Friday, July 21, 2017

"Lapsed, Loose & Lost"

I don’t think it is fair but somebody described the Body of Christ, the Church, as:

  • The Lapsed
  • The Loose
  • The Lost

There is a major difference between going to church and being the church. Church leaders today are not concerned with institutional maintenance but with missional effectiveness. They want the focus not on ministry in the church, largely confined to the membership, but rather on ministry by the church to the community at large.

George Gallup reported, “Church attendance makes little difference in people’s ethical views and behavior with respect to lying, cheating, pilferage, and not reporting theft. It was only among those who were committed to their church and activities beyond the worship service that the statistically significant difference was found in terms of truth telling, the absence of racial prejudice, and the ability to see beyond materialism.”

Lapsed, loose and lost are not accurate labels for Sardis Presbyterian Church. As I write this, four camps are being held on the Sardis campus; the basketball camp for boys and girls with Christian coaches and a Christian witness, the Preschool Summer camp, the Charlotte Mission Adventure for middle school students that serve non-profits in Charlotte, and Camp Holiday for Downs Syndrome students.

SPC – great job!


Friday, July 14, 2017

"The Human Will"

We are an amazing mix of knowledge, will, and emotions. The Lord knew that the unconscious mind needs supervision! The stifling power of sin is real. Your brain is so good it can handle 5-trillion chemical operations per second. Incredible!

The Apostle Paul respects our competence and says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” - Romans 13:14  We do have a choice to consider something other than self-aggrandizement. It is possible to choose something “good enough” and miss out on the best. To grow up spiritually means we must confront the living temptations of money, sex, and power.

Dallas Willard says there are three dimensions to the human will.
  • The Impulsive Will.  We know it as “I want.” Remember Thomas in the Upper Room.  He could not believe the resurrection of Jesus without the tactile experience.  “I want to touch the wounds of Jesus.”
  • The Reflective Will.  “I should.”  We have the option of focusing on what is acceptable versus focusing on what it means to be Christ-like.
  • The Embodied Will.  “I am.”  The irony of spiritual formation is that it involves body, mind and spirit – that’s where we live!  What sustains us? Not just the faith we share in God’s grace in Jesus Christ but also behavior that is Christ-like.

Thank God for the amazing mix of knowledge, will, and emotions.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

"The Great Commission of Matthew 28"

There is a huge chasm between going to church and being the church. The church-going population is in decline. Nationally, only about 38% attend worship. For Millennials, born between 1980 – 2000, only 17% are connected to a local church. I know that Charlotte’s church attendance is higher at 52%.

Presbyterians suffer from analysis paralysis. However, there are four disturbing trends pertinent to the North American church.
  • The mainline denominations have become the sideline denominations. Non-denominational churches outnumber denominational congregations in attendance.
  • Millennials have little interest in local churches. We are losing this portion of America at an alarming rate.
  • Many churches are struggling with maintaining their operations or are able to do so because of a foundation of some type.
  • It is a struggle to replace aging clergy. It is true for Protestants and Roman Catholics.

Seminary enrollment for all flavors of theological discipline is down. Emerging leaders today are not concerned with institutional maintenance but with missional effectiveness. This preference is a focus on ministry by the church rather than ministry in the church that is largely confined to existing members.

Mission is our non-negotiable task. The Great Commission of Matthew 28 makes that very clear.


Friday, June 30, 2017

"Fear Not"

Faith is acting upon some glorious assumptions. As a Christian, I believe that in Jesus Christ, events are altered, lives are changed, relationships healed, and love proves stronger than hate.

Sun Kyi from Myanmar said that it is not power that corrupts but fear. The Bible allegedly has 365 “Fear Nots!” That’s one for every day. Isaiah 43 reads, “Fear not, I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine.” In my experience, faith is not belief without proof but trust without reservation.

Trust always embraces the risk of betrayal. There is such a thing as External Trust – that is between institutions and participants. There is also such a thing as Internal Trust which suggests credibility and respect among staff.

Forbes Magazine pointed to the Edelman Trust Barometer; only 18% of those surveyed trust business leaders to tell the truth. Gallup reports that only one in five Americans trusts their primary bank.  Price Waterhouse Coopers said that the number one differentiation factor between the top innovators and the bottom innovators was trust.

Our nation suffers from a deficit of trust, not a deficit of resources. Sadly, trust is easily destroyed by hypocrisy. To most of us, trust is more important than pay or perks.

Proverbs 3:5-6 has it, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”


Friday, June 23, 2017

"The Wisdom of Peter Drucker"

Peter Drucker was the guru of management consultants. He helped reorganize non-profits like The Salvation Army. He regularly provided counsel to the corporate world, such as General Motors. Drucker was not hesitant to express his Christian perspective. As an Episcopalian, he appreciated the formality of their liturgy. He was an Austrian and spoke English with a strong accent. Often, he travelled the world on business but would make a gigantic effort to attend his small group.

Early in my ministry, in the midst of much frustration with the Church, somebody recommended Drucker’s book, “The Effective Executive”. What a revelation! To this day I am grateful for the help that book provided.

He taught me that leaders do things not by default but by design. I heard him say, “Focus only on those things that will make a big difference if successful.” It is clear that leaders have the ability to set something vibrating in others. Drucker suggested that the toughest job in America is to be the President of the United States. The second toughest job is to be the Chancellor of a major University. Think of all the entities that person must deal with, appease and lead. The third toughest job is to be the Administrator of a major hospital. Just imagine the parking issues that person must handle. According to Drucker, the fourth toughest job is to be the pastor of a large multiple-staff church. The man was brilliant.

I added to his list a number five. The fifth toughest job is to be married to any of the above.


Friday, June 16, 2017


Transparency in our culture is often viewed as weakness. We fear our emotions. Not only is it true of grief but also at all of life’s difficult intersections. Guilt, faith, anger, love, fear, success or failure all can bring a storm of emotion we cannot control or disguise. Repression of our emotions is a cultural expectation. However, an emotion such as anger is not easily repressed. It often emerges in some other form; sleeplessness, disturbing dreams, compulsive behavior, headaches, spastic colon and ulcers. Saving face is not in the Biblical record.

Artists of all kinds have to risk unveiling themselves. They open themselves to deep, personal emotion. They risk rejection or indifference.

Remember when Socrates drank the hemlock, he sent the workers away and proceeded to admonish Apollodorus for bursting into tears.

The Bible says, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” In other words, “Don’t go to bed mad.”  Better to get up and candidly deal with it, the demanding emotions, rather than try to sleep on it.  Repression of feelings must not be accepted as the cultural standard. How we express those feelings without causing collateral damage is of utmost importance.

You are made in the image of God; body, mind, and spirit. All three of these human aspects are uniquely integrated. We are also a complex mix of knowledge, will, and emotions. The Savior said, “I have come that you might have life and that more abundantly.”  John 10:10


Friday, June 9, 2017

"Fifteen Minutes Each Day"

I do not intend to reduce our interaction with God to a boring, perfunctory routine. However, I do practice and believe in a daily devotional routine. There are 96 fifteen-minute packages in every day.

Take fifteen minutes each day to realign your agenda to God’s redemptive program: five minutes for reading the Bible, five minutes for reflection on the Scriptures, and five minutes for prayer. Spiritual habits have proven to be productive. I know they can become more rote than real. This practice, when consistently maintained, becomes second nature to us.

‘Virtue”, writes the popular Anglican, N.T. Wright, “is what happens when wise and courageous choices have become ‘second nature’.” Spiritual discipline helps to immerse us in the sea of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

Ruth Haley Barton in Sacred Rhythms wrote,  “I cannot transform myself, or anyone else for that matter. What I can do is create the conditions in which spiritual transformation can take place, by developing and maintaining a rhythm of spiritual practices that keep me open and available to God.”
No, I am not a promotor of the drudgery of habit. To seek a sense of the presence of the Lord each day can open you to fresh surprises of God’s grace.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"Visit to the Holy Land"

My first visit to the Holy Land was in 1964. I know, that sounds like ancient history. Fortunately, I have made many such trips since. What has it done for me? When I read the Bible I can visualize all those geographical settings and names. There are over twenty-five thousand sites mentioned in the Bible that archeologists have explored. My visits to Jordan and Israel have made the Scriptures credible. Names like the Jordan River, Tiberias, Sea of Galilee, Jericho, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Masada, Qumrum, the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, and Bethlehem all come alive.

No, I am not leading a Holy Land trip this year. However, my Presbyterian pastor friend, Dr. Jay Coker, Interim Pastor at Mallard Creek Presbyterian, is! He has led numerous tours of the Holy Land. This is a first-class trip, November 27 through December 6, 2017.  If you are interested, I can assure you Jay (910-818-9535) or his wife, Sharon (910-309-0177), can give you the details. I recommend these folks to you without any hesitation.

This educational tour will be loaded with inspiration as well. This adventure is worthy of your consideration. If this is on your bucket list, check it out!


Friday, May 26, 2017

"The Skill of Curiosity"

Korn Ferry is a huge job placement firm. We call them “Head Hunters”. Korn Ferry has over 7,000 employees in 50 countries. In other words, when it comes to hiring people, they know what they are talking about.

A college degree or an advanced degree is a must to succeed in our culture. Science, engineering, or math degrees are tickets to opportunity. A degree in philosophy may affirm that a person is intelligent and articulate but they will find a cool reception from the job market. The work force is specialized and becoming more so almost daily. Digital skills are of primary importance, not philosophy.

For a person to succeed in our economy, what is the most important skill? According to Korn Ferry, it’s curiosity. The sophisticated crowd calls it “learning agility”. It is characterized as an insatiable appetite to discover, learn and broaden one’s cultural menu. The hirers say that the number one predictor of success is learning agility. How fascinated is this person with broadening their perspective on life? Curiosity is a huge asset. The hard skills are a must. They too change and evolve.

The reality is that curiosity will enable the next big thing. Curiosity about the meaning of life is part of our challenge too. The Psalmist said, “O taste and see that the Lord is good.”


Thursday, May 18, 2017

"Live A Life of Integrity"

Warren Buffet said this to all of us in leadership roles: “Leaders must have integrity, intelligence, and energy. Without integrity and intelligence, energy is useless!”

To live a life of integrity you live not by default but by design. For the Christians, that design is set out in Proverbs 3: 5-6; “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

To be a leader, you are sensitized to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. You stop thinking about what you can achieve and instead think about what you can contribute. I enjoy the word “imperturbability”. What does it mean? Grace under pressure. When stress rushes in, my prayer is that I can exhibit something of God’s grace. Practicing the Christian faith is always a mixture of grit and grace. Grit is that tenacity that outweighs the adversity in which I find myself immersed.

When I make a time commitment, I try hard to be on time, start on time, and end on time. I believe that too is an expression of integrity. Pastors attend hundreds of meetings ever year. Integrity surfaces in how we use our time. There are 168 hours in every week. The Bible says we are to redeem the time. Most of us spend upwards of forty hours a week in front of a screen of some kind. By any stretch of the imagination can we label screen time as redeeming the time? There are ninety-six fifteen minute blocks in every day. I try not to waste fifteen minutes at any time during my waking hours.  Time is not only a precious commodity but also a gift of God.

Hopefully, integrity shines through in our stewardship, work ethic, worship, compassion, and expressions of forgiveness. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  The Bible does not say pick one! As Christians, we are to exhibit all nine of the characteristics of the infilling of the Holy Spirit.


Friday, May 12, 2017

"What is Your Favorite Psalm?"

He looked me in the eye and said, “So, you’re a preacher. What is your favorite Psalm?”  Fortunately, I didn’t blink. I fired back, “Psalm 8.”  Naturally, his next question was, “Why?”

As I grow older, I am cognizant that I no longer pursue the fast lane the way I once did. Psalm 8 speaks to the value God places on us no matter our stage in life. This Psalm starts and ends with the same affirmation: “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” David uses “our” instead of “my”. He speaks on our behalf.  I love his use of the word “majestic”, meaning great and high. God is no tribal deity but the Lord of all.

David draws a stark contrast between all of creation with its wonder and the vulnerability of humankind. “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”  Is the author really suggesting that Almighty God actually cares for us and pays attention to us?  Surely, running the universe is all-consuming. Yet, the Word of God says we are not forgotten, not ignored, and not overlooked.

Psalm 8 puts life in proper perspective for me. It is humbling to imagine that the Lord of life actually knows me and loves me. When we pray, God actually listens. Our cries for help do not arrive to the Lord’s ear as irritants!

I see God’s grace in Psalm 8. Grace is God’s unconditional love for those who don’t deserve it. This Psalm is a promise that God’s grace in Jesus Christ is always greater than our need.