Sunday, January 22, 2012

Finishing Well: A Reminder from Joe Paterno

Sunday Joe Paterno, the all-time winningest college football coach died after a battle with cancer at the age of 85. He coached the Penn State Nitanny Lions for 61 years (46 as head coach) winning 409 games, playing in 37 bowl games and winning two national championships.

Paterno will most likely be remembered as a man of determination and dedication to the sport, the University, his family and friends. Paterno will also be remembered for failing to do more in the protection of children that were allegedly abused by one of the members of his coaching staff. For all of his accomplishments and respect in the world of football, Paterno will also be remembered for being fired by the University for the child sexual abuse scandal.

It is hard to live life well and finish life well.

My family and friends began a journey January 1 of reading through the entire Bible in 2012. In these first few weeks several have commented to me, “I didn’t realize that the people in the Bible who did great things for God also committed such awful sins.”

It’s true. I tend to look at Moses and David as heroes in the faith. God used them in powerful and eternal ways. But they also committed terrible sins and finished life poorly.

For over a couple of decades now I’ve intentionally concerned myself with the challenge of how to live lovingly, adventurously, generously, holy and also finish well so that when I breathe my last I’ve not been an embarrassment to God, my family or my church. I’m not talking about sinless perfection but rather a consistent godliness that honors the Lord and encourages others.

I regularly meet with some men with the same heart. We’ve made a commitment to each other to be accountable. We confess our sins to each other. We pray for each other. We call each other whenever we think the needle on our heart-gauge is getting in the red zone of danger. We regularly exhort one another, “Let’s finish well.”

As a fan of college football I’ve admired Paterno for years and with respect to the game I probably will never forget him. I’ll also not forget the final few months of his life.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What Is Your Experience In Church?

Do you attend church? If so why? If not, why not?

Recently the Barna organization surveyed Americans who have attended church sometime in the past and discovered what they say about their experiences.

1. Connecting with God was most important. Around 66% said they have had a personal connection with God when attending a church. That would mean that roughly a third would say that they haven’t connected with God when attending a church. What’s more, those who said they have connected with God when in a congregational setting describe the encounter as rare.

What about you. How frequently do you connect with God when attending a church? What helps or hinders?

2. Experiencing Transformation or that life had been “greatly affected” by attending church was said by 26%. Another 25% said attending church had been “somewhat influential”. The other half said that their lives had not been changed at all by attending church.

This is an interesting factor. One of my passions is life transformation. I pray and serve people with the hope of seeing transformation. However I would probably say that I’ve experienced little if any transformation by attending church. I can be inspired, informed, encouraged, and equipped but the life change really comes when I put into practice the things I feel stirred about. Obedience to God changes my life.

3. Gaining New Insights was a disappointing factor in the survey. Asked to describe what insight they gained the last time they attended church 61% could not remember anything of significance related to faith.

This of course is one of the frustrating and perplexing realities to those who speak in church every week. I’ll typically spend a dozen hours preparing for a 25 minute talk which is similar to a lot of other pastors. Yet we know that many of the people listening attentively in the moment will not remember 95% of what they hear because they are not writing any notes or deciding on any action steps to take in light of what they have heard.

The rest of the story is that many of us don’t grow in our ability to communicate. Means of communication are exploding all around us yet the Sunday message can often be a talking head that seems to drone “blah, blah, blah, blah.”

4. Feeling Cared For measured whether church attenders felt significantly connected to other people at church. Around 68% said they feel like they are a part of the group. Another 23% opined that being at church feels “like a group of people sharing the same space in a public event but who were not connected in a real way.”

If a church has over 100 people and regularly has new guests showing up it’s difficult for everyone to connect with everyone. This is one of the reasons that I’m a strong proponent of small groups. When I have meaningful connections in my small group of a dozen people I then have a capacity to reach out to and connect with several people on Sunday. I don’t feel as great a need regarding who, if anyone is attempting to connect with me.

5. Helping the Poor was the final factor measured by the survey. The question was whether you believed your church prioritizes caring for the poor outside of the congregation. Adults who attended a church said their church cared a lot (44%) or somewhat (33%).

What’s your opinion about the way your church cares for the poor? What part do you play in caring for the poor?

The survey addressed additional influences on the above factors like church size, age of participants, and denominational affiliation that you can read about here.

I’ve served the church for 35 years. I’m very acquainted with how churches fall short of God’s calling and I’ve been blessed to experience the church at her best. Many find healing and hope through the church while others find it boring and irrelevant. Some have even been abused by the church.

Nevertheless, the church is a primary expression and experience of God in our world. I’m committed to see the church as a people and place that glorify God and edify people. I’m convinced that sacrificing my life on behalf of God’s work in and through the church is worth it.

What about you?

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

A Dead Duck and a Lesson in Forgiveness

We’ve launched into a New Year. Are you ready?

Like many others you may be taking up new commitments and resolutions, things that you’re going to add to your life. Of course we can only carry “so much” in life’s journey and the question becomes, “What are you going to let go of in order to take up the new things?”

Life is a series of trades. I trade in late night television so that I can rise early to pray or exercise. I trade in junk food for healthy food. I trade in careless spending for thoughtful stewardship.

How about trading in a little guilt and experiencing forgiveness?

There was a little boy visiting his grandparents on their farm. He was given a slingshot to play with out in the woods. He practiced in the woods; but he couldn't hit any target. Getting a little discouraged, he headed back for dinner. As he was walking back he saw Grandma's pet duck. On impulse, he let the slingshot fly, hit the duck square in the head and killed it. He was shocked and grieved!

In a panic, he hid the dead duck in the wood pile; only to see his sister watching. Sally had seen it all--but she said nothing.

After lunch the next day Grandma said, "Sally, let's wash the dishes." But Sally replied, "Grandma, Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen." Then she whispered to him, "Remember the duck?" So Johnny did the dishes.

Later that day, Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing and Grandma said, "I'm sorry but I need Sally to help make supper." Sally just smiled and said, "Well that's all right because Johnny told me he wanted to help, didn't you Johnny?" She whispered again, "Remember the duck?" So Sally went fishing and Johnny helped Grandma.

After several days of Johnny doing both his chores and Sally's, he couldn't stand it any longer. He finally went to Grandma and confessed that he had killed the duck.

Grandma knelt down, gave him a hug and said, "Sweetheart, I know. You see, I was standing at the window and I saw the whole thing. I was wondering how long you would let Sally make you her slave. I love you. I forgive you."

You know that God has seen and known all that you have done. Do you also know that He loves you and is ready to forgive you? Today would be a great day to pray, confess your sins to God, experience His love and forgiveness and trade in your guilt for a fresh start, not just on the year but in your journey with God.