In John 3, Jesus gives us one of the most commonly used terms to describe a Christ follower: “born again.” But what does it really mean to be ‘born again?’ Watch this short video as my daughter helps me explain.
Archives For What I’m Teaching
It’s the difference between attending a party and hosting a party. When you attend a party, what’s your goal and mindset? To have a good time, to make memories. Whose job is it to ensure you have a good time? Your host’s. When you host a party, everything is reversed. Your job is to ensure your guests have a good experience. Your sense of satisfaction derives from their enjoyment of the party. Make sense so far?
Now, let’s transpose this onto the church. What do most church people do? They “attend” church. Take my church for example. On a normal Sunday we’ll have over 400 on campus. That’s 400 “attenders.” Who’s the host? I am. You could also count the five other staff we have working Sundays, so 6 hosts for 400 people. That’s a lot of people to entertain! And if we’re solely focused on ensuring that our 400 attenders have a good experience, what’s the likelihood that we’ll get to the few dozen guests we’ll have each month? Slim to none. That’s why many guests come in and go out and never get noticed.
But what if? What if our church “attenders” could begin to see themselves as “hosts”? So, instead of 6 hosts trying to entertain the 400 attenders plus few dozen guests, we had 400 hosts ensuring that the few dozen guests that come each month would feel welcome? Here’s what would happen. In a year or two, we wouldn’t have 400 on campus, we’d have 800-900.
When the average church attender makes the shift from being a consumer to becoming a contributor, that’s when your church will be revolutionized.
In John 5 there’s a verse that puzzled me for years. One of the times Jesus entered Jerusalem, he encountered a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. What he asks this man almost seems insulting at first: “When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’” (John 5:6). Was this a rhetorical question? Was Jesus mocking him? Why would this man not want to get better? Shouldn’t it be obvious?
But as I got older and I began to interact with more people in ministry, I realized the penetrating nature of this question. Sometimes people who are sick don’t want to get better. Sometimes people who need to make a change are unwilling to do so. You’ve lived through this. You have a family member. You have a close friend. You know they need to change. You’ve had an intervention where you’ve pleaded with them to get help for something. In a moment of clarity they’ve even admitted that they need to change. And yet they haven’t. They’re not ready to get well. They’re comfortable in their brokenness. It’s painful, but it’s what they know. They’re not ready to make a change.
Before you rehash old arguments and get angry at your family all over again, stop for a moment and ask yourself this same question: do you want to get well? What area in your life do you know you need to change? What habit or addiction has your family pleaded with you time and time again to change? In what area have you been unwilling to fully surrender to God and make a change?
Like the man who had lived with a debilitating condition for 38 years, Jesus still asks you, “Do you want to get well?”
Well, do you?
Do I belong? Is there a place where I’m wanted, where I’m accepted, where I’m valued? Where I’m known and loved? That used to automatically be the family but that’s not a given anymore. People need to belong.
Can I change? People want to know if they can overcome their current circumstances. We know we’re messing things up. We know we need to get better. We desperately want our situation in life to improve. The first thing we usually think about is money, but it’s more than that. Can I change my broken relationships? Can I change my attitude? Can I overcome my economic situation and have a better quality of life? Many people look around them at their lot in life and say, “This isn’t good. This isn’t what I want. There must be more than this. Can I change?”
Do I matter? This is a deep need, one planted deep inside of us by God himself. We all want to know that our lives matter. That we’re here for a purpose. That we’re not just hurtling through space as a result of some cosmic accident. We all want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, to convince ourselves that our lives actually have purpose.
Can I be right with God? This is a need we all feel and sense throughout our lives. You don’t even need to be religious to have this need. The book of Ecclesiastes states that God has placed eternity in our hearts. We intuitively sense that there is some type of higher power out there, some Grand Designer behind this intricately complex universe. The question is: if we were created, who created us and why? What do we need to do to be right with our Creator? Now obviously we believe we know the answer from Scripture, but this is a need that isn’t just found in the church. People everywhere are trying to answer, “Can I be right with God?” and “How?”
QUESTION: Have you seen these four needs in your own life?
The first time I truly encountered hopelessness was in the mid-90s. To be honest, I’d had an idyllic childhood growing up: strong family, good education, great Christian college. The summer after my freshmen year in college I went on a mission trip to Russia. “Culture shock” was an extreme understatement to describe what happened when my worldview was shattered once and for all.
I remember walking through the airport in St. Petersburg, noticing the layer of grime and neglect that seemed to cover everything. But it’s the subway where I truly encountered hopelessness for the first time. Now, I’ve been on many subways in many different parts of the world. They all feel a little similar. Everyone usually keeps to themselves. But this was different. I wasn’t prepared for the hollowed out vacant stares, the absolutely expressionless faces, the catacomb-like quietness. Despair hovered over us like a suffocating blanket.
Being in Russia for a month, I saw a glimpse of the world through their eyes. Their government was corrupt, taking more than it was giving. Their economy was in shambles with no constant accept for volatility. There was little beauty to be found as millions of people lived in drab, utilitarian apartments. The worst aspect was that after decades of communistic rule, atheism was king and religion was dead. These people had no hope for this life and no hope for the next.
Coming back to the States, I began to see hopelessness all around me, as friends would share their stories of growing up in alcoholic, abusive, or broken homes. As a youth pastor, I saw teenagers trapped in hopeless situations time and time again.
The longer I live and the more I pastor, the more I’m convinced that hope is the most valuable commodity in the world. With hope, you can endure anything. You can suffer through tragedy, you can cope with loss, you can sacrifice for the greater good. But without hope, you’re lost. We can live without many things in life, but I’m convinced that we can’t truly live without hope.
QUESTION: How has hope helped you through a difficult situation?
“Mission Creep” Series
Jul 6 – Mission creep begins when you fear man more than you fear God.
Jul 13 – Mission creep gets crazy when you become lazy.
Jul 27 – Nothing fuels the fire of mission creep more than money.
Aug 4 – The problem with the church is that we’ve made church for church people.
“Front Porch Gospel” Series
Aug 11 – The world is won through Christ’s great love.
Aug 18 – Winning the world starts with seeing a world that’s winnable.
Aug 25 – Your actions illuminate what you adore.
Sep 8 – Invest and invite is the way to win right.
Sep 15 – The Kingdom explodes exponentially when we’re united in purpose.
“Picture Perfect Family” Series
Sep 22 – Your family has issues; deal with it.
Sep 29 – Where do you find your value?
Oct 6 – Are you doing the work required?
Oct 13 – Are you being salt and light?
Oct 20 – Are you committed for the long haul?
Oct 27 – Whom are you serving?
Nov 3 – You’re blessed with a need.
Nov 10 – You’re blessed with a burden.
Nov 17 – You’re blessed to tell your story.
Nov 24 – You’re blessed to be a blessing.
“Advent Conspiracy” Series
Dec 1 – Spend less.
Dec 8 – Give more.
Dec 15 – Love all.
Dec 22 – Worship fully.
Each Sunday when I preach I give one BIG Idea from Scripture to the people, something tangible (and hopefully memorable) that they can hold onto. Some I’m proud of, some are honestly lame. Some rhyme, some should have been word-smithed a little more. Many are original, and some of the best are borrowed from other pastors. But, for better or worse, here are my BIG Ideas for the first six months of 2013:
Jan 6 – “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.” (Nehemiah)
Jan 13 – There is nothing more valuable than the human spirit.
Jan 20 – “Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (prayer of the apostles)
Jan 27 – Americans have the wrong idea about God.
Feb 3 – My God is for me.
Feb 10 – Good people don’t get into heaven; saved people do.
Feb 17 – God’s chief aim is to glorify Himself.
Feb 24 – God allows evil to exist because to destroy evil He would have to destroy humanity.
“Losing My Religion” Series
Mar 3 – Jesus hates graceless religion even more than you do.
Mar 10 – To stay off God’s last nerve, don’t allow tradition to trump the Word.
Mar 17 – For the church to be its best, it needs to treat newcomers as guests not pests.
Mar 24 – Jesus walked towards the messes, and so should we.
Mar 31 – Jesus fulfilled religion so that you don’t have to.
“Culture Wars” Series
Apr 7 – When the world presents you with only two options, take option three.
“Deep Roots” Series
Apr 14 – To know the root, check the fruit.
Apr 21 – The better the soil, the better the roots.
Apr 28 – To kill a weed, you have to pull it up by its roots.
May 5 – God prunes the good so that the best can flourish.
May 12 – To see spiritual gain: don’t strain, remain.
“The Other Guy” Series
Jun 2 – There is no church without the Holy Spirit.
Jun 9 – The Holy Spirit is our guide to help us experience our maximum potential in Christ.
Jun 16 – The Holy Spirit is God’s explosive power in your world.
Jun 23 – Spiritual gifts are the Holy Spirit’s custom-designed way for you to impact your world.
Jun 30 – We’re filled to be spilled.
I had a frustrating conversation with a fellow pastor the other day. Not frustrating because of him, but because of the politics and dynamics in his church keeping progress from happening. I see it too often in Baptist churches in the South: churches want to grow and reach young families, and they say they’re willing to change, but there are a few golden calves (Exodus 32) they’re unwilling to part with.
So they bring in a new pastor, demand progress, and get angry when the church isn’t growing. Yet all the while they’re unwilling to change the two or three things absolutely necessary to reach new families. Here are six common golden calves that I’ve seen churches struggle with:
1. Sunday School – I know, my soul is in danger of condemnation for even mentioning this golden calf. Sunday School has been the hallmark of Baptist churches for decades. But when Sunday School becomes more about information than transformation, then it’s time for a change. (Here’s a longer post I wrote on Sunday School).
2. Schedule – 2 Opinions 4:16 says there must be Sunday morning church, Sunday night church, and Wednesday night church. But we can’t forget choir practice, training union, committee meetings, visitation, and church socials. When our schedule is a golden calf, then we’re dead in the water. Positive change happens when we take things off the calendar, not add more to it.
3. Legacy Programs – There are programs in our churches that just don’t work, but we’re unwilling to kill them. They have too much of a history and there’s still a small cadre of folks invested in it. Now mind you, that program hasn’t reached a new family in years, but if you feel like you can’t kill it because of who will get mad, then you’ve got yourself a golden calf.
4. Style of music – Yes, worship wars. Your style of music can be an overwhelming golden calf. If your aim in music is more about tradition and keeping certain people happy than worshipping in a style that engages the outside world, then your music is a golden calf. If you didn’t condemn me for Sunday School, then you probably have by now.
5. Facilities – Many church facilities are a living museum of how America looked back in the 1950s. If your church foyer could double as a set piece for Downton Abbey, if you’ve got donated paintings and furniture (or chandeliers and pews) that can’t be moved because of who donated them, then you’ve got a golden calf.
6. Preaching Style – I say this lovingly and with as much respect as I can muster, but much of the preaching today is out of touch and out dated. In our defense, we’re preaching how we were trained. “Preach the Bible!” (as if we would preach anything else). For preachers like me, an outdated style of preaching can be a golden calf. When preaching is merely about information transfer rather than engaging, relevant biblical truth that calls for life change, then our (sometimes outdated) seminary training becomes a golden calf.
My prayer? That more pastors and churches would be willing to stand up with the courage of Moses and live out Exodus 32:20: “And Moses took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder.”
QUESTION: What other golden calfs do churches struggle with?
Yesterday at Mt Vernon we finished a series on temptation called “The Fight of Your Life.” Pulling from Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness, here are four BIG Ideas we learned over the series.
Week #1 – When you’re tempted, there’s always more at stake than you think. We delude ourselves into thinking that temptation is just about the moment. It’s just one decision, one text, one drink, one weekend. But there’s always more at stake than we think. Looking back at our lives, we can trace some of our greatest regrets back to temptations that we gave into.
Week #2 – Temptation is always a test of your faith, not just your self-control. Pulling from Jesus’ first temptation to turn stones into bread, we learned that temptation always comes down to a test of our faith. Do we trust God to meet our needs, or will we give in and try to meet our legitimate needs in illegitimate ways? Is God faithful?
Week #3 – We’re called to cooperate with God, not manipulate him. Jesus’ second temptation was a crisis of authority. He was tempted to manipulate God, to presume on him, force God to do his bidding. The scary thing is that the more religious you are, the easier it is to fall for this temptation. Yet we’re called to cooperate with God, not manipulate him.
Week #4 – Shortcuts will always shortchange you. Jesus’ final temptation was to pursue the right thing in the wrong way. It was the temptation to cheat, to cut corners, to take a shortcut. When we take shortcuts, we are ultimately valuing (and worshipping) our goals, progress, even ourselves above God and his ways. In the end, shortcuts will always shortchange us.
Wherever you are in life when you encounter this blog, my prayer is that you can spot the lies of temptation and fight back with the truth of God’s word. May the truth of 1 Corinthians 10:13 be planted deep in your soul. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”