How To Be Happy in Church

exciting or boring

Even though I am a pastor I love going to church. I loved it before I was a pastor and I love it just as much now whether I am leading or not.

Every time I am on vacation I have this problem.  I want to go to church and everyone thinks I am crazy.  You are on vacation.  Why would you want to go to church?!  Well… because I love it.

What makes church boring for some people and incredibly exciting for others?  

Some people have learned how to be happy in church.

Of Course, I’ve Heard All That Before

Almost every time I preach I get the same comment from someone.  “Yeah, that’s good, but I’ve heard it before.  It is nothing new. I already knew that.”  I am sorry to say it but this comment and the feelings behind it are a sign that a person is spiritually unhealthy and possibly dying. 

Jesus knew that the Word of God is like food for us.  A human being cannot live only on food, but must consume every Word that God speaks. (Matt 3:4 paraphrase)

Imagine a similar comment about food.  A person who has not eaten all day walks into a restaurant. The waiter brings a piping hot plate of something really good. The starving person looks at the food and says, “Eh, that’s okay, but I’ve already eaten that before.

What do we immediately know about this person?  If it is really true they haven’t eaten all day then something is wrong with their body. They are sick, possibly dying.

How do we fix this condition?

1) Assume God Will Speak

The most important thing is not whether the preacher is good.  What matters most is whether the Word of God is preached. If it is then we can be confident God is speaking. Even if the Bible is misunderstood or wrongly applied God will still speak through it to those who are listening.

It is nice to eat really tasty food, but what it tastes like is not the most important thing.

2) Takes Notes

God is speaking, so pay attention!  Can you hear Him?  You don’t have to take notes, but you need to do whatever helps you really listen, not just to the speaker but to God. Taking notes helps me.  Do whatever it takes to pay attention and hear what God is saying to you. 

3) Do Something Immediately!

This step is very important. Once you have heard something from God you must put it into practice immediately. Hearing the Word of God is like smelling good food.  Doing it is like eating. If you hear that anger is bad or God answers prayer, do not say ‘Oh yeah, I already knew that.’  Search your life and find something you can do to become more like this right away, even before you leave church.  When you do you will see God act and your spirit will come alive.

Doing these three steps consistently will revolutionize your life and experience of church.  Most of the people around you will be half asleep while your sit on the edge of your seat eagerly listening for God to speak through the most boring preacher in the world. 

by Isaac Whiting

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How to Worship With Little Kids

andrew and joy 2We have four boys, ages 11, 7, 2 and 3 months. Our two year old is loud. In church he dances all over the place and yells things during prayer. Even when he whispers you can hear it four pews away.  Yes, our church has pews. At our church the kids stay in the main service during worship.

So how do you worship when you have little kids?  Here are a few things God has shown me over the years.

Don’t Model Embarrassment

Your kids are going to become like you.  They learn from your actions more than your words. What do you want to model for them in worship?  Are you going to sit in the back because they are so loud and you are embarrassed?  What does that teach them? We need to hide our messiness from the church and from God?  Sit in the front.

What are the little things you do during church teaching your children?

Talk to Them in Worship

You have your mind focused on God.  You are thinking about all the amazing things He has done for you.  You can feel the Holy Spirit.  Does that mean you can’t talk to your kids?  No, it means you have to talk to them from the heart.

Lets suppose you are in worship and your kids start fighting.  Separate them.  Then use your prepared heart to try and draw them in.  I will take one of my fighting children, put an arm around them and talk to them about God.  I usually start by asking them if they understand the song, or what we are doing.  Or I ask about a symbol in the church. What does that dove mean son?  As soon as I find something they are interested in I answer their questions from a place of worship.

Discipline is Part of Worship

Kids need discipline.  Adults need discipline from God. We need it to make us better people. We need it to be happy. Why would this not be part of worship?

Christians claim to be a family of God.  We claim to be a community of deep love.  And in this family of love am I afraid to discipline my child the way I would at home?  Why?  I am not saying you should spank your toddler in front of the whole church. But I have heard the excuse many times that parents can’t make their kids listen in church because they can’t discipline them there.  I do it all the time.

Time out. Take away a toy. For older kids taking away a privilege later. All these are effective means that can be done right in your seat.  What if they still don’t listen.  Then you pull them out of the middle of the service and deal with it thoroughly. Last month I made our two year old take a nap in another room for half the service. He screamed bloody murder. Some people heard it. I missed part of the service, but the last few weeks have been much better.

Use Their Presence to Make Your Worship More Authentic

Our kids aren’t going to be perfect.  We often put up such a perfect image in worship.  We are clean and nicely dressed and happy and singing with our hands lifted up.  Our kids bring a dose of real life into worship. Use it.  Your kids are part of you and you of them. The things they do right or wrong are also in you. Take everything you are, kids included, and place it before God.

Church Experiments: The Awakening Part 2

alarm clock…this is part two in a series.  Click here for part 1.

Staff Awakening

December, 2008. There were seven adults and six children involved.  All seven committed to the practices in Part 1 and the kids participated in limited ways.  Each person also gave up something they enjoy for the entire 29 days.

During this time we became like a family. Particularly important were the daily phone calls and the shared meals. Conflicts arose after a couple of weeks between people who had never been in conflict before. This was good. In every case it led to deeper relationship. Almost every member of the group commented on personal problems they usually had that were not present during the Awakening. The experience was a mountaintop and spiritual high point.

At the end most of the group was excited to continue in some way. We decided to have meals together once a month and to call each other occasionally. We all agreed to this, but it never happened. Our relationships went back from being like family to friends and co-workers. Once the required discipline and commitment was taken away, all the shared practices and the community that was formed by them evaporated.

Youth Awakening

February, 2009. Seven youth and five leaders committed to do the awakening.

As with the staff the experience created a sense of unity, purpose and seeking after God together. It took longer for this to happen, but by the third week and especially after the retreat everyone in the group felt a real sense of belonging.

This Awakening was much more work for the leaders than the first had been. By the end almost everyone was excited and positive about the experience, including parents. However, before it began there was resistance both from parents and youth over the idea. This was overcome through prayer, listening and explanation.

During the awakening there were amazing changes in many of the youth. Some who had discipline problems and trouble paying attention became helpful and engaged. Some who were shy became excited and involved. Some who prayed only when I made them began to pray on their own. Some read more Bible than required. The three who were baptized were very excited.

Overall, it was a difficult but hugely rewarding experience. I felt as if I had entered the battle instead of sitting on the sidelines. The fight was hard, but things happened. The changes that occurred in this one month were greater than the changes I had seen in three years prior.

Final Thoughts

Our hope was that the Awakening would create a core membership of the youth group that would be united, seek God together and that this core would then draw in others. Over time it succeeded. This group became the core around which a whole new youth group was formed. The new group is larger and much more focused on Christ. Amazingly, Jesus’ strategy of starting with a deep, committed core of people actually works.

However, the Awakening did not work for everyone. Some people who were very committed during the experience could not maintain their commitment to Christ without that community and slowly drifted away.

How To Be a Tech Hero

Research

I hesitate to post this.  Everyone who reads it will find out that I don’t really know much about computers at all.  I just know where to go to find the answer fast.

Hey, do you know how to download a youtube video?  How do you copy a dvd?  How do I get this weird video file to play?  Do you know how to edit a pdf?  How can I cleanup my computer and make it faster?

It doesn’t even matter what the question is.  Here’s the answer.

1) Ask this question.  Would a special computer program be able to solve my problem?  And does this program probably exist?

About 80% of the time the answer is yes and Yes!

2) Go to techsupportalert.com  or google gizmo freeware

This site is not very good for browsing, but it is absolutely incredible for finding a free program you can download immediately that does exactly what you want.  Use the search box or look at their categories.

Let’s say someone asks you to convert a .wmv video to .mp4 and you have no idea what that means.  Just pretend like you do. Go to techsupportalert and search for convert video. Look for an article that starts with the word Best, as in ‘Best Free Audio-Video Conversion Program’.  This page will give you a detailed description of four or five great programs that will do what you want for free. Drop down to their quick selection guide and pick the one they recommend the most. Download it.

Make sure you at least glance at the instructions.  These programs are always safe, but sometimes install other annoying programs you don’t need.  They will give you tips on how to avoid that.

In a few minutes you will have a new program, convert your friend’s video and you will be a Tech Hero!!  A Genius!  How do you know so much about computers?!

This simple strategy will work for tons of computer challenges. Use it to make friends. It can be especially useful when someone you have been on bad terms with is in a bind.

Be careful who you tell the secret to. Some people will love you if you do it for them, but won’t believe you if you tell them how.

by isaac whiting

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Book Review: Company of the Committed – Elton Trueblood

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This is an amazing book published in 1961 that predicted what has happen to the church. Trueblood calls for things that many Christians and churches today are just waking up to.

Summary:  The Church is a company of soldiers, metaphorically speaking, who live with Jesus and go forward on his mission in the world. The Church is loving communities established not for themselves, but in order to help and bless everyone else.

Good Stuff:  

Preaching may not in some instances be helpful to those who listen, but it is almost always helpful to those who speak.

“I just let my life speak.”  What one of among us is so good that he can let his life speak and leave it at that?

Sometimes the best witness if that of the church as a whole.

The vital idea is that the pastor is the helper of the ordinary lay members in the performance of their daily ministry in the midst of secular life.

The concept of a churchgoer is inept. Christians may indeed come in but they do so only that they may go out.

In many churches the entire church operation points to a climax on Sunday morning.

The church building [should be like] a drill hall for the Christian task force

Great discipline in regard to style as well as content must be learned if we really seek to reach contemporary minds.

We ask what Presbyterians believe but we seldom ask how Presbyterians love.

In all periods of great vitality the church has been deeply concerned for the welfare of those who are not adherents at all.

If God, as we believe, is truly revealed in the life of Christ the most important thing to Him is the creation of centers of loving fellowship which in turn infect the world.

Complaints:  ??  None really. I love this book.

Also, this book is available for FREE online!

What’s Your Story? Here’s Mine.

Corridor SkyEaster is a time to remind each other of what Jesus did.  What he did then and what he’s done now.  Here’s my story.  What’s yours?

I didn’t grow up in the church. I was given a lot of freedom when I was young and as a fairly shy person didn’t know what to do with it. I experienced serious depression as a teenager. I was always good in school and used success to build up my ego. I decided I was “the smartest person who has ever lived”. In college I devoted myself to philosophy. I thought if anyone could figure out the meaning of life just by thinking about it surely that person was me. The more I studied the less I knew and the more depressed I became.

        One sunny day while walking under my dark cloud I realized that there was one thing I had never truly doubted. I had pretended to doubt it, but deep down I had always known that everything we see around us came from somewhere. I had always known there was some kind of God. Not a weird spirit-being out there, but something that created all this. That day began my search into what people thought about God and why. I studied Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Hinduism. I took classes, read books and talked with people. I also began reading a bible someone gave me in grade one.

        I used to be a very ‘logical’ person. I always had to ‘prove’ everything. By the summer of 2000 my bible reading had brought me to the gospel of Luke, which my ‘logical’ mind could not comprehend. Jesus simply commands and tells. He rarely explains and never proves anything. As I read, however, I experienced something entirely new. Something entered my mind that was not me. In fact, it was very different from me. It was a voice, it was very loud and this is what it said, “THESE ARE THE WORDS OF MY SON. LISTEN TO HIM!” You may think that I am lying or crazy, but I am neither. This happened and I can remember it as well as I remember eating breakfast this morning. I stood up and it stopped. It returned every time I sat down to read for about five minutes.

        That experience became my proof. I became more certain that Jesus Christ is the Son of God than I have ever been of anything else. I was and am willing to bet my life on it.

Introverts: You Are Not Defective!

Book Review: Quiet  by Susan CainImage

Summary:  Western culture thinks extroverts are better than introverts.  The truth is that both types are necessary and complement each other. Our extrovert bias causes lots of problems.  These two personality types have a physiological basis and can be identified even in infants. We need to realize how introverted or extroverted we are and plan our time and energy around this.  Asian cultures value introversion the way we do extroversion.  Introverts can learn to ‘fake’ extroversion.  This is useful but unhealthy if done too often. We should teach children who are introverts how to be themselves.

Good Stuff:

Huge boost to anyone who is an introvert in North America. You will suddenly see all the potential in your personality type.  Your personality is not defective.  Your strengths may be undervalued, but they are powerful.

Section entitled, “Does God Love Introverts?  An Evangelical’s Dilemma.”  Highlights the sometimes extreme bias towards extroversion in evangelical churches. The good people are always happy, talkative, friendly and talking about Jesus to everyone they meet.  Was Jesus an extrovert?

Advice on how to fake extroversion is brilliant. This is necessary in western culture at times.  Also good advice on how to do it without burning yourself out.

Chapter on Asian culture gives great insight into cross cultural communication.  My favorite quote from this chapter from an Asian woman in a university class in the US, “Ahh, I see.  In America as soon as you start talking you are okay.”

The end of the book is a good warning for extroverted parents of introverts.  Try to help them but don’t try to fix them.  They aren’t broken.

Complaints:  Not many.  This book is awesome.

Conclusion:  I highly recommend this book to those who are quieter or like to be alone.  Introvert/Extrovert is a powerful lens to view the world through.  Introverts are devalued in western society and Susan Cain strikes a powerful blow at that kind of thinking. Quiet is balanced and very well researched.  We really need extroverts to read this book as well.  Probably knowing that many of them won’t Cain kindly made a TED talk video on the same subject.   Although, to be honest, the book is much better than the TED talk.  http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts.html

by Isaac Whiting

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Book Review – Everyday Church

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 by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis

Summary:  The church is at the edge of society. We need to accept it and redefine church as small groups of people living life deeply together with a purpose to spread the gospel.  Our main thing needs to be small groups sharing life and mission together instead of Sunday morning.

Good Stuff:

“We have a loose connection with Christians on Sunday but then largely we go back to living our everyday lives on our own.”

True Biblical rebuke and correction can only happen when people share everyday life together.

“The church leader is someone who is sacrificed from the front life to equip everyone else for the front line. “

Law says “You Should…”  Gospel says “You need not…”

“We need truths we already know pushed down into the everyday realities of our lives.”

“Many Christians function as if the church is a meeting…an entity with structures such as constitutions, ministers, elders, committees and so on.”

Ministry is something done by ordinary Christians with the support of pastors.

An interesting section on how to speak gospel ideas into everyday conversations.

“A good church is a church in which the believers share their lives together as an alternative and authentic society.”

“This is what we are all about: just hanging out, doing nothing spectacular, but with gospel intentionality.”

“If the bulk of a church’s time and energy goes into the Sunday meeting, then everyday church will not happen.”

Complaints:

Some of their suggestions for how to do everyday mission sound like it is only for super social outgoing people. They say you should eat meals with other people as much as possible, walk places and be a regular at certain stores so you can strike up conversations with strangers and you should be exciting not boring.  “You will never attract people to Jesus if you are not excited about Jesus.”  “Our job is to have fun to the glory of God!”

In their conclusion they say groups of believers living together on mission must be more important than Sunday mornings for it to work.  But then they suggest you could keep the current model of church and just add some small gospel community groups to it. Which one is it?

Conclusion:

Overall a good book. They ran out of steam a couple of places, but most of it is useful.  It goes over the standard missional church story but doesn’t spend too long on it. There is lots of practical advice and examples.  If you have no idea what missional church is or are confused by it like most people, this is a good book to read.

Why You Should Never Grab Your Children

ImageWe have three-and-a-half children.  Sometimes we want to run away screaming.  However, we consistently get compliments about their behavior. A dozen times old ladies have given them candy or money because they were so impressed. Being a parent is complicated, but here is one rule that goes a long way.  Don’t Grab Your Children!

I see it constantly. A child is doing something that embarasses her parents. Maybe they are running in church or going after that fragile decoration on a friends coffee table. Mom or dad tells them to stop and is ignored. So they grab her. The parent physically stops the kid from doing whatever it was. This is always a mistake.

Now, I am no bleeding heart.. I am a believer in spanking at the right moment and age. The problem with grabbing your kids is that it doesn’t work. The child is out of control. They need something to control them. But when you grab them the point of control is outside their mind and body.

Imagine you are the child. You know you are doing something wrong. That is the seed of responsibility and self control. As soon as mom grabs you it is taken away.  It is mom’s responsibility to hold you back, not yours.  You learn that you can do whatever you want and someone else will make sure you don’t go too far. That is a super bad lesson to learn.

But you say, what else can I do?  The answer is simple and bears incredible fruit.
Don’t Grab Your Kids!
I like to think of it as a game.  Here are the rules.

1) You must get them to stop if you said no.

If you say no you have to deal with it.  You face it head on every single time, even if it is small.  If little Billy is climbing on a table and you have never told him he can’t then fine, you can let it go on.  But if even once you say ‘No climbing on tables’’ you MUST confront Billy until he stops.

2)  You cannot touch them  

You can’t grab Billy and pretend to hug him so he doesn’t climb up anymore. You must use your words. You can promise consequences as long as you follow through.. This means Billy has to think. The point of control is inside himself.  You are giving water and sunlight to that seed of responsibility. The choice is his.

3) You can punish them in appropriately

Billy is going to ignore you. He must have consistent consequences just like he will later as an adult. Spanking and timeouts can be good, but be creative. Most times there are more important things you can take away. Don’t think of this as doing something against your child.  You are helping them.

That’s it!  Win the ‘Don’t Grab Your Kids Game’  and soon your children will learn responsibility. They will respond when you say something and little old ladies will love them.

Tell me what you think –  Isaac

The Baptist is Coming to Wreck Your Party

ImageChristmas was great. We watched the kids dress up like sheep and tell us about the baby Jesus. We opened presents and drove a long way. Things aren’t perfect but they are pretty good. Time for a New Years party!

So what happens next?

What comes after the baby Jesus?  The answer is John the Baptist.  He lives in the wilderness. He eats bugs. He wears clothes that rub his skin raw and he breaks into beehives with his bare hands. His hair is all matted and he has a crazed look in his eyes. Run!  The Baptist is coming to wreck your party.

Here is the deal.  John the Baptist lived a life that should scare us sober.  He was Jesus’ cousin. An angel told his parents that he should follow certain rules for his entire life, the rules of a Nazirite.  You can find these in Numbers chapter 6.  He couldn’t eat or drink anything made from grapes.  But people drank wine at every meal and ate a lot of raisins.  No parties for John. He could never be near a dead body.  If his mom died he couldn’t go to the funeral.  And he could NEVER cut his hair. Just like Samson.  Samson had long braids.  In John’s case think dreadlocks.

At about 13 he left home and lived in the wilderness.  Hot, desert-ish scrubland. He was alone there for 15 years!  What did he do?  He prayed, listened and looked for God.

Around the age of 30 he began yelling a message from God.  Word spread and thousands of people went to hear him.  He yelled at them and then he baptized them. Jesus came. John screamed something about this guy being a lamb and saving the world.  About four people paid attention.

After that he called the king a godless sinner.  They arrested him and chopped off his head.

What kind of life is this?  No friends. No family.  Virtually no childhood. No job, no parties, basically no food, no stuff, no nothing. An entire life devoted to just one word:  REPENT.

And what does that mean?  It means recognize that something is wrong. The world is not just okay. Your life is not just okay.

We are so used to the things being wrong that we put on a smile and ignore them.  The people John spoke to lived in a world filled with evil, corruption and oppression.  But that is how its always been right?  Can’t do anything about that. Just do your best and enjoy what you can.  John said NO.

It’s the same for us. We are blind to the things we do wrong. We shake our heads at the news every day, but do nothing. And just think of all those family issues you ignored last week. John says NO.

The baby Jesus came to bring peace.  But no one can receive Jesus unless they accept what the Baptist has to say.