The Secret Things

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Curiosity is one of God’s best gifts. To desire knowledge, to wonder at the world, to rejoice in discovery are all capacities that God has placed within us as rational, creative beings. Imagine how flat and dull the world would be without the impulse to ask, to try, to discover, to expand, to explore. Without curiosity, no one would have ever thought to freeze juice into popsicles or smush peanut butter and jelly between two pieces of bread, and I just don’t want to think too long about a world without popsicles and pb&j!

Thoughtful and curious creatures that we are, you and I like to ask, to discover, to explore theological ideas, too: ideas about God and the world and spirituality. These thought experiments and curious musings can be helpful, can even be fun. For instance, we know that after His resurrection Jesus was able to just appear inside locked rooms (John 20:26), but he also ate fish and honey (Luke 24:42-43)! So we wonder, How does matter work in heaven? How does digestion work inside glorified bodies? #thingsthatmakeyougoHUH

But we must resist the temptation to get carried away with our speculations and to put on certainty about what we were not meant to be certain about. In Scripture God reveals that Jesus’ resurrection body can eat food and appear inside locked rooms, so we’re safe depending on that to be true, safe telling other people that it is so. But God does not reveal to us how digestion works inside glorified bodies, so we better not build too many ideas off of our speculation that there are heavenly enzymes which no longer operate off of the biochemical models we now know, but have perfectly permeable cell walls which… or whatever.

We should exercise the capacities for rationality and creativity that God has put within us, we should be curious about theological things and seek to go as far into God’s thoughts as He invites us. But we shouldn’t mix up God’s revelation with our human speculation. When we do, we get into trouble, tripping over obstacles we’ve invented and looking for the Louvre along the Baltic Sea. (Friend, if your map is for Paris, then be assured that you’ve left the map if you find yourself in Copenhagen!)

The God of the Bible is one God, three Persons. Tricky, huh? Deep. Rich. Hard, even impossible, to explain. “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out.” (Romans 11:33) Our theological curiosity can lead us to models of one-God-three-Persons, and we can try out different ideas to see how they work and we can think through what these conceptions mean. But again, we shouldn’t mix up God’s revelation (certain!) with our human speculation (definitely not certain!).

For me and for you, the word of the Lord: “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deut 29:29)

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Culture Clash: Playtime with the Devil

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Let’s face it: if history is any indication, we as a church have been terrible at engaging culture. We have been much better at guiding people through the Bible than guiding them through the world that we live in. Because we have not really engaged with the baggage and implication of culture in our daily life, there have been three major areas where people have gone as they encounter it. I want to delve into these points so I may just split this post in half to not bore you.

I hate sermons that start like this, but I’m going to have to do it. Webster’s defines “culture”(*sigh* sorry guys) as the quote on your left.

1cul•ture
noun \ˈkəl-chər\
: the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time
: a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc.
: a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business)

Everyone belongs to a culture. Even the very name of our website here, “Haystack TV,” reflects an aspect of Adventist sub-culture. There are lots of cultures that we could discuss today (and that we will be tackling in the following weeks, like ethic, geographic, and religious cultural expressions), but the culture that I’m going to refer to this week is the overarching culture that encompasses everyone in the world that is known as “pop culture.” Yes, pop-culture has a specific connotation to it (a.k.a. what young people are into these day with their YOLO swag), but I’m referring to pop-culture as as the sum total of everything that fits the main description of culture that I referenced earlier applied to your own local context.

Remember, the pop-culture in your part of the world is different than that of another. Psy was somewhat known in Korean pop-culture way before “Gangam Style” made him famous beyond their borders. Likewise, pop culture in the Southern United states is vastly different than what is happening out west in California. For clarity sake, I’m going to be referencing American pop culture in this series.

The point is, regardless of where you live, you have, live in, and live with a culture. As Seventh-day Adventists, we typically have responded to the pop culture that we live around in one of three major ways.

Reject it:

This has been our go-to option for many years. Perhaps some of you grew up in a house where your parents warned you about the dangers of pop culture by calling it or attributing it to “the Devil.”

Movies? The Devil. Music? The Devil in Stereo. Movies? The Devil in 1080p. Video Games? Super Devil Brothers Wii. Sports? They’re called the New Jersey Devils for a reason. You get the point.

Recently (I kid you not), I overheard a conversation among a group of young mothers talking about the dangers of their children watching Spiderman because, you guessed it, the Devil is a web-slinger. I couldn’t help but think of the following picture to the right in retrospect.

That’s right, we had playtime with the Devil as children…or so it would seem.

barneysatanYes, while this comparison is initially meant to get you to laugh, the reality is that this in many ways is the same logic behind the way that our church has dealt with culture many times: find any fault that could be attributed to it and reject it completely. To be fair, this idea doesn’t come out of thin air. After all, 1 John 2:15 says,

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (NASB)

I’m sure you’re heard the expression, “in but not of the world.” Does verse mean that, as some movements throughout history have done, we have to move away from all civilization into remote areas as a way to separate ourselves from those things we consider sinful (more on this in the future)? Whatever the case, this is one approach that some have taken.

Ignore it:

Of course, some people will not flat out reject culture, but they may not give it a second thought. This concept of culture impacting the things we do may be a new concept for some. However, like a baby, ignoring it does not make it go away (it might get you thrown in jail though). When we ignore culture’s effect on us, we can begin to adopt some cultural habits that eventually turn into superstitions.

Take those examples I gave last week, for instance. I’ll give you the brief answer on why they happen today.

• Why do brides wear veils at weddings? This custom originated in Rome, when a bride would wear a veil down the aisle to disguise herself from evil spirits who were jealous of her happiness.
• Why do brides throw their bouquet? In England, this was considered a symbol of happiness. A single woman who catches the bouquet is believed to be the one to marry next.
• Why do people ask God’s blessing on a sneezer? In Europe during the Bubonic plague, people used to think that your heart would stop for a second and your soul could fly out of your body from how hard you sneezed. My wife can attest that my sneezes sound like I’m trying to bring the dead back to life with how loud they are!
• Why do people cover their mouth while yawning? Other than protecting others from potent halitosis, this practice had the same roots as the “detached soul” idea from before.
• Why do Protestants ask the pastor to “bless” the food before eating? This one, I believe, comes from a carryover from Catholic heritage with the idea that somehow pastors are at a “heightened spiritual connection” to God above everyone else. The idea is that a pastor’s prayer somehow makes a meal “holy.” This concept is ironic considering we believe in this thing called the Priesthood of all believers.

I’ll stop here. What has been your experience with pop culture? Have you experienced any of the above or something different? Feel free to comment below and tune in next week for the latest installment of the Culture Clash series!
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When Gay Doesn’t Mean Happy

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When we think someone is sinning, we often feel compelled to comment. We can change them. We can help them. They just don’t fully realize the extent of their actions. They haven’t tried hard enough to change their stripes. They haven’t asked the right questions to get help. They haven’t read the right books to understand their own waywardness. We mean well. We really do. However, some of the most heinous acts in human history have been committed in the name of well-meaning.

We hint. We suggest. We give those knowing glances. We tell others, because we think others can help us make the person change. We heap loads of guilt up and serve it on a silver platter. “Change!” becomes our cry and plea.

Though we pile-on positivity, we don’t often realize what the individual is going through. Trust me, there’s enough on their plate without first and second helpings of our denouncements and judgments of their lifestyle. What if you were concerned that you may be continually living in opposition to God? What if you knew everyone you loved was firmly convicted that you were a sinner? How about if you felt there were no other way to be true to yourself? What if you feared you’d never be able to marry or have children? What if you worried that you’d never be able to express your love for another individual?

Forgive my bluntness, but at the end of the day, we often keep the gay from being happy. We judge them when they live in the midst of internal judgment that condemns far more harshly than anything we can muster. It’s not the biblical way. To be honest, I firmly believe that the Bible is clearly against homosexual practice and expression. However, I don’t want that conviction to get in the way of building relationships with my fellow believer or non-believer who feels differently. I do not believe that the biblical stance of love is contradictory to the biblical mandate against homosexual practice.

You see, we have to stop pretending that caring about someone necessitates automatic acceptance of every belief or lifestyle practice of that person. We have to stop buying into this idea that being a part of someone’s life is equivalent with condoning their every choice. I don’t find anywhere in my Bible that points to that belief. What I do find in my Bible is a God who calls me to love my brother (John 13:35; I John 4:12,20). I’m not saying it’s always easy, but I am saying that Christ gave us an example that shows it’s worth whatever personal sacrifices we have to go through to show love to everyone.

It’s not my job to tell you that you are living against God’s Word. It’s the Holy Spirit that brings convictions. While I realize that there are very real realities and concerns about those living actively homosexual lifestyles in leadership roles, I think that the church is the place for gay people. God wants those who accept His message to come and join the ranks. Even when those struggles are as taboo as homosexuality, He wants us to lay them at His feet. Have we forgotten that all church members are broken? Rather than denying our issues, we should be supremely aware of our own inferiority next to God’s perfection.

Just because you are attracted to the opposite sex, this does not give you the right to treat those who feel attracted to the same sex harshly. At the end of the day, each of us fails on our own. We have sin that we are trying to give to God more fully. I don’t have all the answers, but I do know Jesus’ example teaches us to love. Jesus’ example teaches us to welcome our homosexual friends and family members with open arms. We aren’t supposed to try and change them. Though He may decide to use us, only God can shape or inspire any sort of transformation. While it’s important to have a biblical opinion on homosexuality prepared to counsel, please don’t think you have the license to shove that opinion down the throats of those who identify themselves with LGBTQ orientations. Love. At the end of the day, doctrine should lead us to formulating relationships. Let go of your homophobia. Let God create actual change through the authentic relationships that you engage in with other sinners.

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The Laodiceans of Baseball

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I recently had the opportunity to attend a major league baseball game in southern California.  Typical of that part of the country, the weather was warm and sunny.  Settled in for the game with my soda and cotton candy, my friend and I were taking it all in.  The list of places I’d rather be at than a ball game has maybe only a golf course above it, this was going to be a good evening.  And it was.  There was a pitching duel of Cy Young candidates, diving catches in the out field, even a home run.  But despite all the spectacular plays taking place on the field, there was something missing.  Cheers.

My buddy and I started talking about this.  Here we were in the middle of this relatively full stadium, with fans for that team decked out in their colors and jerseys, and it seemed like no one was cheering or even jeering.  It took me a couple of innings to figure out what was going on.  The right fielder sprinting in on a sinking liner on a rope and diving head long to catch the ball inches above the ground, saving an out and a run.  Mild applause.  A former member of the home team comes to the plate.  Silence.  I’ve been to a few Yankee games in New York or otherwise.  When a former team member is coming to bat, weather the split was amicable or not, the boos and jeers fly.  They’re apart of the enemy now and Yankee fans hate him.

This fan base reminded me of the Laodiceans of baseball.  The just didn’t care.  Of course I realize that there were fans at this game that truly did care, but I think it serves as a reminder that we are called to be on fire for Jesus.  To show passion for our Savior.  “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3: 15 & 16
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3 Most Important Traits Every Best Friend Needs

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There’s a saying in Spanish that says “Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres.”
It translates to “Tell me who you’re with and I’ll tell you who you are.”

Life gives us certain choices. Few choices are more important than who you choose to call “friend.” We share laughs, tears and secrets with friends as we go through life together. Even those who may have a great relationship with their families know that there are somethings you can tell a friend that you CAN’T EVER tell your family.

Besides being alive, here are the 3 essential traits every best friend should have:

1) Honesty.
A best friend needs to be able to tell you when you have broccoli in your teach or have your zipper down without making you feel embarrassed about it. We all need someone who can be honest with us, especially when we need it most. Having someone who can be honest about your successes and flaws will help you appreciate who you are and and what you both bring to the table.
Prov. 27:6.
“Wounds from a friend are better than kisses from an enemy!”

2) Uplifting.
Life is difficult, it’s dangerous to go alone. Take a friend who will be able to raise your spirits and inspire you to higher and better things. Road trips are not as exciting without someone join in as you obnoxiously sing your favorite songs. Sometimes it helps if you can laugh at the same things too!
Ecc. 4:10
“If either of them falls down,one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”

3) Consistency.
A friend will be there for you no matter what! No kind of nearness, distance, money or relationships should get in the way of a true best friend. It’s a special thing when you go a while without talking to that special friend but you know that as soon as you make that call you both will be talking as if no time ever passed. Fake friends are no friends so if there are people in your life who only check up on you to hear about the latest drama in your life, keep them at a safe distance behind your trust bubble.
Proverbs 17:17
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

The people you surround yourself with are a reflection of who you are or hope to be. Be with people who encourage you to be your best self. Surround yourself with people who are striving for the same thing you are. The reward is not in the destination, but through the journey.

The Bible says a lot about friendship and relationship and we’ll explore that in the future posts.
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Do You Qualify for Salvation? Part 3

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When I was a soldier I met a guy named Kenny. He smoked, drank, slept with different women all the time and got kicked out of the Army for doing drugs. However, according to Kenny, he was saved because four years before he had prayed a prayer at a youth rally. He didn’t do anything to earn his salvation, and he certainly wasn’t doing anything to keep his salvation. But is this what it means to be saved?

If works have nothing to do with our qualifying for heaven then why fuss over them?

Kenny had bought into the popular gospel known as “once saved always saved.” The gospel which I have come to refer to as the “ticket version.” For him, Jesus was a ticket and nothing more. His salvation was simply a judge granting him irrevocable access to heaven regardless of how he continued to live his life. No faith was necessary. No trust or obedience. You said yes, and wallah! You are set for life. And why not? After all, we are saved apart from our works and we are preserved apart from our works as well. If works have nothing to do with our qualifying for heaven then why fuss over them? The Bible answers this question in the same passage we have been looking at. The NIV puts it this way:

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).
 

The Greek word for workmanship is “poiema” which literally means, “a work” but it also carries with it the connotation of an artist. In other words, we are Gods art-work. When you give your life to Jesus He begins to do a work of art within you. He begins to change you and transform you. The amazing thing is that when Paul used the word “ poiema” it simply meant a work. But over time it became the root of our English word poem. A poet is someone who makes a poem. However, the poet works on the poem until it is exactly what he wants it to be. His first draft is rarely his last. Instead he returns to the poem and edits it. He fixes grammatical errors, changes words, clauses, and at times even entire sentences and paragraphs. He artfully molds the poem until it becomes exactly what he wants it to be. This is what God does with us. When we accept Christ we are saved, but God is not finished yet. He doesn’t leave us broken like He found us. He works in us and through us and for us and turns us into a beautiful poem. He then reads this poem before the universe, a demonstration of his artistic finesse, and shows both men and angels that his love is powerful enough to turn the ugly into the beautiful, the ogre into the prince, and the selfish into the loving. Thus, we are changed into his image, grow into holiness, metamorphose into Christ-likeness, and translate into his love-language not as the basis for our acceptance with God, but as the inevitable result of looking unto Jesus and being filled with his love.

Works cannot save us and works cannot keep us, but anyone who claims to be saved and does not increasingly reflect the love of God is self-deceived at best. And there is a pervading ideology infecting our hearts that salvation is all about having a “ticket” for heaven. We churn at the thought of a God who demands. We roll our eyes at the word sanctification, as though it were a sour ingredient in the salvation dish. Perhaps, due to our legalistic backgrounds, we are so eager to experience the safety and joy of grace that we actually miss what grace is. Perhaps, in some secret way, we envy those who believe in “once saved always saved” and try desperately to align our faith with theirs as much as possible. The end result is the “ticket” version of salvation. We talk about a relationship with Jesus, but we don’t even believe what we are saying because at the end of the day, a relationship demands a person not a ticket. And a personal relationship is either always growing, always ascending, always advancing or it becomes stagnant, cold, and dysfunctional. Billy Graham said it best when he stated,

It should not be surprising if people believe easily in a God who makes no demands, but this is not the God of the Bible. Satan has cleverly misled people by whispering that they can believe in Jesus Christ without being changed, but this is the Devil’s lie. To those who say you can have Christ without giving anything up, Satan is deceiving you.
 

…any gospel that fails to lead to a radical transformation of the life is “a half baked gospel.”

God never leaves us the same. He never leaves us broken. He never leaves us enslaved. He never leaves us addicted. And while he doesn’t always deliver overnight, the promise of salvation is not only a new life in heaven but a new life here. A life that is characterized by radical love and other-centeredness. Andrew Farley, in his book The Naked Gospel, said it best when he wrote that any gospel that fails to lead to a radical transformation of the life is “a half baked gospel.” And any person who says “I am saved by grace” while continuing to live in perpetual disharmony with the law of love demonstrates that he is still living in rebellion against God and has either never truly been saved, or thrown his salvation in the garbage bin either intentionally or through persistent neglect. A true understanding of the gospel comes when we embrace the paradoxical nature of grace and works. Such a paradox is very difficult to express in human language, and yet it is there. We are not saved by works or preserved by works, but nevertheless we are not once saved always saved. Salvation is a free gift but it must be enjoyed, not spurned. And when we enjoy our salvation, when we celebrate it and daily dance to its rhythm we will be changed, not as the basis for our salvation, but as the inevitable result of inhaling it’s fragrance.

And herein lies the joy of obedience. The joy of works. The joy of sanctification. We don’t have to obey to be saved as if salvation was earned by obedience. We don’t have to work to stay saved as if grace only covered our past, leaving our present and future status dependent on our performance. But when we are saved we will obey because obedience, good works, and sanctification are the natural result of being saved. You can distinguish between grace and works, but you cannot separate them. They come together – one as the qualifier for heaven (justification) and the other as the inevitable result of that experience (sanctification) which fits us for heaven.

I love the following illustration: Suppose you invited me to a meeting at Star Bucks and I arrived a half hour late. When I arrived I said, “Sorry for being late man. I was driving here and my car ran out of gas so I had to pull over. I then had to cross the street and when I did I was hit by a truck travelling 65 mph and it ran me over. And yeah, that’s why I’m late.” What would you think about my story? It would have to be one of three options. Either 1) I am joking, 2) I am lying, or 3) I am crazy. There is simply no way I am telling the truth because there is simply no way that I can come into contact with something as big as a truck and not be changed (i.e. splattered into a million tiny pieces). But isn’t God bigger than a truck? You cannot encounter Him and not be changed. It simply is not possible.

We are saved by grace and preserved by grace, but make no mistake, grace is not just pardon – it is power. Power to change. Power to transform. Power to deliver. Power to transpose. Power to redeem. You cannot have it and remain unchanged for the natural result of receiving grace is an experientially life altering divine metamorphosis. And its beautiful.

When I look at my past I don’t like what I see. When I look at my present I don’t like what I see. But when I look at my future all I can see is the promise “that he who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”

When I came to Christ I was broken because of my addictions and sinful habits. Controlled by my passions and tendencies. Corrupted by my DNA and corrupted even more by my own choices and misplaced allegiances. And I am so thankful today that Jesus didn’t just forgive me. I am thankful that he also changed me and set me free from the power of sin that was ruining my life. Am I still a sinner? Of course, but grace enables me to daily transcend my carnal self and live a life of integrity and purity before God and man. Am I perfect? Not by a long shot. But this I can say: When I look at my past I don’t like what I see. When I look at my present I don’t like what I see. But when I look at my future all I can see is the promise “that he who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). Praise God! I am forgiven. I don’t have to continue a slave to the garbage that enslaved me. I am free from sins guilt and free from its power and I cannot wait until the day when I will be free of its presence – and that day is nearly here.

So what is the best way to summarize the only gospel? Here it is: What Jesus did. Period. What Jesus does. Period. Or to shorten the formula: Jesus-only. He pardons. He transforms. He erases. He re-writes. He uproots. He plants anew. He demolishes. He rebuilds. He puts to death. He rebirths. He is the author of our faith and he is its finisher. He wrote the first word in your salvation story and he will write the last. And what is your role in all of this? Simple. Just dance. Dance with Jesus. Or to put it in plain English, enjoy your relationship with him. Grow into him. Abide in him. Lose yourself in his love. Allow your soul to be swept into his presence. Fall deeper in love with him. Is it easy? No. Is it passive? No. Is it intentional? Yes. Is it a battle? Yes. But it is always, at all times and in all circumstances, a response to his grace made possible by his grace. Nothing more. Nothing less.

I began this series by saying that the book of Ephesians outlines Gods secret weapon to defeat evil. That weapon is the church – a community made up of evil, wicked, perverted, selfish people who have been redeemed. They are no longer evil, perverted, or selfish. Grace has pardoned and grace has changed them. Thus Paul could say,

As for you, don’t you remember how you used to just exist? Corpses, dead in life, buried by transgressions, wandering the course of this perverse world. You were the offspring of the prince of the power of air—oh, how he owned you, just as he still controls those living in disobedience. I’m not talking about the outsiders alone; we were all guilty of falling headlong for the persuasive passions of this world; we all have had our fill of indulging the flesh and mind, obeying impulses to follow perverse thoughts motivated by dark powers. As a result, our natural inclinations led us to be children of wrath, just like the rest of humankind.
 
But God, with the unfathomable richness of His love and mercy focused on us, united us with the Anointed One and infused our lifeless souls with life—even though we were buried under mountains of sin—and saved us by His grace. He raised us up with Him and seated us in the heavenly realms with our beloved Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King. He did this for a reason: so that for all eternity we will stand as a living testimony to the incredible riches of His grace and kindness that He freely gives to us by uniting us with Jesus the Anointed. For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved. You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort. It is God’s gift, pure and simple. You didn’t earn it, not one of us did, so don’t go around bragging that you must have done something amazing. For we are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives, created in the Anointed, Jesus, to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago.

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Further Reading:

Is A Christian Once Saved Always Saved? (A Lutheran View)

Is A Christian Once Saved Always Saved? (A Methodist View)


Is A Christian Once Saved Always Saved? (An Adventist View)

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Three Mistakes in Changing the Culture of an Organization

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Recently I had two conversations with leaders that are trying to improve/change their organizations, i/e churches.  While encountering some opposition in the process is normal, here are some things you would want to consider, as you consider changing the culture of your church. Remember two key facts:

Culture: “how we do things here”.

Culture > everything.

When you arrive at a church/organization/new assignment, we sometimes make the following wrong assumptions:

1. People want the church to grow.

Everyone says they want to grow. Until you start changing the status quo. Then, not so much. We erroneously assume that people mean what they say, when they say they want their church to grow. Growth means changing some of what you have been doing, because if you continue doing the same things you have always done, you will be getting the same results you have always gotten. Take into consideration the following preferences in you church:

Some prefer small. Power is addictive, and they fear that more people=less power.

Some prefer same. They are used to what is. Comfortable. Known. Familiar.

Some prefer previous. The previous pastor taught them his way, was the only way.

 

2. People want to follow you.

You may be the assigned leader, but you are not always the real leader. We assume that people will embrace your super visionary, earth shattering, demon destroying ideas, while members just want to have their starbucks (decaf), sing some familiar songs & hear a sermon that will put them to sleep, not to work. You want to build a Home Depot. They are perfectly fine with a corner Mom & Pop store.

 

3. People understand the cost.

Change is hard. When Jesus calls us, he bids us to die. That’s no fun! There is a high cost for excellence. It costs people their power, control, familiarity and predictability. Usually the leader lives, breathes and sleeps ministry. People in the congregation have something we call “lives”. The cost for a church member to be “all in” is high. Spelling out the cost, and reassuring them of the kingdom’s purpose, in great detail, is a must.

 

To do:

Here is an assignment. If you have a board/team of any kind, ask these 2 questions and sit back and take notes. Resist the urge to correct, rebuke, fire, or get defensive with the answer. Just sit back and listen. (and take good notes). Here are the questions:

a. What would success look like, if we were to get there, in 3 years? Visualize for a moment what that looks like in: attendance, growth, worship, discipleship, children’s ministry, youth involvement, finances. (be as specific as you can in each area)

b. What would success feel like, if we accomplish in 3 years what we have set out to do?

 

Send feedback, to rhernandez@southernunion.com

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What Motivates You?

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It is still ingrained in my mind.

“FAT. FAT. FAT. FAT.”

Their voices literally echoed as they drove slowly beside me alongside the street as I walked home from school. I was thirteen years old. They were grown men. They were not high school kids with nothing better to do than to bully someone, but GROWN men. Men who have busy lives, responsibilities, bills, maybe even families to take care of – who still had a moment to crush a thirteen year old girl’s spirit.

Then, it happened again. The teasing. The bullying. The humiliation as I stood in front of the mirror in a popular clothing store, staring myself down, sick to my stomach, as I realized I did not look as good as the models displayed on the store front windows, or even the skinny retail assistants who continuously searched for a ‘larger size’, with the hopes of making…that…SALE!

And sadly, not last and not least, I can recall my very first boyfriend, cheating on me and dumping me for a skinny girl, whom with his final goodbye stated “you must weigh like yada yada kilos” with a chuckle as I walked away. To my dismay, he was right. And I had no idea.

It was then I realized I needed to do something. So I did. The weight came off. Then it came back. It came off. Then back. Finally, “woohoo”, it came off.

I didn’t get my boyfriend back when I lost the weight. I didn’t get an apology or ‘chased’ after by him, which was the reaction I so so so badly wanted once I reached my goal. I got nothing. All I got was ignored. I was extremely discouraged and miserable.

Today as I write this, I am married, and I have two beautiful boys – with the scars to prove my entrance into motherhood. I am not exactly where I want to be – I am still a work in progress. However, I am running that race with every workout, with every moment that I say no to that piece of cake. I am fighting the fight with every mango smoothie or fresh beetroot and ginger juice. And you know what…

My spirit isn’t crushed, even though the world says it should be.

I still have clothes on my back. Maybe not the size I wish, but I can rejoice because I have something that allows me some dignity.

Will my husband divorce me because I gained a little weight? I highly doubt it. And even if he did, I won’t lose weight just to try to win him back.

This time, I am motivated by the right reason – to take care of the body that God so wonderfully and fearfully made.

What motivates you to be healthy?

 

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

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Living in the Real World

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Living in the Real World

A stiff wind tickles the tip of my nose as I twiddle a piece of grass between my eleven-year-old fingers.  I’ve been a daydreamer from my earliest memory and today I find myself chasing the sky.  Here, a dragon floats over my treehouse.  There, a giant clown face looks at me. A dog chases a chicken.  I see a boxing glove.  A baseball bat.  A House.  It’s so wonderful… to know what is in the sky.  But if you were there, chances are that you wouldn’t have seen what I saw.  Of course this is because clouds do not have intention.  We read into them what our mind wants to read into them.  False pattern recognition is a diverting fantasy, but it is fantasy.  We do not communicate with the heavens. Rather, what we see in the skies is a window into our own biases, our fears, and our fascinations.  How do I know that there is no dragon in the skies?  How do I know that the clouds are not sending me a coded message, or that aliens are not using the clouds to try and communicate with me?  Even if I believed in aliens, and that they could use clouds to communicate, I could assure myself with one rather easy step: search for evidence that I’m wrong.  When I do this, immediately the dragon disappears.  The head is almost right, but what kind of a dragon has a huge blob coming out of its ear?  Why didn’t I see that before?  And instead of a wing, there is a random swirling pillar.  This contradicts the idea that the clouds are showing me a dragon at all.  I didn’t see these contradictions to my “dragon hypothesis” at first because they undermined my fascination.  Our minds are so obsessed with patterns; they will create patterns and meaning out of random information – shapes, Rorschach tests, and clouds.

The difference between art and clouds is that art has intention behind it.  Some art has a very direct and easily identifiable intention.  For instance, the fable of The Tortoise and the Hare puts forward the direct idea that persistence is more important to success than mere skill.  Other art, like The Grapes of Wrath, has a more nuanced message that describes the psychological drivers which shape our social interactions.  Their messages are more complex and they take more time to understand.  Many paintings simply call forth an emotional or psychological state to consider.

How art and clouds are similar is that people can look at them both and be drawn into false pattern recognition.  We often let our current circumstances color the meaning of what we look at, read, listen to, or watch.  Then we come away with, not a message to be considered, but a confirmation of what we already believe.

I was talking with a girl at camp meeting who was tired of living with her parents.  She exclaimed over and over that she’d be just fine without them.  She pulled out her phone mid-way through our talk to make a call.  I complimented her on having a cool phone.  She thanked me for the compliment then told me how her mom had got it for her.  The irony was lost on her.

She jumped right back into talking about how fine she would be without her parents.  “It’s like that song Ain’t it Fun by Paramore!” she exclaimed.  “It talks about it being fun to be a grown up and on your own.”  I smiled and nodded.  Then I said that I didn’t know the song that well, and I asked if I could see the lyrics.  We read them together and she immediately looked confused.  From the opening lines, it became clear that the singer was talking to someone who was naïve enough to believe that he or she could get by without people to depend on.  Within the context of the verses, the chorus showed itself for the obvious ironic statement that it was.  The message of the song, in the context of the verse, is that it really is quite hard being on one’s own, but that people often take their support systems for granted.  They take their status in their small social circles for granted.  It uses irony to point out that people want to be on their own, but that very rarely do people want to be all alone.

Upon reading the lyrics with me, I could tell she’d lost a little of her enthusiasm for independence.  She then said “Well, it’s still really hard living with my parents.  They don’t get me.”  I understood.  It is hard living with people with whom you disagree. But Paramore’s song wasn’t about how hard it is to live with people, but how hard it is to live without them.

This girl had been so intent on her own world view, she had missed the message that she needed to hear and instead was hearing what she believed was there.  She was choosing only to see in the art what she wanted to believe was there because her faulty interpretation confirmed her own perspective on life rather than challenging it.  This self-confirmation mentality is not living in the real world.

In the real world, we have no guarantee we are right.  We do ourselves a disservice when we go into anything believing we have it all figured out and that we need to show everyone else how right we are.  Peter was so sure that Judaism was the only way to Christianity that it took the spiritual baptism of gentiles directly in front of him in order for him to see that his perspectives and his cultural upbringing had blinded him.

I’ve heard many sermons speaking out against everything from Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings to The Chronicles of Narnia.  I’ve heard sermons against films ranging from Mulan to Star Wars.  They all have one thing in common: the people who preached them had no idea how to understand literature.  They were finding patterns confirming what they already believed of those works, while ignoring the work as a whole and the message that the whole work was conveying.  If the preacher was against the idea of animals having a soul, then Narnia was wrong because it had talking beasts.  If the preacher was afraid of lure of the occult, Harry Potter was evil because it was teaching people to do magic.  If the preacher was against imagination in general, then Lord of the Rings was simply a devil-possessed treatise arguing for animism and sorcery.  These preachers were uninterested in listening to what the stories were saying because they were obsessed with their own perspectives and agendas.  I would like to know what these preachers would do with the talking trees in Judges 9, or the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus.  By their logic, Jesus would have been arguing for communication between heaven and hell, rather than making a point about how important it is for those who have wealth to care for those who do not.

I once listened to a preacher talk about how when you see black and white checkers in a film (a tile floor for example), it’s the Free Masons claiming dominion over that film.  This idea is, of course, bordering on the insane.  Followed to its logical conclusion, the Free Masons have dominion over a huge swath of mom and pop diners in the country, chess boards, and the finish flags at the end of car races.  It is far more likely that people simply use these tile floors because they like the tile pattern of black and white.  People simply like patterns.  It is how we plant crops and how we predict the faces of the moon.  Many patterns are real, and have meaning.

However, if we wish to take ourselves seriously, we need to challenge our own false pattern recognition.  We need to take seriously the task of accurately understanding what artists say through their works.  Most of all, we need to assume the best of them so that when we disagree with them, we are disagreeing with ideas that they actually believe, not the ones our fevered imaginations think they believe.

And now for the Mirror… How do I pick out patterns that only justify my beliefs?  I remember showing my friend a study which made the claim that reading fiction makes people more moral because it correlates to a more developed “Theory of Mind.” (This is essentially one’s ability to read other people’s emotions.)  However, when I came across a study that showed that a developed Theory of Mind does not always equate to kindness, and understanding, but can also lead to manipulation and bullying, I caught myself ignoring those conclusions.  They were VERY important conclusions, and suggested that it’s not enough to have an ability to read emotions, but one also needs to be able to empathize and emotionally put one’s self in the shoes of the person whose emotions one is reading.  Still, in my mind I just wanted to believe that reading various perspectives on reality was THE magic bullet.  There is rarely, if ever, a magic bullet, and I should have been skeptical of that interpretation of the data to begin with, but I, like everyone else, like putting patterns together into conclusions that only back up MY unique experiences and perspectives.  Letting one’s self do this is a sure way to burn away the life-giving bonds of the Kingdom in any community.

We all fall, but with the gift of grace comes the sacred challenge to get up and try again.  So I continue to fight my own biases.  I continue to seek a more accurate understanding, for I believe we should all be as honest with ourselves and each other as possible.

We should all be living in the real world.

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Athletes Take on ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

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Over the past few days athletes participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge have dominated my Instagram timeline. It seems like everyone is doing it. I’ve seen Lebron James, Team USA basketball, Aaron Rodgers and many others dump an ice cold bucket of water on their head in support of an ALS foundation. Videos of many athletes participating in the challenge can be found on their social media pages.

Aaron Rodgers takes Ice Bucket Challenge
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers takes Ice Bucket Challenge.

This is how the Ice Bucket Challenge works;

  1. Someone nominates you to do the Ice Bucket Challenge.
  2. You have 24 hours to complete the challenge and post a video on social media. (If you fail to post a video you must donate $100 to an ALS charity.)
  3. You challenge a few other people to post videos of the Ice Bucket Challenge.

According to the Today Show the Ice Bucket Challenge has gone viral resulting in $9.5 million dollars being raised from July 29-August 15. In comparison $1.6 million was raised during that time span in 2013 (Ice).

Much of the Challenge’s success can be attributed to celebrity involvement. Personally the celebrities I follow are almost exclusively athletes, and I think it’s very cool that they are using their platform to raise ALS awareness. Sports stars are the perfect spokespeople for ALS, because the Yankee legend Lou Gehrig suffered from ALS and the disease has been commonly named Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Athletes using their platform to promote ALS foundations made me think, “How can I use my platform to take a stand for God?” The Ice Bucket Challenge shows that something as simple as a 15 second video of pouring water on yourself can be inspiring enough to cause a 600% increase in donations.

This called to mind Matthew 17:20 where Jesus says, “…Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (NIV). The first people to put up there Ice Bucket Challenge videos had faith that their small action could make a difference, and it ended up moving a 9.5 million dollar mountain. Their actions have inspired me to look for ways, no matter how small, to faithfully take a stand for God, because a small action may end up moving mountains.

On August 16 I was issued the Ice Bucket Challenge by a friend, so I have chosen to attach my video to the end of my blog post.

Evan Altorfer ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

 

Citation:
“Ice Bucket Challenge Leads to Big Money.” TODAY. NBC News, 16 Aug. 2014. Web. 17 Aug. 2014.
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