It is Friday morning on the weekend of Memorial Day weekend. Many people, possibly including you, are planning a long weekend with family and friends. Relax, I am not here to throw stones and tell you to be at Church, although I believe your plans should include the people of God. No, I want to encourage you to embrace the time you have with your family.
Over the past couple of weeks, my mother has been visiting, and yesterday we slipped out and went fishing. It was the fourth time in the past two weeks. She enjoys it, and I love taking her. It is a chance for us to spend time together, make some memories, and talk about all of life. I would not trade these days with her for anything in this world.
The single most valuable thing in all the world is time. It is God’s precious gift to us. I think that real love is freely giving someone your time. The gift of our time has no equal.
One of the older couples in a Church I served told me this story. Their grandkids always wanted to come over and spend the weekends with them. They loved and hated it. They had raised their children and some Saturdays and Sundays they wanted a break. One of those weekends, their grandson was hugging grandpa and saying, “I love you.” He asked, “Why do you boys love grandma and grandpa so much?” The little boy said, “Because you have time for us.”
This weekend some of you will get some extra time off. You will use that to connect with other people. It is a great gift and you should not take a minute of it for granted.
How many mirrors does your house contain? How many times do you look to see yourself in them?
Mirrors can be a useful thing; you can look at them to see if your hair is straight, to see if you have your makeup on correctly or see how your outfit looks. They can be useful tools in your home for all kinds of positive things.
They can also damage your soul. Look too long into a mirror, and suddenly the world becomes about you. How you look can turn into feelings of overconfidence or inadequacy. There is this subtle shift from looking at my outward appearance to making judgments about myself.
The problem really isn’t the mirror itself. The problem is our soul. Spending too much time thinking about yourself in a narcissistic way is damaging. Self-focus primarily leads one of two directions. It either breeds pride or shame. You can think more of yourself and less of other people. The flip side is that you think less or yourself and more of other people.
I firmly believe that God knows our natural tendencies, and so he pushes us to be others focused. He puts us into a community of believers called the Church so that we can see the needs of others. He instructs us to serve others so that we can help those needs. God wants us to see ourselves as part of a greater group that is dependent on one another, and no one part is worth less or more than any other part.
It is okay that you have mirrors in your home just don’t look at them too long or too often. How you see yourself might be a symptom of sin and not a reflection of God’s image in you.
Recently my mother has been at our house, and I have taken a few days off to take her fishing. For those that know me, you know my favorite spot is a series of handicapped accessible fishing docks below the dam at a nearby lake. At certain times of the year, this place is excellent fishing, and it is easy to access, especially with my mom.
I need to tell you that I am an experienced fisherman. Through the years, I have fished in five states and Canada. This includes trips to Lake Erie, the Mississippi and Kenai Rivers, plus the waters that surround Alaska. I spend more hours on the water than my wife likes, but my experience allows me to be successful.
When I go to these docks, I usually come home with a limit of nice crappie and often several catfish. These trips allowed me to have two enormous meals lately and feed people all the fish they wanted. I am truly blessed in my ability to catch fish, and I thank God for that. I am also willing to share my knowledge with anyone who inquires of me.
The past three trips have made me laugh, cry, and question humanity. Repeatedly my mom and I have been catching fish, and someone came up and asked us what we were doing. I have tried to explain to them that we are using slip bobbers. They allow us to fish away from the dock and to fish deep, usually 10-12 feet. I tell them that I prefer live minnows hooked in the back with weights attached about 3-4 inches above the hook. I have gone so far as to offer them free tackle and show them how to use it. Lately, all this information is greeted with the same response of “Hum.” Then they go right back to what they were doing before they asked with no greater success. There I am, offering them advice, showing them it works and I am even willing to help them and they walk away.
All of this has me thinking about the Church and my job as a preacher every week. I try to preach the truth effectively. I try to model that faith in my own life, family, and career. I am willing to do everything possible to help people. And yet, I realize most of the time people walk away and do nothing with it. Most people think they know enough to be good at whatever they do, but real wisdom is knowing enough to change. My experience tells me that the difference between success and failure is not the access to the right information; it is the willingness to change and act differently. Knowledge is only useful when you apply to your life.
Each week the Church community gathers to worship the Lord for around an hour. As the preacher, I have the opportunity to watch the crowd while I preach along with observing their actions during the rest of our time. Through the years, I have noticed several things about the way people worship.
- The Apathetic. Honestly, several people attend each week that does not want to be there. Often they are family members of more committed believers. Husbands, children and other relatives have no real interest in worship and tolerate it for someone they love. They do not sing, interact, or even listen.
- The Tired. Some people are just tired on Sunday morning. It can be from work, fun, or family. It used to really upset me when people fell asleep during my sermon, and then I spent a couple of months not preaching. I found that some mornings were difficult no matter who was speaking. Some of these people are one time sleepers, but there is an occasional regular sleeper. Upon investigation, it becomes clear that worship is not a priority for them, and they never try to get rest on Saturday night.
- The Distracted. Yes, there are occasional unplanned distractions, but for some people, it is a regular occurrence. They bring in their little children and spend the sermon dealing with them and not listening. They make frequent bathroom trips throughout the service. They never wholly invest themselves in worship.
- The One Hour Worshipper. These people are happy to be at Church, but you can tell it is the only hour they spend with God each week. They are not familiar with the worship songs. The get lost as the sermon goes deeper into scripture. They are lovely people but never allow themselves to move beyond Sunday morning.
- The Invested. This group comes to Church as an extension of their life. They love to be with the people of God. They sing with joy during the music; they listen carefully and pray intently. They come in with a smile and leave full almost every Sunday morning. There seems to be nothing that separates them from God. Sunday morning is another deposit into their life of faith.
Each week I can usually predict who will say something about the songs or the sermon. I know who will be asleep and who will be taking notes. I know who will spend the week growing from the experience and preparing for the next week. I can tell a lot about you from the way you worship.
What do you think your Sunday morning says about you?
It is the time of year when I begin planning my sermon series for the next 18 months. Whenever I start this process, I ask an essential question, “What do the people I lead need to hear the most?” To adequately answer that question, I must evaluate what I see in the lives of the people in my congregations. Here are five observations of the people in my Church, and I think they reflect the greater Christian community I have experienced in the United States.
- People are Busier Than Ever. A full schedule is the new normal everywhere, including rural communities. I think that there is a two-fold problem that the Church needs to address. First is to teach people the downside of their busyness. Second is to show them the value of using their time wisely and especially for God’s kingdom.
- In a World Where People Have Tools to Connect More, They Actually Connect Less. Loneliness is becoming an epidemic in modern culture. Men appear to be struggling with this the most. There are several reasons for this, but the more significant issue is how to get all people to develop healthy relationships.
- Children Are a Huge Priority, but Teens are Not. This one is becoming more and more pronounced the longer I work with teens. Have an event for little kids like VBS, and you can pack the house. Host an activity for teenagers and expect very little parent participation and a handful of teens. Parents are deeply invested in the lives of those children fifth grade and under and have little clue of the struggle’s teens are facing, and even worse, they are rarely being addressed.
- Men Are Getting Spiritually Weaker. The divide between men and women in their faith seems to be growing wider. Once again, I think there are several reasons for this, but the solution is the bigger question. How do we get men to take their spiritual life seriously? Those who are trying to walk in faith need to be encouraged to lead in their home, Church, and community.
- There Are More Available Resources, Yet People Know Less. There is an ever-increasing need to teach people the Bible. Not only do people have little Bible knowledge, but much of what they have is inaccurate or incomplete. How do the Church and its leadership help develop more and better disciples?
These are some of the things I am noticing that are shaping the culture of the community in which I live. Is there anything you would add to my list? These concepts will develop my upcoming sermons and leadership through 2020. How are they molding your life and family today?
While in college I carried a cassette tape in my car from Paul Simon. It was a collection of his greatest hits from 1971-1986 called “Negotiations and Love Songs.” The title was a line from his song “Train in the Distance,” where it says “negotiations and love songs are often mistaken for one and the same.” It is a great line that captures the pictures of two people trying to live together in agreement without the existence of love, and they don’t understand the difference.
Recently I was thinking about my prayer life, and a similar line went through my head, “negotiations and prayers are often mistaken for one and the same.” There is the possibility that when we address God, we are trying to get him to do our will. We barter and negotiate when we speak with our maker. We say things like, “God if you give me this, then I will do that.” Our words offer God our obedience in exchange for his omnipotence.
Prayer is about opening our heart up to God and his will. It is an opportunity for us to submit our lives to his leading. We present our needs to God and live with the expectation of him doing his mighty work.
One question I am now asking myself about my prayers is, “Am I seeking God’s will or mine?” Am I trying to negotiate with God instead of offering my prayers? Negotiations and prayers are not one and the same.