Feb 23, 2011

Does the Gospel Include Emphasizing a Lifestyle Change?

     I recently had this question posed to me: When you present the gospel, how do you balance the emphasis on the unconditional love of God, while also explaining that trusting in Christ means a radical lifestyle change?

    There is often a temptation to try to force a new convert down the road to good works. This can stem from a lack of true faith in the transforming power of God. The Bible says, that all of our righteousness is filthy rags--I believe our post-conversion righteousness also falls into this category. It is easy to try to do what's right on our own strength, but we were never intended to live this way.

     The gospel is not only about God's love and the change that only He can bring, it is also the good news of a defeated enemy. That enemy is our sin. Sin is choosing our way over God's way. If we want to share the gospel clearly, then we will emphasis our separation from God. His love comes into play, when He decided not to leave us in separation, but to offer a way back to Him through Jesus.

     Far too many people are told to pray a prayer and begin behaving, without being asked the right question. Why do they want Christ? I always ask this question when leading someone to Jesus. Often the answer is related to problems at home, sickness, or people not treating them right.

     Jesus did not come to fix our perceived problems--He came to reconcile us to Him, by destroying the power of sin over our lives. When we come to Him for forgiveness, we can have a relationship with Him. He will walk with us through the bad times, while using these situations to make us more like Him.

     If someone changes their mind about sin and turns to Him, you will not have to emphasis works. Let the Holy Spirit do what only He can do. If He has convicted and drawn them, then He will continue speaking to them as they grow. We are tempted to play God, by giving them a set of start up laws. This will only ease people toward legalism. We will be better off if we realize, that only those who turn from their sin and come to Him, actually gain the promise of forgiveness.

     Those who are looking for a quick fix to their problems, remain in their sins. When the problems remain they will usually blame God and begin to pull away, because in their mind He has failed them. The reality is that the problem-fixer God, does not exist, but the sin crushing, stain lifting and walk with you through anything God does.

Feb 21, 2011

What the Church Should Learn from Blockbuster's Demise

     I was recently in a comic book store with some teens from my youth group, when I found an audio cassette tape from Return of the Jedi. I announced my find. One of the girls said "Whats that?" I responded, "You have never heard of Return of the Jedi?" But to my shock she was talking about the cassette tape. When did I get so old?

     We will soon be able to add video rental stores to the list of things we know about that make us sound old. If Movie Gallery liquidating its assets wasn't enough, Blockbuster is also calling it quits. Ouch! I remember how cool they used to be. You could find anything there. They even outlasted the great switch from VHS to DVD, while smaller chains went under while trying to resist.

     The digital revolution, however, has dealt Blockbuster a knockout blow. Netflix and Redbox have all but put a stamp of irrelevance on the former movie giant's forehead. Their jump to on demand viewing and express kiosks came too little too late. You will still see their name on the Blockbuster Express kiosks since their partner, NCR, has unlimited rights to use the name of the soon to be nonexistent company.

    This trend is oddly reminiscent of the church. I sometimes feel old when I see a church that once was vibrant and alive dwindling away into obscurity. But a church is not dead when it closes its doors forever. No, it happens long before that.

     It starts when we become irrelevant to the culture of a generation that needs Christ just as bad as the last one did. The mindset that killed Blockbuster is one embraced by many churches. "It worked once, then it may work again" becomes the mantra of a church on its way out. We need to constantly evaluate what we are doing and how we present the gospel to the world. We would study a foreign culture before going to the mission field (as Paul did in Athens); it is time we studied ours.

     Is Blockbuster's fall tragic, or is it positive? After all, we can still rent movies (easier in fact). The barriers are being removed. In the same way, the closing of outdated (often legalistic) churches remove barriers that prevent this generation from even darkening the door. Our God is still being praised, and that will never change.

     It's time to decide if we will remain relevant and make the necessary changes--even if they are uncomfortable--to affect this culture for Him.

Feb 16, 2011

A Heart to Heart with Mooresville's Mayor After a Moral Lapse

Mayor Chris Montgomery

Chris Montgomery is the Mayor of Mooresville, North Carolina (he also happens to be a Christ follower). The news broke a few weeks ago about intimate emails that he sent from a town email address to a woman who was not his wife. He has said he will continue to serve until his term ends, but not seek re-election. He wants to work on his faith and family.

Jesus was not the stone throwing type and neither should the church be. Chris agreed to do an interview for Randumblog that I pray will be an eye opener for us to see that this could happen to anyone. My hope is that anyone dealing with secret sin will be able to hear Chris’ heart and flee one of the many self-destructive paths our enemy places before us.

Nate: I appreciate your willingness to do this interview for Randumblog. My hope is that my readers gain a clearer understanding of how truly challenging political life can be.

Chris: Thank you for asking me to participate, Nate. It was kind of touch and go there for a while. But I have been blessed with good friends and family who have supported me unconditionally. I have been very overwhelmed. I have been even more thankful.

I would contend that LIFE is challenging. The politics just added to it in my case. But everyone has their demons. That statement is not designed to be a cop-out, just fact. Quite literally, my saving grace was realizing I had Jesus Christ. He was always there. I just ignored the Bible or pretended not to need him. That is a recipe for disaster, particularly when you have been chosen to lead. It has been a tough road. But the weight was lifted once I realized how much God loves his children.

Nate: First, I would like to apologize for myself and other Christians in Mooresville who have neglected to lift you up in prayer. I believe God has called us to this and I for one have failed you as a leader in this way.

Chris: No one has failed me. It was quite the opposite. But it's not about deserving each other. We have already been accepted. Who else do you know that would give his only son's life for a bunch of sinners? It's overwhelming when you think about it.

Nate: People in positions of leadership (especially believers) tend to be targets of the enemy’s attacks. What advice would you give to others in leadership positions in the area of fidelity?

Chris: Well first let me make it perfectly clear that my wife and I love each other. We have volumes of stories and experiences, not to mention three beautiful children. But I, like most men, thrive on attention. Of course some of that is human nature. However, the thought process should go further than that. I for one am very narcissistic and am learning to deal with changing that behavior. I believe putting God as your number one priority is the first step. Then back it up with daily devotions and scripture. My wife has helped me build such faith. She is my rock. 

Nate: It seems that many Christians tend to shoot their own wounded or distance themselves from those who have fallen. It is easy to swell with pride and think that it could not happen to us. If you could go back five years and give a much younger Chris Montgomery some advice—what would you say?

Chris: "Pride comes before the fall."; "Check yourself before you wreck yourself." Leave your ego at the door." "There is no I in team." -- We were all taught these proverbs and lessons as kids, but some people get so wrapped up in themselves and agendas that the message gets lost in the shuffle.

I have been in advertising sales for the last twenty years. Salespeople are trained from the get-go to appear confident, wear a smile, and provide solutions better than the competition. I fell prey to my own pitch. In a nutshell, I would tell the younger Chris Montgomery to be more humble and less assertive in most situations.  

Nate: I know that you have asked for forgiveness in this situation. You said in a letter to the town commissioners that you are going to, “…focus on my faith and family.” How can my readers pray for you specifically as you do this?

Chris: Don't pray for me, pray for everyone. Ask God to show ways to help others. Pray that leaders everywhere make sound decisions, personally and professionally. Or as my wife says, "Let go, let God.”

Nate: Thank you for your time and straightforward answers. You have given us a lot to think about as we take stock of our own lives.

Chris: It has been my pleasure. If this virtual Interview can influence one reader, you and I have made a difference. 

Another Interview from Randumblog:
Jerry Jenkins on The Brotherhood

Feb 15, 2011

To Err is Human, To Laugh is Divine

       Is sarcasm a spiritual gift? I sure hope so. If it's not, then I sent my thank you card to the wrong address. And I am not talking about sarcasm with malicious intent. 

      Whether it is a gift or not, God obviously has a sense of humor. He showed it when He asked Adam where he was hiding, when Jesus got the Sanhedrin to argue over the resurrection, and even when Nebuchadnezzar was living like a cow. Read the Bible--the God who invented laughter was not taken by surprise when mankind started laughing.

      We have four pastors on staff at my church, and we love to mess with each other. The following is an email from our lead pastor with my response below it (hope you have as much fun reading it as I had writing it).

Disclaimer: any similarity between my jokes and your church is purely intentional (don't be so serious).

Hello my friends,   
We will have a pastor's meeting tomorrow night, February 16, at 7:00 PM at Borders. 

   We will be discussing the first four chapters of Developing the Leader Within You, as well as preaching plans for the next few weeks. 


   Pastor Tom

My response:

Fellow Pastors,    
   I will start preparing now!

   I'll bring the Holy water or Mountain Dew (Heaven's Nectar)
and Ray, can bring a sacrificial lamb (but petting zoos are closed right now--you may have to get lamb chops). Make sure to wear your Pope hat Tom (not the pirate one), and Jeff, see if you can round up a few snakes from the lake by your house (and I don't mean your relatives next door).

   I'll call ahead to instruct the female baristas to wear a head covering. Jeff, if you get there early, please wait outside until I arrive with the Holy water so that we can properly exercise the demons from Borders (they entered the store because of the secular music they play). Except for the one that came with the shipment of Bill Marr's new book, New Rules: Polite Musings from a Timid Observer (one demon per pallet).

   If you believed any portion of this email, you are not a Christian according to 2 Thessalonians 2:10-11 which says,
He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. So God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies.

   If you fall into this category then message me back and I will ride my bicycle to your house to give you a copy of the 4 Spiritual Laws and a Gideon Bible that I received for free with a hotel room. We had multiple rooms on our last youth trip so I now have enough Bibles for every last one of you heathens.

May God be with you all,
The Reverend Nate Garrett

      What do you think? Have you met Christians who look like they were weaned on a lemon? You know, the ones that seldom smile and live like they believe laughter is foolish? Well, if you are in Christ, then you wear His name, and the name of Jesus is anything but lame.  

Feb 14, 2011

St. Valentine Died for Love!

"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."-- John 15:13 

      Regardless of whether or not you have a "Valentine" to spend this day with, you do have someone who loves you deeply. God sent His valentine over 2000 years ago, because His heart was broken for you. Jesus gave His life to gain one thing, your heart.

      We know very little about St. Valentine except that he was a priest and a Martyr. He is not known to be in love with a woman or extremely romantic (although some legends claim these things), but he was in love with his God. The same love that led him to his death as he would not renounce the one who died for him. 

      Are you holding back what He died to claim? How can you be His today? On this Valentine's Day carve out some time to spend with your true Valentine.

Feb 12, 2011

Egypt is Free. Are You?

      Egypt took its first steps toward freedom yesterday as President Mubarak voluntarily called it quits after 18 days of protests by Egyptians.  The protesters were calling for an end to dictatorship and a beginning for Democracy. As the events unfolded, I, like many Americans, watched in disbelief.
      I was reminded of when our former President, George W. Bush, said, "As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export." Before anyone thinks that Randumblog is toeing any particular party line, I will also quote President Obama, who said, “And I know that a democratic Egypt can advance its role of responsible leadership not only in the region but around the world".
      I am excited to see this freedom taking place in Egypt and around the world. Today people in Algeria and Yemen held similar protests. We could be seeing the start of a peace movement in the Middle East  (cue the doomsday preachers). 
      These countries have had dictator after dictator with little change and no freedom. It reminds me of the journey each one of us is on regardless of our type of government. We are all slaves to our nature. The Bible calls it sin. It is a desire to choose our way over God's way. Even when we think we have overcome a particular sin a new dictator (sin) will step up and rule our life demanding our time and attention.
      When Jesus died, He ultimately defeated this enemy for anyone that will finally realize that we do not need a new dictator. We need freedom. He offers that freedom. Many of us have already protested our sin by appointing a new ruler over our lives, leaving our old dictator out of power. This does not stop sin from trying to make a political comeback in our lives, but it does stop it from attaining its goal of complete power over us. Jesus said, "Whoever the Son sets free is free indeed."

      What about you? Are you still living under an autocratic rule, or have you opted for a life of freedom? Political peace may change aspects of the way you live, but Christ changes who you are from the inside out. Do you really want to see change in this world? God wants to not only have a relationship with you, but to work through you to love others as He brings hope to His fallen creation. It is as simple as turning from your sin to Him (you will be forgiven because Christ's death paid the penalty). Tell God you are ready to follow Him and He will begin a relationship with you that will continue even after death (we have hope because Jesus was  raised from the dead). 
      Many of my readers are already believers, but some of you are not. I implore those of you who have not accepted Him, to choose FREEDOM from serving the same old masters, and find rest for your soul.

The pictures in this post were made exclusively for Randumblog by Laura at 
Strengthening the Chain in California

Feb 9, 2011

Without Deodorant You Will Be-Odorant

      After working in student ministry for more than 10 years, I have come to recognize three things about seventh graders:
              1. Give me an army of seventh graders and I can take over the world.
              2. They are happy doing just about anything as long as it involves being loud.
              3. Seventh grade students smell terrible!
      Don't get me wrong, I love seventh graders. They are full of energy and love to hang out with caring adults. But let's face it folks, facts are facts.

      Fact 1: Students' hormonal levels are changing drastically in, or around, seventh grade.
      Fact 2: Parents are going through denial about their little boy/girl growing up (this results in lack of
                  training in proper hygiene).
      Fact 3: They avoid taking a shower like the plague, especially while on youth trips.
      Fact 4: They are constantly moving, which leads to constant sweating.

      Many times adults and youth workers shy away from speaking the truth into the lives of our stinky disciples. Their peers however, are another matter. I have often laughed when thinking about one smelly preteen telling another smelly preteen that they need a bath.

      The same is true in life. How much easier is it for us to notice the stink of bad decisions on the people around us than on ourselves? We know they are being dumb and can't quite figure out why they keep making the same mistakes. We become judges in our own minds, not realizing that we stink just as bad.

      Seeking out accountability can act as spiritual deodorant. You need someone else in your life with the guts to speak up when you need a bath in God's grace. If you do not have such a person, you need to find one. It can be a mentor or a good friend. Give them permission to ask you the tough questions, and be honest with your answers. As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend- Proverbs 27:17

      We need to remember--NO ONE CAN SMELL THEMSELVES!

Feb 8, 2011

Faith or Fear? What Force Do You Rely On?

      When a new Volkswagen commercial debuted during the Super-Bowl, it already had over 7 million views on YouTube. It starred a six year old dressed as a pint sized Darth Vader. Over 100 million people watched the big game, and the YouTube video has since increased to around 22 million views. It has already placed first on both Hulu and YouTube in votes for best commercial.
      If you have not seen it yet, then you have been in a coma for the past few days. It features a young boy imagining that he can use the force to manipulate objects with his mind. When he points his hands at their car, his father turns the engine on remotely. I immediately thought of my son, Luke, (named after Luke Skywalker) who waves his hand at every automatic door that we come to.
      It is this childlike imagination that we seem to lose as we grow older. We still have dreams and desires that seldom make it past the chopping block of the cynic within. The part of every adult that wants to remind us of our limitations. We stay where it is safe, because if we don't try, then we will never fail. Meanwhile, our vision is crushed underneath the boot-heel of realism.
     What if your vision is more than just a dream? Could you inadvertently be running from a calling that may turn out to be your purpose in life? Jesus says, if we have faith, we can cast a mountain into the sea.
     What if you could put your fear to rest and your faith to the test? You could raise your hands to that obstacle in your way. You could stare down that mountain in your life. And maybe, just maybe, your heavenly father would stand back watching your faith and move the mountain for you.
      Our God is the God of the impossible. What has He asked you to do that you have been putting off?

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Feb 5, 2011

Leave the Stitches In

           When my son, Luke, was two, I received a call from his preschool. He had tripped while running and fell flat on his face. Well, not flat actually, because his head came to rest on a toy that was just pointy enough to do some damage. It was not pretty--my little boy had a deep gash in his forehead.
            We went to his pediatrician, who recommended going to the emergency room. A plastic surgeon was going to meet us there. He did not need plastic surgery, but it made me feel better to think that someone in the cosmetic field would be doing the stitches. I was hoping he could keep my son, Luke, from having a permanent scar.
            We had been waiting several hours when the doctor finally arrived. He had me hold Luke down since they were short staffed. Luke gazed into my eyes with a look that said, “Why are you letting him do this to me?”. It hurt me to watch the stitches go in while I held my terror struck boy down, but I knew it was for his own good. The short trial would be over soon and the healing process would begin.
            The whole situation reminded me of how God deals with us. It is not fun to endure the natural consequences for our sin, but it helps us learn. Often we realize we are on the wrong path through his gentle prompting. He longs to free us from the pain of our bad decisions, but knows consequences are ultimately part of the healing process.
            There are times when we turn our back on God. Rather than rethinking our actions, we plunge headlong into sin’s deadly embrace. This can result in scarring that we carry as a painful reminder of our former selves.
            Within days, Luke had pulled his stitches out (Ouch!), leading to a permanent scar on his forehead. I thought of all the wasted time in the ER that ultimately resulted in nothing. We are often convicted by God, and know where He wants us, only to pull out the stitches and choose our own way.
            Solomon reminds his son, “My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights" (Proverbs 3:11-12). We need to realize that the discipline process is a healthy one, designed to lovingly correct and bring us back into His fold.  
            Learning from our mistakes and accepting responsibility for our actions leads to growth. It is this attitude of embracing discipline that caused God to call David a man after his own heart. Would we have the courage to ask God to show us where we have gone wrong well before correcting is needed? Try to imagine David’s passion for God as he prays the following words, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139:23-24).
            My advice? The next time God does a check up—leave the stitches in.

Feb 3, 2011

Bicycling in the Dark-A Recipe for Ministry Disaster

      I remember having reflectors on my bicycle as a kid. They were handy as a safety feature but pretty worthless in the dark without a light shining on them. Bikes sported just about everything back then: reflectors, horns, pegs, and in my sister's case, a basket. Yes, it had everything but a light of its own.
     As leaders, we should be like reflectors. It doesn't matter if you teach Sunday school, a small group, or even pastor a church-we should be reflecting a light that is not our own.
     I have seen churches, youth groups, and small groups over the years crumble after a leader steps down. Why does this happen? Who is to blame? Both the leader and the followers share in this responsibility.
     Followers often put leaders on a pedestal and believe no other leader could fill his/her shoes. These"believers" run to the next vibrant and engaging speaker and do the same to him/her.
     As leaders, we often love to hear accolades of how good we are doing and how God is using us in someone else's life. We walk a tightrope between our own ego and God's glory. The glory should belong not to the one using the gifts but to the gift giver.
    We need to recognize that we will not always be around. Are we preparing our ministry for our eventual exit? Any of us could die this week.
    What would become of your ministry? Are your followers His followers? Your people need to be able to continue on without you. This means letting go and empowering your staff and volunteers to share more of the load. They need buy-in to change their point of view from helping with 'your' ministry to working in 'our' ministry.
    We must also help our followers to see that following you as a leader rather than seeking God through your ministry is idolatry. This false perception is perpetuated by us. When we give out fish rather than teach the art of fishing we enable our idol worshipers to continue looking at a light-less reflector. We are not God and need to practice continual glory shifting in order to keep pride from taking root in our life. Lead with Christ's legacy in mind. In fifty years people will be celebrating what God has done rather than mourning a dying ministry and wishing for the glory days when you were at the helm.
     Stop pedaling in the dark and ride toward His light. If it is always about Him, then it will be fine without you.

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Feb 2, 2011

Epic Snow Storm Collapses a Building

     During the snow storm today the Triton Technology building collapsed in Easton Massachusetts. You have to check out the video below (unless you subscribe on Kindle). It is EPIC! Are steel buildings prone to this type of damage? I don't know, but that cannot be normal.
     What about us? How much can we take before eventual collapse? How many items can we have on our plate? If you feel like you are collapsing or burning out then do something. Choose to take something off of your plate. You cannot do everything. Choose what is important and begin to delegate, cancel, or quit other things. Did I say quit? Yes, because your health and well being is not worth continuing to do what drains the life out of you.
     It is better to be effective in a few areas than unproductive in all.

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Feb 1, 2011

We Do Not Get a Groundhog Day

          Well Groundhog Day officially starts in a couple of hours. Do you remember the movie Groundhog Day? It was always one of my favorites. I have liked Bill Murray since Ghostbusters, but I really love how it makes me think. What if I could live my day over again? What would I do differently?
       In the movie Phil uses his new found immortality to woo a girl. I can't help but think about more important things to work on. Like not saying something rude to someone I hurt, spending more time with my family, or living more for God. 
      What about you? How many wasted days have you had? What about today? Would you change anything if you could have a do-over?
       Unfortunately, we do not get a do-over in real life. We have one shot to make it count. One shot to raise our children, one shot to show Christ's love to a hurting world, and one shot to leave a legacy that matters.
       James 4:14 says, "How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog--it's here a little while, then it's gone." The time to act is now. The Poet C.T. Studd wrote, "Only one life 'twill soon be past, only what's done for Christ will last". What are you doing that will last? What do you know in your heart that you should be doing?
       Do it now! Don't wait. We do not get a Groundhog Day.

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