Someone Should Do Something!

Somebody has to step up. There are too many hungry kids in the world. There are too many people dying because of a lack of clean water. Too many people lacking basic health care. Who is going to address the problems the people in our world are facing? With all the talk about showing the love of God to people, do we think that maybe Christians could do something? Should the church be more outspoken, more energized toward action?

In his position paper, A Theology of Social Action, Jerry Redman writes:
All of this points us to popular culture, and many of its leading faces and voices that have decided to use their celebrity, wealth and influence to engage those who value their creativity so that the plights of orphans, AIDS patients, the victims of the Darfur crisis, the homeless, the hungry, etc., are no longer ignored or forgotten. It has been especially true of the Church in America over the last quarter century that we have not been nearly as engaged in changing the fortunes of the socially marginalized as scripture calls us to be, but many of the key figures of popular culture (musicians, actors, artists, and athletes) have drawn significant attention to these unfortunate groups. Beyond the attention they have been able to create, they have also created significant momentum and action on behalf of various social action initiatives. The Church, especially the evangelical segment of the Church in America, can no longer sit on the periphery of these issues and the initiatives that seek to solve them. To do so any longer not only lessens our missional opportunities, but also shows popular culture we do not believe the totality of all we say our faith is about and built upon, especially the specific words of Christ.

Although it addresses may other issues, I love Bridget Willard’s quote about the church: “Church isn’t where you meet. Church isn’t a building. Church is what you do. Church is who you are. Church is the human outworking of the person of Jesus Christ. Let’s not just go to church, let’s be the church.”

Maybe we can stop waiting for someone else to do something. Maybe we can step up and make a difference. One person at a time.

Beautiful

A wonderful lady and member of our church just passed away. She has been sick for some time with cancer. I went to visit her again the day before she died, to say goodbye and to comfort her family. As a pastor, I have had the privilege of these experiences several times, but this one was a little different.

When I got to her home, especially her room, it just seemed beautiful. There was a lot of peace there. I was reminded of a scripture and shared it with one of her daughters: Psalms 116:15 The death of one that belongs to the Lord is precious in his sight. (NCV) This entire process, though painful, is precious. It is precious because God loves her so much and precious because He is taking her home.

She was a woman of grace. She lived her life with dignity. She died the same way. Although she never said a word the morning I was there, while we were praying and worshipping, she lifted her hands in praise to God and wore a big smile. She is now in the presence of God. Beautiful!

Worship Together

I am continually blown away by how many Christ followers have so little interest in worship. This sounds judgmental and legalistic, I know, but a regular occurrence in my week is speaking with people who miss corporate worship opportunities for other events. Obviously, not everyone feels this way but lots of people approach worship services like they are their last option. If no better offers presents itself, they will worship God with fellow believers. If there is an opportunity to skip church, you can count on it!

I am reading again Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, A Discussion of Christian Fellowship. Bonhoeffer was a Christian martyr, giving his life for the cause of Christ, in a German prison camp in 1945. In this classic book, Bonhoeffer deals with the idea that Christian gatherings are a privilege that should be treasured. Some quotes: “It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing.” (p. 18) “The physical presence of other believers is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer”. (p.19) “Let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.” (p.20)

My nephew, Rich, spent three years in China working as a missionary. While he was there he was not able to attend public worship services, the only time he could gather with other believers was in secret, underground worship services. When he returned, I had the opportunity to take him to an outdoor worship service on the beach, (one of our regular services). He was overwhelmed at the freedom, at the pure joy of being able to worship God openly, without fear, with other believers.

Worship should be so much more than an obligatory, perfunctory religious exercise. Worship is encountering God, interacting with Him. When we meet for worship with other believers, it is a family celebration, a time to be treasured.

I guess my prayer is: “God, give us a glimpse of what corporate worship really is, a gift of God’s grace, let us approach it with anticipation and let us treat it with great respect.”

What are you doing on Sunday?

I had a profound worship experience on Sunday. I was able to experience Holy Communion from a different perspective. It happened that during our worship, I was seated next to a friend who is quadriplegic. When time came for us to eat the bread and drink from the cup, I realized that he needed assistance. He does not have full use of his hands. When we ate the bread, I took his wafer and put it in his mouth. Then I put the cup to his mouth while he drank. Our tradition is for each person to handle their own elements, which I think works theologically and symbolically. We each have access to Christ and therefore to the Father. The thought that someone couldn’t help themselves to communion was a bit startling, from a philosophical point of view. I was humbled and touched to be able to share this time of worship with a friend. I was also moved to remember that none of us can gain access to a relationship with God by ourselves. I was also a bit ticked at those of us who are sometimes too tired to stand in the presence of God. My friend who is confined to a wheelchair would give everything he owns to stand in worship to God.

This experience is the best thing that happened to me this weekend. It’s been with me all week.

A Hero

Yesterday, the parents of Navy Seal Michael Monsoor received the nation’s highest military honor, the Medal of Honor. Monsoor is only the third recipient of the honor during the Iraq war.

On Sept. 29, 2006, while on a rooftop in Ramadi, Monsoor had to think fast on his feet when a live hand grenade bounced off his chest. He made the decision to die for those near him, his comrades. He saved the lives of those around him. He jumped on top of the grenade. He was only 25 years old.

What a leader. Something tells me that the decision Monsoor carried out that day was made far in advance of that moment. He had, at some point, determined that he would put others before himself. I bet he had a pattern of doing so. You don’t fall on a grenade unless you have lived your life up to that point giving up your preferences and comforts for those of others.

The concept of servant leadership enters here. The ultimate Servant Leader was Jesus who came to “lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) We are told that in order to live a life of significance, we have to serve others. I don’t think we buy it, but we are aware of the principle.

Michael Monsoor got it. He will be remembered for his bravery. He was a true leader. I might forget his name in a few weeks but His friends on the roof that day won’t.

Can You Shoot Free Throws? The Discipline of the Basics

Last night, on a national stage, the NCAA Basketball Championship finals were held in San Antonio, Texas. The Kansas Jayhawks defeated the Memphis Tigers 75-68 in a very exciting overtime victory. It was a great game and one of the more competitive games of the tournament.

Here’s the deal: Memphis lost the game, in part, because they can’t shoot free throws. For you non-basketball fans, a free throw is basically the chance to shoot an uncontested shot while everyone else just watches. The percentage of success is very high, according to the stats. Free throw success rates are generally 20 – 25% higher than shots taken from other areas of the court. Toward the end of the game, as Kansas started fouling Memphis players (a common strategy in basketball), the Memphis players missed free throw after free throw. All they had to do was make a few of these shots. They didn’t, and they lost because if it.

Following the game, Memphis Coach John Calipari said, “We spend no time thinking about free-throw shooting,” Well, every basketball fan in American knows that.

While I was watching the Tigers fold under the pressure, I was making some leadership analogies. I am wondering how many leaders spend time thinking about and working on the basics. In basketball, the basics are dribbling, passing and shooting free throws. In leadership, maybe the basics are communication, being an example and responsible living.

I watched Memphis play a few games earlier this season. I wasn’t crazy about their style. Oh, they were a very dominant team, losing only one game prior to the finals. But they were showboats. Lots of talk, lots of taunting other players and teams. True, they were awesome at slam dunking, really exciting to watch as they dribbled behind their backs and made the cool no-look passes. But they can’t shoot free throws. And it cost them big time.

All they had to do was discipline themselves to the basics.

Can you shoot free throws?

A Shortcut to Credibility

One of the most important factors in becoming a leader in any organization is credibility. Most people will not follow a person who is not believable. Trust is indispensable. These elements of leadership take lots of time to develop. Many leaders grow impatient with the process necessary in order to gain trust from their followers.

There is a way to shortcut this process. While no leader hopes for it, crisis has the potential to expedite the evolution of credibility. How a leader responds and leads in times of crisis has a way of fast-forwarding the growth of one’s plausibility. The greater the crisis, the greater the potential effect.

Be ready to act. Position yourself to respond in strong and decisive ways. It is difficult, if not impossible, to anticipate the specifics of the next crisis. While you may not know the characteristics of the emergency that waits around the next corner, you can prepare yourself in general terms. Essentials like steadiness, courage and foresight are necessary. You can’t wait until crisis strikes to develop these strengths.

Begin now. Get yourself ready. Be positioned to act. Not only will you behave as a leader when tough times come, but you will also enjoy more credibility today. The things that make you a great leader in bad times will also make you a great leader right now.