Things Happen

“But Steve Jobs realized that when people run into each other, 
when they make eye contact, things happen.”
Matt Woodley, Leadership Journal, summer, 2013
     I have twelve to fourteen years as your pastor before I retire. This reality has placed me among those who are asking, “What legacy do I wish to leave, what difference do I hope to make in this place.” This is a common question people in their fifties ask. Most of us want our lives to count for something; to live for something larger than ourselves. When your fifties roll around, that question receives considerably more attention.
     It is no secret that my most urgent passion is to engage increasing numbers of people in intentional Christian formation. I want to move people from membership to discipleship. The difference is considerable. Members are always seeking privileges like those who carry an American Express Card. Disciples are always asking how they may be used in a mighty way for advancing God’s purposes. Members spend a good deal of their time thinking about their wants and needs. Disciples spend a good deal of time seeking God’s presence at work in their communities and then joining God in that work. Members focus on themselves. Disciples focus on others.
     Solid Christian formation is always the work of God in our intentional engagement with classic spiritual disciplines such as solitude, reading and applying the Bible to our lives and participation in a small group. God does something and we do something. Christian formation requires both.
     Something else is helpful – a professional church staff that shows us the way forward. Church staffs, ordained clergy and lay staff, work together to pray, think creatively and develop ministries that support, encourage and direct the holy environment where we grow as Christians.
     Yet, for staffs to bring maximum value to an organization, they must be “forced to interact, to run into each other regularly.” That idea was advanced by Steve Jobs when work was being done on a new Pixar facility. “Things happen,” said Jobs when people make regular eye contact and speak with one another throughout the day. What happens is a creative force that simply is absent when staffs are isolated from one another.
     When Pixar became a huge international success following the release of the movie Toy Story, there were plans for three separate buildings to accommodate the growth of the company. One building would be for the animators, another for the computer programmers and a third for the management. But Jobs scrapped that plan and instead moved everyone into an old Del Monte canning factory that had one huge room with an atrium in the center. Jobs wanted to create a space where people throughout the company could bump into each other, deepen relationships, and share ideas. The idea worked and the level of creativity released by the staff soared beyond anyone’s expectation.
     To maximize the value of this church’s staff, I want the same thing as Pixar – I want the staff to all be under one roof where we can bump into one another all day, deepen relationships, and share ideas. Naturally, this will require careful thought for the renovation or expansion of our church facilities. Organizations rarely build just to have more or newer buildings. Buildings are tools for advancing the mission of the organization. We can take a page from the playbook of the Holly House; they understood that their ministry would advance if they could all be in the same room where there was greater interaction with one another. Today they have that facility. It’s the same story with Pixar. I hope one day it will be the story for your church staff.


“I don’t believe there are any storytellers. 
There are only stories and each one of us gets to carry one of them for awhile.” 
Thomas Long
     In my last sermon during the month of July, Stories That Matter, I shared the above quote from my friend, Thomas Long. They are not his words. He heard them from a participant in a Storytellers Festival. These words ring true for me. As I think back over my life, I remember it in stories. The story of how I met my wife. The story of when my children were born. The story of the various churches I have served. We live our lives in stories, one story strung together with another. This is also how we live our faith, in stories of God’s encounters with us.
     This makes me curious why so may of us have difficulty sharing our faith with others. Each of us has unique stories, personal stories. Stories of disappointment and stories of delight shape each one of us, mark each one of us. We are simply a unique anthology of stories. And I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t been able to share one or more of their stories.
     Perhaps the difficulty with sharing our faith is that we have misunderstood what Christ asks of us. The customary misunderstanding goes something like this: We should teach others the great truths of our faith. We are all storytellers but are not all teachers. For some, the assignment to teach produces a considerable level of inadequacy and anxiety. There is a huge difference between teaching and sharing a personal story. Christ calls each one of us to share our story of faith.
     Now it is correct that at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, in Christ’s Great Commission, Jesus mentions that we are to teach. Maybe that is were the confusion and anxiety comes from. Yet, the command to teach is given to the church; it is what followers of Christ are to do corporately. In plain speech, as a local congregation, we are responsible for identifying persons among us with the gift of teaching and then charging them for doing just that, teaching the great truths of the faith. What Christ asks of us individually, and we see this in almost every personal encounter Jesus has, is to simply share a story.
     How do we do that? The Bible offers a simple template or formula: Share what your life was like before deciding to follow Jesus, how you made the decision to follow Jesus and how your life is different now. Three stories: life before Jesus, decision to follow Jesus and life after that decision. It seems to me any of us can do that.

God\’s Power Meets Our Effort

“Christianity is something that if you really believed it, it would change your life 
and you would want to change the lives of others. I haven’t seen too much of that.”
Michael, a Christian turned atheists and quoted in The Atlantic magazine.
     Larry Taunton, Executive Director of apologetics ministry of the Fixed Point Foundation, recently initiated a nationwide campaign inviting active members of atheist student groups to share what led them to unbelief. The findings of the study startled Taunton: without exception each student said that there was a disconnect between the claims of the Christian faith and the lives of professing Christians. To be clear – not one student expected to find perfect lives among professing Christians. Each of these students was above average in intelligence and had a firm grasp on the human condition. We are imperfect people.
     What led each student to becoming an atheist was that they saw no evidence of the power of the Christian faith to change lives. The church preaches and teaches about this power of God that is at work in the world and in the lives of followers of Jesus. If it was true, where’s the evidence? People in the church looked exactly like people who didn’t belong to the church. People in the church behaved and spoke exactly like people who didn’t belong to church. People in the church would give financially about two to three percent of their income to the church – no different than people outside of the church giving to charitable causes. Where was the sacrifice? Simply, perfection wasn’t expected, but effort was.
     It is sobering to realize that each of us may be partially culpable for the growing unbelief in our nation today. We speak about the power of God – or at least pay a pastor to speak about it on our behalf. But where is the evidence? What those atheists failed to understand is that the Christian faith is a participatory activity – lives don’t become different simply because we say, “I believe.” The Bible teaches that we have a responsibility to make an effort, to practice certain spiritual habits like regularly reading the Bible and intentionally applying to our lives what we understand the Bible to say. The promise of the faith is that the power of God shows up when there is effort on our part.
     Perhaps these students with above average intelligence didn’t know that important aspect of the faith – that God’s power meets our effort. Could it be that they didn’t know because Christians never taught them? Or is the difficulty simply that the Christians they witnessed simply never bothered to follow an intentional path to spiritual growth?



Intentional Activity

“…change the former way of life that was part of the person you once were…”
Ephesians 4:22 (Common English Bible)
     Paul is writing about intentional activity. Paul is asking that we purposefully live differently than we did before deciding to follow Jesus. Simply, at one time we behaved one way, now we are to behave in a different way. Change is not something that occurs for the wishing. We must set our minds to it – and our feet. We are to walk a different walk.
     A careful reading of chapter four and five of Ephesians reveals that what Paul is concerned with is life change. Our lives are to be lived differently because of Jesus. That includes unwholesome talk and bitterness and being unkind to each other. Nearly everything Paul has to say here in these two chapters of Ephesians has to do with what kind of jokes we tell, how our conversations go and all the little things that reveal whether we are just like everyone else or something more because of Jesus.
     Naturally, this requires constant monitoring; constant self-awareness of our motives, thoughts and behavior. It sound exhausting, doesn’t it? That is because sin is so pervasive. Great effort is required. But isn’t it true that anything of value must follow great effort? The good news of our faith is that we are not alone; that we don’t depend upon our own strength alone. With our effort, we are met by an uncommon strength in God’s activity in our lives. That presence of God, active in our effort, is what the church calls the Holy Spirit.