See WHO at the pole?

Why is it that our churches are filled on Wednesday night or Sunday evening or whenever the youth gathering is, but when a call to corporal prayer and a sign of unity comes along, there is little to no presence at all?

Taken from the SYATP website.

For the last 25 years, See You at the Pole has been about one simple act—prayer. SYATP is still about students uniting themselves in prayer before God interceding for their generation.

There are two opportunities to unite in prayer with your friends:
DAY: SEE YOU AT THE POLE day is on Wednesday, September 28, at 7:00 a.m. local time. All around the globe, in every time zone, students will be gathering at their flagpoles, praying for their school, friends, families, churches, and communities. SEE YOU AT THE POLE is a day committed to global unity in Christ and prayer for your generation.
WEEK: The GLOBAL WEEK OF STUDENT PRAYER (Sunday, September 25 through Saturday, October 1) encourages students to find new and unique ways, places, and times to pray throughout the week. Whether you attend PUBLIC SCHOOL, PRIVATE SCHOOL, or HOME SCHOOL, gather your friends wherever and whenever and pray! The GLOBAL WEEK OF STUDENT PRAYER is dedicated to prayer and launching your on-campus Bible clubs, prayer strategies, and student ministries.

So we are in some desperate times folks. Some dire straits for sure.

I reposted a picture earlier on Facebook of a young boy standing at the flag pole at his school for See You At The Pole (notice the featured image). The dad said his son sat in prayer there despite no one else coming. This was not the only picture of a lone student standing by himself at the flag pole.

I then heard a story from one of our local high schools that they had only 4 kids come out and they were ridiculed for doing so. I am not sure about the other high school.

The question I have is this. Why is it that our churches are filled on Wednesday night or Sunday evening or whenever the youth gathering is, but when a call to corporal prayer and a sign of unity comes along, there is little to no presence at all? What are we teaching our young people in these weekday gatherings that would keep them from getting around one another and praying for their school? Are we soft on the gospel? Have we led them well?

I like numbers so here ya go.

According to city-data there are 130 congregations of some sort of religion in Oshkosh. Most religions value prayer. Yet 4 kids at the high school of 1200.

– If only 50 people attended a Sunday gathering at all of the 130 congregations that would still only be 6500 people sitting in church on Sunday. In a population of 66K, that means less than 10% of the population is in church. Yet that is the emphasis for most congregations. What happens if we value the city and everyone in it?

– There are on average 2.4 people per household in Oshkosh. That tells me that there is plenty of adults available to disciple the younger generation. Now get this, they will be discipled of something (i.e Pokemon, drugs, drinking). Will they be disciples of Jesus?

When I was not bi-vocational and pastored in a traditional church we went on prayer walks with our youth group before the school year started and we walked the entire north side, stopping to pray at the schools along the way. We would have upwards of 20 kids sometimes in a church that was about 40 on Sunday morning. Ya see most of those kids did not even attend our church on Sunday and their parents did not attend anywhere. We loved them and showed them Jesus for the sake of showing them Jesus.  I was involved with SYATP and attended with the kids, I never saw another pastor and the most amount of parents was 5.

See you at the pole does not define the state of Christianity among our young people for sure. However, there might be some signs to the spiritual leaders of our city to engage them deeper than chubby bunny contests and rug burns on a Wednesday night. Get them out of the church and let them engage their city. Serve and serve and serve those that do not look like them or act like them. Empower them with the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead and watch them do wonderful miraculous things themselves through that same Spirit.

Proverbs 22:6English Standard Version (ESV)
6 Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it.

My fear is that they will only ever know those that they see leading them on Wednesday and Sunday morning. If the numbers are any indication that is not enough.

While we were sleeping

In the very place where the truth is preached, and while the hearts of people are open to receive it, by false but plausible teachers he takes care to inoculate false sentiments.

Well, it is fall again in the Midwest and that means a lot of things to a lot of people. Often it stirs us to the hankering for something, anything in a pumpkin spice variety. Maybe for you, it is the start of the football season and the crunch of the plastic on the gridiron (yeah most of the pads are made of plastic, Google it). Maybe it is the ever changing burst of color that starts “way up nort’, dontcha know dere”. The thing that is probably most prevalent right outside your door though is the fact that churches are gearing up for another season and shaking off the summer hibernation.

Ya see in our never changing culture of the Midwest and across most of the United States in general over the past 4-5 months the local congregations have gone into hibernation. Now not hibernation like you think about although it has many of the same signs. Let’s look at some of the signs that most resemble the other famous hibernator of the Midwest, the black bear, shall we?

  1. We both hibernate for about 6 months, the black bear in the winter and the average “church-goer” in the summer.
  2. The black bear’s diet consist of mainly plants and vegetation, the average “church-goer” shy away from meat as well, although they have been known to dabble.
  3. Black bears keep to the shelter of the wooded areas of the Midwest, the “church-goer” likes the shelter of the steeple and the warmth of the pew.
  4. Black bears don’t stay in one place very long, as with “church-goer”, when they no longer like the pastor or what is being taught they find themselves searching for something else to satisfy.

Stunning right? The fact is, churches must figure in the lull that is summer time into their financial planning these days, because in the Midwest, let’s face it, the Dells or Six Flags is just gonna be more important come summer time. Don’t get me wrong the Dells nor Six Flags are evil things and YES because of old man winter this is the only time that we have for those things. I get it. I am merely stating for the record that if you asked your pastor about attendance ergo tithing in the Summer months he/she would tell you “traditionally these are our slow months”, probably in those very words. So because the church is, in fact, a business, for most, they have to forecast for the drop in tithes throughout the summer.

We see in the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13 that Jesus was telling the story of what happens when we hibernate in our faith.

but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. Matthew 13:25

So while the issue with hibernating within the local church is real, it only exists because of the body, or The Church, has not being given the necessary charge to go forth (yes even in the summer time) and preach the gospel message. Moreover, they are rarely given authority to live gospel-driven lives and bring people to know the Lord in a more vibrant and real way during the hibernation months.That kind of authority lends itself for sleeping “church-goers” to no longer value the pew and the eclectic worship experience, but rather to value the person and image of Christ. That is just flat out bad for business.

Just like the black bear, the “church-goer” will awaken from their slumber and be starving. However, because we have spent the hibernation allowing the weeds to creep into the fertile soil we now take the chance of them consuming the bad with the good. In traditional fashion, we try to undo the damage by throwing every program, small group, youth group, harvest festival, bible study, kick off night, women’s study, men’s study, and all points in between, in an attempt to sow the good from the bad ground. In the parable of the weeds, Jesus tells how the servants were instructed to let them both grow together and then later they will be divided. In fact, He tells them that He will be the one to give instruction to the reapers as to what stays and what goes.

Alber Barnes said it this way…

Satan thus sows false doctrine in darkness. In the very place where the truth is preached, and while the hearts of people are open to receive it, by false but plausible teachers he takes care to inoculate false sentiments. Often it is one of his arts, in a revival of religion, to spread secretly dangerous notions of piety. Multitudes are persuaded that they are Christians who are deceived. They are awakened, convicted, and alarmed. They take this for conversion. Or they find their burden gone; they fancy that they hear a voice; or a text of Scripture is “brought” to them, saying that their sins are forgiven; or they see Christ hanging on the cross in a vision; or they dream that their sins are pardoned, and they suppose they are Christians. But they are deceived. None of these things are any conclusive evidence of piety. All these may exist, and still there be no true love to God or Christ, and no real hatred of sin and change of heart. An enemy may do it to deceive them, and to bring dishonor on religion.

Let’s not be drawn into deception to believing that our words spoke of salvation or the fact that we stand so firmly on a message of “greasy grace” and prosperity, that we are covered in our iniquities. Over those months of hibernation, the enemy has planted weeds among the good earth and will cover them with soft words and the allure of safety. He will put the grand design of the harvest festival and the youth group trips to the pumpkin patch into your mind as a remedy for the hunger you feel after months of hibernation. Don’t be deceived, Jesus is the only giver of life and sustainer of the promise. Only through complete dependence and submission can we truly feed all year long of the bread of life and therefore never have to awake to hunger pangs that are satisfied with the very hint of nourishment, even if that nourishment is sour and riddled with lies.

The charge becomes that the body of Christ would continue throughout the year and encourage and build one another up. Get the word of God in you and then let it pour out in relationship and community. The fact that the very model of discipleship, Jesus Christ, walked, lived, ate, drank and slept in the very same places that the people he was discipling walked, lived, ate, drank and slept should tell you something about yourself. We are created in the image of Christ, not in the image of a man in front of the church on Sunday.

Gathering on Sunday is biblical for sure and I am sure that most of your pastors are wonderful God fearing men, but the reality is that while you were hibernating this summer some of them were wringing their hands to see if you would return for another season. They made all the preparations and put all of the volunteers in place. They made sure the latest curriculum is in and is ready to be distributed the first night of small groups, (held at the church away from the public).

In closing, Jon Ellicott describes the Matthew scripture as thus…

His enemy came and sowed tares.—The act described was then—and still is—a common form of Eastern malice or revenge. It easily escaped detection. It inflicted both loss and trouble. The “enemy” had the satisfaction of brooding for weeks or months over the prospect of the injury he had inflicted, and the vexation it would cause when discovered. The tares, known to botanists as the Lolium temulentum, or darnel, grew up at first with stalk and blade like the wheat; and it was not till fructification began that the difference was easily detected. It adds to the point of the parable to remember that the seeds of the tares were not merely useless as food, but were positively noxious.

Let’s do away with the noxious and draw near to the person of Jesus Christ and ask yourself “what happened while I was sleeping?”

Living in a Fantasy Football Island

…the Holy Grail usually is just bragging rights until the next season.

Ah yes it is that time of year again. The time where everyone from the amateur arm chair quarterback to the CEO of a fortune 500 company will get their chance to manage a football team. Week 1 of the NFL season is upon us and that means fantasy footballers unite.

As I sit back and ponder the fate of my favorite football team in real life, the (as for now) Oakland Raiders, I have to sit back and think of the years that I spent chasing the Holy Grail of NFL fantasy football’s number one ranking on Yahoo or ESPN’s fantasy football league. BTW, the Holy Grail usually is just bragging rights until the next season, but if you are real fortunate you might get a trophy, we will talk about that later though.

Hours I would pour over match ups and history of the players abilities and their track records. You would look deep to find that one guy that everyone would leave on the board because he was too old, or too young, or he was a kicker. Then you decide is round 5 too early for a kicker or will a defense really make the difference this year? Do I draft a QB or a running back first? You pick up the local fantasy rag that gives you every tid bit of information you would possibly need to get you the leg up on the competition. Then enter the information age. Everything has now changed. Now it is at your finger tips. Every stat, every scenario, every player profile. From where they eat to how much they get paid, to if they can perform on artificial turf when the temperature is above 60 and the opposing team stayed at a Marriott Hotel last night. You can now have the app that vibrates consistently in your pocket on Sunday morning beckoning to the Pastor to cut things short today, after all it is about to be kick off time. We are connected more than ever to our fantasy football competitions.

Just to put this in perspective, let’s look at some stats. This is always fun to do even if not completely accurate. These stats are courtesy of Sports Management Degree Hub.

fantasy

So back when I started playing fantasy football we still used pad and paper to record statistics. That would be around the 91-94 years. The change is considerable.

fantasy2

This goes to show ya that fantasy sports are not just for the unemployed blue collar workers, but it reaches across the spectrum and you can clearly see that even the educated, white, full-time employed, male is capable of chasing his dreams of being a fantasy GIANT!

fantasy3

Again, fantasy football knows no bounds. If you factor in that consumers spend an average of $465 per year on fantasy football and do the math, you would see that as a nation we spend $18.6 BILLION per year. That is 6X’s as much as the NFL itself and 4.5 x’s the value of the league’s top valued team  (the Dallas Cowboys).

So, do you get the picture when it comes to this fantasy stuff?

So what does this have to do with the price of chicken wings on draft night at the local Buffalo Wild Wings? Well, I believe this has Kingdom ramifications.

According to a 2015 Gallup poll, America still proclaims to be Christian nation. In this poll, 83% of Americans replied to the question, “What, if anything, is your religion?” by saying Christian. Although according to Barna, that same group of folks are doing a poor job of making disciples of the gospel.

In fact there is a nice little twist in Barna’s study that caught me off guard. The twist is this. Many Christians in church believe that they themselves are discipling someone at the current time, (52%). However when Pastors were asked if they feel that people in their congregations were actively discipling anyone, less than 1% said that was a true statement. Actually the answer to that question is different than both of those.

The fact is that everyone is discipling someone of something. The question comes in as to what are we discipling? Are we making disciples of fantasy football? YOU BETHCA! Are we making disciples of the love of money? YUP! Are we making disciples of internet football information and daily mobile phone updates? ABSOLUTELY!

Conversely, are we making disciples of the one true God? …EH Are we making disciples of the truth of the message of God through getting the wisdom of His word within us? not really Are we discipling others so that they can encourage and make disciples themselves of other? signs say nope While 17% of the Canada and US populations combined are engaged in Fantasy Football there are currently only 20% of Christian adults that are involved in some sort of discipleship activity, with the majority of that taking place within the walls of the existing building (i.e small groups or Sunday service). I guess that I feel when Jesus said this, he actually meant it.

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.
Mark 16:15

Did I dazzle you all with my Google skills and my data collection prowess, I am in quality after all? That was not my intention. Furthermore for all of those friends out there engaged in fantasy football, let me say this, NO OFFENSE INTENDED. I feel these days that I need to preface every statement with that for the thin skinned folks that take every word I say as arrows in the chest. Maybe this scripture is for you?

But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” Galatians 2:14

Fantasy or not to fantasy, that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of disobedience to God himself, or take arms against the will of men to disciple anyone of anything, rather than choose Jesus and stifle the critics. In the end the decision is yours. Just listen the next time you slip out of service to make that last second trade because the injury report just updated, God may be calling you into something deeper than the promise of annual ritual of fantasy football. If I were a betting man, I would say that he is.

Oh and to mention that trophy thing again.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, Matthew 6:19

 

 

Is Ball Life?

To say “ball is life” is to present it as an idol.

So this crossed my mind today and I thought about throwing it out there so here ya go.
 
I have long be a proponent of changing the way we speak when it comes to spiritual matters because I believe that our words can condemn us or justify us.
Matthew 12:36-27 “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
I am a coach and an athlete (well kind of) still and I look deeply at the players and teammates that I am impacting with my words and actions. I think carefully when I refer to that building where everyone goes on Sunday as “church”, because it’s not ya know. I have been a pastor of a church for the last 5 years and we have never used the term, “let’s go to church”, mostly because I see the Church as the body of believers that are working to bring life to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I digress though. 
What I do hear quite often from young athletes is “ball is life”, when referring to the game of basketball. Every time that I hear that I think to myself, “Is it?”, is it really LIFE? I know, I know, it is just a phrase that people use. It is just a saying that the kids are #hashtagging all over the place and it is just some words after all. Well our words have consequences. Our pursuit of the #ballislife mentality has kingdom consequences for those young people claiming Jesus as their Savior.
To say “ball is life” is to present it as an idol. Samuel gives caution to this which is still so relevant today.
 1 Samuel 12:21 21 Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless.
Matthew Henry describes that verse like this, “for if you turn aside from God, whatever you turn aside to, you will find it is a vain thing, that can never answer your expectations, but will certainly deceive you if you trust to it; it is a broken reed, a broken cistern.Idols could not profit those that sought to them in their wants, nor deliver those that sought to them in their straits, for they were vain, and not what they pretended to be.
I think we can learn a big lesson here.
In the book of John it says this…
John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

The word life in this context means “the state of one who is possessed of vitality or is animate”. Are we therefore animated by the bound synthetic leather nature of a spherical object used for the accomplishment of recreation with the occasional promise of fleeting glory that is a trophy or a scholarship? None of that promise can match up to the promise of an eternal existence with the one true God. Yet we continue “ball is life”.

James describes the tongue as the smallest of rudders that can control a gigantic ship, no matter the storms that ship faces. Our words matter.  What we say matters. The face that we present matters. Think about that the next time you say you LOVE pizza or your LOVE the “insert major athletic team in here” that you are expressing LOVE for an object in the same way you say you love your mother or father, wife or husband, or most importantly how you LOVE Jesus Christ. It can become cheapened real quick if you think about it that way. Our words matter.

To round out this little chat let me leave you with this. We can easily be turned away from the things of God because we allow the things of the world to creep in. If you read this and you use the #balllislife for anything may the Lord prick your heart a little every time so that you may feel the vastness of that statement on an eternal scale. If you read this and you have never heard of or seen #ballislife or have no idea why I keep putting the pound sign in front of those words without spaces in between, let me just say this. Our words matter and our lives should hinge only on the things of the Lord, your job, your wife, your family all pale in the grand scheme of things when Jesus is LIFE.

Cheating on God

“God designed marriage to make us Holy”

Recently I have found myself in several conversations about marriage and how does a Christian remain faithful and still consider divorce. I have talked to people through the years that run the gambit on this issue. I have spent time with those folks and walked them through the scripture and spent time in prayer with them, but ultimately there are gaps that exists because of their marriage relationship or the lack of understanding of a biblical marriage.

Ya see God is the bridegroom and therefore there are some things that come with that relationship.

In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands, even those who refuse to accept the Good News. Your godly lives will speak to them better than any words. They will be won over by watching your pure, godly behavior. 1 Peter 3:1-2 NLT

So if Peter was directing people to accept the authority of your husband then his expectation that people would flourish because of their obedience to their husband. You’ll notice that he makes sure to mention those that refuse to accept the Good News. The gospel is living, breathing and active among everyone but when we decide to “cheat on God”, or become adulterous in that relationship we leave a place for division to set in.

So the age old question comes. Can I be a believer and get a divorce? I know that God hates divorce and I know that he intended for a marriage to be a lifetime endeavor. Well God also gave some reason why one would be able to get divorced, (not required). God designed marriage to make us Holy. He designed it to glorify Him and not to add to our human joy. When those directives are not thought of or considered at that point of matrimony then you have to consider again God’s directive for a divorce.

And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful. Matthew 19:9

In the case of the New Living Translation of the scripture I submit that Jesus may have very well been speaking to the unfaithfulness of people in general and the idolatry that people in a difficult marriage  engage in. If in fact idolatry exists in a marriage and the love of the world has consumed one or both of the parties then the question is answered. Is divorce allowed for Christians?  If you cheat on God, then there is already a separation, maybe you can get out and begin restoration in the name of Jesus. Remember the gospel is true and applies to all situations. Jesus already paid the price so revel in that most of all and know that God is still in charge.

 

The noisy diner

“He will use every effort to engage you right where you are”

I have shared with people throughout the years the picture that God has given me about hearing His still small voice. I would love to share it with you today so that you might identify the analogy with your own life.

Here goes…

So there I am sitting the back of one of those old style 50’s diners and the place is packed out. The waitress yelling out “What’ll ya have?” and the cook yelling out “ORDER UP!”.  Busboys hurry around the place clanging plates and silverware together and wiping down tables feverishly so the next patrons can take their crack at some biscuits and gravy or the manhole cover sized pancakes. The noise is deafening at points and you can barely hear yourself think, let alone listen to the still small voice.

You see our lives can be filled with the hustle and bustle of life at times that we can barely discern what is right and what is wrong. The noise pulls us into situations that we believe that we can never recover from. For Elijah, it was very much the same way. It was so much so that Elijah would question if anyone around him was even submitted unto the Lord, but in fact, there were many that were but Elijah could not see that in this time of noisy silverware and loud waitresses. We see in the book of 1 Kings that there was a lot going on around him, but God chose to speak to him through a whisper.

 And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. 1 Kings 19:12

So back to our story. In my vision, I look to the rear of the restaurant and I see Jesus sitting on a bench like he is waiting for a table. His mouth is moving and he appears to be saying something but I can’t make it out. Slowly and intently I incline my ear to hear what He is saying.

Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.
Isaiah 55:3

I find that as I press into Him deeper and I focus my intentions on hearing, his words start to become clear to me. What are the words you say? The words are the very ones that He is speaking to you today as well. Through the din and clammer of everyday life, His desire is to be heard. He is not going to yell at you though. He will use every effort to engage you right where you are and to show you that He is Lord of all. It will be up to us to lean in and listen to the words and then obey what He says.

ORDER UP!!!

 

Frustration, key to Spiritual growth

“Trials will come and tests will be present”

So on my daily jaunt into work this morning I find myself on the highway and completely over come with thoughts of frustration that border on rage. Why, you ask? Well because other driver annoy the heck out of me and bring me to places that I would really choose not to be. They bob and weave in front of you, and they race ahead to get one place ahead of you so that they can slam the breaks on to make the next off ramp. Are you getting the picture? I think we have all been there.

So in my murmuring and my frustration I start to think about my relationship with God and how that relationship has infused every part of my life, but this one part keeps creeping up on me. We all have that one thing that proves to be such a frustration at times. What is yours? Money, work, relationships? Could it be that there are several things?

In the book of Isaiah the prophet speaks to a nation of Israel to calm their fears and encourage their faith. He refers to them as one unit. We remain to be that one unit today. The body of Christ set forth and set apart for a  different purpose.

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

Trials will come and tests will be present, because the enemy does not want to see us calm in the presence of the Lord. However, God is faithful and just and he turns our frustration to laser focus on Him for those that trust completely and have made that relationship paramount in their lives.

So the next time that road rage creeps up on you or that crying baby in the doctor’s office or that co-worker is testing your very last nerve at work, take that frustration and turn it to Spiritual growth.

Waking up to a new day

Our inner self is in a constant state of regeneration.

In the every day stuff of life we often find ourselves searching for something more. Paul put it to the Corinthians like this.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 2 Corinthians 4:16

Our inner self in a constant state of regeneration. We have been saved. We are being saved. We will be saved again.

It is easy for men and women of faith to wonder aimlessly through life and find that the world is falling down around them. It is only if we recognize that is the truth and stop fighting, and revel in the tender mercies of a great big God who is growing us every day, we may just start to reflect Him in all things.

The times that we spend in anxiety and worry are the times that God is reaching out to us most. Those times we should take a inventory of the things in our lives that are challenging us that are outside the will of God. I find that when we look hard at those things and realize that we are chasing fame, or fortune or pleasures of the flesh that we can reel that in through a repentance and dependence on a Savior. Realize He is in charge, repent and fall back into the loving arms.

So wake up today. Wake up to a new day. Maybe you need to do this every hour today, until it becomes the very being of who you are. We are saved and we are being saved, every minute.