How To Be a History Maker

I want to be a history maker. I remember the first time I saw my favorite Christian band, Delirious, in concert. In that dark, crowded, suspiciously musty concert venue, I remember shouting the words of one of my favorite songs:

I’m gonna be a history maker in this land
I’m gonna be a speaker of truth to all mankind
I’m gonna stand, I’m gonna run
Into your arms, into your arms again

Delirious, History Maker

In 1999, I was a 21-year old Bible college senior ready to change the world. Those heady words swirled inside of me and took residence in my heart. I had ambitious plans. I would land an internship, join a church staff, ascend through the hierarchy, and accept the call to lead. I’d be a fearless, compassionate, and creative leader. Over time, I’d expand my influence by coaching and supporting other aspiring leaders. After a full ministry career, I’d run into God’s arms and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I wanted to be a history maker!

Can you relate?

No matter what calling God gave you—vocational ministry, the armed forces, education, raising children, banking, farming, retail, tech, or politics—you likely pursued it out of a deep passion and an overwhelming desire to make a difference in the world. You wanted to help, to earn responsibility, and to expand influence. You wanted to change the world.

Do you still want to be a history maker? I know I still do. There are at least four disciplines that history-making demands of us:

Become good at the little things

I discovered quickly that if I wanted to change the world, I’d have to focus on the present. Every career is made up of 1,000 un-glamorous tasks that simply must be done. I learned that if I wanted to have a chance to teach on a big stage, I’d have to get really good at planning lessons for my small group. If I wanted to help an organization increase efficiencies, I’d have to learn how to file accurate expense reports on time. If I wanted to get permission to make changes, I’d have to learn how to persuade decision makers. I had remember that this is the path to greater responsibility and impact in the Kingdom: “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things” ([biblegateway passage=”Matthew 25:21″ display=”Matthew 25:21″]).

Faithfully executing the details gives you the experience and credibility you need to assume greater responsibility. There are no shortcuts to success. The discipline developed in getting good at the little things positions you as a person who can be entrusted with bigger things.

Sharpen your Spirit-given strengths

I had a clear picture of what I was going to accomplish but I didn’t know my own strengths and weaknesses. As I embarked upon on my plans, I experienced great friction in some areas and great traction in others. I spent a lot of time trying to become good at things that simply weren’t aligned with my gifts. I soon realized that I could either invest hours trying to bolster up weaknesses with very little return on investment or that I could lean into my strengths with huge results. Along the way, I learned that God had given me gifts of leadership, administration, and teaching. I took time to better understand my own temperament. And, wise counselors gave me permission to focus on my strengths, gifts, and calling. This made all the difference.

The Apostle Paul teaches that each of us who are in Christ have been given the powerful presence of the Spirit to accomplish the common good ([biblegateway passage=”1 Corinthians 12:7″ display=”1 Corinthians 12:7″]) and he reminded his protege Timothy to fan his gifts into flame ([biblegateway passage=”2 Timothy 1:6″ display=”2 Timothy 1:6″]). If you want to be a history maker, spend your time sharpening your Spirit-given strengths.

Invest in people

You can be charismatic and gifted, in possession of all the right resources, and you can be a wizard at strategy and structure. If you don’t invest in people, though, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Or, at the very least, you’re diminishing your potential. No matter where you work, what you do, or how talented you are, you won’t succeed if you’re not great at investing in people.

As Christians, what’s our overarching calling and purpose? It is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself ([biblegateway passage=”Matthew 22:37″ display=”Matthew 22:37″] and [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 22:39″ display=”39″]). That’s it. Whether it’s our coworkers, our constituents, our clients, our communities, or our customers, our first priority must be to love people well.

If we become history makers it will be because we invested in people and we loved them well (ultimately by bringing them to Jesus).

Keep showing up

Finally, there’s no substitute for simply showing up every day. For most of us, God willing, it will be a long race. It’s easy to become discouraged when we forget that history making takes years of sustained, persistent effort. We tend to overestimate what we can do in a week or month and underestimate what we can do in a year or two. People who make a difference in the world have learned how to push through the pain of slow progress and how to keep showing up and doing the work to which God has called them.

What about you?

Are you young and ambitious, hoping for history-making results on a shorter-than-realistic time frame? Are you trying to remain passionate in spite of slow progress or under-realized visions and dreams? Have your world-changing dreams begun to fade?

Hang in there. Keep working on mastering the little things. Continue sharpening your Spirit-given gifts. Don’t quit investing in people. And, by all means, keep showing up. God is in the business of making history and he wants to use you and me. (If you need a little extra inspiration, try this!)

The Thrill of Hope

The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn’

This lyric comes from one of my favorite Christmas carols: “O Holy Night.” I’ve always been captivated by the curious phrase, the thrill of hope. I’ve always wondered something. What is it, exactly, that makes hope thrilling?

Thrilling isn’t usually how we think about hope:

We hear about false hope all of the time.

People use the word hopefully when they really want something to happen (but they’re pretty sure it won’t).

Some use the word hope frequently because they’re positive people who like to express a general sense of optimism.

We talk about hope as a feeling or a vaguely positive emotion one experiences from time to time.

We’re quick to point out when someone has lost hope or gives up hope.

If we’re being honest, the idea of hope being thrilling is odd. Roller coasters are thrilling. A basketball game that goes into overtime is thrilling. Bungee jumping is thrilling (I’ve heard). How can hope be thrilling?

I believe it all comes down to what or whom is the object of our hope. Hope can be thrilling as long as it is built on something that is trustworthy and sure.

Hope isn’t thrilling if it is built on my desire to see the Colts to win the Super Bowl. It’s not thrilling if I’m brimming with confidence that my favorite politician will keep all of his or her promises when he or she is in office. Hope doesn’t thrill if it depends upon seeing my lottery numbers on the screen. And, hope doesn’t thrill when I’m leaning all of my weight on a job, a hobby, or a relationship for a sense of purpose or wholeness.

Hope is thrilling, however, if it is built on something true, real, right, and good.

What is hope?

When Christians talk about hope, the thrilling kind of hope from the Christmas song, we aren’t attempting to manifest something that isn’t real. We’re not engaged in wishful thinking or conjuring up what we wish for by the power of positive thinking. We’re not being irrational, weak, or dishonest. Nor are we ignoring or making light of the obvious pain, angst, suffering, and brokenness of the world in which we live. When Christians talk about hope, we’re making a powerful statement about the truest truths, the real-est realities, and the certain-est certainties. Real hope is built upon the truth of what God has done and the absolute certitude, on that basis, that he will do what he has promised to do.

The thrill of hope

Hope is thrilling—at Christmastime and throughout the year—because the reality of that miracle-baby in the manger is the God-man on the cross, the risen and eternal Savior. We can be thrilled will hope because we know that he will return to bring us home.

I pray that your heart leaps with joy, anticipation, and excitement this Christmas, that you experience the thrill of hope about which you’ll sing.

O holy night the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angels’ voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born

Reacting To Culture

responding-to-culture

For the first time since I became eligible, I wasn’t able to cast my vote for any of the leading presidential nominees without violating my conscience. The developments in the presidential race that have occurred since Tuesday have actually decreased my confidence in our culture and in whoever becomes our next President.

Do I believe the sky is falling? No. However, I think that the nature of this political season underscores concerns we all should have about the trajectory of our culture.

I’ve been burdened by a particular question for a long time. My burden was increased this Tuesday as I walked out of the voting booth.

What is the church’s appropriate reaction to our culture?

One of my favorite author/theologians is N.T. Wright. The following extended quote is from How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels. He highlights four tendencies of churches, all of which are misguided, all of which I see happening all around:

By and large the churches have lapsed into one of four (to my mind) unhelpful reactions.

The first is to say that all this doesn’t matter, because we’re going to heaven and we’ll leave this old world behind once and for all. That stance, interestingly, became increasingly popular throughout the nineteenth century, when “heaven” became the ultimate home and “resurrection”—with all its political overtones of new creation and new society—was quietly shelved or reduced to the status of an ineffective dogma or even metaphor. … I trust it is becoming increasingly clear to people now that such a position simply won’t do. This isn’t what the four gospels are about. It’s actually closer to Gnosticism.

The second thing that Christians have done is to say, with the neo-Anabaptists, that the church must simply put its own house in order, keep its own nose clean, and live as a beacon of light, but without actually engaging with the world. It must construct a parallel society in which the kingdom values of Jesus are lived out for all to see. Now I’m all for the church cleaning up its act and shining like a light in the world. But the strong sectarian separation that all this implies seems to pay no attention to the great statements of Jesus’ cosmic lordship in the New Testament, not least the claim of Matthew 28 that Jesus already possesses all authority on earth as well as in heaven. It is always in danger of dualism, of cutting off the creational branch on which all Christian thinking ought to be sitting.

The third and fourth reactions among Christians, which are all too powerful today (particularly in the United States), have simply baptized the right-wing and left-wing politics of a deeply divided society and claimed this or that one as Christian, to be implemented and if possible exported. Listening to the sub-Christian language on display among those exultant at the killing of Osama bin Laden in the early summer of 2011 was an example of this right-wing tendency; anything that advances the worldview of Fox News is assumed to be basically Christian, wise, and automatically justified. But listening to many on the left, I have a similar problem. The left claims the high Christian and moral ground of a concern for the poor and the marginalized, but again this regularly parrots the elements of liberal modernism, not least its new sexual ethic, without any attempt to scale the true heights of the gospel vision in the New Testament (pp. 165, 166).

There’s no simple answer. Wright’s solution, in summary, is that we become people both of the kingdom and the cross. Again, Wright says:

Different Christians have found that they want to highlight one element or the other, whether the “kingdom,” to validate a contemporary social agenda (and to leave a question mark as to why the cross mattered at all), or the “cross,” to emphasize the mechanism by which God rescues sinners from this world and enables them to go to “heaven” (leaving a question mark as to why either Jesus or the evangelists would think it mattered that much to do all those healings, to walk on water, or to give such remarkable teaching) (p. 176).

So, what is the appropriate reaction to culture? How can Christians conduct themselves?

Cross and Kingdom

We react to culture by being people of the cross and people of the kingdom.

To be people of kingdom is to be people who join Jesus in his kingdom-bringing work for the world, striving for justice and mercy on behalf of the marginalized and oppressed, working for peace and the common good. To be people of the cross is to be people of deep and abiding faith, who humble ourselves, who follow our Savior, joining him in his suffering and in the new life that is to come.

What about you?

What is your response to the culture in which we’re living?

How to Kill a Culture of Violence

 

We live in a culture of violence.

The other night, for the very first time, we allowed our son to witness someone being murdered in cold blood.

It wasn’t intentional. Kelly and I were excited to introduce Owen to some of our most beloved Christmas movies. So, we sat down on the couch to watch Home Alone. We had forgotten over the years is that a mob murder scene plays a crucial role in the plot. As I fumbled in the dark for the remote so I could fast forward the scene, Kelly and I glanced at each other in alarm, shocked at the spectacle to which we had just exposed our innocent son.

You might think we’re overprotective. Maybe we are. But, in a world in which mass killings like San Bernardino happen on a weekly basis, aren’t we justified in being careful about what he sees?

The tragic events of this week have caused all of us to do some serious thinking about the violence we witness. There has been no shortage of discussion about gun control. The people on the left want to amend the Constitution, stemming the tide of violence by taking guns off the street. People on the right assure us that guns aren’t the problem. They go so far as to insinuate that the massacre might have been less bloody if more civilians on the scene had been armed. Both sides really only succeed in condemning those who don’t share their view. Religious people, no matter where they appear on the political spectrum, haggle over the root causes of the problem and wring their hands about what the future holds. Is radical Islam the problem? Are these isolated occurrences? Should we pray? Is that enough? How should we align ourselves politically? Can I find a verse in my Bible that connects all of this with the Second Coming? What can or should we do?

The truth is that nobody is really offering a good answer.

How do you kill a culture of violence?

It has to be stopped. And, although it isn’t as immediate as a Constitutional amendment, as black-and-white as more state laws, or as easy as washing our hands and blaming another group for the problems, we can each do our part to change culture. It isn’t going to happen on a public stage. It isn’t going to be glamorous. And, it’s certainly not going to be quick.

Here are three things we can each do to change our culture of violence from within.

Stop consuming violence

It astonishes me that there is so little conversation about the utterly violent nature of American culture. We purchase grossly violent video games for our children and then react in shock when teenagers play first-person shooter in real life. We pay $300 for the price of a ticket to watch our favorite football team beat the stuffing out of their rivals and gasp in horror when a violent player knocks the stuffing out of his girlfriend. We eagerly binge watch the most carnal, violent sexual acts and then reel back in disgust when a neighbor ends up being a monster who preys on innocent victims. The horrific examples can go on and on and on and on.

This is madness! It’s hypocrisy at its most appalling. It has to stop.

We must resolve to stop glorifying violence and consuming it until we’re stuffed. We have to stop inviting it into our homes and idolizing its most brazen purveyors. We have to determine to protect our hearts and the hearts of our children. Because, make no mistake, people become violent because they are nurtured to become violent.

Become and partner with people of peace

We must pursue peace. We must pray for it. We must work for it. (It can never be an either-or proposition.) It must begin with us, extend to our children, include the people with whom we partner, and pervade every area of our lives.

Jesus said, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,” ([biblegateway passage=”Matthew 5:9″]). 

Political philosophy, theological distinctions, culture, background, color, and socio-economic status are immaterial; we can work together if you’re a person of peace. We can take Jesus’ call to work for peace seriously and we can work together, in our neighborhoods, workplaces, churches, and communities to foster and protect peace.

Leverage the Gospel to bring about true change

As we proceed, we can never forget that the only force that can bring about true change is the Holy Spirit, working in individual hearts, by [biblegateway passage=”John 3:16-17″ display=”the Gospel of Jesus Christ”]. Without the Gospel, all other change is shallow, temporary, and tenuous at best. But, by God’s grace, hearts, homes, communities, nations, and the world can be truly and forever transformed.

What will you do?

Will you stop consuming violence? Will you partner actively with people of peace? Will you embody the Gospel? The only way to kill a culture of violence is to transform it from within.

Have You Prayed for a Terrorist Lately?

how-to-pray-for-terrorists

My family got into an interesting conversation on Thanksgiving in the light of the terrorist attacks in Paris. Yesterday’s San Bernardino massacre brought that conversation back to mind. The topic: What should the US do about the Islamic State?

I mostly listened during that conversation. When I did speak up (as ministers are wont to do) I shared about a provocative article I had recently read.

My point was that, as Christians, we ought to think carefully about the stance we take and that we ought to dedicate ourselves first to prayer. My sweet wife, who after nearly 20 years together has learned to call my bluff when I get a little too preachy, asked me if I had been praying for terrorists or if I was just being sanctimonious.

I hadn’t. I was.

In the aftermath of Paris and San Bernardino, I will begin. No more simply knowing what’s right and failing to do what’s right.

Prayer’s precedent

There is, after all, precedent for Christians assuming a prayerful role in the face of great violence. The book of Acts tells of a terrorist who dedicated himself to use whatever means necessary to stamp out the fledgling Church. The persecuted Church certainly knew and applied these words:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven,” (Jesus, in [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 5:43-45″]).

Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Although the Bible doesn’t make this explicit, because they were taking their cues from Jesus, I believe the persecuted Christians prayed fervently for Saul of Tarsus, the terrorist who was gutting the Church in the name of God.

God [biblegateway passage=”1 Timothy 1:12-17″ display=”answered their prayers”] and turned that murderous zealot into the greatest church planter, theologian, and leader the Church has known in the last 2,000 years.

Is it possible that there’s another Saul of Tarsus who needs the prayers of the Church?

Have you prayed for a terrorist lately?

As my thoughts are becoming clearer on this issue, here are a number of the things I will be praying about. Will you join me in praying for these five things?

Pray for your heart

Begin here. It’s way too easy to give in to the anger and fear that terrorist acts have produced. And, if we’re not careful, we can find ourselves becoming hateful and bigoted. Pray for a heart that is sensitive enough to draw in sadness and pain and pump out faith, hope, love, and peace.

Pray for political leaders

We may disagree with our leaders. We might believe they’re too militant or too pacifistic, too interventionist or too isolationist, too sympathetic or not sympathetic enough, too concerned with retaining votes, or completely wrong-headed. No matter how we feel, it’s still our responsibility to pray for them. Pray for wisdom. Resolve. Strength. For wise advisers and for proper support. Pray that the God who gave them their authority would work through them.

Pray for the Gospel to advance

The only thing that can change the heart of a terrorist—of any sinner for that matter—is the transformative power of the Gospel of Jesus. Pray that the Gospel is preached powerfully.  Pray that its messengers are protected by God and favored by their hearers. Pray that the Holy Spirit invades hostile territory and does a work beyond anything we could ask or imagine.

Pray for the Church to shine

Whether it’s the faith of Christians facing persecution, the hospitality shown by Christians welcoming refugees, the ministry of believers in working for the good of their communities, or day-to-day conversations sprinkled with grace and truth, pray that the Church has an opportunity display God’s love in tangible, winsome, and effective ways.

Pray for God to receive glory

No matter how dark the situation, God’s glory has the power to drive it away. Pray for him to be seen, known, honored, and glorified in these dark times. One day, his glory will be known to every soul and every knee will bow.

What about you?

The news is bad. It’s getting worse. There’s only one solution: a massive renovation of the hearts of mankind. And, the road leading to that renovation is—and always has been—paved with the prayers of the saints.

What about you? Will you pray first? Will you keep praying?

Why Your Church’s Mission Matters

why-your-churchs-mission-matters

I’ve always appreciated a well-written mission statement.

Recently, as I was sitting in the whirlpool at the YMCA loosening up after a swim, I glanced up at the prominently posted rules of conduct and noticed the Y’s mission statement:

“The mission of the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind, and body for all.”

I’m glad the Y is committed to that mission. It’s a good one. But, as I sat there and thought more about it I realized that the mission could just as easily be adopted by any number of well-meaning congregations.

Think about it:

Programs.

Christian principles.

Healthy spirit, mind, and body.

Now, I have to clarify, there isn’t any church I know that has adopted mission statement like this and actually put it in print. But, in practice; well, that’s a different story.

Think about your church.

Lots of activities: camps, classes, small groups, fitness classes, golf outings, retreats, committees, and seminars. At each of these programs, Christian principles are taught: be honest, be a good parent, read your Bible, pray regularly, attend faithfully, help others, and grow spiritually. And, the result of all this activity and advice? Do the right thing. Be moral. Grow at a steady pace. And, make sure you stay on track.

I realize this is somewhat of a caricature. But, if we’re honest, we’ll admit that a lot of the frenetic activity that happens at church is really centered around making sure a bunch of people are relatively happy, relatively well-adjusted, and relatively knowledgeable, and that they keep attending on a fairly regular basis.

This is why your church’s mission matters:

Your church will be no different from the YMCA unless the transforming, saving power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is central to your mission.

The Gospel is the difference. But, it cannot just receive lip service. It must be the catalyst for each ministry the church undertakes. It must be the central element upon which all activity and teaching is focused. And it must be the end toward which everything points.

The Gospel of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection is the only thing that makes the church any different from the YMCA. Let’s keep it at the heart of all that we do and all that we are.

What about you?

Is your own mission focused upon proclaiming and living out the Gospel? What about your church? How are you contributing toward that end?