The Chicken Crossing the Road

Richard Beck used an analogy in a blog post that I find interesting. I thought I would share it with you today and maybe you will too.

He says that he attends Church worship programs to encounter God. He willingly admits that some weekends it seems like the Lord is not present. At least, if God is present he didn’t hear a word that touched his life or a song that inspired him or a prayer that moved his spirit. Some weeks he leaves feeling empty. And yet, he returns to worship next week.

Then he said something like this. I call this my “Road Kill” theology. I picture myself as a chicken crossing the road every week. Sure I might not get hit by a truck this week, but if I do it 52 times a year I have definitely increased my chances. If I just keep running back and forth across the road eventually the Spirit of God will run me over and I will feel something.

I think I understand what he means. You never know when God will show up and touch your life in some way at Church. My prayer is that you get run over this weekend.

The Appearance of Growth

The challenge for believers is to spend a lifetime growing in their faith. We are called to learn more about the ways of God and live in light of that information. It is seen in the radical and the gradual changes we make in our behaviors. Christian growth is a transformation into Christlikeness.

The problem I see in many Christians is that they have settled for the appearance of growth. We go to Church as spectators. We attend the religious functions for entertainment. We buy the Christian books to fill our shelves. We own a big, thick study Bible. We have the Bible app on our phone and we know how to use it. Some people even go so far as to buy religious pictures, t-shirts and bumper stickers. Unfortunately, we can fill our lives with numerous things that appear religious and still never really grow.

I know of a person who has dozens of weight loss books, videos on diet and exercise and a collection of exercise equipment. The only problem is that they never lose any weight. By appearance, you would think this person was healthy based on the items that surround their life. The reality is far different.

True growth as a believer is not seen in the items you own or the tools you know how to use. True growth is about developing a character that is more like Jesus every day. Don’t settle for anything less, no matter how appealing it looks.

In Praise of Linemen in Church

Growing up in Indiana basketball was my childhood sport. I didn’t play football and I rarely attended a high school game. Most of the college football on Saturday was uninteresting compared to hunting, fishing, and a thousand other outside activities. At the time, Indiana did not have a professional team. It wasn’t until I was a little older that the Colts moved to Indiana and they moved because they were terrible. Every so often I would watch a pro football player with excitement like Larry Csonka, Earl Campbell or John Riggins. My knowledge of the game was limited through most of my childhood.

It wasn’t until I graduated college that I started watching much football. My routine was to come home from Church and flip on the TV and watch football while napping. Exhausted from Church I could start a game then fall asleep and wake up for the fourth quarter. As time went by my enjoyment of the game increased. Finally, my children came along and eventually they wanted to play sports. In Epworth, Iowa the main sport is football. We jumped in and I quickly had to learn the game. When we moved to Alaska I became even more involved as a coach and eventually as the president of the local Pop Warner program. Now I watch my boys play high school football every Friday under the lights.

I tell you all of that to underline knowledge and often limited knowledge of the game. The one thing I know for sure is that the most important players on a team often receive little praise. Everyone loves a quarterback who can throw. A great running back is a thing of beauty. An exceptional wide receiver can make highlight films each week. A lineman rarely receives recognition or praise.

And yet, some of the most important people on a team are the linemen. They block for the quarterback giving him time to throw the ball. They make holes for the running backs to run up the field. Linemen work in the trenches of football where hand to hand combat happens every play. They work hard with little praise. Most of the post-game interviews are the highlight players while the linemen shower to remove the dirt and blood that reward their work. I know a football dad who continually reminds me to praise the linemen when the team wins. Without their hard work, the game is lost no matter what the quarterback does each play. I have come to know that he is right.

As a pastor, I know that the Church needs a lot of people who are willing to be linemen. People who are willing to serve with little or no praise. People who get their hands dirty every week without being noticed. For every great sermon that people enjoy there were 25 people who worked in the nursery, children’s Church, sound, Powerpoint and cleaned the building that made my job possible. I call them Church linemen. And they are the real heroes of the faith whether anyone recognizes it or not. Thanks everyone for all that you do to make me look good.

The Problem With Making Your Children “Your Whole World”

Over the last couple of months, I have noticed a trend on Facebook. At least it keeps reappearing through the posts of the 250 people or so that I have as friends. I have seen it in direct statements and posted under pictures. People have said something like this, “My children are my whole world.” The other option is a picture of their children with the caption, “My world in one picture.”

I admit the first time I saw it I was a little concerned. The second and third time I noticed it, my anxiety heightened. By the time I saw it the other day I decided I could no longer keep quiet. As a pastor, I see the problem this type of thinking causes in families and in people over the long-term.

1.It is not good for your relationship with God.
As a believer, God is your whole life. Nothing less. I fear we are living in a culture that has made children into an idol. (Read this post). Let me ask you: Are you more afraid of God’s disapproval of your decisions or your children’s? Do you give more time and money to your children’s programs than to the Lord’s work? Children are great, but they are not God.

2. It is not good for your relationship with your spouse.
I see this huge flaw in people’s marriage that takes 18 plus years to work itself out. One of the parents, or possibly both of them, put all their emphasis on their children. Then one day their child goes off to college and the marriage is empty. When making our children “our whole world” we can easily neglect our spouse and reap the long-term results of that failure.

3. It is not good for your children.
If you treat your child as the center of the world then don’t be surprised when they grow up to be self-centered, egotistical narcissists. Our children need to know that God’s will is primary, that marriage is important and that other people matter. I firmly believe that children need to know they are not the center of the world to grow up with a healthy view of themselves and the world around them.

4. It is not healthy for a parent emotionally.
Children will not give us everything we need in life. Every person needs adult friendships with mature conversation. We need people to challenge us and hold us accountable. We need to have people who mentor and teach us. Having strong relationships with other mature adults are vital to our overall emotional health. Many people spend every moment trying to make their child happy and they neglect themselves in the process.

I know a few people will read this and say, “Well, that is not exactly what I meant. I just meant my children are very important to me.” I understand. I have four boys and I love them all very much. I also understand that we need to be very careful about crossing lines that move us into destructive behaviors. When our life begins to put our children first in everything then the end result is never what we planned.

The Steps Into Sin

I frequently get invited to watch people do an autopsy on their failures. They lay open the remnants of their sin and dissect every detail to discover what went wrong. They set in my office heartbroken as they tell me of their slide into the mess they have made of their lives.

I have heard their stories dozens of times. None of them seem to shock me anymore. In fact, most of them sound eerily similar. There are several predictable behaviors on the slide into sin.

1.A Disconnection from Church. I know you would expect a preacher to say that, but it is true. With the disconnection from Church, there is no longer anyone pushing them to live a life for God. No songs, no sermons and little or no scripture on a regular basis to fill their minds with Godly living.

2. A Withdrawal from Others. Frequently people will lose their connection to other people on every level. If anyone gets close there is a withdrawal from them as they might see into the darkness of their life. Isolation is common.

3.A Dance With Questionable Behavior. This usually occurs about the same time as the last activity. The person starts to do things that they know are wrong. They push boundaries to see they will break. This is usually a dance between the fledgling steps of sin and then the feelings of guilt when it happens. This is repeated frequently.

4.A Dulling of the Senses. The further sin takes us, the less we feel the guilt for doing it. We push the boundaries further and further away from where we used to be. Slowly we move to the point where sin overtakes our lives.

5.A Discovery of Destruction. Eventually, sin finds you out. For some their conscience gets heavy and they admit their failure. For others, it comes through an unforeseen discovery. Usually when their senses were being dulled their mind was also unclear and left a traceable path for others to find. For some, their actions were neatly hidden and it takes years before the truth comes to light, but it always does.

Every time I listen to their stories I see this predictable pattern of behavior emerge. They look at me in desperation and say, “How did I get here?”

I know they do not want me to outline the steps. They are not looking for me to retrace history. They know the truth. They just never thought it would happen to them. Then the truth hits them hard and they realize the shame that comes with all sin.

I wonder where are you on this journey? Which step are you taking?

I know you think, “It will never happen to me.” Everyone thinks that until they are in too deep.

There is a slow drift into sin and very few see it coming while it is happening. You need to live with your eyes open and continually be seeking the wisdom of those around you. Be careful. Sin is knocking at the door.

More Weekend Reading

Here are some of the best articles I have read in the last few weeks. Sorry there are not many. Much of what I am reading lately all sounds the best. These were the best. Enjoy.

When Life Hurts

3 Terrible Pieces of Life Advice People Keep Sharing

12 Signs You May Be Making Your Children Idols

Why Marriage Is Better Than Cohabitation

I have shared this on facebook, if you have not seen it yet, it might be the best thing you see today.
Take 10 minutes, watch it to the very end and enjoy.

The Struggle With Having Lots of Guests

Most people who attend Church truly want to see their Church grow numerically. They understand that having new people means that more people desire a relationship with Jesus. It is very encouraging to see all the new faces, have people making decisions and feel the excitement each week.

While most people want to see this growth, they simply do not understand the cost that goes with it. Here are just a few examples:

1. More people means less open parking – Most families attend Church in 2 or 3 cars. This is because people are usually headed all different directions once Church is over. So if you add 20 new people then you have also added 10-15 new cars. Soon the parking lot fills up and the close spaces are gone quickly. It is tougher to find a spot and I may have to walk a lot farther.

2. More people means I may have to change seats each week – New people do not know where I sit each week. As a result, they may sit in the spot where I normally sit. That is also where all my friends sit. Soon I am on the other side of the auditorium and it feels weird and I feel disconnected. This is especially true of you only have relationships with people on Sunday morning. A change in seats represents the loss of friends.

3. More people might require I give more financially – New people usually do not start giving anything until after they have been attending for 3-6 months minimum. The result is that more people put a financial strain on a Church with only a couple more people giving. The Church needs more staff and more stuff to meet the needs of the growing congregation. All of that requires money. Who is going to give to make that happen?

4. More people requires more volunteers
– Like giving, most new people will not serve for 6 months to a year. That means there are a lot of new people who need ministry without giving ministry. This requires some of the older members to step up and do more, maybe twice as much, to meet the needs of the group.

5. More people each week changes the dynamics with the preacher – The simple fact is that the more people a congregation has the less access everyone has to the preacher. Me, for example, I have about 300 people I am trying to minister to right now. It is very difficult to give everyone in that group the same amount of attention without killing me or burning me out. I have to lead the leaders of the Church first and that is hard for some people.

These are just a few of the dynamics that change as a church grows. The fact is that for every new face to attend a change has to be made. I once listened to a Church leader who said the reason most Churches do not grow is because the looked at the cost and said the price is too high. I pray that is never true of a Church that I lead.

The Company You Keep

Last Friday night I was driving back from my parent’s house in Indiana. Normally I take all interstate highways to get home, but this time, I decided to take a different route. This move enabled me to stay out of the rush hour traffic and avoid the thousands of semis on the road. My choice to take back roads also made for some interesting radio listening. As I scanned through the stations that evening I heard farm reports, lots of local football, several country stations and one channel that was all Hispanic music (which is interesting for small town Missouri radio).

One station I landed on had a song playing that I knew. I listened through the end of the song and then the announcer came on to speak. Instead of a local personality, the show was syndicated and the person talking was John Tesh. He said something like, “Studies show one more secret to weight loss when we return.”

To be honest, I could drop a couple of pounds so I stayed on through the commercials. Finally, Mr. Tesh returned and he told about a study conducted somewhere by some university on the topic of weight loss. He said this study discovered that people who have fit and skinny friends are more likely to lose weight. The people who have fuller figured friends are less likely to lose weight. The reason this happens, according to this study, is because thin people reinforce a lifestyle of less indulgence. Heavier friends have the opposite effect. When they gather to have fun they bring food and drinks. The big conclusion to his story was that we need to pay attention to the people in our lives because they also influence our weight.

No more had the words come from his mouth and I could see the application for Christians.

Your life of faith is molded by the people you spend time with each day too. Spend time with people who are dedicated to the Lord and make Godly decisions and you become like them. Spend time with half-hearted people who bend their morals to every situation and you become like them. Spend all your time with nonbelievers and you soon act like a nonbeliever.

Almost 2,000 years ago the apostle Paul wrote to the Church in the city of Corinth. He told them in 1 Corinthians 15:33 “Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” (NIV)

One way to assess your growth as a Christian is to look at the people you spend your time with. How do you view them? Are the deep, spiritual people? Are they wishy-washy about their faith? Would you never guess they are believers at all?

Maybe that is the type of person you are today. Maybe it is not at the moment. You may not be like them now, but given enough time, you will be.

Of Doctors and Churches

This past year I have spent a great deal of time in doctor’s offices. My mom and dad along with two of my sons have been to numerous doctors for their various issues. With each visit, I have noticed three things that make for a great doctor’s visit.

1. The Staff
The people who represent a doctor are the first contact people encounter. A secretary with an attitude is a bad first experience. A nurse with limited people skills is a terrible representation of the doctor. More than one person has changed their doctor because of the staff that serves him.

2. Knowledge
My mother visited a doctor who basically told her she was getting older. While that is true, she did have a problem called C-diff that another doctor diagnosed. The first doctor didn’t listen to her problems closely and didn’t run the right tests. His lack of ability to find her problem offered her no relief. Needless to say, he is no longer her doctor. You go to a doctor to gain the knowledge you could not obtain on your own.

3. Bedside Manor
A good doctor has to be able to deal with people. He needs to put people at ease and make them feel important. A smile, taking the time to listen and a kind word are as important as knowledge. My mother loves her new doctor because he makes her feel like more than just another patient.

After visiting with dozens of doctors, in my opinion, these three are the biggest pieces to being a good doctor. The longer I thought about it, the more I believe that these are the same parts of a good Church. The people who represent the Lord through his Church are important. What and how we teach are vital. How people interact with each other gives the Church a personal feel.

I am not saying that these are all there are to a Church. But these are three big factors in the life of a Church. The good news is that each of these can be improved by attention and effort. We can be more welcoming. We can put the right people in the right places. We can always improve our teaching. We can stretch ourselves to be more friendly.

How many doctors lose patients to another location because of something they could have changed, but didn’t? I wonder how many Churches lose people and they never go back to Church at all because of things we could have done better but didn’t?

Through the year I have learned that a really good doctor is hard to find. I hope that a good Church is not so rare.

Change for the Sake of Change

Years ago I read an article from a wiser older minister that has greatly influenced my thinking. In this article, he wrote that Churches need to “change for the sake of change.”

Conventional wisdom says this is wrong. You only need to change if the activity has deep significance and is beneficial to everyone. I was told, “Don’t change anything unless is it completely necessary.”

This preacher argued in the opposite direction. He said that Churches should be changing everything all the time. In fact, he said that Churches should be creating a culture of change. His line of thinking was quite simple. When you only make a few changes every year then people are startled when they occur. When you change lots of stuff all the time, then people are used to it and react less aggressively when big changes happen.

After 20 plus years of ministry, I have come to believe he is right. So at the Church I lead I am constantly changing everything. I try to move activities around in the order of program each week. I try to keep moving items in the entryway and lobby. If there is something that can be changed easily then I like to change it. I firmly believe we need to “change for the sake of change.”

Hopefully, this keeps us open to the movement of God in our Church. We are ready if we need to adjust our plans to make things work better for his kingdom. It might not always be comfortable, but remember that God calls us to be faithful and not comfortable.