No Fun

Some of the funnest things I’ve ever done have been within the context of Christianity.  No joke.  Like, one time, I drove to Nashville in the middle of the night to help a friend return a laptop to his girlfriend.  Then, just a couple of weeks later, I drove to Nashville in the middle of the night again to drop some missionaries off at the airport there.  But not all of my fun involved driving somewhere at night.  I did other things, things that made a difference in people’s lives and caused me great joy.

One of my favorite bloggers and authors, Jon Acuff, makes me laugh.  His blog gets serious, but it also includes many things that I can’t help but post to Facebook and tweet about.  Recently, he wrote an article for the CNN Religion blog.  This is typically a minefield, basically a disaster waiting to happen because of the content being so divisive or controversial.  But Jon did nothing of the sort.  He actually wrote a very good piece about God being a God of love.  In it, he referred to the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15, which is a great story about a father greeting his son with sacrificial love when he returns home from a time of squandering wealth and disappointment.  If you want the story of God and man in one short story, there it is.  Check it out if you haven’t.  Anyway, Jon wrote about this love and how the father threw a party for the lost son instead of condemning him.

Jon then said that this is like our God.  Throwing parties instead of condemnation and shame?  Sounds about right, regardless of what you heard in church growing up.  As I read this article, I agreed with Jon.  Then I did something that sometimes makes me mad…I scrolled through the comments.

I couldn’t believe it.  People had a problem with a loving God!  It was strange to me, since this article was a breath of fresh air from what many grew up in church hearing.  Then, I saw a comment that made me stop and think.  Just one line that packs so much into it:

“We go to church to worship God the Holy Trinity. You shouldn’t find ‘fun’ there, but repentance, joy, and peace.”

Woah.  I reread it multiple times.  In this simple statement is so much hurt, anger, and misguided belief.  I’m curious as to what happened to make this person say this.  Did the pastor or minister really preach this?  Did the church practice this?  And what’s not fun about repentance, joy, and peace?  Especially joy!  Isn’t joy a leading cause of fun?  Anyway you look at it, it still blows my mind.

What is the truth here?  I’m not the end-all, and I know everyone can chip in on this, but here are some thoughts that resonate with me after reading this comment.

If being a Christian doesn’t have a degree of “fun” to it, I’m not sure if I want to deal with it.  Who in their right mind would do something that has absolutely no potential of having at least a little bit of enjoyment, if not forced?  Don’t get me wrong, we all do things we don’t want to do.  But that’s usually something like taking out the trash or doing laundry.  It’s a small task that must be done.  But to sign my entire life up for something that yields no joy?  I’m not sure if I want in that.  But here’s the fact: I am a Christian.  And I enjoy it.  And I have fun.  Even while in church, worshiping a God who threw a party for me when I came back home.  What’s not to love about this picture?  Church, done right, should be one of the most satisfying times for a person because you are communing with God and with others.  There’s absolutely nothing better than that.

Churches and church leaders have a huge responsibility.  This should go without saying, but if there are Christians walking around defeated, it’s because there are churches and church leaders who act defeated.  This is the same for people who don’t have “fun” while worshiping.  This is probably because their church really isn’t fun.  For anyone.  It’s time for churches and leaders to step up and show what “life to the full” looks like, as Jesus described in John 10:10.

Jesus said that Christians should have life to the fullest extent.  Jesus made it clear in John 10:10.  He was comparing what the mission of satan was, to his mission.  He clearly states the mission of the previous was to steal, kill, and destroy.  But the mission of Jesus?  It’s so people might have life, and have it to the full.  This means that life to the fullest extent should be the life of every Christian.  Think of the last Christian you talked to, apart from yourself if you’re in that boat.  Would you say their life is being lived to the fullest extent?  I’m afraid that there are more people who would say “no” to that than “yes.”  What’s the problem?  I venture to say that it is a lack of fun.  If life is being lived to the fullest extent, it’s going to be fun.

Repentance, joy, and peace are fun.  This is simple.  Repentance means turning from the things that you were once in.  Things that might have been fun.  And therein lies the problem for too many Christians.  Becoming a follower of Jesus means trading in fun for listening to only Christian music in the car, carrying around a Bible, and wearing cheesy t-shirts.  I know that’s an overused example, but too many people believe it.  What actually happens is you trade in empty fun for fun to the fullest extent.  Oh, did I not mention it?  Jesus came that we may have life to the fullest extent.  That means fun to the fullest extent.  Peace to the fullest extent.  Joy to the fullest extent.

Statements like the comment above drive people to do crazy things, like plant churches.  Ever wonder why there is an abundance of church plants and revived established churches recently?  People need to know that comments like the one above are not OK.  In fact, they’re wrong.  Not in a shameful way, but in a misguided way.

So, let’s have some fun, OK?

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Lessons From Lexington

I’ve always enjoyed watching TV preachers.  I know that sounds weird because most people can’t stand them, but I’ve loved it.  Not the preachers who only preach on TV.  A lot of those guys are kind of shady.  I’m talking about the pastors and ministers who broadcast their regular worship services on TV.  Growing up, I would sit in front of the TV on Sunday mornings and watch a couple of guys on the local ABC station, know to me only as “Channel 36.”

One of the guys that came on was an old white-haired man that took a sharp breath between every sentence.  I remember watching him and seeing his enthusiasm for whatever he was talking about.  I loved it.  I also remember that I always felt better after listening to him, like I had hope about something.  Later, I would find that this is a mark of Jesus, because he, too, inspired hope, among other things.  His name was Brother Byron Jessup.  I even wrote him a letter one time, and he sent me a letter back.  I was thrilled.  I also received the KJV Bible on audio tape from his church in the mail.  It was like Christmas came early to me that year.

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Another guy that I loved to listen to was Wayne B. Smith.  He was the minister of a huge church in Lexington named Southland Christian Church.  I didn’t know anything about Southland, but I loved watching Wayne.  His laugh always made me, as a kid, feel like he really loved what he did.  I couldn’t say that about all the preachers I had seen.  He also reminded me of my great-grandfather, although I wouldn’t realize that until later in childhood.  I vividly remember the first time I heard the complete story of Jesus.  It was around Easter time, and I was watching Southland.  This explanation was simple to me.  A man came, lived, did miracles, and died.  But then he rose again.  And he did it just so I could be something else.  Not just a person, but a person with a purpose.  Even in my early childhood, around 7 or 8 years old, I understood this.  It was because of Wayne B. Smith that I later came to know Jesus personally.  They way Wayne carried himself and what he said from the pulpit often reminded me of things I had heard about Jesus.

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Currently, I am in graduate school.  More specifically, I’m in seminary to receive a Master of Divinity degree.  I just completed a paper yesterday for one of my church history classes.  It was one of those end-of-the-term want-to-pull-your-hair-out research thesis papers.  I chose to write about my own topic, and that was the shift of church planting since the 1950s.  As a part of that paper, I researched the history and story of Southland Christian Church, as well as Wayne B. Smith, which he planted in 1956.  I learned some things from Wayne that I can definitely use now as a church planter and minister.  Maybe you can use them too.

Always be ready to laugh.  Perhaps one of the most distinct characteristics of Wayne is his laugh.  It starts from the belly, and it’s loud and booming.  The guy is always having a good time, no matter where he is at!  I know that isn’t true about some church leaders, and that’s unfortunate.  I think people are drawn to Wayne because of his laughter.  That’s the reason I love watching late night TV talk shows like Jimmy Fallon.  It just feels like you could sit down with Wayne or Fallon and have a stitch in your side from laughter.  You want to be around these people because they inspire life in every situation.  So, be a person of laughter.  I learned that from Wayne.

Change is necessary, and it is usually good.  In 1995, Wayne announced his retirement.  He would step down from Southland Christian Church so they could bring in a new leader to lead Southland in a new age.  He understood that he couldn’t and shouldn’t do it.  That’s incredibly mature and wise.  He started the church in 1956, and knew some things would have to change to reach people beyond 1995.  He knew that he didn’t know how to do that.  So he knew that they should bring in someone who did.  Eventually they hired Mike Breaux and he led the church into the new millennium.  Then, Breaux stepped down and Jon Weece took the stage as leader, ushering in new methods of church ministry.  Wayne loves it.  Last August, he was brought out in the middle of a sermon of Jon’s to talk about the new campus that they were opening up at the old Lexington Mall on Richmond Road.  Was he bitter and thought it was a waste of money?  Not at all!  He loved it!  He told about the building and how beautiful it was.  He then shared his excitement for the people that will be affected by this building of a new campus.  Which leads me to the next thing…

Always be about the people.  It is often said that Wayne would take buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken and a box of Kentucky chocolates to people he visited.  In fact, that’s how he negotiated the acreage of land where the Harrodsburg Road campus currently sits.  He cares about people, and still visits with people.  He is the definition of a servant leader.  Even when he couldn’t visit with you, you still felt like he cared about you.  Even though I had never met Wayne before in my life, I remember sitting in my living room as a 9 year old and feeling like Wayne knew me and wanted to see the best for me.  I’ll never forget that, and I hope I have the same effect on people in my ministry.

Last year, while working at KCU, I got an opportunity to speak to Wayne for the first time in my life.  Bob Russell, a friend of Wayne’s, was speaking in chapel and Wayne accompanied him.  As chapel ended and people left, I remained seated, talking to a few friends.  I look up and see Wayne walking down the aisle beside me with a walker.  I walk over, opened up the door, and waited for him to go through.  As he passed through, he looked at me and asked me my name.  I told him, and then I just blurted it out: “Thank you for what you have done in your ministry.  If it weren’t for you and for ‘The Southland Hour’, I probably wouldn’t know Jesus today.”  He was silent at first as he looked at me, then he asked me what I’m doing now.  I told him that worked at KCU at that time, but I was preparing to leave to plant a church.  Then he asked for my address so he could send me a book of his to help me out, a book that includes many of his sermons and illustrations.

It looks like the 9-year-old me was right.  Wayne actually does care about me, even though he had never met me.

I received the book, and it is one of my favorites.  Not because of what the book says, but because of the author.  I think it is fitting that the best piece of advice that I have ever heard came from Southland’s current leader, Jon Weece: “Everyone is important.”

I think I know why Jon said that.  Whenever you meet Wayne, it is obvious that he believes it and he carries it out everyday.  May I do the same.

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Words To Live By

In case you are reading this and didn’t know it already, I attended a small eastern Kentucky Christian university.  I majored in ministry and Biblical studies there.  I absolutely loved my time at Kentucky Christian University, and I learned a ton.  I also met a bunch of people, got to hang out with them, and did tons of things that I would have never gotten to do otherwise (like getting to randomly drive to Nashville in the middle of the night…twice).

One of the things I learned was simplicity.  I loved packing my day full of things to do and people to see, but I valued the times where all I had to do was one or two things.  For example, I loved Sundays because of the simple schedule I had.  I was an intern at a local church, so I taught during the 10am hour at this church, and then participated in the worship service in the morning.  After that, I’d come back to my dorm and…do whatever I wanted.  It was great!  It usually consisted of watching NFL football while falling asleep, then waking up in time to go to dinner.  It was simple, and I loved it.

Simple is good.  I actually just gave a message at a church about simplicity in Christianity.  You can check that out here.  As I was thinking about that, I began to think about words.  Weird, I know.  But there are certain words that I love.  They describe either who I am or what I value.  And, as Craig Groeschel says, “What you value determines what you do.”

These words aren’t earth-shattering or full of profound wisdom.  But they are important to me, and maybe important to you.

Audacious.  This might be a strange word, and I’ve got to be honest: I ripped it off from Steven Furtick.  He uses it a lot, so I took it.  It’s important because I believe this is the type of faith God calls us to have.  Which, to be honest, having the opposite of this — a safe faith, I guess — is almost an oxymoron.  If I have faith in someone or something, it MUST be audacious.  If not, then I don’t really have faith.  I just have hope that something will come through or happen.  Unfortunately, a lot of Jesus followers live with a safe faith.  But I don’t read the Bible and see stories of a safe faith.  Therefore, I love the word audacious.

Passionate.  This word is overused in the Christian circle.  But I still love it.  I think a lot of churches have hung this word up, out of the way, because it might be too “charismatic.”  That’s not the case at all.  This word can give life to a church.  We don’t knock passion in any other arena.  For example, as I watched America’s Got Talent last night, I heard the judges talk to each of the singers about something called “passion,” as in they need more of it or they have a great amount of it.  Why is it OK there, but not in the church.  I want Middlepoint Christian Church to be a passionate church.  We are passionate about Jesus.  We are passionate about serving Middlesboro.  And we are passionate about being passionate!

Tension.  I use this word too much, probably.  Especially in my preaching.  And, again, to be honest, I ripped this word off of Andy Stanley.  For too long, churches and church leaders have shrugged this word off because it is scary.  To acknowledge in a message or group that there is a tension may be awkward, but it starts the path to seeing who Jesus really is, and how God can move.  As a church leader, I must address the tension between things so we can move forward as an organization and as a church.  That’s why, in a lot of my sermons, you’ll hear me address some type of tension presented by what I’m talking about.  Why do I do that?  So you can know it’s OK to have this tension!  I have it too, so let’s talk about it!  How do we live with it?  What can we do to solve it?  This is the tension we must address when talking about tension.

Follower.  I have gotten into the habit of calling Christians, Jesus followers.  I have nothing against the word Christian (obviously, since I am one).  But I sometimes think that the phrase “Jesus follower” describes what we do best.  No matter what we do, say, or think, we are Jesus followers.  That means that we emulate Jesus.  That means we are full of grace and truth, love and forgiveness, service and gratitude.  This is also why I have taken a page of Southland Christian Church’s book and started to refer to my title at Middlepoint as “Lead Follower.”  After all, that’s what I am.  I’m a follower of Jesus who happens to be the leader of a church.  Maybe you’re a follower of Jesus who happens to be a teacher.  No matter what, that should be the order: I’m a follower of Jesus who happens to be a ______.

Simple, right?  Whenever I was in college and began to study preaching, I tried to stuff all kinds of knowledge and know-how into my sermons.  It was useless, though.  I’d preach for 40-45 minutes with 3 or more well-crafted points, but nobody who heard it walked away thinking anything different.  I was the equivalent of a commercial-free show on Netflix.  You’d watch, be entertained, maybe even laugh a time or two, but then you’d head on to lunch.  Someone then suggested to keep it simple.

Man…what a relief.

My sermons after that had one point.  They addressed tensions.  I hope they were passionate, addressing the audacious faith Jesus followers are called to have.  And I hope non-followers got to see church how it should be.

Simple.  What a way to go.

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