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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Teenagers and Thanksgiving

I’ve been spending time thinking about Thanksgiving lately and as I was preparing for my school chapel message today, I decided to talk about one way of giving thanks.

It was a way that my parents wanted me to give thanks that I tried to get out of as I went through my teenage years.

For my family, thanksgiving was always a time for family. We would usually spend it either at our house with my grandparents joining us or we would go to my grandparents’ house for dinner. That was the norm – at least that’s the way I remember it being (maybe my mom or dad or both can refresh my memory). Christmas was the same.

But as I entered those “wonderful” teenage years, I began to rebel against this norm and tradition. Not the turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie, mind you, but the part about spending the day with family.

By the time the pie was a pleasant memory, I would want to call my friends and go out to the movies. There was usually a blockbuster or two that had opened by that weekend. Or we would go to the the arcade (I realize that in today’s age of computer games and consoles, an “arcade” seems so, well, archaic). Or, if we were lucky to have a white and cold Thanksgiving, we would go to Holiday Park, the local ski hill, and schuss the slopes.

In other words, I would do almost anything if it meant getting out of the house and being with my friends.

It occurs to me that this is a pretty unthankful attitude. I’d scarf down the food and get out of the house as quickly as possible. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my family – I did and still do. I guess it was that teenage “thing” of wanting to live my life my way, on my terms and on my time.

That’s a pretty selfish attitude and selfishness, it seems to me, is the opposite of being thankful.

Now that I’m the parent of a teenager, I’m beginning to realize that this might have hurt my parents’ feelings. Actually, I find myself repenting of a lot of things that I did as a teenager now that I’m a parent of a teenager!

Now, in my forties, I’m more conscious of just how special time with family is. And that’s what I encouraged the school family with today.

I encouraged them to give thanks to God for the time they get to spend with their families at this time of year. I understand that they won’t understand just how special it is until they are older. I also understand that many of them won’t hear me – especially the teenagers.

But I feel compelled to at least try to reach them with this important information! I’m beginning to really understand that this is part of my calling.

I’m certainly telling my own three sons about this. My wife and I have established Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas traditions that I pray they will take with them into their adulthood. And these traditions all involve family – at the very least the five of us, but most of the time with the grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins.

Spending time with friends is important. I don’t think it is anathema. But “family time” is limited. Parents feel this so deeply. Children are only that age once and not for very long. Older kids, left to themselves, won’t normally choose to spend time with parents, so it’s up to us to make that choice for them.

When they are adults, most of them will thank us for it. I know I do. Thanks, mom and dad! Happy Thanksgiving!

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

People Pleaser?

Like most people, I don’t like it when people are not happy with me. But it is my personality that I worry that not everybody will be pleased with me, with what I say or what I do.

My friends tell me that I can’t please everybody all the time. And I know that’s true at a reasonable level in my head. But there is still this unreasonable fear that I won’t please everybody all the time.

But its a mistake to try. As a disciple of Jesus, I follow a man who was more than a man, he was also the Son of God! If anyone could possibly please all people all time, it is certainly the Son of God. But even Jesus didn’t please everybody all the time. In fact, I think it might be safe to say that he didn’t even please the majority of people all the time.

He didn’t worry about this, though. There was only one person that Jesus was concerned about pleasing – his Father. And in pleasing his Father, Jesus brought the greatest gift to all people – the forgiveness of their sins. Jesus’ main concern was following the will of his Father by doing what was necessary to save people from their sins. That brought glory to his Father and pleased his Father.

My calling, like all Christians, is to bring glory to God by making disciples of all nations. By its very nature, this will displease many people. We simply cannot worry about that.

It is important to understand that it isn’t a matter of apathy, either. That I will not worry about pleasing everybody doesn’t mean I don’t care what they think or I don’t care about them. I do care. But I can’t live my life to other people’s pleasure – there’s just too many of them. I must live my life to only one person’s pleasure – and I chose God!

It is actually liberating to know that as I follow God’s calling for my life, I don’t have to worry about what other people think. Most people are not going to be happy with me. After all, most people were not happy with Jesus, either!

My prayer is that I surrender to Christ everything I have and feel. He will deal with me justly, by His grace. I need not worry about the one who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. My life is in Jesus’ hands and he thinks of me with love. A love that led him to the cross to die for my sins.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Walls or Windows

I recently read a quote by Bill Tenny-Brittian, “To say the church exists to serve the needs of the churched is like saying McDonalds exists to serve hamburgers to its employees.”

I then tweeted that quote and got a few heated replies to it.

One reply informed me that the church actually does serve its members. Well, that’s true. But that isn’t the opposite of what the quote is saying.

Another reply informed me of the definition of “church” in the Lutheran Confessions, where it says that the church is “where God’s word is taught in its truth and purity and the sacraments are administered according to Christ’s institution.” I can’t argue with that, either, except to say that this is also not opposite of what this quote is saying.

What Bill Tenny-Brittian is saying is that the church cannot hope to thrive if all it does is meet the needs of its members and ignores the unchurched (or unsaved, if you prefer – he means the same thing, I think). The analogy is a McDonalds that only serves hamburgers to its employees. If it does that, it won’t stay in business very long. It is also against company policy, I would think. McDonalds exists to bring hamburgers to everyone, not just its employees.

So also, the Church exists to “make disciples of all nations.” Churches that simply meet the needs of their own members are sometimes called “maintenance ministries” and they are very small, and growing smaller by the year, congregations.

This led to me think about church architecture, of all things. Most of the churches I’ve been to have more walls than windows (probably sound architectural design) and the windows they have are stained glass – you can’t see in or out of them. The windows may be beautiful, but they don’t function as a window in that you can’t see out of them. They do let light in, that’s true. And when the light is filtered through the colored glass it is very beautiful.

But I was once in a church that decided that to illuminate the stained glass windows so that they could be seen at night. A good idea. But what they ended up doing was illuminating the outside so that those on the inside could see the window. Those outside only saw a bright light shining on the stained glass but couldn’t see the beauty of the picture.

I think the best design for a church would be for it to be made of clear glass walls so that two things could happen. The outside world could see in and see the people of God worshipping Him and receiving His gifts. They could see the Holy gifts given to a Holy people (holy people in the truest sense of the word – set apart for a special purpose, not in the sense of perfect).

But a church with clear glass walls would also allow the people inside to be able to see the outside world as well. The world they are told to go out into (but not be of – John 17).

One person pointed out a similar observation to me. He asked me if I had noticed which way the doors to the church opened. He pointed out that they open “out” as in to let people out into the world to make disciples.

All analogies break down if you take them far enough, and this one surely will as well. But it is important to understand that our calling as disciples of Jesus is to go out into the world bringing the Gospel to them. We cannot hide behind closed doors, stained glass windows and brick walls.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Top Ten Things Church Hoppers Say

I wanted to share this with you because I've heard #10 several times in the three church's I've served as pastor over the last 14 years. I saw this on Will Mancini's blog, who got it from Josh Reich's blog, a young pastor in Tuscon. Below is his post on a book by Bob Franquiz entitled, Zero to Sixty. It has a chapter on Church Hoppers. Here is how to spot a church hopper and what they mean (my favorite is the last one):

1. “But my old church…” This usually means they want your church to be like their old church.

2. “I just need time to be fed.” This means, “I don’t want to do anything. I’m here just to sit and see what I can get out of this church, so don’t expect me to serve in any way, shape, or form.

3. “I’m looking for a church that teaches the Word.” This means, “I’m looking for a church that dispenses lots of information without challenging me to do anything.”

4. “We came here because we are looking for deep teaching.” This usually means their last church focused too much on actually obeying the Word. They want a church that just talks about the Rapture, the Second Coming, who the Hittites were and the identity of Theophilus.

5. “I should know my pastor.”
This means, “In my last church, I got to know the pastor, but when the church grew, and the pastor couldn’t have dinner with us every Tuesday night, I left and came here.”

6. “We want a church that’s focused on discipling people.” This means, “I want a church that’s focused on me, not people who are lost.”

7. “I wish you wouldn’t focus so much on what people need to do.”
This means they don’t like commitment, they don’t like to be told the Bible actually tells them how to live and follow Jesus. They want to come to church, live in their sin and have no one tell them this is wrong.

8. “I wish you wouldn’t talk about money.” This is the best way to tell a pastor “I don’t give.”

9. “My old church/pastor was…”
The way people come to your church is how they will leave. If your first conversation with them is all about their last church and pastor, that is how they will leave your church and how they will go to their next church.

10. “Pastor, I’ve been talking to a lot of people and they all say…”
Translation: “Me, my spouse and my mother think…” If they start this way, 99.9% of the time they have no one else who thinks this way, it is just the best way to complain. If someone has a complaint and uses this line with me, they need to list all of the names or my best assumption is they talked to the same person 10 times.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

God Didn’t Make a Mistake

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. – Philippians 1:6 (ESV)

The providence of God is something that is overlooked at times.

There are times when it feels as though you aren't making progress in your spiritual life. The “one step forwards, two steps back” kind of feeling.

But I believe that we who are disciples of Jesus are all where we are according to God’s providence. He intended for us to be here, wherever “here” happens to be.

Yes, there are times when we try to force things, set situations up to our benefit. Sometimes God allows these things to carry through even though it isn’t what is best for us. He does this in order to teach us a lesson – we are disciples, after all!

And when you get discouraged because it seems like nothing is going right even though you’ve been following God’s leading in your life, don’t give up! God will bring the good work to completion eventually.

I heard this once that is relevant to this idea – God is rarely early and never late.

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