Church Fights…

church fight

I’ve seen my share of church fights.  I’ve even been the subject of one or two.

I didn’t witness it first hand, but family legend has it that my Aunt Ouida and Mizz Eva Robertson nearly got in a wrestling match over the color of the carpet when my home church built a new building (my bet would have been on Aunt Ouida).

When I was ten, I remember sitting through a church business meeting when one of my parent’s friends made a motion of “No-confidence” in the pastor.  At ten, I thought he said, “The pastor has no car sense.”  He probably didn’t; but the motion failed.

When I went to college I was introduced to the whole idea of church splits.  In rural Alabama, every time someone got mad, they went down the road a piece and started another church.  They usually named it: “Unity.”

I am not making this up:  in one Alabama community, there was Old New Hope Baptist Church, New New Hope Baptist Church, New Hope Baptist Church #1, and New Hope Baptist Church #2.  All were splits off the original New Hope.  I wonder what was so important that they kept splitting?

I recently read about a pastor who was hit in the jaw during a church business meeting.  Thankfully, that’s never happened to me, although I’ve had to duck a few verbal swipes.

When you get to bottom of it, most church fights are about two things: prestige and power.  Someone wants recognition and feels hurt if they don’t get it.  Hurt people are like hurt dogs; they don’t just bark; they bite.

There are always folks in church that want power.  They are used to being in charge at work, so they want to be in charge at church.  More than once I’ve known men who were henpecked at home to throw their weight around at church.  I guess they needed to feel powerful in some area of life and it wasn’t going to be at home.

I imagine Jesus gets tired of his people fighting for prestige and power.  I imagine Jesus would say to his church, “Look, all the glory goes to the Father.  What part of that do you not get?  And why are you so intent on power in my church?  You do remember it’s my church, right?  I’m the one who gets to make decisions, not you.”  Maybe Jesus does speak that bluntly, but people who pursue prestige and power don’t listen to his voice.

Jesus, through his servant Paul, actually makes it clear believers need to fight.  Paul told his protégé Timothy, “Fight the good fight of faith.”

What’s the good fight of faith?  The good fight of faith is to fight for what is right, not expedient.  The good fight of faith is to fight for everyone to be loved.  The good fight of faith is to fight for everyone to discover God’s way of life and live it.  The good fight of faith is to fight for a world that lives by values of humility, justice, and servanthood.

These fights, Paul said, cause you to take hold of eternal life.  In other words, fighting these fights gives you a life that matters.

I wonder if churches fight over prestige and power because they forgot they were supposed to fight a good fight of faith.  It’s easier, I suppose to fight over the color of the carpet, than to fight for the way of Jesus.

Still, wouldn’t be great to see a church fight break out over how to love each other like Jesus loved us?  I’d go to a church business meeting to see that fight.  Wouldn’t you?

Maybe that’s why so many churches are half empty on Sunday:  nobody wants to see another fight over prestige and power.  If you want to see that, just tune into CNN or Fox News.

Maybe every seat in church would be filled if we fought the good fight of faith – loving each other like Jesus loves us.

Try Something New…

try something new

You need to try something new.  Your organization needs to try something new.  Your church needs to try something new?

Why?  Isn’t the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” true?

Nope.

Just because something is working in this moment is no guarantee it will work tomorrow or even the rest of the day (ask any farmer about this; he can tell you equipment breaks down at worst possible moments).

For the Jesus follower, this is critical.  Jesus always invites you to take a next step.  This means you must embrace a life that requires a focus on Jesus and a willingness to move from what is comfortable and familiar.  Jesus regularly invites you into the new.

Why do we not do something new?

We’re afraid to fail.

Failure is the last thing God’s people should fear.  God can redeem every failure of ours and make it new.  Learn from our failures – sure.  Let our failures keep us from trying something new?  Absolutely not.

It’s time to try something new in your walk with Jesus.

So if you read the Bible every day, that’s good!  But if it feels stale, then switch it up and listen to the passages of scripture instead of reading them.  Read it in a different translation.  Read a whole book through in one sitting.

If prayer feels stale, try praying in a different physical posture.  Instead of praying sitting in a chair, pray on your knees.  Pray on your knees?  Try praying standing up with your arms outstretched.  Have a familiar pattern of prayer?  Switch it up.  Confess your sins first, then ask God to meet your needs.

If the worship service you attend feels stale, sit in a different spot.  Take notes on the sermon for a change.  Maybe visit a church way outside your worship tradition.  If you are Pentecostal, go to an Episcopal Church.  Baptist?  Go to a Pentecostal church.

Your organization needs to try something new.  Re-arrange the furniture.  Offer a sale at an offbeat time.  Roll out an experimental product.  Change the meeting schedule.

I know your church needs to try something new.  Instead of Sunday night worship, try a three month experiment of having worship on Monday night.  Instead of a big Christmas musical, take the choir to the Walmart parking lot and sing carols.  Maybe your pastor needs to try something different in his preaching – like asking random people at McDonald’s what kind of sermons would interest them, then preaching those sermons.

God said through the prophet Isaiah, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Join God in what is new.  Get uncomfortable.  Grow.  Stretch.  Fail. Learn.

Try something new.

Bad Decisions I Have Made…

bad decisions

I’ve made some bad decisions in my time.

I decided to kiss the Methodist preacher’s daughter in high school.  I was so thrilled, on the way home I wrecked my parent’s car.  Later, she dumped me at the prom.  In hindsight, the kiss wasn’t worth wrecking the car.

I decided the creek couldn’t be that deep.  Four-wheel drive would get me through, right?  Four-wheel drive is amazing, but it doesn’t help when the truck floats.   Do you know what happens when a truck engine sits in water overnight?  I don’t really know either, but it cost me a two hour lecture when the bill came in.

I decided to turn a paper in after a deadline in grad school, figuring it wouldn’t be a big deal.  Turns out, it was a big deal.  A very big deal.  A humiliating big deal.  Being on probation in grad school is not a good thing.

I decided once to tell my fiance’ (now my wife) I knew more than she did.  Turns out, I was wrong.  She knew all kinds of things I didn’t know, including some precise observations about my character and lack of good judgment.

I decided once to tell off the deacons of the church I pastored.  I did it in a sermon.  I preached with power and passion.  It felt good to step down after that message.  It didn’t feel good a couple weeks later, looking for a new job.

Bad as these decisions were, they aren’t even close to my worst decisions.

Too many times I have decided I know more than God.  Ever sign, ever message from Him told me to run the other way.  I decided I could handle the temptation and went my own way.  I gave in, every single time.  Every single time.  Bad decision not to run.

I’ve known God wanted me to love my enemies, but I was convinced God didn’t understand how much I had been hurt.  I held grudges, carried bitterness, and with great hypocrisy, pretended everything was all right.  Grudges, bitterness and pretense are heavy loads to carry.  I’ve worn myself out holding onto past hurts.  Bad decision not to forgive.

I’ve judged people because of their poor choices.  I’ve smugly looked at their life wreckage and thought “I’m too smart to let that happen to me.”  I’ve wound up pretending like nothing is ever wrong in my own life.  I’ve put forth a face that says, “I’m a pastor and I have it all together.”  The truth is, I’ve got plenty of my own wreckage.  It’s exhausting to live like you have it all together all the time; no one does.  Bad decision not to be real.

I’ve been quick to speak and slow to listen.  Sometimes, before people finish their sentences, I’ve already thought of a good reply.  I rush to speak because deep down, I hunger for people to say, “What a wise man he is.”  In my anxiety, I miss the person and their reality.  Bad decision to not be “slow to speak and quick to listen.”

Looking at all my bad decisions (and there are plenty more), I can get discouraged.  Then I remember the best decision I ever made.

Long ago, in a moment of humility, I admitted to God I was failure (sinner was the word we used).  I asked God to forgive me.  I told him I wanted Him to be in charge of my life.

That day, God adopted me as His child.  Whenever I make a bad decision, God forgives me.  He teaches me.  And, amazingly, He takes my bad decisions and brings good out of them.  He straightens out the wreckage of my life and gives me hope.

That one decision takes care of every bad decision I ever made.

Now, I need to make a decision about a piece of chocolate cake…

Sitting in the Pilot’s Seat…

f-16 cockpit

 

We filmed a segment for At the Movies today at Shaw Air Force Base.  Through the gracious provision of Dan Tindall, one of our members, we were able to use the training mockup cockpit of an F-16.

I had to take a moment out of filming to sit in the cockpit.  Even though it wasn’t a real plane, it felt real.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.  There are so many buttons, so many things to look at.  The control handle to fly the plane was off to the right.  I gripped the “stick” and just for a moment imagined flying an F-16.  It was a cool daydream, a wonderful moment of fantasy.

Then my reality gear took hold:  What if I was really flying an F-16?

A little background:  I got my pilot’s license in college.  For a few years, I few small Cessnas and Pipers.  Then I got married, had kids, and realized I wasn’t a good enough pilot to keep flying (I wasn’t wealthy enough either).

Going from a Cessna 172 to an F-16 (even a mockup) is like going from a tricycle to a Porsche.  The principles are the same, but the power is different – exponentially.

It’s easy to sit in the pilot’s seat of your life and think you’ve got it all under control.  You seen others pilot their own lives; how hard can it be?

Maybe you can be in control of your life when you are living straight and steady, but what about when you have to land?  Or make a decision?  Or face an attack? Or try to make a quick change?

There is more power in your life than you know.  You have the power to hurt yourself with poor decisions.  You have the power to hurt others.  You have the power to get out of control.  You can get overwhelmed.  Your power can get out from under you.

It’s a nice fantasy to believe you can get good enough one day to handle life on your own.  I’m not sure any human being ever gets that good.

The one sure-fire solution?  Put Jesus in the pilot’s seat.  He can see what you can’t.  He knows exactly how life operates.  He can respond to an attack faster than you can.

How do you put Jesus in the pilot’s seat?  Simple.  Pray, “Lord, not what I will, but your will be done.”

Then get out of the seat.  Let Jesus pilot your life.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible No Good, Very Bad Sunday…

alexander

With Apologies to Judith Viorst:

I woke this morning with an empty feeling in my stomach and my head hurting.  I tripped over my shoes in the middle of the floor and couldn’t find my toothpaste so I had to brush my teeth with baking soda.  I got in the shower and just when I got shampoo in my hair, the hot water cut off.  I hate cold showers.  I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.

I went by Starbucks on my way to church.  The drive-through line was long, but I waited anyway.  I ordered a caramel Latte’ with whipped cream.  I got an iced mocha Frappuccino.  I hate iced mocha Frappuccino.  It was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.

I pulled into the church parking lot and looked for a space.  All the good spaces by the door where gone.  There were guest parking spaces, but there were also people there hanging out like vultures.  I hate vultures.  So I pulled around back and found an empty piece of grass.  I hate parking on grass.  It was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.

I went to the nearest door.  It was locked.    I went to another door.  It was locked, too.  I hate locked doors. The third door was open.  When I went in, I didn’t know where I was.  I looked for a sign.  All l saw was a poster encouraging me to “Win a Million More in ’54.”  It was old.  Something smelled bad.  I hate things that smell bad.  It was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.

A man walked by, in a hurry.  I hurried after him, asking, “Where is the worship service?”  He gave me a dirty look.  I hate dirty looks.  He said, “It’s that way.”  I wasn’t sure which way he pointed, so I just followed him.  He went through a door marked “Men.”  I found what smelled bad.  It was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.

I heard music.  I followed the sound.  I found a door, with light shining under it.  The music was on the other side of the door.  I opened the door and walked in – right in front of the congregation.  Everyone stared at me.  I hate being stared at.  I tried to duck into the first pew I saw.  Someone tapped me on the shoulder and pointed.  I turned and saw the sign “Reserved.”  I hate reserved seats.  It was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.

I moved to another pew.  The music leader talked on and on and on about the next song we were going to sing.  I hate music leaders who talk instead of sing.  Finally, we started to sing.  Then he paused and said, “If you love Jesus, raise your hands high.”  I hate raising my hands.  I’ll bet they don’t raise their hands for Jesus in Australia.  It was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.

We were told to greet our neighbors.  I turned around, only to find everyone behind me had turned around and were laughing and talking with the people sitting behind them. I stood there like a dummy.  I hate standing like a dummy.  Then a man told us to sit down.  He told us about a trip, a meeting, and something called “Women’s Auxiliary.”  It sounded like a place you keep spare women.  I was bored. I hate being bored.  It was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.

The preacher got up.  He told us about his burden.  He told us how he asked God to not make him deliver this message.  Then he started to yell.  He yelled for 45 minutes.  I hate being yelled at.  He kept telling us to “repent” but he never told us what it meant to repent.  I hate it when I don’t know what things mean.  It was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.

Then came the offering.  The usher came and stood by me with a plate.  I didn’t have any cash so I shrugged my shoulders.  He gave me a dirty look.  I hate dirty looks.  I’ll bet they don’t take up offerings in Australia.  It was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.

The service ended.  I waited for someone to say something to me.  No one did.  I waited a little longer.  I saw my neighbors from across the street.  I thought they would come over and say they were glad to see me.  They ignored me.  I hate being ignored.  It was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.

I found my way back to the smelly bathroom and out the back door.  I drove off.  It had been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.

I thought church was supposed to be about “Good News?”

I sure could use some.  I don’t want any more terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.  I especially don’t want any more terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sundays.

Lead Me Not Into Temptation – Unless It’s Really Good…

 

temptation

If you know the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray, you know the line: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…”

I’ve prayed that prayer.  I’ve asked God to remove temptation from me.  Here’s my problem – it might be yours, too:  I like temptation.

What I mean is I have a bent toward certain sins.  My temptations are not the same as yours.  Jack Daniels is not a temptation for me.  Ice cream is (especially in summer).  Which is more lethal?   The church crowd frowns on Jack Daniels, but I’ve seen sugar kill a lot of Baptists.

When I talk about my temptations, I refer to food because it evokes a smile and a nod.  I hate to be honest about my other temptations.  They are real and dangerous too.

I’m tempted to always be right.  I can’t tell you how many relationships I’ve harmed because I had to prove I was right.

I’m tempted to lust.  Lust isn’t noticing someone is a female (or male).  It is objectifying a person.  Lust is treating someone as an object rather than a soul.

I’m tempted to want approval. I want people to look at my life and say, “What a fine person he is.”  Even when I fail, I want them to say, “Isn’t it wonderful that he fails every now and then?  Otherwise, he’d be almost as perfect as Jesus.”

I’m tempted to believe rules don’t apply to me.  The speed limit is for others, not me (I tried to explain this to a State Trooper once).  Calories impact others, not me.  Time should slow down when I’m running late because I manage myself poorly.

I struggle with other temptations, but you get the idea.

Here’s my conundrum:  I like the first sensation when I give into temptation.  I do.  I like the taste of ice cream.  I like people saying, “I like your preaching.”  I like the rush of driving fast.

But I hate the sick feeling of too much sugar.  I hate the guilt of objectifying people.  I hate feeling like I have to meet someone’s expectations all the time.  I hate the shame of letting people down.

I hate the self-destruction I inflict on my own soul.

Let me tell you how dumb I am:  I return to the same old temptations time after time, expecting different results.  Didn’t Einstein say the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?

To really ask God to deliver me from temptation, I have to accept an uncomfortable reality:  My temptations are not good.  They never are good.  The temptations lead to sin, which leads to soul-erosion, which means I have to do internal repair work.  I get tired of re-building the same section of my soul over and over.

I think Jesus  is telling me when I pray, “Lead me not into temptation” the worst thing I can do is put myself in an ice cream shop and say, “Lord, help me not want ice cream.”

To pray “lead me not into temptation” means I will start my day by thinking about temptation zones.  Some of the temptation zones are physical places.  Some of the temptation zones are spiritual places.  All the temptation zones have warning signals my soul hears: Danger!  My soul is telling me, “Don’t go there.  Don’t go there physically.  Don’t go there in your head.  Nothing good is going to happen there.”

If only I would listen.

It really comes down to this:  Whatever tempts me to move  away from God is not good for my soul.  It’s never good for me.  Never.

That’s a harsh reality I would like to deny – but it’s true.

“Lead me not into temptation” means I know no good comes from temptation.  Period.

Excuse me now while I go throw out a carton of ice cream.

The Soul Realities of Parents and Teens…

parent teen conflict

I was asked: “How do I parent my teenagers so they turn out to be good people?”

My first thought, unspoken: “You are too late.”

Teenagers are not good people.  Even though we have taught this generation they all deserve a trophy, teenagers are just like their parents: imperfect.  How do imperfect parents produce perfect kids?  They don’t.

We put onto our children hopes and dreams.  By the time they hit middle school, it becomes obvious they will not be star athletes; nor are they the smartest kid in the room; nor are they going to be Miss South Carolina.  At this point, some parents keep pushing.  The parents want the children to fill their dreams.  The kids rebel.  Tension rises.  Parents get rigid.  The battle is joined.

Sometimes the story goes like this:  Mom and Dad divorce.  One of the children is expected to fill the role of confidant.  The child becomes the replacement spouse, the holder of family anger, the keeper of family secrets.  At about 15, the child gets tired of this role.  They rebel.  They drink.  They become sexually active.  They are defiant.  Then Mom or Dad ask the pastor, “How do I parent my teenagers so they turn out to be good people?”

To be a good parent, you must deal in soul reality.  Soul reality is the truth about a person’s entire being.  This is the truth about all of us, parent and teenager:  We make bad decisions; we don’t think straight; we have mixed up emotions; our bodies keep changing and we don’t know how to manage the change; and relationships are hard.  This is the reality of our souls.

If you start with soul realities, you understand: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).”  The precious baby of 15 years ago was born into failure.  Every parent was born into failure too.

Once you accept the basic soul reality of sin, you know you need help.  This is God’s great offer to sinners:  He wants to help you.  He wants to forgive you.  He wants to give you a new path to follow.  He offers you a different soul reality.

So how does this work when you parent teenagers?

You start by confessing your own sins to God.  You are appropriately upfront with your sins with kids.  That means when you lose your temper, you tell your kids you blew it and you are sorry.   You admit the reality of your own soul so you can help your kids accept the reality of their souls.

You ask God for wisdom.  That means you spend time with Him.  You let your kids know you are praying for them and asking God to help you be a better parent.  You ask God to guide you to a new soul reality.

You ask God for strength.  Even though you are imperfect, God called you to parent this child.  That’s right: Parenting is a calling.  Your call is not to be a best friend or to have your children approve of you.  Your calling is to love, forgive, to set boundaries, to let there be consequences, to give grace.  You adjust the your soul values to God’s new reality.

To be a good parent, you need a perfect role model.  That’s why parents should get as close to God as they possibly can.  He’s the perfect parent.  He loves his children.  He gives them grace.  He guides them.  He lets his children make wrong choices and suffer consequences so they learn.  His hope for his children is not for them to succeed, but for his children to be with him.  God will reshape your soul into a new reality.

So how do you parent your teenager so they become good people?  You don’t.  You parent your teenager the same way your Heavenly Father parents you: you deal with soul realities.  Our souls are a mess; God, our Father, offers you a new soul reality.  In that new reality, you give your teenager the same things your Heavenly Father offers your:  grace, love, guidance, and strength. A new soul reality is born.