Tuesday, January 28, 2014

You Can Do It!

Message Title: Help Us Love
Text: John 3:16, I John 3:16-18, 4:10-11, I Cor. 13:1-7
Message Audio: Listen HERE

On Sunday I wrapped up Circles, a series exploring the vital role of small groups in your spiritual formation. I finished things unpacking how small groups can help you love by helping you do. There is no such thing as Love in Action because Love is Action.  In this post, I remind you of the potential you ALREADY have to impact lives.

What if I told you, "You are fully equipped to meet the greatest need of those you encounter today?"


You have exactly what we need. Don't be fooled because many of us will pretend we don't need it. We will try to satisfy that need with achievement, success, wealth, thrills...but these are all square pegs for the round hole of love. But YOU are the round peg. Here is the beauty of it all:
  • You don't need permission to give it.
  • They don't have to believe in Jesus to receive it.
  • You can give it to complete strangers.
  • You have an unlimited supply of it (love is a renewable resource).
  • It doesn't have to cost you a dime.
  • You don't need training or experience.
  • It is gender, age, and ethnically inclusive.
  • It is multilingual.
  • You can give it indoors, outdoors, online, in person, via text, with a glance, with a touch, and yes, you can even hand write it!
  • It will give to you as you give it away.

So get out there and give people what they need:

  • Smile at a stranger.
  • Smile at a friend.
  • Smile at your spouse (you might just blow their mind).
  • Call your grocery checker by name.
  • Ask you barista how she is doing and then listen.
  • Leave a bigger tip.
  • Write an encouraging note.
  • Drop someone a Facebook message.
  • Spend a hour on Facebook leaving encouraging comments on every post you see.
  • Go "Like" crazy!
  • Hug your children longer...until they squirm to get away, and then hug them a little bit more.
  • Give your spouse a kiss.
  • Look at people in the eyes when they talk.
  • Buy some food for that individual you always drive past.
  • Invite someone to lunch.
  • Shovel your neighbor's driveway.
  • Take your neighbor's trashcans from the street to the house.
  • Bake someone cookies (eat a few yourself).
  • Stop by the Return Counter with nothing to return and say, "I think you guys are doing a tremendous job!"
  • Write a politician a kind letter.
  • Let someone "in" on the commute home.
  • Say, "I love you!"

You can do it!

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
- I John 4:10-11

    Tuesday, January 21, 2014

    Why You Should Go to Church Even if You Don't Believe In Jesus

    Message Title: Helps us Last
    Text: Hebrews 11:1 - 12:3
    Message Audio: Listen HERE

    Over the past month I have unashamedly tried to convince TCOC members and friends to sign-up for Connect Groups...unashamedly, because I believe you need it! I believe you need human connection, and I believe you need human connection the church offers even if you don't believe in God. In this post I try to explain why.

    "Dislike" Button

    Facebook could make one small change to drastically reduce the PPD (Posts Per Day) percentage. Add a Dislike button. Many of us regularly and perhaps even obsessively check the Like tally of our posts because we crave love and acceptance. We feel good when the number of Likes hits our optimal "self worth" quota.  At some point you've leaned over to your spouse, significant other or friend and declared, "Hey, I just got 65 (or whichever number it is for you) Likes." We'd second guess our posts with the addition of a Dislike button, 

    "Why did she Dislike that? Does she dislike me?"
    "Did I misspell something?"
    "Yeah, I guess that does sound kind of stupid."
    "If he doesn't like my posts, then why is he even my Facebook Friend?"

    Facebook succeeds because it scratches our perinnial itch to belong. That's why Likes and Friends matter. Despite all the virtual affirmation Facebook will eventually leave you wanting. It can scratch the itch but ultimately fails to relieve it. It provides the perception of acceptance because perception fuels it. In the world of Facebook, I control who I am. You see exactly what I want you to see. (Granted, some people lack the gift of discernment.) But, your deepest desire is not for someone to love the perception of you but for someone to love and accept the real you.  In his book The Me I Want to Be, John Ortberg says it this way:

    When Someone knows the embarrassing, humiliating truth about me and still accepts me, I come alive.

    And that's why you should go to church whether you believe in Jesus or not! Thomas, one of Jesus' closest friends, helps explain this further.

    Doubting but Belonging Thomas

    Between his death and resurrection the world was absent of Jesus. During these three days, his closest friends must have lost their minds. They had given up careers, friends, and homes to learn from this guy and then he dies. They were left with a repitoire of good stories and some useless teachings (at this point). Then unexpectedly he shows up at their pad...alive! They lost their minds again...but in a good way. During his first appearance Thomas, one of the inner circle, was gone (probably picked to make the late night burrito run). When he returns his friends tell him, "We have seen the Lord." If they were in Colorado, I'm sure he'd have made some accusations about their activities during his absence. He responds to their ridiculous claim with...

    "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." (John 20:25b)

    Fair enough! We could say, at this point, Thomas did not believe! He says so himself. But the very next line in the story reads: A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. (John 20:26a) A week later and Thomas still does not believe but he is "hanging out" with the group that does!? He is not there because he believes in the resurrected Jesus but because he needs the relationships in the room. That group loved him and knew him. They accepted him and Thomas needed that. Just like you do.

    Doubting But Belonging You

    If you are a Thomas, doubting this whole Jesus thing, you should come to church because you need us. You need us not because we've got things figured out, or because we've got our act together, or because we are "good." We are not. Church people are "jacked-up!" That's why we go to church, because we know we have problems. You need us because you need to be loved in spite of who you are or who you have been. You need a place where you can check the facade at the door; where you can be the real you. Church is supposed to be that place. Yes, we, church people, mess it up...a lot. But we try.

    Church is a place where you are welcome, not because you share a common hobby, have a particular income, or are of a certain race or nationality. The church is a place where you are welcome because you are human, and our belief in God tells us that all humans have value and worth. The church is a place that offers connection. It offers belonging. It is a place where we will accept you in your embarrassing and humiliating truth because Jesus has accepted us in our embarrassing and humiliating truth. If John Ortberg is right and you are fully alive when you are loved in spite of YOU, then church is a place where you can become fully alive.

    Yes, I want you to believe in Jesus because I think he will radically change your life for the better. But, even if you don't you can belong. You can belong because you NEED to belong. We all do. I will give you one word of caution: if you come to church to belong, in time you might find yourself believing. Thomas eventually did. He eventually encountered the risen Jesus and declared, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28)

    Now What?

    1. To the Non-believer. Try us out, or try another church out! Go to church because you need people. You know you do! Churches are in the people business because God is in the people business. Let us love you and accept you.
    2. To the Casual Attender. Get involved. It's great to sit on a pew, to worship and to listen, but take a step of faith. Take a small risk and join a small group, serve in a ministry, fill out a spiritual gifts survey, introduce yourself to someone. You need people and they need you.
    3. To the Member. Be the physical manifestation of acceptance and love. Seek out new faces. Find the faces of those who seem most uncomfortable in your church. Welcome them. Smile at them. Learn their names. Invite them to lunch. 
    4. To Pastors and Ministers. Be intentional about creating an environment and community that allows people to belong before they believe. Let your community know you love them because they are God-made and that is enough.

    Tuesday, January 14, 2014

    "I'm Tired, Coach!"

    Sunday's Message: LOOK!
    Text: II Kings 6:8-23
    Message Audio: Click HERE

    On Sunday we explored how small groups help you "look", how living in community, sharing life with other Christians helps you see God in ways you cannot see him on your own. In this post, I want to take the concept of community one step further, from small group to coach.


    At the age of 10, my oldest son obsessed over NBC's The Biggest Loser. He would go into panic mode if he thought he might miss a particular evening's episode (You guessed it, we didn't and still don't have DVR. I know...Rednecks!). One night we were at a car dealership closing the deal on a mini-van (we had just totaled our other van) when my oldest realized we wouldn't be home in time for The Biggest Loser..."It's the end of the world as we know...or you would have thought." (Yep, just threw out an REM reference!)

    He loved it because of the stories and the transformations that took place in the lives of the contestants. If you have not seen The Biggest Loser, it is a competition between 15 morbidly obese individuals to lose the most weight over a five month period. Most of the contestants have tried every diet on the market: Adkins, Daniel, Weight Watchers, Nutri System, Slim Fast, Special K...but have been unsuccessful. And yet these contestants, who battle weight issues for most of their life, get on The Biggest Loser and experience dramatic weight loss. What's the difference? The difference is a personal trainer, or a coach.  Bob Harber, Jillian Michaels, and Dolvett Quince each take a team and coach them through healthy lifestyle changes that lead to weight loss and physical fitness. The contestants succeed where they failed before because of the advice, encouragement and experience of a fitness coach.

    This principle stands true in most of life. You want to take your tennis game to the next level? Hire a coach. You want to grow your finances? Hire a financial planner (money coach). You want to move from being healthy to being fit? Hire a personal trainer (fitness coach). You want to eat healthier? Hire a nutritionist (food coach). If coaching can help us achieve things we cannot achieve on our own, then why don't we do that with our spiritual lives? Why don't we seek a spiritual coach, someone who has more experience, someone who radiates Jesus, someone who could teach and encourage us in our spiritual walk?

    Coach Elijah

    Elijah was one of the stud prophets of the Old Testament. He miraculously multiplied food, parted rivers, took on 450 prophets of Baal in a fire competition (and won), and raised a kid from the dead.  Oh yeah, one more thing, he was taken to heaven in a whirlwind. Like I said, a stud! Who would want to take the baton from Elijah? Who could measure up to his phenomenal ministry? It seems the next prophet was doomed to weep in Elijah's long shadow. So...who was the poor soul? Elisha!

    But Elisha was anything but a let down. He healed leprosy, commanded bears to obedience, purified water, conquered an army without raising a sword, and raised the dead. Elisha succeeded for the same reason Elijah did: God empowered him! Not all Old Testament prophets were in step with God and his will but it is clear that Elisha was. I believe part of Elisha's success was due to Elijah's coaching. God prompted Elijah to appoint Elisha as his replacement, but before Elisha ever set out on his own, he spent time at Elijah's feet. He learned from Coach Elijah:

    So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him. 20 Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,” he said, “and then I will come with you.”
    “Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?”

    21 So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant(I Kings 19:9-21)

    Spiritual Coach

    Discipleship (following Jesus) is a process of becoming the person God designed you to be, of becoming more like Jesus, of aligning your wants with God's wants. It is a journey. The same principle that applies to The Biggest Loser and your tennis game applies to your spiritual life. Coaches can help you grow in ways you cannot grow on you own! If you are in the business of following Jesus let me encourage you to elevate your game by seeking a spiritual coach.  Here are a few guidelines in seeking a spiritual coach.
    • What is Spiritual Coaching? Spiritual coaching involves inviting a spiritually mature individual into a relationship that intentionally focuses on your spiritual development.
    • How do I seek a Spiritual Coach? 
      • Pray for God to guide you to the right person.
      • Spiritual coaches do not have to be ministers or seminary professors. In most cases, if you work outside the church, a coach who also works outside the church will be of greater benefit to you.
      • Seek a coach of the same gender. 
      • Observe Christians around you. Keep your eyes open for an individual who models Jesus, whose life bears the Fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control).
      • Pay attention to the regard others have for this individual. Are they respected at their place of employment? Do others turn to them for advice? Are they involved in the life of the church?
      • Once you identify an individual, ask them if they would pray about being your spiritual coach. Most coaches, worth their salt, will hesitate to accept because they do not see themselves in such a light.  
    • What does Spiritual Coaching look like?
      • Practically it begins with weekly or bi-monthly conversations over a meal or cup of coffee. With time the relationship will take on a life of its own.
      • If the person accepts your invitation, give it a trial phase. Do not force the relationship.  If the relationship does not mesh, give each other permission to dissolve the spiritual coaching experiment at any time.
    If you set out on this endeavor, I pray God will use your Spiritual Coach to make you more like Jesus, and to help you experience The Abundant Life.

    Tuesday, October 29, 2013

    Sabbath: The Practice of Unimportance

    Sunday's Message (October 27): Nuts and Bolts
    Message Audio: Listen HERE 

    I didn't preach on Sunday. I spoke but didn't preach (some people might argue that I never preach - haha). I unpacked our new Connect Groups initiative which we launch in January. It is rather challenging to write a post that builds on a nonsermon, but during my Sunday info-bomb I mentioned Connect Groups will not meet three months out of the year. My reason? Sabbath. So...there is my "in" for this post. I'm going to write about Sabbath...just one angle.

    Some days I feel important, as if the world needs me. Facebook and Twitter fuel my disillusionment  because they give me an avenue to make believe I'm a celebrity. I get to be my own paparazzi. But when I take a break from myself long enough to clear my head I cannot hide from the reality that I share this planet with 7 billion other people, and that if I cease to exist tomorrow the world wouldn't bat an eyelash. Not that it wouldn't care, but it wouldn't even know to care! For 99.999999999999% of the world life would not change. And for a handful of people, four to be exact, their world would crumble but only for a short time. Their life would go on too. It always does.

    You may be saying, "That's depressing!" Not really. It is true. It is humbling and it is a reminder that I'm not as important as I think I am or would like to be. My existence, my effort, my work, my contributions, and my ideas do not sustain the world. The ebb and flow of Creation does not depend upon the energies I exhaust. Life does not need me. Life is a gift to me!

    For many of us our busyness is self-idolatry. We worship our productivity. We think we somehow sustain our companies, our families, our world. We refuse to take a break, to rest, to cease because we fear things will fall apart if we stop. Reality check! One day you will stop and life will go on...ebbing and flowing. Don't get me wrong, your contributions matter but they do not hold the cosmos in check. God and God alone sustains creation. Sabbath is a spiritual practice that reminds us of this simple truth. God is in charge. During sabbath you force yourself to "cease" from your busyness and productivity and miraculously life goes on.

    In Leviticus 25, the Lord tells Israel that every 7th year is a Sabbath year. He commands:

    But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields  or prune your vineyards...The land is to have a year of rest. Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you - for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary residents who live among you, as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.

    God says "For six years you can plant, sow, and tend to your fields, but on the seventh you can only eat what the earth provides without your assistance." The sabbath year not only provided rest for the land but it reminded Israel that their existence was not dependent upon their effort and strategic farming, but on the provision of the one who sustains all things. I'm sure those 7th years were terrifying to Israel and yet somehow they always had food, somehow they managed to survive. Life did not depend upon their effort but upon God's sovereignty and love.

    Take a sabbath. Engage in the practice of unimportance. Your company will not go under if you take a day off. Your kids will not grow up to be serial killers if you and your spouse hire a baby-sitter for the weekend and get out of Dodge. Your kids will not miss their chance at pro-ball because you take a year off from sports. Take a sabbath. Remind yourself that life does not need you. Enjoy the fact that life is a gift to you!

    Tuesday, October 22, 2013

    Why The World Needs Fewer Christians

    Message Title: Jesus Circles
    Message Audio: Listen HERE

    In the Jesus Circle message, I explained how the discipleship process moves you from CONSUMER to CONTRIBUTOR. I want to explore the topic of discipleship further in this post by addressing the call to "follow Jesus" and not simply to "believe in Jesus."

    Students of Church culture and Christian history argue that America is on a post-Christian journey. In other words, Christianity is losing its public influence. Perhaps the crystal ball points that direction, but if you took a poll, a vast number of Americans consider themselves Christian and many Americans still view this country as a Christian nation. You don't have to look far to find a professing Christian, but I don't think Jesus is after professing Christians. He wants practicing Christians.

    We associate Christian with a belief. It sounds something like this, "I believe Jesus is the Son of God!" Boom! Christian! (Or, depending on your Christian tradition, confess and then perform some rite of initiation...Boom! Christian!) We've made Christian into a worldview declaration. But Jesus never recruited believers. As he said himself, "Even the demons believe and shudder!" Jesus wants followers.

    Mark begins his story by skipping the birth of Jesus and moving right into his public ministry. From the beginning Jesus recruits followers. Mark 1:16-17 reads:

    When Jesus was walking by Lake Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the lake because they were fishermen. 17 Jesus said to them, “Come follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”

     Jesus does not ask Simon and Andrew to "believe in him," to "sing songs to him," to "wear t-shirts for him," to "listen to Chris Tomlin for him," or to "put fish stickers on their car for him." Not that some of those things aren't beneficial and even necessary, but Jesus invites Simon and Andrew to follow him. Jesus invites them to orient their lives to him. Jesus wants to be true north, by which they navigate their earthly excursion. He asks them to align their lives to his teaching. He does not want them to believe but to follow.

    You can believe without following. I try to plan mini adventures whenever possible...maximizing small pockets of free time by doing some kind of activity outdoors. This summer I ventured on an 80-mile hike in 2.25 days (you can see pics and video from my trip HERE). The High Country Pathway is a looped trail through gorgeous northern Michigan. The 80 miles left me blistered and smelling of Vienna Sausage (My poor dog. He thought we were going on an evening walk, but didn't realize it was going to last 2 days). Blue ribbons and tags marked the true route.

    Two observations about the blue markers:
    1.  Just because I believed the blue markers existed did not mean I followed them. I saw the blue markers. I was 100% certain they existed, but I still had to make the choice to follow them. I had to choose to align my direction with their instruction. Discipleship is more than believing in Jesus. It requires a second choice...aligning your life with his instruction.
    2. I could have used a number of objects or creatures to orient my trip. I saw a porcupine. He seemed pretty intelligent and slow enough to track. I could have followed him. I could have let the path serve as my guide (unfortunately sometimes the markers went opposite the path). I could have licked my finger, lifted it high, and then trekked in the direction of the blowing wind.  I could have relied on my gut to tell me which way to go. I could have oriented my life to any number of 'things' that would have taken me in the wrong direction. When we chose to follow Jesus we are confessing that he knows the true path to life...not just life-after death, but "right now" life. We chose to orient our life to him inspite of all other appealing alteranatives.

    Morning sun on the High Country Pathway
    I pray you will be a Christian, but I pray more fervently that you will follow Jesus. Pray the same for me! The world would be okay with fewer Christians but could use a lot more followers. 
    You may ask, "How do I follow Jesus?" I would recommend you start by getting a Bible with the words of Jesus in red letters. Work your way through the first four books of the New Testament and read everything in red. Write down themes and repetitions in Jesus' teaching. Let him teach you and not just save you.

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

    Screwed Up? Try Church!

    Sunday's Message (Oct. 13th): Killing the Lone Ranger
    Message Audio: Listen HERE

    On Sunday I highlighted the value of community by explaining how your connection to God's community improves your effectiveness in his mission. We explored how community participation makes you better by increasing knowledge and providing encouragement. This post continues the encouragement discussion by looking at how staying connected with a faith community after personal failure is vital for restoration and redemption.

    Jesus intentionally moved to Jerusalem, his execution imminent. He spent the last three years of his life pouring the deepest part of himself into 12 men. They were not just his apostles. They were his friends, but fear is a funny thing and self-preservation a strong instinct. On the night of his arrest, they all deserted him and two of them betrayed him. You might know them: Peter and Judas!

    Matthew, in his story about Jesus, contrasts the failure of Peter and Judas by setting the stories alongside each other. He begins with Peter. The Jewish leaders arrested Jesus. Peter followed at a safe distance and waited outside the courtroom to see what happened. While waiting for a verdict, three different people accused Peter of being a Jesus supporter, one of his posse. Hours early, Peter nearly decapitated the servant of the high priest, but fortunately Jesus called Peter off. Peter appeared ready to go to battle with Jesus, but when the tide began to turn and his "savior" seemed bound for execution, he withdrew his support. He denied ever knowing Jesus. Three times they asked him. Three times he denied, even calling down curses on himself. After the third denial, a rooster crowed and Peter broke.  Jesus had told Peter earlier, " Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times." Peter thought Jesus had lost his mind, but at that moment, with the rooster's crow echoing through his heart, Peter came face to face with his failure. He broke! He was filled with sorrow.  Matthew describes it this way:

    And he [Peter] went outside and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:75)

    Immediately following Peter's denial, Judas reenters the story. Jesus was on trial because Judas turned him over to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver. Judas had a greed problem. His wallet trumped his loyalty to his teacher. I'm convinced Judas turned Jesus over because he never thought the Sanhedrin (Jewish high court) would convict him. He knew better than anyone of Jesus' innocence. They would never find enough dirt on Jesus. He figured the Sanhedrin would try Jesus and release him due to lack of evidence and he'd end up 30 pieces of silver richer. No harm, no foul! But...they convicted Jesus and upon hearing the news Judas, like Peter, broke! Judas was filled with sorrow.

    Judas, the one who had given Jesus to his enemies, saw that they had decided to kill Jesus. Then he was very sorry for what he had done. So he took the thirty silver coins back to the priests and the leaders,  saying, “I sinned; I handed over to you an innocent man.” (Matthew 27:3-4)

    Both men failed Jesus. Both were sorry but that is where the similarities between the stories end. Peter goes on to become one of the most known names in Christianity, the first spokesperson for the Church, a respected leader of the early church, a biblical author whose life still influences us today. On the other hand...Judas threw the money into the Temple. Then he went off and hanged himself (Matthew 27:5).  

    Many factors and choices led Peter and Judas to radically different ends, but I want to highlight one major difference between their responses. Judas isolated himself in his failure and remorse. Suicide is suicide because you commit it alone. Peter, on the other hand, returned to the rest of the disciples despite his failure. In John's gospel, we learn that Peter was one of the first disciples to enter the empty tomb. It is clear that Peter returned to be with the rest of the disciples within three days of his denial. Scripture does not say, but I suggest that Peter's refusal to isolate himself because of his failure and his willingness to stay connected to a faith community played a part in his recovery, redemption and restoration. Perhaps things could have turned out differently for Judas if he had returned broken to the disciples.

    Sin destroys. Your sin destroys. My sin destroys. It is the nature of sin! Often, when you fail, church is the last place you want to go. You experience shame. You fear judgment. You feel out of place. Isolating yourself from the faith community seems more appropriate. After all, you betrayed Jesus. Why would you return to a place where people are trying to follow him. READ CAREFULLY...such a mode of thought is from the Devil! He wants nothing more than to isolate you in your failure, to trap you in your shame so that you can follow the Judas Road.  He wants your remorse to destroy you. The church should be the first place you go in your sorrow and brokenness. Carry your shame and guilt to the community of faith and give it to them. Let them destroy it in the name of Jesus.

    If you realize you've messed it all up, or messed some of it up....Step 1: Go to Church. I'll see you Sunday!

    (I have written more about the Judas and Peter story HERE and HERE).

    Tuesday, October 15, 2013

    Wish it Was a Bar Fight: Why Spiritual Pinkies Matter

    Sunday Message (Oct. 13): Killing the Lone Ranger
    Message Audio: Listen HERE

    On Sunday I unpacked the necessity of being involved in a Jesus community (Church) by exploring the statement: communal participation creates mission preparation. We took a look at the story of Apollos to better understand how your effectiveness in God's mission is related to your connection to his community. I sent you home with two key points:
    1. Participating in community makes YOU better.
    2. Participating in community makes the Church better.
    In this post, I'm building on point number 2.

    Matt Clark is one of my best friends. We have shared life since my sixth grade year. One year Matt and I were teaching a class at Encounter, a summer camp on the Lubbock Christian University campus. Our class had ADD. We jumped from yoga, to a movie quoting battle, to our own rendition of the strong man, to a pointless skit. During the skit, I was supposed to punch him in the arm. The first two classes were flawless but during the third class, as I fired my punch, Matt turned and I hit him awkwardly in his chest. Immediately I knew this was bad, not because I had broken my hand but because I had broken my hand on his chest. He still flexes and gloats today, "Remember when you broke your hand on my chest?" What are friends for...

    An orthopedic specialist confirmed that I had a boxer's fracture but let me know I would not need surgery. He laughed saying, "Usually I deal with these kinds of breaks from guys who have been in bar fights and not from pastors!" A bar fight would have been a better story. Over the next few weeks  a cast rendered my pinkie and ring finger useless. I tried not to let the cast slow me down. I continued to ride my bike. I played volleyball at camp (left handed). For the sake of humanity, I continued to shower. I carried on as usual and while I was able to do most of the things without the cast, I was far less effective and efficient. My bike steering was shaky, my volleyball game unsightly, and my showers slow and frustrating. Although 99% of my body was in full gear, the absence of a pinkie and ring finger had significant impact on my effectiveness.  I'm better with ALL parts of my body working together!

    Enter New Testament preacher, writer and apostle...Paul:

    Paul established a church in the city of Corinth. The church in Corinth was made of people, therefore the church in Corinth had conflict. Paul addresses the Corinthian problems in a letter. Among the slew of Corinthian issues, the church was dividing over who had the superior spiritual gift: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, speaking different languages, or interpreting heavenly languages (I Corinthians 12:7-10).  Paul explains in chapter 12 that spiritual gifts have no hierarchy. The Holy Spirit does not distribute gifts based on merit or importance. The Spirit gifts people for the benefit of the Church! Paul says it this way:

     There are different kinds of gifts, but they are all from the same Spirit. There are different ways to serve but the same Lord to serve. And there are different ways that God works through people but the same God. God works in all of us in everything we do.   Something from the Spirit can be seen in each person, for the common good.  (I Corinthians 12:4-7)

    He uses the human body as an analogy to explain this concept further:

    A person’s body is one thing, but it has many parts. Though there are many parts to a body, all those parts make only one body. Christ is like that also...If each part of the body were the same part, there would be no body. But truly God put all the parts, each one of them, in the body as he wanted them. So then there are many parts, but only one body. (I Corinthians 12:12, 19-20)

    Paul uses the body analogy to stop the Corinthian infighting, but I want to use his analogy to encourage you to use your giftedness for the benefit of the Church. Paul's body metaphor centers on the power of diverse gifts uniting around a common purpose...the purpose being the Church and the mission of God. If an individual refuses to use their giftedness in the church The Body suffers. The church is less efficient.

    Just like a boxer's fracture, the church will continue to function without the use of a limb, an ear or an eye, but it will wobble a bit more. It will ride unsteady. It will move slower. The functioning members will have to exhort greater effort to compensate for the non-functioning members. But, when everyone uses their gifts for the mission of the church, the church is better.

    The Holy Spirit has gifted you! He has gifted you to contribute to God's mission through the church. You may say, "But I'm just an ear!" We need you. Or, "I'm just a pinkie!" Trust me, I speak from experience. When the pinkie is out of commission the body misses it! Withholding your gifts and talents from the church hurts the church and the mission of God. Let me encourage you to get involved! 

    (For TCOC members and attenders, we offer a Gift Survey HERE to help you discover your unique giftedness. Take it and then use it. We need you!)