Making Impressions

I was standing at the doorway to a store in Branson, Missouri while walking around the old town. Suddenly a lady inside says, “I need to get outside.” She pushed through the crowd to the street corner and began smiling and waving at a tour group going by in a vehicle. She smiled and shouted pleasantly to the group as they descended the street.

Next, she turned around, walked back to the shop, stopped, and quipped, “They pay me a lot of money to do that.” And then she walked back inside.

Now I am not sure who pays her, whether it is the city, the tour group, or another entity, but whoever it is understands a simple concept. Smiling, waving, and being kind leave an impression on people about the store owners and the town in general. People with a favorable impression will stay longer, spend more money, and possibly return. The cost of her kindness is an investment; for the city, it is money well spent.

Her smile and kindness were for money, but we have something more significant at stake in the Church. We work to help people connect to God through Jesus Christ and secure their eternal salvation.

That means we sometimes go out of our way to make people who visit the Church feel welcome. We need to smile, wave, and speak kindly. We must do everything we can to make an excellent first impression. We must be overly nice and welcoming to everyone visiting us on Sundays.

Then when you are done making that good impression, you can walk by the people in the lobby and say, “I did it for the Lord.”

Beyond a Standing Ovation

The performance was done, and the crowd rose in thunderous applause. They continued standing for several minutes, clapping loudly. Then, finally, the performers came out and took a bow, and the place erupted in celebration. It took an extended time before the crowd died down after they left the stage.

The crowd’s approval was clear from their response to what they had just witnessed. I wondered, “Could it get any better than this?”

Paul writes to the Church in the city of Philippi. In the second chapter, he breaks into a hymn of Jesus. He describes how he left heaven to go to the cross. Then it says, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11 – NIV 2011)

Revelation chapter four paints this picture of heaven. Everyone comes before God and worships him. But a scroll needs to be read, and no one can open it. Then in chapter five comes a lamb that was slain. It is a picture of Jesus in glory. All those in heaven bow before him. As Paul says to the Philippians, “Every knee will bow.”

Make no mistake, Jesus is not looking for our praise and adoration at his performance. He is worthy of our worship.

Depth of Relationship

Do you like Jesus or love him?

If you like Jesus, you don’t mind reading his words occasionally. You will throw up a few words of prayer every so often. You will celebrate his birthday and his death, or at least his resurrection. You don’t mind if people speak of Jesus, and you admire those who do great things for him.

If you love Jesus, then you have a different relationship. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands.” (John 14:15 – NIV 2011). If you love Jesus, you are doing what he taught. You will love your neighbor, serve others, and spend time in his word. You will practice what he preached every day, not just when convenient. You will be committed to his body, the Church, and fulfilling your role as a part of it. If you love Jesus, you will be in a growing relationship with him.

After almost 30 years of ministry, I am convinced that most people like Jesus and think he is a good guy, but few love him.

Maybe the next step of faith for some of you is, to be honest about your relationship with Jesus. It is nice that you like him, but he is looking for people who willingly choose to love him. 

Redefining Love

Loving someone is not only seen in big gestures but the little everyday things.

Biblically, love is an action. We feel something, but how we respond to those feelings is the ultimate test of love.

Because of this definition, we often think that the bigger the action, the more the love. If you love your family, you will take a big vacation with a hefty price tag. If you love your spouse, diamonds and gold occasionally shout your love. The bigger the price paid, the bigger the love.

I think the challenge is to redefine love in everyday actions. For example, love empties the dishwasher instead of leaving it for your spouse. Love leaves the outside light on when they come home after dark. Love is picking up that special treat for someone that you know they will enjoy. Love is opening a door, making a meal, watching a movie, saving the last bite, speaking kind words, kissing goodbye, and a text filled with encouragement. Love is seen in the small things.

If that is true, and you put it into practice, it can revolutionize your family, marriage, and relationships.

I think it can also bring you closer to God. Take a minute and read that verse from the Bible. Pause and say a prayer before every meal. Watch a Christian show. Speak kindly to your neighbor. Help a child at Church. Give that gift or donate to a Godly cause. Take every opportunity to show your love of the Lord in the everyday routines of life.

Keep making the grand gestures of love occasionally but let them flow from a loving heart that is showing itself every single day.

Growing in the Bible

My wife and I recently went to see the production of Queen Esther at the Sight and Sound Theater in Branson, Missouri. The show is grand, with a vast stage and moving backgrounds. The performances are superb, with beautiful vocals. And the story follows most of the Biblical story from the Old Testament.

What I found to be the most fascinating was watching and listening to the people around us. There was a man behind us who was totally familiar with the story. He was an elderly gentleman who continually talked to his wife, especially at the intermission. He was telling her what was happening and what was going to happen. My favorite line I heard was, “Can you imagine what old Haman is feeling right about now?”

Then in front of me were some teenagers. A large group had come in with a few scattered adults, all in matching shirts. Doubtless, they were a Church group taking their teens to the show. The three boys in front of us looked 14-16 years old. They were watching the show intently and getting caught up in the production. One boy was down to my right and was so emotionally caught up that I could hear his reactions. “Oh boy,” he said as Haman got mad. He gasped when Mordecai was to be honored by the king. As the show proceeded, I realized that he had never heard any of the story before seeing it on the stage.

I sat there between two extremes. One older man who knew the story so well, and another young man who did not know the story at all. A thought crossed my mind, “How do we get this young man to become that old man?” How does the Church and Christians take people from no Bible knowledge to a thorough understanding?

Perhaps the answer was found right there in the context of that theater. First, some young people were part of a youth group at a Church. They were connecting with other Christians. Second, they traveled with leaders giving their time to show these young people their faith. Third, these leaders were using everything at their disposal to teach the Bible, including a production of the Biblical story of Esther. The path these young people were on led directly to that older man.

Instead of being critical of this encounter, I paused later that night and thanked God for those teenagers and their willingness to be there that day. I pray there are more Churches, leaders, and activities to help the next generation on their spiritual journey. Encouraging people to know their Bibles is a tiny part of spiritual growth; having people doing everything in their power to help make it happen is quite another.

Bible Teaching  

I am a man of the Bible. I read through the Bible annually. In addition, I teach and preach from the Bible weekly. I believe it is God’s inspired word. It is the source of truth and the rule for our lives. It reveals God’s plans for humanity and the redemption of our souls through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

That said, you must understand that the Bible does not come to us as precepts alone. Sure, many laws and proverbs are straightforward concepts, but that is about it. God’s word is revealed in stories, songs, prophecies, parables, and analogies.   

Many times in the New Testament, we have these words that we consider “religious” that are analogies and illustrations to help us understand the Gospel story. A word like “justification” is the picture of a law court and the penalty being paid. A “ransom” is the image of a person being held captive and someone paying the price for their freedom. Even the word “atonement” draws upon an Old Testament story for its understanding. All these big religious words use existing analogies to help us understand the cross of Christ.

When I say I teach the Bible only, that does not mean that I shout out precept after precept from the Bible. It means I explain the original word pictures within their context and use modern illustrations to drive the point home. A Biblical preacher uses all the tools at their disposal to help people understand what Jesus did on the cross. It is not someone who reads a passage and uses big words but the one who helps us know what it means and how to apply it today.

Play To the Whistle

In sports, the instruction is to “play to the whistle.”  The official blows the whistle, which indicates the end of the play or the game.

It is often possible for something to happen that we think is the end of the play and is not. Our eyes or ears may deceive us into thinking the play is done, and we stop making an effort. Only later do we realize we were mistaken, and if we had kept playing, the outcome might have changed.

Each player is to give a full effort until the one in authority indicates the play is done. 

I believe this is a good analogy for the Christian life. As long as God gives us life and breath, we will continue working for his kingdom. We should not quit serving because we feel like our time is up. God is the official and decides when we are done on this earth. 

If you woke up today and have the ability to do something for the kingdom of God, then keep going to the whistle, or more Biblically correct, the final trumpet.

Shaped By Experience

Quite often, we convince ourselves something is true of us, and it is really based on our past experiences.

For example, I tell people I am an introvert. The truth is that I became introverted most of my life because of my best friend in high school. We shared everything and were closer than brothers for almost four full years. Then, he was tragically killed in an accident. After that, my life was not the same. I was hurt deeply and began to withdraw from people. Internally I vowed never to let anyone that close to my heart again as a friend. The longer I lived like that, the easier it became to stay that way.

I have seen this type of behavior in numerous other people as well. The list of issues I encounter could go on and on of people I have met who lived one way until something traumatic happened, and they changed their life. Now they have convinced themselves that this new behavior is part of their personality when the real issue might be handling something painful from their past or present. 

Everyone likes to think that they are “wired” in a certain way when perhaps their behavior results from outside forces that caused them to change. The good news is that if you were impacted by external issues one way, then you can swing your life in a different direction. If our experiences shape us, then with time, we can reshape our lives in any direction we want to go through new experiences, including the way God desires for us.

Your Cheering Section

Recently I was attending my son’s graduation from a local university. The leader would read each student’s name, and then they would walk across a stage to receive a diploma. Every name read would be accompanied by a little section in the gym that would clap and cheer. Some students had a large group; in others, only two or three shouted approval.

My question for today is, “Who is in your cheering section?”

Who celebrates your accomplishments with joy? What group of people will shout with excitement when you achieve something?

Keep those people close to you. Unfortunately, there are lots of critics and negative commentators in the world. You will find plenty of those on your journey, but you need a cheering section. The people who will travel just to sit in the stands and shout your name are rare and precious. Thank God for them and never let them go.

Reinventing Yourself and Your Ministry

Over the past few months, I have immersed myself in the world of disciple-making. I have been reading books and blogs, listening to lessons and podcasts, and having personal conversations with pastors who lead Churches that are genuinely making disciples of Jesus.

One thing has stood out to me in all the material I have consumed. There are a large number of preachers who decided to reinvent themselves and their Churches in the middle of their ministries. They were working away at making sermons, teaching lessons, working with people, and never really making disciples. Then God grabbed their heart somehow, and they stepped up and changed their whole approach.

This realization has reaffirmed my personal journey. I am inspired by people who are willing to change everything in the middle of their lives. They stood up and said, “I have been living by the information I had, but now I have new information.” Then they changed accordingly.

Following Jesus means we need to be willing to alter our course of action at any time. It is not about getting it right and doing the same things over and over for a lifetime. Instead, it is about learning, growing, and trying new things for God.

Numerous Godly people have reinvented themselves in the middle of life, and I know it can be done. The question is, “Are you and I willing to make the needed changes?”