Making Your Church a Better Place

louise-heath-leber-quote-theres-always-room-for-improvement-you-knowBurns is a good church. More than that—I think Burns is a great church! Honesty compels me to admit that Burns is not a perfect church. James Hinkle always likes to say that the biggest room in anyone’s house is the room for improvement.

Do you want Burns to be a better place? I do.

OK, so maybe you don’t go to Burns—here’s the spot where you change the name to your own congregation!

In Thom Rainer’s book called I Am a Church Member, he described six commitments that individuals in a congregation can make to improve the church as a whole as well as their personal experience with it. Here’s an adaptation for us:

I will be a functioning church member. Every member of the body has a job to do. You can improve our church by doing whatever it is that you were designed to do. Read Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12.

I will be a unifying church member. Too many churches have been torn down by gossips and fighters. You can honor Jesus prayer in John 17 by fighting for unity.

I will not let church be about my preferences and desires. We all have them; we all like our own. We need to realize that the kingdom is bigger than me. Paul said he’d give up eating meat for life if it would help a brother out. Read Romans 14.

I will pray for my church leaders. Want a better preacher? Pray for me! Want better elders? Pray for them! Want a better country? Listen to scripture and pray for the king! (See 1 Timothy 2, James 5, and other passages on prayer.)

I will lead my family to be healthy church members. The spirit of Christ must live in your home if he is going to live in your church. Cultivate a mentality not of serve-us, but service. Read Ephesians 5-6.

I will treasure my participation in this church as a gift. It is a gift to be part of the body of Christ. Let’s make sure that we speak and act like this is true.

Will you join me in making these six commitments to making Burns a better place? What would you add to the list?

(Check the blog post that inspired the book and this article.)

Ten Ways to Cripple Your Kids’ Faith

Would you like to cripple your children’s faith? Want to keep them from staying in church when they move out? Here are a few suggestions that seem to work well.

ONE: Be a hypocrite. If you’re one person at church and a different person at home, your kids will smell the difference. They’ll know that one of your personalities isn’t real, and decide that it’s too much effort to be fake. They won’t play the game—or even worse—they might!

TWO: Use your religion when it’s convenient. Ignore it when it calls you to different behavior. Only use your faith as a standard for other people’s bad conduct. Ignore that plank in your eye; there is a world full of specks to point out! Be pompous and self-righteous, never contrite or convicted.

THREE: Complain and criticize. If you give your kids a steady diet of what’s wrong with the preacher, the elders, the singing, the classes, the building, and the people, they’ll be sure to get the idea that church isn’t terribly important—or even if it is important, they’ll figure out it’s no good.

FOUR: Leave it at the building. Pray at church, read at church, and talk at church. But don’t do any of those things at home. Make sure you don’t pray with your kids. Or if you do, only do it when you’re eating with the preacher. (See #1!) Make sure you don’t have family devotionals.

FIVE: Prioritize. Whenever there’s a conflict, make sure the church loses. Every time. No exceptions. Show them that faith isn’t that important.

SIX: Keep-it “me focused.” Never let them experience the joys of serving others or the pleasure of giving to others. If try it, they might just like it.

SEVEN: Avoid hard conversations. Make sure your kids aren’t getting important life information from you. They’d be better off learning about sex from someone in the locker room, money from television, and sin by experience. What do you know, anyway? You’re just the parents. If a teachable moment happens, change the subject.

EIGHT: Be superficial. Make sure that you never get below the surface. Don’t dig deep. That stuff is all technical anyway. They won’t be needing it—they won’t be in church.

NINE: Never push them. Kids need their independence, don’t they? I mean you wouldn’t make them eat vegetables or go to the doctor, so why would you push spiritual things? Make sure you don’t push them to try new things. Don’t encourage them to get out of their comfort zones. After all, their comfort zones are comfortable. Why ruin that?

TEN: Just don’t think about it. If you ignore faith, it will probably go away.

On the other hand, if you want your kids to grow up and remain faithful to Jesus, maybe these are ten things you should avoid. You can decide!

Benaiah

lionHis is not one of the names that most Bible students have memorized. Benaiah was the son of Jehoiada the priest. He was born in a little town in the southern part of Judea called Kabzeel. He loyally served as one of King David’s “mighty men” during the rebellions of Absalom and Adonijah. He even assisted with Solomon’s coronation and ultimately became his commander-in-chief.

Second Samuel 23:20-21 introduces Benaiah to us with a resume of his bravery:

“And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was a valiant man of Kabzeel, a doer of great deeds. He struck down two ariels of Moab. He also went down and struck down a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen.  And he struck down an Egyptian, a handsome man. The Egyptian had a spear in his hand, but Benaiah went down to him with a staff and snatched the spear out of the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with his own spear.”

He killed two of the greatest Moabite warriors. He killed an Egyptian with his own weapon. He struck down a lion in a pit on a snowy day.

Does one of those things strike you as a bit unusual?

On a snowy day it is a whole lot safer to stay inside. It’s warm and dry inside. The lion’s tracks in the snow would have been obvious. The lion was contained in a pit—this is a problem that could have reasonably and safely postponed until conditions improved, but none of these reasonable and true circumstances stopped Benaiah from doing what he needed to do.

Please don’t read me too literally here. Stay inside and off the roads when you need to stay off the roads. Be prudent! Here’s the point: we could learn a thing or two from a man like Benaiah. Sometimes, we just need to do the things that need to be done—no matter what.

Sometimes we are like the love-struck young man who wrote a letter to his girlfriend: “I miss you so much! I cannot wait to see you again! Nothing shall stop me from being reunited with you! My heart breaks until we are together again. I shall see you Friday, unless it is raining!”

Let’s be the sort of people who would take on a lion in a pit on a snowy day!

The Wonderful Carrot

Want to have better eyesight? Maybe you’ve heard the advice: eat more carrots. They’re rich in beta carotene. Beta carotene is useful for producing some other chemicals in the body which are known to be necessary for good eye health.

There’s a problem with this little fact, though. It isn’t quite true. A total lack of these chemicals in the womb and in early childhood can interfere with eye development, but eating a few extra carrots (or a whole bushel) as a teen or an adult will do nothing to make you see better—except maybe stave off cataracts.

Why does everybody seem to think this is true? Blame the British!

During the World War II, the British secretly developed a system you’ve heard of: “Airborne Interception Radar.” Thanks to this new technology, they knew when and where German Bombers were coming. The British wanted to hold on to this advantage as long as possible, so it was imperative that the Germans not find out about it, lest they destroy it or find a way to duplicate it. The British came up with a plan: when their defensive fighter pilots suddenly had much more success on their patrols because of radar, they announced to the news their scientific breakthrough that a diet full of carrots gave British pilots exceptional night vision and the edge over the Germans. Their campaign of deception worked so well that it became difficult to keep carrots in stock because the people were so eager to eat them to get this super-vision. You can read the whole story over at Snopes.

It has been over half a century since the British invented this story, but most of us have heard someone tell us to eat our carrots if we want to see better. We tend not to let little things like facts get in the way of a good story.

Here’s the lesson: just because you’ve heard something a thousand times doesn’t mean it is true. Goebbels, Nazi director of propaganda, said, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

Remember this warning when you forward an email or tell a story about a friend. “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.” (Proverbs 26:20)

Fix it, Momma?

kintsugiI doubt this surprises you, but lots of things get broken in our house these days. Caleb has recently learned that he can bring some of those things to Leslie, along with a roll of tape, and say, “Fix it momma?” Usually, she can patch it back together. Now Leslie is really good with tape, but you can always tell—it’s not quite the same when it’s done.

The Japanese have a beautiful word: kintsukuroi. It literally means “golden repair.” When ancient Japanese pottery broke, the artisans didn’t try to find materials that would blend in with the original. Instead, they would use gold or silver lacquer to fill and seal the gaps, making the repaired object more beautiful and valuable than the original.

I like the philosophy behind it. Rather than attempting to cover up brokenness, it repairs it in an unashamed way that results in a better end result.

That sounds an awful lot like God, to me. He doesn’t ask us to scotch tape over our sin and pretend it never happened. “People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)

Not only does God forgive us and restore us, I’d argue that he makes us better in the process. Who loves the most? Jesus said the one who had been forgiven most (see Luke 7:43-47). Paul said that when we are weak, then we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-11). Even suffering has the potential to make us better people (Romans 5:3-4, James 1:2, and 1 Peter 1:6-7).

Aren’t you glad that we serve a God who both can fix it—and make it better?

The Buck Stops Where?

buckstops_bigAfter a city-owned dump truck smashed his car, Curtis Gokey decided to sue the town to have his car fixed. Gokey headed to the town seeking $3,600 in damages, but he was forced to admit that he was at fault in the accident. Curtis Gokey wasn’t just the victim. He was also the town employee driving the dump truck!

The city denied his claim and the courts rejected his suit because it is nonsensical to sue yourself. Gokey wasn’t one to be deterred, though. Shortly after his initial rejections, his wife tried her luck at filing a suit. The town has successfully argued that since she’s married to him, therefore she can’t sue him.

I’m not a lawyer. I can’t speak intelligently about the legal merits or how this situation should work, but it feels a lot like someone doesn’t want to take responsibility for his actions–even when they were accidental.

Humankind has a tendency to pass the buck. When, in Eden, God questioned Adam about his sin, he pointed his finger at Eve who pointed her finger at the Serpent (Genesis 3:12-13). After Aaron helped Israel construct a golden calf while Moses was on Sinai, he quickly shifted the blame to “those” people (Exodus 32:22-24).

It’s an alluring temptation: if I can shift responsibility for my errors onto someone else, I can avoid the pain and the consequences that come my way. Our society excels at blame-shifting. I’m the way I am because of my parents, my environment, my third grade teacher…we’ll pass blame to anyone or anything—except our own decision-making.

G.K. Chesterton said, “Both men and women ought to face more fully the things they do or cause to be done; face them or leave off doing them.” Proverbs says, “whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsake them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).

Want to be more successful in 2016? Decide that “the buck stops here” and reject the blame game.

About Jesus

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

I love this passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Notice how it begins. When Paul wants us to get our act together and change our attitudes and actions, he begins with Jesus. “Be like Jesus!” he says, and then tells us about Jesus.

Did you notice which attributes of Jesus that he calls our attention to?

Sacrifice. Jesus “emptied himself” of a thing he was fully entitled to—his equality with God. He could have called, you remember, ten thousand angels, but he did not. Jesus didn’t take advantage of every right entitled to him. Unfortunately we often miss this example—as our entitlement mentalities clamor for things we don’t deserve. Have you sacrificed anything for your faith lately, or is that off limits?

Service. Most of us don’t mind being servants until we’re treated like one. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. He didn’t do favors for friends who would return them. He healed thankless lepers, preached to confused sinners, and walked through life generally unappreciated for who he really was (see #1, by the way!). Jesus’ attitude of service needs to pervade our lives. “How can I help you?” is a phrase that should typify Christ-followers. Who have you served this week?

Submission. Verse 8 says that Jesus became obedient even to death. Jesus willingly submits to the Father, yet we tend to balk at authority figures. Ephesians 5:21 says that Christians are to submit to one another because of our reverence for Jesus. The judge of the universe submitted himself to the unfair judgment of Pilate. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but Jesus hasn’t asked us to do anything he wouldn’t do himself.

Sacrifice, service, and submission: it is the attitude of Jesus in a capsule. We’ll never match his perfect example, but how do we compare when we look into the mirror of our hearts?

Holiday Values: Rest

rest“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:1-3)

Have you ever wondered why God rested?

He wasn’t tired from the work of creating the universe. “Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Psalm 121:4) “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.” (Isaiah 40:28)

So why did he do it? The Bible doesn’t answer this question directly, but when Jesus was questioned about his Sabbath practices, he answered, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28) The Sabbath was made for man’s benefit—not God’s.

God knew how important it would be to give us mortals a time to pause, rest, reflect, and worship. There were no exceptions to the Sabbath law. It was for the rich and the poor alike. Sabbath was a weekly reset that reminded finite humans of our dependence on our infinite creator. God ordained many special occasions in the Old Testament: Passover, Feast of Booths, Pentecost, and many others. These interrupted the flow of normal life to remind people to trust the power of God.

I know that Christmas and New Year’s aren’t divinely-mandated days, but the idea of taking a day off to rest and reflect is God’s invention and instruction. Whatever your family’s custom is this time of year, make sure you remember who came up with the idea.

The Little Word that Chokes Me

chokingIt’s easy to be thankful when there’s money in my wallet, food in my belly, and friends by my side. Our hearts tell a different story when terrorism is in the news, immorality is in our faces, and sickness invades our families. When the Bible tells us to be thankful in “all” circumstances—it includes both scenarios.

It’s not hard to make a list of things we’re not thankful for—cancer, broken relationships, anxiety, hate, and sin, to name a few—but the Bible doesn’t instruct us to make that list. It instructs us to be thankful all the time.

  • “…give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
  • “…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father…” (Ephesians 5:20)
  • “in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)
  • Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

The word that chokes me in these verses is “everything.” Everything? Even in that list of things I’m not happy about? Evidently so. If Paul, who was bound in a dungeon because of his faith in Jesus could be moved by the Holy Spirit to say give thanks in all circumstances, maybe we should listen.

Could you be thankful if you were sold into slavery and then falsely imprisoned? If not, you wouldn’t be thankful for how God used Joseph to reunite his family and save many from starvation.

Would you be thankful for a judge who didn’t care about justice and knowingly condemned an innocent man while letting a terrorist go free? If not, you wouldn’t be thankful for the way God arranged our salvation.

Scripture isn’t telling us that we should be happy about pain and suffering, but instead that we trust God enough to be thankful during pain and suffering. You never know what he might be up to!

Above My Pay Grade

abovepaygradeWe have all sorts of names for the same phenomenon: back-seat driving, arm-chair quarterbacking, second-guesser…you get the idea. When Neil Anderson was the editor of the Gospel Advocate, he said that based on the letters, emails, and phone calls he got, he must be the only person in the world who didn’t know how to run his business! All of us have this tendency to question things over which we have no control.

There’s an interesting little line in one of David’s Psalms. Pay attention to the end of it: “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.” (Psalm 131:1)

I wonder sometimes if we don’t set our eyes on things “too great” for our finite minds. We question God more than is healthy. We forget that his ways are infinitely higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). Paul chastised the Corinthians by asking, “Who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” (1 Corinthians 2:16). I imagine after that part of the letter was read, there was silence–kind of like when God showed up and started asking questions at the end of Job.

God needed to humble Jeremiah, so he said to him, “If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses?” (Jeremiah 12:5) In other words, “Jeremiah, you are in over your head this time. You can’t keep up with me!” Paul again said, “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.” (Romans 12:16)

There are some conversations and questions that we really ought to let pass us by. Sometimes we just need to say, “That’s above my pay grade. I don’t know the answer, but I know the One who does!”