Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Coffee Milk

Most of us start our caffeine addictions by taking just a little coffee with our milk; something called Coffee Milk. I think my young friend at the left has moved far beyond Coffee Milk, but I digress.

After Coffee Milk comes heavily creamed and sugared coffee, as we quickly work our way up to a Grande Cappuccino with an extra shot of espresso. In that one large cup we consume the caffeine equivalent of four strong cups of coffee, hoping it will help us focus on our early morning computer screens. We work our way up from a little coffee with our milk, to a little milk with our coffee.

It is sad that our discipleship often works in the reverse order. Do a quick survey of the children and youth small groups, or Sunday Schools, in your church. You'll find that we start our children off on alot of Scripture, alot of church activity. Children's Sunday School classes have twice as many kids as most Jr. High classes, and most Jr. High classes have twice as many young people as most High School Sunday School classes do. People in the know know that the church loses most kids long before they graduate from High School and enter the black hole of American young adult spirtuality.

There is a myth that we hold onto that has helped us accept, and even feed the slow disappearance of Christ from our children's lives. Instead of slowly incresing their intake of Christianity, we slowly decrease it. Here is the myth that helps us do that, "If I require my kids go to church and to the things my church does for kids and youth, they won't want to go when they are adults. And, besides, it's just not worth the fight."

Our reasoning seems sound, "They have to make their own choices," we say. We require them to go to public school with little thought to their choice. We make them pick up their clothes, clean their bodies, all to teach them discipline. We have glorified choice and neglected discipline, and both are taught in the Scripture.

While I am not advocating legalism, I would like to point out that this myth is patently untrue. Children and students who are required to attend church with their families (please don't miss that "with their families" bit), are several times more likely to follow Christ as adults. The only accurate predictor of future behavior is present behavior.

The Most Expensive Coffee In the World

The most expensive coffee in the world used to be Jamaican Blue Mountain. I once bought 1/4 pound for $15, because I had been told it was so good. In my opinion, I wasted $15. Well, there is a new most expensive coffee in the world. It is called Kopi Luwak, and it hails from Indonesia.

The Asian Palm Civet, a cat-sized weasel-like mammal, eats fresh berries from the coffee plant, digesting the outer skin and fruit and leaving behind the beans. Coffee producers collect the castings, clean, dry and roast them producing a coffee that is supposed to be the best in the world. It sells for up to $600 per pound. That translates to between $30 and $50 per cup. And, yes, when you drink a cup of Kopi Luwak coffee, you are drinking coffee from the poo of the civet cat. Go figure.

Sometimes we think that having money in church means having spirituality. I call it the "bottom line myth." It sounds like this, "We have some money in the bank, so we must be OK." This myth is as old as Christianity. When Jesus told the disciples that it was harder for a rich man to get into heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, their question was basically, "Wow, then who can get into heaven." Physical plenty does note equal spiritual plenty. Some of the poorest churches are the richest. And, some of the wealthiest "Christians' give the least and serve the least.

In our own church, one of the greatest times of spiritual unity and growth was when we were broke. Our lack got us on our knees like our plenty never has.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Wake Up And Smell The Coffee

One old wives' tale told children not to swallow their gum, because it would take seven years to digest. It doesn't. Another warned, "Don't pluck a grey hair or two more will grow in its place." A hair follicle can't reproduce exponentially. Most in the middle ages believed you should not sail far from shore, because, since the world was flat, you would sail off the end of the earth. It's not flat. You can't sail off the end of the earth.

For the next few blogs, I'm going to write about some of the myths we live by. Mostly this will have to do with myths the church lives (and dies) by. I'll be writing to try to debunk the myths; hence the name, Wake Up And Smell The Coffee.

First myth, "Young adults go back to church when they have kids. The desire to have their children in church draws them back into fellowship." This is a myth. It is simply not true. The Starbucks generation is not returning to church. Only 17% of young adults say that having children has encouraged them to return to church.

Bottom line - if young adults are not connected to the church in a meaningful way by the time they graduate from High School, the chances that they will ever be back are about 1 in 10. What's the solution? Hundreds of theologians, pastors, and others are praying, studying, writing and thinking about this. Think about this, though.

Most kids are not members of their church because they have chosen it. They are there because their parents have chosen it. Maybe we should spend time talking to Jr. High and High School kids about making their own commitment to Christ and their local church. We could take a two-fold approach.

First, do a better job of training our children to serve and build others rather than making all ministry about them. The best way the church can help this is by helping parents train their own children to be servants, leading by exmple, doing family mission trips, family work days at church and in the community.

Second, do a better job being attentive to the needs of families. While young parents may be far too busy with things that are of little eternal importance, they do still have to live, work, and raise their children in a world that is full of things that wear them out. Church should be a place that encourages and equips them, not a place that contributes to a culture of busyness that saps the soul and leads to the downfall of families.

Regardless, we better wake up and smell the coffee.

Friday, May 21, 2010

How Jesus Helped Me Get Over Washington, D.C.

It is not often that a foreign leader addresses our congress. This week the president of Mexico did. During his speech, he criticized the Arizona law regarding illegal immigrants in its borders. When he did that, virtually every Democrat stood and applauded. When I read that, I was appalled. It was like a groundswell moment in my emotions. I do not know if the Arizona law is racial profiling. I do not know the intricacies of federalism. I do know that if my children invited a friend over, and that friend began to criticize another of my children, and the other children rose up and applauded, I would send their friend home immediately and then I would deal with my children. Whether their friend was right or wrong would not matter. That was appalling, but it was even worse because our own executive branch officials are travelling the world and criticizing Arizona as well. And members of the other party are using the whole thing for political gain.

This morning, I didn't start my day with Fox News. I started it with God's Word. I'm not boasting. Most mornings I click on the news app on my iPhone before I click on the Bible Reader, but not today. I was reading Psalm 1, and then I stumbled upon Psalm 2. Here it is, here is how Jesus helped me get over Washington, D.C.

"Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, "let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us." He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure;"

I am on official member of the Throw The Bums Out political party, which is a tri-partisan, non-denominational, equally appalled political movement that believes starting over with a whole new crew couldn't be any worse than it is now. However, I am part of another Kingdom, and My King seems quite able to handle whatever happens in Washington, Beijing, Moscow, and Greece.

Thank You, Jesus, for reminding me You are in charge.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

We Only Have One Jerusalem

I have been on several mission trips in my life. They are exciting. It is always good to see God do much in a short period of time, and it is always a little disconcerting to me. Why does He seem to do so much in some places, and so little in others? Why does He seem to do so much when we go on mission trips? Some say that it is just because that is fresh ground. Mission trips to unreached people are fresh, they have not heard the gospel before, they are not hardened, and so they believe easily and quickly. Yet, there are some unreached groups that never believe. some say that we are jaded in this country, hardened by so much preaching and by the spectacle of religion that has turned some off to the gospel. And, still, revivals break out even in the Bible belt.

The answer I have found is simple. It is unbelief. "And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief." (Mat. 13:58) When people did not believe, Jesus did not do much in that place. Whenever the gospel is preached and believed, lives are changed. When the gospel is preached and unbelieved, lives are not changed. The unbelief of the crowd, however, is not what is on my heart. Only God can quicken a heart, only He can open deaf ears, and only He can draw men to the gospel of His Son. What about the unbelief of the preacher? Paul professed, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Rom.1:16)

When we see great things happen on the foreign mission field, and we return to our own homes and see the "same old" church and community, we can be at risk of unbelief. We can begin to doubt that the gospel is the power of God for savlation in our Jerusalem. The issue then is not the unbelief of our community. The issue is our lack of confidence in God's ability to save anyone, anywhere.

There are hundreds of foreign countries in which to preach the gospel, but I have only One Jerusalem. My home is in Many, Louisiana. I minister daily in two Louisiana parishes and one Texas county. While I still desire to go and preach the gospel in the unreached nations of the world, I live in an increasingly unreached nation and community.

My Jerusalem is my calling, especially for this year, and I have been convicted of my unbelief that God could save here, and so I have given myself to my Jerusalem. As surely as my public ministry will fail if I do not take care of my own family, my ministry around the world will fail if I fail to believe God in my Jerusalem.

Go into all the world and preach the gospel, but do not fail to believe that the gospel is still able to save in your Jerusalem. You have only One.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Just As I Am

Have you ever said, "That's just the way I am"? It's a universal thought; a universal excuse. Just As I am is one way we justify our defects of character, our besetting sins, and our outright unwillingness to change. There is only one I AM who is justified in the way He is. He loves us us just the way we are, but sacrificed His Son to make sure we do not remain just as we are. He is concerned that we become who He wants us to be, who He has predestined us to be; an image of His Son, Jesus Christ. The wicked step-mother had a hideous heart and a mirror who lied to her about it. That's what just as I am is. It is the mirror of self, and self always tells itself what it wants to hear. James said that God will never lie to us about the way we are. He will love us, no matter what, but He will not lie to us. His mirror, according to James, is the Word of God. James said that when we look into the mirror, the Word, and then look away and forget who God says we are, justifying who we say we are, we are self-deceivers. "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was." (James 1:22-24) It's one thing to be deceived by someone else. That always leaves us angry and feeling foolish. How foolish do I have to be to deceive myself? Whatever you are, hold it up to the mirror. See what God sees in you, then go and do what He says to do about what He sees.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A 40 Day Fast From Technology

I was thinking about a technology fast. I wonder if I could make it with no cell phone, no computer, no television, no satellite radio? I wonder what my church would say if I gave up everything except the Bible and essential transportation for 40 days? I wonder what my family would do if they couldn't have instant access to me?

Most of our lives are dominated by technology and most of us have a shallow, at best, spirituality. Forgive me if that sounds judgmental. It's not. It's just empirical. People who profess Christ act less like Christ, know less of His Word, give less of their goods, energy and finances, than they did in the pre-tech-revolution. We are not better Christians because of these things.

So, I wonder. I could take a 40 day sabbatical without leaving my home or my church. Just unplug. Do you dare try it?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

One Difference Between Jesus And Mohammed

Reporter Dan Gainor of FOXNews.com wrote, regarding a new animated series that mocks Jesus on Comedy Central, "Comedy Central is eager to bash Christians but runs scared when it comes to Islam or the prophet Mohammed."

Does that bother you, I mean, that the media is so quick to bash our faith and the Savior of all mankind?

The fact that the world can bash Christianity and get away with it is one of the greatest testimonies to the difference between Islam and Christianity. Our "fighting" for our rights as Christians has encourated many unbelievers see us as just another whining special interest group rather than people who trust and boast in a sovereign God.

Offend Mohammed, and someone threatens to blow you up. Offend Christ, and He says, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Write a cartoon about Mohammed, and receive death threats. Write an offensive cartoon about Jesus, He dies for you. But, offend some modern day professed followers of Jesus Christ, and you get almost the same thing you get from Islam. You get threatened with a law suit, or a protest, or even with violence.

When the first century Jewish Parliament ordered Peter to stop preaching Christ, he didn't, neither did he gripe, complain, or threaten the High Priest. He just said, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:19-20)

Foundation Problems

"if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" Psalm 11:3
There was a huge crack in the corner of the living room of the home. It was at least an inch across. Actually, it was not a crack in the wall. It was a crack in the plaster that had been smeared over an even wider gap. Looking through the cracked plaster, revealed an almost two inch gap between the walls. Yet, this crack was not the real problem. Only when leaving the house and looking outside could the real problem be found. The foundation at the corner of the house had completely failed.
Parent number one said, "Could you believe what those Junior High girls had on at that prom?"
"Look, there is no way I would let my little girl walk out of the house lookin' like that, much less go to a dance with a boy looking like that. What has happened to these kids? Don't they know they look like . . .?" said parent number two.
Number one responded, "Somebody had to buy those dresses for those little girls. Guess who? Momma is the one who oughtta have her head examined."
Parent number three listened, and said, "The problem isn't what the girls have on, or what the Momma bought. The problem is this. When personal choice becomes the standard of morality, anything goes. There is an old Proverb repeated twice in Scripture that says, 'There is a way that seems right to a man, but it's end is the way to death.' When God doesn't define truth and morality, but man does, then anything is possible."
It's probably time to stop worrying about the cracks and start paying attention to the foundation.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

That's what I heard him ask. Un-satisfied with his wife, filled with the counsel of his friends, he was deciding to leave her and find one who would support him, one who would make his heart sing again.

That's what I heard her ask. Un-satisfied with her church, filled with the counsel of her girlfriends who had been to "spirit-filled" churches, she was deciding to find a new church, one that would feed her better.

That's what I heard the pastor ask. He wasn't seeing much fruit from his ministry. Church seemed bland, he was out of ideas. He was deciding to find another.

It's not a bad question. It's just usually not asked under the right circumstances, with the right heart. Paul, the apostle, asked it. His whole conversation with God, self, and the question is found in Philippians. Paul was in prison for his faith, and was probably getting tired of the persecution he had suffered, and he knew that it was better for him to go to Heaven and be with His Lord than to remain on earth. But, he didn't leave, and he gave the answer for not leaving.

I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me. (Philippians 1:23-26)

Paul asked the question and answered unselfishly. And, us, the only time we can ever be sure that asking the question is ok, is when we have first spent time with God purging our selfish motives. Paul wanted to go, but he stayed. He stayed, not because it was good for him, but because it was good for the people he would have left behind. Oh, just in case someone at Calvary wonders, "No, I am not asking the question."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Location, Location, Location

The three most important things in real estate are location, location, and location. On the day of Pentecost, only those gathered together in that upper room in Jerusalem experienced the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit. God, in Hebrews, warned us not to "forsake the gathering of ourselves together, as is the manner of some." We have the benefit of podcasts, mp3 and cd recordings, but they are no substitute for being in the worship service. Prayer may know no geographical limits, but how much more significant is someone's prayer for us when their hand is on our shoulder. A card at Mother's Day and flowers are a blessing to any mother, but which one would not rather have all her children gathered around her table. Every parent knows that he may be able to call home while away on business, or even use the internet to have a video conversation with his wife and children, and yet long to be there with them. There is no substitute for being there. And, while it may seem that we are waiting until death or rapture to truly be with our God, He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. And, to that end, He has given us Himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit. He is always with us, in our hearts.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Comfort Food

"Two things I request of You (Deprive me not before I die); Remove falsehood and lies far from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches - Feed me with the food allotted to me; Lest I be full and deny You, and say, "Who is the Lord?" Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God." (Proverbs 30:7-9)

Comfort is a greater enemy of true Christian faith than poverty. History proves this fact, even in our day. While the prosperous church in America has flat-lined in growth and decreased in its influence as salt and light, the poverty-stricken and oppressed churches in China and elsewhere have exploded.

The issue for us is not what comfort does to "the church" but the danger prosperity is to us individually. None of us have a problem praying for relief from poverty. But, if statistics are true, far fewer of us have prayed, "God help me never tell a lie." Do you, however, regularly pray "God, please don't let me become rich? Give me only enough to meet my needs and to meet the needs of others, and keep me from becoming comfortable in this world?"

Do you recognize the danger that comfort is to your faithfulness to Christ? Just like comfort food increases our beltlines and decreases our physical fitness, physical comfort can decrease our spiritual fitness. There's nothing wrong with living in the most prosperous nation on the planet. There's nothing wrong with prospering, but there is an inherent risk to our Christian walk. How do you pray, for yourself, your children, your grandchildren?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Still Stupid

Lest you think that "stupid" is a dirty word, let me give you the formal definition for it and its use in this article. stupid, adj.; lacking ordinary quickness and keenness of mind; dull

When I was a kid, I hyper-extended my right thumb catching baseball. The ball hit the edge of by glove and it blew the thumb out of joint. It popped back in in nicely, and my coach, a man of great compassion said, "Get back in there and catch, Clayton. You ain't hurt." So, I did, and a few pitches later, being a little jumpy after the first injury, I pulled back from a pitch, the ball hit the edge of my glove again, and my thumb was really messed up. This time, I told the coach I wasn't catching any more. I'm stupid, but I'm not that stupid.

Through the years, I re-injured both thumbs. I played football during high school with one of them taped flat to the rest of my hand; made it a little tough to tackle with that hand. I've exploded my left thumb with a hammer. And, I stuck a nail in it, too, with a nail gun. One really fun thumb injury was when I was building cabinets and one of the screws wouldn't go in. So, I really bore down on the screw, and the drill slipped off and I pushed a Philips screw driver bit through my left thumb. At that point, I decided that no matter how often God healed my thumbs, I was going to be alot more careful with them.

A couple of weeks ago I helped my son build a chicken coup, and a very fine coup it is. He was using a drill to screw a couple of boards together and I was holding them, but I quickly moved my hands out of the way. I then told him why. I had learned my lesson, so I guess I'm not that stupid after all. I told my son not to do the same. A couple of days later, when he had put some finishing touches on the coup, he said, "Hey, you know how you told me about the screwdriver and your thumb. Well, I didn't listen. I did it to myself."

Sometimes we think that, just because God forgives and heals, and just because He's done it a thousand times before . . . we think we can just do something stupid again and it's o.k. with Him. It's not. Often, it's just stupid.