Monday, February 8, 2016

Put 'em to Work

Imagine this scene: You’re talking to someone who has moved into area. In the course of the conversation they say, “We’re looking for a good church. Do you know of any?” There it is! An opportunity dropped right in your lap. You say, “You should come to our church. Our pastor preaches great sermon. Our people are super friendly. We have programs for your kids. Let me give you a card. It lists our service times and our website, so you can check us out.” The other person accepts the card and says, “I’ll be sure to do that.” That’s the kind of conversation we would love to have. But maybe we shouldn’t be so excited.

The problem with this conversation is that it involves matching up an ideal church with an ideal person. What if this person doesn’t have kids? What if the church doesn’t have programs for the kids? What if the pastor doesn’t preach very well? What if the church isn’t very friendly? What if the church doesn’t have a website?

When I was a teenager, I was the music director at a church with a high attendance of 25. 10 was more typical, at the time. Our youth group was me. Our children’s ministry was nonexistent. We had one Sunday school class, but we would order children’s literature, just in case someone showed up. The fact is, there are a lot of churches in that same situation. Some have declined to that point. Some are new churches that are just starting out. In any case, these tiny churches can teach us something.

So, let’s look at the scene again, but this time from the perspective of a tiny church: “We’re looking for a good church. Do you know of any?” You say, “You should come to our church. Our pastor does okay, but he’s working a full-time job and then preaching two sermons and teaching a Sunday school lesson. Our pianist has trouble seeing the music. We’d like to children and teens coming, but our people are all too old to do much with them. We could really use your help.”

This second conversation is not the way we normally think we should persuade people to come to church, but it’s closer to what we should be doing. Yes, there are benefits to church attendance that include youth programs and fellowship meals and training programs, but that only comes when people put in the work. We can’t maintain programs if new members don’t do their part. But if everyone does something, we all benefit even more.

What if we took that tiny church attitude and applied it to larger churches? What if, instead of telling people about the great things we already have, we told them about the things they could help us with? Consider this conversation: “Tell me about your Sunday school classes.” “We have classes for all age groups. We have great teachers, but we could really use is someone to go around and empty the trashcans after church, so there isn’t food left sitting in the classrooms.” It might be that the person decides they’ll visit another church instead. But it might also be that they say, “That’s something I could do.” Just imagine if every time we added a church member it meant we had another person doing stuff. We would get a lot more done.

Friday, February 5, 2016

14 Things I Wish People Would Do (but I don't tell them)

Frequently, I find myself having a discussion with someone and picking my words carefully. There are things that I don’t say directly, for fear that doing so would shut down the conversation or harm the friendship. Instead of telling them what I want them to do, I try to swing them around to my way of thinking and hope that they will take the action that I would like. They rarely do. I decided to list these actions that I feel strongly that people should take. The list turned out longer than I expected, but here they are in the order I thought of them:

Accept Jesus Christ

Of course, I tell people that they should accept Jesus, but there are people who claim to be Christians and yet I doubt their salvation. The fruit just isn’t there. Their lifestyle isn’t that of a Christian. They aren’t involved in church other than attending once a week or so.

Attend Church Regularly

With some people, it’s hard to know whether they’ll be at church or not. They often have a reason they don’t show up, such as family being in town, or visiting another church, or being on vacation. Many times, I don’t agree with these being valid reasons, but I don’t tell them that.

Get Involved in a Church Ministry

Some people go to church every week. They may be at church three times a week. But they aren’t actually doing anything. I think this is a bad thing. But I don’t always tell people directly because some people are doing things that I don’t see.

Lose Weight/Adopt a Healthier Lifestyle

I have some fat friends. I’ve been there myself. I wish they would do something about it. Of course, it would do no good for me to tell them that, but it is frustrating because I see how fat they are and they may even mention how fat they are, but then they talk about all the places they go out to eat. They also talk about why they can’t exercise.

Buy My Books

There’s nothing complicated here. When you put in the effort to write books, you want people to buy them. You especially want your friends to buy them, even if they don’t care for them that much. What you don’t want is a friend, with book in hand, to ask “will you sign my book” and then for them to tell you that they’re reading someone else’s copy (true story). So yeah, look me up on Amazon.com and buy my books.

Ride a Bicycle

I love riding a bicycle. I think other people should love riding a bicycle too. It would do them good.

Accept That God Controls the Weather, Not Environmentalists

This global warming stuff is nuts. I wish people would quit putting more trust in the beliefs of environmentalists than they put in the power of God. I have no problem with saying we should be dumping less pollution in the atmosphere, but quit assuming that pollution is the cause of the weather.

Quit Drinking

I have friends who drink. Some of them are Christians. I wish they would quit. Simple as that.

Don’t Be in Such a Hurry When You Drive

People are in a rush to get everywhere. I suspect this is because they hate driving, but put slower traffic in front of them (a bicycle, for example) and they get mad. Some people will swerve in and out of traffic, just because they think they need to get around slow traffic. The few seconds they gain would be gained by leaving earlier. They may not even need to get somewhere in a hurry, they just hate driving so much that they want to get out of traffic as soon as possible. If you’re one of those people, you are the problem. You are one of the people that is making traffic so bad and making your driving experience even worse. You should quit driving. Take the bus. Ride a bicycle. Take a taxi. You’ll feel better.

Obey the Traffic Laws

This is something I can’t say because people are sealed away in metal cages. People cross over double white lines, because they won’t slow down to merge with traffic. People stop in lanes coming off the freeway in which they aren’t supposed to stop. Or worse, they’ll cross the white lines and get in the lanes that are supposed yield, but they don’t like it when the traffic coming off the freeway doesn’t follow them. Then there’s those people who don’t think bicycles should be on the road. Or people who hurry through an intersection when they see a bicycle. You need to obey the law. It will help keep us all safe.

Take an Interest in Church Business Meetings

I see church business meetings as important. I think other people should too.

Take an Interest in the Associations Our Church is In

Most of our church members have never been to an associational meeting, even when it meets at our church. I’m not saying that they should attend every meeting. It is really only the messengers who have to be there, but people should attend at least once before they decide they don’t want to be there.

Attend and/or Join my Parent’s Church

This is a hard one, especially since I don’t attend that church either. For those of you who don’t know, my dad pastors a church in the village of Zalma, Missouri. There are two churches in the village. It is not the largest one, but his church is the oldest. If something doesn’t happen soon, it will be no more. I wish I could do something about that, but I can’t be two places at once. The other church is a General Baptist church. I have friends who are members there, but I have a real problem with General Baptist doctrine, in particular, I do not agree with their belief that it is possible for a person to lose their salvation.

Resolve Disagreement with Spouse

Divorce is an awful thing. Of course, I seldom even realize there are problems until the paperwork is filed or a friend shows up with someone else on their arm. Of course, they all have their reasons and they seem to make sense to them. Me? I don’t see most of them as valid. If it’s just arguing, work it out. Even if you’ve already gotten a divorce, don’t go looking for another spouse, work it out. Even if it doesn’t result in you remarrying your spouse, you need to resolve the disagreement.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

How to Get Motivated

Motivation is in short supply at this time of year. It’s really unfortunate, because this is also the time of year when people have made New Year’s resolutions and they’re trying to keep them. But cold weather and early evenings take their toll. I find it interesting how different my motivation this year is from last year.

Last year, at this time, I had a goal. I had lost some weight, but between Thanksgiving and Christmas, my weight had remained constant. I counted that a success, but I was ready to see the scale start moving downward again. My daily calorie intake was so low that I was hungry much of the time. I would ride my bicycle in the evenings because I knew that would allow me to eat more. I had also committed to cycling through the winter and I was anxious so to see how well I could handle the cold.

This year, I’m at my ideal weight. I’m not watching my calorie intake as closely, so I don’t associate riding my bicycle with allowing me to eat more. I’m also getting very tired of riding circles around my neighborhood. There are kids playing out in the street. There are dogs that my neighbors let run loose. There’s a pothole that I have to remember to avoid. There’s glass in the streets. But I get out and ride anyway, because I need my legs to stay conditioned to ride for what does get me motivated. Funnily enough, what I’m finding motivating this year is the promise of a restaurant somewhere along one of my rides. I’ve never been one to eat out alone, and yet, that is now my motivation. To get to a restaurant, I’ll ride my bicycle, never driving.

But is that a good thing? And would it be a good thing for someone who is trying to lose weight? I think it probably is on both counts. Restaurant meals are notoriously high in calories, but with the distance I’m riding to get to some of the places I’m going, I’m literally burning more calories than I am consuming. I think that could work for someone who is trying to lose weight as well. Even though people know they should cut out restaurant food, they end up eating there anyway. That just makes them feel guilty and they say, “I’ll do better next time,” as they stuff the whole meal into their mouth. This is terrible for weight loss. But what if they occasionally hop on a bicycle and pedal to a restaurant? What if they commit riding a bicycle to any restaurant they choose to eat at. They will no longer feel deprived because they can’t eat out, but they are also burning enough to make up for the additional calories.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

My Goals for 2016

It’s that time of the year when people start making up resolutions for the new year. I don’t do resolutions, because I can never keep them. But I do have some goals for 2016. Goals are easier to keep because you can catch up after you get behind. Here are my goals (in no particular order):

Write a Book

It’s been a while since I’ve done any significant writing, but I intend to set aside more time for that in 2016. Just making it a goal while probably be enough to convince me to watch less Netflix and play fewer games, so that I can complete my task.

Ride a Bicycle 4,000 Miles

That’s nearly 500 miles more than I rode in 2015, but it’s doable, if I don’t injure myself again.

Ride a Bicycle to Church at least 10 Times

When you think about it, it is a little silly that I live less than 2 miles from church and I use my truck to cover that distance. I probably drain more energy from the battery starting the engine than is replaced in the length of time it takes me to get to church. I’m not ready to start riding my bicycle to every service, but 10 times would be 10 times the number of times I rode my bicycle to church in 2015.

Ride my Bicycle to Work at least Once

This is a little harder than riding to church, since the roads to work have heavier traffic and I’m usually at work before sunrise. I would, however, like to ride to work at least once, just for the challenge of it.

Complete a Bicycle Ride of at Least 50 Miles

My longest ride of 2015 was only 44 miles. Six more miles isn’t a huge deal, but having it as a goal will force me to consider going somewhere farther from home than I’ve ridden before.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

When I stepped on the scale for the last time in 2015, my weight was right where it needs to be. I want to keep it that way. It took effort in 2015 to get it there. You might think that with so many of my goals being related to cycling, maintaining my weight shouldn’t be a problem. That is somewhat true, but it is possible to exercise a great deal and gain fat. So, I’m making it a goal, as a reminder to myself that I need to focus on keeping the weight off.

To Win Someone to the Lord

While I shared the gospel with people in 2015, I saw no one make a profession of faith because of it. My goal is to do better than that in 2016.

And One I Will Not Mention

I have a goal in 2016 that I will not post online. I’m not even sure I can call it a goal, since I have no idea how to accomplish it. I know many things that haven’t worked. Perhaps it is just wishful thinking on my part, but we shall see.

What are your goals for the new year?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Cool Church

We’re beginning to see a push for walkable cities. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a walkable city is one in which an automobile is not a requirement. You can walk (or ride a bicycle) to the store. You can walk to work. You can walk wherever you want to go. It turns out that walkable cities are healthier cities, which is due to residents being more active and because of better air quality. Walkable cities are less stressful. Apparently, they are also cool. Walkable cities have more young people than other cities.

The cool factor of walkable cities got me thinking. There are a number of churches that structure their worship services around being cool. The preacher is more likely to have a tattoo than to wear a suit. The music is new. Their praise team uses lighting that would make a rock band envious. They offer classes focused on things that interest young people. But for all that these churches are doing to look cool, I don’t recall seeing any that are trying to fit within the walkable city model. If walkable cities are attracting young people, then surely a church that wants to attract young people should be walkable. But what does that look like.

As with cities, walkability is often an afterthought for churches. Ask most pastors where we make a first impression with visitors and they’ll tell you it is in the parking lot. Can I find parking near the door? Where is the door? But if the parking lot is the answer, then we’ve bypassed walkability. Before people ask where they are going to park, they are first going to answer the question, “How do I get there?” For many church goers, the only good answer is to get in a car and drive.

Here in Dallas-Fort Worth, we have a bunch of megachurches. The largest, I suppose, is Fellowship Church in Grapevine. It is built on a frontage road in an industrial park, across a major highway from a very large mall. The closest residence to their front door is a mobile home 1.8 miles away and it would take 35 minutes to walk, or about 10 minutes to ride a bicycle. I see that as about as extremely non-walkable as a church is likely to get, even though it is one of those churches that attempts to be cool.

Many churches have walkable features by accident. Small and mid-size churches are often surrounded by residences. Our church has the added benefit of a bus stop on the north side of our property. But there are some things that are missing. For one thing, the pedestrian walkway on our property doesn’t connect to the sidewalk on the street. That doesn’t prevent walkers, but it is like going to someone’s house and finding leaves blocking their front door, because they always enter through the garage. It just isn’t very welcoming. Another thing our church is missing is bicycle racks. It isn’t that there isn’t a place to secure a bicycle. The cages over the air conditioners are quite secure and near an entrance, but a bicycle rack near the main entrance sends the message that bicycles are welcome.

But to be truly cool, a church needs to be located in a walkable area. That means that a young couple can wake up on Sunday morning in their apartment building. They ride the elevator down to the street below and instead of getting their car out of the garage, they walk a block or two to reach their church. If they go by bicycle, they might go even farther. After church, they walk to one of the restaurants nearby. Then they walk back home. Other than the inability to purchase land in a cool neighborhood, it seems like a smaller church will find it easier to be walkable than a large church. I imagine a church in a walkable area might meet in a storefront. Parking would be along the street or in nearby parking garages and public lots. Bicycle racks and bike sharing kiosks would be nearby.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Alone

Alone. I spend most of my time alone. There are a number of people who assume that I prefer to be alone. I do not. I was at a wedding and an acquaintance asked me, “Do you wish it were you up there?” I responded in the negative, at which time he said, “I suppose you probably decided what you want out of life some time ago.” I didn’t correct him, but he didn’t get it. My answer had nothing to do with a lifelong decision. When he asked the question, my mind went to the woman who as getting married that day. She was the type of woman that I know I would butt heads with daily. If the guy she was marrying wanted to put up with her, I was happy for him, but I wanted nothing of it. I haven’t found many women I thought would be an acceptable match. Those that I thought might be didn’t agree. So, I am alone.

There is more than one way to not be alone. When I go to church, I am not alone. When I visit someone, I am not alone. Sometimes, just getting out in my neighborhood, I encounter enough people that I’m not alone. But at the end of the day, when the church services are over, the visitors have gone home, and all the neighborhood dogs have been walked, I am alone. Just as some people struggle to find a place of solitude, I find myself wearied in the effort to find time to spend with others. The exhaustion overtakes me, and I once again find myself alone.

Things aren’t as enjoyable when you are alone. Time spent waiting when you are with someone is an opportunity to engage them in conversation, but when alone, it is just time spent doing nothing. Alone, one can see something and appreciate its beauty, but it requires another person to be able to express that beauty. One seldom finds a reason to laugh, when one is alone.

One of the things I’ve discovered is that being alone is out of my control. Oh, I could go visit some of my friends and they would let me in the door, but I know that they would reach the point of asking, “Why does he keep showing up?” much more quickly than I would tire of their company. That and there are differences in what I enjoy doing and what my friends enjoy doing. At some point, I end up alone.

Given the situation, I see a couple of realistic possibilities. I can sit at home alone, reminding myself that it isn’t as enjoyable to do things when you are alone. The other is that I can be alone while I’m doing stuff. Not everything. There are some things that are no fun at all to do alone. But if I’m going to be alone either way, there’s no point in not doing something because it is less fun to do alone. There is no point in waiting to do something with someone else, when there isn’t going to be someone else.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Let's Put the X Back in X-mas

X-mas was a term we didn’t use at our house. I remember asking my mother about it when I saw it on some wrapping paper she was using to wrap someone’s gift. She told me that some people use X because they don’t want to write “Christ” and she made it clear that leaving Christ out of “Christmas” was something I was never to do. Since that time, all this talk of leaving Christ out of Christmas has much more vitriol. Try saying “Happy Holidays” to someone and you can expect a lambasting on Facebook. When a manager at Walmart told a Marine that he would have to stand outside to collect Toys for Tots, the Internet lit up with people angry at Walmart. When I made the comment that Marines are trained to dress for the weather conditions, strangers began to call my intelligence into question. Another person, commenting on the same post, used a made up word to describe the people at Walmart that is a cross between a word meaning to have sexual intercourse and to have a mental disorder. These are among the people we see fighting to “keep Christ in Christmas.” Something isn’t right, so let’s put the X back in X-mas.

When you look at where the X of X-mas originated, you discover that the X is actually the Greek letter Chi. It is the first letter of the word Χριστός, which is translated at Christ in English. But it isn’t enough to say, “Let’s put Christ back in Christmas.” The X of X-mas represents something else that is far more important. When many people talk about putting Christ back in Christmas, they seem content to have the word “Christ” in the name and to sing about the birth of a baby and some wise men who visited him. For many people, “Christ” is just another name for Jesus. As you go about your Christmas celebration this year, you may attend a Christmas program in which the names of Jesus are carried in on banners. You’ll likely see “Christ” on one of those banners, but “Christ” is not a name. That is why it is so important to consider the X of X-mas.

You see, X can be used for other things. It is used to represent death. In comic strips, when you see a character with X’s where his eyes should be, you know he is dead. X can also represent a cross. Without the cross, Jesus is not the Christ. The Christ is not just some baby born under mysterious circumstances. The Christ is not just some king worshiped by wise men. The Christ is not some thin version of Santa Claus. The Christ is God, who came as man, lived a sinless life, took on our sin, died on the cross, and rose victorious over sin and the grave, so that he could give us eternal life. That is the X that we need to put back in X-mas.

The unfortunate thing is that this talk of keeping Christ in Christmas is often just an excuse to criticize others for being less righteous than what we are. “That store owner is evil because he has his employees say ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas.’ I’m going to show that I’m better than him by not shopping at his store.” Isn’t that what we are saying? But let’s put the X back in X-mas. The Bible tells us that Jesus loved that store owner so much that he died on the cross for that store owner. The Bible tells us that Jesus loved that store owner so much that he instituted a church and commissioned that church to teach others to carry the gospel to the whole world, so that store owner would have the opportunity to be saved. Clearly, nothing fulfills that commission quite like the words, “I’m not shopping at your store because you didn’t say, ‘Merry Christmas.’”

Even in our gift giving, I think we get it mixed up. We consider our gift giving and decide that it isn’t focused on Christ. Some have decided that they will give Jesus a bigger gift than anything they have under the tree. So, they see they have a $200 gift under the tree and they give $201 to their church’s benevolence fund. It isn’t bad to give to benevolence. When you go to church, you may well be sitting next to someone who is enjoying the warmth of the building, because they know they can’t afford to turn up the heat at home. But should we be basing what we give to Jesus on what we give to others? We owe him so much more and yet, it is also true that he is literally the person who has everything. What gift would be suitable for a person like that? A dollar more than our most expensive gift? I think not. What Jesus wants more than anything is fellowship with the people of the world. If you want to give Jesus a gift, put the X back in X-mas by sharing the gospel with people. Tell them that Jesus came to die for their sins. Don’t just pay some money so you feel like you are buying Jesus a gift. Tell the story of the cross. Let’s put the Cross back in X-mas.