Archive for March, 2011
Here’s an interesting article concerning giving trends in American churches from USA Today. You can read the article here.
Last week I Googled a recipe for a chocolate cake, made from scratch. The recipe was surprisingly simple:
3/4 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
After these ingredients are blended together, the recipe calls for an additional 1 cup of boiling water to be added to the batter. After combining the ingredients and the water, the batter is to be poured into a greased and lightly floured cake pan, then baked at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes.
The thing that struck me was that most of the ingredients in the chocolate cake are not fit for consumption by themselves. Who reaches into the pantry for a big scoop of shortening or a bowl of flour for a snack? No one. Most of the ingredients alone are bitter, but when combined, they make something wonderful.
Now think about your adversity. Those life challenges can be bitter when consumed alone. But God has a marvellous way of bringing them together with “time” and “heat” to create something beautiful. Don’t get lost in the bitterness of the ingredients that accompany adversity. Instead, focus on the product that is produced by the loving hand of a God who is good.
Yesterday I posted the first observation from Joseph’s life regarding how to have a “can do” spirit in a “no you can’t” world which was to count your blessings. The second observation is to ask better questions concerning life’s interuptions. When adversity strikes, our first natural line of questioning is along the lines of…
…”How could this have happened to me?”
…”Why did this happen to me?”
…”What did I do to deserve this?”
…”Now what am I going to do?”
…”Where is God in all of this?”
Our attitudes often reflect the questions we ask. A couple of weeks ago I came across a blog post by Michael Hyatt, who suggested seven better questions to ask when facing difficult, uncertain times. Here is my adapted list that I offered last weekend in worship.
1. What if this isn’t the end but rather a new beginning? (Remember, break throughs are always break withs!)
2. What if the answer to my prayer is just over the next hill?
3. What if this is necessary in order for me to be prepared for the next important chapter of my life?
4. What if this is exactly what I need to experience in order to develop my character for a greater opportunity?
5. What if God is speaking to me through a means I would not have chosen for a blessing I cannot see?
6. What does this experience make possible?
7. What will I be telling my children and my grandchildren that I learned that was invaluable in this season of my life?
Those are great questions that will help shape your attitude when you face uncertainty and adversity!
In his book, The Good and Beautiful God, James Bryan Smith tells the story of a business leader who used an illustration to teach his team a valuable lesson. The leader went to the white board and drew a big, black circle. He asked his team what they saw. To the person, they replied, “A black spot.” “Anything else?” he inquired. ” The black spot was all they saw, nothing else.
“What about all of the white space around the spot?”
The point of the illustration is this: we can become so consumed by the problems that enter our lives that we can miss all of the good that surrounds the problem. Like the business team, we can also fall prey to focusing on our adversity to the degree that it renders us blind to all of the good in life.
When is the last time you did a blessings inventory? How many blessings can you list off the top of your head? Eight or ten? Could you do eight or ten pages of blessings? What about eight or ten legal pads? If we took the time and expended the energy to conduct an exhaustive blessing inventory, I suspect that our list would consume an amount closer to eight or ten legal pads than eight or ten pages. It really puts into perspective that nasty old spot in the center of the white board.
If you’re going to maintain a “can do” spirit in a “no you can’t world,” begin with the blessings of God. Don’t begin with your adversity. Your adversity is one thing floating on top of a sea of the good things of God.
My first full time ministry position required me to wear a white shirt and tie each day I was in the office or whenever the church gathered in worship. That wasn’t too big of a deal, other than the fact I had a bad habit: I’d put my pen in my shirt pocket without the lid which would leave a nice, round ink spot at the base of the pocket. I don’t know how many shirts I ruined that way!
Unless you’re unusually neat, you’ve probably ruined a garment with ink, paint, or food. Even with the remarkable breakthroughs we’ve had with detergents and stain fighting agents, many of those garments still bear the shadow of the stain. For all intents and purposes, the garment is ruined. Even if we are the only ones who know of the faint spot, we become reluctant to wear it any more, so we throw it out.
I think many people view their lives that way. Whenever their untarnished lives become soiled, their first response is to feel, “My life is ruined!” But is that really true?
This weekend in worship I concluded my series on the life of Joseph with what I believe to be the most important verse in the story. Joseph’s final word is found in Genesis 50:20, which says, “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result–the survival of many people” (Genesis 50:20, HCSB). I think that statement is more than his summation of his life. I think it was his philosophy of life that sustained him through his years of adversity.
Joseph had some pretty serious stains on his life, but he didn’t quit and he didn’t settle as a victim of fate. He focused on the good and remained hopeful. This week I want to wrap up my posts on Joseph by looking further into his final word. I believe Joseph’s example teaches us how to have a “can do” spirit in a “no you can’t world.” Stay tuned!
The other compelling byte from The New Metrics article written by Lois Swagerty (Leadership Network) is the suggestion that success in today’s church is ultimately measured by stories that are being told. Here’s an excerpt:
“For many leaders, the new scorecarding all comes down to the stories. For John Seybert it’s simple. ‘The way you measure success is by stories,’ he says. ‘If you can’t get together in a meeting and roll stories off the tip of your tongue, then you’re not having success.’ You can always fake stats, but you can’t fake stories.”
What kind of stories are being told in your church?
How often are stories being told?
What kind of stories do you want to hear, and how do you get there?
One of the hottest topics among church consultants and those who coach church health is the question “How do we measure success in the church during the 21st century?” The last century’s measuring stick was pretty simple: attendance, baptisms, and cash. Those quantifiable standards could quickly assess whether or not a church was growing, but left everything to the imagination concerning those pesky, intangible health issues. Now, the continued shift from attractional models to missional models has increased the demand for a new scorecard.
Brent Clark shared an article with me this week from Leadership Network by Lois Swagerty that discusses the “New Metrics” for measuring and evaluating church growth and church health. In the article, Swagerty cited Pastor Greg Finke of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Houston, TX, (www.gdlc.org) who has developed five diagnostic questions to help his church measure progress. I found them to be excellent and wanted to pass them along to you today.
Question 1: How do you see God at work in your life?
Question 2: What is God teaching you in his word?
Question 3: What conversations are you having with pre-Christian people?
Question 4: What good can we do around here (our community)?
Question 5: How can we help you in prayer?
Those are questions that measure health and progress beyond the old metric which was basically centered around attendance and tithing. Imagine what could take place in our churches if we changed the tone of the conversations with our members through five diagnostic questions such as these being asked at Gloria Dei. Is it possible that a church, regardless of its size, could see past success and begin moving toward significance?
First, I believe a spoken blessing should instill faith. The person who blesses is able to see the work of God in another person’s life and point it out. He or she observes Christ-likeness and the marks of the image of God and blesses the faith within.
Second, I believe a spoken blessing should add value to a person, affirming their potential and encouraging them to strive to build upon their potential. The blessing should stir up the passions and the gifts of the recipient, helping them to see their purpose for life and affirming their role in the Kingdom of God.
Next, the spoken blessing should affirm character. We give compliments that affirm what we do. But blessings affirm what we are and encourage us to live our lives with godly character.
Finally, the spoken blessing empowers the future by pointing to the God possibilities in life. It assists others by empowering them to rise above what others say can’t be done and to focus on what God says can be done.
What would happen to our families, our friends, and even our co-workers if we spoke blessings instead of cursings? Our tongues are like keys that unlock the potential of God within others. My prayer for you today is that you will identify one person in your life to bless, and that you will give them a gift that is greater than anything money can buy.
Spoken blessings have the power to enhance, enrich, and empower the life of another person.
In the Old Testament, blessings had three characteristics:
(1) They were conveyed from the greater to the lesser, such as a parent to a child or a king to a nation.
(2) The blessing spoke of divine favor that resulted in well being or productivity, such as fertility, good crops, peace, and length of life.
(3) The blessing acknowledged that all power and blessing stems from the creator. All blessings find their source in God’s love.
In the New Testament, the emphasis shifts from the material to the spiritual; from temporal to eternal.
The words we speak over another person’s life can serve as a building block or a stumbling stone that has to be overcome.
If our words have such power, then why don’t we bless others? I think there are at least three reasons. You can probably think of more. The first reason we are reluctant to bless other is simply pride. We live in a day of shameless self promotion. We are far more interested in blessing ourselves than blessing others, even if our self afflicted blessing comes at the expense of others.
The second reason is our spirit of competition. We have a need to be first and best. Everyone wants to be a “winner,” and in true competition there can only be one winner.
The third reason is our drive to duty and performance. We relate to and evaluate others based on a sense of duty rather than devotion. We are more task oriented than relationally oriented because that is how our culture operates. “Do your duty” is the mantra of the west.
To summarize, we don’t bless one another because it’s not natural. Pride, competition, and duty are all very natural behaviors and characteristics. Blessings appeal to a higher level than the natural order of things. It’s supernatural!
Tomorrow I’ll wrap up this week’s series and offer a post that describes the characteristics of the spoken blessing.
Jacob knew the power of the spoken blessing. After all, think of all he did to obtain his father’s blessing! (cf. Genesis 25:27-34; Genesis 27:1-40) When Jacob became aware that his time on earth was coming to a close, he called his family together to bless them. In Genesis 48 he blessed Joseph’s sons, and then in Genesis 49 he blessed each of his 12 sons according to their birth order. The blessings he spoke to his sons are framed by two descriptive verses:
“Then Jacob called together all his sons and said, ‘Gather around me, and I will tell you what will happen to each of you in the days to come’” (Genesis 49:1, NLT)
“These are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said as he told his sons good bye. He blessed each one with an appropriate message” (Genesis 49:28, NLT).
Blessings are an important part of the Bible. The word is used more than 160x in the first five books of the Bible alone. In the Old Testament, words of blessing were powerful and prophetic. The blessing contained elements that were able to foresee and shape the future; to change situations and alter circumstances.
How powerful are your words?
How responsible are you with your words?
Can you really shape the life of another person with the words that you use?
We have become a society that affixes labels to virtually everyone: conservative, liberal, moderate, fundamentalist, smart, empty suit, athletic, musical, redneck, generous, stingy, fat, or skinny to name a limited few. Once those labels get affixed, they stick remarkably well.
I have come to think of the act of blessing others as “affixing a positive label on a person’s life.” This week I’m posting excerpts from this weekend’s message titled, “The Power of the Spoken Blessing.” I want to invite you to follow along. You might just wind up changing a life in the process!