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Archive for April, 2009

Are You Still Listening?

Most days when I get to the office, I open my web browser and immediately click on a link to a free, online music service.  Throughout the day, the music stops and a little window pops up and asks me, “Are you still listening?”  I then have to click on the little window, and my music starts right back up.

This morning when that happened, it made me stop and think about my prayer life.  I have to admit that often times, maybe even most of the time, my prayer time is more of a drive-by shooting at God with all the things I need him to handle.  I do not sit and listen very often and when I do, it is not for long. 

I wonder if God ever looks at me with the same question, “Are you still listening?”  It is not an issue of God not answering or speaking to me – it is the fact that I am not paying attention.

Take the time today to share your concerns with God but then also give him time to answer – stay and listen.

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Called to Engage

I am thinking today about what it means to be a Christian.  Not so much a definition of being a Christ follower, but rather, what does that look like?  How should I live?  How do fellow Christ followers relate to one another.

I am overwhelmed with the idea that being a Christian carries with it an inherent idea that we do this together – in community.  God designed us that way – to need one another.  The apostle Paul used the illustration of a human body with all the descriptions such as an eye not being more important than the foot, etc.  All parts are good and more importantly, necessary. 

As I think about this, Paul was not trying to make everyone feel important.  He was stressing the importance of the obligation that each of us has as a self-professed follower of Christ.  The body will be dysfunctional (handicapped or challenged if you will) if I withhold my gifts, my being, from the community.  The body will not be able to function as it should if we do not each truly “plug-in.”

That is a huge truth we all need to remember.  God called you – yes you!  God called you to be a part of the local body, the church.  Are you hurting the body – God’s Kingdom – by failing to truly engage as you are gifted to do?

Think about what God could do in our community if all followers were engaged at the same time fulfilling what God called them to do!  Now that’s a body I want to be part of – and so will everyone else!

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The State of the Church

I have been thinking a lot lately about the state of the church, not just our church (although that has been on my mind constantly) but the church in general.  As I think about our culture and the era and environment in which we live, I can’t help but think about the incredible opportunities we have as a church to reach the world.  In some ways, I think the harvest is as ready as it has ever been.  People are hungry for something more than they are finding in life.  And I believe as followers of Christ, we have what they need.

The church has been placed in an opportune place and time to make an impact in this world.  So why are so many churches either maintaining or even worse, in decline?  I believe the most fundamental downfall for any church (or individual for that matter) is when it ceases to look to God for direction.  The minute the church begins to focus on what it wants and away from being concerned about God’s plan, the stagnation begins.

But what about the church that is concerned about following God’s will?  I think the biggest problem that churches face is focus or lack there of.  We hear a lot about mission and vision in church growth circles these days.  But even with a clear mission statement or vision, the church can float along making little to know headway.  Once a church has a clearly defined vision, it needs to focus everything toward that vision.  An illustration that might help to make this point is the power of light.  A flashlight does a good job of helping us see in the dark.  But think about the power that light can have when tightly focused – it becomes a laser, capable cutting steel.

I truly believe that if the church, our church, is to be effective in our world today, we need to focus on what it is God has called us to do.

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I read a joke today that began, “You May Have Grown Up in the 80’s if . . .”   I have to admit, 90% of the things the little ditty mentioned hit home directly with me.  What can I say, the 80’s were great.  I don’t know of many songs that came out in the 80’s that were not classic in their own right.

But that got me to thinking, why is it that we, by our very nature, look back and get nostalgic and romanticize how wonderful things “used to be?”  We do this when it comes to our church as well.  We remember the “good old days” and want to relive them.

When it comes to my spirituality, I am very thankful for the churches I was a part of growing up and the experiences I had in each of them.  But for me – give me fresh and new.  My prayer for each of us is that God will make everyday new and that our relationship with him will be vibrant and fresh everyday!

(But if you walk into my office, you still might hear some 80’s playing every now and then – just warning you).

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Be Still and Listen

I don’t know about you but I tend to stay pretty busy.  I am not complaining.  In fact, sometimes I have to admit I thrive on the rush of “accomplishment.”  Someone on the outside could look at my calendar and see all the squares and be able to say, “if the objective is to fill all the boxes – you’re winning.”

Several years ago I read a book by Ruth Haley Barton titled, An Invitation to Solitude and Silence.  The book is a very good and insightful book but one of the things that has stuck with me to this day is an illustration she uses in that book.

That illustration actually sits on my desk still today – I’m looking at it as I write this post.  It is a baby food jar filled with water and about a 1/2″ of dirt.  The jar represents my life.  If I reach over, pick it up and give it a good shake, the dirt and debris swirl around in the water and the water gets so cloudy I can’t see through it.

But if I let the jar sit still long enough, the dirt settles and the water clears.

Our lives are like that.  When we stay busy, “stuff” is flying around inside us so fast we can’t focus on anything.  But when we sit still and just wait on God, he often blesses us with wonderful clarity.

So when I feel overwhelmed, I look at my little jar and remember, “Maybe I need to slow down, sit still and listen for God.”

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Keeping Me Humble

Several weeks ago I preached a funeral for a church member.  It was a fairly typical service.  At the conclusion of the service, in my best “pastoral” manner I thanked everyone for their compassion toward the family and for taking the time to be present at the service to pay their respects.  I then explained that the burial would follow and all were invited.

As I stood on the sidewalk in front of the church, shaking hands and hugging necks, feeling kind of smug that things had gone very well, the funeral director pulled me aside and asked, “Did you really intend to tell the congregation that the burial would he done at the nursing home?”

Yep, you guessed it.  Instead of telling them we were headed to the Levelland Cemetery, I asked them to join me at the Levelland Nursing Home for the internment!

No matter how well we think we may be doing, we still manage to slip occasionally and remember that we are not quite as good as we might think.

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I had the privilege and honor to do a memorial service for very special person today.  Tom had been in our city and our church for over 50 years.  He was all but a living legend in our church – he even has an entrance named after him where he could always be found as a greeter every Sunday morning.

Through the course of putting the service together I heard lots of great stories about Tom.  One of the most meaningful stories had to do with his kids and showing animals for 4H and Ag.  Now if you are unfamiliar with this phenomena, parents purchase sheep, pigs, cows, goats, etc. and then their kids raise those animals and then take them to show.  There are judges who rate the animals on a variety of things.  Then when all is said and done, the animals are taken to auction and sold.

At the risk of letting the secret out as to how this process really works, the folks bid on those animals not so much because they want to pay a lot of money for the animals but rather they do it to support the kids they know and love.

The problem is that there are often those kids whose parents don’t participate or support their kids as much as some of the others.  Consequently, the folks doing the bidding don’t know those kids.  So when it comes to the bidding process, those “less popular” kids don’t get the bids that the others do.

Tom would get the bid sheet the night before the sale and go down the list, checking off those kids that he knew would not get many bidders.  He would then work behind the scenes to get folks together to “bid up” the price until it reached a respectable level and then he would buy them.

What an incredible example of Christ’s love – seeking to impact a life and not even get any credit for it.  That is what I want to be like when I grow up – serving others for the sake of following through with what God has called me to do, not to receive some kind of recognition.

Thanks Tom for reminding us what sacrificial love looks like.  We will miss you!

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