Clones?

Letha and I had a laugh at Chipotle on Friday. We had dropped by to enjoy a few lunch tacos and there were 10-12 “twenty-something” guys having lunch, all of them obvious employees of the same company (their logoed white polos and company van gave them away). Not only were their shirts all alike, they were all wearing baggy cargo shorts, nice white tennis shoes and everybody had a Bluetooth device attached to their ear or an iPhone hangin’ on their hip. They were all Caucasian, all had the same haircut and all had that “I’m taking the technology world by storm” look in their eyes. It was weird. I don’t know if their job required them to look like clones or what. It was very strange. I had a good chuckle.

I also wondered how we are perceived by our community. By “we”, I mean believers in Christ. Obviously, we don’t all dress alike or look the same but I am wondering if those who drive by our church have a certain perception about us. Do they think we all are robots without the freedom and ability to think for ourselves? Do they do what I thought at Chipotle? Do they snicker and think we look a bit silly?

In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul tells us, “…you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” (NLT) Hebrews 13:7 tells us to imitate our leaders. I hope we understand the necessity of finding a healthy pattern of living and following it. We all know the value of a mentor. But I also hope we understand the necessity of individuality. If we are going to be effective in finding the lost, we have to respect the concepts of diversity. I think it is a mistake if we all listen to the same music and like the same artists and hang out at the same places. If we are all reading the same authors and attending the same conferences, we are getting a bit too predictable and boring. True, the road to salvation is narrow and straight. But once we are on that road, Christ never condemns individuality.

If you are a progressive leader, you are familiar with the list. The hot bloggers, the writers who are selling a ton of books. The conference speakers and pastors who have a thousand groupies following them around the country. I say, think a little for yourself. Go ahead and break out of the mold that has dictated what everyone else is doing and saying. Try something new.

Take a look around your church. Is everyone white? Is everyone rich? Is everyone young? If your answer is yes, then probably you are not doing the best job in reaching your community (unless everyone in your community is white and rich and young). How about your friends? Do they all talk and dress like you, have the same opinions as you? Do they all vote like you? If so, you are all missing a great opportunity to expand and grow. You may also be missing some chances to reach others – who are unlike you.

It’s a big world out there. There are lots of awesome people in it. Most of them are different from you. How ‘bout making a connection with a few of them today? It may be a little scary at first, but most of them don’t bite.

The evidence of The Spirit

Since Pentecost Sunday is right around the corner (competing with Mom’s day – I think the moms will win!), I thought I would try to take a fresh look at what it means to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit. What is the real proof that we are empowered by Spirit? As much time as I have spent as a believer, one would think that I have it down pat by now. You would think that we would have it down pat by now. Not so fast.

I took a novel approach – I went back to scripture. Acts is a fascinating book to say the least. I read through the passages about miracles and signs and wonders and all the cool stuff that happened at Pentecost, and still should be happening in Spirit-filled communities. I remember many of the sermons that I have heard and preached, saying that this is exactly what we need today. But as I re-read Acts, something else jumped out at me that I see as a real evidence of the infilling of the Spirit.

These people gave. They gave up their own stuff and gave to others. They sold what they had to take care of the needs of the community. The people in the church of Acts got what it meant to be so influenced by the power of the Spirit that they had no problem reaching out to the needy around them.

Check out Acts 2:44-45 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. (NIV)

The DNA of the Spirit at work in the people of Acts is identified in their helping, their giving, their sharing, their feeding of the hungry, their clothing of the poor, their getting involved in correcting social injustices. As one with a Pentecostal heritage, I think I can offer a healthy criticism of our current operation. We have made Pentecostalism a style of worship. The Bible never does that. Pentecostalism is first and foremost a set of convictions that demands compassion by those who wear the label. A truly Spirit-filled person will get involved in efforts to address the needs of the less fortunate. A Spirit filled church really can’t be one unless they speak out and act on behalf of those who need help. Agreed, being Spirit filled it is about the manifestation of the gifts, no problem with that. It is about the unprecedented unity that they enjoyed, no doubt. But it is also about making a difference in the lives of hurting people. Not just praying for a miracle for those who are hungry, but creating a miracle by feeding the hungry. That is the work of the Spirit. That is what will make a difference in our world

In my opinion, many of the reports of revival in various places may be merely reports. My experience is that many of these events center around the church building, with believers coming together to “get blessed”. While this may not be a bad thing, I think that there is more to being revived by the Spirit than for already-blessed people to receive more . One of the indicators of true spiritual renewal and revival is the church reaches out to help, in practical ways, those who need it. When there are no more hungry people, we can rest assured that the church is revived.

Do you want to be a part of an Acts church? You have to give of yourself. You want to be a part of a truly Pentecostal group? Go out from your fired-up worship service and help somebody. It’s what they did in Acts. It’s what we should do.

If this happens, we may see a re-identification of those who are Spirit filled. Instead of us being, “the crazy folks who expend lots of energy in their worship services”, we may become better known as, “those crazy people who love you so much, they actually show it”!

Let Nothing Disturb You

Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing frighten you.
All things pass.
God does not change.
Patience achieves everything.
Whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone suffices.
Christ has no body on earth now but yours;
no hands but yours;
no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes
through which the compassion of Christ
must look out on the world.
Yours are the feet
with which he is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands
with which he is to bless his people.

—-St. Teresa of Avila

National Day of Prayer (as if every day shouldn’t be a day of prayer)

AW Tozer said:
“When I am praying the most eloquently, I am getting the least accomplished in my prayer life. But when I stop getting eloquent and give God less theology and shut up and just gaze upward and wait for God to speak to my heart He speaks with such power that I have to grab a pencil and a notebook and take notes on what God is saying to my heart.” (Success and the Christian, 46-47)

I thought I would just offer a prayer today. Let’s keep it simple.

God,
Let me hear from you, let me be still enough to sense you.
Let me be close to you.
Help me with my sin: Forgiveness for yesterday, strength for today, protection for tomorrow.
Change me.
Help me to obey you, whatever you say, detail by detail.
Help me to bring honor to you.

In the name of Jesus.

The necessity of Joy

I think that joy is an indispensible asset for every leader. It is so easy to get caught up in the intensity of our responsibilities. The weight we carry will, if we are not careful, sink us. I kind of consider joy to be my life vest. When the waves get too high, I hang on to joy for dear life! It keep me floating.

Joy will …
Keep you focused when things go wrong.
Provide the courage to stay with it until the job is accomplished.
Make you aware of the simple blessings.
Help you tell better jokes.
Promote peace of mind, well being and balance.

Without joy …
Life will get you down.
The mole hills will become mountains.
You lose sleep.
You’re no fun to be around.
Your smiles are fake – and people know.

Nehemiah 8:10 “Don’t be sad, because the joy of the LORD will make you strong.” (NCV)

My Top 10 Leadership Challenges – in no particular order

Maintaining focus in face of criticism.
Impatience when there is no perceivable progress.
Limited resources (money, time, people).
Dealing with uncommitted people.
Being too influenced by negative people.
Getting bogged down with minutiae.
Impatience with slow adapters.
Arrogance that I have the answers.
Keeping people (or getting people) motivated.

OK, I know that’s only nine, but I am enjoying an especially good day!

62.4%!

The divorce rate in our county is currently hovering at 62.4% which means that 6 out of 10 couples getting married today in Palm Beach County will fail in their marriage. This stat is quite a bit higher than the national average which is less than 50% divorce rate. It is data like this that fuels my vision for ministry. Families are in crisis. We have to do something.

What makes this come home to me is that I know people, have friends who are giving up on their marriage. People who are Christ followers. People who sit in the church most weeks listening to our teaching about life and the Bible and how it is all supposed to work. Apparently, what we are currently doing is not working. It’s like we have lost respect for marriage and the commitment it requires. We have bought into the lie that divorce is the easy way out. In reality, there are some really hurting people out there; in our county, over 60% of them.

On Friday, I was part of a larger groups of pastors and spiritual leaders in our community that signed a document which pledges us to do something about the divorce rate. The Palm Beach County Healthy Marriage Initiative is an effort to strengthen local church and marriages by providing county-wide standards for performing weddings. The eleven points of the document are as follows:

1. Promote a healthy and biblical model of marriage.
2. Require a minimum of 4 months of preparation.
3. Promotes sexual abstinence outside of marriage.
4. Present the evidence of the negative impact of cohabitation on marriage.
5.Require a minimum of 4 premarital sessions, utilizing both the scriptures and a premarital inventory; and at least two post-marital counseling sessions within the first year of marriage.
6. Enrich existing marriages with an annual event in the local church using videos, marital inventories, or outside speakers.
7. Train “back from the brink” couples whose own marriages once nearly failed to mentor those in current crisis.
8. Reconcile the separated or abandoned with a course, “Marriage 911”
9. Enlist, train, and equip a support system of mature married couples to serve as Marriage Mentors to engaged couples, newlyweds, and those experiencing marital difficulties.
10. Create Stepfamily Support Groups to provide a place of prayer, encouragement and hope to stepfamilies.
11. Partner with other congregations and organizations to share resources and create a positive climate in which marriages can thrive.

Although these standards will be tough to uphold, I am all for the effort. I’m sure some prospective couples will get really ticked but our marriages and families need some help. Maybe we can see a turnaround in the future.