Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Sizzling Fajita Effect

The summer before my Junior year in college, I waited tables at Chili's in order to buy my girlfriend, Mary Beth Maxwell, an engagement ring. I saved money by killing my body with Post Toasties for breakfast, PBJs for lunch and either Smack Ramen or a box of Mac and Cheese for dinner (Jillian Michaels would have kicked my butt!).

On one particular, busy, and rough night...one of those nights when I was ready to hang up my table serving career...I brought out a large tray of sizzling fajitas! The "joint was hopping" that night so all the tray holders were occupied by my fellow servers, but I had tables to turn and time was of the essence. I quickly sat my tray on a waist-high ledge used to separate the different seating areas. There is a reason Chili's has tray holders. The narrow ledge failed to provide a wide enough base to support the large tray and so balance was not an option! They tray was going somewhere, either to the left or to the right. The tray, along with the sizzling fajitas, cascaded off the ledge. My cat-like...no, my sloth like reflexes along with my carnivore instincts kicked-in and I heroically saved the sizzling fajita platter by grabbing it with my bare hand. Chili's names it "Sizzling Fajitas" for a reason. I may have saved the beef that night, but it left its mark. My point with this story, outside of trying to grab your attention, is not to promote my mad-serving skills (obviously) but to draw attention to the pivotal moments in life.

As I wrote: The tray was going somewhere, either to the left or to the right. There are pivotal moments in our life when balance is no longer a option, where both/and morph into either/or, when we have one of two mutually exclusive choices to make:
  • To invest fully in saving the marriage or to withdraw emotionally.
  • To ask for help in fighting an addiction or to go on as if nothing is wrong.
  • To let cancer kill your spirit along with your body or to show the world how to die.
  • To take responsibility for your sinful choices and start the difficult journey of restoration or to believe the lie, "You are too far gone."
  • To "check-out" of church life after losing a key staff member or to invest more, knowing your talents and energy are needed more now than before.
  • To take the higher paying job at the expense of your family or to simplify your life in order to protect your family.
  • To stay in the unhealthy relationship because you are afraid you will find no one else or to end it even though you are terrified of being alone.
  • To take the first step toward mending a broken friendship by saying you are sorry and asking for forgiveness or letting hurt and pain kill it for good.
In all of these scenarios, the tray is going one way or the other! Early in its existence the First Church faced a pivotal moment of its own.

Jesus was no longer dead, and his first followers saw it first-hand. Jesus promised to send God's Spirit to help them declare what they had seen. Jesus, as Jesus does, is true to his word. The Spirit lights up Pentecost, the first followers of Jesus preach, and 3000 people get baptized. The church enters the world stage with a BANG! Five out of 5 Church growth gurus say, "Success!" And, the First Church was just getting started. In the next episode, John and Peter heal a guy who has never walked in his life and then share Jesus with the gawking crowd. The success and threat of the Jesus Message provokes anxiety in the Jewish leaders, so they arrest Peter and John and put them on trial. The officials threaten Peter and John to keep their Jesus mouths shut but release them because they fear the crowd.  Here enters the pivotal moment.

Peter and John return to the group of Jesus followers with a choice to make: right or left? Choice 1: celebrate the rapid success they have had thus far but dial down the Jesus Message for awhile until things blow over, or Choice 2: keep proclaiming Jesus boldly in spite of the threats. There was no both/and on this one. They had an either/or choice to make: a pivotal moment, not only for the First Church but also for the book of Acts, and , perhaps, the existence of the Church. So...they pray, and in this prayer we uncover a powerful example of how to approach our own pivotal moments. They prayed:

“Sovereign Lord, you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.  You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
“‘Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up
    and the rulers band together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.

 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.  They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.  Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.

I see two things here that can help us in our own pivotal moments.

Thing 1: Trust the sovereignty of God. The First Church opens the prayer with, "God, you made all of this. It seems like you've got this! Nobody is stronger than you!" They trusted that no matter what happened whether trials, death, imprisonment, or nasty beatings, that God was ultimately in control, that the Jesus Message would eventually win! 

So often in our pivotal moments we make the safe choice, the easy choice, the comfortable choice. We choose the path of least resistance and of the most predictable outcome. The First Church knew hiding out was the safe approach. They knew the outcome. On the other hand, they knew it was far less predictable to continuing to bear witness to Jesus. They chose to trust in the sovereignty of God instead of their own fear and comfort. 

As you face your own pivotal moments perhaps you should ask the following question, "If God really is in control, what decision should I make?"

Thing 2: Pray for God and not yourself. I know you are thinking, "God does not need prayers?" Exactly, so let me explain. After confessing and acknowledging God's sovereignty, the First Church does not ask for protection. They do not ask God to keep their kids safe, to secure their means of income, or to soften up the Jewish leaders. But, they do make a request..."Make us bold!" They prayed for God rather than themselves. They prayed that God's desire and his will be done through them. If you listen closely, you hear the echo of Jesus in the Garden, "Not my will but yours..." 

In your pivotal moments, perhaps you can take your cue from the First Church. Although there is nothing wrong with praying, "Father, give me more. Keep me safe. Heal me now," What if you prayed, "Father, give me the courage to make the choice that will make you famous." 

It is inevitable. Moments will come when balance is no longer an option, when life must go to the right or to the left. When those pivotal moments come, remember the First Church. I'm thrilled they trusted in God's sovereignty and prayed to do his will instead of their own. I feel like my life depended on it.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Destination Transformation: Four Keys to Engagement (Part II)

God's plan to transform all things begins by Engaging the Unchurched with the mind-blowing news of Jesus, and he calls the community of Jesus-followers to the task.  In my last Destination Transformation post I addressed two of four keys to engagement: 1) Engaging churches take the initiative and 2) Engaging churches create a presence.  This post will look at two more keys to engagement.

1. Engaging Churches are Relevant.  I am successful in communicating, not when I transfer information from me to you, but when you understand and respond to the transferred information. God entrusts the church with the message of Jesus, a message with cosmic and eternal implications, a message of the most relevance, a message of joy and hope. He also calls the church to communicate the message!

Unfortunately, many established churches fail to communicate the message of Jesus because they have confused the means with the message. The message is eternal but the means must change as culture changes if a church wants to communicate and not simply transfer Jesus information. I believe many of the churches in my tribe (Churches of Christ) are on hospice because they believe it is more important to protect the means than communicate the message. (Fortunately, I am honored to serve at an established church taking the hard and exciting journey of learning again to communicate in relevant ways). We can talk about, we can even scream about Jesus until we turn purple, pass out and wake up stripped naked in a ditch somewhere...you get the idea...but if the message is not heard, if our means of communicating the message is irrelevant, then we might as well be silent.

If I want to share Fun's hit song Some Nights with my sister in Texas, I don't imprint the single on a vinyl record and UPS it (Yes, I used UPS as a verb) to the Metroplex. Most likely she would use it as a coaster or Frisbee. Because although the record contains the message I want to communicate, I have just added a plethora (I first heard this word in the movie The Three Amigos) of obstacles in her way before she can hear the song.  She would have to track down someone who had a record player, borrow their record player, learn how to use the record player and then listen to the song. With four kids I doubt she would go through the effort. Conclusion: record equals information transferred but not communicated - failure!

Instead, I would send her a link to the video on YouTube or a link to a sample on iTunes. "Click" and "Tadah!" music.  The information on both the record and the link are the same, but one creates unnecessary obstacles because it is an irrelevant form of communication. Records where great in the 1940's but are irrelevant to the majority of America today. Many established churches are trying to communicate the message of the gospel on vinyl records in a digital world.

From the beginning, God has intentionally removed communication obstacles. He is the founder of relevant communication. In Acts 2, the pilgrim crowd of Jews have gathered in Jerusalem for the Pentecost celebration. The writer of Acts describes it this way, Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven (Acts 2:5), and with the diverse crowd came a variety of different languages. As the story goes, God sends the Holy Spirit during this high-traffic period to empower his disciples to share the wonders of God with the crowd. As the Holy Spirit descends on the Jesus Community, they begin to share the wonders of God in the multiple languages of the Jerusalem pilgrims: When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken (Acts. 2:6).

God's primary objective was to communicate the message and he removed any obstacle that would keep his target audience from hearing what he wanted to say. He did not wait for the pilgrim crowd to learn Aramaic. He crashed through that obstacle by giving his followers an instant Rosetta Stone experience. If churches want to engage the Unchurched we have to remove any barriers that keep the message from being heard...yes, even our traditions.

2. Engaging Churches Serve in the Name of Jesus.   In Luke 9, Jesus sends out the Twelve to preach that God's reign (Kingdom) is breaking into the world. Luke tells us:

[Jesus] gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God AND to heal the sick (Luke 9:1-2).

Jesus does not simply tell his disciples to preach about God's reign but to impact people's lives at the same time by curing them of their ailments. In other words, the message of God's kingdom comes with examplesThe same stands true today. If churches want to engage the Unchurched then we cannot simply talk about Jesus we have to give examples of Jesus. We must serve our communities in Jesus' name.

We must ask: 1) How can we serve our community? 2) What organizations, both christian and secular, can we partner with to make a difference in our community? 3) What are the needs of the area surrounding our physical location?