Tag Archives: Church

Recognize Your Roots

28 Nov

This blog is a long time in development, thanks to my constant distraction by a little person who has taken up residence in our house.¬† ūüėȬ† But, better late than never!

You know the old expression, “You can’t go home again”?¬† Well, back in September, I did just that!¬† I enjoyed having the honor of preaching on “Homecoming Sunday” at the church where I grew up.¬† It was more than a little surreal riding into that parking lot in the back seat of my parents’ car…the only thing that would have made it even more nostalgic would be a good old-fashioned Sunday morning argument between my brother and me.¬† But once I stepped into the church building, it became clear that this wasn’t a trip back in time.

Seeing your childhood church through adult eyes is a sobering experience.¬† I haven’t been inside that building in 15 years.¬† It seemed smaller to me.¬† There were many welcome updates to the facilities, bringing it into the 21st century.¬† Many of the old feautres I remember were no longer there…the old 1950’s water fountain downstairs, the bamboo-print curtains in the men’s bathroom that acted as toilet stall “doors,” and the old memeograph machine.¬† But what trully suprised me where the things that hadn’t changed…namely the people.¬† I saw men and women who played such crucial parts in my childhood and adolescent faith formation.¬† Sunday School and VBS teachers, RA leaders (Royal Amabassadors, a Southern Baptist missions organization for boys), Deacons, and other men and women who simply loved and supported me and encouraged me in my calling to the ministry.

This church was the place I accepted Christ as my Savior, was baptized, embraced God’s calling on my life, was liscensed to preach and ordained into the ministry.¬† I preached my first sermon there, taught my first class, was incharge of my first church-related event, and held my first church job.¬† It’s because of one summer spent as an interim youth minister that I’m in youth ministry today!¬† This was, as they say, where it all began!

And to be back there after all these years, married and with a baby just a few weeks away…was more than a trip down memory lane.¬† It was an opportunity to revisit my roots, to see where I came from, to remember the formative years of my faith, and to say “Thank You” to those whom God used to teach me the basics of His word, and the power of His love.

But it was also, I believe, an important trip for the people at that church.  How often do Christian men and women poor their time, energy, heart, and tithes into the lives of children and youth and never see the fruit of their labors?  How many times have I as a youth minister wondered whether I was making any difference?  How rewarding is it for me to see my students continue to grow in their faith development and remain faithful to the local church through college and beyond?  How powerful is it when a former youth enters the ministry or even comes back home to become a youth worker?  Well, the people of my childhood church were able to see exactly that.   And it was an affirming and rewarding experience to be able to thank them and relate to them that they were in deed making a difference.

What about you?¬† Where do you trace back your spiritual roots?¬† Who were the men and women who believed in you, who saw something in you you couldn’t even see in yourself, who dared to trust you enough to give you a pulpit for a Sunday or entrust you with a church van and 14 kids for the first time?¬†

I encourage you to find the time to visit those people, to return to your spiritual “birthplace” and thank those people.¬† Let them share in the joy of your labors, tell them stories of lives changed through your ministry, laugh (and cry) about old times, and dream about the future.¬† It will be a blessing to you and to them.¬† And maybe, just maybe, down the road some young person will seek you out and do the same!

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The Church: Is It a Family or Burger King?

8 Sep

There’s a nip of fall in the air, and I’m ready for the Holiday Season already!!! ¬†Halloween…Thanksgiving…CHRISTMAS! ¬†Bring em on!

However, I discovered last Christmas that our neighbors down the street have some pretty cool Christmas traditions that we don’t have at the Lambert Household. ¬†I’ve tried to get my wife interested in trying some of these new holiday traditions and festivities, but to no avail. ¬†She likes our old traditions. ¬†So, I’ve come to a conclusion. ¬†I’ve made a decision. ¬†Julia can celebrate Christmas however she wants to this year, but I’m going down the street to the neighbors.

Alright…now before I start getting hate-filed comments about what a selfish, terrible, shallow husband I am, let me explain…the above scenario is entirely made up. ¬†I have no idea how my down-the-street neighbors celebrate Christmas. ¬†But just remember the ire that you felt as you read that paragraph. ¬†Keep it very near the surface as you read this next one:

I believe very strongly that many Christians are doing the exact same thing to their churches. ¬†We discover that some church family down the street is doing things differently in worship, or in their student or children’s ministry than our church family. ¬†And we try to bring those new ways into our church family‘s context to no avail. ¬†(Now don’t get me wrong. ¬†I’m no traditionalist, and I think there are lots of great things we can learn from other congregations. ¬†I’m a firm believer in constantly evaluating what and how and why we do what we do and making necessary changes…but not for the sake of “keeping up with the 2nd Baptist Joneses”.) ¬†And then when…for whatever reason…it doesn’t work for our church family, we decide to just up and leave them to go down the street and join a NEW church family.

Now, just think about what you just read. ¬†Did that picture make you more or less angry than the first one? ¬†I believe that speaks volumes to your theology of the church. ¬†We love to sing and talk about the church as the “family of believers.” ¬†Several times throughout the New Testament that analogy is used (Gal. 6:10, Eph. 3:15, Heb. 2:11, 1 Pet. 4:17).

So, why don’t we do a better job of acting as if the church were our family? ¬†We don’t give up families because of the music they like, the look of the house they live in, or what extracurricular activities they like to participate in. ¬†So why do we treat the church family like this? ¬†Why do we treat it more like a country club or a Golden Corral buffet or a Burger King (Have it YOUR way)?

Here’s an idea: ¬†Instead of church shopping or deciding to go out and “start your own church” because there’s something you are unhappy about at your church…try the ancient Christian discipline of fidelity. ¬†Be as faithful to your family of faith as you are to your husband/wife and children. ¬†Pray for change to come. ¬†Do what you can to bring change…if it truly is of God and not just your own personal preference. ¬†And if it is just a preferential thing, or if the change doesn’t happen, then pray for God to give you the peace and serenity you need to continue to faithfully worship and serve at your church. ¬†In other words…don’t treat your church family any differently than you would your flesh-and-blood family. ¬†The only exception would be if your church is heretical or abusive…much like what I would recommend for a family (well, maybe not the heretical part).

Thoughts? ¬†Disagreements? ¬†Show me where I’m wrong.

Attempting to Bridge the Gap

21 Jul

You can’t blame people for behaving in ways you’ve taught them to behave. ¬†And you can’t get mad when people fail if you’ve set them up to fail.

I’m beginning to realize that we’ve set-up a lot of church people to fail (especially teenagers and their families). ¬†And I’m finding myself getting frustrated for how people behave, when they’re only doing what I–as a youth minister–have taught them to do. ¬†Let me give you the most recent example:

Last Wednesday night, I decided to bring our youth up to join the adults in their Wednesday night Bible Study because my good friend & our Minister of Education, David Walker, was going to do a study on the idea of being created in God’s image.¬† As we talked about it I commented on how appropriate that would be for our students to hear. ¬† This summer we’re taking a more casual and laid-back approach to our Wednesday night youth program anyway, so why not do something radical and merge with the adults for one night?

I got the word out through Facebook, texts and phone calls to our students. ¬†With our summer-time attendance slump, I was expecting at least 10 or 12 show up and couldn’t wait to see how impressed our adults would be with the depth of insight they could bring to the discussion!

Guess how many showed up?¬† Lower…lower…there ya go!¬† ONE. Yep, that’s right.¬† And it was our minister of music’s daughter. We even had a couple of youth there for supper with their family get up and leave to help work with the children’s program.

But¬†as I sat there frustrated and discouraged, I realized that we have set-up our students for this very fall. ¬†We have been operating a youth ministry built more out of what Mark Yaconelli calls “adult anxiety and teen angst,” and this was ¬†a perfect example of teen angst. ¬†It frustrated me because if we had met as usual in the Warehouse for youth Bible Study we would have had a decent group. ¬†But because we were going to join the adults up in the “big church” they stayed away as if we were hosting a missionary showing mission trip slides!

This is a problem that MUST be fixed!¬†The “generation gap” must be bridged!

And we are taking “baby steps” to do just that. ¬†One thing we’re doing more of is family-based events instead of just planning¬†multiple¬†events for adults, children, and youth that just end up competing with each other for buses and calendar dates. ¬†Tonight, in fact, we are taking a whopping 44 people to see the Atlanta Braves play! ¬†We’ve promoted it as FBC Family Night @ Turner Field. ¬†We have whole families going together…parents, teenagers, and younger siblings.

It’s a youth event…no, it’s a children’s event…no, its a FAMILY event!

Bridging the Gap!

And in a couple of weeks we’re transforming our annual Youth Lake Day to a Family Lake Day. ¬†We’re hoping we’ll have families of all kinds come: those with small children, teenagers, or no children at all. ¬†We’re having a fish fry that we hope will help even bring out our senior adults.

They’re not world-changing, earth-shattering events. ¬†But they’re baby steps in helping our adults be less anxious about being with¬†teenagers, and helping our youth feel less angst about chillin’ at the lake with our older generations. ¬†I feel as Kara Powell does in the latest issue of Immerse where she said,

“I’m inspired by churches that are realizing that the Kingdom is more than separate adult and kids’ tables; it’s followers of all ages who feast together on the goodness of God’s Kingdom and invite others to join the celebration.”

I want our church to be one of those churches. ¬†I look forward to sharing more about our adventures in “attempting to bridge the gap.”

If the Church Is Against Us, Who Then Can Stand For Us?

4 Jul

Why is it that so many Christians are against so many things?¬† It seems that we’re better known for the things we’re against than for the things we’re for!

I started to think about all the things that Christians, churches, denominations, and other Christian groups have been against at one time or another: dancing, rock n roll, card playing, restaurants that serve alcohol, drums in the sanctuary, women who wear pants (or make-up or jewelry), the NIV Bible, women deacons, women ministers, Disney, Twilight, Harry Potter, Democrats…I could go on.

Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t sins and social issues that the people of God should take a stand on and fight for what’s right and true.¬† And I know there’s a lot of difference of opinion among Christians as to what those issues are and are not.¬† What I’m taking issue with is the sheer number and superficiality of things Christians tend to be against these days.

So I got to thinking: What kind of things was Jesus against?¬† Let’s take a quick look.

Right off the bat, I can easily see that Jesus is against sickness and death, because He keeps healing people and raising the dead.¬† He’s apparently against hunger and thirst, because He feeds people and declares He is the Living Water with whom no one will thirst again.¬†

From Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” found in Matthew 5-7, we see Jesus is against pridefulness, unforgiviness, anger and hatred toward others, lustful hearts, divorce, being untrustworthy, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, greed, divided loyalty, worry, the illusion of self-sufficiency, being judgmental, and lip service.¬† Hmmm….not a single mention of drinking, gambling, secular music, or Harry Potter.¬† Interesting.

On multiple occasions, we find Jesus eating dinner with the worst sinners…among them prostitutes, tax collectors, drunks, gamblers, you name it!¬† And we never once see Jesus rebuke them, preach against the “wiles of the devil” to them, or even give them a “tisk¬†tisk. Shame on you.”¬† Instead, Jesus loves them.¬† Jesus affirms them as human beings made in God’s image.¬† He FORGIVES them!¬† He tells their accusers, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”¬†(John 8:7)¬† He doesn’t condemn!¬† He isn’t AGAINST them…He’s FOR them!

In fact, the only group I can find in all the Gospels that Jesus is against…are the religious leaders!¬† The pious, “holier than thou” Pharisees and Sadducees are the ones Jesus has the only things to say AGAINST.¬† He calls them a brood¬†of vipers (Matt. 23:33), they’re the “blind leading the blind” (Matt. 23:24).¬† They are wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15), not to be trusted. They actually make it hard for people to come to God (Matt. 23:13-15).¬† Jesus calls them hypocrites and the children of Satan (Matt. 23)!

I can’t help but feel that the Pharisees were known for what (and who) they were against.¬† They were against the Romans, the prostitutes, the drunks, the Gentiles, the tax collectors, those who work a little too hard on the Sabbath, and of course…Jesus.¬† Maybe they led boycotts, had protest rallies, and preached about everyone else’s wickedness.

Funny how Jesus and His followers didn’t do any of that.¬† Funny that when Jesus preaches a “Woe unto you” sermon, it was to the religious people.¬† I guess you could say that the only people Jesus was against were those who were against people.

Are there some things in this world worth standing against? Of course. Are there any people groups worth standing against? Certainly not!¬† The Church of Jesus must be very careful about what we stand against, lest we become white noise no one pays attention to.¬† And we must be very careful never to stand against anyone…for every person is a person for whom Jesus died.

Let’s be like Jesus!¬† He wasn’t known for what He was against, but for what He was for!¬† Even in the Sermon on the Mount I mentioned above, those things I said Jesus was against were framed in the positive.¬† He didn’t preach a bunch of “don’ts.” He laid out the kind of things we are to DO!¬† When we DO the right things, and love everyone, the “don’ts” become obvious.

Remember, Jesus said He didn’t come into the world to condemn it, but so that it might be saved (John 3:17). And in the verse before that one, Jesus reminds us God actually LOVES the world!¬† So if the CHURCH…the last, best hope for the world, is always standing AGAINST the world, then what hope does the world really have?¬† Satan is our enemy.¬† Not the people of the world.¬† Paul wrote, “If God is for us, who can stand against us? (Rom. 8:31)”¬† What about this question asked from the world’s perspective, “If the Church of Jesus is for us, who can stand against us?¬† If the Church of Jesus stands against us, who can stand for us?”¬† The World needs us!¬†

So…what and¬†who are¬†we standing FOR?¬† Let’s make the world sit up and take notice of those things!

Happy New Years!

25 Nov

“Um…David, aren’t you a little early in your well wishes, there?”

Absolutely not!¬† Because this Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent!¬† And for the Church–for Christians–that is the beginning of the new Church Year!¬†¬†Most Christians¬†just may not know it.

The Liturgical YearIn The Liturgical Year: the spiraling adventure of the spiritual life, Joan Chittsiter says:

January 1st isn’t really our “new year” at all.¬† It’s not the beginning of the “new year” of our soul’s search for wholeness.¬† Instead, January 1 is simply the day that makes it possible for the secular world to mark centuries, to keep track of its earthly ways, to coordinate itself with the ways of the rest of the world, to begin again its cycle of civic events.

But the season of Advent is our journey through the predictions of prophets, the lineage of kings, and the struggles of a people to the realization of a promise made to a man named Abraham, that “through his descendants God will bless the world.”

For Christians, the 1st Sunday of Advent is the beginning of THE story!¬† And it begins a cycle–a journey–of Scripture, prayer, worship, reflection, fasting, and feasting that lasts an entire year.¬† And we enter into the Story again and again and again.¬† Only to discover over the years, that the Story has entered US!

Chitsitter goes on to say:

The liturgical year is the process of slow, sure immersion in the life of Christ that, in the end, claims us, too, as heralds of that life ourselves.

And as we live into (and live out) the story of Jesus’ life, we discover what kind of community the Church is to be and what kinds of¬†individuals we are each to be.¬† My challenge this year is to not only live into the story of Jesus by acknowledging the Church Year, but to use that to inform how I teach, lead worship, and work with our students.

Both Mike King and Phyllis Tickle refer to the ancient spiritual practices of Christianity (prayer, fasting, Sabbath, pilgrimage, Scripture reading, the liturgical year, etc.) as long lost spiritual heirlooms.¬† I believe it’s time to dig them outta the attic, dust them off, and put them back into use in ours and our student’s faith formation.

May I challenge you this Advent season, to not only take time every day to “prepare for the coming of the Christ”¬† through daily devotionals and prayer, but help your students embrace this as a time of spiritual focus.¬† It’s NOT about lights on trees, Christmas cards, and the latest electronics.¬† It’s about so much more.

Here are some Advent Resources that can help you and your students to prepare for Jesus, and enter into the story of His birth:Behold the Lamb of God

  • Christian singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson has an amazing album called Behold the Lamb of God: the true tall tale of the coming of the Christ.¬† It is my absolute favorite Christmas album (but is probably better called an Advent album).¬† He starts with the people of Israel enslaved in Egypt and takes us on a musical journey through hope and despair, promise and fulfillment.¬† It puts the birth of Jesus into the larger story of God’s redemptive work in the world.¬† It’s a MUST get!

Preparing for Jesus

  • Walt Wangerin, one of my favorite authors, has an amazing devotional called Preparing for Jesus: Meditations on the coming of the Christ, Advent, Christmas, and the Kingdom.¬† It begins with the 1st Sunday of Advent and takes us through Epiphany.¬† He is a masterful storyteller, and paints with words.¬† You will FEEL what Mary and Joseph felt, experience the awe and fear of the shepherds, and find yourself bowing with the Magi at the young child, Jesus.¬† It’s better than any movie could be.

FBC Advent

  • And finally…this is a bit of a shameless plug…our church produces an Advent devotional every year, written completely by members of our church.¬† We are offering this online as a blog this year for the first time.¬† Please check out FBC Advent Online for a new daily advent devotional.

God bless, and Happy New Years/Advent!

What is Really “Needed” in Youth Ministry?

14 Nov

The Christmas season is already underway at our church!¬† We’re packing Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes this week, signing-up people for our Drive Through Nativity, working on Christmas music in choir, and planning our youth Christmas party.

I hate that the Christmas season is such a painful reminder of how busy we stay in our church, and our youth ministry, and how that busyness can rob us of the joy of simply BEING with each other in God’s presence.¬† Christmas should be a season of contemplation, celebration, and enjoying the simple pleasures of PRESENCE with our family, friends, and the Jesus whose birth we’re honoring.

But our whole year feels like one eternally long December!¬† We never seem to have a season (or even a week!) where I’m not in the midst of planning some event.¬† I often feel like I’m an activities director on a cruise ship rather than someone who is supposed to be helping disciple teenagers in a church!

So, when I read Luke 10:38-42 this past week, I saw it in a new light.  Here it is as found in The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle:

In the course of their journey he came to a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. She had a sister called Mary, who sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking.¬† Now Martha, who was distracted with serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do all the serving by myself? Please tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered, “Martha, Martha. You worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one.¬†¬† It is Mary who has chosen the better part, and it is not to be taken from her” (emphasis mine).

Ouch!¬† It stung when I read this.¬† How many times have I had Martha’s attitude, asking Jesus to wrestle-up some of those “lazy church people in the pews” or those “apathetic parents who dump off their kids like I’m a glorified baby sitter” to help me carry out MY events and activities?!¬† “Jesus, don’t you care that I’m doing all this serving, and there are so many out there not helping? Please tell them to help me!”

As I read that passage that day, Jesus was saying to me, “David, David.¬† You worry and fret about so many events and activities and plans, and yet FEW ARE NEEDED, indeed only ONE.”

What is the ONE thing that is needed?¬† What secret did Mary know?¬† I can think of only one thing:¬† to sit at the feet of Rabbi Jesus, simply abiding in His presence.¬† That is what is most needed in our ministries and churches…to simply LIVE in community with each other in the presence of Jesus.¬† If an event or an activity or a program doesn’t help usher people into the presence of the Living Lord, or as Mike King puts it in Presence Centered Youth Ministry, “creating environments of transformation” or nurturing “opportunities for them to encounter the presence of the Holy Spirit,” is it needed?

I’m not saying that we don’t need events or activities or programs.¬† I’m only saying, are we adding unnecessary burdens on ourselves and God’s people (Acts 15:28)?¬† Are all of our busy schedules getting in the way of what we’re trying to accomplish?¬† These are questions worth asking.

Let me conclude with this quote, which beautifully illustrates the fine balance we must strike in our work.¬† It comes from Isaac of Stella, as quoted in King’s book, “Keep the solicited (attentiveness) of Martha without losing the devotion of Mary.”

Being “Uncle Dave”

19 Sep

I became an uncle today. My wife is an aunt.

My brother is a DAD! (more than a little scary…jk, Allen).

And my Mom and Dad are now grandparents…and MY grandparents are now Great Grandparents.

Whew! It’s amazing how the introduction of one new person into the world, and into our family, changes all of us…how it adds a whole new dimension to our identites and our roles in this world.

That’s an important key to what makes relationships (especially family) meaningful. As a high school English teacher once tried to impress upon us, “No man is an island unto himself.” Who we are and what we do has profound reprecussions on those in our lives…and those yet to be in our lives. Our choices, our actions, our attitudes, and our beliefs and values, shape every relationship and interaction. And those in our lives do the same for us. What a powerful responsibility!

I’m struck by the new idea that I am someone’s uncle. This little boy will grow up calling me “Uncle David.” So weird. I did nothing to earn that title. It has been given to me, and I have no choice but to accept it. What I do with it, however, is totally up to me. And I chose to carry it with humility and joy. I accept the responsibility and embrace the privilege of being the best uncle I can be. To love my nephew, pray for him, and model what it means to be a Christian, a brother, a son, and a husband.

The same is true in the Family of God. There are no “Lone Ranger Christians.” We are all part of a dynamic, growing, and changing family. And every day we are given the responsibility and privilege (through no effort of our own) to be a powerful, positive influence on other Christians. And we have the opportunities to have older, wiser, and stronger believers come alongside us to model what it means to be a Christ Follower. Perhaps you are the equivelent of an uncle or aunt or brother or sister to a fellow Christian…a new believer, someone struggling in their long-held faith, or a dear saint to help you through your struggles. What choices will you make? What influence will your actions and attitudes have on others? How will being in God’s family change you?

My wife and I don’t have any biological children of our own right now. But God has blessed us with dozens and dozens of teenagers (hundreds, if you go back through 15 years of ministry). It’s kinda like being a parent I guess (except we don’t have clothe and feed them or stay up late on a Friday night for them to come home, or worry about how to afford college, or…OK, so maybe it isn’t anything like being a parent.)

But maybe it’s kinda like being the cool Uncle and Aunt to those teenagers…or like being a (much) older brother and sister. We have the awesome privilege of being a part of their lives, of modeling Christlike living and marriage, of praying for them, listening to them, helping guide them, fostering healing and restoration for hurting kids and damaged relationships, encouraging their giftedness and callings, helping open up God’s word to them, and doing life together for a few years at a critical time in their lives.

I LOVE what I get to do. And I LOVE EVERY KID in our ministry. I really do. And every day I feel like that I somehow grow in that love and overwhelming joy for what I do and who these students are to me. God gives me such an increase…my cup runs over. And I pray that every day He will help me to be the BEST spiritual leader, and Big-Brother-in-Christ to these youth that I can be. May I daily grow more and more into the image of His Son…bearing the Family resemblence so I can help all those under my charge.

I hope that all made some kind of sense. It is late on a very emotionally exhausting day. But the heart behind these words is real and true…even if the words are a little jumbled and confusing. It’s time for me to get some sleep. God bless you all. And God bless my nephew and his brand new parents.