Accomplish more and attempt less

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Photo credit:  DesiringGod.org

I want to share a quote from a sermon delivered by Charles Spurgeon in 1871. Is it a coincidence that if you flip 71 it becomes 17, as in 2017?? Yes, it is. Nothing supernatural there.

Charles Spurgeon has been dubbed the Prince of Preachers. (If you’re interested in his writings or life, Midwestern Seminary has done a service to us all here.) Being the Prince of Preachers means Spurgeon brought the Word of God to life in a way you and I, well, don’t. Not because we aren’t filled with the same Spirit, but because God uses different people in different ways. You’re not the next Spurgeon any more than I am the next anyone else. You’re you. I’m me.

If you aren’t a pastor, preacher, teacher but happen to read this, the point is just as applicable. It holds true for moms who find food in the strangest of places and executives who are prepping that $300,000,000 deal. There’s no difference in God’s eyes, by the way. Don’t be fooled on either side, whether rolling in dollars or diapers.

Preaching on prayer, Spurgeon made the audacious claim that

The more we do, the more we should pray…it should be the life-blood of every action, and saturate our entire life…I fear that some of us would do far more if we attempted less and prayed more about it.

  • What if, as pastors, we devoted less time to strategic planning and more to praying strategically?
  • What if, as teachers, we thought less about making points and more about pointing to the Maker?
  • What if, as parents, we resolved to be less busied with activity and more active in the business of prayer?

Is it possible that we would accomplish far more if we attempted far less but saturated all that we did do in prayer?

 

It’s not sexy, but it is beautiful

pexels-photo-29751I have been following the Bible Project’s Read Scripture plan this year and have enjoyed it. I probably would enjoy a little more of an Old Testament / New Testament mix, but overall it’s been good to journey from cover to cover (with a repeat trip through the Psalms along the way).

I started in Jeremiah a couple of days ago and cannot for the life of me think of why I haven’t come back to this historical/prophetic record on a regular basis.

Jeremiah is given a pretty gritty ministry by the Lord. He does what the Lord says, and each time gets abused for it, more or less.

We shouldn’t be surprised considering the nature of prophetic ministry laid out for him. More than predicting the future (prophecy), prophetic ministry is about holding people to account in the present, that is, holding up the standard of God as a measuring line for all else.

What’s that look like for Jeremiah?

It’s not about health and wealth.

Jeremiah 1.10 See, I have appointed you today over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and demolish, to build and plant

  1. Uproot and tear down
  2. Destroy and demolish
  3. Build and plant

This prophetic calling is not a recipe for winning friends. Numbers 1 and 2 have to happen before 3. Which means upsetting, offending, and angering a lot of folks.

It means, for instance, telling people they have abandoned the fountain of living water and instead dug cracked cisterns for themselves that are incapable of holding water, let alone the bitter waters of flaccid saviors and fleeting satisfactions (the Nile and Euphrates).

             We dig leaky wells, too. Our Nile and Euphrates tend to be consumable,    wearable, edible, or achievable, but oh do we dig…

The prophet calls this futile effort what it is and lays out a vision of the God-shaped alternative.

Reading the first chapters of Jeremiah calls to mind the ministry of Jesus. Like him or not, Jesus was bold. Jesus didn’t play favorites or pull punches.

In true prophetic fashion, Jesus uprooted and tore down established religious practices, destroyed and demolished entrenched religious beliefs.

He did so in view of building up something new. If all you do is demolish, you aren’t prophetic. You’re just a jerk.

Jesus demolished the religious soil of his day and planted the seed of a new people. But, for the seed to grow, it first had to die.

Writing about persecution of Christians throughout the Roman Empire, the ancient theologian Tertullian penned an indelible depiction of this death to life phenomenon: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

How did a movement catalyzed by a criminalized Jewish mystic and carried on by a ragtag band of misfits from the margins ever make it out of the first century? Not by political force or entrepreneurial prowess.

No. It was by faithful devotion to the way of Jesus, the way he modeled.

It is not sexy. But it is beautiful. 

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If you are in Christ, you have prophetic blood flowing through your veins. You, too, are seed.

What could it look like for you to give your life’s blood for something that will outlast your carbon footprint?

 

 

 

Are you a peacemaker or peacekeeper?

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pexels.com

Jesus once said, Blessed are the peacekeepers, for…” Wait. No, no, no. He didn’t say that.

Jesus actually said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Yep, that’s what he said.

David invites those who want long life to “seek peace and pursue it.” In other words, be a peacemaker.

But is there really a difference between peacemaking and peacekeeping? I think so, especially in my southern context.

Southerners–especially church going Southerners–tend towards peacekeeping.

  • Which basically means don’t say or do anything that might upset someone, even if they’re in the wrong. It’s best just to let it go, let a little time pass, and move on.
  • Or the classic, don’t poke your stick in it and it won’t stink.

I’ll confess that I’ve done my part of this for decades. It sounds something like-“That’s not my place.” or “It probably won’t go well, so why bother?” There, I kept the peace.

Simply put, we confuse peacekeeping for peacemaking.

Here’s the primary difference b/n the two:

  • Peacekeeping is passive
  • Peacemaking is active.

In other words, we think we’re being peacemakers in the home, at work, or at church, but it’s actually the shadowy offshoot of glorified passivity known as peacekeeping.

There is nothing passive about peacemaking. Patient, yes. But not passive.

Peacekeeping is about protecting an illusion of calm or avoiding conflict of some kind.

But Peacemaking almost always involves conflict of some kind. It’s active.

  • It may be a difficult conversation. (e.g., someone is doing you wrong)
  • It may be a confrontation. (e.g., someone is wronging others)
  • It may be a confession. (e.g., you’ve wronged someone)

Making peace via these avenues means you and I will be engaged in conflict. It means we will make enemies most likely.

Since I’m writing this around Father’s Day, think about some of the men remembered and revered (not everyone will agree with my list, but you have your own). They actively sought and pursued peace:

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. was a peacemaker. He gave a voice to a people who weren’t being heard and didn’t feel safe to speak.
  • Abraham Lincoln was a peacemaker who put his career and life on the line to acknowledge and honor the inherent dignity of every person no matter the color of their skin.
  • Jesus of Nazareth was a peacemaker whose ultimate goal was to lead people into peace with the God of heaven.

These were men of action. They had plans and goals. And all of these peacemakers have something else in common–they gave their lives in the pursuit of peace.

Peacekeeping doesn’t get you killed. Maybe an unfollow or unfriend, but not killed.

If you choose to respond to the Lord’s exhortation to be a peacemaker, you’ll end up with more unrest and discomfort in your life because of it.

It’s one of the reasons, I suspect, David writes in Psalm 34.19 that “the one who is righteous has many adversities.”

Because you just have more problems trying to follow Jesus than not. As if peacemaking isn’t enough, you love enemies, forgive 1-bajillion times, wash dirty feet, and so forth. So I get it, peacekeeping is easier now, but what about in the long run?

If you choose peacekeeping over peacemaking, what you actually do is leave the door wide open to greater and more complex problems in the future.

       A failure to address things now will only be magnified later.

King David could certainly think about this from his experience as a man, husband, dad, and king

David wasn’t a great dad from the picture presented in Scripture. Well after the triumph over Goliath and his disastrous sequence of events surrounding Bathsheba, David was husbanding, fathering, and doing what kings do. But he wasn’t doing what peacemakers do. Quickly:

  • David’s son Amnon was infatuated with his [Amnon’s] sister, Tamar.
  • Amnon raped Tamar, making her an outcast in that culture.
  • David finds out and is infuriated, as any dad should be.

Here’s the crazy thing, though. Two verses after David is said to be furious comes this: “Two years later…” Two years passed, and we hear nothing of David’s actions to reconcile this situation, to bring the peace necessary to this massive injustice.

Absalom–Tamar’s other brother–hated Amnon and found a way to kill him. Such bitterness took root in Absalom toward David that he decided David was unfit to rule and ran him out of town. Not long after, Absalom himself ended up dead.

And there is king David left to make sense of the carnage. Two dead sons and a disgraced daughter who feels unloved and unprotected by the man who should have been looking out for her the most.

David may have been a pro at keeping the peace, but he was pathetic at making peace.

After avoiding confessions around Bathsheba and Uriah he evaded necessary confrontations and conversations with his sons and daughter.

Peacekeeping is easier now, but everyone pays for it later. As best I can tell, that’s true in business, education, church, and family.

Making peace will require making a mess, at least for a while. But to avoid it is to ensure a greater calamity in the future.

Since peacemaking is active:

  1. What conversation do you need to have?
  2. What confrontation should you schedule?
  3. What confession might you need to make?

Blessed are the peacemakers…

The censorship of Christian community

lion-predator-big-cat-cat-162093There is so much I want to say.

So many comments I’d like to make.

More questions I’d like to ask than anything else…

But the Christian community is extremely sensitive. We–I include me in the we–are so sensitive! [don’t use an exclamation point unless you mean it!] What are we so scared of?

It’s like anything we disagree with or anyone who disagrees with us is immediately blacklisted and deemed a heretic or apostate or, dare I say, liberal!!!????!

Scott Sauls, pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church Nashville, tweeted on February 12

“I am too conservative for liberals, and too liberal for conservatives.” – Everyone who follows the whole Jesus

2,400 people retweeted. I can only assume it’s because more persons don’t know who Scott is.

Point being, yes. This is an amen deep in my soul. One  of the hardest aspects of doing ministry of any kind in the South is being pigeon-holed by others, feeling like there’s a mold one has to fit into, and then fearing the backlash of not fitting in.

I get diplomacy, I do. But what if the prophets of the Old Testament had been diplomatic? Would they have been prophets? No. They wouldn’t have been thrown into cisterns or killed. They probably would’ve been…wait for it…promoted.

Prophets speak.

         They are a voice.

                      They ask.

                                They tell.

                                           They prod.

Subsequently…

They are isolated. Lonely. Blacklisted, ignored, imprisoned, fired, demonized, etc.

I guess what I’m saying is, can we Christians–bought with the blood of Christ and freed from the strictures of this political world–be truly free? Can we refuse the titles and categorizations that the world requires in order to make enemies?

Why the titles, the categories, the sides? Because we have to know who’s wrong, right?

Following the whole of Jesus really leaves us as misfits. We can’t be contorted to fit into any one corner or box. Too liberal. Too conservative. Can’t be nailed down. Enemies on every side. Sounds like Jesus.

Here’s the thing. If nobody is upset with you. If nobody is frustrated by what you say. If nobody is really bothered by you. You’ve picked a box.  And turns out it’s a perfect fit.

 

Maybe you aren’t disgusted enough just yet

road-mountains-street-countrysideSojourner. Exile. Pilgrim. Alien. Foreigner. Immigrant.

These are words that most uniquely describe God followers throughout Scripture and history. You might say such designations find their ultimate expression in Jesus’ words from John 17.16 “They [my disciples] are not of this world, as I am not of this world.”

But most Christians–in America, at least–are indistinguishable from the world.

Why?

Jesus is so clear. The prophets are clear. The apostles Paul and Peter and John are clear. James, the brother of Jesus is clear–friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God.

So why the willingness to get in bed with the world, to lay there, strewn about in an adulterous sprawl?

Maybe we aren’t disgusted enough. That’s Eugene Peterson’s answer in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. More accurately,

A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way.”

There’s Eugene. Whispering wonder into world-weary souls that have been consumed by consuming everything and having nothing to show for it.

Until you’re really disgusted with the pattern of wanting, getting, and regretting, nothing will change. Until the tastes of momentary indulgence and fleeting happiness are no longer appetizing, nothing will change. Let alone choosing the way of Christ. The Way that says the more of yourself you give away, the more you find.

How much more will you have to get, consume, envy, or lease before you are disgusted enough to change? And when that disgust reaches a tipping point, to what or whom will you turn as an alternative?

This turn, biblically speaking, is called repentance.

 

A church plant thought experiment

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Here’s how the question–which I am still gnawing on–was posed to me:

         What if you started a church with the aim and intent of killing it in 10 years?

This question should push us past preconceived notions of what church has to look like.

For the most part, when someone plants a church, the intent is to grow larger, build wealth for funding buildings / programs / staffing / etc. and carry on in similar fashion until Jesus returns.

Some of those churches get very large. Others stay quite small. And there are all sizes in between.

But what if you shocked your imagination to go beyond the consideration of size? What if the main component of a new church was time?

The first vision casting would go something like —

We are going to exist as this faith community for 10 years, Lord willing. And in that 10 years, we will not buy or build anything but will fully devote monies to spreading the gospel in word and deed. Whatever is left at the 10 year mark will be funneled into another ministry, or, 10 year church will begin anew in another city.

The follow up question to the possibility of a church like this is whether anyone would dare sign on?

Here are two immediate implications, at least in my mind, of such a model.

  1. A renewed urgency around the gospel
  2. A renewed responsibility to steward resources

You get the sense when you read the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles that Jesus and his crew really believed the message of the gospel was urgent. That lives depended on it. Eternities, in fact. And the gospel, lived out, could change communities, cities, countries, and continents. Which explains why I’m typing this in the United States of ‘Murica more than 2000 years after a nomadic carpenter from Nazareth died on a tree.

Beyond the urgency to share and proclaim, how would knowing you have 1o years and only 10 years change the way you allocated the kingdom dollars people would give? I think it would look drastically different than most of our churches now, including the one I pastor in which we are trying to pay off a $1million note on a building with 100 people in it each week. That same story is multiplied, sometimes by 30  or more, across the US.

Isn’t it an exciting question to at least consider? 1o years, All in. And then all out.

What might be? Aiming to kill a church may very well mean the preemptive death of divisive preference wars, because what’s the point? There’s no establishment, no old guard…naïve? Maybe. But plausible.

What do you think could be different with 10 year church?

 

The inevitable loneliness of leadership

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The really hard thing

Sorry, let me start again…

One of the really hard things about being in Christian leadership (and maybe any leadership) is the unspoken expectation that you have it figured out.

As someone serving on two sides of the aisle in Christian ministry, both in education and the church, the following are representative of the unspoken–

  • You believe all the right things about all the right things, especially those things that other people really hang their theological (or ideological) hats on
  • You uphold tradition because tradition is, well, tradition, and to question it means you’re a troublemaker
  • And you don’t change things, at least not too quickly, because someone might be offended. Someone’s feelings could possibly, perhaps at some time, be hurt…in fact, please don’t change things

It’s a lonely place.

For those in leadership, being in process on matters remains private, just like your obsession with CrossFit should be kept to yourself. I can’t even tell you what I mean…that’s how private it has to be, because to raise a question in voice or print is to signal to the congregation or constituency it’s open season on you.

What’s the point?

When dealing with educators, administrators, elders, pastors, and other Christian leaders, bear in mind that it can be/is lonely, more lonely than you realize.

  • Words are scrutinized and decisions are scandalized…

Usually in the most passive aggressive manner possible, though sometimes by a boisterous, victimized minority. And in the south it’s even portrayed politely at times, which just means the knife is pushed in at a slower rate.

I get it. I’ve played armchair preacher critic, teacher critic, and so on. But how much more do these folks–me, folks–need your prayers and grace?

We need a lot. We’ll make mistakes. We’ll have regrets–so many regrets. We’ll be judged by God more harshly for how we have stewarded these opportunities. We really don’t need other gods.

We need grace-filled, prayer-saturated, meal-sharing, cheer-leading men and women who will help us finish well.

Does that mean never ask questions? Of course not. But what are the motives? Speech should be seasoned with salt that it might give grace to the hearer…that’s how the apostle Paul put it.

I’m working on all of this myself. I’m extending more grace towards leaders. I’m slashing my suspicion quotient and choosing to trust.

That’s hard.

 

A question I could have used 10 years ago…but at least I have today

pexels-photo-298018Some questions are clearly rhetorical, right?

Some, however, are not. So let me share one I heard in an interview of Bob Goff.

When asked about growth and personal development, here is what Bob said he asks himself

What does the next humblest version of me look like?

In other words, I’m this level of humble now. What would the next level of humble look like? What would change? How would I treat people differently? What are things I wouldn’t say any more? What are things I would begin to say or say more often? What habits would I need to form to reach that next level of humble?

Some questions are meant to be answered.

And in order to answer them, you have to accost yourself, your preferences, opinions, defaults, self-perception. After all, there is no growth without struggle.

What does the next humblest version of you look like?

Healthy things do grow, but perhaps differently than expected

Monday’s post was about the prevalent church growth mantra “healthy things grow.”

After seeing firsthand and hearing other eyewitness stories of church growth, I decided to maintain a shred of suspicion towards anyone who says that.

My somewhat over the top response is, cancer grows–is it healthy? Moreover,  Poison Ivy. Wildfires. Discord. Rumors. Bitterness. These  things, generally agreed upon as bad, grow. And usually at a rapid pace!

The first post was to suggest that perhaps growth (numerically) isn’t the best indicator of a church’s health. It can be. But not necessarily.

So to follow up, let’s ask another question , namely, what kind of growth are we talking about?

Those who employ the healthy things grow rhetoric have in mind quantitative growth. In other words, that which is measured via tangible metrics such as nickels and noses.

  • How much money is coming in?
  • What’s our budget this year?
  • How many people showed up Sunday?
  • What was our count for Easter?

So to flesh it out more honestly, “healthy things grow” could better read “healthy things increase in number.” More people will attend and more will be given. If more people aren’t attending, then what you have, dear friend, is not healthy. Nobody ever tells you how many people have to attend and at what pace that number must grow in order to remain healthy.

I’m a bivocational pastor of a church that rests in a rural town with a population less than that of a suburban Wal-Mart at 5pm. There is no reason to suspect that our city or church will experience an influx of people any time soon. That isn’t to say our church cannot experience quantitative growth, but if I measure my success or effectiveness by sheer numbers, depression is the only logical destination.

In order to continue in ministry and not be eeyorethe  Eeyore of east Tennessee, I’ve been pondering more deeply qualitative growth—quantitative’s lesser known and somewhat marginalized third cousin twice removed.

A dear friend and mentor (we’ll call him Mike because that’s his name) advised me how to answer the inevitable pastor question, ‘What are you runnin’?

  • So you know, how a pastor answers that question  tells the questioner nearly everything they need to know about you.
  • Pastors young and old feel the need to explain why the numbers are lagging or aren’t as high as others; this I know from experience. Some even lie.

So should I be ashamed to answer 100? 110? 120?
Because that would be my answer every week.

Mike suggested I give them a real number (not the preacher count) and then nuance it like this: “We have 130 who call our church home, but we have 10 people who really get it.”

      Say what?

In other words, there are 10 disciples of Jesus who truly believe that Jesus demands all and are willing to give all. So however many that may be in your particular context, that’s more of a qualitative measure.

–> Now you can go about figuring that out in different ways. Perhaps you measure a combination of how many folks serve on Sunday and in their community, how many are in a community/small/life group, and so forth, charting those percentages over a specified time. 

Somehow you’re trying to ascertain whether people are becoming more rooted and built up in their faith. And is that rootedness bearing fruit–such as a life of gratitude (Colossians 2:6-7).

Whatever measures we use, let’s fight viciously against the long-standing notion that more equals better and therefore healthier.

There are very sick churches with lots of people coming on Sunday.

-conversely-

There are very healthy churches with few people coming on Sunday.

Numbers are not gospel. It’s nearly impossible to quantify soul-growth. That growth is only proven over the long haul and becomes difficult to boast of. It also makes it harder to decide who should speak at all those conferences (too snide?).

“You’re just bitter because you have a small church!”

That could be a fair retort.

But, as the apostle Paul said, God will look at our labors, not our results. Only He gives growth that matters (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).

Unlike some, I do not think that a small church has somehow been more faithful to the gospel and the Bible thus resulting in their smallness. In the same way, I don’t think that because a church is large it is healthy or more faithful.

With all of these things in mind, one thing I’ve resolved to do this year is to be far more FOR churches of various flavors (provided they aren’t heretical). So churches I wouldn’t necessarily attend or pastors I wouldn’t gel with on all matters…I still want to maintain a posture of support and cheer them on in gospel-true faithfulness and fruitfulness. Join me?

 

God forbid you catch the rabbit

Image result for greyhound chasing rabbit track

Idealism and life don’t mesh very well. Not because you can’t have a great life, but because that target of greatness, when idealized or idolized, turns you into the greyhound chasing the rabbit around the track.

I’ve heard if a dog ever catches the rabbit they won’t race again because apparently the psychological ramifications of such an experience are insurmountable–dog days, right?

This makes me wonder, though, how many pastors, professionals, parents, and other p-words are on their fourth lap around the track thinking the next season or service or strategy or selfie is FINALLY going to satisfy.

Pretty much every one of our endeavors has a rabbit of its own.

For tennis players the ultimate rabbit is Wimbledon. Kids imagine diving across the All England sod and hitting a winning volley before raising the cup overhead and winking at the queen.

Boris Becker did that. I don’t know about the winking part, but the other stuff. Yet with two Wimbledon championships to his name, he was popping pills, throwing whiskey down into his belly, and contemplating how he would kill himself.

That’s why I said, God forbid you catch the rabbit and find out it’s a stupid stuffed animal that was never meant to fulfill you.

See, the target always changes.

The rabbit is often an ideal in our minds.

And what ends up happening–that is, what happened to me–is your vision of the perfect ministry (or life) becomes the enemy of your present one. What you’ve imagined in your mind can never measure up to reality.

Life has a way about sorting through our bogus visions and plans. If you’re chasing rabbits, hit the brakes and ask, “What if I catch it?”

  • What if my kids stay healthy and get into the best college? So what?
  • What if my church grows past 200, 400, 4000….so what? What then?
  • What if my business hits the $1 million mark? Woohoo! More taxes. Then what?
  • What if my boss recognizes my brilliance and gives me the promotion? What’s next?

You get the rabbit. Then what?

It’s a question worth asking. Maybe there’s a better goal, vision, or target. Maybe not. You may be exactly on the path you need to be on. But it’s still healthy to turn a few rocks over every now and then.