The Missing Ingredient

My wife made cookies the other day and they did not turn out exactly the way she wanted. The main problem was that the cookies did not look exactly right and these were going to be given away. She looked over her recipe and ran through her actions in her head and could not immediately put her finger on the problem. The final conclusion was that she must have missed some ingredient or at least she didn’t get the right amount.

One little ingredient can make all the difference. If you do not believe me, just leave one single ingredient out of your next recipe and see if your family notices a difference. Each part is important.

This truth applies to Churches. Each part is important. Whenever one person is missing the whole thing suffers. We may not be able to put our finger on it, but everyone knows that something is just not right. A missing greeter, an absent nursery worker, a cleaning person who missed their week, a singer that didn’t show and a hundred other little pieces make a difference. I have come to believe that when a Church is struggling it is often because some of the ingredients are missing.

I hope you never feel like your service at the Church is not important. “Oh, they will never miss me” is simply not a true statement. Every part is important. You are needed to make the Church the best it can possibly be.

Pieces of Me

My thoughts are composed from a thousand random voices. I have the words of teachers, preachers, songs, movies, books, family, the Bible, professors, parents, blogs, magazines and TV all placed in the filing system of my brain. All of these little pieces of information influence who I am, what I say, how I react, and what I believe.

This is true for every human being. You are the product of all the voices you have heard over your lifetime.

Since that is true I have a series of questions for you:

1. What voices speak to you the most often? Are you watching lots of TV or movies? Do you read widely? Do you spend time in the Bible or Church? If I am continually filling my head with a certain type of information then I will quickly transform into a certain type of person. Are there more Christian voices in your life than non-Christian? Do you have people around you that encourage your faith journey or discourage it? You will be shaped by the voices you allow to speak to you.

2. What voices speak to you the loudest? Most people have a couple of sources they trust without many questions. For many people that might be your parents. It might have been a beloved teacher or author. They speak and their words hold more sway than any other voice. Now ask yourself, “What kind of a person is that?”

3. What are you doing with your voice? I continually share the principle of “first in, wins” That means that the first piece of information we receive shapes our thinking more than any other voice. If that is true, then what are we teaching the next generation? If you do not tell young people about sex, money, God or anything important – know that someone is going to tell them. Then that voice will shape their views and not you. Are you using your voice to teach and train others?

I am a strong believer in the power of words. Every week I throw words into the air for around thirty minutes in an effort to mold a world for God. I teach Sunday School and lead discussions at youth group. I talk and talk and talk. All in the hopes that one little piece of information will lodge in someone’s brain and help shape them for good.

We live in a world full of information. Where it comes from is important.

The Details

My son and I attended a Christian Men’s conference together a couple of weeks ago. We arrived in time for a dinner of a pulled pork sandwich served in a paper bag with chips, a cookie and a drink. We then proceeded to go out onto the front lawn to sit and eat our picnic meal. While sitting there I noticed something interesting to me. There was not one dandelion in the grass. Then I looked closer and noticed not one single weed of any kind. The lawn was lush and green while being completely free of weeds.

When we went inside the building I began to notice all of the attention this Church paid to the details. No dust or dirt, no messes, bright lights, modern pictures and a thousand little touches. It was clear that people in this Church paid careful attention to the details.

This experience reminded me of two separate expressions that are closely related. The first is “God is in the detail.” This phrase most likely originated in the 1800’s and is still used today. It captures the idea that we need to pay careful attention to every aspect of life even the smallest details. Big rewards come from numerous small pieces coming together.

The second phrase is said to have been born out of the first one. The second is “the devil is in the details.” This phrase captures the idea the smallest details are often the hardest to focus on. As a result of the neglect of the minutia we often fail in a big way. Small steps can lead to a big failure.

There is an application of this for every Church. Every Church should pick up the trash, clean their building, maintain their lawn, update their decoration and make sure the details are handled. Satan can keep people away from the word of God being preached inside a Church by the neglect of the details. It is hard to prove to people that we care about their souls when we have a dirty nursery. Every Church needs to pay attention to the details of their ministry.

I also think there is a very personal application to this truth. Each one of us needs to know that it is often the details of our life that damage our faith and witness. A person cannot neglect the big aspects of prayer, bible reading, worship or fellowship, but they also need to pay attention to the details. We cannot allow anger to take root in our words. We must guard against pride. Avoid gossip in person and online. Say please and thank you. Stop using “God” or “Jesus” names in inappropriate ways. Work hard for your pay. Tell your spouse, “I love you.”

There are a thousand seemingly small details in life that need our attention. The reality is that is often a series of small steps that lead people away from God. Equally true is that we often destroy the work of sharing our faith because of seemingly insignificant action. We need to pay attention to the details.

I wonder, “Is God or the devil found in the details of your life?”

Talking to Myself

One of the biggest conversations that a person must have each day is with themselves. What are you telling yourself about yourself? What are you telling yourself about God?

Are your words full of truth and life? Are they full of hope and optimism? Are they darkness and lies? Are they negative and full of despair?

The Psalmist says in Psalm 42:5-6(a) “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and (6) my God.”

It is a reflective passage. The writer is talking to himself. It is an inner question of the soul. Why so downcast? Why so disturbed?

The personal response is quick and clear. “Put your hope in God.”

With all the ugly things spinning around in our heads we need to be continually reminded of the goodness of God. He is bigger than our problems. He is able to bring hope to difficult situations. He can transform my failures into possibilities. He is Savior and God.

Everyday we can tell ourselves to focus on our problems or we can tell ourselves to focus on God. What will this day bring for you?

Precious People

I was standing in the middle of a worship program. People were standing and lifting their voices to God in praise. The emphasis was truly on God, but for some reason I lowered my gaze and began to look around. There in the crowd of people stood several younger people, a few people my own age and numerous “older” adults. In that moment God nudged my conscience to thoughts of those wonderful seniors who had gathered there in worship with me. Some might say that God was speaking to me in those moments when I was singing my praise to Him. I had two clear and separate thoughts about those people worshiping with.

1. Praise God for Lifetime Believers. To my right and in front of me stood teenagers and I wondered if their journey of faith would see them in worship 50 plus years from now. Rare are the ones who give their life to Jesus at a young age and stand with him over an entire lifetime. I do not mean that they haven’t sinned, rather they hung onto God’s grace through all of their mistakes over a lifetime. Thanks to God for those who have given a lifetime to Jesus.

2. Praise God for Those Who Changed Later in Life. If these older people were not believers their entire life then they must have made a commitment to Jesus later in life. That means change. The saying is “that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” How hard must it have been for some of the older people in Church when they came to Jesus? Imagine the courage it took for someone to change their life as an adult. They had to change habits, friends and lifestyle at an age when most people have settled in for the rest of their life. Thanks to God for those who have been willing to change.

In that worship program I paused for a minute or two to thank God for the older adults in my congregation. All of them fall into one of these groups and either way it has been a hard journey. Thanks to God for our senior saints no matter what their story.

To Do List

Everyone is busy. We already have long lists of things we need to do. I believe in the midst of all of our running from here to there we can sometimes miss the most important things in life. So let me add a couple small items to you “to do” list for this week.

1. Tell an older man how much you respect and admire them. This can be dad. It can be a sibling. It can be a Church leader.

2. Tell an older woman how much you love and appreciate them. It can be your mom, sister or just a woman you know.

3. Tell a young person how much potential you see in them. This can be your children, grandchildren or just any young person you know.

4. Thank God for one blessing in particular.

When you take the time to do these things weekly or even daily. I think your perspective will change about the other things on your to do list. You will slowly become more focused on others and more grateful in your own heart.

If you don’t have time for some of these simple things, maybe you are just too busy.

I’m Not Sure What To Do

Being uncertain can often mean two very different things.

First, it can mean we have not planned ahead. We had not thought through our actions and now we are left with an unclear road forward. Something happened that left us doubting our own actions in this situation.

Second, it can mean that we know the way forward but we are not sure we want to go that way. If we go the way we need to go there will be difficulty and struggle. We know what needs done, but we are not really sure we want to pay the price. Someone saying they have no clear path forward usually means that there is no easy clear path forward.

I rarely see people in the first situation. I most frequently see people living in the second scenario. As odd as it may sound, most of us know the right thing to do. The trouble is doing it.

Keeping Your Word

There are a few verses of scripture that my children have heard over and over. Most of them are not the verses you would expect. One is Matthew 20:16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” This has often been quoted to remind them not to be selfish. The boys hurry to line up and get the first piece of cake. They start pushing and shoving and Michelle gives the boy who is last in line the first piece while quoting this verse. It is a little bit out of context but it does capture the idea of choosing to serve others over being selfish.

One other verse has probably been quoted even more than “the last will be first.” That verse is Matthew 5:37 “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” [Ask my children, they will confirm this verse is regularly used.] The context of this verse is very important. Jesus is preaching The Sermon on the Mount and he addresses the issue of making oaths. People of that day would vow to do something and then they would swear by some object. We might say “I will do this, I swear to God.” They would have said, “I will do this, I swear by heaven or by earth.” Same concept. You are trying to show you are taking this commitment seriously.

In response to this type of thinking Jesus says, “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’. In other words, if you are going to be a follower of Jesus you need to simply keep your word. You do not need to swear by anything. If you say you are going to do something, then do it. If you don’t want to do it, then say no (and it is okay to say “no”).

This has been a lesson my wife and I decided we wanted our kids to learn. I suppose we could have told them “not to bear false witness” or “don’t lie,” but we chose to emphasize this statement by Jesus. The reason we have done this is because we have seen a lot of people in the Church who say “yes” to things and then do not keep their word. Their “yes” often means “maybe,” “sometime” or “no, but I don’t want to let you down right now.” Unfortunately a Christian’s “yes” is often worthless and we have hoped to change that with our children.

I believe that Christians should be the most reliable people in the world. They should do exactly what they say. Their words should be truthful. They should keep their commitments. They should say “yes” and it mean “yes.” They say “no” and they mean “no.”

Let me ask you. Does your word mean anything? Do people trust you to follow through or do they expect you to let them down? When you say you will pray for someone, do you really pray? Do you sign up and then show up? Do you say, “I will help” and then show up to help? If you say you will be a part, do you then participate? Is your word any good?

I don’t think these are small questions. The way I follow through on my words is not just a reflection of my organization skills but I reflection of my spiritual life.

Religion Versus Relationship

My oldest son and I went to a men’s conference this last weekend. There were three primary speakers who delivered five different sermons. During those sermons I heard them say about a dozen times an expression that I have heard at least a thousand times altogether. They said something to the effect that following Jesus is not about a religion it’s about a relationship. If you have been in Church for very long I am sure you have probably heard this type of statement.

First, let me say that I am tired of hearing it. The first time I heard it was meaningful but the thousandth time just makes it trite.

Second, upon reflection I am not sure it is even accurate. Religion is defined as “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” If I read that correctly then I agree with it. I do believe in a personal God and worship him. I do have a form of religion and it doesn’t really matter what I call it personally.

Third, I am concerned about how men are hearing this in the Church. Let me ask you, If you told your husband that you were going to a conference about relationships, would he be excited? It is not that men do not care about others and how we get along. It is more about the fact that relationships sound like emotionally driven, touchy-feeling and even feminine experiences. At least they do to me and many men that I talk too. I am not sure preachers making this statement are having the impact they desire.

Fourth, I understand the desire to explain Christianity in a different way. Christianity worships a very personal God. The fact that He loves us and cares about us are important aspects of our faith. Christians want people to know that our God is not just all-powerful but also all loving. Describing it as a relationship makes it sound much more personal. Religion can sound cold and stuffy while a relationship sounds more alive and meaningful.

My conclusion is that Christianity is a religion. There are a set of beliefs about a God who came, who died, who rose again and saves us from our sins that we affirm. We do meet for worship each week as a body of believers following certain rituals. There are also the deeply personal characteristics of a relationship. The reason God saved us was because He loves us and wants us to love Him in return.

For me it is not an either/or prospect – Either religion or a relationship. Christians have a religion that is lived as a relationship. It is similar to saying “I am in a marriage to my loving wife.” Marriage may sound like a formal word but it is true that I am married. While some marriages are cold and empty experiences, mine is not. To me the question is not do I have religion or a relationship but do I live out my religion as an empty, dead experience or as a vibrant, living one? Maybe it is better asked, “Is your religion lived out as a relationship?”

Weekend Reading

The weather is supposed to be nice here in Adrian Missouri this weekend, but if you get a few minutes inside you might want to check out some of these articles.

Porch Preaching – a great article about talking to a couple of Jehovah’s Witness people at the door.

THE FOUR BIGGEST MISTAKES I’VE MADE IN MARRIAGE – An article by a lady married for 16 years

4 REASONS WHY TEACHING A CHILDREN’S SUNDAY SCHOOL CLASS IS GOOD FOR YOUR SOUL – Substitute Children’s Church for the word Sunday School

When Ball Becomes Baal – A well written article about sports

9 Things I Love to Hear In a Sermon

I’M A CHRISTIAN AND I HATE CHRISTIAN MOVIES – This is not a great article but it says some things I have wanted to say.

Depth of field – Seth Godin

Going the distance – More great Seth Godin wisdom