The Message You Don’t Want to Hear

Who is the church for? I’m not asking about the building. I’m asking about the body of believers that gathers regularly for worship and fellowship. Who is the church for?

Sometimes I don’t think we as Christians even know who the church is for. Sure, we have the Sunday School answer down and quickly shout out ‘Jesus!’ But when it comes to practice, is that really what we believe? If the motives of our heart were projected onto a giant screen for all to see, would Christ clearly be at the heart?

I ask these to be honest and real with you. I am not sure that our heart always agrees with our mouth. While we may say that the church is for Jesus, our actions betray our words, as we actually believe that the church is for us. This is no secret. We show up to a worship service looking for a message or a new program that will benefit us. We are quick to criticize the pastor when we cannot follow the message or did not find it personally relevant. We have few reservations in complaining about the youth program as if they have the ultimate responsibility of spiritually raising up our children. And if the worship music is too loud, too fast, or too different, then we know exactly who to tell.

We may say that church is for Jesus, but we act as if church is solely for us. It’s like the radio. If we don’t like a particular song, we turn the dial until we find something that suits us. As Christians, we regularly do this with church, even to the point of leaving a congregation because it does not meet our desires. Christians ridicule people like Thomas Jefferson who cut out pieces of the Bible that he disagreed with and pasted together his own. That seems ridiculous and maybe even heretical to us. Yet when it comes to cutting up the church and pasting together the pieces that we like, we have no hesitations.

Brothers and sisters, we are shooting ourselves in both feet. When the church solely becomes about us, we subtract from giving Christ glory and we weaken the potential of the body. The church is for Christ. It is to glorify and honor Him. When we treat the church as a place to consume rather than give, we shift the focus of glory from God to ourselves. We also take God’s right to speak into our lives away from Him. We only listen to the sermons that sound interesting or make us feel good. If we get bored or disinterested we can simply leave. As Christians, we need to take a step down and allow for God to teach us what He wants to (Isaiah 48:17). We need to make church about Christ.

When church becomes about us we also weaken the potential of the body. God places us in a church community to build it up through the gifts and talents that He has given us. When we only look to benefit ourselves, we withhold those gifts. We complain about not being filled by the message or not feeling supported by a church, but how are we filling up or supporting others? Are we gossiping about the ministry’s leaders? Are we complaining about the programs? Are we judgingly comparing churches? These actions only weaken the body, they do not build it up.

We point fingers at church leaders and at programs, asking ‘Why aren’t you taking care of me?’ Pastors are amazingly gifted people, but pastors are not perfect and they’re not superheroes. Personally I am neither. They cannot carry that weight we put on them to meet every personality or every need in the church. Nor can the programs. We must play our role, we must step up and be the church. We must be the body that take responsibility to love God and love others as Christ has loved us. If we believe that the church is for Jesus then it will be reflected in how we worship Him and serve others. We will move from a First Church of Me to the Body of Christ.

 

Who is the church for? Our answer is in our actions. What are you going to do?

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Letters to Leader (part V)

Dear Leader,

I am overjoyed to hear of your recent achievements. This is certainly a milestone worth remembering. Even more than your accomplishments, I am delighted to hear how your relationship with God grows daily. It is one thing to be equipped in skills and another to be equipped spiritually for this new chapter of life you’re entering. I know God has prepared you well as you take a new step toward God’s calling on your life.

Knowing that you are leaving soon, I have one last letter to write you. As the weeks you have left slowly fade away, remember to finish well. Time is a gift that should not be squandered. How you spend your time will determine how you finish. I suggest that you make people your priority. People come before programs and property; they are cherished most by God and so we would do well to do the same. Therefore, be intentional with how you spend your time with people. You have made an impact on those around you. But what kind of impact will you leave? It may be wise to ask yourself now, how will I leave these people better than I found them?

Those who finish a race well, run completely through the finish line without slowing down until they have crossed. Others make the mistake of slowing down when they see the end, failing to finish with full force. The people you’re impacting and influencing do not deserve someone who is going to slow down in the final 100 meters of the race. They do not deserve someone who takes a passive back seat in the last few weeks of their time together. They are looking to you, to see how you finish. How you finish will determine how others begin. Finish strong. Finish well.

In 2 Timothy 4:6-7, Paul writes Timothy, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Whether God is calling us into new chapters in life or He is calling us home, I pray that when we reflect on the lives we’ve had the opportunity to impact, we can confidently echo Paul’s words. I pray this for you Leader. I pray consistently that God would use you in mighty ways not only in the future but even now in the lives of those around you. May God’s Name and His Kingdom be glorified through you. I pray that you would finish well.

In Him,

Your Servant

Letters to Leader (part IV)

Dear Leader,

I must confess that a fear has been stirred in me this week. As you know, Easter is this weekend. We have the great blessing of remembering what Christ has done for us and looking ahead to when He will return. For most Christians, this is a very joyous occasion to celebrate the reason for our salvation. I say, ‘for most’ because this week I heard one Christian say otherwise. They do not feel a need to attend a service because they know the story by heart.

Now, certainly there is no requirement that one must celebrate Easter by attending a service. There are definitely great benefits and Scriptural support for worshiping in fellowship, but no demand that on Easter you attend church. One could very well choose to enjoy worshiping God by enjoying His creation, taking a walk, serving, and many other ways. It is my hope that this is the intention of the Christian; to still purposefully and thoughtfully worship the Savior on Easter although they will not go to a church. However, my fear was not provoked by an absence in the pew but by their reason for not going.

How do we get to a point where we feel that our knowledge and experiences excuse us from worship? Is Easter only for some but not others? The short answer is no. If someone truly knows the story of Christ’s death and resurrection by heart, then they have even more reason to worship with others. They have all the more reason to praise God with believers and invite unbelievers that they may know in His unfailing love.

There is danger in making such excuses that goes beyond choosing not to worship on such a significant occasion. Behind such excuses that are wrapped up in one’s personal knowledge and experience, is an attitude of arrival. An attitude of arrival is expressed anytime someone believes that they are too good for something. That their experiences place them above others. They do not feel the need to take advice from others because they already know what the best and only choice is. They do not need to participate because they have ‘been there, done that’ and now it is below them. They do not feel like they can learn anything more, because they know it already. They have arrived.

The irony, however, is this. When leaders feel that they have arrived and are at the top of the mountain, the only place left to go is down. Proverbs 16:18 is a well-known verse and yet not always realized when we think we’re at the top. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (ESV).

Avoid an attitude of arrival. We must humble ourselves if we ever wish to lead people well. Adopt a spirit of lifelong learning and be open to the advice of others. I hope to always be changing, I hope to always be growing. I do not want to be the same person that I am today in ten years, let alone a year from now. I hope that I am a better person for God, for others, and for myself. If we set ourselves on a mountain above others, we will miss out on so many wonderful and exciting things that this life has to offer. Our knowledge and experiences should never be used as a prideful excuse that elevates us above people and participation. And it absolutely should never be an excuse to neglect worshiping God.

Leader, may you pursue a humble spirit of lifelong learning and avoid an attitude of arrival. May we both be humbled this weekend as we worship the One who has rescued us from destruction and rejoice in His love and grace. He deserves nothing less from us. Happy Easter Leader!

 

In Him,

Your Servant

Letters to Leader (part III)

Dear Leader,

To build a house, you must first dig. You must clear out the rocks, roots, and any obstacles to create an even ground. Then, after you’ve dug a footprint of the house into the earth, the foundation is laid. Building leadership requires a similar process. It requires a foundation of character. Obstacles must be cleared at the base to avoid a compromised structure. We unfortunately see examples of this all the time as CEOs rise to the top of corporations only to fall because greed, dishonesty, and lust were not dealt with sooner. As hindrances are removed, the foundation of character is laid in its place. You cannot create anything lasting, without character. Having a character is absolutely essential to everything else.

When I talk about character, I think  about integrity. It’s a valuable trait and even more valuable when you find it in someone else. Integrity is about truthfulness and having convictions. You have a set of standards that you live by that remain the same in both the public and private life. They are far from being two-faced. Men and women of integrity can be trusted to do the right thing and to follow through on tasks. These people stand apart from the rest and they are the kind of people that every team, ministry, and corporation want. This is the kind of person you want to be, a person of character.

Bill Lear, founder of Lear Jet, was a man of character and integrity. When two of his jets crashed without cause, He grounded all fifty-five jets he had sold. He was not going to risk lives until he determined the issue. Many companies and CEOs would not even consider this an option. Some car manufactures continue to allow their customers to drive around in compromised vehicles, rather than losing millions on a recall. But character was more important to Bill Lear than money. To determine the problem, Bill hopped into one of the planes himself, almost meeting the same fate as the previous pilots. He discovered the cause of the problem and replaced the defected part in all fifty-five planes. Bill lost a lot of money and almost his own life, but he didn’t compromise his character and he never regretted it.

Leader, I pray that you continuously pursue a foundation of character. Welcome the Master Builder to examine your foundation. Are there any lingering obstacles that need to be removed? Are t pride, dishonesty, anger, lust, greed, or selfishness compromising the life you’re trying to build? Allow Him to remove what is not of Him. It may be painful and it may not happen overnight, but if these go unchecked or we cut corners on character, we will pay the heavy price down the road.

Rather, be one of integrity. Be trustful and convicted. May the standards that you have for your life, be the same that God calls us all to. Live above reproach, that no one may question your character or more importantly, that no one may question the God whom you serve. May the fruit of your life be a testament to Him and reflection of His character. So, practice the fruit of the Spirit, “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22-23).

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Eph. 4:32).

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Phil. 2:3-4).

If you wish to build something that lasts, you must start with yourself, you must start with character. Make every effort to lay a solid foundation of Christ-like character. It is absolutely essential for everything in life.

 

In Him,

Your Servant

Letters to Leader (part II)

Dear Leader,

I was grateful to receive your reply to my last letter and am happy to hear of your strides to grow. It dawned on me that you are probably not used to receiving written correspondents. Typically, we would use text, email, or social media, so I want to explain why I’m favoring this “outdated form” with you. There is something personal about writing that has yet to be achieved through our modern technology. I hope that this ink conveys the importance I’m placing on the things I write to you.

But enough about this, we have more pressing things to discuss. There is an epidemic spreading among those in positions of influence that we ourselves are not immune to. Those who are supposed to be the faces of companies, teams, and movements cannot speak. Pastors cannot preach, teachers cannot teach, and CEO’s cannot present, while many others like them flounder through a basic conversation. There is no persuasion or passion in their words, leaving their audiences confused or asleep. Since they cannot carry conversations or convey communications, they fail in their efforts.

Leader, if you ever hope to move people’s hearts, really change lives, let alone, actually be heard, then you must know the reason for these failures. Many in authority do to reach their audience because they do not read, they do not write, and they do not listen. Yes, these are elementary tasks and that it probably exactly why they are ignored, which leads to the defeat of every authority to communicate well.

When you engage in all three of these areas on a regular basis you exercise the mind, which in turn produces meaningful and effective speech. Reading expands your vocabulary and keeps you informed on current events. Pick up a newspaper or a journal and take time to read. This empowers you to converse with confidence and knowledge. Rather than just knowing the headlines or hearing opinions of people far removed from the events, you become better informed on what is actually going on in your world. Pick up a book, it doesn’t matter what kind, but something that will expose you to the diversity of thoughts, perspectives, and backgrounds this world holds. The more you learn from others, the more you’ll have to offer others and the more powerful your communication becomes.

Writing likewise develops the mind and improves effective speaking tenfold. It doesn’t have to be handwritten, typing works too. In pursuing this, you unleash creativity in how you present what you wish to convey. As I’ve mentioned, writing compels one to put time and thought into what is being said. Thus, the first thing that comes to mind, is never the final draft (and it never should be). Time allows for revision and for your best to be presented and heard by others. Practice writing on a regular basis and you will watch your speech evolve into a captivating instrument.

Finally, Leader, listen. Do not just hear what others say and allow it to escape, but truly listen. Listen well to how others speak. Find motivational speakers, business experts, pastors, and other good speakers and listen to how they speak. Good speakers don’t use words such as ‘um’ and ‘like’ as fillers. Good speakers know the power of a pause. Good speakers use their words and tone with intentionality. Listen for these and discover the traits that draw you into their presentation. The more you listen to strong speakers, the more you will imitate their good habits.

If you wish to be heard, if you wish to impact lives, then you must to rise to the call of the position. Any position with followers, demands that they be effective speakers. You can be that commanding communicator. Read, write, and listen, these will transform your abilities to capture the masses. May your words find the power to pierce hearts and tenderness to wrap them in love.

In Him,

Your Servant

Letters to Leader (part I)

Dear Leader,

As it is apparent that God is calling you into a new chapter of life, it is pressed upon my heart to write these letters to you.  It is with urgency that I write, in part that these thoughts may not escape my mind and so that I may know in full confidence that you are leaving equipped for the road where God plants your feet. I know that He has already equipped you in many things, so may these words offer encouragement, some humble advice, and maybe a bold challenge to your life.

Leader, you are not ignorant of the great command that God has on every life that accepts His love. Maybe command is too strong of a word for our day, as what He says is not burdensome, but really something that we love to do. I am talking about ministry. Each one of us is invited to love others as God has loved us, thus whether pastor or parishioner, each is called into full time ministry. That is what “loving thy neighbor” really is. When we actively pursue and share God’s love we are engaging in ministry. And you have devotedly embraced this truth. You have not reserved this command for ministers, but have taken it upon yourself to love both brother and enemy. Not only that, but you have shown others the joy in doing it.

However, the point I want to make is not so much about your actions, but the heart behind the actions. Ministry is underscored by the very term itself, which means ‘service’ in Greek. God has equipped each of us for service (Eph. 4:12). Thus I believe that it is imperative for any great man or woman to first be a servant before aspiring to higher positions. If one cannot first serve in small ways, why should he be given greater responsibilities?

Now the heart of a servant is rooted in two characteristics, dear Leader, that I pray you pursue and cultivate all the days of your life. The first is submission. This is not the submission that is defined by some as abused oppression. No, a servant willingly places themselves under the direction of another. We submit to God and willingly place ourselves under His authority that we may be useful in such a way that His glory is magnified. Eugene Peterson explains it like this, “The task is not to get God to do something we think needs to be done, but to be aware of what God wants and to get in step with it and delight in it.” If one is unwilling to submit then he only desires to be in authority not under it, which is not servanthood. Therefore, we understand that a servant must be willing to submit.

Submission gives way to the second essential characteristic of a servant; humility. Any person worth following has the humility of a servant. They treat others with respect and never belittle or gossip. Pride is their enemy, and while it may slip in, they are quick to correct and open to being corrected. They never act as if they have arrived; as if they are an expert who scoffs at any suggestion that isn’t their own. A servant is humble, willing to do the dirtiest job without complaint. Nothing is beneath them as they put the needs of others first. As you know, C.S. Lewis puts it so well, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

Leader takes these words to heart as you prepare to follow God’s calling. Remember that as a follower of Christ, you are all in full time ministry. You are all called to be a servant first, which requires submission and humility. Without these two you may rise, but you will fall quickly. Hold fast to them both and pursue them in excellence, that God’s love may be known through all that you say and do.

In Him,

Your Servant

Dead Week

This past week many colleges and universities in the U.S. were in the midst of Dead Week. It is a week of intense studying, lengthy papers, and last minute projects, leading up to final exams for the term. By the time the student has finished, he or she often feels fatigued and drained, thus ‘Dead Week.’ You may not be buried in studies right now, but you can relate to feeling tired, stressed, or even hopeless. The miserable weather has got you feeling down. Problems at work are nothing but discouraging. Your family is experiencing some conflict. Whatever it may be, you have probably experienced your own Dead Week.

When you’re going through your Dead Week, it is the prime opportunity for deception. It is prime opportunity to begin listening to the voice that says you are worthless. We get so caught up in the stress and anxiety that breeds hopelessness. In that moment, we can feel defeated, distraught, and worthless.

Now, you have a choice. Do I listen to the voice telling me I’m worthless? It feels true, but does that make it true? Let me share with you a story that has helped put this into perspective for me.

“A well known speaker started off his seminar by holding up a $20 bill. In the crowded room, he asked. “Who would like this $20 bill?” Hands shot up. He said, “I am going to give this $20 to one of you – but first, let me do this.” He proceeded to crumple the $20 bill up. He then asked. “Who still wants it?” Everyone’s hands remained in the air.

“Well,” he replied, “what if I do this?” He dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe. He picked it up, now crumpled and dirty. “Now, who wants it?” Still the hands were in the air.”

No matter what the guy did to the $20, the audience still recognized that it had value. We may feel beat and kicked around by life, but we are never worthless. You may be going through the roughest Dead Week in your life, but the voices you hear calling you worthless are LIES! You are not worthless. You have value. If a $20 bill still has value after being crumpled and stomped on, then how much more value do you have as a human being?

You are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), which means that you have value and worth. No matter what you’ve done in your life, no matter how much you’ve messed up, no matter how low you feel in your Dead Week, you have worth. You are worth so much, that God was willing to die in your place. Every wrong we’ve ever committed (and we all have) is a wrong against God and is deserving of the consequences, which is death (Rom. 3:23, 6:23). But God sent His Son, Jesus, to take on that penalty in our place. He died and rose again that we can choose Him and not have to endure the consequences. God believes that you are worth it. That is the only voice that matters. Do not believe the voices that deceive you into thinking that you are useless and worthless. They only want to distract you from the deep love and mercy of God.

You are never in a position of defeat when you place your life in the hands of God. He gives us victory! Even in the ugliest of Dead Weeks in your life, when you call on His Name, He is there for you. He will always listen, always comfort, and always love, because He always believes that you have worth. And nothing can be done to change that. So in the face of hopelessness and feeling as though you are worthless, you have the authority to yell back. You can confidently rise above the lies and stand firm in the truth that God believes in you. You were worth dying for that you might be saved. His love will always give you worth and no Dead Week can take that away from you.