Where Is Your Focus?

On December 28, 2014 I did something incredibly frightening. I preached my first sermon. It wasn’t the speaking publicly in front of 475 people that scared me. It was really more about who those people were. Like I said that morning, I grew up in the church, that church, FBC Ellisville. Therefore, the people in the pews were the people responsible for my understanding and passion for the Word of God – my Sunday School teachers as a child, youth, and (one could argue) adult. Talk about student becoming the teacher. Anyway, here are a few extended thoughts on the topic that I wasn’t able to get to in the shorty thirty minutes allotted. (And it was thirty on the nose!)

The main truth in my message was that our focus should constantly be on the Holy Spirit, which gives life. That is instead of the flesh, the things of this world in which we’re typically seeking purpose and leads to certain death.

While I referenced Paul’s definition of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21, one should not discount the power of the flesh as only those things that we perceive as negative such as sexual immorality, jealousy, fits of anger, etc. No, the flesh can also be present in our self-righteous attempts at finding holiness and justification within ourselves.

I can speak from personal experience about the church getting in the way of the Church getting in the way of the Head of the Church – Christ. Over the last twenty-nine years as I’ve attended FBC Ellisville, I’ve donated time, money, blood, sweat, and tears (quite literally). At some point the pride I have in those things steals my focus and I find myself having certain expectations about privileges that should be afforded me. It looks much more like a two-way contract rather than a one-way covenant. Some might call it arrogance. Rather than being a servant, I become a slave to the service.

Do you know what happens then? It becomes about me. And when I don’t get my way, or things don’t meet my expectations, I get frustrated.

You see, even when my mind is set on things that any sane person would consider good and helpful, even seemingly on Christ, when the motivation and purpose returns to my benefit, then my mind is set on the things of the flesh.

My answer to God’s calling on my life was “consider how much I can do with a little time, money, blood, sweat, and tears!” Rather than, “God, I’m willing to sacrifice the time, money, blood, sweat, and tears to do whatever it is you need me to do.” It’s a very subtle difference in the here and now, but the eternal consequences could be significant.

So, where is your focus? Why are you doing what you’re doing? Is it so you can feel better about yourself? So others can know how great you really are? Or are you honestly allowing the Spirit to guide you every step of the way?

Outdo one another in showing honor

I have a confession. I am self-righteous. It pains me to say this out loud, but it was something that hit me over the head pretty hard in 2013. You see, I get the C.S. Lewis quote backwards. He said “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” I’ve always done the former while still making myself the focus of the conversation, just in a self-deprecating way in order to “put others first”. You can guess how that has worked out for me.

Fifteen years ago, as I started my career, I was as arrogant as they come – ready to take over the world (cue Pinky and the Brain theme) – goal to be a millionaire by 30, the whole works. Then I realized how ridiculous I sounded and God worked his magic on me to remind me that I needed Him a lot more than He needed me. But I pretty much stopped there. I didn’t quite pull the rest of the world into the conversation. I needed God, but I was still on an island when it came to those around me. We were back to other people needing me a lot more than I needed them (or so I thought).

So here’s my goal for 2014 …

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21 (ESV)

Lance, Are You a Universalist?

Disclaimer: This is only me dipping my toe into the waters of the Rob Bell discussion. I have yet to read the book. I have watched most of the television interviews he’s participated in, including the LiveStream archives of his panel dicussions. This is not a rebuttal or counter to any explicit topic, especially Bell’s book, Love Wins, but is related to the overall discussion about universalism.

A Definition

To start, a definition is in order so we’re starting on the same page. Webster defines Universalism as a theological doctrine that all human beings will eventually be saved.” I want to believe this. I really do. My humanity wants me to believe that Love Wins and God would not send people to an eternal suffering. How unfair of a loving God to judge people so harshly! Anyone with a conscience probably wants to believe that.

The Savior of All People?

A discussion with a great friend this morning brought up some tough to grasp scripture that may lead to some of this contention. 1 Timothy 4:10 (ESV) says “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” If you leave off those last five words, you’ll see the difficulty in reconciling God’s judgment the fact that He is truly the “Savior of all people”. In addition to those five clarifying words, you also must understand the context of this statement. Timothy was preaching to overcome Jewish dogma and false teachings, in that physical rights such as circumcision lead to salvation. In this context, these words mean that Jesus is the Savior, sent for all, but it is our responsibility to accept and obey the teachings of that Savior.

Another tough passage brought up this morning is Titus 4:11 (ESV) which says “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people”. Again, though, it is important to read this in context. Keep reading through verse 14. “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” It’s pretty easy to see our responsibility in the rest of this passage as living “self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age.” This isn’t a universalist belief at all.

Three Categories of Belief

In an extremely simplistic view of the world, I see three categories of belief. There are those who have heard The Gospel and believe, those who have heard and denied it, and those who have not heard at all. Please, please, please hear me when I say that’s an “extremely simplistic view”. The first two of those categories are easy for me. The Bible is extremely clear on those. It’s even clear in Revelation 3:16 (ESV) that the gray area that may exist in between is worse.

Where I trip up is the third category, those who haven’t heard at all. For that, another BFF pointed me to Romans 1:20 (ESV) which says “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Wow, “without excuse”? Interesting. That is all I can say on that topic.

Lance, Are You a Universalist?

In my opinion, universalism and Christianity are mutually exclusive. If you believe that everyone will be saved/redeemed at any point, dead or alive, currently in Heaven or Hell, then the Gospel is irrelevant. The Great Commission is irrelevant. Yes, Jesus died for all people, but it is our responsibility to respond, as seen in John 3:16. “For God so loved the world (everyone) that He gave his only Son that whoever believes in Him (not everyone) should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

All of that said, judgment is not ours. Those gray areas in between should not distract us from our mission. Rob Bell brings up a situation of a woman molested by a pastor/priest. Is it fair to assume that in her situation, we should assume she should just get over it and disconnect that “man of God” from God Himself? Good question. If grace is truly irresistible (a Calvanist doctrine), then yes, we can assume that, but only because “with God, all things are possible” – Matthew 19:26 (ESV).

While we may want to lean towards universalism, we must look at scripture before putting our own desires above the teachings of Christ.

Closing Disclaimer: Please remember, I don’t direct this at Rob Bell, but only discuss conversation topics I’ve participated in recently. I have yet to read his book and can not speculate and don’t want to come across as rebutting text/comments I have yet to read.

If there was ever a post I wanted feedback on, this is it. Please comment!

Form vs. Function

I have more of the same this week. By that I mean more business influence in spiritual matters and vice versa. Monday, I was reading this post by Joshua Blankenship and was struck by something. In my past life as a usability analyst/interaction designer for the web, the concepts of design vs. content and form vs. function were constant balancing acts. While aesthetics are critical to the experience, they should enhance the content rather than overshadow it or become the focus. How often do we do this in our spiritual lives as individuals or churches?

The Individual

We all wear masks to hide our core. If you’re a church-goer, you’re probably very familiar with the concept of being one person on Sunday and a completely different person the rest of the week. It is not an easy task by any means, but how much less effort would we have to exert if we changed the content rather than the design? If we lived a lifestyle of worship, led by the Holy Spirit and allowed those fruit to come naturally rather than be a result of window-dressing, how much differently would we look?

The Church

For the local church, this can be taken both literally and figuratively. Do you care more about bodies, budget and buildings or the hearts inside the bodies, the ministries driving the budget or the people inside and more importantly outside the buildings? Take two churches side by side. One has all the marks of a church on mission – they’re growing in number, discipleship and reach in the community. The other seems to have plateaued on all accounts. The first meets in a brand new $25 million facility with the latest technology throughout. The second meets in a high school gymnasium built in 1960. What if you swapped locations? If the “content” is the focus, it won’t matter. That’s an extremely tough concept to grasp given cultural influence of media and those things that churches are seemingly “competing” with.

The Right Priorities

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

Don’t get me wrong, a $25 million facility can do great things to get people in the doors. But if you don’t put God’s word at the center, you’re just putting lipstick on a pig (sorry, but it’s better than saying “polishing a turd” in this context). Allow God to drive the ministry that creates the need for additional facilities and technology. In the case of the church, function comes before form.

Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.

—JOE SPARANO

Just don’t try to force your way without God. Let the natural byproduct of His influence be transparent. If it’s not, you’re still just putting lipstick on that pig.

The Love Gospel

When I originally titled this post, I had no idea that there existed a concept called “The Love Gospel”. And, it sort of fits with the latest Rob Bell fiasco that I’m not willing to talk about yet. Before I went about my writing, I hit up Google to see what the Internet had to say about the definition. Wow, am I glad I did. If you Google “The Love Gospel”, you will find some pretty adamant opinions about why what they describe is unbiblical. Most of it I’m in agreement with. So, if we stick with the overall concept, I agree wholeheartedly, but I should probably come up with a different name of what I’m calling it, because our definitions differ.

The common definition sits somewhere between political correctness and laziness. That you either keep your trap shut until after you’ve first loved a person to Christ or you ignore sin completely for sake of love. Either way, you might as well just be a motivational speaker. I won’t necessarily go into either of those because they’re pretty obvious points. I am a strong believer in Bill Hybel’s book, Just Walk Across the Room, which could easily be compared to the “keep your trap shut” method. However, Bill isn’t talking about bait and switch or the laziness argument. He’s talking about making your agenda known up front and just loving on people while the Holy Spirit does his thing to change hearts. In most cases, you’ll find people aren’t looking for someone to spew The Gospel on them every time you meet. Instead, most people, after knowing your heart, just want you to be you.

So why do I think my “Love Gospel” is better? I don’t. I didn’t make it up. Jesus did. Take a look at Mark 12:29-31.

29 Jesus answered, The most important is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. 31 The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.

A scribe asks Jesus what is the greatest commandment, and He answers him plainly. Even in John 3:16, the most widely known verse in scripture, it begins with God’s love. Jesus & His Father, God, are the only ones who are ever able to use absolutes like ‘all’, ‘never’ and ‘no other’. So, when Jesus says “There is no other commandment greater than these,” that’s exactly what He means. Nothing else. It isn’t context-based, culturally or time-boxed.

Some will bring up The Great Commission or the Ten Commandments, etc. I see those as a both/and not an either/or. They’re all crucial to our jobs as Christ-followers. In my opinion, though, we will not be successful following through with any of God’s commandments unless we first “love the Lord your God” and “love others.” This is along the same exact lines as my previous thoughts on the Holy Spirit, that we won’t display any of the fruit unless we first pursue the Holy Spirit.

Who is influencing whom?

It has come up a few times in recent weeks how my work life and my church life are overlapping. In most cases, it has to do with concepts around leadership, but it causes me to stop and think about how many churches operate like a business. This is a huge topic that I don’t feel like getting into here because in many ways they have to: finances/stewardship, facilities management, organizational structure, etc. A simple stroll through the bookstore (read: scroll through Amazon.com) turns up a plethora of books about how to use core business concepts in how a church operates. The one that comes to mind is an addendum to Jim Collins’ awesome book, Good to Great called Good to Great and the Social Sectors. Shouldn’t it be the other way around though? Shouldn’t the Church be influencing the business world?

Doing Business by the Good Book

This concept isn’t new. The owner of WWT, Dave Steward, wrote a book called Doing Business by the Good Book (read: reason #1 I love my job). However, imagine if in the same way that if you seek first the Holy Spirit and the fruit come naturally, what would happen if you put Biblical concepts into practice in your business? What if you centered your core values around God’s promises? What if you served your customers in the same way churches serve the community? What does success look like then? Is it measured in dollars or influence? Is it measured in customer satisfaction or changed lives?

What does this even look like?

Marketers love the buzzword-worthy phrase “customer evangelists.” Pretty apparent where that concept came from. Although, I should mention that they don’t mean [insert product here]-thumping cram-it-down-your-throat street preachers. They mean people who are passionate about their product/company who spread the news by word-of-mouth.  (If you don’t know what a passionate community of information-sharers looks like and you are an active member of a church, maybe you need to re-examine your church’s priorities.)

Imagine a company like the church in Acts, where everyone drops everything to help those in need. Think of a time you were failing at the office. Did everyone rally around you or did they kick you while you were down? Nine times out of ten, I’d put money on the latter.

I could go on and on, but I won’t bore the two or three of you that read this (including me). Just think about it.

Quick Update

I wanted to clarify something based on feedback I’ve received. I don’t mean to be explicit in the influence. While perfectly reasonable, I wouldn’t expect you to provide scripture references in your corporate goals or be outright confrontational in your “evangelism”. The intent is to examine the underlying influence and allow your inner spirit to naturally affect your everyday life and work. It can’t be forced or manufactured, just as the fruit of the Spirit can’t be produced without the Spirit. If it is, you’re doing it wrong.

Cardinal Nation

Look, people. If you thought for a second that a deal would be done by Noon EST today, you really need to have that looked at. Remember, there are still two more outs for the Cardinals. They still have until 5 days after the World Series before Albert is officially a Free Agent. Even then, there’s still a third out if they offer something competitive within the market of free agency. So, now that the first “deadline” has passed, I figured I’d throw my $0.02 into the mix.

Fair Market Value

Yes, the economy is in pretty bad shape. Yes, $30 million per year is a crazy number. But yes, we live in a capitalistic society. The Cardinals (or any team) can do whatever they want with their money. Albert Pujols can ask for whatever he wants. The precedent has been set in the Major Leagues for insane amounts of money for the best players in the game. As of the 2009 season, the league minimum was $400,000. That’s for a guy that rides the pine and never gets his spikes dirty. For Albert Pujols, the Fair Market Value is near $30 million per year. In the same way that the value of your house is determined by recent sales figures for those around it, the value for a player is determined by recently signed contracts. Ryan Howard, A-Rod, etc. have set the standard, value or not.

Sure, $300 million could do so much more for our community. A friend recently put it beautifully when he pointed out that $30 million in Albert’s hands isn’t like $30 million in A-Rod’s. Albert isn’t going to get his and hers Lamborghinis (well, he might, but it’s still a drop in the bucket). He’s going to give to the community. If $30 million per year is the fair market value for a player, Albert’s the guy I want earning it.

You can run the numbers to prove any point. I’ve heard Albert contributes up to $240 million per year in revenue to the Cardinals, based on attendance, memorabilia, etc. If that’s true, he’s worth every penny for that reason alone. I’ve also heard that with Albert, the Cardinals only win an additional 10 games per season, so he isn’t worth it. So, is the value in wins or revenue? Obviously, it’s both, but you need to balance those to arrive at a true value to the team.

Off The Field

Then there’s the value you can’t put a price on. The fans. The charities. The publicity. The list goes on and on. Think about the value Kurt Warner brought off the field in the region when he was a Ram. The leadership, inspiration and more that he provided Our Town pales in comparison to that which Albert provides. Can we afford to lose that? Many say no. I tend to agree.

It’s a Business

See Fair Market Value. While it’s unreal to see these types of numbers being thrown around, the precedent is set. You can’t fault either side.

The Cardinals have historically been a very frugal team. I would like to think Walt Jocketty would have made it happen, while Mozeliak has proven himself more interested in development than investing in superstars. To him, Albert is just another player, as he should be. Mo knows he can get 5 top rated players for Albert’s salary.

You can’t fault Albert to want fair market value. I don’t care who you are, you want to be paid fairly. Albert is the greatest player of all time. He deserves an exorbitant salary. At least, he deserves to ask for it.

Player / Team

Albert is one guy of nine at any time on the field. Albert doesn’t win games (argue all you want), the St. Louis Cardinals win games. The old adage “There’s no ‘I’ in team” rings loud and clear in this case.

Calm Down

You’re still a Cardinals fan. You understand the game. You understand the business. I know this because you’re a Cardinals fan. We’ve proven time and time again that we’re the smartest fans in the game. If you’re this worked up, no matter what side you’re on, about one guy’s signature you need to rethink your priorities. And by priorities, I mean you need to consider your allegiance to the game, to the team and seriously, your life in general.

Putting the Fruit Cart Before the Horse

Galations 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

In conversation the other day, I said something that summed up perfectly what I’ve been studying for years. Much of my writing of late has focused around the Holy Spirit and this concept of child-like faith. So, I wanted to share with you a reader’s digest version of that which you’re probably tired of hearing about.

I’ve noticed recently how much time we truly spend pursuing the individual fruit of the Spirit. We pray for patience. We intentionally perform random acts of kindness. We buy books on self-control and go to a variety of classes or exercise in pursuit of peace. How much more efficient would it be to pursue one thing instead of nine? How much better to pursue the source of those traits than those traits themselves?

If we are one with the Spirit, the fruit come naturally. How’s that for an easy button?

Idealism, Naivety and Child-like Faith

I wonder often–what would happen if we’d just get out of the way? – Tim Stevens

I’ve been asking this question for days, weeks, months, years. Honestly, what could/would happen? It has been a topic I’ve prayed about, studied, written and spoken about. It has rooted itself very deep in my life. So much so that my testimony is wrapped completely around this philosophy.

So, without lengthening this post with my entire life story, I’ll just state that it has mostly to do with my realization that Christianity is (read: should be) simple. If we truly believe what the Bible says, and surrender wholly to the Holy Spirit, then everything else becomes secondary. We don’t really have to work that hard. I get it, that’s an idealist view. As I’ve written here before, I’m an idealist through and through. Every time I’m challenged on this, I convince myself that I’m just being naive and stray towards cynical. Until I read God’s word and am reminded about having a child-like faith. And then, the world seems right again. For me, at least.

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 18:1-4

Last week, I ran across a link to a TED Talk by Adora Svitak, a child prodigy who shares my thinking (how comfortable am I in using a child as a reference? See above). Here’s part of her bio from the TED site.

Child prodigy Adora Svitak says the world needs “childish” thinking: bold ideas, wild creativity and especially optimism. Kids’ big dreams deserve high expectations, she says, starting with grownups’ willingness to learn from children as much as to teach.

Then, this morning, I see Tim Stevens, one of my ministry muses right now, ask the following in a post on his blog:

I wonder often–what would happen if we’d just get out of the way?

There is so much I can relate this to right now: My role on the Leadership Team at our church; My role as husband and father; My desire to attend seminary; My feeling that God is calling me something so much bigger than I could ever dream and having no clue what it looks like; Something God has placed on my heart for this Fall. What has my answer looked like recently? Plan the heck out of it. Make it comfortable for me and those around me. Take God’s vision and implement it myself. Let me speak from experience when I say – THIS DOESN’T WORK!

We do so much to protect ourselves from ourselves (does this sound familiar to the 2 or 3 that read this blog?) that we try to box God in, understand Him and make His plan “work” in our small view of the world.

Stay tuned for my continued ramblings on this from the standpoint of love, unity, faith and culture. Hopefully we can learn from each other how God has really made things relatively simple for us.

As Tim asks, what would happen if we just got out of the way?

Production Support is Expensive

We’ll keep this short. I spent a year of my life building and leading production support teams in a Fortune 125 company. Trust me. Software production support is expensive. I’ll prove it in a future series, but I’m learning that an extremely small number of people understand this. That includes clients, management, vendors, even developers. For all that is good and holy, PLEASE use sound development practices, test your software and by all means, educate your business partners on why time and budget should be spent up front before having to triple your development costs post-deployment. When busted software costs your company money and in some worst cases lives, my point will be quite evident.