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.