Sunday, December 23, 2012

So That The World May Believe

The Christmas narrative taken out of the Gospel of Luke is an amazing story.  Many of us can close our eyes and easily hear Linus Van Pelt in the Charley Brown Christmas special speak so eloquently of the birth of Jesus.  He quotes in beautiful King James English just six verses that tell of the birth of the Messiah from the viewpoint of the shepherds.

There are many different viewpoints in the Gospel of Luke.  There is the story of Zechariah, a righteous priest, and his wife Elizabeth, both advanced in years who have a visit from the angel Gabriel who tells them that they will have a son who is to be named John. Gabriel said that John was to, “Prepare the people for the coming of the Lord”.

There is a similar story of the angel Gabriel who then later appears to the virgin named Mary and tells her that she has been chosen to be the mother of the Christ child.  About nine months later, the narrative picks up again from the viewpoint of Joseph and Mary, who travel by donkey from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem to obey the decree of Caesar Augustus that the entire world should be "registered."

These stories are famous because they speak of the one event that changed history forever. As Christians, we celebrate that annual feast as an yearly reminder of the birth of this Christ child that was to be the King of kings, the Savior of the world. 

It is at Christmas that we all move a little closer to that feeling and objective of Christian unity. Our denominational and silly parochial differences are set aside for a time.  Even if only for a brief season, this is the tangible expression of the unity of our faith. We are united in our faith in the birth of this Child that would ultimately give His life as a ransom for all mankind. 

Jesus prayed in John 17:21,”I pray that they may all be one. Father! May they be in us, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they be one, so that the world will believe that you sent me.”

We are truly one in faith. Let us remember that we have much more in common than we have in difference.  Our worship may be dissimilar, our creeds and some of our practices slightly different, however we are still to be one.....”so that the world will believe”.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Morning After

Back in 1973, new singer Maureen McGovern recorded a song for The Poseidon Adventure, one of the first of the not-so-big-budget disaster films. The song was a song of hope… “Oh, can't you see the morning after?  It's waiting right outside the storm. Why don't we cross bridge together? And find a place that's safe and warm"

Disasters happen.  Many of them go unnoticed because they are in a corner of the world that many people would just as soon forget.  Daily, there are hundreds of people that lose their life unexpectedly.  In the United States over 35,000 people are killed each year in highway accidents.

Nevertheless, the loss of innocent life is tragic.  Our hearts are moved when we hear of children being gunned down.   It seems senseless, tragic and meaningless.

When Jesus was born, the Bible says that Herod, the King of Judea was ‘exceedingly angry’.   Being angry and having power whether it is having soldiers at your command or an automatic weapon in your hands is not a good combination.  Herod commanded that all male babies in his district under two years old be put to death.   The Gospel of Matthew quotes the Prophet Jeremiah and writes, “A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.”  (Matthew 2:18)

Yet, the message of Christmas was and continues to be ‘Peace on Earth’.   The gospel of this Savior, born in Bethlehem is peace and His message is to bring hope and joy.  There was a morning of hope after that day of evil King Herod when babies were put to death just as there was a morning of hope after the crucifixion of Jesus at Calvary.  The same prophet Jeremiah who prophesied about the weeping for the children also told of a morning after,  "I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow". (Jeremiah 31

We have hope when we have the peace that passes understanding.   As believers in that peace, we are to share that hope and help others cross over and know that there is hope right outside the storm. 

Monday, December 03, 2012

Radical Faith

I’ve enjoyed being a radical for many years.

To my families surprise it had become true.  My wife and I represented those people that every family seemed to have at least one of that were a little different.  Once we discovered what God truly desired, our faith had become ‘radicalized’.  From our perspective, our behavior and attitudes were a normal reaction to being filled with the Spirit of the living God, the creator of the universe.  However, our families thought differently.

While we haven’t gotten any better, the family has gotten used to us and some have even joined us.   As I read the Bible I find lots of encouragement to live a radical life.    The Apostle James wrote, “22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:22-25)

The Gospel of Jesus Christ should turn not only your life but the world upside down.  Christian values and principles are so contrary to the rest of the world that everyone should immediately see the difference.

The Apostle Paul, like James' instruction above, tells us that we should be different from the rest of the culture.  This is how the Message Bible translates Romans 12:1-2.

“So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

Fitting in well to the culture is over-rated; God wants more from us!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tell the Story!

One of the things I used to teach my clients when I was a consultant was that one of the best ways of promoting your business to a potential investor or client is to tell the story!   I would have my clients practice their ‘elevator story’, which was a way of getting to the point of the story in the amount of time you would have to talk with someone on an elevator.   Similarly, one of the best ways to reach a neighbor, friend or co-worker for Christ is your personal testimony. You personal testimony is a story; it is not theology but simply how your human condition was changed when you accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior.

We just need to tell the story.  We likely don’t have all the answers. Telling the story doesn’t mean you have perfect recall of the theology the woman at the well said "I don’t know. Come and see. You tell me.. Is he the Christ?"  Consider also the blind man who was miraculously touched by Jesus. The religious establishment who were the supposed experts in theology was grilling him.  The once-blind man just gave a simple response: "One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!" (John 9:25, NIV).

If you note, while the Apostle Paul was extremely gifted in Hebrew and Greek and understood the wonderful theology that today has become our New Testament often he simply used his personal testimony when sharing the Gospel. You would think that this anointed and special Apostle,  a scholar who understood the scriptures would use logic and theology when sharing the gospel.  However, over and over again, before Roman governors and Jewish leaders, the Apostle Paul would simply tell the story of how he came to know Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord.

Note that Paul always talked about his condition BEFORE, the impact of a crucified and risen Jesus Christ and his life AFTER.

Paul gives a simple summation of this process in 1 Timothy 1:12-15:

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him, even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief.  Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus. This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.

What is your story?  Learn to be able to relate the sinner that you were, the condition that all men and women are in when they don’t know Christ.  The realization of the power of the Cross to forgive, redeem and restore and the impact that Jesus has had on your life.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Budget Time

Some firms budget better than others and while there are a lot of good things we can say about budgets, budgets are never fun.

While I’ve made a transition from the for-profit side of organizations to the non-profit side, I haven’t been able to escape some responsibility for the budget process.

Budgeting at the large multinational corporation I was employed with was a very exacting process. The controller’s office was constantly aware of both revenues and expenses and about every way performance could be measured; it was measured and measured frequently.

At the same time, the actual time spent by non-finance people working on budgets was minimal. As a manager I was responsible to review and submit my budget for approval; however, the size of my budget was rarely a consideration. We grew our budgets when revenues and the business plan dictated that we had sufficient opportunity to use the resources productively.

This is typically not true in our non-profit organizations. I’ve found the process to be completely different. For years I’ve struggled trying to determine why budgets in non-profits and our churches can be so frustrating and then I finally stumbled on the reason: It has nothing to do with competency as we have some fine financial types and plenty of bean-counters in the nonprofits. The difference is related to the nature of the non-profit and how fundamentally different it is from the for-profit.

I’m not talking about taxes or whether there is stock given to owners. No, the difference between a non-profit and a for-profit is all about revenues and expenditures.

Let’s take a for-profit organization first. Let’s assume we are talking about a pizza shop. In a pizza shop, like all other for-profit companies, there is a direct correlation between the sources of revenue and the expenditure of funds. The pizza shop buys dough, tomato paste, fresh ingredients; hires cooks and delivery employees; invests in ovens, menus, advertising and assorted other things; and rents a building to sell pizzas. All of the revenue that comes into the shop is a result of the sale of their pizzas. Easy!

This is not true for the non-profit. In most non-profits, revenue comes from contributions. In a church, that would be tithes and offerings, and in other non-profits it’s donations. The non-profit, however, needs to determine where to allocate the funds that are received. Often this is a completely subjective process despite being carefully considered. This process is often continually on the agenda through the year and there is a strong and often healthy competition for the limited resources that are provided. Since the needs and the mission of the organization are broad and typically never ending, there is a never-ending desire for additional revenue to meet organizational needs and mission desires.

The vast majority of the non-profit organizations are very careful with expenses, often getting great mileage out of every dollar spent. However, because there are few linkages between successful fund raising and the resourcing of projects and activities, much more effort and thoughtfulness is required on the allocation of the money through the annual budget process.

Reprint from ChurchExecutive Magazine October 2012 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Serve One

Have you ever wondered where you are going to get all of the volunteers you need in your ministry? If you are leading a volunteer workforce, you are in good company. The US Department of Labor reported that this past year (ending September) that there were 62.8 million people that were actively volunteering in some organization. These people came from all walks of life, all economic classes, some college, some not, all races, both genders, young and old. On average they spent about 52 hours in the past year volunteering, or about one hour a week.

While you may not remember all these numbers, remember the “one-hour a week.” Many churches have embraced “Worship one; Serve one” as a challenge to all of their members, engaging each one of them in a worship service and a serving opportunity, both likely about one hour a week.

We know that people volunteer for a variety of reasons. These range from identification with the values and mission of the organization and wanting to help, to a desire to get to know other people, make friends and find common interests. Regardless of the reasons given, our churches advance their mission when people identify with our mission and our calling.  Identifying the Great Commandment (to love one another) and the Great Commission (to make disciples of all nations) as our mission creates great opportunities for people to serve, make a difference and grow in their faith. Remember, people have opportunities to serve in all kinds of organizations but only the church can give them the opportunity to fulfill the mission Jesus gave His followers.

What is interesting also about one hour is that studies have shown that in about an hour, the average volunteer can be fully trained to perform the job for which they are assigned. The church jobs that volunteers fill range from some simple jobs like handing out the weekly bulletin or folding chairs to more complex tasks like making hospital rounds, supervising a nursery or mentoring inner-city youths.

What is unfortunate is that all too often, we don’t give these volunteers the one-hour of training that they need. This is unfortunate because the church is one big volunteer-run organization. Since the day of Pentecost, the vast majority of the leaders in the Church have been volunteers. Volunteers provide the invitation, the hospitality, the teaching, the training, the development and also the governance of most churches.

When training is inadequate, volunteers don’t get the opportunity to fully understand the importance of their role. Without proper training they can’t lead and without leadership the mission suffers.

Fortunately the best people to do the training are volunteers. We just need to give them the opportunity and let them know it is a priority; let them find the one-hour to train. Let them lead….62.8 million can’t be wrong.

The Real Virus Is Fear

There is a virus that is attacking and ravaging this country but it is not Covid-19.   It is fear.  This fear is being spread by people ...