Archive for June 2011

There’s Nothing Like A Good Explosion On July 4th!

The Fourth of July harkens to mind images of flags, picnics, family time and fireworks. For some it is the fireworks that stand out as the best part. Growing up in the Kansas (and at a time when you could still buy the good stuff) I looked forward to this time of the year from the time school let out in May. I liked the 4th so much I and a few friends even made our own explosives. Looking back at it all it’s a wonder none of us lost any body parts as we experimented with fireworks manufacturing.

There is some sort of connection between those who love the power and beauty of fireworks AND those who love to see the Kingdom of God make forward progress in lives. Clearly there are some who don’t like fireworks. “It’s too loud! I don’t like the colors! It smells bad!” To those people I say, “You are missing out because of some minor irritations!” Also, clearly there are people who don’t seem to get the advance of the Kingdom of God. Some are unenthused when people are converted to Christ or healed by the power of the Holy Spirit or they have a desire to draw closer to Christ. They seem to be blind to the power and beauty and appeal of God that is right before their eyes. I just don’t get it.

Enjoy the literal fireworks over the next few days. At the same time realize that maybe down deep you are really a spiritual pyromaniac – that God is at work through you with some capital “F” fireworks.

Outliers

Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers looks at those who are outstanding in our culture. I gave this a quick look a while back and totally missed the point Gladwell was getting at unfortunately. My perception had been that he was singing the praises of those who were gifted, blah, blah. To me that’s boring, but that’s not the case with this book. He lays out the case that in virtually all cases the ones we think of as amazing people – software tycoons, amazing athletes, and more – were usually born into ideal settings that allowed them to be uniquely developed. There is an element of dedication in each of these achievers. Specifically these people consistently average an investment of right at 10,000 hours of practice in their various disciplines whether it is piano playing or chess or the Beatles with music or software programing.
Strange as they may sound I find that an encouraging message. Investing sheer time and discipline in a skill set is something any of us can do at any point in life. To be born with an innate talent – now that is non-negotiable. Either you have it or (more likely) you don’t. Gladwell’s point is a person with just an above average skill level (like many of us) can become amazing with enough time and focus passionately invested. 10,000 hours. You can do that. That’s a lot of toilets to clean, but you can do it.

Prayer and Outreach

We had stellar outreach success this past weekend as reported on this blog (6-18-11). We touched lots of people but more importantly those we approached were spiritually open. I’ve done plenty of outreaches where all of the elements of a great outreach seemed to be present yet nothing much happened. What is the difference maker between those times when we fire on all eight cylinders – when there is an obvious anointing, and other times when we are just slogging it out?

This past Saturday we did something a bit differently not on purpose but quite by accident. We have been prayer walking for some months. Those prayer times of going on site to specific areas where we feel impressed to literally both walk about and simultaneously pray have seemed fruitful. We have not been able to measure our fruitfulness – at least not until this past weekend. This time we accidentally double scheduled our prayer walking time with our outreach time. We had people doing a prayer walk in the same areas and the same time as where we did the burger outreaches. In spite of the “mistake” this one-two combination was electric. Many of the outreach people commented that there was a unique sense of freedom present as they went out to share God’s love in practical ways.

It took a scheduling glitch to discover something quite brilliant. I hope we can keep this before us in coming months as we continue to reach out, both on our knees and with beautiful feet at the same time.

Results of Hamburger give away

All I can say is “Wow!” A great time was had by all.

Some technical aspects:
We had a few dozen involved in a combination of preparing, packing and giving away the burgers and hotdogs. We cooked the product in phases, partly because our large grill could only do about 50-75 at a time, but partly because this approach allowed us to keep things warm as we made them and wrapped them in thermal packaging as soon as they came off the grill. Our system worked out well. We used medium-sized coolers for storing the burgers and dogs. Those maintain temperature whether warm or cold. Teams went out with a medium sized supply of burgers and dogs, gave those away, then either returned to home base or had someone bring them a fresh supply. Our team of four went through about 120 sandwiches between our first time out and our resupply time.

Responses & Discoveries:
At first people were a little timid. That might have been partly due to our timidity (I personally wasn’t timid since I had done things like this many times before but some of our people hadn’t done much outreach door to door like this and were intimidated). Also, we started a bit after 11:00 AM – not quite yet the lunch hour so perhaps people weren’t yet hungry. Before long our people got into their stride. We started in an area we felt led to go to that was overtly more economically depressed.
The responses we received were interesting and varied. About 80% of the houses we went to gladly received what we had to give away. I found that as soon as they opened their door, even before we said anything, the expression on their face made it clear they were “open” and pretty much determined whether they would receive from us. Those same people seemed to be spiritually open. When we asked if we could “bless” them they inevitably said yes – meaning we could pray for them momentarily. Numbers of those we prayed for emoted as we prayed – they teared up, or became choked up. It was interesting how many we ran into who were facing impending surgeries and they expressed concern about those outcomes. Those encounters became prayer times with person after person. It seems like God used our presence as an excuse to jumpstart something with those people.

One team went to a particularly challenging trailer park in the city. The first few places they came to didn’t respond to the knock on the door. When they got to the third place the door opened, then the first two places opened up and asked them to return with food. Before long they were circulating throughout the park with burgers and dogs to all the residents. The opening line was the same for everyone – “How many would you like?” – “Like what?” – “Burgers or dogs? We have plenty. We made them just for you – to show you a little bit of God’s love.” – “Well in that case I guess I’ll have a few of each. They are free aren’t they?” The conversations went from there. Literally everyone we talked to – several hundred people – was open to receiving a blessing in the form of a 10-second prayer.

Hamburger give away

Doing sometime a bit different today. Going out to serve part of the city by giving away grilled hamburgers and hot dogs to people. We are going door to door with the offer, “How many would you like?” Of course people will say, “Like what?” To that we will say, “Nicely grilled burgers and dogs. How many would you like?” Of course they will then ask, “What’s the catch?” As usual we will say, “There is no catch. We are just showing God’s love in a practical way. So how many would you like – two, three – how many could you use? They are nice and hot!” (We have them in thermal wrapping.) We are then going to ask if we can offer them a blessing. We plan to pray a generic blessing upon them in most cases – something like, “In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, we bless you. Amen.” Anyone can pray that prayer. It takes almost no practice.

I’ll get back to you when we get done. We are doing 500 of these in an area of town that is not used to receiving a touch of kindness. We’ll see how it all works. We go in humility and dependence upon God for success.

Low risk.

I mean minimizing what can go haywire.
A lot of what I tried to do early on in the Christian life was high-risk ministry. That is, a lot could go wrong. Sometimes a lot did go wrong. There were a lot of moving parts to go haywire. It was marked with complexity so there was the great possibility that something would go wrong. The more complex we make something the more likely it is to break down.
I like cars that are cool. A friend of mine has an amazing car that has a lot of features. It is quite impressive, or at least it was impressive for its first 18 months until little things started going wrong with many of the shiny dodads. It wasn’t long after that that the manufacturer’s warranty expired, then he was stuck with a vehicle that was riddled nit picky problems that drove him crazy. It got to the point that he couldn’t even get his windows to roll down without investing $500. Ouch! There is an outreach lesson to the wise in this car story. Sometimes it’s better to stick with the basic model and steer clear of things that are the extravagant versions.

I’ve done a lot of things that have gone south, especially in the realm of outreach. I’m at the point now where I seek to minimize the risk as much as possible. Instead of going for the glitzy, I say let’s just go with the basic approach that will get us from point A to point B efficiently. Quick, easy, no one gets hurt. Let’s wash cars. Let’s clean toilets. Let’s mow lawns. Let’s knock on doors at the trailer park and give away juicy, fresh hot hamburgers by asking, “How many would you like?” There’s not a lot of room for error there. There’s not a lot that can go wrong. I like that. I think you will too. Let’s go do some damage to the powers of darkness.

A walk of obedience

Janie and I did an internship at a large Vineyard church on the west side of Los Angeles some years ago. One outstanding fact about that amazing congregation was the many Hollywood personalities and those who were trying to make it on the music scene. Most of those present were new to following Jesus so it was an exciting time for everyone.
At a Friday Believer’s Meeting I ran into a guy who looked a lot like a member of one of my all-time favorite bands. This group has been in the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame for years. I mentioned to him that he looked remarkably like a rock star from that band and he said, “That’s because I am him.” Doh!
Over the next couple of years I got to know him fairly well as we led worship at baptisms and various other events together. (NOTE: a Hall of Fame guitar player will make any worship leader sound great.)
This guy had famously and suddenly quit his band a year earlier. That was fact had become well known because Rolling Stone magazine had written much about it. Leaving the group seemed like an illogical decision since he wasn’t asked out of the group according to all the stories. I might have been out of place but I had to ask him what was behind his decision to quit. He said something that continues to impress me till this day.
“What happened was I came to Christ!” (That’s a story for another day. It is exciting.)
“One day shortly after I gave my heart to Jesus I just woke up and the Lord spoke to me. He told me I had to leave the group or ‘I would die.’ I wasn’t sure if he meant ‘die spiritually’ or ‘physically’ or ‘emotionally.’ It didn’t matter. I knew that was the Lord warning me.”
I retorted, “But couldn’t you have figured out a way to stay with the group and just given God the glory for your new faith in Christ?”
“God told me to quit. That was it. I had to quit. I knew it would be costly but I had to quit. At the time I didn’t know any better than to just obey the Lord.” Wow. As they say, “That will preach.” His wisdom haunts me still.
That step of obedience cost my friend tens of millions of dollars in concerts and new album sales. His band is still touring to sold-out mega venues of Boomers who want to revisit the music of their youth. Still he has no regrets he says.
I wonder how powerful the Church will be when we get to that point of fearing the Lord more than we fear the loss of income or than we fear the loss of apparent opportunity. Our best days are yet to come. Let’s obey our way forward.

Few touch many.

It doesn’t take a large crew to make leave a big footprint. Victory in God’s kingdom has always gone to the underdogs. God nearly always anoints a miniscule group to do his bidding. I find this encouraging since all that I have started has been small – usually for a long time if not forever. What God builds usually starts (and typically stays) on the smallish side. I used to say that it started small but then would grow large, but now I see that often numbers usually only grow fat. I now see that it is almost always the case that a radical but small fringe gets the Kingdom lifestyle and message. Why does it stay small? It’s all about the offensive cost of mercy. Jesus said “Many are called but few are chosen” (Matt. 18). The context of that verse could well be restated, “Many are called but few choose” the Kingdom. The Kingdom, as God defines it, is always something that is set up according to his parameters, not ours. Most don’t like that much, so they protest, they decide it’s not for them, and vote themselves out of it like the religious people in Matthew chapter 18 (yes, it was the religious people who decided not to participate in the Kingdom once they figured out how the mercy of God works as in this story).

This Jesus story is fresh with me today. A few of us went out mixing it up with dozens of lost people who, like those in Nineveh, didn’t know their left hand from their right. We did a $1 carwash. We washed people’s cars and paid them a dollar for the privilege of serving them. We stunned many. Numbers teared up. We teared up! I’m always amazed what can happen when a few, enthused, dedicated people move in a common direction and pour their hearts into something. Do something great with God. It only takes a few.

Non-aggressive.

Have you ever been dogged by someone that was excited about their faith? I was in the New York City area a while back when I got off a subway overpass in Queens to the sound of some Spanish preaching Pentecostals who were taking turns preaching (yelling loudly more accurately) into a bullhorn. As one finished his turn he turned the mic over to the next with a high five and a chuckle. Those guys were having a good time at what they were doing, but clearly they were not connecting with the crowd. My ears were nearly bleeding! The crowd was trying to ignore them and everyone wished they would unplug themselves and go home. They were overly aggressive and not connecting with the passing crowds. I believe God will use any approach to sharing the Gospel we make available to him, but some approaches are awfully difficult for him to use!

Just below there another church was doing an outreach based on serving. They were washing cars, trucks – even a huge metro garbage truck pulled up to test the sincerity of the team’s faith! (Yes, they passed the test and made it spick and span!) This was a study in contrasts. The group below the overpass was attracting a crowd, bit by bit, little by little, and making an impact one person at a time with no sound reinforcement other than to say, “We are showing Jesus’ love in a practical way…” (There were plenty of conversations that followed those introductory words.)

Before I became a Believer I met an occasional person who was downright excited about Christ – not many of them, but a few along the way. Those people got me thinking about the possibility of following Jesus. It began to occur to me that there was something out there that was worth giving my life for. Positive zeal is powerful and beautiful. Our zeal needs to be a lot like the oath doctors take upon graduation before they treat their first patient: “First, do no harm…!”