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.

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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.”

Two Lessons from My Latest Membership Class

I recently taught the membership class at our Church to over 40 individuals. It is a two-hour class that is designed to teach what our Church believes and how we function. I have taught it at this Church 4 times and each time I handle the class about the same way.

First, I give everyone a book. Then a teach part of what the book says but add lots of needed information to the words on the page. Finally, I have everyone fill out a sheet with information about themselves so that I can have a follow-up visit. This time as I was looking through everyone’s information sheets I noticed something unique.

1. Roughly 90% of the class became Christians before the age of 19.
I am used to seeing a large number of people accept Christ before they turn 19. Nationally I have read the statistic is about 75% of all believers come to faith before they leave high school. Our number for this class was way higher.

The first lesson that immediately comes to mind is about the importance of what we teach our children. What are you teaching your kids about faith? Our words will stick with them for a lifetime.

The second lesson comes from the joy of seeing people stick with their faith their entire lives. Some of the people who took the class are over 65, and they have followed Jesus since the age of 6 or 8 years old. There are still committed individuals in the world.

The third lesson was learning that several of these people had wondered from the faith during their college years or in their twenties and now they had come back to their faith. I found this especially encouraging because of the number of young people I see who make decisions and then leave the Church. It ‘s nice to know that many of them come back.

2. 10% still accept Christ after the age of 18.
While many people find Jesus early, there are still those who accept later. I remember one-time thinking that I would never baptize and adult. It seemed as if the only ones who would respond to my teaching about faith were children. Through the years that has actually flip-flopped for me. I ended up having more people make faith decisions as adults than as children. This group always encourages me. To know that there are adults still willing to change their lives no matter where they have been. While 10% was low for any class I have taught I am still glad the number was not less.

I am sure the decision to become a Christian is harder for an adult than for a child. It makes me glad to know that the gospel is still being accepted by older people across the country.

Rarely do I lie out people’s information and have something like this jump out to me. One look through the pages revealed that God is at work in both young and old. The Church needs to never shy away from people making faith decisions no matter what their age.

Reflections on Father’s Day without my Dad

I spent an entire day trying not to focus on the reality that it was Father’s Day. At Church, I focused on my sermon and the work I needed to do. At home, I took a nap and then went fishing and refused to spend any time alone. Late in the evening I sat up and watched TV and took a little sign of relief as the clock hit midnight as if I had passed some deadline for destruction. The whole time I was trying to ignore the day, there was a voice in the back of my head saying, “You know it’s Father’s Day, right?”

When dad left us six months ago, I knew certain days would be hard to handle. My birthday, his birthday, his anniversary and Christmas would be hard, but I knew Father’s Day would be the worst. Now that the day is over and I have had time to think I share a few simple thoughts of reflection.

1. I openly welcome the pain. I have realized that the reason losing my dad hurt so much was because we had a special relationship. Our close bond made his death that much more painful. Now when I stop to think about him, it hurts me, but I am glad it hurts. I am delighted I have memories of times together. I am happy that I have memories that are buried deep in my soul. Honestly, I would gladly do it all again. I am glad I had the relationship with my father that leaves me hurting and I hope that someday my children will miss me. I would never want to be an afterthought in the mind of the people who surround me. I am thankful for my relationship with my dad.

2. I am part of a whole new group of people. Yesterday I went onto Facebook for about 30 minutes. There I saw post after post of individuals who had lost their father too. They shared the pain they were feeling and the fond memories of their dad. Until this year I never knew what they were talking about when they posted those things. Old age is real, death is inevitable, and I knew the day was coming when dad would be gone. Even though the facts were clear the final departing was painful, and now I understand what other people are going through. The loss of my father has made me far more sympathetic toward others.

3. My relationship with my children has changed. This thought came home almost dramatically for me yesterday. For the last two years of dad’s life, he struggled to shave very well. He tried his best with an electric razor, but he still missed areas. As a result, every time I went home to visit I gave him a good shave. He bought expensive shaving cream and a nice razor so I could do a good job. Then yesterday for Father’s Day my children gave me a gift from the store “The Art of Shaving.” It seemed like a symbolic way of passing the torch. I took care of dad’s beard, and now my children will help me with mine. With the passing of a patriarch comes a new family leader and that leader is me. My life is shifting from parent with kids at home to an empty nest. In four years all four of my children will be out of the house. One question came to mind, “What am I doing now that my future grandchildren will be thankful for?” The baton has passed, and I need to reevaluate the focus of my life.

I am absolutely certain that I am over thinking this day. It is hard not to. It was front and center at every event, store and on social media. Instead of being sad, I tried reflecting on the day. I am thankful for what I had, for what I have and what I hope will one day be.

Weekend Reading

Here are some of the best articles I read this week. Some of them are profoundly Christian and others are just good thoughts. I hope you enjoy them all.

A Letter Of Apology To My Last Born – I found this funny and fairly true. Good for parents of 4 or more kids.

Pastors are People

What You Don’t Know About Rural America: 3 Common Misconceptions

Confessions Of A Social Media Lurker: 3 Guidelines For Commenting Constructively Online

Twenty Relics of Church Past

Bonus – I also enjoyed this TED talk – 12 truths I learned from life and writing – from writer Anne Lamott.

True Confessions about the Church

I recently finished a series of sermons on Sunday morning called “True Confessions.” Each one was created from a single thought; there are some things we all feel, but none of us say in public. I took the series as an opportunity to not only say the words out loud but also as a chance to process those thoughts from a Christian perspective.

Today I want to give you some random yet true thoughts about the Church as I have experienced it. Here is what I know –

-The Church is not a building, but we own one. It helps, and it hurts us equally.
-The Church is full of people who are flawed and imperfect.
-This is where grace should abound but frequently does not.
-Some people only attend worship for the social aspect.
-Yes, the Church has hypocrites who are only pretending to follow God for some reason.
-Most of the people I know in the Church are genuinely concerned about other people.
-Church people are some of the most hard-headed people I know in both good and bad ways.
-Quite often the Church is the first and last at showing love in times of need.
-People learn what it means to serve selflessly at Church worship programs.
-Some weeks the sermon or lesson bombs.
-There is something good to hang onto every week, find it.
-It is a terrible idea to attend a Church just because of the preacher. He will let you down.
-No one is completely sure where Jesus is leading us.
-We don’t hate the other Churches in town, but we don’t understand them.
-There are unique people everywhere, even in the Church, especially in the Church.
-Some Sundays people are just tired (even the Pastor).
-There are some awful worship songs both old and new.
-A fellowship time where people shake hands is forced, we know.
-People who attend on Christmas and Easter only miss a lot of good stuff.
-Communion will keep you grounded in Jesus
-Sick people prey on the Church because they think we are stupid.
-Many of our parents went to Church, and honestly, all of us long for those simpler times.
-The Church is like a family, you only truly understand it from the inside.
-Many of the pastors I spend time with are the smartest most widely read people I know; some are neither of those two things.
-There are days when even the preacher is disappointed in people.
-There are days when even the preacher is amazed at people.
-The longer I am part of a Church the less I think I understand it, but I know it is mostly good.

The Church is this wonderful and unique place. Almost anything you say about it can be true at one time and place or another. It is full of godly people along with some not-so-godly people. Despite its flaws, the Church has existed for almost 2,000 years. I feel confident in saying it will exist another 2,000 years if Jesus waits that long to return. No one asked for the Church. It is God’s gift to us. Get connected, and you will see all the bad, you will also be blessed beyond measure. I can’t quite explain it; you just have to try it for yourself.