Learning You Can’t Indulge on the Law and Expect to Be Filled with the Spirit


I am not a singer.  For as long as I can remember, singing is an activity I have not particularly enjoyed.  I don’t mind listening to great music, especially in a powerful worship setting.  But singing for singing sake is not an option I will likely choose.

As a young boy, it was especially difficult for me.  My heart was in the outdoors.  I loved to run, climb, play, build, and explore.  Sitting down indoors in a orderly fashion was nearly torture for me.  I could do it, don’t get me wrong.  But as I sat there, my mind would be someplace else riding my bike down a hill or hiking through the woods or shooting a basketball.

I’ll never forget the first day I felt pressure to sing.  It was in children’s church.  I’m sure it wasn’t the case, but it felt like every Sunday was a rehearsal for the next kid’s musical.  At the beginning of the school year, we would practice songs for Christmas.  Not long after the New Year, we would start on Easter songs.  In the Spring, we were already working on songs for Vacation Bible School.  As a kid and in my memory, children’s church seemed to be more of a choir practice than kids ministry.

I hated it.  Every Sunday, we sat in neatly organized rows of chairs on a stage facing the piano.  Each child was given a musical book with all the songs relevant to our current season.  Over and over again, we would practice every song.  I can’t tell you how many times we sang the same songs week in and week out.  I am not even sure we had a lesson.  We might have, but it is drowned out in my memory from all those songs.

I am not sure what I age I made the decision, but eventually I couldn’t take it any more.  I refused to sing.  I wasn’t vocal about it.  I didn’t cause a scene.  I am not sure I told anyone.  Internally, I made a choice to sit quietly.  No more singing for me.  I had enough.

One Sunday morning I was discovered.  The leader looked at me and said, “Why aren’t you singing?  If you are going to be here, then you have to sing.  It’s why we are here.  If you can’t, then I will need to talk your parents.”  

Begrudgingly, I forced myself to sing.  If she was making it a rule, then I would have to follow it.

Three things.  (1)  Wow, I am so glad Children’s Ministry strategies have drastically changed since my youth.  (2) I am not trying to dis worship music. Singing together in church holds great value.  It can offer an amazing experience. (3) I believe the church of my youth and its leaders had pure intentions.  They did their best with the passions and talents they possessed.

I wonder, still, “How did such a simple thing as a children’s musical turn into a form of legalism?”  An innocent idea somehow turned into a law.  Sing and you are a good boy and girl.  Don’t sing and you are bad.  It became its own form of performance evaluation.

As trivial as singing in children’s church may seem, it reminds me of God’s truth in my life.  Following the rules can’t offer you transformation.  Salvation only comes in believing in Jesus Christ and following the Holy Spirit.  Redemption in your life and in our world comes through the power of God’s grace that rescues you from evil.

My faith in God didn’t come as a result of memorizing and singing songs.  I discovered it at 4 years old in the adult worship service at the same church.  The pastor gave the invitation for anyone to come forward to the altars and ask Jesus into their life.  I didn’t even tell my parents.  I slipped into the aisle unnoticed.  I knelt on my knees and prayed for God to save me from sin.  I haven’t turned back since.

The pressure or temptation to rely on the law hasn’t disappeared.  Legalism has reared its ugly head through many forms in my journey.  I imagine it always will.  It is one the greatest tools of evil, to trick you into to thinking that you can save yourself.  Follow the rules, indulge yourself on the law, and you will be good.

Galatians 3 tells a different story.  Paul asks the churches in Galatia a poignant question:  “The only thing I want to learn from you is this:  Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard” (NRSV).

You can read the rest of the chapter to quickly find the answer.  NO, the Spirit didn’t come through the law.  You received it by believing God’s grace is enough.  You didn’t work your way into a right relation with God.  All of your ducks weren’t in a row the day you were saved.  When you first experienced God’s love, it wasn’t perfect living that brought you to that moment.  No.  It was having something worth believing in that opened your heart to God’s Spirt.  You believe Jesus gave himself for your sins to rescue you from evil.  You trust Jesus.

If trusting in God’s grace saved you then, why trust in anything else to save you now?  Finish the same way you started.

You cannot indulge yourself on the law (rules) and expect to be filled with the Spirit.  Lose the law and lose yourself in God’s love.

Luckily, I do not have to sing to find freedom in God.  Finding freedom in God gives me reason to sing.

Learning Together: A Reason to Drink Just Water for a Year

Just Water BottleOur kids rode in a different car on the way home from Orlando.  We honked as they took an exit for a pitstop.  They were thirsty.

Grandma and Grandpa were buying, so they could choose any drink from the cooler.  Whatever liquid they longed for, and wouldn’t normally have as a choice, was at their fingertips.  Nothing was holding them back.

When they made it to the house a few minutes after us, the girls rushed through the door full of laughter and joy.  They loved spending time in grandma and grandpa’s car.  It only happens a couple times a year when they visit from Ohio.  It was nearly 11pm, but the kids were full of life.

Before we left Orlando, Kirra was especially thirsty.  I asked her if she was glad they stopped to buy a drink.  “Yeah,” she said, “I got a water.”  

Kirra is drinking just water.  She made the commitment at the same time her mom, Brooklyn.  Together, they set a goal to drink just water for an entire year.  The reason:  every time they drink a glass of clean water they are reminded of those who don’t have access to it.  This reminder leads them to pray.  Through prayer they are inspired to be advocates.  As advocates, they take action to provide clean water to every person in the world.

July 1 will mark six months of drinking just water.  Halfway there.

Being a writer by nature, Brooklyn chronicles her journey through social media.  Here’s one of my favorites posts:

justwater instagramNot everyone will get it.  That’s okay, she doesn’t expect everyone to understand.  It will not make sense to some.  But, she believes many of you do and will.  Brooklyn believes you, the Church, are in the unique  position to be the greatest movement of justice in the world.  She trusts in the power of God’s Spirit living in you to right the wrongs in our midst.  She envisions thousands of you joining the challenge to drink just water so that others can someday also drink clean water.

Will you join this movement by making one simple, yet difficult commitment to drink just water?  

To learn more, follow The Justice Movement on Facebook, Twitter (@thejustmove), Instagram (@thejustmove), the website that launches in July (www.justicemovement.com).  You can also learn what Brooklyn’s saying about it on Twitter (@brooklynlindsey) and Instagram (@brooklynlindsey) and her blog (www.brooklynlindsey.com).

If you want a reason to drink just water, this is the best one I know.  Raise your glass!           

Learning Your Confidence Can Blind You

Paul stood there when Stephen was stoned.

He watched as a crowd of people ground their teeth and howled in anger like feral dogs.  He stood to the side as they drug him out of the city.  He witnessed the hole being dug, and the partial burial of a living person up to his neck.  He saw every jagged stone strike and crush the skull of a helpless man.  He heard him cry out with a dying voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  When it was all done, it was Paul who gave the murderers his approval.

Paul ravaged the church in Jerusalem.  He entered house after house, dragging men and women off to prison.  His breath was full of threats of murder.

One day, he gained special permission to rid the synagogue in Damascus of any dissenters.  On his way, a blinding light flashed, dropping him to the ground.  He heard a voice say, “Why do you persecute me?”  His reply was,  “Who are you?”  I am Jesus.  Get up, enter the city, and there you will be told what to do.”

Paul’s entourage were speechless.  His eyes were open, but he was blind.  They had no idea why.  They hadn’t seen what he saw or heard what he heard.  Not sure what to do, they led him to Damascus.

In Damascus, a man named Ananias was sent by God to deliver a message to Paul.  Ananias laid his hands on him, saying, “Brother, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Spirit.  Immediately, something like scales fell from his eyes and he had sight.  He was baptized.  Almost instantly, Paul began proclaiming’ Jesus name in the same synagogues he came to purge of such messages.

It happened that quick.  One moment he was a religious zealot protecting his sacred system with any means possible.  The next, he was preaching a message threatening that very system.  In a day, he transformed from a Jesus-hater to a Jesus-follower.  Then, he goes on to write the majority of the books of the New Testament.

Before this moment, Paul was full of confidence.  Never had he questioned the ancient religion.  He invested all of himself in preserving the Jewish laws and customs.  This was his life, which is tough to downplay if you ask me.  He was committed to the preservation of his people and their way of relating to God.  Like many feel compelled to do, he was protecting his own.

In his eyes, he was doing everything right.  In his mind, his vision was 20/20.

It wasn’t until he was literally blind that he could see what he was missing.  He was persecuting the savior his people were anticipating for generations.  An assurance of being right made him wrong.

Paul is not the only religious person blinded by confidence.  History bears witness to it.  Honestly, we’ve all fallen victim.  What starts with innocence eventually leads to misguided passion.  Without knowing it, you trample on the beautiful hope of God like a person walking through a delicate garden wearing a blind fold.

Confidence can blind you, but like Paul, the scales can fall from your eyes.  God, reveal to your Church our blind spots, and help us to regain sight.

 

Learning Two Ways the Holy Spirit Unites Us in Worship


FreedomIf you’ve been to church much in your life, you have probably experienced an “altar call.”  It’s that moment in the church service immediately following the sermon when the pastor gives the invitation, “Come forward to pray, will you?”  The worship band plays softly in the background, setting the mood.  The preacher stands before you passionately calling you to surrender in prayer.  People step away from their seat and into the aisle.  They walk with courage to the front of the room in everyone else’s plain sight.  They bow to their knees at the wooden altars, with heads down, eyes closed, and heart open to God.

I realize the “altar call” isn’t a practice in every church.  Nor does it need to be.  It isn’t prescripted in the Bible.  It is a tradition.  It makes sense to some.  For others, it is too radical and emotional.

For me, the “altar call” is what started my faith journey at four years old.  It holds great value in my life.

A couple days ago , I gave an altar call during Highland Park Church‘s Saturday 6pm service.  The invitation was to allow God to correct your course.  No one came forward.

Normally, that’s okay.  If people aren’t moved by God’s Spirit in that way, I trust our people.  I don’t want to manipulate or guilt others into a response.

As I stood at my seat and sang the final song with everyone, my heart felt heavy.  I know many of the hurts people are experiencing in the room.  Many are carrying deep wounds in need of special care.  Heavy burdens weigh them down to point of nearly crushing their spirit.  I thought, “we need to support them in prayer.”  

Our worship leader wrapped up the last song as I walked onto stage.  She was expecting me to close the service.  It was what we had planned.  Instead, I gave a second “altar call.”  This time I said, “Forget the sermon.  I know someone of you are here with deep wounds in your heart.  You need prayer.  As a church, we want to pray with you.  Come down to this altar, and together we will pray.”  

It was like the door was unlocked and people were set free to move.  Immediately, people came forward.  The front of the church was filled with people praying, and people praying with people who were praying.  Liberation was taking place in the hearts of many.

The unity of the Holy Spirit in worship was beautiful.  We aren’t divided.  That’s not it.  Our people love another and are mission together.  On this particular night, the Spirit shown forth with brighter radiance than normal.

Looking back on that moment, I see two ways the Spirit unites us in worship:

  • The Spirit unites us as leaders.  Our worship leader, Jessica Rickey, had no idea what was coming.  I had no way of communicating my thoughts to her.  She was leading a song, and I was standing on the front row.  As far as she knew, the music was done for the night.  It all happened in the moment.  I asked her to lead the band in the song a second time, so the people had a chance to respond.  Without hesitation, she did it.  You would have thought it was planned.  In a moment when things could have been extremely confusing, the Spirit united us as leaders.  The outcome was pretty amazing.
  • The Spirit unites us as a community.  Our people stood next to, knelt beside, laid hands on, and cried together in prayer.  It was more than a splatter of individuals praying at the altar.  It was our entire group praying together.  I didn’t see anyone left alone.  In solidarity, we cried out to God for our brothers and sisters.  In worship, the Spirit banded us together as a tight-knit community supporting one another through prayer.

It’s tough to fabricate moments like this.  Only the Holy Spirit can do what it does.  In this particular case, I am grateful for the unity that was displayed.  I pray for more.

Learning 6 Reasons My Kid was Ecstatic about VBS This Year

VBS-2015Confession:  I haven’ been a fan of VBS for a long time, at least 30 years.

It has nothing to do with children’s pastors, at least not the ones whom I call colleagues at the church where I now serve.  They are great.  Better than great, they are exceptional.  It’s my memories of VBS that leave a bad taste.  The waking up early on summer break to be there by 8am.  The songs and songs and boring songs we were forced to memorize and sing.  The competition to memorize and recite Bible verses and win the biggest prize.  The big finale where we stand on stage in front of adults to sing those silly songs we worked on all week.  Did I mention the waking up early?

When my daughter came home from VBS and the first words out of her mouth were, “THAT WAS AWESOME!,” I wasn’t prepared.  I was taken aback.  Whhhhaaat?,” I thought.  She liked it that much?  Is she my child?

She couldn’t wait to return the next night, and the next night, and the next night, and then bring me with her the final night.  She wouldn’t miss it for anything.  Something come up the second night that could have prevented her from going.  She cried tears of sadness until we made new arrangements.  There’s no way I could keep her from it.

For the first time since I was a kid, I sat in on VBS.  The final day was “bring-your-parent-to-VBS-and-you-might-win-a-scooter” night.  Our whole family went, all four of us.  We sat in the second row, next to the subwoofer.

It blew my mind, and not just the volume was cranked.  I was amazed.  It was not the VBS I remembered.  There was loud music, beach balls flying everywhere, jumping and clapping, kids screaming  with excitement, and tons of positive energy in the room.  The leaders on stage were engaging, funny, and passionate.  The kids sat on their edge of their seats the whole time.

By the end of the night, I learned why my daughter was so ecstatic about VBS.

  • Amazing Volunteers.  Adult volunteers were everywhere.  You couldn’t miss them because they all had on the same shirt.  The kids love the volunteers, and the volunteers love the kids.  It was evident by the high-fives and hugs.
  • Kid Friendly Atmosphere.  The stage design completely transformed the main sanctuary from a Sunday morning feel to a let’s have a party with grade-school kids feel.  It welcomed the kids to be themselves.  It gave them permission to express themselves as young kids do.
  • Passionate Communicators.  Each person who communicated from stage did so with excellence.  They were prepared.  They were energetic.  They were passionate.  They spoke on a level the kids would want to follow and be able to understand.
  • Live worship.  I can’t say enough for the difference between kids singing along to a CD or piano versus a full worship band.  The kids loved it.  The worship leaders set the tone and gave an example for the students to follow.
  • Relevant songs.  “This Little Light of Mine” is a great song, but might have seen its heyday.  These kids are used to a new kind of sound that speaks to their own generation.  The connection to the songs played was evident in the kids participation.
  • Cutting edge resources.  New resources are available for VBS programs every year.  Some are created by denominations, others are designed by independent or non-denominational Christian organizations.  They do the research and development you can’t do.  They produce entire VBS programs to speak directly to kids in the context they are living in today.  Our church uses Summer XP VBS from Orange 

I understand not everyone growing up in the 1980s had a negative experience with VBS.  I admit I might not have been the norm.  Still, there’s no reason why we should try to keep it alive.  Whether it was good for you or not, it is in the past.  Kids need a fresh experience of God’s love expressed to them in ways that send them home desiring more.  This happened for my daughter this year.

Thank you Neal, Sarah, Jennifer, Hope, Terry, Carlee, Brett, Christina and the entire Highland Park Church Children’s ministry team!  You redeemed the idea of VBS for me, and more importantly, influenced my kid to be ecstatic about MOVE-ing toward God.

Learning One Way the Church is the Hope of the World

The media blitzed Nepal after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the epicenter of the country on April 25, 2015.  Within hours, most of the world heard about it.  I’m assuming you know what I am talking about.  Over half a million homes were destroyed, and millions of people were displaced.

Disaster.  Is there a more appropriate word?  Houses, businesses, cities, families, and lives were destroyed.  It is a tragedy of epic proportions.

The Church in Nepal immediately organized a plan of response to the disaster.  In some cases, they were the first ones to bring any form of relief to certain removed villages.  They  traveled the dusty trails to the hardest hit areas.  Where no one else was ready to go, the Church sent its people.

One Church responder says,

We are very much concerned for the people living in the dust, in the slums, in a miserable state.  We are with the people, we work with them because our heart is there.  We share the pain they have.”  

Having gone to the people most in need, the Church realized which necessities were most critical.  They are clean water, access to food, and places of shelter.  Through a network of existing relationships, they developed a strategy to distribute available resources to several communities.

Beyond just meeting immediate needs, the goal of these churches is to walk alongside families and communities, as they transition from relief to recovery.”

In addition to “meeting immediate needs,” the Church embodies the hope of the world by helping others “transition from relief to recovery.”  

Those are not my words (see Video by NCM), but I love them.  The Church isn’t just one and done.  The Church brings immediate relief and offers long-term healing.  The Church isn’t interested in a temporary fix.  The Church desires full redemption.  The Church doesn’t drive in and drive out.  The Church sets up camp.  The Church plants roots and claims a new home.

From relief to recovery.  Hope may be found in immediate relief but hope is sustained and then realized through a process of recovery.  The Church brings hope by committing to restoration.

It is safe to imagine how this plays out in a place far away like Nepal.  But what shape does it take right here where we live?  What does it mean for the Church in the United States to be the hope of the world?  How do we meet immediate needs and then walk alongside families and communities as they transition from relief to recovery?

One such example is fresh in my mind.  As I was about to walk onto stage to preach my sermon, a text was shown to me with a tragic message: ” ___________________ passed away unexpectedly in her sleep this morning.”  I couldn’t believe what I just read.  I saw her only a couple weeks ago serving in our children’s ministry.

She was only 48 years old.  She leaves behind a husband and seven year old daughter.  It was a disaster for this family.  Tragic.

The Church immediately responded like it always does with phone calls, visits, food, hugs, and a funeral.  We do everything we can to meet any immediate needs.  It is a sad yet beautiful experience of great loss combined with compassionate love.

Hope comes to the bereaved as they experience initial forms of relief.  Ahead of each family member, though, lies a road full of grief.  Healing isn’t yet complete.  Pain of their deep loss will emerge as each family member experiences special holidays, events, locations, and even everyday tasks.  Times will arise will it feels all hope is lost.

As the hope of the world, this is when the Church walks alongside the family as they transition from relief to recovery.  The final prayer at the graveside is the beginning of the Church’s commitment on the journey to help bring healing.  The Church shares their pain until they can share in the joy of their recovery.

I am humbled to be a part of a church that responds to cataclysmic disasters around the world.  Offering hope by responding to a 7.8 magnitude earthquake is astounding.  Thank you Nazarene Compassionate Ministries for taking this lead.  Your philosophy of ministry is something we can adapt to our own contexts here in America, and all areas of the world.

I pray for more stories of the Church offering hope by helping others transition from relief to recovery, both here and abroad.  I pray my own life reflects such hope.

 

Learning Together: Helping Female Pastors Break Through Glass Walls

You’ve heard about glass ceilings.  What about glass walls?

Brooklyn has been a pastor in full-time ministry since the day we graduated from college.  The first church where she applied hired her without hesitation.  It felt good to belong to a denomination supporting women in ministry.  We are grateful for a community of believers who recognize her equality in calling and in leadership.

Fourteen years later, Brooklyn has been hired by 4 different churches, three Nazarene and one Methodist.  Each time she was hired by a male lead pastor, staff pastor, or executive pastor.  Not once did she feel patronized or looked down upon for being a female.  She experienced respect and support, much like any male applying for the same position.

Thanks to these pastors, their teams, and the congregation’s belief in her, Brooklyn’s leadership in pastoral ministry has soared to great heights.  She is revolutionizing youth ministry.  She influences the lives of thousands of teenagers every year.  She inspires young girls all over the world to pursue a call to pastoral ministry.  She is blazing a trail for women in ministry for the 21st century.

As blessed as she’s been, Brooklyn has also faced glass walls.  A glass wall would stand between her and the male leadership.  She could stand on the outside and look in, but she would never be invited to the party.  It is an invisible barrier no one who is male could recognize.  She felt it, though, every time she ran into it.

In her case, I don’t believe the walls were constructed with the intent to hurt.  More than not, they were put in place with her protection in mind.  That’s not to say that some walls weren’t completely selfish or chauvinistic.  Some sure seemed that way.  Luckily, they were the exception.

Regardless the intent, the glass walls exist.  They keep her from important meetings.  They exclude her from meaningful relationships.  They mute her voice from being heard.  They relegate her to spectator status.  They cause pain every time she runs into them.

If you are a female pastor reading this, you know what I am talking about.  You’ve experienced it for yourself.  You’ve been invited to the gun range for a staff meeting, only to be forced to shoot a gun with tears running down your face.  You’ve stayed in the office while others spent the afternoon golfing together for 5 hours.  Individual meetings with your pastor are brief, awkward, and deprived of significant meaning.

Glass walls may exist for female pastors, but they are possible to breakthrough.  In our experience, here’s what helps:

  • Admitting the walls exist.  It starts with male pastors.  Don’t ignore what’s real.  Put it out there and talk about it openly.
  • Acting in faith not fear.  Fear makes us put up all kinds of boundaries.  Fear comes from a lack of trust.  Believe in each other.  Trust the power of the Holy Spirit working in all of you.
  • Including female pastors on the leadership team.  This shouldn’t be a token position.  It must be done because the organization values the perspective of women as created in God’s image.  Her voice is essential to the leadership of the church.
  • Be friends.  Friendships transcend goals and strategies.  Friendships get past the surface level of utility.  Friendships imbue trust and confidence.  Friends help friends write stories of transformation and redemption.  It’s tough to be a friend and maintain glass walls.

Feels like it has been a long time since Brooklyn has faced a glass wall.  Wall after glass wall have been shattered in her most recent years of ministry because of her courage and many leaders who have the vision to see.  She would not be where she is today if she were still looking in from the outside.

We know sooner of later, she may likely face another a glass wall.  We are certain female pastors all over the world are facing them right now.  So, we pray.  We pray help will come to those who face these invisible barriers.  We pray the glass will be broken so our female pastors can walk in to the place where they belong.  We pray with hope, not fear.

Be courageous female pastors.  Brooklyn and I believe in you.  Many others believe in you, too.

 

Learning How to Stay at the Center of God’s Will

Our daughters have developed a routine anytime we get into our vehicle.  Had we known what would contribute to it, we might not have bought the car with this particular option.  It was something we couldn’t foresee.  You really can’t guess something like this.

The feature I am talking about is a TV and DVD player.  We thought it would be a blessing for our family.  I didn’t grow up with a screen flipping down from the ceiling able to play DVD movies.  I still lived in the world of VHS Tapes.  How big would your car need to be to install a VCR discreetly?  The boredom of long car rides when I was a kid was curbed by (a)  sleeping, or (b) coloring.

The option for our kids to watch any movie they wanted seemed like a no-brainer.  How could it go wrong?  There’s a way.  I have had my moments when I nearly ripped the device out our vehicle for good.  Arrrgh.  Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but I do wonder how much better life might be without it.

Here’s why.  Both of my kids have developed a routine of asking the same question on repeat until the desired result is given every time we get into the car.  Sometimes, they ask it before we even get in the car.  The question is, “Can you turn the movie sound on please?”  There’s barely a chance to respond or for them to take a breadth before it comes out again, “Daddy (or Mommy), can you turn the movie sound on please?”  Can you turn the movie sound on please?  Again, with more urgency, “Can you turn the movie sound on please?”  

Noooo,” I think to myself, “what have we done?  This was supposed to be a relief for us in the car.  It has turned into a torture device. Can I please get into the car with some peace and quiet?”

I have to hand it to my kids.  They are persistent.  Through their persistece, and often annoying asking, I fulfill their request.

Jesus tells a parable about the power of persistence.  Two friends live close to one another.  One friend is visited by another friend.  To show proper hospitality to a visitor, it is customary to welcome them with an invitation to share a meal at your table.  Problem is, this friend has nothing proper to set on the table.  He walks next door to ask his neighbor.  He knocks, and receives an answer something like this, “Dude, go away.  My kids just went to sleep.  My wife will kill me if they wake up.  I have work to get done first thing in the morning.  I can’t afford to lose sleep trying to put my kids back to bed.”  They may be friends, but the neighbor with the sleeping kids isn’t about to ruin a good moment over a loaf of bread.  Plus, the friend will understand because that’s what friends do.  That’s exactly what the other friend thinks, because he persists with knocking.

As Jesus tells us, it isn’t their friendship that would move the friend to chance the kids waking to provide bread for a friend.  It is persistence.  Luke 11:8 says, “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.”   

Then Jesus says, “Ask.”  Ask God with persistence.  Ask through prayer, because “it will be given you” and “the door will be opened to you (Luke 11:9).”  God wants to give you good things.  Even better, God wants to give you the Holy Spirit.

Jesus says all of this in the context of a conversation with his disciples about how they should pray.  He teaches them to pray in this way:

Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”  Luke 11:2-4  (NRSV)

When you pray, say these things.  Ask of these.  Make this type of request.  Will you send your kingdom?  Will you give me what I need?  Will you forgive my sins?  Will you protect me during difficult times and situations?  Ask for them persistently. Don’t give up.  Don’t give in.  Keep at it.  God wants to give you all of this, plus the power of the Holy Spirit.

Praying these things puts you at the center of God’s will.  It is a place where God is able to bless you with everything you need to complete God’s mission.  To stay here, you need persistence.

Staying at the center of God’s will takes the courage to press forward and not give up.  When the pressure to quit is strong, you don’t.  You hang on.  You tighten your grip.  You plant your feet firmly.  You hunker down.  You let loose of any selfish ambition.  You ask for God’s help.  You ask for it again, and again, and again until God gives you what you need.

Right before you reach the goal, you will feel the greatest pressure to give up.  Persistence won’t let you.  It carries you through to the end.

 

Learning Together: God Gives Your Children Fresh Dreams

Mya GraduationYou won’t believe what our daughter wants to be when she grows up.  Hint: it is not a pastor like her mommy or daddy.

This has been the final week of school in our home.  Preschool graduation was on Wednesday.  The last day of Second Grade was on Thursday.  Emotions have risen and fallen.  Everyone in our family made it out alive, including mom and dad.

This year marks the official end of preschool in the Lindsey home.  Mya walked the stage and received her diploma.  There are no more little Lindsey’s to follow.

The day before graduation, Mya’s class celebrated with a splash party.  Baby pools, slip-n-slides, crazy water hoses, a bubble station, sidewalk chalk, and a shaving cream zone were set up on the front lawn.  The soon to be graduates were free to roam the area with few restraints.  Main goal:  have fun!

The kids had a blast.  Afterward, we marched in to the classroom.  Time to change into dry clothes for a pizza party.  You can’t run around burning body fuel without replenishing with some chips, cupcakes, and pepperoni and cheese.  There’s no better way to end a preschool era.

I was standing behind Mya while she was enjoying her feast.  I heard my name, “Hey, Coy.”  From across the room, another parent was calling out to me with a smile on his face.  “Hey, Coy.  Have you seen this yet?  I had not.  So, I went to check it out.

He pointed to a small sheet of paper hanging on the wall.  It was a list of each student’s name and a description of what they will be will they grow up.  Jobs were listed like eye doctor, veterinarian, firefighter, and a doctor for babies.  Careers a parent might envision for their child.  Not so with our child.  She wanted to be a ___________________________. All I could think of was, “Ohhhh, no.  Well, she has been saying it for a long time.”

I can’t tell you yet, it would ruin the ending.

The next day we are sitting in the audience watching Mya’s class graduation.  The time comes for each student’s name to be called, so they can walk across the stage to receive their diploma.  To our surprise, each child’s name is called along with the description of what they want to be when they grow up.  People are “oohing” and “ahhing” at the cute responses the children have provided.  I am a little nervous what the reaction of the crowd might be when Mya steps forward.  Thinking it might include some laughter.

Finally, it’s her turn.  The person with the microphone says, “This is Mya, and she wants to be an Ice Cream Truck Seller.”  

Our Mya wants to be a Food Truck owner and operator.  For now, we are cool with that as long as she chooses to play music other than that crazy annoying ice cream truck song that we hear everyday and is about to cause one of us a nervous breakdown.  Plus, she must be committed to keeping it clean and non-creepy looking.

For real, though, as parents you worry about what your kids will grow up to do and be some day.   Brooklyn and I are learning together that it is not up to us.  Our kids don’t have to fulfill our dreams.  They don’t have to do what we’ve done, or what we hope they will do.  God creates the dream for them that they can someday realize.   Our dreams are too small.

That doesn’t mean we can’t provide a healthy environment to help them discover God’s dream for them. It just means, we shouldn’t feel the pressure to come up with it ourselves.  Our purpose is to recognize the dream within our children and do everything we can to encourage them to follow it.

God gives your children fresh dreams.  It may or may not be to someday work as an Ice Cream Truck Seller.  Who knows?  Either way, you get a first row seat to witness God’s creative power in your child’s life.     

 

Learning What Will Compel You to Give More to the Church

I was a poor college student.  Brooklyn and my combined yearly earnings maybe broke $9k (nine thousand dollars).  I know we didn’t bring home more than $10k.  Our only car wouldn’t go in reverse.  Daily nutrition consisted of cereal, ramen noodles, and bread.

The idea of an emergency fund was laughable.  Our dollars went to gas, food, rent, books, books, books, and gas.  Anything leftover would occasionally afford a movie night or lunch buffet at Donato’s Pizza.  Life was simple.

We certainly were not in a position to give money away.  Our tithe was measly, almost embarrassing, but we gave it.  We lived with the hope that others might want to share their money with us.  Haha.  Didn’t really come to fruition.

With little to draw from, we felt compelled to give.  A teammate and friend of mine wanted to go home for Christmas.  It was his first semester in college and in the United States.  He grew up in Jamaica.  Cold, wintry Ohio is a long way from the warm waters of the caribbean.  Like most freshman, he was homesick.  He needed a respite at home for the holidays.

He didn’t have the finances to pay for a flight.  Neither did his family or anyone else he knew.  He had no choice but to stay.

It didn’t feel right to me.  Everyone was going home.  He needed to go home, too.  My mind was made up.  I would give whatever I could and do whatever it takes to get him a flight home.  Several roadblocks stood in our way.  With the help of family and friends, we found a way around them.  K-Rod flew home for Christmas.

Without a close friendship with him, I wouldn’t have felt compelled to do the same.  It was my involvement in his life, and he in mine, that opened my eyes to the need.  Knowing him beyond the surface level moved me to care for him like a family member.  His pain became mine.  Knowing him meant identifying with his emotions.  Being this close to him set me on a mission to get him home.  I was compelled to do whatever it took, including empty my own pockets.

What will compel you to give more financial support to the Church is serving her.  Know her intimately.  Passionately invest in her ministry.  Get past the surface level of showing up to a worship service, then going home.  Be involved in the mission God is calling her to fulfill.  Learn her story to the point you are able to see yourself in it, then become a part of it.  Own her future.  See where she desires to go and stop at nothing to get her there.

A close, intimate relationship to the Church’s mission will compel you to give more to it.  God’s beloved, the Church, will hold great meaning for you.  You will grasp the significance and potential of God’s people gathered together to be agents of transformation.  You will believe in the Church as the hope of the world.  You won’t need to be given reasons to give, you will already see them.

You won’t be befuddled by percentages.  You will be focused on giving all you can.  When you’ve given all you can, you will find ways to give more.  The question won’t be if you can give, it will be what you give.   It won’t be about a rule or principle.  It will be about completing a mission together as God’s people.  You won’t stop till we’ve arrived.

Love the Church intimately by serving the mission God has given her and a pastor will never need to preach another sermon on tithes and offerings. You will have already discovered the inspiration.