Tuesday, September 16, 2014

If I Can't Be Smiley, Call Me Barnabas

Smiley - that was my nickname in high school. When every guy on my basketball team had
his picture taken by the local newspaper, everyone put on the "tough guy expression." Except me. I was the goofy guy smiling from ear to ear. The nickname was easy and it stuck. I became known as Smiley. I'm actually proud to be known as Smiley because it sort of captures who I am - a positive, happy, goofy guy who refuses to grow up.

One of my favorite nicknames in the Bible belongs to a guy named Joseph. He had the cool nickname of Barnabas, "son of encouragement."  (Acts 4:36) If I could trade my nickname, Smiley, for another name, I'd definitely choose Barnabas, son of encouragement. 

I like encouragers - they lift people up and they make their corner of the world a better place. Let me encourage you to try your hand at being a son or daughter of encouragement by doing these five simple things everyday:
  • See God at work around you
  • See possibilities in others
  • Choose to be positive
  • Be a person of integrity
  • Point out the good in people
The good news about being an encourager is it takes no special talent. You don't need money. You don't need a special skill. You just need to be willing to invest in people - lift them up and build their hearts. It's almost as easy as smiling!

Who has been a Barnabas in your life? Leave a comment and tell me about your "son of encouragement."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mega Money Ministry Myths

           When it comes to money and church we tend to get a little nervous.  We know we need to talk about money, but most of us don’t look forward to it. Some of us avoid the “M word” altogether. Sometimes we’d rather avoid talking about money, even if it means we hurt the church in the long run.
            I suspect part of the discomfort with talking about money is we’ve bought into some myths about money that simply aren’t true. How do I know this? I’ve bought into these myths myself over the years.
            I don’t have any scientific proof these are myths. I’ve never conducted any sociological studies proving them wrong. But in my heart, I know these myths are just that, myths. They aren’t true. And they keep us from talking about the very thing that holds so many hearts captive.
            Let’s bust a few mega money myths:
  1. People don’t want to hear about money in church.  In reality, many people are desperate to find help with money and finances. Financial problems create amazing stress in marriages, families, and communities. If we can’t offer hope and help to people with their money problems, we aren’t adequately connecting the Good News to a major life issue.
  2. Preaching a yearly series on giving adequately addresses the money issue. You’ve heard it before, “Jesus talked more about money than heaven and hell combined.” Guess what? It’s true! Because our hearts and our money are so closely connected, Jesus spoke often about the good, bad, and ugly of wealth.  A three-week series on stewardship in November won’t get the job done.
  3. Increasing attendance will solve your church’s money problems. If this were true, big churches would not have financial problems. (I can hear some large church pastors laughing right now.) More people will not automatically solve your church’s income problems for at least two reasons.  First, new people are slow to become generous and consistent givers.  It takes time for new people to build trust in a ministry. Secondly, more people means increased ministry expenses.  It’s not unusual for a growing church to be unprepared for the very real gap between increased expenses and increased giving.
  4. Money follows vision. I’ve heard this one for so long, I’ve believed it and repeated it over and over. But it’s not true. Money doesn’t follow vision. It follows changed lives. Do you want to increase giving?  Tell stories of changed lives!

For those of you who preach and teach, I encourage you to be comfortable with talking about money.  It’s vital to your people’s spiritual vitality. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” --- Jesus

Have you run across any other money myths in ministry? Share them, leave a comment.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Cows, Coffee Cans, & Paddles

      (Dealing with a church financial deficit)

You’ve just been hammered in your third consecutive board meeting about the church’s finances. You’re behind budget, the financial report is bleeding red, and your treasurer has lost the little hair he had. What do you do as an effective leader?
  • Count the cows.  During a deficit, people tend to panic. Do yourself and your leaders
    a favor, step back and take a deep breath. Look up into hills and count some cows.  In Psalm 50:10 God reminds us, "...for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills." Guess what? God is in control. Always has been. Always will. Don't tell your Board I said this, but God doesn't need our money. Seriously, he doesn't. So everyone take a breath and chill out.
  • Try asking. OK, this is Jesus' idea, not mine. In Matthew 7 Jesus says, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." There are two ways to attack a deficit: cut costs and increase income. It's amazing how our first and only reaction is to cut costs. How about increasing income. Try it. Ask God and ask his people for more income. You might be surprised at the results. 
  • Get rid of the coffee can. One of my favorite parables is the one about the three stewards in Luke 19. You know how it goes. One turns ten bucks into twenty. Another turns five bucks into ten. The third hides his master’s money in a coffee can and buries it in the backyard (BJV – Big Jim Version).  In the face of a deficit, your advisors will always urge you to be cautious, to play it safe. Heed your Master’s words, “Put this money to work until I come back.”  (Luke 19:13)
  • Preach it!   Get out your Bible and start preaching 2 Corinthians 9. It’s a great passage on generous giving. And while you’re at it, be an effective leader - smile and quit frowning over the deficit. If you haven’t heard, God loves a cheerful giver!
  • Pick up your paddle and get on your knees – Have you seen the cartoon of two people in a canoe going over a waterfall? One asks, “Should we pray or paddle?” Financial troubles are usually a combination of spiritual and situational issues. Financial troubles are spiritual in that they reflect the condition of our hearts. How does one address spiritual problems? You get on your knees. In the face of a deficit lead your people in prayer and the study of Scriptural teaching on finances and giving. But deficits are also due to situational issues – people leave, there’s a downturn in the economy, perhaps you simply did a bad job budgeting. You deal with situational issues by picking up your paddle and doing the hard work of making the wise financial decisions a good steward makes.
Have you ever faced a deficit in your church? What worked for you?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Is Radical Good?

I had a funny exchange with a woman this morning. She asked me the name of the conference the men from our church are going to Saturday. 
"The Radical Conference," I replied. 

Her response caught my attention. "Radical? I don't like being radical." Then she laughed and added, "Yesterday I went to Chick-Fil-A for "Support Chick-Fil-A Day."  That's the most radical thing I've ever done!"

As Arsenio Hall used to say, "Things that make you go hmmm." I began to wonder, is being radical a good thing, or a bad thing?

When I speak of being radical, I'm referring specifically to being radical in my relationship with Jesus. As I grow older, I increasingly believe that following Jesus is meant to be a radical experience. And, as I grow older, I realize that I haven't been a very radical Christ-follower.This bothers me, for I know Jesus calls me to be a radical follower. Consider these words:

"Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23)

"Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." (Matthew 19:12)

"Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43,44)

A big part of me wants to squirm out of these words by dismissing them as metaphorical, illustrative, or idealistic. But I know I can't worm my way out. Jesus calls me to be radical. Period!

Radical is defined as going to the root, or source of something. It is also defined as departing from the normal and going to the extreme. I'm beginning to understand that Jesus wants to make extreme changes at the very root and source of my being. For as uncomfortable as I am with this, I know it's what is best, for it is what He desires for me. So I guess it's time be radical.

What do you think? Is radical good or bad? 
Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Reaching the Summit

I did it - completed my second trip to the top of Yosemite's Half Dome. Two days of lung-burnin', knee-bustin', back-breakin', glorious hiking in the mountains. To reach the summit of Half Dome is to accomplish a life-long dream. To do it twice is well,,, crazy!
Here are a few thoughts on what it takes to reach the summit.
  • A dream - your dream motivates you to achieve.
  • A solid plan - careful plans keep you on the path to success.
  • Hard work- lots of it. The summit is never easy to attain.
  • Perseverance - The summit is only attained when you're willing to place one foot in front of the other, over and over and over.
  • Endurance - There's always pain on the path to the summit. Endurance allows you to overcome the pain and pay the price.
  • Friends - when you can't go further, your friends push you to continue.
One final thought - whenever you reach a summit in life, take time to enjoy the view. Reflect. Observe. Give thanks. Eventually you have to go back down to the valley. Enjoy the summit while you can.
What summit have you reached?
Leave me a comment and share your victory.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Old Dog, New Tricks

Last Saturday was a monumental moment in world history - I enjoyed my first ever seniors breakfast. Yep, turned 55 just a few weeks ago, which makes me a senior citizen in some places. If that saves me a few bucks on breakfast, I'm all for it.

I'm pleased to announce that at 55 years young I'm having the time of my life. I'm having a blast. A big reason is that I changed careers a month ago and my new job is having me do things I've never done - and I love it. After being a pastor for 30 years, I stepped out of pastoral ministry and joined an awesome ministry called Iron Men's Ministry. The newness of my new job is both challenging and fulfilling. I suspect it's fulfilling because it is challenging. And it's challenging because it's new.

The old saying goes, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks."  Wow, how insulting to old dogs. I'm now officially an old dog and I'm discovering it's never too late to learn new tricks. Not only is it possible to learn new tricks, it's a necessity. Doing something new in life stretches us. New things challenge us. New things add zip to a life that just might be getting a little stale and predictable.

Here's an unsolicited tip from an old dog - try something new in your life. You don't have to change careers. That's just crazy. But shake things up a little. Change your routine. Take up a new hobby. Go back to school. Jump out of an airplane - just don't forget your chute. Try something new.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17, the Apostle Paul says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here"

It doesn't matter if you're an old dog or new dog. If you want to experience Jesus, if you want to experience life in the fullest, learn a few new tricks.

If you have an old dog, new trick story from your life, please share it with me.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Dancing with Ants, Wrestling with Gators

Which are worse - big sins or little sins?  The answer to this theological conundrum came to me while dancing with some fire ants the other day. Allow me to explain.

I love to fish and I love to fish in Florida. It's bass heaven. However, there are two problems, one big and one little, both are significant - gators and fire ants. The gators are pesky, constantly making runs for my lure. The fire ants are pesky, swarming my unsuspecting size 16 feet, causing me to do an impressive version of  "River Dance." It's amazing how fast one can learn Irish dancing with the right motivation.

Common sense says gators are more dangerous. They're big, nasty, and have really sharp teeth. Surprisingly, the fire ants pose more of threat. Each year more people die from allergic reactions from the bites of fire ants than die from gator attacks. In my 15 years of fishing in Florida, I've never been bitten by a gator. I can't count the number of times I've been bitten by fire ants.

Back to the sin question. Like gators, big sins seem more dangerous. They're dramatic. They inspire fear. And yes, should they get hold of us, they can do some serious damage. And yet, the small sins bring greater destruction. Like fire ants, small sins are seldom noticed. They seem insignificant. But man, do they ever hurt. It's not one or two bites that do the damage, but the repeated bites from ant after ant, from sin after sin. The damage is accumulative, and sometimes is deadly.

Here's a suggestion - avoid the gators and avoid the fire ants. Avoid the big sins and avoid the little sins. They all are bad news.

"In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace."    ~Romans 6:11-14

Leave a comment. Big sins or little sins - which are worse? What's your opinion?