It only happens once a year, but gratefully it happens every year. Consistently and faithfully this day becomes an anchor of our childhood, our family memories, and on a much larger scale, even our faith. This one day that is different than the other 364. It seems that nearly everything about our culture and society has shifted, but this one day has some how withstood the crushing avalanche of change. The times and seasons change. For instance, I haven’t noticed a fight over Cabbage Patch dolls this year or people being trampled by a mob in search of Tickle Me Elmo. The times and seasons change, but Christmas day is a tide of consistency. In fact, this one day in December now casts a long shadow all the way into the month of October. October seems a tad early for Christmas music, but I sometimes watch Christmas movies in July so who am I to judge. Here’s a spoiler alert for that Christmas movie you are going to watch, it’s going to snow and everything works out in the end. Our economy still very much revolves around this one day. Our retail stores depend on one Friday in November to put them in the black. We call it Black Friday. It should be noted that it’s only Black Friday for Gap and Banana Republic. It’s probably Red Friday for the consumers. It’s still a wonder to me that a sizable portion of the economy of one of the most powerful and wealthy nations the world has ever known revolves around the birth of a baby in a small city called Bethlehem 2000 years ago. It’s not just commerce, but even our calendar hinges on this one day. Vacations and trips are planned, parties and family gatherings are set in motion. The season struggles to contain all of the activity that we try to cram into it. It would sometimes seem easier to negotiate peace in the Middle East than to negotiate which side of the family gets the Grandkids on Christmas morning. I honestly don’t know how long this will last for our society in general. It seems like our culture tries to reject anything to do with God, even his birthday. Yet, this day still influences the world around us. We all still spend a little more than we should, rush a little more than we should, so that we can stop, at least for this one day. Stop to share gifts, stop to share family time, and stop just to reflect. This one day becomes a birthday party celebrated the world over. How powerful is that? An event that happened 2000 years ago is still shaping and influencing the world around us. So what happened on this one day that made it more marvelous than all others.
Many people believe in Karma. It’s the idea that what you “put out” into the universe is what you will receive back. For instance, if you kick a Grandmother in the shin then someone will kick your Grandmother in the shin. Which raises the question, why are you kicking anyone in the shin, let alone a Grandmother? Which raises another question for me, is there any truth to this mystic belief? I believe the full idea of Karma is off kilter, but I also believe a portion of it is very true. The reason I believe it is true is because God is the originator of the laws of seed time and harvest. The bible clearly teaches the principle of “sowing and reaping.” This principle teaches that my words, decisions, and actions are seeds that produce a harvest. In fact, Paul said:
7 Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. 8 Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. 9 So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.
Here are a few things to consider about sowing and reaping:
1. Sow with faith and expectation – Every time we give we should understand that we are sowing a seed into an everlasting kingdom. In fact, according to Acts 10 our giving creates a memorial before God. Not only should we expect to see a harvest in this life, but we should also expect to see a harvest in the life to come. Only eternity will fully reveal the results of our giving and generosity.
2. Sow with a right spirit – Faith is never coerced. For an act of kindness, an encouraging word, or an offering to truly be a seed that carries a harvest it must come from a willing heart and a right spirit. The scriptures teach us “the Lord loves a cheerful giver.” Let’s create a healthy harvest for ourselves by doing the right things with the right attitude and believing God for the right harvest at just the right time.
3. Don’t give up – There is a harvest of blessing! Paul never questions the harvest, his only question is whether or not we will get weary. My prayer is that you are encouraged to be faithful during this journey that we are own. I used to be impressed with people that I perceived to have big faith. The older I get the more impressed I am with people who are simply faithful. Don’t get weary in being faithful because there is a harvest of blessing.
I’m an avid social media user. In the early days of CoastLife Church we had no money for advertising or letting people know about our church. We barely had money for things like electricity and insurance. With no budget to use for typical means of advertisement we went to Facebook. It’s been a great tool to connect with our community. Did I mention that its free? Like most things there are pros and cons to social media. The same platform that helps get information out to large amounts of people instantaneously also creates disagreements and arguments. This started out as rules of engagement for the leaders at CoastLife Church, but I thought it might be helpful to others as well. Here are my 10 commandments of social media:
1. Use it – 1 billion people used Facebook in one day recently. There are 5 million more people who have a smart phone than a tooth brush. I have personally received friend requests from people who are homeless. People from all walks of life are on Facebook. We are called to reach, encourage, love, and inspire people. There is no better medium for this today than social media. Use it.
2. Be careful with politics – Ed Stetzer once said, “when you mix religion and politics you get politics.” I don’t personally endorse any candidates. My ministry is to people from across the political spectrum. If you aren’t careful with politics you will end up being the mouthpiece of a political party instead of being a minister to the people of all parties. You shouldn’t have to belong to a particular political party to feel welcomed at Church. It’s a fine line. I believe Christians should be engaged and active in the world, but I also believe we are called to serve people. All people, not just the ones who agree with us politically. I’m afraid if we aren’t careful we will win in our politics and lose in our purpose of reaching people.
3. Endeavor to keep unity – Division is a tool of Satan. Satan uses Facebook as well. Social Media allows every issue to be discussed and many times there is more than one side to the issue. No one wins when there is division in the body of Christ. Endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
4. Avoid foolish debates – Those are the Apostle Paul’s words and not mine. However, he probably had a prophetic vision of Facebook when he penned those words. Somethings just aren’t worth the time to engage them. Be careful about getting lured into a discussion that simply just doesn’t matter. If the whole world operated by this principle Fox News and CNN would only be on air about 2 hours a day.
5. Maintain correct doctrine – There are many different ideologies out there today. There are tons of motivational and inspirational quotes floating around. But there is only one source of timeless truth and that is the Word of God. If it doesn’t line up with scriptural doctrine don’t post it, don’t like it, don’t share it. The world is held captive under darkness, don’t help spread that darkness. Jesus really is the way, the truth, and the life. Share him, share the word in a life giving, grace filled way.
6. Don’t manipulate – Don’t heap guilt on people. Don’t shame people. For heavens sake, don’t try to be a religious bully. I’m tired of people trying to manipulate others. Now, prove how much you love Jesus by liking, sharing, and commenting on this blog.
7. Be loving towards non christians – It saddens me sometimes to see people struggle through life without Christ. It angers me sometimes when people post things that are offensive towards Christianity. Social Media is a place where people can flippantly say things in a thoughtless moment that they would never say directly to a person. I’ve seen things that both hurt and angered me. However, if I only love people who think like me, then the genuine love of Christ is not in me. Even the world loves those that think like them. It is the true benchmark of Christianity to love even our “enemies.” If someone is a serial offender I may unfriend them, but that is an extreme case for me. As much as I hate to see what they post, they need to see what I post. The love of Christ does prevail even over the most extreme of cases. Remember, no one was ever reached by being out debated or perhaps insulted.
8. Don’t go negative – Is there anything praiseworthy, anything lovely, of good report? Post about these things. Our speech is to be with grace. Especially when we are posting to the masses.
9. Never publicly speak against a church, church leader, or fellow Christian. Never. – The largest group of unfriended people for me are believers who speak negatively of other Churches, Pastors, or Christians. You don’t win when another Pastor or Church fails or gets caught in a scandal, only the enemy does. So why be a part of tearing someone down? When an accusation or rumor is stirred about a Church, Pastor, or fellow believer we need to use extreme caution in what we post. If you don’t know them personally don’t speak about it. If you do know them personally than deal with it personally and not on Social Media. Again, no one wins when a Church, Pastor, or Christian fails. I really believe we will answer for our social media posts in eternity when we take a shot at the “mega” Church or Pastor because we don’t like what they said or did. The kingdom of God isn’t advanced through that stuff only the kingdom of Satan.
10. Don’t forget to be genuine and personal – Here’s an idea. Why don’t you let people into your non Pinterest life? No, don’t post pics of your dirty undies in the laundry hamper. But not every pic has to be of a cappuccino with a perfect design and an inspirational quote. Not every post should be a deep and revelatory thought. You probably don’t walk around all day in the 7th heaven full of inspiration and revelation with a perfect cup of coffee. Post about sports, post about family, post something funny, post about whatever, just try to take people on an authentic journey of your life.
Part of me believes the 24 hour news channels will be the undoing of our society. How can there be that much to talk about? The truth is there isn’t, so issues are created and then debated. Every day you can hear people arguing and debating about a different issue facing our country. I personally believe bare knuckle boxing would be a better way to settle these issues. After pummeling one another you could both hug and leave with a better appreciation for the other. I think I could make Tom Brokaw see things my way now that he’s gotten older and his right hook isn’t what it used to be. I’m all for discussion and I’m also for being an informed citizen. There are very real issues facing our society and our global community. However, do we really need 24 hours to discuss the real issues? Ultimately it seems to always end up with a “news anchor” in the center screen with a democrat and republican in their respective places arguing talking points that were agreed to by a think tank long before the segment was recorded. It’s just not genuine. We consume the talking points and then march to social media to express our opinions, which very surprisingly is shared by some and not shared by others. Who knew that people would have varying opinions? Think about this for a moment if you will. Twenty four hours a day. 24 hours. That would be a big 2 and 4. The news cycles, the social media scrolls. Opinion, debate, issue after issue rolls like waves constant and consistent. Then we wonder why we feel overwhelmed, anxious, and maybe even depressed. There is a tremendous amount of wisdom in the ancient, biblical principle of the Sabbath. I realize that it was a day of no work to honor God, but I believe the principle can be expanded. The Sabbath was a strategic, scheduled, and much needed rest. I really believe having a strategic plan and scheduling a break from all news and social media could help save your soul. Not turning a blind eye to the issues that we are dealing with. Not being uninformed and living in blissful ignorance. Just a scheduled time to disconnect from the exhausting debate to reconnect with something that will restore your soul.
1. Disconnect to Reconnect with God
When was the last time you spent time in the presence of God? A time to not just submit a list of needs or power through a few verses, but time to sit and listen. Sitting still long enough for the typical mind waves to become smaller ripples. Being quiet enough that the voices of tv, radio, and social media grow more and more distant until they are silent. Somewhere beyond all of those voices is the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. Speaking life, speaking dreams, speaking hope. Your soul will be restored when you hear that voice. But you will never hear it while the voices of the republican/democrat debate roar in your mind. Disconnect to reconnect.
2. Disconnect to Reconnect with your spouse
There is a sweet little thing in very close proximity to you. Yes, your husband may not be Chuck Norris, but go spend time with him anyway. My wife and I don’t always have it in the budget to do an expensive dinner or night out. Coffee is cheap, so is ice cream and they are both pretty good. We enjoy getting to drink coffee together and then strolling through stores or along the beach. No, it’s not fair that we have a local beach and others don’t, but life is rough sometimes. The point is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to spend time together. Not only will it be good for your marriage it will be good for your soul.
3. Disconnect to Reconnect with your kids
When was the last time you let your kids set the agenda for the night? Here are the rules, we can do anything (within reason) that you want to do as long as it doesn’t involve TV, IPad, or Kindle. This is usually where they say let’s go to Disney, and I remind them of the “within reason” rule. Usually it ends up as a game night, a bike ride night, or a trip to the park. On a recent evening we were walking back from our local park. The sun was low so the rays were streaming sideways through the trees. The beams illuminating the dancing particles in the air creating a heavenly backdrop for our lives. I fell a little bit behind so I could watch my son and daughter walk ahead of me. I loved them more. Appreciated them more deeply. It’s amazing how Fox News, CNN, and Facebook doesn’t help with that.
4. Disconnect to Reconnect with a friend
Don’t forget to be relational. We say things on social media we would never say to a person if they were sitting across a table from us. For one reason it would be weird to respond to a joke with ROFL. Your friend says something funny, you look back across the table with a straight face and say, “LOL.” Never underestimate the power of spending time with a friend. Talk about God, talk about church, talk about family, talk about life, heck, even talk politics if you want to. The point is to disconnect from the disingenuous and connect with real, authentic relationships.
These things are all good for your soul. They disconnect you from the wired world, but that doesn’t just typically occur. Develop a strategy for life that disconnects you from what drains you, and reconnect to what restores you.
I once preached in a small church in rural Missouri (pronounced Miz-zour-a). There was a time in my life when I traveled and preached quite a bit. So every service would be a different church in a different town or state. After a while you sort of learn to roll with the customs of each particular church. On this night I rolled in to realize that for starters I was way over dressed. This church was casual and not just casual, but country casual. I had left my Levi bootcut jeans at the store somehow. In those days my typical preacher attire was a suit and tie. Being nimble of mind, I quickly nixed the tie so that my top button open dress shirt might create unity with this Levi wearing crowd. How good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity and all of that. I didn’t remove my jacket, I never remove my jacket once wearing one. That’s too high of a price to pay for unity to me for some reason. But I digress. Several of the men of the church welcomed me when I arrived and by welcome I mean stood around me trying to determine if I indeed was going to “bring the heat” at this service. One of the men, the older one, decided to provide some leadership for the questions and encouragement that was being offered to me. Evidently one eye was better than the other because when he would make a statement he would twist his head to put his “good eye” on me. At first, it was some statements about “take your liberty” or “do what you feel led tonight.” I’ve never stepped into a pulpit without knowing exactly what I intended to do. Not for sure if that’s considered liberty or not, but I assured him with as much Holy Ghost gusto that I could manage that I would indeed take my liberty. Not satisfied at all, he did the head turn and a little bit of a chin tuck so the good eye would really be prominent. I pause to say, at this point I realized that his admonishment to do what I felt led was really a hope that I would do what he felt led. Back to the good eye, now squinting with spiritual intensity. Looking up from the hypnotizing Holy Spirit stare he said, “tell us what we need to hear, you go ahead and skin our heads.” I was raised in this area of the country and speak the language, so I quickly translated this to understand that he was requesting some type of spiritual punishment at tonight’s service. With many words he admonished me, as the other two men supported him, to bring some type of spiritual spanking to the church. They were in the mood for some chastening on this Sunday evening. The request was odd, the excitement and fervor for it was really odd. I’m just not into that. I’m not judging you if you are. I’m just not into it. It got me thinking though and I have wondered about that mentality for a long time. The mentality that finds harsh words or heavy preaching to be enjoyable. Sort of a spiritual pleasure pain principle. Have you ever met someone who seemingly enjoyed feeling bad? For some it seems like it feels good to feel bad. The mentality seems to be “the worse I feel emotionally, the stronger I feel spiritually.” For those people or groups you can’t preach it hard enough. I’ve been in some church services and conference type meetings where a safe word probably should have been provided. Whether its guilt over behavioral issues, or despair over how dark the world is, it seems to make people feel godly to feel bad. I’m not against sorrow. The bible says that godly sorrow brings repentance. Of course, that same bible also says that it’s the goodness of God that leads people to repentance. We’ve all done some things we are sorry that we did. However, guilt never takes us anywhere. It’s the goodness of God that can lead us down a road where we are truly sorry and change our behavior. I’ve termed this phenomenon “Christian Guilt.” The idea that feeling bad, feeling guilty, feeling intense seems to put me on a higher spiritual plane. Happy people, hope filled people, optimistic people are spiritual novices. Intense, guilty, and doom filled people are the ones who appear to be the more spiritually “promiscuous” and experienced. We look to them from our innocence to introduce us to the pleasure world of Christian Guilt. There is actually good money to be made by making people feel bad. Many books have been sold and sermons preached on the premise of people should feel bad who have it too good, have too much money, or they are lazy and aren’t doing enough for God. I know what you are thinking. Actually, I don’t. This blog is filled with innuendo and I’m not for sure how that makes you feel. But, you should be thinking, “shouldn’t we be challenged or corrected?” That’s a great question and the answer is yes. We absolutely need to be disciplined and corrected in our spiritual lives. However, that discipline and correction should take us somewhere. Guilt, feeling bad, being intense all of the time never really produces any change. Something is wrong when you like to keep church spicy with spiritual discipline and enjoy either feeling or causing pain. Honest, life giving correction should lead us to 3 things:
1. Faith – The bible never denies the reality of negative circumstances. People have ungodly behavior that leads them into bondage. The world is full of very burdensome circumstances that try to take away your joy. It’s not spiritual growth to be angry and intense about the world and people of the world. It’s spiritual growth to have joy in spite of how dark the world is. Joy after all, and not intense anger, is a fruit of the Spirit. Jesus said, “in this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer I have overcome the world.” When talking about how dark people are, or how dark the world is, we should never stop until we have built people’s faith that Jesus has already overcome the world. You won’t get a cookie at the end of the age because of how dark and intense you were.
2. Grace – Here’s the deal. Guilt has never saved one person. Not one. No one has ever been guilted into salvation. On the other hand, all of us have been saved by grace. We don’t deny sin or the affects of sin. Sin is terrible. It separates us from God and all sin has consequences. We don’t deny the consequences of sin and even the sorrow it can bring. We also don’t leave people in guilt, we lead them to the grace of God. Guilt is an emotional prison, Grace is a never ending well.
3. Love – Love never fails. Prophecy will one day cease. Tongues will one day cease. Knowledge will vanish and be no more, but love will never fail. How bad will the world be? I really don’t know. How dark will the culture we live in be? I can’t answer that question either. I do know this though. Regardless of how bad the world is, and regardless of how dark our culture becomes, love will still never fail. Somewhere, in some tangible way, love will be prevailing. Abiding in all seasons will be faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these is love.
Perhaps you enjoy spiritual intensity. Perhaps the scripture of Jesus with a whip in the temple excites you. I’m not here to judge. Yes, we need to be corrected and yes, there are some things that are wrong in people and the world. However, we shouldn’t allow the world to rob us of our faith, hope, and love. There are a lot of different shades of church. Regardless of the shade, the world, people, you, me, we all need faith, hope, and love to grow in the grace of God. Let’s be life giving, and provide people with an atmosphere of grace to grow and change.
It’s amazing. Those Sundays seem to come every week whether I am prepared or not. Every week I take a day and half of another one to put together a sermon for the weekend. In addition, I spend time tinkering all the way up until late Saturday night. I know that is probably an astonishing amount of time for a 35 minute talk, but I need every bit of it. Even with that amount of time dedicated to a sermon it is still lacking some weekends. Not all of us can be Andy Stanley. In my case, I’m just shooting for at least Andy from Parks and Rec.
I’ve struggled to both change and improve my preaching. This certainly isn’t written as an expert, but just to share my struggle. Here are 3 things that I have come up with that I feel like have helped me improve.
1. Content before entertainment
No one wants to be the person that sees a bunch of glows on the faces of the people you are speaking to. No, I’m not talking about the glow that Moses experienced after being in the presence of God. I’m talking about the glow of an Iphone that is visible on the face of people when you are speaking from the pulpit. I’m sure they are searching scriptures on YouVersion and not scrolling through Facebook, but either way no one wants to be boring. If you aren’t careful you can end up losing your message in jokes, illustrations, and other things that are an attempt to make the sermon palatable. My practice is to take one study session to just put the content together for the message. Later, I will come back and look at the message to see how I can make it funny, or more enjoyable to listen to. At the end of the day, heck at the end of my life, I won’t be judged by how good my jokes were, but whether or not I taught people the Word of God.
2. Fresh not new
The bible says there is nothing new under the sun. When it comes to teaching scriptures, coming up with something new can be downright dangerous. Some new thought and suddenly everyone is in robes, head shaved, and drinking a big glass of kool aid. My job isn’t to teach anything new. It’s to take old truths and established principles, and make them fresh. With the Holy Spirit’s help, the job of a communicator is to bring the ancient scriptures into today’s issues of life and help make them relevant. This is probably the thing that I struggle with the most. Making scriptures applicable and helpful on Monday and not just inspiring on Sunday is much more difficult than it sounds. This is where we need the help of the Holy Spirit giving us wisdom to teach the Word of God. Paul told Timothy, “a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15 Amp). The struggle isn’t for something new, its for something fresh. Fresh comes from the Presence of God.
3. Helpful not original
It’s actually a form of spiritual pride to withhold helpful information from people because you didn’t come up with it. I once handed a small group lesson to a guy who promptly gave it back to me because he couldn’t teach anything that God didn’t give him. The problem is that the stuff God was giving him wasn’t very good or helpful. I guess God was just having writer’s block or an off day. His group fizzled because he couldn’t be humble enough to use other people’s material. I enjoy writing and speaking. I love developing content and sharing ideas. However, my main responsibility is to equip people with the word and help them live a victorious spiritual life. I’m a preacher not an artist. There is an art to preaching, but I can’t elevate art above the preaching. Give credit where credit is due if you use material from other people. (This blog was inspired by a blog from Hillsong) Let people know where you got it so they can get plugged into great resources that will hopefully help develop them spiritually as well. It’s great when I come up with something that I think and perhaps others think is really good. I hope that I am constantly learning and developing original material. However, it’s not about me. I’m here to serve people and I want to do that with the best material possible whether it’s mine or someone else’s.