Month: September 2012

Sons and Daughters – Hype vs. The Holy Spirit

My new book is called Sons and Daughters and it releases everywhere October 9th. Here is an excerpt from chapter 29

 

A COUPLE OF years ago, I began to “follow” on Twitter a dozen or so high-profile pastors whose ministries I deeply respect. Every few days, I’d receive their 140-character updates and initially would be excited to read what they wrote. Until I actually read what they wrote.

 

Several months into this receive-and-read trend, my enthusiasm nearly fizzled to nil. Almost every update from almost every pastor I was following was filled to overflowing with hype. In anticipation of that Sunday’s worship service, they would tout the “Super Bowl of all Sundays,” “the mega-monster of all sermons,” “a weekend that promised to be off the chain” (according to Urban Dictionary: “a great deal of fun”). “I can’t think of another time I have been more excited about preaching a message,” one pastor wrote. “Miss Sunday’s service at your own peril!!!”

 

Sadly, the exclamation-point-laden hype wasn’t coming from just one person; it was flowing freely from many mouths, while simultaneously deflating my heart. Because what happens when the service isn’t mega-monster?

 

How can it be, week after week?

 

 

I enjoy reading about church history, and if I were to peg the central characteristics of church gatherings in the first century, it would be non-hyped, non-frantic, unrushed. Worship was their lifestyle, not an overly promoted activity occurring one hour, one morning a week. Things were simple. Prayers were meaningful. People were fully dependent on the Spirit of God.

 

It’s the polar opposite of how we operate today, in our infamously glitz-and-gratification culture. We favor microwaves over Crock Pots and sex-appeal over substance. We like it fast and easy and now…and preferably at little cost to us. As it relates to the church-going experience, we rush in on a Sunday morning—fifteen minutes late at best—we scurry to find a seat, get antsy after sixty minutes, and rush right back into our day. We sing songs with lines like “wait upon the Lord” and bob our heads in apparent agreement, even as we silently wonder how much longer the song-set will last.

 

We’re moving far too fast to hear it, of course, but still God whispers, “Be still.”

 

Relax.

Linger.

Drop the hype, please.

Let me show up and do my work.

 

It would be easy to blame church congregations for the madness that has consumed our gatherings these days, except that from what I see from their pastors, we’re conditioning them to behave this way. We hype and promote and position and tweet and inadvertently create pews full of consumers instead of devoted worshipers of God. I once heard it said that leaders who don’t teach their congregations to worship must entertain them week in and week out. So true. We hype-ers are setting up our people to expect an experience, instead of teaching them to encounter their Lord.

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Sons and Daughters – The First Word of Every Good Prayer

 My new book Sons and Daughters releases October 9th, but I cannot wait that long, so I am sharing some excerpts here on my blog. Here is a snippet from chapter 25.

An old photograph featuring former President John F. Kennedy captures the essence of how I now view God. In it, the president is standing to the side of his desk in the Oval Office, tapping his toe and clapping as his young daughter and son jump and dance around the room. Legend has it that the shot was snapped just as the leader of the free world was in the throes of the internationally tense Cuban Missile Crisis, when Russia was trying to establish a missile base in Cuba.

 

The president and his advisers were pressed to make difficult military and diplomatic decisions, even as they shuffled myriad other world leaders in and out of the Oval Office who were seeking an audience with them. During one such meeting, the Commander in Chief heard the pitter-patter of children’s feet outside his office doors and cleared his office so he could turn his attention to Caroline and John Jr., if only for a few minutes. Telling, isn’t it, that when the weight of the world was on his shoulders, this leader still found time to enjoy his kids.

 

JFK may have been President of the United States, but to Caroline and John Jr., he was “Dad.” Those kids didn’t see their dad’s authority; all they saw was his access. President Kennedy wielded the most power of any single individual on the planet, but those closest to him knew that father was his favorite role.

 

It’s a fitting metaphor for God. He is all-powerful—and he is Abba. He is all-present—and he is Daddy. He is all-knowing—and he is Papa. “Father” is his favorite role, and he will grant us an audience, even when we’re acting like little children. Perhaps especially then. Yes, he commands our deference, but how he loves it when we dance at his feet.

 

 

 

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Sons and Daughters – The Cry of the Orphan Heart

My new book Sons and Daughters releases everywhere on October 9th. This book embodies my life message and I am so anxious for you to read it and discuss it. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 2.

Most people I meet who are plagued by an orphan spirit believe that Jesus Christ can save them; they just can’t seem to fathom how he adores them too. It’s interesting, isn’t it? The cry of the orphan heart is, “Won’t somebody please see anything remotely worthwhile in me?” And all the while God lovingly says, “I do. I really do.”

Every weekend at New Life, as I’m dismissing the service, I ask our congregation to take time before they leave to introduce themselves to two or three people they do not know. It’s not just a fleeting comment; there is deep purpose behind my reminder. What goes through my mind as I say those words is, Please, New Life, do what I’m asking you to do. Please let God lead you to a possible divine encounter. The power of even a passing word can radically change a life.

Countless people sitting in our auditorium every weekend carry an orphan spirit. They are unimpressed by flashy lights, loud surround-sound, and the slightly above-average speaker on the stage. What impresses them—what really moves them—is to be seen. To be acknowledged. To be greeted. To be embraced. To be cared for and prayed for and loved.

God knows it’s what moves us all. He knows that’s what brings us home.

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Sons and Daughters – Wave Upon Wave of Love

My new book, Sons and Daughters releases October 9th. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 21.

A man approached me after a Sunday worship service and said that he had been lying in a hospital bed for weeks on end, dealing with complications of his recently diagnosed leukemia. He decided to read through portions of the Bible, in hopes of finding some comfort and hope, when he sensed God directing him to Ephesians 3—the part about how wide and how deep God’s love is. For the first time in forty years, he said, he finally caught the love of his Father. “It came in waves,” he explained to me that Sunday. “Wave after wave of his love.”

The man said he became so overwhelmed by the reality that he actually prayed for God to stop revealing his love, just so the guy could catch his breath. “I can’t take it anymore!” he said aloud. “Just give me a second here to absorb what you’ve already shown me of your love!”

People such as he have seen God’s love, they’ve sensed his love, they’ve felt his love, they’ve known it. And those of us who have experienced this immersion into God’s love now serve him with all our heart and all our strength, because that’s what love compels well-loved people to do. He doesn’t dole out teaspoons full of love, not a soaked dishrag amount of love, but rather wave upon wave upon gigantic, overwhelming wave—washing over us, sweeping under us, surrounding us on all sides. It is wide, it is high, it is deep, it is long. It is in us and all around us and never lets us go. It envelops us and consumes us, it sustains us and empowers us. Wherever we’ve come from and wherever we’re going, we can’t help but run into God’s love.

This messes with the mind, doesn’t it? You can’t comprehend love so all-encompassing as that. All you can do is receive it.

If there were time in heaven, I think you and I would spend our first billion years there exploring the love of God. This is why heaven is filled to overflowing with worship, because God’s mysteries are finally being revealed. And don’t you know that questions regarding his great love must be first on everybody’s list?

Why the blessing?

Why the favor?

Why the care and concern and regard?

Why the provision?

Why the enjoyment?

Why the compassion?

Why the grace?

Until we’re bowing before his visible presence, we’ll never fully grasp the love of God. His love toward us is illogical and irrational and would short-circuit our brains if we could ever get close to sorting it out. But lovingly he says, “Between now and then, by the help of my Spirit, may you know my unknowable love.”

Isn’t that a beautiful thought? It’s like being let in on a divine secret, or like discovering the solution to the most complex puzzle in life. God offers us insider info on something that otherwise can’t be known.

And so I pray fervently and frequently for people I know who do not yet know Christ. I pray that they would be absolutely taken out by wave upon wave upon gigantic, overwhelming wave of God’s love. That they would be drawn by God’s Spirit to his welcoming side and then be given capacity for understanding just how loved they really are.

Sons and Daughters

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Sons and Daughters – The Kingdom is for Kids

My new book Sons and Daughters releases October 9th. Here is a brief excerpt from chapter 32.

Take any kid in any country on any continent in the world and tell them you’d like to give them a gift, and you’d better have something to hang onto, because you’re about to be plowed right down. Kids love to get gifts. They are born with open arms. They know beautifully well how to receive.

They don’t concern themselves with repayment plans or schemes to give in return. They simply throw the doors wide open and say, “For me? Hot diggidy dog!” This is the response God asks of us, the response of a wonder-filled child. “Thank you, Father, for your great gift of grace. I receive it with open arms.”

There’s a final thought, as it relates to this idea of becoming more like a child. As my own kids have grown up, I’ve noticed that they love to be invited into adventure and that they have a sky-high tolerance for risk. I can say, “Hey, Abram and Callie! Do you want to—” And before I can fill in the blank, two sets of dancing eyes have already said yes.

“Do you want to go camping and see if we can find any bears, even though if we’re successful we could get eaten alive?”

“Yes!”

“Do you want to play touch football in the snow, even though it’s so cold outside that your noses could freeze and fall right off?”

“Yes!”

“Do you want to see who can eat the most donuts in five minutes flat, even though you might have a belly ache for three days?”

“Yes!”

It has never mattered what the offer is, if it involves adventure and a measure of risk, my kids have always been game. Still, what I want my kids to dive into more than anything is the idea that following Jesus is the best adventure they can have.

Depending on which research survey you read, somewhere between 50 and 80 percent of today’s young adults are turning their backs on the church. These are kids who have been raised in the church, who have been leaders in their youth groups, who have said they want to trust God with their lives. But as soon as they hit age eighteen, they flee church and never come back.

And honestly, I don’t blame them a bit.

As older, wiser, more mature Christ-followers, we have watered down Jesus’ call on our lives and presented a gospel that requires zero risk. Kids look at the Christianity we have created and say, “Why would I give everything to something that costs me nothing?” Instinctively, they have surmised that life without risk requires no faith at all. And life without risk is no fun.

And so, in an attempt to inject necessary risk into their lives, they veer off the narrow road and experiment with drugs and booze and sex. They cut themselves with sharp objects just to feel something, just to prove that they’re really alive. And all the while, Jesus says, “If real life is what you’re after, boy, have I got a mission for you.”

Certainly, I’m not encouraging senseless risk-taking here. Although when I was a kid, I slept in a bed that was covered in lead paint, I drank out of a rusty water hose every single summer day, and I rode around in the back of a pickup truck, with the tailgate down, no less—and I lived to tell about it all. What I am suggesting is that we call out our kids’ sense of adventure and point them to Christ, who can lead them on the biggest adventure of their lives. I’m suggesting that we live in such a way that we present a gospel that is risky and raw, and that we show our kids by our example that faith is essential to the life that we live.

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How Many Weekends Should a Pastor Preach?

How many times do you expect your pastor to speak on the weekends at your church? I am assuming your pastor gets to take some time off for vacation and rest, but is he supposed to be in the pulpit each of the other Sundays?

When I became the pastor here at New Life, I asked my mentors, who were also pastors of churches, what was a reasonable expectation, considering all of the other resposibilities that go with the vocation and calling of pastor. I also asked my elders to weigh in. We all decided that I should teach at least 36-38 Sundays. For the past five years, I have done just that.

Typically, I am here at my church for long stretches in Janauary and February, during the Easter season, in September and October and always at Christmas. Those are priority times for the lead pastor, in my opinion. If I am invited to speak at other places, I schedule those trips away from the busy seasons so I can focus my attention at home.

I try to take time off during the summer months and during holidays like Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day. These are times I give my staff the pulpit. They are all great communicators and the church needs to hear their voices. I also try to schedule our Overseers to speak at least once a year so our church can hear from the men who give us counsel.

So far, this has been a healthy rhythm for me and for New Life. I have space once a month to read, study and decompress from the weekly schedule of sermon prep. It also gives me space to focus during the week on being a pastor to the people in our congregation and allows more time at work for key meetings. It makes the Sundays I am here much better and it keeps me far from the cliff of burnout.

What do you expect from your pastor? Are our expectations and demands actually harming the pastors we love so much? Will you come to church if “someone else” is preaching? Let the conversation begin.

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Our Return to the Sacred

When the early church gathered for worship, the focus was not a band or a sermon from a pastor. There was certainly singing voices and teaching Scriptures, but the climax was a celebratory meal of remembrance, an Agape Feast. The Eucharist was the reason they gathered, the center of their worship and the reason for their hope.

Then somewhere along the way, mainly in the past 50 years, a growing branch of the American evangelical church decided the Lord’s Supper could be relegated to a monthly or quarterly afterthought. No one was being heretical or insensitive, but the focus of our gathering was certainly changing. This was the tradition in which I was raised.

We have decided at New Life to bring it back to the center of our worship, to return our attention to the mystery of Christ’s body and blood. Starting this Sunday, and on most Sundays thereafter, communion will be the highlight of our gathering. We will gather to sing and I will still teach the Scriptures, but there will be a time in each gathering where we pause, pray and celebrate the sacred.

Some Sundays, we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper while we sing and on other Sundays we will respond to the teaching of the Scriptures by ending our gathering with communion. Regardless of when it happens, it will certainly be the underscore and the emphasis of our time together.

In a world where absolute truth and sound theology are under attack, I believe, for us at New Life, we are being centered again on a foundational stone and are returning to the mysteries that call us to a deeper place of worship. For us, communion is the bridge between a miraculous, resurrected past, a hopeful present and a prophetic future.

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