How To Have A Drama Free Thanksgiving

When should a Christian speak up and when should they shut up?

At the time of this writing it is just a few days away from Thanksgiving.  It’s a time of year we get to spend time with our family, be thankful, and argue meaningless politics over a family meal.  Whether it is at the dinner table or on social media, our culture is full of political opinions and division.

As a Christian how do we balance Romans 12:18 which says, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone,” with our great desire to tell everyone we know our great wisdom on who to vote for that will save the country?

My friends and family are like yours; they are passionate about political issues. As a pastor I often wrestle with when to speak up and when to shut up.  I am a person who speaks more than I listen. This can get me in trouble.

The older (and hopefully wiser) I get the more I keep my mouth (and social media account) shut when it comes to political opinions. There are no lack of pastors and spiritual leaders speaking into politics. Some even run for office themselves.
Jesus told His followers how to live but that is not the same as telling a nation how to govern. The disciples of Jesus and the crowds on multiple occasions tried to make Jesus their political leader (king). He would have none of it. He clearly showed the path to have, ‘God’s Kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is In Heaven’ was not through any political means. It would be through His disciples living differently and sharing the gospel that would be the change agent in the world. Christians would not take up arms but lay down their lives as sheep to the slaughter.

Here are a few things I am learning from watching years of endless political debate on TV, online and in person.

Political debates/arguments are almost never helpful and almost always cause further division.

Whether you believe the President is an orange buffoon or if you believe that Hillary Clinton should be locked up, or both, telling everyone probably will change no ones mind.  I know that when I put something on social media I have many friends with many different political beliefs. I don’t want to risk a greater wedge between a potential friend and myself over a fruitless argument. I would rather be a bridge builder than a wedge driver. The gospel of Jesus is by its very nature offensive. The gospel reveals our sin in order to give us the good news of repentance and faith in Jesus. Politics just divide and hurt.  I see it everyday online from all parties.

Jesus chose to stay out of explicitly political arguments and this is a great principle for me to follow.

Jesus always spoke spiritual truth. When He would address spiritual issues of the day it would often bleed over into addressing the political issues of the day. He could not have been clearer about the fact that His kingdom was not of this world. Ours should not be either.

Both Parties have flawed platforms

The fear of elevating a party and arguing its points is that you can become part of group thinking that never opposes your party.   I often disagree with policies and people on both sides of the aisle.  As a Christian, you should too.

My job is to speak Biblical truth and when that spills over then it spills over but it should not be my aim to get tied up in political arguments.

If someone really cares about my opinion about a political matter then they will ask me. If they ask me I will tell them.  For a Christian the goal of life is not to support an elephant or donkey. We have allegiance to a Lamb. We lay down our lives so that others may know Him. My political leaning could be a stumbling block for people knowing Jesus. I don’t want to be a stumbling block.

A few guiding questions:

Is speaking about politics your calling? 

God specifically calls out people to speak to certain issues.  If this is you, then go for it, but this is not most of us.

Is this helpful?

Is what you’re about to say going to help anyone or is it just sharing your opinion?  

Did you take a day to think about the repercussions?

Most of the time when share something that offends or “triggers” others it is because we did it in hast.  Whatever you share on the Internet is forever…even if you delete it. Screenshots can be made of whatever you post and can come back to hurt you later.  If you think your post might cause unnecessary division then take a night to think and pray about whether to say or post it.

Does your spouse think you should say/post it?

My wife is great at telling me what is and what is not helpful…if I would just listen to her.

Will this drive an unnecessary wedge between you and your friends and family?

Will people you love lose respect for you because of your engagement in this discourse?

One of the hardest things about the last Presidential cycle was how many spiritual heroes I lost great respect for because of how they voiced their political opinions.  In my eyes many of those leaders showed blatant hypocrisy in their politics.  These are leaders that I now no longer look up to as I once did.  I do not want what I think politically to make me lose spiritual influence with someone who may look up to me.

When it boils down to it the Thumper rule is always a powerful rule.  You remember Thumper from the movie Bambi.  His mother told him, “Thumper, if you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all.”    If we all lived by the Thumper rule oh how different our world might be.

Screen Shot 2018-11-19 at 6.35.39 AM.pngSo for the most part, I will simply keep my mouth shut about things political.  I will speak for life and I will speak for issues, but I will try to stay above the drama and hurt.  There is a wise Proverb from the Bible that can really help when it comes to this area of life.

Proverbs 17:27-28 “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.  Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”

After looking at everything, if you are still unsure whether you should speak up or not…it is probably best to just keep it to yourself.

 

 

 

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Find A Life Speaker

High school is a crucial time in everyone’s life as you are really navigating what it means to be a young adult and what you are supposed to do with life.  Coach Miller was one of my high school football coaches that led our FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) and every time he saw me in the hallway he would smile and say, “Hermann, you’re a winner!”  I don’t know if he meant it, but when he said it, I believed it.  He made me feel like a winner.  I have always wanted to make others feel that way.

Who is in your life that is a voice that reminds you of who you can and should be?

We all want to live life well and one of the best ways we can do that is to find someone who is ahead of us and learn from them.  This is literally what the word disciple means in the New Testament.  A disciple was someone who followed someone else.

I read somewhere that you become like the 5 people with whom you spend the most time.  Think about those 5 people.  Are those 5 people the people you want to be like?  The next season of your life may look a lot like the current season of the people you are following.

One of my high school Sunday school teachers was also one of my football coaches and he told me when I was 15 that I was going to be a preacher.  He saw something in me that I did not see in myself that sparked a dream in my life to tell others about the hope of Jesus.

Another pivitol voice in my life was my current Pastor.  13 years ago when I was just a young man about to get married he called me and said he saw something in me and wanted me to consider coming to be part of the ministry staff of the church I currently serve in.  I told him, “No.”  He did not take no for an answer and kept pursing me.  I eventually said yes and it forever changed my life.

Thoughts become things and words become worlds.  The people that you allow to speak into your life will be the ones that shape your future.

Who are your mentors?

Jesus had 12 that He invested in.  The Apostle Paul was always bringing others along the journey with him.

A mentor will tell you the truth when you don’t want to hear it.   They will try to say it in a way that you can receive it.

A mentor will encourage you when you get down.

A mentor will give you wisdom from their life that you don’t yet have.  They let you borrow their wisdom and make it your own.

A good mentor will show you how to live well.

I am blessed to serve on a team where the four men I serve with are all around ten years older than me. All of them have families that I want to emulate.  All of them are great husbands.  They are great fathers.  All of them have been faithful like I want to be.  They mentor me each week whether they know it or not.

Who is your mentor?  When you look at all the relationships in your life, find those people in your circle of influence that stand out as someone you would aspire to be.  Hang around those people.   Ask them for some of their most precious resource, their time.  If you ask them for their time then don’t waste it.

Listen to them.

Learn from them.

Live better.

Repeat.

Write down three names that come to mind of people you would like to have invest in you.  Make a plan this week to make first contact with them about potentially helping you become a better you.

Lessons From The Bouncy House

As a parent, I see a bouncy house as a huge air inflated, germ infested, loud, injury waiting to happen. However, all my kids see is FUN!  Recently, our church had a block party complete with, you guessed it, bouncy houses.   My kids were overjoyed with excitement, particularly my 4 year old.  Joy (my 4 year old) was ready to conquer all of the bouncy houses.   She quickly ran from one to the next with excitement overload, as she couldn’t decide which one she wanted to try first.   She knew nothing of the lines of children who were politely waiting their turn. She ran right to the front of the line as if they had all been waiting just for her.  Each time I would pick her up and take her to the back of the line and instruct her that she needed to wait like everyone else.

Lesson One: Waiting Is Hard.

For some reason, my daughter thought she was entitled to the front of the line.  She thought, in her little 4-year-old mind, that it was her party and everyone else

IMG_1086was just an extra.  As a parent, most of my days are spent trying to teach my children a lesson that I am still learning.  Here is the lesson: this is not your party and the world does not revolve around you. From the time we are born we have a selfish inclination to want to put ourselves at the front of the line.  We would rather others wait than we wait.  To follow Jesus means you let others go first. The Bible teaches us to do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility we should think of others as more important than ourselves.   The good thing about waiting is that if you take the time to look around, God has probably put you in line with people you can make friends with.  The wait may be better than the bouncy house.

Lesson Two: Obstacles Are Part Of Life.  Tackle Them With Excitement.

I loved watching Joy continue to get knocked down and bounce right back up and keep going.  She has always been very resilient.  She tried to climb the wall of the obstacle course and fell multiple times.  She smiled and giggled and got back up and tried again.   I know that life is no bouncy house.  Over the years I have also learned that so much of life is not about the obstacles in our lives, but about how we respond to them.  Life is really hard.  Life is better for those who can keep getting up and moving forward.  I wonder if you and I might make more progress in life if we had a different attitude towards obstacles.

Joy did not let the obstacles slow her down or discourage her, and neither should we.  We should know that on this crazy bouncy house called life we are going to fall, get knocked over and even get run over.   Get up.  Smile.  Move forward.

Lost your job, get up and find a new one.

Lost your hope, it may be right over the next obstacle.  Keep moving forward.

Friends let you down, find some new ones.

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You get the idea.

What is the obstacle of life today that is knocking you down?   Identify it, acknowledge it, make a plan and move forward.

For the Christian, the Bible gives hope and meaning to the obstacles we face.   It says, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.  And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.  And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”

Lesson 3: You Might Not Want Help But You Need It

Her favorite bouncy was the obstacle course.  This was a big one with lots of little areas she had to go through and climb over.  I was nervous about Joy going on this obstacle course because she is small for her age and she has Down Syndrome, both of which Joy is completely oblivious.   I didn’t want her to get hurt as older and bigger children raced through the course.   I did what I often do.  I sent her big brother (Ty) with her to make sure she would make it through safely.

Joy is very headstrong and stubborn.   She would not quit, but there were a couple of barriers that no matter how hard she tried she wasn’t going to get over them.  She didn’t want help but she needed it.

She couldn’t quite make it over a certain wall so her big brother gave her a gentle nudge (yeah right, more like a mighty shove).  This was enough to help her make it to the next obstacle.  It does something to a father’s heart to see one sibling helping another.

There are times in our life when we all need help!

When the obstacles of life come along and we get stuck, we need a gentle push, or a helpful hand to pull us through.   Sometimes we need a mighty shove!  So many people get stuck and can’t move because they don’t have anyone to help them along.  They’ve chosen to isolate themselves and they think they can make it through life by themselves, but they can’t.

None of us can.

My little daughter with special needs will always need help, but so will all my other children.  They will all experience hurt, disappointment, setbacks, fears, and the hardship of life.  This is why family is important.  This is why a church family is important is as well.

The Bible says “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.”

It blows my mind to think that we are more connected than ever and yet people feel lonelier than ever. The suicide rates in the US keep going up as more and more people find themselves hopeless.  We all have a deep need for the help of others but most of us are too prideful or afraid to ask.  God hardwired the need for friendship and community into every person.

If you have made it to an obstacle in life and you keep trying but keep getting knocked down, it’s time to ask for help.

Start with your family. If you have someone in your family that will help you, reach out to them and ask for help.

There is another family that is often stronger then blood relatives, it’s a church family.   Many times people are estranged from their own family and don’t feel they have anywhere to turn.  If you find yourself in that situation go to a local church. Meet some people.  Find a friend.   A loving church is the best place in the world to find real community.

I would love to meet you at Christ Place Church.  You can find out how to find some friends here www.christplace.com

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The Glamorous Life Of A Pastor

If you are considering a call of God on your life to be a pastor or Christian leader, I would encourage you to count the cost and then remember that Jesus is worth it all.

If you are wondering if God is calling you into a vocational ministry role then maybe this will help you.

I had a lot of dreams growing up of what I wanted to be. As a small child I wanted to be a professional football player.   Size and skill would not make that possible. Then, I set my sights to be an artist or a comedian. I loved to draw and make people laugh. That didn’t work out either, but there was one career that was never on my radar.

I never wanted to be a pastor.

Not that being a pastor was a bad thing, I just saw pastors as people that weren’t real people. They had to live differently than everyone else. Growing up, my pastor was well known in the community, a strong leader and a wise sage all rolled into one.  His career was not like other people who had normal jobs. He was set apart. He was my pastor. He was an honored man. The calling to be a pastor would have been like the calling to go to Mars. It just wasn’t something I saw myself ever doing. It wasn’t something I could ever see myself as worthy of doing.

It’s really interesting how God has a way of guiding your path. Growing up I went to church because my mom and dad loved Jesus and that’s just what we did. We never missed. I didn’t particularly like going to church, but when I was around 15 my Sunday School teacher, who was also one of my high school football coaches, told me one day out of the blue, “Hermann, you going to be a preacher one day.”

The seed was planted.

I had never once thought in my life about being a preacher but that little statement would be a mustard seed planted in my heart that would be watered in the coming years.

When I was 16, I begrudgingly went to church youth camp at my mom’s request.

It was at that camp that God really captured my heart.

It was during that week of my life that I gave God my “yes” to whatever He wanted from me.

It was at that camp that I heard that still small voice of God watering the seed of faith that was planted a year earlier from my coach.

I talked to my youth pastor and told him I thought God might be calling me into ministry.   He committed with me to pray about it. I spent a year praying and asking God if that was what I was supposed to do. I returned to High school with a new passion to honor God with my life. I became friends with a guy I had known all my life but never really liked.   His name was Carson. That summer Carson had a very similar experience at a different youth camp and was committed to being a pastor.   Carson and I played football together against each other and we became inseparable friends. It’s neat how God does that.   We helped lead our local Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Youth group, and we even started a morning bible study at the local McDonalds for other students to attend.

As time went by we went to junior college and Bible College together. Now I am 20 years down the road since those days in high school.   Thanks to God’s mercy, Carson and I are both still Pastors. Carson is the pastor of a church in Wrens, Georgia and I am a staff pastor at a great church in Flowery Branch, Georgia.

Ministry is not at all what I had in mind at age 16. When I said yes to the call to ministry I thought I was saying yes to be a preacher.   I wanted to boldly proclaim the word of God, like Billy Graham, and see thousands of people respond in faith to my great preaching. Well, it didn’t take long to find out that ministry is much different than what I had in mind. I have always loved to preach but preaching is a very small portion of what happens during the week.   Preaching is what every pastor is passionate about and would do for free.

The ministry is so much more than preaching.

It’s hard.

It can be brutal and not many people last.

The average tenure for a pastor in America is less than 2 years! Ministry is not for the faint of heart.

Here are some things I have learned over the years of what ministry really looks like. If you are contemplating a life of serving Jesus in vocational ministry then you should take time to read this list and see if God has gifted and wired you to represent Him in vocational ministry. This is what they never told me.

No one told me that I would have to visit the house of a 12-year-old boy whose mother had just been murdered and try to help him find some kind of comfort.

No one told me that people would appear to love me and my family but would turn to despise us because I might do something that they didn’t agree with.

No one told me that Church people are mostly loving and amazing but there is a small pocket in every church that are mean as angry snakes and they will spew their venom towards the pastor. You still have to love those people.

No one told me that I would get to name a baby on a mission trip in India.

No one told me what it would be like to preach at churches in Haiti that were overcrowded and dark and dusty.

No one told me about having to beg a customs agent to let the mission team I was leading into Canada because of a misunderstanding.

No one told me what it would be like to be in the room of a person who is dying and looking to you for comfort and words of peace.

No one told me about how hard it would be to preach the funerals of those you deeply love.

No one told how much joy I would feel when I got to marry young couples that I had known for years.

No one told me the joy of watching those couples I married start families and teach their children about the love of Jesus.

No one told me about the endless phone calls, visits and emails to try to help plug people into the church.

No one told me how ministry would affect my family. No one told me that when people spoke ill of me it would hurt my wife twice as much as it hurt me.   No one told me that my children would always have unrealistic expectations set on them by others simply because their dad was a pastor.

No one told me how hard it would be to visit a couple that I love who just delivered a stillborn child.

No one told me what it would be like to be sick in India and try to preach through sickness in a foreign country with an interpreter.

No one told me how hard it would be to see friends who you went to Bible College with become a statistic of pastors who didn’t make it.

No one told me how it would feel to know of 1000 needs and only be able to help a few.

No one told me what it would feel like to be robbed while on a mission trip in a third world country.

No one told me that my life would consist mostly of meetings to further the work of the ministry.

No one told me that my best work would not be done in the pulpit, but in the trenches of having hard conversations with people who needed someone to be honest with them.

No one told me of the heart wrenching conversations I would have with so many couples who were on the brink of divorce that were looking to me to help them keep it together.

No one told me how hard it is to deal with suicide, how hard it is to help a family that is so destroyed and broken and angry all at once.

No one told me how hard it would be to know the words to say to comfort broken people when I was the first on the scene after tragedy struck.

No one told me about the joy I would experience to see middle school students that I had the chance to invest in grow up and serve Jesus.

No one told me about the frustration and helplessness you can feel in a church business meeting.

No one told me of the joy I would receive when I would go to the hospital to meet new babies that were born.

No one told me about how much fun it would be to work together with people I love to see a big vision come together.

No one told me about the satisfying joy of seeing a family changed by the power of the gospel.

No one told me of the countless hours of study and continuing education it would take to be a pastor.

No one told me how I would wake up each day energized to go to work knowing that the Gospel I carry can change a person’s life.

No one told me that I would get to work with some of the world’s most awesome people.

No one told me how much the church would love and embrace my family and meet our every need.

No one told me how amazing it is to baptize a new believer.

There was so much I didn’t know…I couldn’t know.

I could go on and on for days about the up and downs of this hard calling to ministry.   I was told not to get into ministry unless God would allow me to do nothing else.   I was told not to do it unless I was sure I was called. The life of full time vocational ministry is not always easy, but it is always worth it!   I would not trade it for the world.

I am so grateful to be called Pastor.

If you are considering a call of God on your life to be a pastor or Christian leader, I would encourage you to count the cost and then remember that Jesus is worth it all.

I have had many people ask me, “What is it that you do during the week?” Well, come spend a week with me and I will be glad to show you.

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Maybe A Tweet Won’t Solve Mass Shootings

As everyone else in our country, I have been heartbroken and burdened over the latest school shooting in Florida that has left 17 dead. One of the most heartbreaking things in regards to this shooting was the lack of shock I felt. There have been so many mass shootings in the last few years that it has made me somewhat numb, almost expecting another one to happen.

To match heartbreak with frustration, enter social media. In a matter of minutes there is no lack of political pundits and celebrities chiming in with simple solutions to a complex problem. The answer to ending mass school shootings is gun control, they say.   With emotional pleas from broken hearted parents who have just lost their children they say if you just ban “assault rifles” then all of this will stop.

I wish it were that easy. I wish congress could just pass a law that bans a certain type of firearm and then all the killings would end.   However, if you grew up in the country, like me, then you know a semiautomatic weapon is what the media is referring to as an assault rifle. Pretty much every hunting rifle could fall under the category of assault rifle. The AR-15’s that the media likes to show pictures of just look more menacing because of the tactical shell in which they are cased.   Wood hunting rifles that look less ominous can carry the same magazines and shoot just as many bullets in just as fast a time. To ban ‘assault rifles’ would mean that you ban pretty much every gun but a single shot, and I don’t see that happening.   But if it would end children getting killed in our schools then I would be for it.   If that were the simple solution…but it’s not.

The problem is much more complex and the answer to solving it much deeper than a law.

Young deranged white men do most mass shootings. I am sure all of these young men have some level of mental illness, but mental illness, like a cancer to the body, can be fed and fostered in a number of ways.

I think the problem goes deeper than just these young white deranged men.   I think it flows broader into frustrated and angry young men in general. The man crisis in our culture is hitting critical mass and the fall out is not pretty.

We are reaping the harvest of a fatherless generation and I am afraid we are not yet at the tipping point.

As University of Virginia Professor Brad Wilcox pointed out back in 2013: “From shootings at MIT (i.e., the Tsarnaev brothers) to the University of Central Florida to the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga., nearly every shooting over the last year in Wikipedia’s ‘list of U.S. school attacks’ involved a young man whose parents divorced or never married in the first place.”

It’s not just these young white men who are struggling, they just find a way to show their angst against the world in a very public way by hurting as many innocent people as possible.

The effects of fatherlessness are epidemic in most communities in the United States.

I found this interesting, “Two of the strongest correlations with gun homicides are growing up in a fatherless household and dropping out of school, which itself is directly related to lack of an active or present father. There’s a direct correlation between fatherless children and teen violence. It’s no coincidence that, much like the number of fatherless children, the number of mass shootings has exploded since the 1960s. Throughout the entire 1960s, six mass shootings took place. That number doubled in 1970. Heck, 2012 alone saw more mass shootings than the sixties did.”

Without a father young men have no direction. When young men have no direction and purpose they move to extremes. They cut ties with what is traditional masculinity. They embrace a homosexual lifestyle or become transgender. There is a clear correlation with the rise of both of these lifestyles to the rise of fatherlessness.   They grasp for their need to fit in and they don’t know how. The other extreme is to become violent, join a gang, become a criminal, or in extreme cases become a mass shooter. When men grow up with no father for an example they fill in the gaps on their own.

Everything in culture tells these men that they no longer have a place.   In fact, for young white men the message is clear, you are the enemy. They are told that they are the problem. They are told they are part of the white patriarchy that oppresses everyone else. For fragile unguided minds that are already inclined to mental illness, they start to believe it, then they learn to hate the world, hate themselves, and hate being. They are full of anger and rage and instead of just ending their own lives they want to hurt others in the process. They want to be remembered as they feel they have been marginalized all of their lives.   So they hurt others. They hurt as many as they can.

Fatherlessness is not the only factor involved. There are a number of other factors that I think we would be foolish to overlook:

Games – Most young teenage boys (especially white ones) spend countless hours shooting people virtually in very realistic games. It becomes second nature to them to pull the virtual trigger.

Movies and Shows – Have you heard of this little thing called Netflix?   Countless hours of watching shows that have become increasingly more sickening, brutal and graphic.   Young men are drawn to these shows about death and murder. There are tons of programs out there that actually show how real crimes were committed.   Again these are fertilizers to a sick mind.

Social Media – Tells young men they do not measure up and allow them to connect with extremist groups that will fan the flame of their sickness. The rise of ‘alt’ left and ‘alt’ right groups has only increased the evil and hatred in the world.

Atheism – Atheism says you are the source for your morality. The Bible teaches that every person is born as a sinner. At our core we are not good, but evil. The cure to evil is repentance and faith in Jesus. As Christians we live in pursuit of a holy life as defined by the life of Jesus. He is our model and example. For the Atheist he is only accountable to his on set of morals, whatever he chooses.   These morals are shaped by whatever he is putting into his mind (I.E. Games, movies, shows, social media) and deems as moral. We took God out of schools and have warned teachers not to mention faith.   I imagine there are so many kids who could have found a better way, if only schools were allowed to offer it.

The devaluing of human life – We live in a culture that legally kills almost 400,000 babies a year.   This permeates a society that says the highest value is whatever I desire, even if it means taking the life of others.   If a mother can take her own child’s life then why should anyone else be limited?

Radical Feminism – This ideology teaches men that just for being born they are to be hated and despised.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive. I am sure there are a number of other factors that contribute to each mass shooting. I am sure each case has many individual nuances.

In my opinion the one big smoking gun is not the gun, it is the absence of a loving and guiding father in the home.

How do we stop mass shootings?

The answer is pretty simple, cross cultural, and long term.

This is a simple Bible answer: Don’t have sex until you’re married (this ends the need for abortion). When you are married, love your spouse.   Stay married even when it’s hard.   Raise your children to love God first and love their neighbors as themselves. Don’t leave when things get hard!

The answer may just be the family!

Screen Shot 2018-02-17 at 5.21.29 AM.pngI can remember maybe 15 years ago hearing Dr. James Dobson saying something to the effect of, “when you destroy the family, you will destroy society as we know it.” The prophesy is unveiling before our eyes.

Why Change?

I’ve been fortunate to experience many cultures in the world. Most of the places I’ve been were on mission trips. It’s a humbling and frightening experience to go to a place a long way from your home and meet people you’ve never met before that think very unlike you.

I think the most dissimilar place I’ve been is India. The smell is the first thing you notice when you get off the plane. There is always the smell of smoke in the air (this is also true of Haiti). All the food is very spicy with tons of curry powder.   The people of India have a head bobble that is not up and down but kind of all around and it can mean a number of different things.   The people are so humble that few of them look you in the eye. Most of the people I met lived in extreme poverty. Many of the people had actual physical idols that they worshipped in their homes.   There are millions of gods that are worshipped in India. The roads are chaotic, filled with cars, bikes, people, cows and anything else you can imagine.   It’s hot, really hot.

In all of the diversity of this place the thing that stood out to me so clearly is all the things I had in common with the people of India. Finding common ground was not hard and when I met the people face to face I felt a great love for them. In order to tell them the message of Jesus I had to contextualize it.

I had to figure out a way to explain the Gospel message in a way that they could understand.

When I was preaching I couldn’t use the same American jokes. Those jokes didn’t make sense to them. They have a certain way to dress that is not like how I would normally dress. Our team prepared for months in advance learning little things about the culture so that we would not offend our hosts when we were there. At first it was uncomfortable to me because I had to change my preferences in order to connect with these wonderful people. I never really liked the food in India, but I ate it because our hosts, who had little to eat, gave it sacrificially. In the end, the value of the relationships I gained and the souls that were saved far outweighed the light and temporary afflictions I faced as a result of changing things that were preferential and normal to me.

This is really just what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9: 19 “Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. 20 When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law.21 When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. 22 When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.23 I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.”

When we think of change in the context of being a missionary then it seems obvious that a change in our behavior and approach is needed. When we think of change in the context of the culture in which we live we cling to our preferences.

Why?

I can think of a couple of reasons:

First, we know that when we go on a mission trip it is usually short term so we endure change for a small season knowing we will go back to what is normal. 

Second, and maybe more telling, we don’t see where we live as a mission field.We stop contextualizing and we just live. We stop reaching out to our culture and we start cursing the culture for being lost.   We want them to be like us. We see our American Christian subculture crumbling before us. This frightens most long time Christians who’ve grown up in the south.   Because of this we see our changing culture and the people in it as the enemy instead of the reason for the church.

I don’t like change unless it’s change I like. That may sound a little funny but here is what I mean.   There are some changes I like but all the changes I like are the changes I dictate in my life. I usually don’t like change when I feel like I am losing something that is out of my control.

I have heard it said that people don’t fear change they fear loss.

I work at a church and I see this pretty often. Our church has been in a season of change and some people don’t like the changes. These are good people, many of who I look up to. These are Godly people but they like what they like and sometimes changes are just hard.

It is hard to like something and have it taken away. (certain traditions, musical style, buildings, programs, musical instruments, lighting, even names, etc…)

It is hard when the church is the central hub of your spiritual and social life and it changes on you.

It is hard when your preference is no longer the church’s emphasis.

These are all hard things, so…

Why Change?

The answer is pretty simple. We change in order to attempt to better reach people for Jesus.

Changing to chase a fad is a reckless.
Changing to copy someone else is shallow.
Changing out of personal preference is superficial.
Changing to water down the message is sinful.  
Changing to upset people is wrong.

When it all gets down to the simplest level we change in order to honor God and reach people. As a Christian when we come to Christ we enter a season of change called sanctification. It’s the process of us becoming like Christ.

Less of me, more of Him.
Less of my wants, more obedience.
Less of my plans, more of His.

This whole process is very uncomfortable. Like the caterpillar struggling to free itself from its cocoon, we struggle to be more like Christ.

We change in order to reach people but where is the line?   When is the change too much? When do we need to be afraid that the church is just becoming like the culture instead of reaching the culture? These are very important questions that church going Christian people should be asking.

I believe there are at least two simple lines.

The first is the scripture. Churches must never compromise or violate the scripture in order to reach people. The message never changes. If the church begins to water down the gospel then the church is in trouble.

The second is sin. Churches must not engage in sinful activities in order to reach sinners.Jesus modeled this perfectly.   He was constantly around sinners yet without sin. Jesus preached to all who would listen, but only those who repented in faith became children of God.  The church must open wide the doors for the message to be heard, but only those who repent and believe become part of the church.

The Apostle Paul was a man that knew about changing. He went from a Jew of Jews to a man called to reach the Gentile (Pagan) world.   I am sure he had to do things that he never thought he would have to do. His life was constantly changing as he went from one area to another.

He was willing to do whatever it took to reach people for Christ. I know he was often criticized. Paul himself said, “There is a wide-open door for a great work here, although many oppose me.”

It is hard for all of us to accept change but we must be willing to ask the question of ourselves, “Am I struggling with the change because it is a deviation from scripture or leading our church to sin or am I struggling with change because I am losing my preference?”

It is ok to be upset that you lose something of the past that was precious to you, but remember that to live in the past prevents a better future.Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 6.16.21 AM

Let’s struggle together as we see God’s church reach more people with the Gospel.

 

My Daughter Rides The Short Bus

People who ride the short bus are strong. They have to overcome challenges that typical children do not have to overcome.

The short bus is the bus that carries children with special needs to and from school. It’s short because each person on the bus needs some individual attention so the numbers of students on the bus are limited. When I was a kid growing up we made jokes about the short bus. When someone would do something senseless we might say they rode the short bus.

I never thought about the actual people on the short bus.

This week my daughter started riding the bus…the short bus.

You see as a kid I just did what all the other kids did. I made fun of those on the short bus. Those with special needs and those who are disabled are easy targets for ridicule by foolish young children.   What we don’t understand we fear or mock.

Oh how my perspective has changed. Now I am a dad who has a daughter that rides the short bus.   The short bus is different for me now. It is not filled with people to be made fun of; it is filled with treasure, the treasure of precious lives.

You see my daughter is ‘special.’   My daughter, Joy, has Down syndrome.  I feel like Down syndrome is such a misunderstood word in our culture.   Joy is so much more alike than different.

She is so wonderful I can’t adequately explain her. She wants to sit in my lap every morning and eat little bites.   She brings books and puzzles to me each night to read and put together. She loves to sing and loves to dance. She loves when her sisters chase her around the house. She loves piggy back rides from her big brother as he runs as fast as he can with her on his back shouting, “Yay!!” She wakes up early before all of her siblings and she knocks on the door (because is has child lock that she cannot get out of) and she will yell, “DADDY!” until I go and let her out. She is very independent. She’s beautiful and loving. She is sooo loving. Last year in her preschool class she won the award for, “Best Hugger.” When her preschool class performs she steals the show with her sparkling personality. Parents of other kids her age that are in her class tell me often how their child loves Joy and constantly talks about her. I wouldn’t change a thing about Joy (well maybe her obstinance).  She is so much more than a rider on the short bus.

Having a daughter with special needs has really taught me to look deeper into people then what is on the outside, or what diagnosis they have.

Having a daughter that rides the short bus has opened up my mind and heart to see the incredible people inside the short bus.

People who ride the short bus are strong. They have to overcome challenges that typical children do not have to overcome. Some of their challenges are physical, some are mental, some are emotional, and some have all three.

Mrs. Judy drives our short bus. She is a kind and loving woman. She has tried to get Joy on her bus for over a year, but truth be told, I just didn’t want to give her up. The bus would make my life easier but it means I don’t get mornings in the car with Joy. She told me she would put off retirement another year if I would give her Joy.   Wow! Mrs. Judy gets it!   She sees such value in each and every life that she carries on her “special” bus.   She gives her heart and soul into investing into those little children. The first day Joy rode the bus Mrs. Judy had new clothes for her that she bought her (not your typical bus driver).   Judy is a gem, but I believe she would tell you that those children give her more than she could ever give them. They give her their love.

I am so thankful for the Short Bus.

Can I give you a challenge today?   Will you be careful to see every person as valuable?

The Bible teaches us that we are all made in the image of God. Every person has so much value and worth…if we would just take the time to see it.