Following

Jesus said, “Follow me.” He called those who did, “disciples” which means followers. Consider the impact of focusing on being a “follower.”

Quit following others. To follow Jesus, you have to stop following anyone or anything else. We sometimes refer to this as “repentance” or “turning away from sin.” The bottom line is you can only follow one at a time. It’s about change in direction.

Eyes on Jesus. If you are going to follow Jesus, you better keep an eye on Him or you will soon find yourself  wandering off or following something else.

Move.  Following implies movement. It’s not a one time decision. It’s not checking off a box on a to-do list. Following is constant, continuous, eternal movement.

Not theology. Christians find themselves deeply divided. We divide on what we believe or how we worship or when we gather or even what we wear. Following isn’t custom, or tradition, or study or stimulating discussion. It’s walking. We may come from different starting points and, therefore,  may seem to be on different paths, but our eyes should be on the same Savior and our walk is in the same direction.

Power walking. We don’t walk on our own power. We walk energized by Christ within. We find ourselves walking in places we would never go on our own. We climb mountains, forge streams, and soar skyward far beyond our own capabilities.

Hills and valleys. We walk in dark and scary valleys and on exciting and wonderful summits. Our walk isn’t easier than those who are following something else. We hurt. We stumble. We wander. When we do, He heals. He lifts. He redirects.

We don’t walk alone. He walks with us and he gathers his followers into flocks where they can support each other and through which he can touch more, change more and love more.

Change. As we walk we decrease and He increases. We become more like the one we follow. We are changed by the following, and the focus on Him, but mostly by His presence within.

Maybe we need to do less comparing, contrasting, contemplating, condemning and confusing and a lot more following.

Christian? Yea or Nay?

Am I a Christian? I know seems an awfully heavy subject for a holiday weekend. I woke up with that question on my mind and I can’t shake it. I would like to just think about today’s football games or go outside and work in the glorious weather, but I know I need to deal with this first.

Can we know?  Lots of folks teach that it’s a foolish question because we won’t know until we die. That’s just wrong. It has to be. We can know. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved said, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” 1 John 5:13. Those of you who insist we can’t know I am going to just feel sorry for you and wonder how you can live life like a cosmic guessing game. Regretfully, you are a big group. A recent “survey” showed that 50 percent of all born-again Christians aren’t sure.

Maybe I’m not. Obviously one group who rightfully doesn’t know if they are a Christian or not, are those who are not. Surely you are not a Christian just because:

You go to church.

You once said a prayer.

You’ve been baptized.

I guess when you say like that it gets pretty scary and you can really start to think, “Maybe, I’m not.”

Look for the evidence. I’m a trial lawyer. I need to see evidence. Jesus said, “By their fruits you shall know them” (Matthew 7:20).  If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? By “evidence,” I don’t mean how many Bibles you own, or how many bumper stickers you might have on your car with Christian sayings on them. I mean hard evidence.

The tricky world of works.  Evidence gets down to what you do. It’s that politically incorrect word, “works.” Works don’t save you. They are the evidence that you’ve been saved. But it’s not just what you do. It’s how you do it. Jesus said “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Unnatural Love. The love Jesus is talking about is “unnatural.” It’s love without payback, hope of payback or a goal of payback. That’s where the new creation stuff comes from. We have to be a different creature to do works of love like this.

Bottom line. Maybe we should ditch the word, “Christian.” It has really lost its meaning. Maybe the question is “Am I a follower, a new creation that seeks to love like Jesus loves?”

The next issues is: if that’s not me, how do I get there? More on that tomorrow. The beautiful weather is calling me.

 

Thanksgiving Hangover

Hope your Thanksgiving was great. I bet it could have been better. I wouldn’t be surprised if you said you are glad the holiday is over. Holidays can be tough. If we think about it it’s not surprising.

Holidays are about family. That sounds cozy and warm. However there are some things about family that make the gathering tough.

We know family. Most of the time we have TMI, too much information about family. All the family “secrets” are smoldering just beneath the surface. Plenty of tension building there. We have to remember who knows what about whom.

We don’t know family. While we, of course, know our family; they are not the same folks we grew up with. We now live separate lives. We tend to live in “time freeze.” We think that people are the same as the last time we visited with them even if that was a year ago or ten years ago. People change and change isn’t always comfortable.

It’s not Facebook. People post all this warm and fuzzy stuff on Facebook. I’m not saying they are lying. They are filtering. They don’t mention Uncle Joe showed up drunk or Aunt Mary brought those kids who were raised in a barn or the cake collapsed or someone over seasoned the dressing. Holidays are real life with people not really used to rubbing shoulders, well… rubbing shoulders.

We really love ’em all. Because holidays are all about people we love, we really want things to be great. We have high and usually unrealistic expectations. The table will not look like the ones in the magazines.  Something will spill on the carpet. Remember no one except you expects it to be perfect. They are just hoping for no disasters.

We are not used to human contact. If you looked around yesterday, lots of folks were looking at their phones. We are used to friends and family we can turn off or put down. We aren’t in practice for face-to-face human contact.

Thanksgiving is Christmas prep. On Thanksgiving most of us have our eyes on Christmas. We have one eye on the turkey and another on the sales flyers. As we clear off the table, we realize it’s time to dig out the tree.

So if yesterday wasn’t perfect, don’t fret. You still have Christmas and New Years to mess up.

Be blessed.

Nick

 

Thanksgiving is a Verb

Thanksgiving is an action word. Thankfulness and gratitude are attitudes; but Thanksgiving requires doing something. The Pilgrims didn’t just feel gratitude to the helpful Indians. They had them over for lunch.
God knows. I understand that Thanksgiving is about thanking God. Consider that God alone doesn’t need us to take action in thanksgiving. He, like no other, knows our thoughts and appreciates our thankfulness unspoken.
We need Thanksgiving. So why all the Thanksgiving? Because we need it. We need to express our thankfulness, because we forget the many reasons we have to be thankful. Like a child at Christmas, we need to make a list and check it twice. Saying it out loud makes it real. There is something confirming about hearing ourselves speak truth.
Others need to know. I believe there is even a greater reason for acts of Thanksgiving. We are surrounded by people that need to know that we are thankful for them. We stupidly persist in our belief that the ones we love and appreciate know all about our love and appreciation. We think they have the uncanny power to know what is never expressed or at least too rarely expressed. People need to know that we thank God for them. Make this an action Thanksgiving. Kiss the cook. Hug the kids. Smile at everyone. Especially, in their presence, thank the Lord who gifted you with their lives, for each of them by name.

You need to say it. They need to hear it.

Have an action Thanksgiving and bless and be blessed. It will make God smile.

Nick

Nick’s Thanksgiving Television Guide 2014

This morning I got up and prepared a post about Thanksgiving Television. I used a TV guide article as my basis. Then I discovered I used a TV Guide story from 2011. Sorry about that. I try again using 2014.

Television is as much a part of Thanksgiving as Turkey and giving thanks. You know the television will come on at some time. Why not watch the “best?” Here are my recommendations. Sometimes tongue in cheek. Times are central. Just for you.

Today’s Thanksgiving-themed episodes/Specials/Movies:
Friends “The One with the Thanksgiving Flashbacks” (11:30 p.m., TV Land) If you are up at this time, you could use some friends.
Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (7 p.m., ABC) Charlie’s a classic
Saturday Night Live “Thanksgiving” (8 p.m., NBC)

THURSDAY

Parades:
Thanksgiving Day Parade (8 a.m.-11 a.m., CBS) Turn it on while cooking. That way you really don’t have to watch and it’s a tradition.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (8 a.m.-11a.m., NBC) See if you can make cheesier comments than the hosts. 

Football: This year the classic match ups and the new ones are all good football. Try to identify any teams the Saints have beaten this year. 
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions (1:30 1.m., CBS)
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys (3:30 p.m., Fox) Try to stay awake. The chemical in turkey that makes you sleepy will be kicking in by now.
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers (7:30 p.m., NBC)

Thanksgiving-themed episodes/Specials/Movies:
Dora the Explorer “Dora’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” (7 a.m., Nickelodeon) Turn this on for the kids while  you wake up with coffee.
The Big Bang Theory “The Thanksgiving Decoupling” (7 p.m., CBS) Turkeys and nerds. It doesn’t get better than this.

Marathons:

The Middle (6-8:30 a.m., ABC Family) I discovered this series late. I love it.
Swamp People (6 a.m.-3 p.m., History) For Cajun what to be’s
Friends (9 a.m.-4 p.m., TBS) For my daughter.
Modern Family (9 a.m.- 11 p.m., USA) I love this show.
The Andy Griffith Show (11- 2 p.m., TV Land) Who doesn’t love Barney.
The Brady Bunch (3:30-8p.m., TV Land) I won’t watch this, but it is a classic.

FRIDAY

Specials/Movies:
Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer (7 p.m., The CW)
Frosty the Snowman (8 p.m., CBS)
Kung Fu Panda Holiday (8 p.m., The CW)
Merry Madagascar (8:30 p.m., The CW)
Yes, Virginia (8:30 p.m., CBS)

At some point, turn off the television. Tell everybody in the room you are thankful for them. Grab a plate of left overs, and thank God for the food and every good thing in your life.

 

The Business of Church Isn’t Business

“Those engaged in pastoral work are often tempted to adopt efficient management, planning and organization models inspired by the world of business but also a lifestyle and mentality that are guided more by worldly criteria of success and even power than by the criteria Jesus presents to us in the Gospel,” Pope Francis

A church is not a business. A business is successful if it has a positive bottom line. Church success is more related to what it gives away and not what it accumulates. Churches can’t be successfully run using business principles. The differences are obvious.

Leadership. Businesses have a human CEO. Jesus is the CEO of the church. On earth, churches should have team leadership. The boss is at the right hand of the Father. He speaks through a leadership group not a dictator.

Motivation. Businesses are profit driven. Churches are, or should be, Gospel driven. The Gospel is central to every sermon, program and meeting , and the advancement of it both locally and globally drive strategic initiatives.

Employees. In business, positions are filled with experienced and trained people. In church, God uses people with spiritual gifts. He uses the unlikely, so He gets the glory.

Involvement. In business, there is an “A” team, the stars, that everyone else supports. Church is not a spectator sport, it’s participatory. Everyone plays an important part.

Culture. Business have a “culture.” Certain types are recruited; folks who will fit in. Churches should reflect the diversity of the community they serve. Jesus takes the different and binds them together.

Success Measurement. Business is bottom line judged. Churches, Jesus said, will be judged by how they love, demonstrating itself in friendliness, generosity, internal/external care programs and community involvement.

Strength. In business the strong survive. To be weak is to be killed. In church, all are admittedly weak and vulnerable. Most likely there is a thriving small group program where members truly can have great biblical conversations, share struggles and pray with/for each other. Strengthen comes from God through mutual support.

Story. In business, there is “business-speak” a corporate story. In church the people are being inspired and equipped to share their faith relationally, telling their story,  resulting in more and more new believers being added to the church.

Theory. In business, employees are trained using the latest and greatest success theories. In church, the teaching/preaching is biblical, theological and immensely practical.

Future. Business relies on external systems of education for future employees. In church, ministry to children and teenagers are top priorities, not afterthoughts.

The Engine. In business, profit, success, and advancement are king. In church intercessory prayer fuels everything. It’s the engine, not the caboose, of how the church rolls from top to bottom.

Do we need to rethink the business of church?

Whose Your Hero? George Mueller or Joel Osteen?

 

 

There’s nothing to eat. Set the table. “The children are dressed and ready for school. But there is no food for them to eat,” the house mother of the orphanage informed George Mueller. George asked her to take the 300 children into the dining room and have them sit at the tables. He thanked God for the food and waited. George knew God would provide food for the children as he always did.

Dinner is served. Within minutes, a baker knocked on the door. “Mr. Mueller,” he said, “last night I could not sleep. Somehow I knew that you would need bread this morning. I got up and baked three batches for you. I will bring it in.”

Soon, there was another knock at the door. It was the milkman. His cart had broken down in front of the orphanage. The milk would spoil by the time the wheel was fixed. He asked George if he could use some free milk. George smiled as the milkman brought in ten large cans of milk. It was just enough for the 300 thirsty children.

Whose your hero? George Mueller’s trust in God makes him a hero to many. Joel Osteen fills an arena  teaching that God doesn’t want you poor. To many he’s a hero.  Is there a balance? Dave Ramsey has helped thousands get out of debt and set aside “rainy day” funds. He is a hero to many. Do these “heroes” present conflicting models?

Irresponsible Jesus. To Ramsey and Osteen wouldn’t Mueller be irresponsible for running an orphanage without sufficient funding? In fact, wouldn’t Jesus be irresponsible for having no place to lay his head? At what point are your riches causing you problems with getting into heaven?

Jesus said it was near impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom. Why? My thoughts.

  1. It’s great to save for a rainy day, but isn’t it always raining somewhere? How much savings is right when millions are dying of starvation? How much should a church have in the bank when employees are working for slave wages? Should members of the congregation do more than tithe, but that rule doesn’t apply to the church?

2. Is there ever enough in the bank? Many are stockpiling for an eventual disaster. How much water and food is enough? Enough for a week, a month, a year? Enough for you and the wife, your entire family, your extended family? all your friends? Everyone in your church? How much savings is enough?

What about guys like Joseph? Joseph became a hero to Egypt because he filled the store houses in times of plenty, but didn’t God specifically tell him to do that. No one in Egypt starved because of his plan. If God tells you to do something, I suggest  you do it.

I know these are tough questions. For me, George Mueller is my hero, not Osteen, not even Ramsey. I’d rather trust Jesus than the Bank of America. I’d rather store up treasure in heaven than at Capital One. I guess I will never be rich, at least not on this planet.

The Faith Sweet Spot. When I delivered Thanksgiving bags on Saturday I didn’t see irresponsible folks. I saw peaceful people trusting Jesus and watching him perform miracles in their lives. They did the best with what they had and trusted Jesus for the rest. It’s a good thing to be in that sweet spot where responsible living and trust in Jesus meet. May we all find it in our lives no matter who our heroes are.

 

Do Something for Persecuted Christians

 

“In the same way, faith by itself,
if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
—James 2:17 (NIV)

Help persecuted Christians around the world! The Action Pack program is a great way to get involved with the persecuted church, and a wonderful way to bless Christians in other countries. The Voice of the Martyrs is currently sending Action Packs to Pakistan, Iraq and Sudan.

When you place an order for an Action Pack, The Voice of the Martyrs will send you a special pre-printed vacuum bag to be filled with items you select from the list included with your pack (an example list is to the right). After you’re finished packing the bag, ship your Action Pack back to The Voice of the Martyrs, and they will distribute your Action Pack along with a Bible or Gospel storybook to the country that now needs Action Packs the most.

Alternatively, you can choose to have The Voice of the Martyrs pack the bag for you and send it to the country that needs Action Packs the most.

To order an Action Pack, choose one of the links below.

  • Order
  • Order
  • Rosemary and I have a couple of extra action packs. If you want to get started now. Just comment and we will get  you one. First come first serve.
  • For more info:  http://www.persecution.com/actionpacks