Doormat Theology: Raise Expectations

Doormat Theology Raise Expectations

     About 9 years ago, my family flew out to sunny Southern California to attend our nephew’s high school graduation. The ceremony was in the school’s football stadium, we had 4 senior citizens who were attending the ceremony and the walk from the shuttle bus to the seats was relatively substantial.
So some of us went early to pick out seats that would be good for all involved and save them. Some “seat-saving” family members went a bit earlier than me and my sons. When we got there, they shared that there had been problems with a woman who was trying to take our saved seats. I don’t get mad at a lot these days, but pick on my family…and watch out!
A few minutes later, here she came. I didn’t have to have anybody tell me it was her- it was PRETTY obvious! She came to the end of the row we were in and started to blow past another nephew who was sitting at the end of the row. When he got up to tell her the seats were saved, she got in his face and said, “MOVE!” She then pushed right on by him.
Well, guess who was the next line of defense?! I saw her push past him so I was up in a heartbeat and closed the 3-seat gap between us before she could try and claim any of the seats. “Get out of my way!” I chuckled. “I don’t think so.” I’m taking these seats!” “I think you might want to re-think that decision.” This went back and forth, her getting more and more vile by the moment and us arguing over whether or not we could save seats. Finally, she SCREAMED at me, “You CAN’T save seats!” That’s it- flip all the cards over, push all the chips into the center of the table- we’re done! “Well, that’s funny because I seem to be doing a PRETTY good job of it- I notice YOU’RE not sitting here!” Mic drop! She fumed for a second and then played what she thought was her trump card- she threatened to get security. I invited her to go right ahead and even pointed out where security was standing! Not my finest moment- but it DID feel pretty good!
  Isaiah 55:3a Listen and come to me. Pay attention to Me. Then you will live. I will make a covenant with you that will last forever. I will give you My faithful love.
A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a parishioner that led to this question from them, “Would you consider preaching about how to be a ‘good’ Christian WITHOUT being a doormat?” And it struck me- THAT is a profound concept! And this brief sermon series grew out of that! Through Doormat Theology, we are spending two weeks- last week and today- focusing on that very question. We established last week that seeing yourself the way God sees you-  turning to Him for your guidance and self-worth are a GREAT start! Today’s main Scripture points us squarely in that direction.
Psalm 121 I look up to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord. He is the Maker of heaven and earth. He won’t let your foot slip. He who watches over you won’t get tired. In fact, He who watches over Israel won’t get tired or go to sleep. The Lord watches over you. The LORD is like a shade tree at your right hand. The sun won’t harm you during the day. The moon won’t harm you during the night. The Lord will keep you from every kind of harm. He will watch over your life. The Lord will watch over your life no matter where you go, both now and forever.
Psalm 121 is pretty all-encompassing. It speaks of nature, of time, of eternity…and of the God Who is with us through all of it. It starts with an admission that we need help- I look to the hills. From where does my help come? It then quickly transitions into answering its own question- my help comes from God.
We think we’re autonomous, self-sufficient, the master of our destiny. But then one failed relationship or one catastrophic diagnosis quickly proves that’s simply not true. The truth is that we need way more help than our own limited resources can provide. But when we turn to God and utter that one powerless, and yet incredibly powerful word- “Help”- then we have started the journey toward wholeness. Psalm 121 reminds us that God keeps us. He protects us. He preserves us.
Sometimes, it’s really hard not to feel alone. You feel like the world has turned against you- or was never actually turned toward you in the first place- and you have no one to talk to. The ground might shake and evil might threaten to overtake us. Actor Stephen Fry was once asked, “Suppose it’s all true, and you walk up to the pearly gates, and are confronted by God. What will Stephen Fry say to him, her, or it?” Fry replied, “I’d say, bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain. That’s what I would say.”
Pretty harsh, but if we’re honest, it’s fairly natural to feel that way. We face things that we can’t wrap our heads around and so we look for someone to blame. But when you DO feel that way, you need to know that God is there with you- in the quiet. He there in the stillness. He’s there in the turmoil. He’s there when life is fragile…and hard. The road to freedom isn’t found in denying or railing against the fragile quality of life. Life IS hard. Life IS finite. Life IS uneven. The road to freedom isn’t found on that kind of path. Instead, it’s found in knowing the God has conquered death. This temporary, fleeting, “here today and then gone in the blink of an eye” finite life is nothing more than a precursor to an eternity…eternity…of joy unimaginable.
As I said earlier, some folks read things like Psalm 121 and say, “He’ll protect us, huh? So, no sickness? No sorrow? No suffering? How’s THAT workin’ for ya’?” God DOES protect- He protects that which is eternal- our souls. He is our shade. He casts His shadow over us. He stands between us and the devil and quotes that great theologian Gandalf the Grey- you shall not pass! Our eternal destiny is held securely in His hand.
The truth is that we have no control over…much of anything. But when put our faith in Him, our foundation is firm. When we anchor ourselves in the infinite, we can better deal with what happens in the finite. When we align ourselves to the One who moves all things, then we cannot be moved.
So, how can I be a “good Christian” and not be a doormat? Well, for questions like this, we OBVIOUSLY turn to…Dr. Phil! I mean, who doesn’t?! Here are some classic Dr. Phil quotes-
“My dad used to tell me, ‘Boy, don’t ever miss a good chance to shut up!'”
“I didn’t just come in on a load of turnips.”
“Trying to run that by me is like trying to get sunrise past a rooster.”
“You don’t need a pack of wild horses to learn how to make a sandwich.”
“I tell you, if you’re in the front row of the parade and you stop walking, pretty soon you’re back in the tuba section.”
But one of the best things Dr Phil ever said was, “You teach people how to treat you”. Think about that- somewhere along the way, you have to decide that you are who you are- who God made you to be. You have to decide that you’re putting the best “you” out there that you can and that you’re committed to riding that particular horse all the way to the finish line. And then you have to embrace the fact that not everybody is going to like that fact…and that’s OK. And the truth is that you wouldn’t worry nearly so much about what other people thought about you…if you knew how seldom they actually did.
I once had someone reach out to me- electronically- looking for some guidance about dealing with a tragic event in their life. This was a person who would readily claim they are not a Christian and therefore reaching out to me was a huge and brave step. But we were on vacation and so I didn’t get the message for three days. And by the time I DID get the message, there was a second one from them wailing on me like a rented mule. It was dripping with spite and meanness, all aimed at the fact that, while I talk a good game, when they reached out to me I ignored them.
I had a choice- I could respond in kind, firing cannon shots back across their bow. And part of me was tempted. But the Christian in me won the day and I responded with grace and humility, sharing that I had been on vacation, apologizing for not getting back to them sooner and expressing my confusion and disappointment over their behavior. The response was humble and apologetic and we have had a better relationship ever since.
Eighty percent of all choices are based on fear. Most people don’t choose what they want; they choose what they think is safe. Your response to someone’s behavior teaches them what is and isn’t acceptable. So if you roll over and take whatever they give, the message is that it’s okay for them to do that. And people will always do what works for them until they have evidence that it doesn’t work. Go to the well until the well runs dry.
Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the textbook definition of insanity. Sticking your head in the sand and hoping things will somehow magically fix themselves is simply not a viable option. Neither is setting your expectations about how you are treated so low that you basically anticipate being treated like a doormat.
If someone is regularly treating you like a doormat, that’s NOT okay. Your job, no matter how daunting it may be, is to change your response to them- teach them that their behavior isn’t acceptable. It doesn’t have to be a big, dramatic showdown. It can be done gently and with the same amount of respect that you would want.
“So how do I know where to set my expectations for how I should be treated?” Base those expectations on what you’d LOVE to see happen and not simply on what you wish wasn’t happening. You don’t have to just lie back and take it. You don’t have to simply put up with being treated like a doormat. You deserve better- but the change has to come from you. Your response to someone else’s behavior teaches them what is and isn’t acceptable.
And the core of all of this is forgiveness. If you are unwilling or unable to forgive someone who has wronged you, then there is little hope of the situation changing. BUT- there is great power in forgiveness. When I forgive you, I’m not really doing it for you. You don’t HAVE to accept it. When I forgive you, the one who benefits most from it is me. And Jesus makes that clear in the Gospel of Luke.
     Luke 6:37-38 If you do not judge others, then you will not be judged. If you do not find others guilty, then you will not be found guilty. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good amount will be poured into your lap. It will be pressed down, shaken together, and running over. The same amount you give will be measured out to you.
If you don’t judge then you will not be judged. If you don’t find guilt you won’t receive guilt. If you forgive, you will be forgiven. Give and it will be given to you. And HOW much? A good measure- pressed down, shaken together and running over. Not a meager amount. Not just enough to get by. Not a pitiful token. But a good measure- pressed down, shaken together and running over. Abundance. Fullness. THAT’S what God offers.

The Reality of Dying

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Last night, I sat with a family who was saying goodbye to their patriarch. I was reminded of a 3-month hospital chaplaincy internship I did several years ago. The woman who ran the program was very particular that we not try and sugar-coat things but instead use words and phrases that were literal and accurate. That led to us not saying things like “they passed away” or “we lost them” but instead using the actual words- they died. The truth is that the patriarch of the family mentioned in the first sentence is dying.

As a pastor, this is a situation that you find yourself in with some regularity. In the 20 years we have been in the ministry, I wouldn’t even hazard to guess how many times I have sat with a family while their loved one was dying.

The first time I was in that situation as a pastor…it was tough. I had very little experience in that setting under ANY circumstance and NO experience as a pastor. It was hard. It was emotional. It was, at some level, terrifying. People look to you as the person with the answers. Meanwhile, you stand there with absolutely NO clue what to do.

But last night, I was reminded just how far 20 years in the ministry will bring you. It’s still hard. It’s still emotional. But there is a peace that exists in that setting- a comfort. It doesn’t negate the sorrow, the grief, the loss. But it serves as the foundation that believers find themselves upon when the world seems to be collapsing around them. And I got to witness that first-hand with, and in, this family last night. They are heartbroken. But they are also uplifted by the promise of life beyond this mortal coil.

Being a pastor is an incredible blessing. I get the honor of sharing people’s lives with them. All the milestones- births, baptisms, marriages, graduations…and deaths- I am there for all of them. It’s a privilege I try to never take for granted. And so I pray for the family I sat with last night. I pray that God’s grace is sufficient. And I thank God that He called me to this crazy thing called pastoring!

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Summer Shut-Down

summer shut down

There is this…”thing”…in churches around the country. I call it Summer Shut-Down. It is the idea that the church…well…you know…shuts down in the summer! (Ergo the name!) And it happens a LOT- in a LOT of churches. You get through Christmas. There tends to be a slight “let down” in attendance early in the new year. Then you start to build toward Easter. And then, after Easter, it’s a slow, steady fade into summer, with Mother’s Day as the one potential speed bump to slow that decline down.

And so, churches go into Summer Shut-Down. They shut down some of their worship services. They shut down Sunday School. They shut down Youth Groups. I mean, numbers are down so…why not…righT?

But I simply don’t agree with that philosophy. And my whole argument is predicated on one simple fact- God doesn’t take a vacation from us! Think about it- how would you feel if you prayed to God and He came back with, “Yeah, I’m going to have to get back to you on that. I’m out for the summer. Hangin’ in the Florida Keys. See you…in September!” That would NOT be a good thing.

And yet, we respond to God that way quite often. We shut down ministries. We “take the summer off” from attending church. We push in the clutch, engage autopilot and just let the ship simply drift for 3 months. Then we climb in the driver’s seat the Sunday after Labor Day and are amazed that the engines won’t just fire up like they’ve been used consistently all summer.

Is it harder to keep ministries going in the summer? Yep. Do both attendance and participation tend to drop in during June, July and August? Uh huh. Are there Sundays when you fear that you, the staff and your family will be the only ones in the building? Oh yeah! But does that make it not worth it? Oh no! If only one person comes…they are worth it. They matter. And in a world that LOVES to tell us that we don’t matter, anything the church can do to refute that is nothing short of awesome!

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Doormat Theology: You’re Not Alone

Doormat Theology Youre Not Alone

    Once, when I was a kid, my mom decided it was time to get new carpet in our basement family room. So she and I went to the carpet store- she so that she could pick out carpet and me because I was too young to leave at home! She had measured the room in advance, so when the salesman asked, “How many square feet?”, she gave the room dimensions. BUT- the salesman also asked, “How many stairs are there that we will need to carpet?” “I’m sorry…how’s that?” My mom hadn’t thought about that and had NO idea how many stairs there were. The salesman said, “Usually, there are 12.” Meanwhile, I’m sitting there, bored to tears and looking as if I’m paying no attention at all. But then I chimed in, “14.” Both heads turned and my mom said, “What?” “14.” “14 WHAT, Rainman?” “14 stairs.” “14 stairs WHERE?” “In the basement.” Again, there was a moment of silent staring, followed by my mom giving the salesman a look that said, tacitly, “The boy’s a little…insane in the membrane!” The salesman smiled knowing, patronizingly, and said, “Well, why don’t you go home, count them and then call me!” So we left and drove the 15 or so minutes back home. My mom walked in the house and immediately started down the stairs. “One, two, three…” And when she got to the bottom? “14.”
Psalm 13:1-2 LORD, how long must I wait? Will you forget me forever? How long will you turn your face away from me? How long must I struggle with my thoughts? How long must my heart be sad day after day? How long will my enemies keep winning the battle over me?
A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a parishioner that led to this question from them, “Would you consider preaching about how to be a ‘good’ Christian WITHOUT being a doormat?” And it struck me- THAT is a profound concept! And this new, brief sermon series grew out of that! Through Doormat Theology, we will spend the next two weeks focusing on that very question.
So, what did that story about me knowing how many stairs there were have to do with ANYTHING? Well, the reason I knew how many steps is that I have a learning disability. I’m so special, in fact, that I have two! I have ADHD- Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder- which is a brain disorder that causes an ongoing pattern of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.
And the other learning disability I have is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder- OCD. It’s characterized by unwanted, unwelcome thoughts that you can’t get out of your head that often push you to repeat ritualistic behaviors and routines. Picture counting stairs as you go up or down them! And when you have learning disabilities, it can be really hard to fit in. You don’t see the world the way everybody else does. And that can cause feelings of isolation and unworthiness. It’s pretty easy to end up feeling like…a doormat.
And there is a substantial history of Christians struggling with those same issues. How do I show the love of God, how do I “turn the other cheek” and NOT simply end up as a doormat? How can I be the hands and feet of Jesus without also being His doormat, letting everybody else’s boots be like that great theologian Nancy Sinatra and walk all over me? The foundational answer to that question can be found in today’s main Scripture reading. Hear these words from Psalm 8.
Psalm 8- LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in the whole earth! You have made your glory higher than the heavens. You have made sure that children and infants praise you. You have done it because of your enemies. You have done it to put a stop to their talk. I think about the heavens. I think about what your fingers have created. I think about the moon and stars that you have set in place. What is a human being that you think about him? What is a son of man that you take care of him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings. You placed on him a crown of glory and honor. You made human beings the rulers over all that your hands have created. You put everything under their control. They rule over all flocks and herds and over the wild animals. They rule over the birds of the air and over the fish in the ocean. They rule over everything that swims in the oceans. LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in the whole earth!
In one second- one second- a beam of light travels 186,000 miles- that’s about 7X around the earth. In ONE second. That same beam of light will only take about 8 minutes to reach the earth from the sun and, in one year, will travel almost six trillion miles. Trillion- with a “t”. There are about a hundred billion galaxies in the universe. Each of those hundred billion galaxies has about a hundred billion stars. That means a universe with a total of somewhere in the neighborhood of ten billion trillion planets circling those roughly hundred billion stars in those hundred billion galaxies. Let’s be honest- those statistics are really beyond our ability to comprehend them. Is it, therefore, any wonder that David looked into the vastness of the night sky and wondered, “What is a human being that You think of him?”
In this Psalm, David speaks out of his current reality. And for David, there are two things that stand out- the power and majesty of God that is reflected in the star-filled night sky and the amazing way that the One Who created that night sky also willingly comes down to us, to crown us with His glory and give us stewardship over His creation.
So, why does God fill us with His glory? Why does He so uniquely care for and love us? Those questions- and their answers- stir up a powerful sense of awe and wonder inside of us. They also help us put our self-worth in a more proper perspective. We are NOT divine- we’re not made LIKE God but in His image. Our dignity and self-worth are gifts from God- gifts that require a relationship with Him and praise of Him in order to be more fully realized. Instead of simply handing down the judgment we so often deserve, God offers us unconditional love and forgiveness. God molded the universe as easily as a potter forms a jar on his wheel and we are His most prized creation. We are not an afterthought to God. Instead, we’re the pinnacle of His work, crowned with His glory and filled with His Spirit.
How do we then respond to all of that? First, we recognize that we can only know our potential greatness in relationship to God. The great theologian John Calvin said that there is no proper knowledge of humanity apart from the knowledge of God. When God reveals Himself, He also reveals us at the same time.
So, how can you be a “good Christian” without being a doormat? Well, it starts with you. How do you see yourself? How do others see you? How do they TREAT you? What value do the people you surround yourself with place on you? If somebody else is devaluing you, there’s a better than average chance you’re doing the same thing. What that tells me is that change has to start with you. You can’t change what others think of you or how they treat you. But you CAN change how you see yourself.
Be honest with yourself- do you deserve to be treated with respect? If you’re used to people walking all over you, you’re probably NOT used to asserting yourself. Maybe you feel powerless. Are you worthy of respect? Change starts within- you have to be willing to see yourself as God sees you. You have to be willing to give yourself a little credit for who you are and what you do. You have to be willing to embrace the values God has woven into your DNA- the cornerstone of who you are. You have to be sure that you are worth top-notch self-care.
Being a “good Christian” doesn’t mean you have to be a people pleaser. And that might sound odd- “Shouldn’t I WANT to be a people pleaser if I’m serving like God wants me to?” It’s great to do things for other people, but people pleasing is all about doing things for others in order to get personal validation. It’s about longing to hear how pleased others are with what you’ve done. It’s about wanting to hear those magic words, “Thank you”. People-pleasing isn’t a selfless act. It’s a selfish one. It’s a flawed way to feel good about yourself. The truth is that being a people pleaser can easily become a pit with no bottom- not only do others tend to take advantage of you, but it begins to seriously erode your self-esteem.
We all have our growing edges. Mine include, but are CERTAINLY not limited to, ADHD and OCD. What are yours? Now, here’s a better question- what are your strengths? Your gifts? Your God-given talents? Think of something you do where the question of whether you can do it or not never even comes up. It might be cooking, sewing, yard work, building things, fixing things, creating things, listening to someone, whatever. But it’s that things that is an unconscious competence- you don’t even have to think about it or question your ability to do it. Instead, you pull a Nike and just do it!
Being a “good Christian” is about being generous to others NOT because you desperately want validation but because there’s value in the very act of serving God by serving others.
Ephesians 1:3-4 Give praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. Those blessings come from the heavenly world. They belong to us because we belong to Christ. God chose us to belong to Christ before the world was created. He chose us to be holy and without blame in his eyes. He loved us.
If you do something…anything…you WILL hack somebody off. Period. End of sentence. Likewise, if you do NOTHING…you’ll hack somebody off! So if I’m going to hack somebody off whether I do something or nothing…I’m going to do something every day and twice on Sunday!
Being a “good Christian” is being able to have faith in your God-given gifts and talents. And that faith then translates to new situations, allowing you to get out of your comfort zone, even though it might feel uncomfortable. But that discomfort isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It simply points to the fact that you’re covering new ground. Trust yourself- trust God.

Breaking Through the Storm

Mountains

When I was about 6 years old, we went to Colorado on vacation- The Rocky Mountains. Rocky Mountain National Park. Trail Ridge Road. Great stuff! Family friends owned an A-frame cabin up in the mountains and they let us stay in it for a week. We thought we had died and gone to heaven!

When I was about 12, my mom, dad and I went back again. This time, it was NOT an A-frame cabin but a Ramada Inn in Granada Colorado. But the mountains were just as great! Then, my wife and I took a youth group to Denver on a mission trip and HAD to go to the mountains. The next summer, I went with our older son to Boulder, Colorado for the World Finals of a competition he was a part of. Again- mountains!

Years later, my wife and I went BACK to Denver for our anniversary. (Can you tell we LOVE the Rocky Mountains?!) We stayed in the greater Denver area and planned one of our days to be devoted to the mountains. When you do that, you get to see a variety of things BUT you also pray that the ONE day in the mountains will be a good-weather day!

So “mountain day” came…and it was rainy! But we were NOT going to be deterred. So we hopped in the rental car and headed north. We got to Estes Park, the town that sits outside the northern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. (It is also the location of that historic old hotel used in the Jack Nicholson movie The Shining!) It was still raining, so we stopped in Estes Park for a bit- hoping to wait out the weather. But it continued to rain. SO- we went on into the park anyway!

As we drove higher and higher into the mountains, it stopped raining! That’s because…it started SNOWING! It snowed pretty hard. The visibility dropped to almost nil. And if you’ve ever driven through Rocky Mountain National Park, you know that “low visibility: is NOT your friend! So there we were- me white-knuckling the drive, eyes glued to the road while my wife rolled down the window and caught the snow! (It really WAS very pretty…if it wasn’t so life-threatening!)

We had pretty much decided that we were simply not going to get clear skies and breath-taking vistas this time around. We decided to drive to the next “pull off”, turn around and start back down. Oh well!

And then, a miraculous thing happened! RIGHT before we got to the “pull off”, we drove out of the clouds! Yep- we were ABOVE the snowstorm! In the blink of an eye, the snow stopped, the clouds parted, the sun was out, the blue sky seemed to go on forever and mountain peak after mountain peak came into staggering view!

We pulled off, parked and hopped out. We spent 20-30 minutes there- walking, taking pictures…and struggling to breathe at that altitude! And then, the clouds started to crowd back in and the snow started. So we hopped back in the car and started the long, treacherous journey back to Estes Park.

On the way down, and for days after, we talked about the fact that, the WHOLE trip was built around going to the mountains and how, in the end, we only got 20-30 minutes of “prime time” there. It would have been easy to be somewhat disappointed in the trip. But instead, we both couldn’t get over the majesty of that moment when we broke through the storm and into the beauty that was beyond it. Those 20-30 minutes were worth everything!

Are you going through a storm right now? Watch for the break in the clouds. It may be permanent…or it may be temporary. But regardless of how long it is, those moments are a gift from God. When you are able to step out of the storm and into the beauty that is beyond it, it makes everything worth it. Remember, whether you are in the depth of the storm or the top of the mountain, God is right there with you- guiding, supporting, directing, loving.

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

“I Will NEVER…!”

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I recently heard about a pastor who said, “I’ve never used a computer…and I’m sure not gonna start NOW!” (Imagine that being said in the voice of Mr. Wilson, Dennis the Menace’s next-door-neighbor! It helped me better “paint the picture”!) This was in response to some changes that are coming with annual reporting at the conference level of our United Methodist Church.

First off, I would normally apologize up front in case I offend anybody with this blog. (I find myself doing that a LOT!) But I guess the truth of the matter is this- anybody who runs the risk of being offended by today’s blog…clearly won’t be on a computer to read it!

Here’s the deal- I simply don’t understand the logic behind a statement like that. I mean, as a human being, it gets harder and harder to even function in 21st Century life without using some kind of computer. They are, like Kenny G from a few years ago- ubiquitous! They are everywhere.

But more importantly, as Christians, there is a Biblical imperative to use a computer. Seriously! I know- you’re thinking, “Where in the Bible does it say ‘Thou shalt use thine computer'”? It doesn’t- in those words. But Jesus was pretty clear that He was willing to go where the people were and meet them at their level. He did it ALL the time. And if we are to be His hands and feet…SINCE we are to be His hands and feet…then we also have to be willing to meet people where they are. If I refuse to try and learn more about something that is incredibly pervasive AND speaks to an entire generation…or 2…or 3…of people, them just how hard am I trying to meet people where they are?

So many American Christians seem to want to “do evangelism and outreach” to others who are JUST like them…and nobody else. And on the surface- it makes sense. I can best reach people I have the most in common with. SO- don’t ask me to stretch, change or grow…because I don’t HAVE to!

But if we only reach out to those who are like us, how well are we following Christ’s lead? If I say something like, “I’ve never used a computer and I’m sure not gonna start NOW!”, then what I’m really saying to anybody around me who finds value in technology is this- you’re simply not worth it for me to try and stretch.

I realize that might seem a little harsh, and perhaps it is. (But remember, those who might be offended aren’t reading anyway! :)) But serving God doesn’t just mean doing what I am most comfortable with. It doesn’t mean that I get to pick what I like and who cares about the rest. It doesn’t mean that I get to set the terms and parameters for ministry.

Instead, it means, “I’ll go where You send me.” Sometimes that’s a change in location. And sometimes that’s a change in attitude or approach. If you find yourself often announcing what you’re NOT going to do (“I will NEVER use a computer!”) or what you don’t like (“They didn’t play MY hymn/we stand too long in church/the prayer time is too short!), then I would like to respectfully submit that it could be time to take a step back and reevaluate where your faith is.

The church does not exist to meet our needs. Let me repeat that, because it’s pretty important. The church does NOT exist to meet our needs. We exist to meet the needs of the church, specifically as they directly connect to God’s call on His people. What holds you back from reaching out to a broader range of people in the name of Jesus Christ? Whatever it is- let it go. Change it. Dump it. Refuse to do it. Instead, move more fully into God’s will for your life. Who knows- you may even learn to like computers!

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Closing Night Strike: Don’t Stop Believin’

Closing Night Strike Dont Stop Believing

      It’s not easy being a mother. Amen? My mom juggled 3 kids, a busy career AND a husband who traveled a LOT! And in the middle of all of it, she managed to bark out some orders that actually taught me some things! She taught me that one does NOT come to the dinner table without a shirt. Nor does one put their elbows on the table, talk with their mouth full or start eating before everyone is seated and has their food. She taught me that you don’t interrupt others, you say “please” and “thank you” and you respect your elders. She taught me that, if she called me from across the house, I was NOT supposed to yell back “What?” , but instead get my rear end into her presence ASAP. And she taught me that if she cooked it and put it on the table, my choices were 1. Be quiet and eat it or 2. Be quiet and DON’T eat it. But the common theme was…be quiet!
Today is the LAST week- Week 4- of our relatively short walk through the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus called Closing Night Strike. We haven’t talked about ALL of His appearances, but have instead focused on an overview of what happened between Easter morning and Jesus ascending into Heaven.
Today we consider the fact that, like the mothers in our lives, we’re entrusted with a powerful calling- to carry God’s Word to the ends of the earth. And that call is just as evident in the Old Testament as it is in the New. In Exodus 3, God says this to Moses, “I’ve clearly seen my people oppressed in Egypt. I’ve heard their cry of injustice because of their slave masters. I know about their pain. I’ve come down to rescue them from the Egyptians in order to take them out of that land and bring them to a good and broad land, a land that’s full of milk and honey. So get going. I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” God’s call to send us out has been there since the beginning.
Each week has a song tied to it – in fact it’s the name of the message – that relates to the story we’re looking at. Today’s song is “Don’t Stop Believin” by Journey. Written by Neal Schon, Jonathan Cain and Steve Perry, the song was originally released as a single from Journey’s 1981 album Escape- it made it to #9  on the Billboard charts. Currently, it’s the 20th most downloaded song in iTunes history. Hear these words from the song-
“Strangers waiting up and down the boulevard- their shadows searching in the night. Streetlight people, living just to find emotion- hiding somewhere in the night. Some will win, some will lose. Some were born to sing the blues. Oh, the movie never ends; it goes on and on and on and on.”
This song has been described as an anthem for those who want to feel free and unrestricted. Isn’t that what we ALL want- to feel free and unrestricted? The amazing thing about today’s Scripture is that Jesus offers us exactly that- an opportunity to feel free and unrestricted. Listen to these last words of Jesus before He ascended into Heaven, as found in Matthew 28:16-20- The eleven followers went to Galilee to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. On the mountain they saw Jesus and worshiped him, but some of them did not believe it was really Jesus. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All power in heaven and on earth is given to me. So go and make followers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything that I have taught you, and I will be with you always, even until the end of this age.
New Testament scholars like to point out that because Matthew is the most Jewish of the Gospel writers, he tends to focus more on obedience. And if you’re like me, obedience- taking orders- doesn’t always go well. I’ll be the first to admit that I have issues with authority- I’m not terribly fond of being told what to do. And yet I’m well aware of the fact that I wouldn’t be who I am if I never followed orders, especially those orders handed down from my mom. Think of the orders the disciples got that day in Galilee. In this passage, commonly referred to as the Great Commission, Jesus offers marching orders that we’re ALL supposed to follow until He returns. There shouldn’t be any more powerful motivational text for churches and their mission than this one.
Jesus kicks the whole thing off by reminding them of the chain of command- “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to…Me.” Not you…but Me. And the truth is that if you’re about to get some orders to follow, it’s important to understand who has the power to give them. Jesus makes it plain that there is no greater power in the universe to give orders than Him.
Then Jesus offers a list of four action words that are designed to frame the ongoing ministry of the disciples…and us. He starts with Go- “Go therefore…” 1st, notice the “therefore”. It refers back to Who has the authority- “SINCE I have all authority, THEREFORE…here’s the plan.” If you’re like me, you need reasons to back up an order you receive. That didn’t work too well with my mom, though. She would tell me to do something and I would say, “Why?” And she would respond…“Because I said so!” Here, Jesus gives His troops a reason WHY they should listen before He tells them what their orders are.
The next verb Jesus offers up is- “MAKE…disciples of all nations”. Make disciples. That’s why Christian education is so important. That’s why making disciples takes more than just one Sunday morning hour a week. And who are we supposed to make disciples of? ALL nations! In other words, everybody! The world is our mission field. But consider this- the disciples from Galilee, the 1st to hear these words, were Jewish. That meant there were some people- LOTS of people- whom they would have considered unclean. And everybody knew GOOD people didn’t associate with THOSE people.  But here, Jesus says they’re supposed to make disciples of THOSE people. The saving power of the Gospels isn’t limited to the people who are just like us. It’s for everybody. And it’s a good thing the disciples followed their orders, because WE are those unclean, unlikely recipients.
The next verb Jesus throws out there is Baptize. So the disciples were supposed to always be near water so they could immediately dunk new converts? Baptism, at its core, is an initiation into the Church- symbolic of a new beginning. Why would Jesus include this? Because all the learning in the world about what it means to be a Christian only makes a real impact on us if we’re a part of a worshipping community. Without the support of other believers, we quickly die down to little more than smoldering Christian “embers”, barely able to sustain ourselves, let alone impact anybody else. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen somebody boldly make a profession of faith, become active in the church, live as a positive witness to the power of the Gospel and then…disappear. Why? Because people convince themselves they no longer need the church. If you take a red-hot coal out of the fireplace and lay it on the hearth, it’ll continue to glow…for awhile. But soon, it fades, dies out. The same thing happens to us when we remove ourselves from the fellowship.
Then we get the 4th and final verb- teach. “Teach them to observe everything I have taught you.” Being a follower of Christ should positively affect the way we live. And we should want to pass that on to others. Notice- the instruction to teach comes AFTER we’ve made disciples of them, AFTER they’ve made a commitment and become a part of Christ’s Church.
Will it require any sacrifice to follow Jesus’ orders? Absolutely! Going into battle can demand a terribly high price. Tradition tells us that of the 11 disciples who heard Jesus’ Great Commission firsthand, only one died a natural death- all the rest were martyred for following orders. For us 21st Century Americans, the sacrifice is rarely that dramatic. There might be some ridicule, some extra time, effort and/or money. But rarely does it require much more from us. But of the roughly 1 billion Christians on the planet, 2/3 of them live where Christianity is a persecuted faith. For many, true sacrifice is still the order of the day.
But that leads to a powerful bit of assurance Jesus offers at the end of His Commission- “I will be with you always, even until the end of this age.” Think about that for a moment- our commander-in-chief reminds us- no, PROMISES us- that He’ll never leave us or forsake us. And because of that, we can follow Him with the full confidence that we’ll receive of every bit of support we need.
Many churches say, through their actions and words, “We don’t DO ministry- we HIRE it done! It’s the pastor’s job to do ministry. I’m not equipped, anyway!”
But the heart of an obedient lifestyle is a focus on God…alone. And the truth of the matter is that evangelism comes MUCH more easily, and is a LOT more fun, when we DO focus on God. We’re created in the image of God, and that has implications for evangelism and life in community with others. Relating to other people comes more naturally when we recognize we’re created in God’s image. And since we’re created in God’s image, we shouldn’t be Lone Rangers. Instead, we should be as passionate about relationships as God is.
Back to the song for a minute. It ends with these words- “Don’t stop believin’. Hold on to that feelin‘.” Mother’s Day is a GREAT day to keep believin’, a great day to be reminded of our marching orders: Go, Make, Baptize and Teach. And we can do all that confident in the knowledge that we’re not alone. My mom was a great example for me growing up. I learned how to be a decent, civilized human being from her. Likewise, we’re called to look to Jesus as a good example for us, so that we can be a good example to others. We’ve been commissioned to do Jesus’ work in the world. GO, MAKE, BAPTIZE, TEACH- heavenly marching orders for soldiers of the cross.
Focus on the Great Commission instead of yourself and see what happens. When you’re that focused on God, when you recognize He’s your all-in-all, when you lose yourself in the big picture, the joy starts flowing. And when that happens, a life of obedience is a precious gift, leading to a peace that passes all understanding.