Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Blemished In A Photoshopped World

              I have a recent family photo on my desk.We had it taken by a local photographer when all the kids were home.  It looks great and I am a blessed man to have this wonderful family.

            But there are a few things missing from the picture.  The blemish that was on one of my children’s faces, gone!  The out-of-place hair on another child and the lines that have begun to appear on my face around my eyes, gone!  Oh the wonders of Photoshop and what a skilled photographer can do to make us look better than we did on the day of our portrait session. I suppose she could have even put some additional hair on my head so my receding hairline wasn’t so pronounced, but I had to look somewhat like I look in real life.

            While it is great to have a few minor defects Photoshopped out of a family portrait, I’m afraid that many of us who follow Jesus Christ too often portray a life to others that is a little too perfect, a little to all-together and full of faith and confidence in God.  It’s not our real life.  It’s our edited, air-brushed, Photoshopped life.

I have actually had people say to me that if the people in church really knew what they were like, they knew that they would be rejected and nobody would want them around.  So week after week they project an image of themselves to others that they hope won’t get rejected.  The problem with that is, you can’t really move forward to find help, healing and wholeness if you only let people see an image of the real you.

            We have become very good at hiding our blemishes, our pain, our problems, and the hidden parts of our lives where we wrestle with our private “demons”.  Too many of us only allow people to see our Photoshopped lives.  We smile and say, “Praise the Lord.  God has been so good to me”, while on the inside we are hurting so bad we could hardly get ourselves in the church door.  The depression, the alcohol abuse, the pressures of parenting or caring for an aging loved one, the thoughts of suicide, the sexual brokenness are never shown, not talked about.  We wouldn’t dare let the people at church see that!

We come to church in pain and often leave without one small touch of grace to our hurts.  We know God sees our deep dark inside and we pray for His help and touch, and He does respond.  I’m absolutely confident that He does.  But the help that we need, the help that God wants us to receive usually comes from others.  It comes about when we allow people to see our imperfect lives and allow them to help us walk through our messes and hurts.

            My desire, and I hope your desire, is that we leave our Photoshopped lives at the door when we walk into our church.  No one’s life is perfect; we all have blemishes, pains, problems, and private “demons”.  I do.  I would hope the safest place to bring them out into the open is the church. 

            Yes it’s a risk, but there is great reward when we find that others care and understand and are willing to journey with us.  James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”  Let me paraphrase this verse, “Expose your blemishes, pains, problems, and private ‘demons’ to one another and pray for each other so that you may be able to walk into healing and wholeness.”
            I still love my Photoshopped family portrait.  I’m glad the blemishes, stray hairs and wrinkles are gone.  But let’s leave our nicely edited, air-brushed, Photoshopped lives outside of the door of our churches so we can move toward real healing.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

I Am Just A Speck

   I was thinking about how large God is. And then I was thinking about how small I am. I mean, I am just a speck. And God cares about me, a speck. I don't care about specs that are around me.  I don’t  care about the ants in my yard or the pieces of dust floating in the air. Sometimes I don’t even care about other human beings the way God cares about me. Compared to him I'm nothing more than a piece of dust, probably even smaller, yet he cares passionately about me, a speck.
I'm nothing more than a piece of dust and yet God
cares passionately about me, a speck.

   Why and how he loves me is baffling and overwhelming. He created everything so big, and He is larger. And yet He loves specks. Wow!

   I was thinking about Jesus and how he would hang around sinners and the disreputable people. I wondered how that made them feel.  Then I thought about the whole high school situation where sometimes “jocks” hang out with “losers” and how that makes the “losers” feel.  I thought an illustration like that would be a good opening story for a sermon sometime.
   Then I thought about the God of the universe hanging around with me and how that made me feel. Maybe it's not an illustration for a sermon.  It's  a story for me and maybe a story for you too.  I sometimes feel like a “loser”, yet God hangs out with me because He wants to, He likes me, He loves me.  That makes me feel great!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A High-Flying Christian Life

     From time to time you hear about a plane that crashes and before the crash the pilot radios in that they have lost all power and are going down. When a plane loses all power it will not stay up, it has to go down. In a good scenario the pilot is able to glide the plane down to safety, but more often than not the plane crashes because there was no power to control it any longer. But whether it is able to
Whether it is able to glide in or it crashes, one thing is
certain, a plane without power is going down.
glide in or it crashes, one thing is certain, a plane without power is going down.

     The same thing takes place with our spiritual lives. We need to have power to stay flying. If our fuel source gets cut off, we will begin to decline – it is inevitable. The longer your spiritual life is without fuel the faster you go down and the harder it is to get back up again. It is easier to maintain a vital Christian life then it is to reinvigorate one.

     Here’s the devil’s tactic – he works hard to cut you off from your fuel source. He doesn’t even have to attack you, he just has to get you to stop feeding your spiritual life and you will begin to decline – it is inevitable.

     So what is the fuel source for Christ followers? Where does our power come from? Here are four primary sources of fuel for a Christian. 

     First is regularly reading the Word of God. This should be a daily practice. A regular, systematic Bible-reading plan is vital for a high-flying Christian life. Jesus said, “Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Elsewhere in Scripture the Word of God is called spiritual milk and in another place meat, each a reference to something that feeds us.

     Next is daily prayer. Communication with the Father through prayer not only feeds our spirit it helps to keep our relationship with our heavenly Father vital. Jesus said in his sermon, that we call The Sermon on the Mount, “when you pray, pray like this”. There is no “if you pray”, it is “when you pray”. Jesus understood we needed to keep ourselves fueled and strong through prayer.

     Third is weekly, twice a week is better, corporate worship and teaching at your local church. Way too many people think that they can have a strong and vital Christian life and not be a part of a local church – you can’t. The Bible says in Hebrews that we should “not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing”. It’s interesting that even in the first century people who were Christ followers had to be encouraged to meet for worship. High-flying, vital Christians are in worship services at least once a week.

     Fourth is relationships with other Christ followers. There is great strength gained from the prayers, encouragement, and support of other believers. A Christian life lived without them will never be high-flying.

     Check your power; check your spiritual fuel gauge – how are you doing? Is reading the Word of God and praying a daily part of your life? How about weekly worship and regular time spent with other believers? How you answer these questions will give you a quick and pretty accurate picture of whether your life has the power to stay aloft or whether you are on the way down.

     Disagree if you want, but I’ve been following Jesus for almost 40 years and I know from my own life and from observing hundreds of other lives that these four things are vital to fuel and feed our spirits. You either have power and your spiritual life is flying or the power is cut off and you are going down. That’s reality.

     Is something keeping you cut off from your fuel source? Is it busyness, negative circumstances, hurt, laziness, sin, relationships that pull you away? You have to choose to stay fed and fueled because if you don’t, just like a plane that has lost power, you will go down. If you are fueled up and flying high, keep it up. A high-flying Christian life is the greatest kind to have!

Monday, January 6, 2014

What’s Happening To Our Children?

The following is an article that I wrote that ran in the January 4th issue of "The Republic" Columbus' daily newspaper. Since many of you who read this blog do not live in Columbus or do not read our local paper I am running the article as part of my blog.

          “How do we keep our young people faithful to the church after they leave home?” Local ministers were asked this question during the final session of the World Religions seminar conducted at a local public library in which I was a panel member.  It was an excellent question and showed a deep concern for the loss of influence the church is having on teens and young adults.

            The panel answered the question from the perspective of what churches can do to keep our young people faithful.  When it was my turn to speak to the question I shared what my friend, Rev. Owen C. Carr says, “We don’t lose young people from our churches. We lose them when they’re children, they can’t leave until they’re teens.” 

Churches should do everything they can to inspire and connect children and teens to Jesus.  Churches must change, innovate and become relevant to our children and youth if we want to increase the odds that they will remain faithful as young adults. But the church is only a small part of the equation, and not even the most important one.  The primary factor in a young person’s desire for God, the church and the things of God is not the church.  It is parents!

            Ron Lee Davis in a talk entitled, “Introducing Christ to Your Child”, made this statement, “An elder statesman of a Christian church has devoted himself to a fifty-year study of Christian and non-Christian families.  He says that in American culture today, most young adults following Jesus Christ either come from non-Christian homes where they were converted to Christ in their teenage years through a dynamic youth ministry, or they come from homes where they grew up in love with Jesus because mom and dad were so in love with Jesus that His love permeated their lives.  It passed through their pores.  Very few believers come from homes where there was a kind of indifferent, apathetic commitment to Christ.”

            “This is not my idea,” says Davis.  “This is the result of this study.  It is sobering and thought provoking to suggest that, in American culture, the chances are better for a child growing up in a non-Christian home to become a Christian than for a child growing up in a home that has an indifferent, apathetic commitment to Jesus Christ.”

            Parents, if you are concerned about whether your children will remain faithful to Jesus, stay connected to the church, and have an eternal home in heaven -- make certain you are fully-devoted to Jesus Christ yourself and passionate about your faith.

            Warren Mueller writing in Leadership magazine noted this about children and church attendance, “A study once disclosed that if both Mom and Dad attend church regularly, 72 percent of their children remain faithful in attendance.  If only Dad attends regularly, 55 percent remain faithful.  If only Mom attends regularly, 15 percent remain faithful.  If neither attend regularly, only 6 percent remain faithful.”

            My friend, Rev. Terry Yancey, Superintendent of the Kansas District of the Assemblies of God, when he ministered to teens would often address them with words like these, “If you don’t know how to get to heaven, I’m going there.  Put your eyes on the back of my neck and follow me.  Do what I do, watch what I watch, pray like I pray, live for Jesus the way I live for Jesus.  Follow me, imitate me and we’ll get to heaven together.”  Mom, dad, could you speak words like these to your own children or are you expecting the church, the pastor, the youth sponsor or the children’s director to be the ones your children are supposed to follow if they want to learn how to get to heaven?  Your children will first follow you and then those in the church.  As Rev. John C. Maxwell says, “You teach what you know, you reproduce what you are.”

What are you reproducing in your children in regard to God and the church -- apathetic, half-hearted devotion, or vital, living faith?  The burden rests primarily not on the church’s shoulders, but on yours.  Let’s partner together to hold on to our children.