Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Empowerment and Commitment

This week’s column is the last of our church’s “key characteristics”, as outlined in our church constitution. So far, we have covered our vision statement, and the characteristics of faith, family, growth, caring, and equality. This week we will discuss “empowerment and commitment.” Our constitution reads;

Empowerment and Commitment: Like our very salvation, our service for Christ is possible only because we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. Yet, by grace, God has made us partners with the Spirit in sharing the gospel and building the kingdom. Therefore, we are a committed people. We commit ourselves to the faithful stewardship of our church, our time, our resources, our spiritual gifts-in short, everything we have-so that we might serve Christ faithfully.

In the business world, empowerment was a “buzz word” that gained popularity in the 1980’s. Many companies found that they were much more efficient and customer friendly, when they gave some decision-making authority to lower level employees. This made the employees feel more important, and speeded up customer service issues. Many successful companies have built their entire businesses on this concept.

In Christian life, we have ultimate empowerment. We are given the power to do as we please. Paul speaks repeatedly of “freedom in Christ.” However, we also have an obligation to God and to others, who we influence, to refrain from those things that harm our ability to influence for good. As one of my seminary professors said, “The shark is the most feared predator of the sea. He is free to do as he pleases. However, if you take him out of the water, he’s just a dead shark.”

When we are “in Christ”, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do His will. When we are living outside the will of God, we are just dead, like a beached shark. Empowerment only comes from the Holy Spirit to us and we must use it to further God’s kingdom. The wonderful thing to know is that the same power that created the universe, gives us power to do His will.

The second part of this characteristic is commitment. I received an e-mail from Verizon Wireless last week. They informed me that I am now qualified for a new phone, since I have had this one for two years. For those of you who are not Verizon customers, they have a program called, “New Every Two”. Every two years, you can upgrade your phone. Many of the upgrades are free.

That’s a great program, except for the fact that I don’t need a new phone. Mine is working quite well. However, I found myself looking at the great new phones I can get for free!

There are many aspects of life where we have given up on commitment. Serving Christ shouldn’t be one of them. Our church constitution mentions that we should commit our time, resources, spiritual gifts and talents, and everything else to the work of the church. Not only should we do those things, we should do them tirelessly, with a loving and serving attitude.

Commitment is never easy. Nine-time World Champion rodeo cowboy, Ty Murray once said, “Commitment isn’t the time you spend, it’s a line you cross. It’s the difference between sitting on an angry bull, and having your hand roped to his back.” In the book, No Fear: Don’t Let Your Fears Stand in the Way of Your Dreams, Rick Bolton writes, “It’s the look in the cowboy’s eyes as he nods his approval for the gate to swing open. That’s when we first sense the line he crosses between the relative safety of the chute and the uncertainty of the arena. We still can’t see it, but that line exists. It is the point of no return.”

Are you that committed to Christ? Have you been to the place where you are fixed on serving Him, no matter what? Make the commitment to live for Him unconditionally. Only then, will you find the true joy of salvation and fellowship with our Creator.

Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:14-15 NIV)


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Equality and Inclusivity

In 1980, Hank Williams Jr. recorded a song titled, The American Way. The song speaks to the prejudice against southerners, and those who do not appear to have money, throughout America. A line from the song says, I've noticed I don't get much help when they see my blue jeans. Some slick with a suit walks up, ‘Oh, can I help you please’. Yes I'm learning, as I gain a little age. About the power of the dollar, and the people with white collars and the good old American way.

Are you prejudice? Most of us in this 21st century would answer that question in the negative. Most of us do not believe that we are prejudice at all. We believe that we hold all human beings in the same equal status. That is what we say. However, our actions betray our verbal statements sometimes.

The more appropriate question is, “What are you prejudice against?” We all have prejudices. Prejudice is defined by a preconceived, unfavorable opinion. The fact that the opinion is formed without proper knowledge or experience, is the key to understanding prejudice versus ordinary dislikes.

Some prejudices are very petty and go unnoticed most of the time. I don’t like martial arts movies. I have never watched one, but they don’t seem very entertaining to me. This is a good example of a prejudice. I have no reason to not like them, but I don’t like them anyway. On the other hand, I also do not like cantaloupe. I don’t like the way it smells or tastes. My wife and family love them, but I don’t. Why don’t I like them? I have tried them and have realized that I do not enjoy eating cantaloupe. This is a dislike, not a prejudice.

As we are working through our church’s “Key Characteristics”, we find the following characteristic in our church constitution:
Equality and Inclusivity: While every child of God is unique, we have a common bond which transcends our differences: We are all persons created in the image of God and persons for whom Christ died. Therefore, our church is inclusive of all people, regardless of background, age, race, gender, or social status. Furthermore, opportunities for growth and service are open to all people and are qualified only by how each individual has been gifted and called by God. Our equality and inclusivity are mandated by the Gospel and stressed by the emphasis in our Baptist heritage on the priesthood of believers and the autonomy of the local church.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that 11:00 o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. The trouble with that statement is that it was made over 40 years ago, and it is still true. However, it is not only true of racial differences, but many others as well.

Did you know that many people see Edgefield First Baptist as a snooty church? They do. I know that the statement is not true. However, I have talked with more than one person, who I invited to worship with us, who said they couldn’t because they didn’t have a suit. One of those people was actually honest with me, and said that we were a “snooty” church.

Why did they feel that way? Perhaps we have inadvertently sent out signals that we want everyone to act like us. If someone shows up with a suit or nice dress on, we don’t think anything about it. They are like us. However, if someone came into our church on Sunday morning with leather pants, tattoos, multiple piercings, and unkempt hair, what would happen? Would the Sunday dinner conversation be about the music or the message, or would it be about how that person in leather came into “God’s house” with no respect? That, my friends, is also a prejudice.

What do we do about it? Is there some magic potion to make us love and appreciate everyone? No. We have to see them through the eyes of Jesus. We have to let Christ be so much in charge of our lives that we are able to see the whole person, rather than just the exterior. Pray to God and ask Him to give you eyes that see what He sees in people, and how to reach them with Jesus’ message of hope and life.

You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48 NIV)

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 7-8 NIV)


When you care enough to send the very best…
Hallmark Cards ad slogan
Hallmark is the largest greeting card company in the world. It has grown from Mr. J. C. Hall selling picture postcards out of two shoeboxes in 1910, to a $4.3 billion company today. They have now branched out into their famous Christmas ornaments, a cable television channel, gifts, and party supplies, among other products.

Some years ago, they ran a series of television ads that showed people who had received a greeting card. The first thing they do, on the commercial, is check the back to see if there is a Hallmark gold seal on the envelope flap. The voice-over then says, “Hallmark, when you care enough to send the very best.”

Yes, Hallmark managed to create a huge, nationwide, guilt-trip. We all felt inferior if we gave someone anything but a Hallmark card. In turn, the recipient possibly felt a little slighted if they realized they weren’t good enough to get a Hallmark card. I'd say it was a very successful ad campaign.

Part of Hallmark’s “Belief and Values” statement reads, We value and are committed to: Excellence in all we do. High standards of ethics and integrity. Caring and responsible citizenship for Kansas City [Company headquarters is located in Kansas City] and each community in which we operate.

Notice how much Hallmark refers to the word “care”. Caring is a major part of this company. If you visit their website, you’ll find that they talk about how much they “care” about their employees, how the employees “care” about their work, and how the local store owners “care” about the community where they operate. This “caring” even managed to come out in the way they believe customers perceive them. Customers only give Hallmark cards to the people they really “care” about.

The “Key Characteristic” of our church that we are discussing this week is, “Caring”. Our statement reads as follows.
Caring: Some treasures are too valuable to keep to one’s self. Chief among these is the love of God. As we have first received God’s love, so we love those around us. Our love means that we have warm fellowship within the family and that we constantly communicate to those who do not yet belong that we have a place in the family for them. Finally, it means that we imitate Jesus in seeking to meet the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs of others.

Caring about someone means that we are concerned for their well being. We can almost substitute the word “love” for “care” in many cases. If we care about someone, we truly are going to see that they get the best from us. If the best from us is a certain kind of greeting card, or the best part of our time and energy, that is what we want to give.

Why is it that we have such a problem then, giving them the best thing they will ever know? Why do we have a hard time giving them Christ? If responding to Christ when He calls to us, is the greatest thing in our lives, then why aren’t we sharing that with everyone?

This church is very good about doing things for others. If there is a legitimate need in our church or in our community, there is usually someone who is willing to help. We have no problem rolling up our sleeves and getting messy, if need be. However, we sometimes have difficulty asking others if they know Jesus Christ, and then sharing Him with those who do not.

If we truly care, then we will share the very best with those around us. If we truly care, we will make every effort to tell the people that we are around each day how much God loves them. In John 10:11-13 Jesus says, I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

Do you truly have a heart for others like Jesus, or are you just a “hired hand” who does a “job” but runs away at the first sign of trouble? Who have you “cared about” this week? I challenge you to share the message of Jesus Christ with two people this week, then share that story with your Sunday School class on Sunday. They would love to hear about it!


Peter Pan is one of my favorite stories. Unless you have lived under a rock most of your life, you are probably familiar with the story. Peter Pan is a character created by Scottish novelist and playwright J. M. Barrie. He is a mischievous boy who can fly and who refuses to grow up. Peter spends his never-ending childhood adventuring on the small island of Neverland as the leader of The Lost Boys, interacting with mermaids, Indians, fairies and pirates, and from time to time meeting ordinary children from the world outside.

Sometimes Christians, and as a result, churches, are a lot like Peter Pan. We like things the way they are. We enjoy the status quo. We like our lives just as they are. We enjoy some adventure, but it seems to be the adventure that we create, and thus is never really dangerous or risky.

In the movie Hook, starring Robin Williams as Peter and Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook, we find that peter has fallen in love with his friend Wendy’s granddaughter Moira. This causes him to decide to grow up so he could get married and be a father. It seems that having the same adventures with pirates, mermaids, and fairies, had created dissatisfaction with Peter once he found true love.

We are continuing to examine the “Key Characteristics” of our church, as outlined in our constitution. This week, we come to the issue of growth. The entry in our constitution reads:
Growth: Families foster both numerical and individual growth. Among other things, new births and succeeding generations ensure the continuation of the family. This is one reason we share the gospel. But we also share the gospel so that individuals can grow into the persons God wants them to be. Moreover, while salvation is instantaneous, growth spans a lifetime. For this reason, we provide regular opportunities for people to continue to grow in the knowledge of God and commitment to Jesus Christ.

I think this “characteristic” has a great deal to say to us. It reminds me of the old saying, “There are two ways to get to the top of a tree. You can climb it or you can plant an acorn and sit on it for a few years.” Unfortunately there are many Christians who would much rather sit and wait on growth, (both numerical and spiritual) than to work toward it.

The characteristic above has a good grip on the ways we foster growth in our churches. We have to both provide for the numerical and spiritual growth of the children coming into our church, as well as reaching others outside our church who are either not Christian or who do not have a church home.

I also think it is accurate in that the numerical and spiritual growth begins with the family. We have emphasized family worship and spiritual growth in families in the last few weeks. I have talked about it from the pulpit, I have devoted time in this column to it, Pastor Greg has developed a tool to make family worship at home easier, and he has also preached about it two Sundays ago.

I am of the belief that numerical growth in a church will always be superficial and temporary, unless the spiritual growth and commitment to Christ comes first. Peter Pan had no desire to “grow up” until he found his true love in Moira. Unless we find our true love and all that we need in Jesus Christ, we are doing nothing more than Peter was doing in Neverland.
There is more to life than the simple routine that we are in. Jesus wants to take us on so many adventures. We just have to give everything up for Him.

There's more to this life, than livin' and dyin', more than just tryin' to make it through the day. More to this life, more than these eyes alone can see, and there's more than this life alone can be. (Phil Naish, Steven C Chapman 1989)

We should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:14-16 NKJV)