No Runs, No Drips, No Errors Attitude

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Last week I was thinking about all the places I’ve lived.  In my Tribe, most churches provide the pastor with a home.  We call it a “parsonage”.  Most churches seem to have the attitude, “It’s just the preacher’s home.  It doesn’t need much upkeep.”  And it seems to me that some of my colleagues have the same attitude by how they treat, and leave the parsonage for their successor.  I remember what one Bishop said every year, “When you move, move.  And take the dog and piano with you.”  Obviously they weren’t listening because I’ve inherited everything from rusty bicycles to used auto parts.  But that’s not me.  Over the decades I have spent considerable time, effort and $$$ to improve its appearance.

This is a “before” picture of a door I once repainted.

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I do not know who attempted to paint this door and I do not want to insult anyone, but it is a very poor job of painting.  It had runs, drips and errors, lots of them.  I spent over an hour trying to sand and scrape all those runs, drips, and errors before I added the paint.  Had I not done that, then those runs, drips and errors would have still be there.  The paint I would add would not have removed them, it would have just added another layer.  There was no attempt to do this job with excellence.  It seemed to be just an alleged attempt to paint without caring about the result.

Here is something I’ve recently learned at the feet of the Holy Spirit.  Many who claim to Image result for lackadaisicallove Jesus is that while they do “their best” AT church, they don’t put much effort into doing “their best” IN the ordinary days.  I’ve come to realize that this lackadaisical attitude toward the ordinary things is a symptom of a deeper spiritual problem.  That problem is living without the desire for excellence in everything, all the time.  I’m not talking about being a Rembrandt at painting doors.  It’s simply desiring that whatever we put our hands to doing, that it be done with great care and the desire for it to be good.

When we don’t do ordinary things with the desire for excellence, it becomes a habit in the spiritual things.  The cancer of mediocrity has spread from the workplace into the body of Christ.  Though we could never repay Jesus for what He did for us on the Cross, we should have the desire to be thankful for that Sacrifice by honoring Him through our commitment to a (if you will allow me to borrow a baseball image) “No Runs, No Drips, and No Errors” attitude in the ordinary things of life.

In Colossians 3:23, Paul spoke into how Disciples of Jesus were to live in the unjust system of slavery.  He wrote:  “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”  But there is an application beyond how those who were slaves should live.  It can and SHOULD be applied to everyone, everyday, and every situation.  Think it doesn’t matter what we do in an ordinary day?  Take a moment to read, meditate and analyze Jesus’ parable about The Talents in Matthew 25:14-30.  Every task before you is an opportunity to break free of mediocrity into the life that God expects, even demands, from all of us.

One of the very best ways one can give witness to the transforming Grace of God is to do everything as if we were offering a gift to God; because we are whether we realize it or not.  I’m not taking about perfection–but excellence that produces something you can take pride and joy in offering it to God.  Your workday, your house cleaning, your painting doors, would you feel comfortable in offering it to God?  God accepts all that we offer Him when we desire to do it with excellence.

Remember Romans 12:1 and from The Message it goes like this:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. 

At the end of the day, remember:  No Runs.  No Drips.  And No Errors.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way HE loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!

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Give Up Mediocrity!

(Note:  This is the third in my Lent Series “Give It Up!”  It is about the things we need to give up and not take back up at Easter)

 

Revelation 3:14-22 

14 Write to Laodicea, to the Angel of the church.  God’s Yes, the Faithful and Accurate Witness, the First of God’s creation, says:

15-17 “I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking.  You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot!  You’re stale.  You’re stagnant.  You make me want to vomit.  You brag, ‘I’m rich, I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone,’ oblivious that in fact you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.

18 Here’s what I want you to do:  Buy your gold from me, gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire.  Then you’ll be rich.  Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven.  You’ve gone around half-naked long enough.  And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see.

19 “The people I love, I call to account—prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best.  Up on your feet, then! About face!  Run after God!

20-21 Look at me.  I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you. Conquerors will sit alongside me at the head table, just as I, having conquered, took the place of honor at the side of my Father. That’s my gift to the conquerors!

22 Are your ears awake?  Listen.  Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches.”

As we continue looking at what we need to give up for Lent and beyond, today’s challenge is Give Up Mediocrity!  Do you feel stuck in space and time?  Then the culprit is more than likely mediocrity.  And if you are comfortable or enjoying being stuck in space and time, then there is no doubt about it, you are living in amplified and magnified mediocrity.

What’s the definition of mediocrity?  I’m so glad you asked.  It’s The Quality Or State Of Being Only Ordinary Or Moderate Quality; Neither Good Nor Bad; Barely Adequate; The Consequence Of Being Average And Not Outstanding.

Maybe the synonyms for this word will bring the meaning into focus:  undistinguished, commonplace, everyday; run-of-the-mill.  It comes from the Latin that means “half-way up the mountain”.  It was used to describe a mountain climber who made it half way up a mountain, but then came back down.  Mediocrity Is Just Being Average, Or As Jesus Put It In His Message To Laodicea, “Lukewarm”.

We can decide that we are going to move beyond mediocrity and do something new.  But pastor and writer Carey Nieuwhof said this in his series “Doing Time”:  “The reality is this:  That you still bring ‘you’ into anything new that you do.”

Several years ago, the Gallop poll asked this question:  How Engaged Are You At Work?  Engaged means they feel a sense of connection with their work and they are committed to doing the best they can.  71% responded they were Disengaged.  Of the other 21%, 12% were on Facebook and 17% were playing Candy Crush.   No, I made that part up.  The truth is only 21% were engaged in their work; meaning they are connected to their work and have the desire to do the best job possible.   Answer this question:  How Engaged Are You?  At work?  With Community?  With Family?  In God’s Kingdom?

I wonder if we have theologized our way into mediocrity.  I agree that the Spirit does the work and often works in spite of ourselves.  But, have we relied so much on that theology that we don’t even try to do our own work and mission with a sense of being engaged because we have a theology that says, “Hey, God works even if we suck”?

Isaac Newton’s first law of motion is an object will remain motionless or uniform in motion unless acted upon by an external force.  People are a lot like that—motionless or going through the motions until acted upon by some external force.  So, if you can remember only 1 thing from today’s message, this is it:  Mediocrity Is Destroyed When Your Heart Is Fully Engaged With Life.  There are not enough cosmetics to cover over this curse of mediocrity.  No plastic surgeon is skillful enough to remove the scars created by the life of mediocrity.

Mediocrity is what provides the fuel for selfishness and that selfishness promotes that vile and wicked spirit of consumerism!  Consumerism is a leach.  Leeches attach themselves to other lives and sucks the life right out of them.  There are 3 key symptoms of Mediocrity:

One Symptom Of Mediocrity Is Procrastination

Life can lose its sense of urgency.  When you do, your priorities change from putting first things first, to putting yourself first.  It becomes easier and easier to push God’s agenda aside.  Procrastination is the failure to remain attentive to what God is doing and what God is wanting to be done.   It is setting aside God’s desire for glory for our personal convenience. This is one reason why Mediocrity is a curse and fails to glorify God.

Another Symptom Of Mediocrity Is Lethargy

When I talk of lethargy, I mean a serious condition in which you literally don’t get anywhere in life.  The lethargic person is that person who Greg Groeschel calls a “Christian atheist”—claiming to be Christian but living as if God doesn’t exist.  I found this interesting about that word lethargy.  It comes from the Greek word meaning “forgetfulness”.  It’s forgetting what is most important in life.  Lethargy is the failure to take it upon yourself to take action in your life and make the best of it.  So you become just average.  Mediocrity is a curse because it doesn’t change what’s wrong in your heart, and you fail to glorify God.

The Third Symptom Of Mediocrity Is Timidity

Timidity is the failure to trust God with all aspects of your life.  Timidity finds all kinds of excuses, great sounding excuses why you cannot excel in life.  Timidity promotes that false humility which excludes you from what God wants to do with your life for your community.  Accepting average for and from yourself closes the door to the renewing work of the Holy Spirit.  Because Mediocrity promotes that false humility, it fails to glorify God.

Think of being mediocre and being lukewarm as one in the same—because they are.  This was the problem at Laodicea.  Doing just enough to feel good about themselves while sinking down like they were in quicksand; and that will literally crush our lives.  An ordinary life never experiences the extraordinary Grace of God.  So how can we break free of being just average?  Well, may I suggest you begin doing what Jesus told the church at Laodicea to do?  3 critical decisions you need to make for God to break you free from Mediocrity:

Step 1:  Commit Your Life To Holiness

Vs. 18a—Buy your gold from me, gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire.  Holiness is found by living each day within The Virtues Of God.  And Paul gives us a practical but challenging way to live in these Virtues in Philippians 4:8—Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.  When you fill your mind with these things, your words and actions become Holy and YOU become Holy.  We live by the things we think about. Step 2:

Step 2:  Decide To Live Righteously

Vs. 18b—Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven.  God wants to make us righteous and He does by giving us the righteousness of Christ.  Then God wants us to live righteously—to live in the right way.  Paul describes this in Colossians 3:12-13—So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you.  Treat people the way Jesus treats them.  Help people the way Jesus helps them.  Let every decision be what is right—not what is easy or convenient. Step 3:

Step 3:  Become Engaged With God’s Mission

Vs. 18c—And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see.   God’s Mission is clear in 2 Corinthians 5:19-20—God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins.  God has given us the task of telling everyone what He is doing.  We’re Christ’s representatives.  God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them.  We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.  Average and ordinary simply does not cut the mustard when it comes to the Mission of God.  If you are not bringing people to Jesus, you’re failing in the Mission.  It takes extraordinary people—and you will become extraordinary when you are filled with the Holy Spirit and allow The Spirit to equip and empower you for God’s Mission.

Do you feel stuck in space and time?  Then the culprit is more than likely mediocrity.  And if you are comfortable or enjoying being stuck in space and time, then there is no doubt about it, you are living in amplified and magnified mediocrity.  And you make God nauseated.  Don’t be lukewarm!  Be cold or hot, but don’t make God nauseated.

Top 10 Symptoms Of The Tenured Pew Sitter

I owe this blog to a challenge from Dawn at Inspiration with an Attitude.  It’s one of many blogs that I follow and if you’re not following her, you might want to.  I say this because if I offend someone with this blog, blame Dawn.  She responded to an earlier blog, Seeds Live Truthfully with the challenge to do a follow-up with the symptoms of The Tenured Pew Sitter.  Even at 61, the competitor in me still likes a good challenge.

I don’t know exactly how I formed this phrase, I think it was inspired from reading another blogger, See, there’s this thing called biology (you might want to check insanitybytes out, too. Some more good stuff!).  She coined a word “Churchians” and from that, I would like to think I was inspired by the Holy Spirit.  So, I started using the phrase “Tenured Pew Sitters”.  So to answer the challenge from Dawn, here goes from Number 10 to Number 1:

10.  A Love For The Bible That Does Not Include The Application

For the Tenured Pew Sitters the goal is information.  The more information one has, the better person they become.  The problem is that the Bible is not given to us for information, rather transformation.

9.  Trapped In The Past

They see the height of the church being in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s.  If church leaders would just do what they did back then, the result would be church growth.  If we were living in the same “Christian” culture as back then it would work.  But we aren’t and it won’t.  There is a reason why this era is called the “Post Christian” culture.  The values of Jesus are no longer the primary values of society.  They insist that we must go back and do what we used to do, and be.  If you always do what you’ve always done, then you will always be what you’ve always been.

8.  Religion Replaces Relationship

Tenured Pew Sitters focus on the external rather than the internal.  It is all about “the show”.  The rich traditions and liturgy that once inspired a previous generation to know and love God more deeply, are now sacred cows to be protected at all costs; even at the cost of a local church dying.  It is the desire for form over substance.  John Wesley wrote near the end of his life that he never doubted that there would ever cease to be a people known as Methodists.  But his greatest fear was that they have the form of godliness but without the power of the Holy Spirit.

7.  They Are The Ultimate Image Of A Christian.

Therefore, everyone else must conform to their image.  If anyone is to be a part of “their” church, then they must agree with them.  They see themselves on the “path” and everyone else is either a trouble-maker or a “well bless their little hearts”.  You have to be a Southerner to know what “well bless their little hearts” means.

6.  Power Over Purpose

It’s not the “power” you are thinking about.  It’s not about the power of the local church, but about holding power OVER the local church.  They do this in a variety of ways:  being on the right committees; being vocally abusive even in a nice kind of way.  More important for them is the power of the Offering Plate.  They see it as the ballot box–of approving or disapproving of the mission of the church.  They care more about the weight of their power than the true purpose for the Body of Christ.

5.  Heightened Sense Of Self Importance

The Tenured Pew Sitter sees themselves as the source of all wisdom.  Some will actually say that the church cannot survive without them and their support.  This is another way of saying they have a serious ego problem, not that different from the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day.

4.  It’s All About What Happens In Here

There is no sense of mission, except to send money somewhere far, far away.  Supporting foreign mission projects becomes a way to ease the conscience of the Tenured Pew Sitter.  The bulk of the budget must be spent on what happens INSIDE the church building.

3.  A Deep Seated Desire To Judge

The Tenured Pew Sitter thinks of themselves as a “fruit” inspector.  What they really are is a bulldozer; quick to run anyone down they see as a threat to their power and/or their comfort.  They think that the Lord helps those who can help themselves; and only the worthy deserve any help.

2.  An Obvious Absence Of Deep Joy

The Tenured Pew Sitter has “that” expression, on their face and in their words.  “That” expression is what I call “The Painfully Pious” look.  Imagine this:  Chewing on a lemon rind on one side of your mouth and a green persimmon on the other.  Try it if you would like and look at yourself in the mirror.  I wouldn’t recommend it; just trust me on this one.

1.  The Local Church Exists For Them.

 They see the local church as a producer of goods and services for them, the consumer.  For the Tenured Pew Sitter, for “church” to be “church” then it must offer things that appeal to them first and foremost.

Well Dawn, I hope this gives you my insights.  Anyone else out there have other insights into The Tenured Pew Sitter?  Feel free to add them below in the comments section.

Ultracrepidarianism Is Killing The Local Church!

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Do you know what an expert is?  Well, listen to the word and you hear 2 words.  The first word is “ex”–“ex” means former, or once was.  The second word is (sounds like) “spurt”–a “spurt” is water under pressure.  Therefore, an expert is a has been who is under pressure.  So know that I am not an expert.  But I can see, think for myself and analyze with something rarely seen in our culture called common sense.

As established churches continue for the most part to be in a continued state of decline, many alleged experts (see the first paragraph) have offered a lot of ideas as to the causes of this direful situation.  I divide these alleged experts into two distinct categories.  I am sure you might could think of other categories.  But for the sake of this blog, let’s break it down into simple terms.

First there are the “Noobs“.  It has been a long time since some of these has beens under pressure, excuse me, “experts”, have served for any length of time in a local church, which leaves their inchoate input somewhat lacking at times in substance.  I once served under a bishop who had more time in the hollow halls (this is not a misprint, I said “hollow” not “hallow”; I said what I meant and I meant what I said) of academia than in the “field” of service in local churches.

The other group is the “Kabitzers“.  Unlike the Noobs who have only a little experience in the workings of The Kingdom, these have virtually none, zilch, nada!  They are the ones who believe their spiritual gift is to be a buttinsky.  They take great glee and find deep personal contentment in pointing out what others should be doing and what they aren’t doing right.  So let me share with you want I see is a serious malady in the 21st Century church in the good old U.S. of A.

Ultracrepidarianism has imbued itself, Nay!  Entrenched, Nay!  Built underground bunkers designed to survive a 500 kiloton nuclear blast, Aye!  Ultracrepidarians have built permanent bunkers beneath church basements with the intent of doing away with church as it should be, even though they say it is not their purpose.  Sneaky Ultracrepidarians!

I believe that the church, the body of Christ embedded in local communities, needs to make the conscious decision to step into a much bigger story, a deeper narrative, an epic journey that extends beyond their 911 location.  We need to clear out that path that is cluttered and obscured with our designs of what church should look like and embrace our Original Design.  What is that original design?  Oh, you precious soul, I’m so glad you asked.

It is to be a Kingdom of Servants.  Jesus only mentions the translated term “church” twice as He taught about the bigger picture:  The Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God is about invading the territory of The Enemy, Satan; a territory He stole long, long ago.  It is about taking back what rightfully belongs to The Creator.  And the way God has chosen to fight The Enemy is through servants who are willing to sacrifice pride, comfort, and preferences in order to bring the One Thing that is missing in so many people:  Life As God Intends!  That’s what Jesus said in John 10:10 and see how different translations describe this Life:

I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest. (CEV)

I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (NKJV)

My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. (NLT)

(and my personal favorite)  I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. (The Message)

Jesus did not come to set up a Kingdom of Rules, Rituals and Traditions.  He came to bring back what was lost in Eden–Life in its fullest, more abundantly, rich and satisfying, more and better than you can dream of.  Life as God intends is a life of relationships with Him and each other.  To bring this life back to His Image Bearers, Jesus chose the form of a servant.  Servants serve–they serve The King in order to bring about the King’s purposes and desires.  And our King’s desire is for people to have “more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”

And to help those under the domain and dominion of the Enemy, we need to know them, I mean, really know them.  It begins when we accept them unconditionally.  Ultracrepidarians want to change them to be people like them.  Servants want to see them transformed into the Image Bearers of The King.  And they will be, they are, when we know them and help them find The Life.  The ways we help them find The Life are as numerous as human needs.

If they are illiterate or functionally illiterate, we teach them to read.  If they are hungry, we feed them.  If they are unemployed, we help them develop skills for employment.  If they are fatherless or motherless, we become fathers and mothers to them.  If they are in prison, we go to them with unconditional love and no judgment; after all, they’ve already been judged or they would not be there.

And if they need a Savior (and who doesn’t?), we show them the Savior by letting them see what The Savior means to us and what He has done, is doing, and will continue to do in us, for us and through us.  When a locally embedded Kingdom Cell (otherwise known as a local church) decides they are tired of a church-centered story and moves into the Saga Of The Kingdom, the Ultracrepidarians will not be happy and will try to make others unhappy with such a move.  But we need to push through this and hope they will shred and burn their Ultracrepidarian Membership Card.  But if they do not, then we need to persist.  We will probably lose some church member for doing so, but we will gain Kingdom Servants.  And after all, isn’t this what we should be doing?

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the Glory goes to Him.  Oh, and Ultracrepidarians, we know who you are but we also know The King!

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!

We have always heard it said, “Make good choices.”  But this axiom may not be one we want to use to model our life.  Am I suggesting we make “bad choices”?  Not at all, but what if it looks like both choices are good?  The choices we make today will have an impact on us; if not immediately then definitely down the road.  Pardon me, maybe I should let you in on where I am.

Where I serve in the Kingdom recently decided to make some staff changes IF the right person could be found.  We have a part-time administrative assistant to handle the day-to-day things and another person taking care of our financial records, but remotely thanks to this thing called the Internet.  Our Team given the responsibility for staffing decided to merge both positions into a full-time on-site position.  It is a great decision because we are going to change our membership and accounting software and we need to have someone “in-house” to take over these duties.

After listing our position in several ways, we received several resumes.  From our Team, I along with 2 others, were selected to be the interview Team and report back our recommendation.  The result is that both applicants interviewed great and either one has the potential to be just who we need and God wants.  One member of the interview Team leans toward one of the applicants and the other Team member leans toward the other applicant.  Vote is 1-1, so now it falls on me to be the Tie Breaker.  No pressure here, really, there is no pressure.  All 3 of us agree that either one would be an asset and both assured me that whatever my decision, they are good with it.  The 3 of us definitely have a high level of trust between us.

This has me to thinking about choices.  I must make a choice.  Now if one would be a bad choice and the other one a good choice, then my choice is simple and easy.  Now I must decide what is good and what is best and the line between the two is not very clear, at least to me.  So I have been doing a lot of praying, asking others to pray for discernment for me.  I can’t put off my choice, and thus our recommendation to the rest of the Team.

And this morning it has me thinking and thus I am writing.  Oh, there’s an irony that I haven’t shared with you.  Sunday I am beginning a new series of messages and guess what they are about?  The importance of our decisions and how they impact our lives individually and collectively as community, family and especially as the Body of Christ.  Now I am living out this series of messages.

Here’s the thing, what we are and who we are in the moment is the direct results of all of our choices.  Decisions shape and form what we are and who we are becoming.  Sometimes we make the wrong decision, choose the wrong option.  Like that rich young man who came to Jesus seeking that lasting and enduring life who opted for physical wealth rather than spiritual treasures.

In reflecting over my life, I sense that many times I made the good choice, but NOT the best choice.  How many times have we heeded the counsel that said, “Come on!  Do something even if it’s wrong!  Just do something!”  Every decision we make, each choice you make, is shaping who you are.  So we need to be deliberate in the process of making decisions.  Quick decisions are often called “Rash” decisions.

I find it rather humorous that we call them “Rash” decisions.  A “Rash” typically develops when our body doesn’t like what it has been exposed to; you know, like poison ivy or poison oak.  That rash becomes a source of great discomfort and then rather annoying.  Here’s what I am thinking:  How many times has our spirit become infected (not affected) with something that is contrary to its design and purpose?

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This pic says it all.  Choices impact our lives, but they also impact the lives of those around us.  I realize that often things happen to us that are beyond our  control.  People can do things to us that hurt and are definitely unfair.  Beyond our control!  But we still have a choice and that choice is in how we respond to what has happened.

When the choices are something bad or something good, then it is easy to see how they affect our lives and the lives of people around us.  But how many choices have we made that would be considered “good” choices, but not the “best” choice.  Over my 43 years as being a pastor I have seen a great tragedy–people accepting the “good” choice over the “best” choice.  The accumulation of good choices has a consequence.  We call it mediocrity.

Your everyday decisions are influencing not only your present moment, but your future as well.  This is why we need to make the best decision and the best decisions always come when we invite our Heavenly Father into the deliberations.  His desire for us is not to experience the good life, but the best life.  Back to my dilemma.  At the very onset of this quest, the Team made a very wise choice.  We were not going to simply hire a warm body, someone to do the work.  It had to be the right person, the person God would provide for us.  I am thinking about 2 very godly people right now, and I cannot know which godly person God sent us, until I ask Him and listen to what He tells me.

Personally, I wish God will put up a lighted billboard with a flashing arrow sign pointing to the answer.  He probably won’t do that; He has ignored that request from me in the past.  So I will seek and then listen, because THE Father Knows Best!  Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him.  And it will when you make the best decisions, and best decisions always come from the heart and mind of our Creator!

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#3 The Loss Of Passion

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(This is Number 8 in a series.  I encourage you to read in order, Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church!#10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship#9 Ignoring That We Are In A War#8: Wrong priorities7: Cookie Cutter Attitude#6. Self Reliance#5 Fear Of Change and #4 Form Rather Than Substance.  The ninth one should come tomorrow!)

OK, OK, OK; so I did not follow my original plan of writing of writing in consecutive days.  Give me the 40 lashes minus one with the wet noodle.  I do have a good excuse (don’t we all?).  Actually I have a reason; in addition to my usual activities as pastor, I was helping in a new tutoring program started by our school system called STIC–Students Tutoring In Churches.  Sometimes one just needs to do the work of the Kingdom of God rather than write about it.  After an hour and a half with second graders I reaffirmed my support and thankfulness for teachers, and that I am not one of them.  Yesterday I had to change hats from pastor to being our Tribe’s Conference Disaster Response Coordinator.  No, there were no disasters, but a lot of paperwork that needed my attention; a full week’s worth in one day.  And yes, sometimes the work of the Kingdom of God requires attention to the details.  Now that I’ve justified my failure (sound familiar to anyone?), let’s get to the task at hand.

In churches I hear and see a lot of questions about understanding John’s last book “The Revelation”.  Please notice that there is no “s” in that word Revelation.  Their fascination and their questions center around chapters 4 through 22.  I’ve seen teachers and “prophecy experts” design elaborate flow charts carefully detailing every event in chapters 4 through 22.  Many even have designed a timeline for when these events will happen.  (Wow!  Didn’t Jesus say no one would know the time or the hour but the Father?)  It can get complicated and confusing.  Your bonus feature in today’s blog (at no extra charge to you) is that I am giving you the full meaning of chapters 4 through 22 and all that you need to know in 2 words.  Here it is:

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Now that we’ve got all that out-of-the-way, let’s move forward in understanding what else is killing the church in the U.S.A.  The most important lessons in Revelation (without the “s”) are found in chapters 2 and 3.  It is one of the churches mentioned in chapter 2 that has landed this as firmly planted at Reason #3.  It is the problem at the church in Ephesus.  Look at Revelation 2:1-5 from The Message:

Write this to Ephesus, to the Angel of the church.  The One with Seven Stars in his right-fist grip, striding through the golden seven-lights’ circle, speaks:

2-3 “I see what you’ve done, your hard, hard work, your refusal to quit.  I know you can’t stomach evil, that you weed out apostolic pretenders.  I know your persistence, your courage in my cause, that you never wear out.”

4-5 “But you walked away from your first love—why?  What’s going on with you, anyway?  Do you have any idea how far you’ve fallen?  A Lucifer fall!  Turn back!  Recover your dear early love.  No time to waste, for I’m well on my way to removing your light from the golden circle.

Little wonder most folks who are fascinated with The Revelation (again, no “s”) overlook chapters 2 and 3; unless it is to criticize some other Tribe and then it becomes useful ammunition.  I had an Epiphany Moment writing this edition that began with this question:  “Why did He start with Ephesus?”  He could have started anywhere, but why Ephesus?  I mean, there were some churches who were worse off than Ephesus.  And here is my light-bulb moment and why Ephesus is mentioned first:  It Is Easy To Lose The Passion And The Loss Of That Fire And Passion And Fire Opens The Door For Even Worse Things.  In fact, it leads not to opening doors, but closing the doors of local congregations.

I know that a lot of those flow charts and timeline teachers would say that Ephesus lost love, not passion.  But what is love without that passion and excitement of being loved by The Father and loving Him back through loving others?  The issue for many is that they see love as an emotion.  Love is more and deeper than an emotion.  It is the drive, energy and excitement that propels us into the very thing Jesus came to bring:  The Kingdom of God.  Jesus never said “The church is at hand.”  But He did frequently speak about The Kingdom of God and it being at hand.

I am the advocate for mandating that every church have cameras in their sanctuaries/worship centers.  And those cameras should be panning the congregation and those images projected on screens.  I mean, if you could just see what pastors, choirs and music leaders see many Sundays in congregations that are declining.  And then there is the passion, rather lack of passion for the Kingdom of God that manifests itself for the rest of the week.  There is passion out there, but it is not focused on The Kingdom of God.

Every person has a passion, a fire burning deep down inside themselves.  You see it in sports, especially college sports (I see a lot of it because I live in the heart of the SEC).  And the past few months we have seen a lot of passion and continue to see even more passion in the realm of politics.  Perhaps I should define passion in the context of which I am writing.  Here goes:

Passion is the force and desire that forms our attitudes, shapes our words, and guides our actions.

Everyone is passionate about something.  Even the person who says they are miserable has a passion.  Their passion, that burning desire, The Force and The Desire that is forming their attitudes, shaping their actions and creating their actions is misery.  To recognize and name YOUR passion answer these 3 questions:

  1. What do you think about most of the time?  Pay attention to your thoughts because your thoughts extend into and impact everything else in your life, and in your day.
  2. What do you talk about the most?  Words are the mp3 of your mind and heart.  Words are powerful because they repeat what is in the mind and heart.
  3. What are you doing most of the time?  What you consistently do in moments and situations reveals your true self.  Your actions and reactions are telling you something about your passions.  Occasionally you can do something good, but look at the consistent action and reaction.  Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then.

Think about that time in human history when Jesus was human like us.  When I look at some of the art that has Jesus as its subject, I can easily see why some see Jesus as dispassionate about life.  I really did not have a taste for so-called “Christian” art until I discovered Stephen Sawyer.  You can find his story-his Passion- and his work at Art4God.  I see a bright smile on Jesus’ face when He invites himself to the home of Zacchaeus.  I see this burning love in His eyes as that “sinful” woman washes His feet with her tears.  I hear a joyful laugh as He watches Peter and the others trying to pull all those fish in their nets into their boat.  I feel the heat from His anger as He drives the money changers from the Temple.  I sense the depth of His compassion as He hangs on that cross.  And there is an indescribable emotion as He tells death to step aside and walks out of that tomb.

The loss of passion that I am talking about that is literally draining the life from declining congregations is that lost passion for what God is doing.  Some say it is the lost passion for the things of God.  I disagree because have seen many people passionate about the things of God, but not about the work of God.  The passion is around the budget, committees, pastors, programs, hierarchy, and institutions–but NOT God and what HE is doing in HIS world.  The result of losing that passion for God and what He is doing creates many things but I would like to sum up that result in one word:

mediocrity

The loss of Passion for God and what He is doing results in the passion for mediocrity.  To be and do “just enough” seems to suffice in those congregations that have plateaued or have already begun to decline.  If your congregation is experiencing mediocrity, meaning decline in attendance, membership and impact on your community, the message, the FIRST message of God in Revelation (without the “s”) to the church is COME BACK!  Come back to that first passion you had when you knew God loved you, that the blood of Jesus forgave your sins, and that God now lived in you through the Holy Spirit.  Remember!

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Right now picture in your mind the actor Samuel Jackson and try to image his voice saying “What’s your passion?”  Will the rest of your life be average or memorable?  Remember that first love!