, “Go lead a church.” No! He taught and mentored them 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for 3 years! That’s a lot of training! When you consider the hours of training those men received from Jesus, we can see that the vast majority of our pastors today don’t even come close to having had that kind of intense education. Speaking of pastors, they would (for the most part) never get up on the platform and preach without hours and hours of prep time going into each and every sermon, and yet they often call on volunteers to pull off a mammoth task with little notice because they “had a vision”. Church bodies don’t want to hire under-qualified men to lead their congregation, yet pastors call on hapless do-gooders “with heart” to be ministry leaders. It’s a strange dichotomy, isn’t it!

So, you think you’ve been “called” by God into a specific ministry? You probably have, but you’ve got to get out of the pew and get educated. That might mean going back to school, becoming a volunteer, or seeking out a mentor who is an expert in the area of work you feel you’ve been called into. As we saw in the passage in Exodus, God chooses people who are both filled with the “Spirit of God” AND have “skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts.” In other words, people with both the heart AND the ability! When God calls you, get off the pew and bone up on your knowledge and polish your craft. Get off the pew!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Betrayal Happens

“If you haven’t been betrayed in the church, you’ve been living on a desert island.” Dan Allender, author of Leading with a Limp: Take Full Advantage of Your Most Powerful Weakness and Leading with a Limp: Turning Your Struggles into Strengths. In February Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois hosted an arts conference for Christian artists, which was simulcast all across the country. Speakers, pastors, and teachers are given permission to speak truth at conferences and retreats in ways they can’t from their own pulpit. Dan Allender was one of the presenters at the arts conference, and this was just one of his many quotes that punched me right in the gut. Church betrayal is a reality that is so often hushed in the local churches. Look, bring this truth out into the light so we can deal with it. There is freedom that comes when we acknowledge the truth of our weaknesses and then work together towards change and strength.

Willow Creek Community Church is a vibrant, growing church. While the focus of their attention has shifted a bit in recent years (wisely so), they still seem as determined as ever to give the artist a place to serve in the body of Christ. I grew up in a church where drums were not allowed in the church sanctuary, and going to the movies was strongly discouraged. I was not allowed to take dance lessons as a child because dancing was “against our religion”, and the idea of ever performing a play or monologue on the church platform was stuff of which fairy tales were made! The gift of eternal life is the most amazing gift God ever gave His kids, but talent is a close second. Whether you are an actor, dancer, painter, builder, architect, gardener, clothing designer, or short order cook, you are an artist. If you create – you are an artist.

There has been, is, and always will be a huge amount of discourse in the arts based ministries of the church. The reasons for this phenomenon are many and varied, but one thing that cannot be disputed – the heart of the artist is a sensitive one, and working with artists requires great patience and wisdom. I’ve heard people refer to the theatre as “the devil’s playground”, rock and roll as “the devil’s music”, and Hollywood as “the devil’s home”. Listen, no matter how dark the room, God’s light will always break through! It is our job to bring God’s light into the darkness. WE have kept God out of the arts. WE have done that! God does not want to be left out. We say, “Until the whole world knows”, but then we parenthetically add, “except Hollywood and The Ice Capades – no good Christian would be caught dead there.” God has called the artist to go into the art jungle!

The music and/or arts department at church is as much a jungle as the farthest corner of Africa, or the tiniest island of Indonesia. When I see betrayal happen in the church, I see it happen most often in the music and/or arts department. We argue over music styles, stage time, and the relevance of skits and dramas in the service. We disagree over the ratio of ability vs. heart (this is a whole other topic!), and we make assumptions about one another’s motivations. The artist is overly sensitive, wildly passionate, and sometimes emotionally volatile. Instead of focusing on the strengths, working through disagreements, and coming together as a team, we resort to all forms of betrayal. Shame on us!

Get off the pew and speak the truth! Betrayal happens! That is the truth! Don’t hide from it, don’t sweep it under the sanctuary carpet or bury it under the thrust stage. Deal with it! Get off the pew and deal with it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Think Before We Speak

I received a birthday greeting that started out like this, “Satan wants to rob you of your joy….Happy Birthday”. Huh? I think this person was trying (in a strange way) to encourage me, but that’s not how I received it. I find that this kind of “satan talk” seems to be unique to Christians. I don’t remember ever receiving a birthday greeting from a non-Christian friend that started with something like, “Karma will kill ya….Happy Birthday!”

Listen, satan wants to rob all of us of our joy! That’s his gig. In the first chapter of Job the Lord asks satan where he’s come from, and in verse 7 he answers the Lord with, “from roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it”. What was satan looking for? He was looking for someone to destroy. John 10:10 says, “The thief comes to kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”

As I said, satan wants to destroy us all. Unfortunately, my friend’s comment came across as a bit pious and judgmental – as if she was suggesting that satan had singled me out. Her statement didn’t bring me one ounce of joy or encouragement on my birthday. Had she been chatting with satan himself? In Romans 1:12 Paul writes that he longs to see us “mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” Sharing what God has done in and through us brings encouragement to the body. Did this proclamation bring encouragement? Telling the truth about satan has its place, but in a birthday greeting? Hmmmm…..

We need to take a moment and think – really think about our words. We need to ask God to give us clarity of thought and we all need to check and recheck our motivations. I don’t pretend to know what my friend’s intention was, but her birthday greeting left me feeling vulnerable and scared. Then I went to the scripture and was reminded that satan doesn’t really play favorites – he wants to destroy us all. But Jesus came so that we could have “life and have it to the full”! Get of pew and encourage! Get of the pew!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Christians love to boycott! We march outside abortion clinics and adult bookstores. We carry picket signs and deliver passionate speeches on street corners in hopes of swaying voters. We boycott products and companies, movies and television shows. Back in the day we would send passionate letters and flyers to pastors and church deacon boards in hopes that they would warn their parishioners about reading a particular book, voting for a distrusted candidate, buying an ill thought of product, or seeing a morally bankrupt movie. Today we’ve got tools like email, Facebook, cell phones, and Twitter to get our message out to the masses in a nanosecond.

For years Christians have been encouraged to boycott anything Disney because, “Few companies have demonstrated as much of a callous disregard towards the concerns of Christians as Disney has” – this according to a “how to boycott Disney” website. The belief is that Disney promotes the homosexual lifestyle. In 1989 a woman named, Terry Rakolta led a boycott against the then fairly new television show, “Married With Children” after viewing an episode that oozed sexual innuendo (didn’t they all). She started a letter writing campaign urging advertisers to drop their support of the show. Ironically, it was her boycott that made more viewers aware of the floundering show and the ratings soured. In fact, “Married With Children” enjoyed high ratings from then on and was kept on the air until 1997. So then, the boycott was a bust? Yeah, I’d say so.

Listen, boycotts are not bad things. I often say that bad things must happen to good people so that good people will rise up and effect change. A boycott will often shine the light of truth on a particularly unjust situation or law. I love a quote from Jonathan Acuff from his blog, “Stuff Christians Like”. #149 addresses boycotting stuff and he points out that he’s not completely against boycotts. “I would rather have a well done boycott spread light on a real issue,” says Mr. Acuff, “than have hatemongers wearing Christian masks be the only thing the world sees when it comes to a boycott.” He’s right. The world tends to see us as hatemongers wearing Christian masks.

I submit to you that we ought to shine a brighter light on some of the junk that goes on behind the church doors. Let’s use our sign making skills to boycott gossip, judgment, divorce among Christians, name calling, and wars about what kind of worship songs we should be singing! It’s not a bad thing that we want to clean up our neighborhoods and cities, but our own house is a mess!

Get off the Pew and speak up! Speak up when the church busybody talks smack about the couple going through a rough time. Speak up when a high school student chatters on about the Sunday School “slut”. Speak up when the pastor preaches something that you believe is in opposition to the inerrant word of God. Speak up when the televangelist begs and cries for money then goes home to his multi-million dollar house on a hill. Speak up when the family with the incarcerated son is kicked out of church, or the single woman is told she must quit the choir because someone saw her at a bar! When we present a clean and orderly house, the visitors will be drawn to us, and ultimately to God Himself.

Get off the Pew, put down the picket signs, and clean up God’s house. Get off the Pew!

Pat Robertson Does Not Speak For Me!

This is a long-overdue post. On January 12, 2010 a magnitude 7.0 earthquake violently shook Haiti and well over 100,000 people died. In fact, some have placed the death toll as high as 200,000. Many thousands more were left homeless. There is no one who disputes the fact that the Haitian tragedy is one of the most horrific natural disasters to hit our world. Shame on Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh whose words added insult to injury. Why do the comments of these two men bother me? Because they both claim to be Christians (Robertson is the founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network) and I want to make it clear that these men do not speak for me.

Reverend Robertson said the earthquake was a consequence of something that “happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it.” The Haitians were “under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III and whatever, and they got together and swore a pact with the devil. They said, ‘We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.’ True story. And so the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.’” In 1804 the native Haitians defeated French colonists and declared independence, but Robertson said the Haitians have been cursed ever since.

Rush Limbaugh discouraged his listeners from donating to the Haitian recovery because, “You already give to Haitian relief – it’s called the income tax.” A whole nation of innocent human beings is in dire need. Why would anyone discourage people who are able, from helping? Unbelievable!

In 2005 a devastating hurricane hit the gulf coast of the United States and it destroyed homes and businesses. Over 1,800 people lost their lives during Hurricane Katrina, and in the floods that quickly rose after the levees gave way. Pat Robertson said this natural disaster was God’s punishment for the many abortions performed in this country each year. If that was the case, then why was Louisiana hit hardest? According to the latest abortion statistics, Louisiana is 19th among the states in abortions per capita.

I’ve talked to many Christians who do believe that the natural disasters that have befallen our world of late are, in fact, a result of God’s punishment for the evil in the world. Listen, I’m not going to make suppositions about what is going on the mind of our sovereign God. I can, however, ask myself, “What would Jesus do” in these desperate times of incomprehensible need? In John, chapter 4 we read about Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well. He didn’t talk to her about a generational curse, or tell her that her problems were caused by the actions of her grandmother’s second cousin’s uncle! Please! Jesus talked to her about her personal choices and then He met her physical and spiritual needs. Simple as that!

Jesus fed the hungry, raised the dead, and healed the sick. He met the physical needs FIRST, then He addressed the spiritual needs. That is the example we should be following. We do not need to look into the eyes of hurting and dying people and tell them they are suffering because they happen to be swimming in the wrong gene pool! Come on Christian.
Sadly, you and I do not have the microphone and audience afforded to Pat Robertson or Rush Limbaugh but the world hears them and assumes that they speak for all Christians. Well, they don’t speak for me! Get off the Pew and meet the physical needs of the hurting and dying! Love them, feed them, clothe them, and then lead them to the well of living water that is Jesus Christ. Get off the Pew!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Are You A Pharisee? Am I?

A wonderful Christian friend of mine posted the following status update on her Facebook, “Wondering why Christians don't ENCOURAGE other Christians to be all they can and want to be for Christ. It isn't a contest is it? It hurts.” This woman has endured many trials. Her husband left when her children were young, her daughter was a teen mom, and her son rebelled, left home, and ended up spending time in jail. My friend has been judged, condemned, criticized, and abandoned. After all, her family is not exactly a poster family for Christian values. But, you know what? They are the perfect family to put on a poster that promotes forgiveness and family support. They are incredibly strong and resilient.

Why do some Christians feel compelled to point out the weaknesses and shortcomings of others? There are so many hurting people who are crying out and in need of some love and support. When challenges come and the waste hits the spinning blades, the last thing we need is to add aloneness and worry over what the gossips are saying about us to our list of problems.

When I was in the lake of sadness and fire, my Christian family stayed as far away as possible. It was almost as if they believed that my bad luck was an infectious disease. The more alone I was, the sadder I got. The sadder I got, the more desperately isolated I felt. We want to see the good in ourselves and sadly, many of us choose to look for the ugly in everyone else in order to prove our goodness. Luke 18:9-12 tells the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector: To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'

Listen, all of us can be embarrassingly weak. I am thankful, however, to have seen brave strength at one time or another in every person I’ve ever known. Each one of us have goodness and kindness inside of us and even when others can’t see it, we must find the lens through which we can see it in ourselves. It is through the lens of pride that we see the weaknesses of others. When we present our inadequacies humbly to God, we will be exalted in His presence. The passage in Luke 18 continues with verses 12-14: "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Get off the Pew and reach out to someone in crisis. Pain, whether self inflicted or brought on by others, is NOT a contagious disease! Pouring criticism out over the wounds of the hurting might make ME feel better about ME, but it lessons who I am in the eyes of God. I don’t ever want to be compared to a Pharisee. Get off the Pew and see – really see – how your words cut deeply and leave lasting scars on the body and the family of God Himself! Get off the Pew!