My Identity in Jesus

I cannot imagine what it is like to live a life without faith. I mean that literally. My parents took me to Church on the first Sunday of my life, and I have been mostly faithful clear through to today. There has never been an extended time in my life without faith. I also mean that spiritually. How does someone live a meaningful life without faith?

My faith teaches me –

1. God created me. I am a child of God. He knit me together in my mother’s womb. I am not the result of a random DNA experiment. My life is not a mistake.

2. God loves me. God created me so that I could spend time in fellowship with him. He is the eternal father who is connected to his children in a profound way that words cannot express. Someone of significance cares about me.

3. I am forgiven. When I chose to walk away from God and openly rebel against his will, he chose to offer forgiveness in Jesus death on the cross. While at times I may feel guilt and shame, those will never define my relationship with God. I am loved beyond my mistakes.

4. I have a purpose. God created me, and then he recreated me in Christ Jesus. He takes both parts and shapes me to serve him in the world. I get to be the hands and feet of Jesus wherever I go. I am not just hoping my life has an impact. I know that God is using me for his purpose.

5. I have a family. I am not the only one that God created, loves, forgives and uses in the world. I am part of a group of people united by the same understanding and experience. There are people like me in almost every place on the globe. Just because of our similar faith we are connected without even knowing each other. I am a part of people who call me their own.

6. I have hope. This life is a journey of learning and growing until I reach a destination. My faith looks at the end of life with hope and joy. I believe there is a heaven, an eternal promised land, waiting for me on the other side of death. I do not look at the future with despair, for me, to die is gain.

While this is not an exhaustive list of my identity in Christ, these are the places my mind lands daily. When the world is telling me, I am just a pile of flesh that is here by random chance. When the people around me are whispering that I am not handsome enough, or smart enough or have achieved enough to have any real value. When people are fighting desperately against their final breath because it will all be over soon. When the world seems dark and depressing, and many have no love or hope. I understand that my faith has made me different.

My life has infinite value and worth. No one can tell me any different.

Today is Your Day

It’s Monday. You can hang your head and start another week with despair.

You can mope around about starting a new work week. You can miss the freedom of the weekend. You can whine all the way till Wednesday.

There is another option. You can make today great.

Today can be the start of a wonderful and amazing week. You can spend time with people you love. You can touch the lives of other people for good. The kingdom of God can be present in your world through what you do today. You can be the catalyst for change. You can start something that will make your world a better place. You can shine your light in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.

I think we need to be continually reminded that “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24 – NIV)”

Tomorrow is never promised to us. All we have is today. Make it a great one.

Being Christ to People on Sunday

Those who call themselves Christians accept the responsibility that we represent Christ wherever we go. This is true at our jobs, in our homes and even in our Churches. Each interaction we have sends a message about the Jesus we follow.

We ordinarily just tell people that on Sunday they need to be friendly. While that is true, today I want to be more specific. Here are ten ways you can be Christ to people this Sunday morning at Church.

1. Smile. Simple yet still inviting.

2. Shake Hands. Walk up to a stranger and say, “Welcome. I am glad you are here today,” while looking them in the eye.

3. Talk Nicely to People. Ask questions and listen to answers. Respond calmly and nicely no matter what they say. Use gentle words.

4. Help guests. Ask if you can help them find anything.

5. Don’t Gossip. You may think no one hears you telling those stories about other people in the Church. They do, and it hurts the cause of Christ.

6. Pray with & for People. No explanation needed.

7. Let Go of Agitations. This is not your time to complain about the preacher, the music and whatever wrong you feel is happening to you. A negative attitude hurts everyone.

8. Give up Your Seat (and parking spot). Save the best places for other people. Park far way and sit at the front.

9. Engage. If you talk and are disinterested in the music and the sermon, other people will get the impression that what we are doing is not important.

10. Don’t Be Weird. I know this is subjective, but try to act normal. Save your love of Star Wars or macramé or whatever for another time. You scare people who do not know you yet.

I know this is not a complete list of ideas. What might you add?

Just remember that your every word and action represents Jesus to the world. This might not be greater anywhere than in the Church.

Putting on a Personal Magic Show

One of the cornerstones of magic is misdirection. Misdirection is a form of deception in which the attention of an audience is focused on one thing to distract its attention from another thing that is happening. A good magician draws your attention to his right hand while his left hand is doing the trick. It is an essential magicians tool, but when used correctly it can fool people completely.

Unfortunately, people will use misdirection in their personal lives to trick you too. We will talk about their children all the time so that you do not look at our marriage. We talk about our marriage, so you do not look at our career. We talk about our exercise and diet, so we do not have to deal with our past. We push one thing to the forefront of our conversations, social media, and personal interactions so that you do not look at the other areas of our lives.

We do this because we know that if you were to look carefully, we would be exposed. You would see the mess we have tried to hide for years. If we can keep your attention away from the mess, we feel good about ourselves for another day.

The trouble is that one day we will be exposed. It is not a matter of “if” we will be exposed, but when and to whom. One day someone will reveal our secrets, and the trick will fall apart. One day the divorce papers will come, the children will make a huge mistake, you will get fired, or you will forget everyone is watching and you do not put on the show. All secrets are gone, and the personal magic show is over.

What if instead of spending so much time pretending you have it all together you spent your time really trying to change. What if you had that hard conversation? What if you truly forgive? What if you ignored what the public thought and focused on your issues? What if you were honest for once in your life? Sure, life might be more difficult at the moment, but you would be dealing with reality and not all the smoke and mirrors.

The truth is that magic shows are fun for sideshow carnivals, but personal magic is a complicated web of deceit that ultimately destroys people. Maybe today it’s time to stop the show.

My Thoughts on Church Membership

When I started in ministry, I felt like Church membership was an archaic idea that meant very little today. In fact, most of the Churches I knew had huge membership lists with very few in attendance. It seemed like the concept of being a member meant nothing and had little value other than a nice line in your obituary. Through my years of ministry, I have changed my mind. The problem was not the concept of Church membership; the problem was the way some Churches handle it. At this point in my life and ministry, I have come to believe that membership in a Church is essential if the Church handles it correctly. Here are a few reasons I believe this to be true.

1. Membership is Biblical. While the phrase “Church member” is never used the concept is repeatedly found. I really think the leaders of the early Church had no dream of there ever being a Christian who was not a Church member. Here are a couple of examples: When the Church had problems in Acts 6 they were to select leaders (later called deacons) from “among you.” Who is the” you?” I believe the “you” represents everyone who was connected to that body of believers. We call those people members. Also, in 1 Corinthians there was a man living in public sin who was part of the Church (chapter 5). Paul says they are to put the man out of their fellowship. What does that mean? That means there were people who were a part of their group and people who were not. Lines had been drawn between insiders and outsiders or members and non-members. These are just two of several examples.

2. Membership Shows Connectedness. Every civic group I know has members. They understand that you need to connect with them to adequately represent them officially. The same principle is true in the church. Placing your membership in a Church is a public demonstration that you are connected to this local group.

3. Membership Raises Accountability. This is where many Churches fail. To me, if you are going to be a member then you are saying I want you to treat me like family. The Church then responds by keeping an eye on you like a caring parent. If you are sick, we come to pray. If you are absent, we ask what is going on in your life to cause this. If you are involved in public sin, then we lovingly confront you. The goal of membership is to care for you both physically and spiritually.

4. Membership is a Declaration of Belief. Personally, I teach a membership class that contains the basics of faith I believe are found in scripture. When someone becomes a member, they are declaring that they understand those beliefs that we teach and will never teach against them. This helps the Church to find teachers, leaders, deacons and elders who understand our beliefs and will support them publicly.

5. Membership Means Involvement. A true member is someone who has claimed to be a part of a group and really means it. The group then depends on them to help in their cause. This is true of all memberships but especially true in the Church. One of my goals is to help members find their giftedness and then use those gifts as part of our body. Membership means nothing if you do not get involved.

6. Membership is Practical. This is huge for me. We have hundreds of people who drift in and out of our Church. It is impossible for me (and the elders) to care for everyone who walks through our doors. We can try, but we will fail because people will fall through the cracks. What we can do is care completely for those who have stood up and said, “This is my Church.” Those people are easy to identify, lead and care for when needed. I take a membership list and then divide their names up and put together a plan to care for them. They are my people who want my care and I am clear on where they stand.

I know there are numerous people who will skim this article and ignore my words. Then down the road, they will complain that the Church is not meeting their needs. It is a level of craziness I do not completely understand.

When I was little, I spent a lot of time at a neighbor’s house, but I had no expectation of them to care for me. Not unless I stood up and denounced my family and had the neighbors adopt me. If I claimed them as my family, then the expectations changed. The same general principle is true for believers. If I want more out of my Church experience than a casual Sunday morning encounter, then I must stand up and say, “Count me in.”