the best reasons to make this year the year

One can only be optimistic for so long. Eventually, all of the cheerleading gets old and people tire of the motivational rhetoric that attempts to get them to live up to their potential. It all boils down to a will to do the right thing for the right reason.

I won’t try to sell you on a plan to get into shape in ’10 and I won’t badger you about spending more time praying. I realize that, with the exception of my wife, everyone who reads this does so voluntarily and I would prefer you not click out of this site right now. So I will just lay out a few ideas about the purpose of getting something done in the new year. I hope you find it helpful.

Life is short: none of us are promised another year. I lost some dear friends over the last year – too many of them too young. I had no idea at this time last year that they would leave the earth so soon. Young or old, your next breath could be your last. I say, take advantage of the time you have been allotted and get busy fulfilling your destiny.

You are a person of privilege: to be born in this time and place gives you a distinct advantage over most others who have ever been born. Your gifts, abilities, resources and support pretty much demand that you accomplish something significant. Otherwise, we may rightfully be accused of squandering the greatest opportunities in history.

If you don’t, who will? Most people are pretty self-absorbed these days. Heroes are rare and those with a focus on something other than their own comfort stand out in a crowd. The result of this is – the world is looking for someone who will do something to make the world a better place in which to live. I’m not comfortable with simply allowing the politicians or rock stars to handle it – I don’t think their motivations are always the purest. And I don’t see hoards of average people stepping up. Maybe you and I need to seize the opportunity…

Why else were you put on earth? Financial security, fashion, physical appearance, acceptance by others…these all don’t hold much water as they relate to real purpose. I have yet to talk to one dying person who is concerned about the TV show they are missing. You were born with an optimum function. It is in there. Dig it out and live it out.

You will give an account: OK here goes the preaching and the guilt trip. But it is true. Scripture says: “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.” (Matthew 12:36), and “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10) I will let God speak for Himself.

Finally, the need is urgent. Pain is not going away. People are hurting. And we have some answers.

So what about you in 2010? Will this be the year? I really hope so. And I mean that.

who is responsible for the future?

I have recently been exposed to an entire new crop of people who are reaping an ugly harvest as a result of the ugly seeds they have been planting. The crises that these people are experiencing are a result of the bad choices they have made. I don’t mean to be harsh, but rest assured, Justin Timberlake (first and last time I will quote him!) is correct when he says, “what goes around comes around”.

As we head into the new year, and as we are all hoping for some improvements over last year, I begin to ask questions like: “How responsible are we for what happened last year?”, “Are there things we can do now that will make the future better?” and “How long can we get away with blaming others for how our lives are turning out?”.

It is clear, God is sovereign, there are some things in which we have no voice. Life certainly happens, whether or not we like it. Good and bad things happen to good and bad people. But our culture has done an excellent job of convincing us that “it” is not our fault. “It” is the bad things that happen to all of us. “It” is when we aren’t happy or when we have trouble or when someone mistreats us. I am of the opinion that much of “it” is a result of decisions we have made. It is the law of reciprocity. In scripture, it is stated this way: “Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant.” (Galatians 6:7 NLT)

If you mistreat your loved ones, they will walk away from you.
If you are dishonest and lack integrity, people won’t trust you.
If you abuse substances, you will run short of money and will find yourself in pain.
If you neglect God and ignore His mandates, you will be destroyed by life.

Apply this truth where needed…

We are responsible for the direction of our lives. We certainly cannot dictate all of the details and how everything will turn out, but in general terms, planting good seeds results in a good harvest.

At the beginning of a new year and new century, what are you expecting to happen? What are you doing to make those things happen?

Let’s make a pact. Let’s agree to do the things that will allow us to celebrate one year from today. Let’s do everything we can to make 2010 a good year.

aggressive surrender

There are several generations of spiritual music that have included songs about surrendering to God. All my life, I have sung songs in church services like: “I Surrender All”, “Whatever it Takes”, “Lord I Give You my Heart”… My recollection is that in most cases, we sang but then just sat there. We were sincere but our music was not followed with action. The mentality seemed to be as long as we were saying the words, God would do the rest. We sang a nice melody but the words apparently were not heart-felt. It is as though we were saying, “Here I am God, I am available. If you want anything from me, let me know. Otherwise, I am going on with my life.”

It feels so spiritual to tell God how committed we are. Some leaders encourage people to make verbal commitments. At times, our worship services have, as a goal, an emotional response to the call of God to surrender to His will. We have glamorized verbal assent but under emphasized active submission.

How about if we begin to emphasize aggressive surrender? This is the concept of engaging in meaningful activity that expresses how surrendered we are. It is not words, it is action.

It is great to tell God that we are willing to do anything He wants, it is better to actually do something for Him. James said, “I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James 2:18)

If you are person of faith, go serve – somewhere, anywhere.
Give a day volunteering at your church.
Visit residents at a nearby nursing home.
Give a hand to a single parent.
Cut some grass, shovel some snow, clean some windows, serve a meal. There are a million ideas.
In fact, every place that there is a need, there is an opportunity for aggressive surrender.

When more of these needs are met, maybe I will feel like singing more of the “I’ll do anything you want me to do, God” songs.

family time

Letha and I are in St. Louis, visiting her family for Christmas. We are taking a couple of days off and enjoying some down time. I am still unwinding from the busy Christmas season at Maranatha – it always takes me a few days to settle back.

This does not seem like Saturday. My normal regime is full mode preparation for Sunday. Since I am not speaking tomorrow (a rare treat for the folks at Maranatha!), I am not focused on Sunday services.

I am working some this week. I have a couple of projects that are on the front burner. Right after the new year, I am facilitating a leadership conference for The Sanctuary Church in Deland, Florida – there is much to do on that one. I also want to read Brennan Manning’s book, “Ruthless Trust” this week. Then there is the ongoing Rosetta Stone work.

It is cold here. The myth about one’s blood thinning when continually in a warm climate is true. I am going to hike a local trail this morning and since it is 26 degrees, I will probably freeze.

I hope you are able to rest a bit this week. I also hope you are getting ready for a great New Year celebration.

a Christmas blessing

The following blessing will be spoken over the people who attend Christmas Eve services at Maranatha Church tonight.

I pray that you and those you love will experience, first-hand, the awesome love of God the Father this Christmas.
I pray that your spirit and soul will be overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit Himself.
I pray that the Light of the World, Jesus Christ, will shine upon you and in you and through you.
And I pray that Christmas, 2009, will be the most blessed Christmas you have ever experienced.
In the name of the One we live to celebrate, Jesus Christ!

“lit up” at Christmas Eve worship

As I prep to go into our two Christmas Eve services tomorrow, I am hoping and praying for a lot of people to attend. This is one of the best opportunities of the year to present the love of Christ to people. All year we have been reaching out to our community and “making the love of God obvious”. Thousands of people in our neighborhood know we care about them. I am hoping that we will have the honor of leading more people to Christ during Christmas. Last year, we had a total of 683 people at the Christmas Eve service. I am sure that a good one half of them were not regular attenders of Maranatha. One of the dynamics of a service like that, where “regulars” are outnumbered by “guests”, is that it is easy to feel like a guest yourself. In every service, there is a vibe that dictates the feel and flow of things. I have been in services where, although I was leading the services, I felt like I was along for the ride. Not a good feeling for a pastor! I am reminded that we are all “guests” in His house. He really needs to dictate the atmosphere. When we allow that to happen, important things – the stuff of eternity- will happen.

I am praying that the people who come to the services who do not have a relationship with Christ will be open to the idea. It is my plan, as it is every time we have one of these events – to present a clear and concise Gospel, to let everyone know what this season is all about. I will do my best to tell them of the love of God. My question is: Who, if anyone, will respond favorably?

Honestly, many people who come to these services tomorrow night will have been drinking. They are on their way to or from dinner or their office party and it is common for people to come to Christmas Eve service half lit up. Let me state a couple of things right away: 1) It is better for them to attend drunk than to not attend at all. 2) At most services, I speak to someone who has been drinking, and I am OK with that. 3) If you only want sober people at your church, you will not reach the people in your community (and you may lose some current attenders). For the record, we have rarely had anyone disturb or get out of control. We have measures in place, just in case.

But this leads me to wonder about the spiritual decisions that may be made tomorrow night. If people are under the influence, are they capable of an appropriate response to God? I realize that the Holy Spirit can work in any heart, regardless of the mental state. But if alcohol causes some to be more emotional, (and it does), and if alcohol impairs our judgment (and it does), what can we expect?

I come to this conclusion:
I am not responsible for the outcome. I am simply to speak the truth of God’s Word in love and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work. If I am in any way judgmental of the people who attend or if I come across as though I am spiritually superior, I can forget the possibility of any positive response. Christmas Eve is simply a wonderful time to love people as they are. Isn’t that why Jesus came?

Just a few more observations about intoxicated people at Christmas Eve services:
• Our non-alcoholic communion wine will probably taste flat to some.
• We will probably need a restroom break in the middle of the services.
• Open flames and alcohol are not a great combination! We may need to do a sobriety test before giving them a lighted candle. Otherwise, “lit up” may take on more than one meaning!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

sorry dude, you lose!

I don’t normally like to give press to negativity. When someone does or says something that is completely ignorant, to spend time addressing it usually just gives credence to the person. In other words, they are receiving the attention they are craving. But I just couldn’t let this one pass without a mention.

Our receptionist received a call yesterday from a person who is not connected with our church. This guy was apparently in a hospital (OK, I feel sorry for him) and was reading through a newspaper. We recently received some good coverage about our Thanksgiving trip to Guatemala. You can read the story here. The guy calling was very upset that we had the nerve to help needy kids in a foreign country. He made the assumption that we were only helping kids in foreign countries and not the needy people in our country. He made the statement that we were encouraging immigration. He accused us of creating more problems than we are fixing. And he told us that our church can just go to hell. Well Merry Christmas to you, too!

Here is the thing: the world is full of crazies and this guy was just another in the long line. But I can’t help but get a little agitated when someone with nothing better to do than be a pain in the neck spends their time trying to discourage others who have better things to do. What kind of a miserable wretch lives life for that purpose?

To clear the record, we do give away a lot of support to needy people in our country. We are actively involved in addressing the needs of our community. We put clothes and shoes on North American kids, also. This holiday season, our church has fed more families in our neighborhood than at any time in our history. So let it be said, Maranatha cares about people everywhere.

And secondly, our efforts to help children in other countries is in no way a statement regarding our position on immigration. To assume so is to be very shallow. While I have some less than popular opinions about immigration, we are feeding hungry kids because if we don’t, they will starve. I don’t want to see kids getting diseases because they have no shoes to wear. The thought of a child being cold when I have too many clothes is not pleasant. That’s it, that is our motivation. Jesus told us to take care of them and we are.

Here is my favorite part: Scripture tells us that when something like this happens, you know you are doing the right thing. Matthew 5:11-12 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.” (NLT) So this call was really good news. No ugly feedback means no life-change.

Sorry dude, you lose! One of the best things we have done this year to is to let people everywhere know that God loves them and so do we.

So, regardless of this guy’s wishes, I don’t think our entire church is going to hell. Some of us may, but it will have nothing to do with who we helped. It will have to do with our rejection of Jesus. And if that is the criterion by which we will all be judged, I think our friendly caller may be in a bit of trouble himself.

Merry Christmas, everyone!