20/20: 20 Lessons From 20 Years–Lesson #1: Good Mentors Matter

On May 1, 1996, I walked into the Grande Prairie Church of Christ to begin my first full-time ministry gig. I was 21. The ink on my pastoral degree from Peace River Bible Institute (PRBI) wasn’t even dry, nor were the spots behind my ears.

It’s been 20 years since then. No fireworks went off, and as it was Sunday, I worshiped and connected and preached in our church just as I normally do.

But this two decade mark got me thinking. What have I learned? How have I changed? What has defined my ministry journey so far? So many things rushed to my mind that I thought I’d try something different: I’ll post 20 lessons I’ve learned, over the course of May. (I may intersperse others posts, too). By breaking it down, I’ll keep things shorter and not overwhelm one post. 🙂

So, here goes.

20 Lessons I’ve Learned from 20 Years of Vocational Ministry

Lesson 1: Good Mentors Matter.

From my earliest days growing up, through Bible school and into vocational ministry, I have been blessed with terrific mentors. Alan Jones, as my first vocational ministry leader heads that list, but there are others who’ve significantly impacted my life and ministry. Gerald, Waldie, Al and Duff, all who have walked with me “in the flesh” as it were. But, as I’ve written elsewhere, I’ve been shaped by good dead mentors, too, such as Hudson Taylor, Lesslie Newbigin, Karl Barth, C.S. Lewis and Henri Nouwen. I also have high regard for ministry mentors I’ve happily accessed through books, teachings and podcasts, such as James Houston, Eugene PetersonBill Hybels, Andy Stanley and Carey Neiuwhof.

Whether they be dead or alive, close-up or influencing me from a distance, mentors have made me who I am. These mentors have:

  • Challenged my character
  • Shaped my skills
  • Given me opportunities
  • Pushed me to step up
  • Showed me what truly matters
  • Kept me focused
  • Believed in me
  • Brought me back to the basics
  • Alerted me to pitfalls
  • Taught me God’s Word
  • Cut through the confusion
  • Led me toward health and strength
  • Made me more effective as a minister
  • Nurtured my relationship with Jesus

In fact, many of the lessons I’ll be sharing came from my good mentors.

Mentors have sharpened me, helping me become who God wanted me to be.
Mentors have sharpened me, helping me become who God wanted me to be.

Good mentors matter, not only for how they have shaped me, but also for how they have then helped me mentor others. As I have been led, so I have led. We know that’s how it goes. As I’ve learned and grown, as I’ve been challenged and shaped, what I have experienced I have passed on.  The influence of my mentors continues to extend to those I mentor. May their influence continue.

I’m challenged by this lesson because it reminds me of how vital mentoring is for the church today. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it were not for great mentors. Nor would they.

So who is around me now that needs my close attention?
Who is around you? 

Coming up in my next post: Ministry Happens Best in Teams

 

My #1 Parenting Advice

If I could offer you only one piece of parenting advice, it would be this: do whatever it takes to grow your relationship with your child. 

Kayaking with the family
Having a life-long relationship with these two boys matters to me. I have to remember that every day.

Now let’s get this straight: I am not a parenting expert. I’m not one of those ultra-confident parents who always seems convinced of their parenting choices.  I mess up, regularly. My wife and I are right in the middle of figuring out how to raise two teenage boys, something we’ve never done before. Lord, have mercy.

But based on my experience as a father and as a pastor, I can tell you this: your relationship with your child matters most. Without that, everything falls apart.

Raising kids isn’t easy. And raising certain kids? Harder still. (Yes, I’m referring to that kid.) Parenting is one of my greatest joys, but it’s also one of my most daunting challenges. In the middle of the mess, things get murky. I easily forget what really matters. I get too focused on the latest incident or the pressure of a situation and forget the bigger picture. And so I need to be reminded that no matter what’s happening, I need to focus on my relationship with my boys.  It’s my relationship with them that’s got to last.

So, whether you’re in a parenting sweet spot or hitting rocky times, lean into relationship. When trouble hits, we often want to lean harder into the rules (or is that just me?). And while there needs to be boundaries and expectations, if we lean into the rules without fierce nurturing, we can end up destroying the only thing that will carry us through.

When conflict hits, it’s very easy to get fixated on the problem and forget what matters most. There will be times when you need to stop yourself and ask: Will this action help our relationship or drive a wedge between us? And then make the relationship nurturing choice. Ironically, out of love for our children we can make decisions that push them further away from us.

hold-on
“Hold on to your kids” transformed our parenting. We highly recommend it.

The one thing we have to do, above all else, is preserve the relationship. Dr Gordon Neufeld, who has taught extensively on parenting and attachment, argues that authority is placed wherever the relational attachment lies. Simply put, if your kids are more attached to their friends than they are to you, then what their friends say will matter more than what you say. The only way to dislodge that misplaced authority is not to demand obedience because “you are the authority” but to foster, intentionally, your relationship with your child so that by winning back the attachment, you become their primary authority again. (Why not read that sentence again? It’s key.)

Too many parents, in an attempt to get their kids to do what they want (even if that means making good choices), end up damaging an already fragile relationship and losing even more influence.

Instead of front-loading the rules, how about loading up the car for an extended road trip? Instead of dismissing her music interests, what about researching the bands and growing in your own understanding and appreciation? Make time for a walk, a movie or a special meal.

And so, from one parent to another, let’s do whatever we can to preserve and to grow our relationship with our kids. Because in the end, that’s all that’s going to matter. 

 

 

Top 10 Excuses Christians Give For Not Making Disciples

You had one job. 

Have you seen these funny memes circulating through social media, featuring mistakes made doing one, clear job?

ggvN2Ou

I wonder sometimes if that’s what Jesus will say to us? Before Jesus left, he gave his peeps one job: make more disciples. Very clear. Not really up for debate. Jesus, possessing all authority in heaven and earth, tells people who are under his all-encompassing authority to do just one thing: Make More Disciples.

Every Jesus-follower agrees. Any church worth the name “church” hails Jesus’ Great Commission as their central mission.

But is that what we are doing? Are we making more disciples?

Sort of.

When I look around the church-scape, I am happy to say that “Yes, disciples are being made.” Men and women, boys and girls, are coming to follow Jesus, and I celebrate that! It’s amazing to see. But–and here’s my concern–making disciples seems to happen more by accident than intention. I’m thrilled for each person following Jesus, but can we do better? I think so.

When questioned about our one job, we often make more excuses than disciples. I’ve hear them from others; I hear them whispered in my own heart. Here’s the top 10 excuses I’ve heard. Do any of them sound familiar?

The Top 10 Excuses Christians Give For Not Making Disciples

  1. I can’t disciple someone because I still have faith struggles.  This one’s a classic. We think we must operate at some higher level of spirituality to make disciples.  Listen, we are not perfect saints; we are forgiven sinners. What matters is who we follow together–he’s got enough perfection for all of us. Don’t let this excuse keep you from obedience.
  2. I don’t know enough.  While teaching and learning are central to discipleship, we don’t need to know everything. Invite people into places where you are learning and praying and serving. And as you do tAccident or Intention?hat, your own learning will accelerate quickly.
  3. I don’t know what to do. Discipleship is not complicated; it’s not about a technique or methodology. Wondering what to do? Here’s my thing: just start. Invite a friend to discuss spiritual things. Take someone to church with you. Pray for a friend. Learn along the way. It’s not nearly as complicated as you think. It’s simply helping someone take the next step after Jesus.
  4. That’s the pastor’s job. I love this one. As a pastor, I want to laugh out loud, mostly because it’s so absurd. All disciples must make disciples. Pastors help us become better disciple-makers, so we can all do our one job.
  5. I don’t want to be presumptuous. Actually, it’s not called presumption to help someone follow Jesus–it’s called loving obedience. Remember: any trace of presumption or hierarchy is evidence that you’ve forgotten what’s going on: we are not making people our disciples but disciples of Jesus.
  6. I’m not an academic.  You don’t need to be. In some circles discipleship has, unfortunately, become a kind of rigorous academic program–read these 40 books, pray 2 hours a day, etc. Discipleship is not primarily academic, though it includes loving God with our whole mind, as well as heart, soul and strength. In the end, we are not becoming religious egg-heads who know stuff but passionate followers of Jesus who serve him in the world. Be who you are.
  7. I tried that once and it didn’t go well.  Yep. Sometimes things don’t go well. That’s just true. And we learn through it. But stopping because it didn’t work out well? I don’t think Jesus left us that option.
  8. I don’t have time. Then your priorities are wrong. At any job, how long would we last if we kept ignoring the one thing we had been tasked to do, claiming we don’t have the time for it?
  9. I don’t feel I have much to give. This one really shuts people down, and often includes a combination of excuses. Here’s the fact: none of us have that much to give, but by the Holy Spirit can give through us. Keep your relationship with Jesus in focus, and simply share where you are growing. Let Jesus be the giver.
  10. I don’t want to. This final one isn’t an excuse–it’s flat out disobedience. If we are honest, there are times when we hear Jesus’ commission to us and we reject it. We don’t want to. What do we do with that? We need to repent, reconnect with Jesus’ heart for people, and get on with the task at hand. Because in the end, we only have one job. Are we getting it done? 

What kind of excuses do you hear the most? Which ones do you use?

How can we become more intentional disciple-makers?

Do you have a blind spot? There’s a reason you might not be able to answer that.

We grow when we deal with our blind spots. And the only way we can deal with blind spots is by becoming aware of them, usually with someone else’s help.

200px-Warning_Sign_-_Blind_Spot.svgBut that’s a problem. Because they are blind-spots, we don’t see them (duh) and we don’t think they’re an issue. Which leaves us in a bind.

How can someone help us see what we can’t see?  And if they do point them out, will we even listen, or will we become defensive?

Think about an area of your life that’s pretty good. 

Your parenting. Your eating habits. Your attitude. Your work ethic. Whatever.

Then imagine someone suggesting you’ve got a massive blind spot, right there, in the precise area you’ve been feeling pretty good about.

  • You’re actually very sharp with your kids when you respond.
  • You graze all day and it’s not healthy.
  • You’re cynical and pessimistic.
  • Your last minute work is hurting the team.

Ouch. How do you respond?

  • Are you defensive, or open?
  • Do you deny the allegations, or lean in for more insight?
  • Are you quick to excuse your actions, or are you willing to look more closely into patterns you’ve missed?

Everything depends on what we do next. How we respond when a blind spot’s revealed makes or breaks our personal growth. When we are most tempted to brush past the blind spot, eager to conjure up our defenses and ignore the insight because “they just don’t understand my situation”, at that exact moment we can choose to say, “Tell me more about that. This is new to me.  I want to grow. What are you seeing in my life that is hindering my relationships/hurting my work/harming my influence/halting the progress God wants to make in my life.”  That kind of posture will lead to growth every timeHow we respond when a blind spot's revealed makes or breaks our personal growth.

Listening with openness doesn’t mean the person is correct in their assessment. They may point out something to you that you are already aware of and working on, or isn’t actually a problem. I get that. But–and this is so critical–be willing to grapple through the challenge with a posture of radical openness and rigorous self-reflection, rather than a reactive defensiveness and a resistant attitude.

When we do that, we grow. When we don’t, we won’t. 

So how can you take action? Here’s two ways to start.

  1. Ask a trusted friend to help you identify your blind spots. Let them to speak into your life and thank them for it (it’s hard to do!). You’ll be part of helping them do the same someday.
  2. Be open to grow–yes, in areas of weakness, but also in areas of strength and experience. Ironically, natural gifting and extended experience can create their own blind spots–laziness can creep in, assumptions can hinder further insight and growth, and your peers won’t challenge you because you still might be “better” than them. Posture yourself for growth, get mentors, push yourself to grow in areas you might be missing.

How have you addressed blind spots in your life?

What kind of attitudes have helped you grow?

I’d love to hear your experiences and insight. Make a comment, share your thoughts. Let’s grow together.

 

 

 

 

Could you be making one of these classic mistakes? Here’s 3 ways we can all get stupid answers from sacred Scripture

“Just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t make it biblical.”  (Iain W. Provan,  from my personal notes taken during Regent College lectures, Vancouver, Canada, 2002.)


 

Yep. That’s just so true.

How many times have people used Scripture to assert their stupid ideas? From the past nonsense of propping up slavery to the ultra-modern bias for supporting lavish lifestyles, we’re adept at claiming Bible support for crazy ideas.

How do we do this? By making these classic mistakes.

1. Ignore the context.

If you just narrow your focus and ignore everything else, you can make the Bible say pretty much anything you want.

Need a verse to support your idea for the future? You’ll find it.

lady-covering-ears
You can shut out everything else and hear only what you want.

Would Scripture be helpful in an argument with your boyfriend? Got that, too.

Need something to make you feel better about your resistance to change? Easy.

All you need to do is eliminate the larger story, ignore what’s going on around the chosen verse and you’re away to the races. People do it every day.

2. Make it all about you.

It’s not, you know. Not all about you, that is. We aren’t the main subject of the Bible. God is.

Narcissus-Caravaggio_(1594-96)_edited
Narcissus loses himself in his own image. We can, too. (Image from Wikipedia.)

Don’t get me wrong. The Bible has a ton to say about us. But it’s all about God, first. He’s both the author and the hero of the Bible, and we come to understand ourselves only in reference to him. As people created in God’s image, the more we come to know him the more we come to understand ourselves and what it means to really live. But God is first, not us.

If we default to ourselves first, we demand the Bible answer our questions rather than attending to Scripture’s main concern. We make our situation central, forcing the Bible to give into our demands and yield up the results we want. And that, my friends, is a sure-fire way to get bad answers from the Bible. If we push hard enough, the Bible will give us answers alright, but they might be dead wrong.

3. Rush your conclusion.

When we do look to the Bible for answers, we are often in a rush. We’re under pressure, needing to respond to a situation, frantic to just do something. Needing God’s support, we can rush to the Bible and snatch a conclusion that’s likely wrong.

You see, the Bible is not a quick-fix guide for whatever’s broken in our lives–it is God’s living Word to us, designed to reveal himself to us so we can align ourselves with him. Yes, the Bible gives us guidance. I happen to think the Bible is incredibly practical on many things, such as marriage, finances and addictions. But ultimately Scripture reveals Jesus to us so we can follow him and let him lead our lives; the helpfulness of Scripture supports the Spirit’s goal to help us follow Jesus.

If we come to the Bible determined to get answers by the end of coffee break, we may not only get stupid answers, we might miss the whole point of God’s Word–to mature us into people who look and love and lead more and more like Jesus every day. It’s only those who take time, over time, who really experience the guidance Scripture offers.

So let me ask you:

Which mistake have you been prone to make?

How can we prevent these classic errors?

 

God's Word

What are you missing? The #1 habit making the biggest difference in my life right now

Single habits have exponential effect.

Think about it. You start exercising regularly, and you become more discerning about your food choices; you might even find yourself getting better sleep and reading more Scripture. Somehow, one habit had exponential effect on multiple areas.  Charles Duhigg called these “keystone” habits, which include regular exercise, tracking your eating, regular family meals, and even making your bed in the morning.

For me, one keystone habit is making a huge difference: getting up early.

Some of you have doubts already. You starting to check out. I can hear you saying, “Oh, that’s great for you, but I’m not a morning person.”  Can I challenge you on that? You can be, starting with just a small step and getting up slightly earlier than you normally do. Michael Hyatt helped me see how anyone can become a morning person, and I’ve taken his advice to heart. I’ve got my alarm set for 4:55am each morning, and on most days, that’s when I’m getting up.

alarmsHey, I don’t bounce out of the bed like some people do. I drag myself to the coffee maker. The other morning, holding that terrible alarm in my hands, I almost reset it for another half-hour. But then, suddenly, through the pre-caff grogginess, I heard myself saying, “The battle is won or lost based on what I do, right now.” So I got up, and I was glad I did. Most mornings are great.

I’ve got to tell you: this one habit is having enormous effect. The benefits have been so evident that I’m excited to get up even as I’m going to bed at night (which I’ve been doing earlier, obviously).

How has rising early benefited me? In at least 5 ways. 

  1. Unhurried time for Scripture, prayer and spiritual reading. I’ve been reading through the Bible every year for years now, using the YouVersion App for the last few. This habit was already established, but now it never gets crammed in to another YouVersion_Banner__Official_2_part of my day because the morning got away on me. I’m able to read the Scripture and spend time praying, with no interruptions and no pressure. I sip my coffee, eat my breakfast, and read, both Scripture and other spiritual readings.
  2. Keeping a Journal. I’ve wanted to journal for years, but I wrote in fits and starts, with long periods with nothing at all. Whenever I went on retreats, I’d journal a lot, and I found it very helpful. And yet I just couldn’t integrate it into my regular life–until now. Getting up earlier has given me the unhurried space I needed to journal, often becoming an extension of my prayer time.
  3. Leadership Reading. As a leader, I’m committed to growing as a leader. Because “leaders are readers,” I always have a leadership book on the go. I’m a bit astonished what a difference my morning time has made–in the first two months of 2016, I read six leadership books! These readings are helping me grow as a leader, and that will have exponential effect on the rest of my life and ministry. One habit = exponential effect.
  4. Developing my writing. Well, here I am, in the wee hours of the morning, writing to you. Yes, blogging is part of this morning routine. I’ve wanted to write for years, but (you guessed it) never found the time to do it consistently. Guess what? I found it! The time was hiding away in those moments before I normally got up. Now I’m writing at least an hour a day, focusing mostly on this blog for now. This would not be happening if it were not for this one keystone habit of getting up early.
  5. Getting time alone. Even though I’m an extrovert who enjoys a lot of people time in a day, I need time alone. As I get older, I value my solo time even more. What I noticed is this: by getting up early, I’m get the alone time I need so that I’m more mentally ready, more relationally available, and more emotionally present to others when I am with them. This has been especially evident in my family life, as they emerge from the morning fog. Because I’ve already been up for a while, I’m ready for them. And it carries me through the rest of my day. I’ve had time with God and time by myself, so I’m not running on empty. My early morning alone time helps me give more to others.

This one habit is having exponential effect in my life. Could it do the same for you?

I’m not saying you do exactly what I do–not at all. But what do you wish you had more time for? What do you value that always seems be shoved out of your daily calendar? Give rising earlier a try and see what a difference it can make. My practical suggestion is this: get up 30 minutes earlier for 3 weeks. Be intentional with those 30 minutes; do something you value that never gets done. Do you need to sit quietly in the presence of God and pet the cat? Or start a short Bible reading plan? You might try journaling, exercise, poetry, or praying the Lord’s Prayer in a reflective way. I’m confident that you will benefit by simply carving out the time and seeing where it goes!

How have you found the morning helpful for you?

What other keystone habits are making a difference in your life?

 

 

 

Getting the Mix Right: 3 Things You MUST Know about the Book of Revelation

How you hear the Book of Revelation determines how you interpret it. If you think it’s primarily futuristic, you’ll see it as a blueprint of what’s coming. If it’s ancient sci-fi, you’ll read it like Dune. If it’s rendering history through symbols, you’ll navigate accordingly. And if it’s a discipleship manifesto, you’ll respond with action.

The key is how you hear it. If you want to do that right, then you’ve got to hear it the way it was meant to be heard. This is true for anything you read. Gary Larson’s Far Side doesn’t help me fix my furnace; I don’t read up on ice cream to understand how to drive a car.  To hear the Revelation right, we need to know what kind of literature it is so we can engage it as designed. So many headaches and misunderstandings would be solved if we did just this one thing.

DJ-spinning
The Revelation is a literary mash-up, masterfully combining three classic genres into one, great party mix.

So what kind of literature is the Revelation? This simple question has three answers (I know, welcome to the Revelation), laid out in the first eight verses. I love musical mash-ups, where two songs are artfully combined to create something unique and beautiful–the Revelation is a literary mash-up, masterfully combining three classic genres into one, great party mix.

#1. The Revelation is an Apocalypse.

The first thing we hear in the Revelation is the starting note: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants . . . The English word “revelation” is the Greek word “apocalypse,” the word that has come to our common speech to represent a horrible, devastating end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it kind of event. But that’s not it’s original meaning. Apocalypse meant, well, just as it’s been translated: revelation. Something’s being revealed, like a curtain being pulled back or a door being opened. Something, or more accurately, someone is present whom we had not seen.

Jesus Revealed
We called our Revelation message series “Jesus, Revealed” to keep its apocalyptic purpose central.

The Apocalypse pulls back the curtain and shows us true reality, what is really going on, who is really in charge, where history’s actually going. Apocalypse is an art form, a known style of writing, and the Revelation mixes in that genre throughout. But at its heart, the Apocalypse is the Revealing of Jesus Christ. Every page, every symbol, every note that’s struck or table that’s spun, everything serves this purpose: to reveal Jesus to his people. So when you read the Revelation, ask this Key Apocalyptic Question: How is Jesus revealing himself to us? Ask it every turn of the page.

#2. The Revelation is a Prophecy.

The second genre joins the Rev mix by verse 3: Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. The fact that the Revelation is a prophecy will come as a shock to exactly no one. Of course it’s a prophecy. But all prophecy (anywhere in the Bible) must be heard in stereo, played both as a something that is about the future and something that is about the present. In fact, I would argue that all the future orientation of prophecy (new Listening in Stereoheavens/new earth, death being destroyed, beasts slain, people redeemed)  is given to inspire present faithfulness. The Revelation offers a resounding blessing on all who read this prophecy aloud and all those who receive it obediently. That’s powerful. So what’s our Key Prophecy Question? It is this: How is this prophecy inspiring me to faithfulness today? Again, ask consistently throughout.  

#3. The Revelation is a Letter.

Apocalypse and prophecy have barely hit their opening chords when genre #3 spins in. In classic letter form, we read: John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you . . . it’s how letters started back then. The Revelation of Jesus Christ is a letter written from a pastor to seven particular churches in the Roman province of Asia (modern day Turkey). No one disputes that for the opening chapters, as Jesus himself addresses each church with a specific memo. But when the letter continues in chapter 4 with a vision shift, readers easily forget that we are still reading someone else’s mail! icon_youvegotmail-150x150From 1:1 to 22:21, the Revelation is a circular letter, written and delivered to real Christian churches. Keeping this in mind is crucial, especially when beasts start showing up; it’ll keep Revelation’s purpose central: to encourage and challenge Christians to remain loyal to Jesus during difficult times.

The genre of letter applies the other two genres of apocalypse and prophecy to their context, making it practical to everyday life. Our Key Letter Question is this: How is this letter helping these ancient Christians understand what was going on (apocalypse) and how to respond faithfully (prophecy), and, by extension, how does it help us now? Okay, that’s two questions, but the dual lens of “then” and “now” is critical. Ask these questions every step of the way through the Revelation.

There’s the Revelation mash-up, and each type of lit is essential to the mix Jesus wants us to hear. Here’s the point: in the Revelation, Jesus wants to reveal himself to us so we can faithfully follow him in our present reality and into his good future.

Want to hear more? I’ve been walking my friends through the Revelation in a series of messages at the Erickson Covenant Church; you can find them here. You can also subscribe and download through iTunes under “Erickson Covenant Church”.

Which genre of the Revelation surprised you?

How could this triple mash-up help your community hear the Revelation?

 

Note: I owe my understanding of the Revelation to so many authors, including Bauckham, Fee, Wilcock, Beale and Wright. But premier among them is Darrell Johnson and his work on the Revelation. I highly recommend Discipleship on the Edge: An Expository Journey through the Book of Revelation if you want to find out more.

Every Martian Matters (even when there’s only one)

the-martianDo we believe every person counts? Not just our friends or the people we enjoy, but every single person? Jesus does, and he showed that in how he lived.

Religious people have never liked Jesus’ people priorities, considering certain people less desirable than others. One way Jesus pushed back against their bigotry was with stories about the value of people. Luke 15 relays three of these famous stories, each one featuring something, or someone, of value becoming lost and then being found.  And the point? Each person really matters to God, so much that they are worth searching for, taking personal risks, paying tremendous costs, doing whatever it takes to bring them home.

I love it when Hollywood shares a story that aligns with God’s heart for people. The recent Damon-Scott blockbuster The Martian, based on Weir’s book,  is a parable resonant with Jesus’ point about the incredible value of one human life, worth expending every effort for their rescue. Like the lost coin, sheep and sons, The Martian underscores the never-changing truth that everyone matters, that every life counts.

Inspired by the parable, I showed this trailer during our Sunday morning gathering to illustrate God’s conviction that every person counts. As Christians, what God cares about, we care about. Because people matter to God, they matter to us.

When I reflected on all four of these parables (ancient and modern), I realized that in each parable people were willing to take great personal risk and pay tremendous costs to restore the lost sheep, coin, son, and astronaut.  The shepherd left the 99 to risk a wilderness search; the woman worked feverishly to find her coin; the father disdained personal reputation and wealth to restore his sons. In The Martian, the crew of the Ares 3 put everything on the line, risking life, limb and legacy, to bring Mark home. Teams on the ground spared no expense to see him rescued. The world launched an all-out effort for one man, stranded far away, to make it back to earth. I love it. That’s the heart of God for people, and that’s our heart, too.

THE MARTIAN
The crew of Ares 3 was willing to take tremendous risk for one human life. Are we?

As members of the church Jesus leads, this is serious business. We want to be the kind of church where every person matters, and not just the “insider,” but those who are far away, out of touch, detached, disinterested, wandering, even lost. Churches often expend great energy to care for those who are present, who “show up,” knowing that they matter (and they do!). But it’s been too easy to forget our call to expend even more energy, more cost, more effort, more money to reach people who will never show up for the party unless someone seeks for them, works for their return, prays for their rescue, does whatever it takes to see them home. The church must become obsessed with finding people who think they’ve been forgotten, who do not know they matter, who are not even aware that an all-out search is being raised on their behalf.

Why? Because to God, every person counts. And if that’s God’s heart, then it’s ours.

How does this story change the way you see others?

Why does Jesus put so much emphasis on people who have been rejected by the religious?

(If you want to hear my original message, using The Martian to reinforce our vision at the Erickson Covenant Church, you can listen to it here.)

Don’t give the devil more credit than he’s due

While the devil tries to destroy our lives, we often blame him for things we should be taking responsibility for.

The devil isn’t responsible for everything that goes wrong.

Now don’t get me wrong: I believe there’s a devil.  Not the horned dude in red tights or the diabolical joker from Far Side hell, but a personal, powerful being who has set himself against all that is good and God’s in the world, destroying and deceiving wherever and whomever he can.

That said, I think we sometimes give him way too much credit.

Wedding cake visual metaphor with figurine cake toppers
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A marriage starts to blow up, and the devil gets the blame for destroying it. Maybe . . . or maybe selfishness did that without any help from him.

Health problems surface, and somehow it’s an attack from the evil one. Possibly, or perhaps our bodies really are broken and waiting for resurrection?

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Division sets into a local church, and it’s deemed a sign of spiritual oppression. It could be. But what if the division was created by poor leadership? Or hard hearts? I’m sure the devil’s cheering us on, but causing it? Maybe not.

 

A child is killed in an accident. Listen. The devil loves that stuff; he cheers on death because he’s deluded by it’s power. But he didn’t necessarily, or even likely, cause the tragedy. Accidents happen, forces collide, people fall asleep at the wheel, roads get slippery, mistakes are made, vehicles break down.  We live in a broken world, and in the midst of brokenness we long toward the time when all will finally be well, in the resurrection and new creation. But we aren’t there yet.

Next time you hear someone say “Satan’s working overtime in our family, in our church, in our town,” question it. Is that true? Or has the devil become an easy scapegoat, keeping us from actually confessing and repenting for ways we have contributed to the problem. (And by the way, the devil’s more than happy to take the blame if that keeps us from dealing with reality so we repent and change.)

So what should you do when you suspect this might be happening? Two things:

First, do pray against the work of the evil one. Jesus taught us to pray “deliver us from evil” or “from the evil one.”  We are in a war with the evil one, and we must be attentive and aware of his schemes. All that is true. As James 4:7 commands us, when we “submit ourselves to the Lord” and then “resist the devil”, he flees from us.

Lead us not, deliver usBut pray the whole prayer: before we ask for deliverance from evil, we ask that we not be lead into temptation, remember? And for the purposes of this post, I’d like to suggest that one of our temptations is to assume the devil’s handiwork when it well might be our own.

Then, secondly, ask the Holy Spirit to give you insight, so that you can know what is really going on. If it’s Satanic, then fight it appropriately. If it’s sin, confess it and change. If it’s the harsh reality of a broken and not yet redeemed world, then lean into God’s goodness and continue to trust his leadership through the difficulty. But let the Spirit guide you toward wisdom, so that we can live and respond from faith and not from delusion.

Does the devil attack us? Yes. “For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe,” as Martin Luther wrote generations ago. But let’s not give him more credit than he’s due. We’ve got plenty of responsibility to take, and by doing so, we will see God’s goodness flow into broken situations, bringing healing and restoration where there had previously been only pain and denial.

Have you experienced situations where human responsibility was ignored because the devil was blamed?

Want to invite your friends to church? Here’s 5 things you should know about them

Believe or not, you’ve got friends who’d come with you to church. You have only to ask.

And the #1 one way to invite others to your church is . . . wait for it . . . to simply ask them to come with you to church. That’s it. Yes, sometimes there’s a special event, such as Christmas Eve or Easter, making invitations easier.  Other times there might be a specially tailored program, such as the Alpha Course. But for most weeks of the year, we gather as a church with startling regularity, and you can invite your friend to come with you.1186739_512177192197671_802218542_n

Here’s how you can do it: “I was wondering if you’d be willing to come to church with me this Sunday?”  It’s that simple. And you’ll be surprised how many will come with you.

Because here’s 5 things you should know about your friends.

  1. You’ve got friends who’ve been waiting for your invitation (and they might not even know it). Recently, a friend of mine invited another friend, out of the blue, when they ran into each other in town. The invitation was exactly what was needed, and this friend is growing in their faith, connected into community. Beautiful.
  2. Your friends value your invitation. It really means something to them. Because they love you and respect you, your willingness to invite them to anything carries weight. Your relationship makes your invitation compelling. We often forget this: just the fact that you want them to come with you is an expression of friendship.
  3. Your friends might need time to respond but that doesn’t mean they won’t ever come. They might give reasons (wash the dog, walk the llama) for not joining you, for a while. Don’t be discouraged. Go light, make it easy. Zero pressure, just a simple invitation. A friend who puts you off might still be considering it, and there will come a weekend when they will suddenly (Holy Spirit work!) text you that they are coming. Life is busy. Things take time. And above all, they need to know that saying “no” to you doesn’t harm your friendship.
  4. Your friends will not be offended by your invitation, even if they don’t want to come and won’t ever come. This is a big one. We often shy away from a simple invitation because we are afraid of “offending” them. Really? You are their friend, so I’m assuming you invite them to your parties, your home-based business ventures–heck, you’ve probably even asked them to help you move. Do you think they’ll be offended by an invitation to something you love, prioritize, find consistently meaningful, and think they would enjoy? Very unlikely. The worst thing that will happen is . . . they’ll say “no” and you’ll get the signal that they aren’t ready. Worst case scenario. Think you can handle that? I know you can.
  5. Your friends want to know why you make church a part of your life, even if they think it’s strange. Okay, so they might not ask it like that, but if you are truly friends, then knowing each other’s loves and hates and passions is just part of the package. We know our friends who constantly run, or have a thing for chocolate, or love old cars, or never miss a hockey game — that’s part of being friends. Wouldn’t it be weird if you never mentioned your love for church, never invited them to come with you, even if for no other reason than so that they could know what you love about it?

What did I miss about your friends?

Who’s waiting for your invitation?