We is Better than Me

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Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. ……….But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.  Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.”  Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

The emphasis throughout both the New and Old Testament is that life is better lived in relationship with another.  I came across athe following quote that is attributed to C.S. Lewis:

The safest road to hell is the gradual one . . . the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. This is why it’s so dangerous to do life alone.” 

A quote from a resident of a halfway house in Darien Connecticut put it this way:

The mind alone is a bad neighborhood.”

A 2015 study done in the U.K. found that a majority of the men surveyed (51%) had two or fewer friends, and 15% had no friends. None.  Nada.  Zip.  That’s hard to imagine.   According to C.S. Lewis, they are leading a dangerous life. It’s so easy in life to do things solo – without any aid from our friends.  We live in community with one another – in fact, most of the New Testament deals with how our Christian life is to play out on the horizontal field with other people.  Christianity is an individual decision,  but it is also a team sport.

So, who is on your team?  Do you have a friend – someone who knows you inside and out – the good, the bad, the ugly, including what your spiritual and thought life, and what junk you have in the trunk of your car (or “boot”, as it is called in other parts of the world)?  The British survey is sobering, but it really is even worse, because their definition of a “friend” really doesn’t go beyond an acquaintance with whom you share a common interest.  That’s not the friend that will stick by you through thick and thin, and will help you up when you have failed or fallen down or had a serious setback of circumstances.

The passage from Ecclesiastes above is one of the many scriptures that follows the theme of what I call the “principle of the twos” in the Bible.   Another one is found in Proverb 27:17: “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another.”  I have met with two men weekly for the past 24 years.  It is an intentional and covenantal relationship. Over time, we have shared each others ups and downs, successes and failures, trials and tribulations, and rejoiced at each others accomplishments for the kingdom. It’s second nature to us to be transparent with our lives and challenges.  I am really saddened how few other men have what we have experienced over a long time.

The majority of men I meet disregard the principle that life is best lived in community, unfortunately to their detriment. As the title says, “We is better than Me”.   Pastors are often the biggest offenders and yet the most vulnerable. They put moats around their lives and become insulated from others because of their position.   But that’s not how Jesus modeled it when he sent out the seventy-two disciples in Luke 10.  He sent them out two by two with a reason. This was their first “road trip”. Had I been advising Jesus, I would have suggested that it might make strategic sense to send them out individually because they would have covered more territory.  But Jesus had more wisdom than me, knowing full well that sending them in twos was more important than getting more geographical coverage.

I have long been known as an advocate of having someone else in your life (other than your spouse) to whom you can confide in and be accountable to.  The evil one doesn’t attack us in groups:  he isolates us and takes us down when we are alone.  Satan doesn’t influence a group to go out and collectively commit adultery.  It happens when we are isolated.

If you don’t have one or more close friends that you can be transparent with, you risk violating the biblical principle of the twos, and as C.S. Lewis suggests, you are in danger.  I encourage you to find one today.

Bill Mann

 

Off to a Good Start

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Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23

With the Rio Olympics just over, the world got to watch Usain Bolt, the sprinter from Jamaica win three gold medals for the third time.  He won the 100 and 200 meter events and the 400-meter relay.  A remarkable career of nine gold medals by an engaging individual over three separate Olympics.  The defining photo of him occurred in the 100-meter semi-final race when he turned around and smiled at a camera ahead of his competition, even though he had not yet finished the race (https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/aug/27/rio-2016-usain-bolt-getty-images-dawn-airey-bbc).  Usain Bolt knows that in a short race, getting off to a good start is critical because fractions of a second means the difference between winning and losing.  In life, winning is not a matter of fractions of a second, but in our attitudes as we face what life throws at us.

We get a fresh start each day when we wake up.  How well our day gets started often is a function of how well we are prepared.  Some days we get off to great starts, and others, well, sometimes we don’t.  Recently, a college friend of my wife sent us a prayer that my wife read to me which really resonated with me as a way to get a good start spiritually every day.  The prayer has no attribution, so I cannot tell you who created it.  Here it is:

O God, this morning I have come into the quietness and stillness of your presence to begin this day so that out of this moment I make take with me a quiet SERENITY which will last me through the rough and tumble of this day’s life. I have come to you to find WISDOM so that today I may not make any foolish mistakes, but will make decisions based on your direction.

I have come to you to find PEACE so that nothing may worry or upset me all through the day and I may approach each challenge with inner strength. I have come to you to find LOVE so that all through the day nothing may make me bitter or unforgiving or unkind and that I may approach each person with the spirit of love and compassion.

I have come to begin the day with YOU, to continue it with YOU, and to end it with YOU, so that it will be a day which will have in it nothing to regret and everything to cherish. Lord, help me to remember that every morning is a new beginning..…. a precious gift, and that nothing can happen to me today that YOU and I, standing together in the strength YOU impart, can’t handle. Make of this day a lovely work of art – to your glory.

Hear this morning prayer, in Christ’s name and by His power.  AMEN

Just as Jesus gave us the Lord’s prayer as a model prayer, you might consider making this your model prayer to start your day.  It contains all that is needed to get off to a good start.

Bill Mann

Perspective

 

 

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For wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her”.  Proverbs 8:11

One of my favorite stories comes from a supposed naval encounter of a battleship at sea in the time before GPS and other technology provided instant navigation information.  As the story goes, the event takes place in poor weather, and the officer on deck of the ship sees a light, and believing they are on a collision course with another ship, sends the following message:  “Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.”

The reply:  “We recommend that YOU change YOUR course fifteen degrees south to avoid a collision.”  The ship responded:  “This is the Captain in the United States Navy.  I say again, Divert your course.    The response:  “No, I suggest you divert YOUR course 15 degrees south.”

Finally, the captain, having lost patience sends this message:  “THIS IS THE CAPTAIN OF A BATTLESHIP IN THE UNITED STATES NAVY ONE OF THE LARGEST SHIPS IN THE ATLANTIC FLEET.  I DEMAND YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH.  THAT’S ONE-FIVE DEGREES SOUTH OR MEASURES WILL BE TAKEN TO ENSURE OUR SAFETY.”

The response:  “Sir, this is Seaman First Class of the Coast Guard.  This is a lighthouse. It’s your call.”

I’m not sure about you, but I can identify with the Captain. The Captain thought he knew all the facts.  He had the experience to know that his ship was on a collision course with what he thought was another ship, and most likely a smaller ship than his.  He thought he knew everything based on his training and experience.  But he was wrong because he didn’t consider that his assumptions were wrong:  lighthouses don’t change course, but ships do.

I used to think I “knew” it all, too.  I put it this way:  When I was 20, I thought I knew everything.  When I turned 30, I KNEW I knew everything.  When I turned 40, I realized that I wasn’t too bright at 20 or 30. Now that I am in my 70’s, I know that I wasn’t such a bright bulb in my 40’s, and that the confidence of my knowledge when I was younger was not the same as wisdom which comes from experience.

The perspective of youth is based on knowledge, not experience. The first time I actually mentored a young man, I told him two things in our very first time together:  1) It’s what you don’t know that can hurt you, and 2) It’s a lot easier to learn from the experience (and mistakes) of others, and I’ve made 100’s of mistakes so I have a lot to tell you. He asked if I would illustrate the first statement, which actually surprised me, so I came up with this illustration:  “As a task, I want you to go capture a cat.  Not complicated.  So, you go out to accomplish that, and return later in the day to tell me that I didn’t tell you that the cat was actually a lion, not a small house cat.  That’s what you didn’t know, and had you known that, you would have done things differently.”    Over the years, this young man ended up working for me, and I would smile when he would stop by my office after being surprised by something new and saying “I wish I had known that.”

The millennial generation is desperate for mature people to come besides them and provide them the wisdom that comes from experience.  What some people worry about in being a mentor is not having the answers.  A mentor doesn’t have to have all the answers; their role is to provide a different perspective which, by asking questions such as “Have you considered a different option?”, will aid the protégé see things from a different vantage point.

My challenge is for those who have a lot of life experiences (that’s a graceful way of saying you have reached some maturity), to invest in the next generation by spending time with them and helping guide them.  You don’t have to have answers – in fact, a good mentor generally just asks questions to challenge the thinking of the mentee. You might be an aunt, uncle or just a friend, but some 80% of today’s millennials are looking for you to be their sounding board.  You can fill that role in someone’s life.  It will be one of the most rewarding things you have ever done.

Bill Mann

(The picture above is of my granddaughter (Hannah) in Zermatt, Switzerland this past summer.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free Days

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‘For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within.  But God, who comforts the downcast [or depressed], comforted us by the coming of Titus,  2 Corinthians 7:5-8

This post is about taking time off – resting as it were.  Rest is the key to restoration – an ability to renew ourselves – physically, spiritually and emotionally.  Several years ago, a group of my colleagues joined together and took a course which was aimed at entrepreneurs and was designed to help them become better at what they did.  It was called Focus Four.  One of the four basic concepts to being successful at achieving your goals was the idea of a “free day.”  A free day involved a day in which you performed no work related to your occupation.  Taking a day off to play golf with a client didn’t count, for example.  The idea of the program was to make yourself more efficient at what you did by improving the processes and people around you so that you increased the number of free days on your calendar.  When you planned your schedule for the next three months, you actually set goals of the number of free days during a given month. Central to this concept was that a rested and restored individual could continue to be at their peak when they functioned at work.

The concept validated the idea that rest is required in order to continue to be productive. There is a misconception that as long as you are enjoying what you do, you can work as long and as hard as you want and never burnout.  Having experienced burnout personally and worked with dozens of people over the past 25 years, I can personally say that this is false.  Any work that includes frustration, conflict and stress, without proper emotional and psychological refueling can be instrumental to causing burnout.  When I am talking about “burnout”, I am referring to a condition where the body is so overloaded that it is incapable of functioning properly – it often is accompanied by clinical depression, physical symptoms, substance abuse and an inability to mentally function properly.  I experienced it twice, so that makes me an expert.  There may be lots of things that you might want to become an expert at,  but this is not one of them.

Several years ago, Bill Hybels, the Senior pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, a mega-church in Illinois, experienced burnout.  His description of his experience is consistent with my experience.  He said that all humans have “tanks’ that have to be filled – physical (through nourishment and exercise), spiritual, and emotional.  He paid attention to the first two, but ignored his emotional “tank” to his detriment.  He was interviewed in Christianity Today last year about schedules, replenishment, burnout and “strategic neglect.”  In the interview, he describes burnout as the same as “hitting a wall at high velocity”.

Pastors and leaders are notorious at ignoring their limits, often with predictable results.  Even Jesus took time off to be alone.  Hybels puts it this way:  “[..] I give leaders a gentle but serious warning.  If you sustain unsafe levels of speed long enough, something terrible is going to happen.”  Even the Apostle Paul had his limits as chronicled in 2 Corinthians 7:5-6, which is the only recorded biblical burnout I have found.  Some versions translate the word “downcast” as “depressed.”  The symptoms are listed – physcally worn out, harassed-facing physical and mental conflicts and depression.  These are all symptoms of burnout, but note the emphasis on the emotional battle – the “fears within”.   Paul endured incredible physical torment during his ministry – there is a list of what endured later in 2 Corinthians 11::24-28, including stoning, lashings, three shipwrecks, beatings with rods, starvation and lack of sleep, and constantly facing all kinds of dangers. He goes on in verse 28 to say that the equal of all that physical punishment was the “daily pressure of my concern for all the churches.”  Again, your emotional health is important.

The challenge here is to maintain a balance in your life – one which includes taking time off to fill your emotional tank – taking off “free days” as it were.  If you have a mentor, he would be the first to embrace this as a healthy lifestyle – one which includes sufficient free days to maintain proper emotional health. You can start by planning free days, which is getting harder as technology keeps us constantly connected through our cell phones with email at our fingertips.  As a starter, try going a complete day without a cell phone.  You might like it.

My 50th Anniversary gift to my wife is to take a cruise to Alaska, which will start this weekend when we fly to Anchorage on Sunday.  My wife asked if I was going to write this blog while on the trip.  I told her I hadn’t thought about it, but she said that she wanted our trip to be a total vacation for the two of us – to have “free days” together.  Even though I enjoy doing these blogs, I really didn’t argue.  Accordingly, I will resume the posts when I return in the third week of August.  I guess you could say I am taking my own advice.

Bill Mann

If you want to read the interview with Bill Hybels in Christianity Today, it can be found here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2015/winter/secret-of-strategic-neglect.html

 

 

 

Changed Price Tags

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“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.” Psalm 71:18

This topic has been ruminating in my mind for several years.  It addresses some of the root causes of why the millennials are different from prior generations.  I have found that the profile of the American millennials is somewhat universal.  The next generations in Africa and Asia often act like and think like the American millennial.  The title suggests that the values (or price tags) of the millennials has changed over time and gives some glimpse into the causes, at least for America.

My title comes from Tony Compolo, a well-known Christian sociologist from Philadelphia, who authored a book entitled Who Switched the Price Tags several years ago in the late 1980’s. As the title suggests, Tony explores how culture and demographics, over time, changes even if at an imperceptible rate.  In America, the changes didn’t happen overnight but, over the course of a century, family dynamics were transformed by the shift from rural to urban environments.  His research included a lengthy visit to live on farm in the Midwest and observe what life looks like in rural America at the end of the century.  In 1900, America’s population consisted of 80% living in a rural environment and 20% lived in urban centers.  By the end of the 20th century, that had reversed, with 80% of our population living in or near a city and only 20% in a rural area.

His observations give a penetrating glimpse at how that statistical change has been an influence in shaping the millennials today even though it was written before most millennials today were born.  On the farm and in a rural context, farm life provided schedules that dictated how life was lived. For example, the average family unit consisted of 5 or more people – two adults and 3 or 4 children versus an average of 1.2 children per family today.  Everyone including the children at an appropriate age had jobs to do to around the farm, whether it was milking cows or helping in the fields.  Each member of the family was actually a positive economic benefit to the family because their work helped the productivity of the farm which is how they earned a living.  They also observed daily rhythms of life and ate meals together.  Dinner was always at 6 pm, and if you missed it, you were on your own and your absence only meant there was more food for everyone else.  No exceptions.  My daughter calls this “YOYO” – You’re On Your Own.

Fast forward to 2000 where the average family has evolved to the point that meals together is a luxury. In fact, in the average home, mealtime revolves around the children’s schedules – their soccer practice, dance recital, and other extra-curricular activities.  And most parents would admit that their children do not have a positive economic impact; quite the contrary, they have a negative impact.  Compolo goes on to lament that we have raised a generation of kids who have been catered to all of their life by their parents.   Their parents unwittingly have indulged them to the point that their kids don’t want to become adults because of this pampering.  And Tony soberly adds: “Who can blame them?”.  Why would they want to become adults in that kind of environment?

Another book written in the 1990’s by Gail Sheehy entitled New Passages gives a look at these changes from a slightly different perspectiveIt was a rewrite of a book entitled Passages which was written in the early 1980’s, and she decided to revisit her thesis 10 years later to see if it was still valid.   The author observes that the social benchmarks of aging have all been pushed back or changed significantly by at least 10 years.  We used to consider 21 as being the age when an adolescent is considered an adult.  Studies by Pew and Barna now show that adolescence now extends into the late 20’s and for some, into their early 30’s.

Middle age was previously identified with being in your 40’s, and it now starts in your 50’s.  The age of 65 was the accepted benchmark for being “old” since it was often associated with retirement age.  At the time I first read this book, I think I had just turned 50, and was delighted to know that I had gotten 10 years back and was just entering middle age!   Both books, in their own way, point to some of the causes of the attitudes and lives of today’s next generation – a generation that has a prolonged adolescence because they don’t want to be adults.  While these books were written before many of today’s millennials had been born, they are instructive as to why this next generation is different from prior ones.

A humorous take at the millennials is on the video – it points out the wanderings of the millennials but ends on a sober note:

https://www.youtube.com/embed/hLpE1Pa8vvI?autoplay=1&autohide=1&showinfo=0&iv_load_policy=3&rel=0

So the challenge here is to assess how we help the next generation – the millennials – become adults. In his book, Compolo pushes us to “risk more, reflect more, and do things of lasting value.” I’m not sure that as parents, much will change in your household.  As most parents readily will agree, when your child becomes an adolescent, they become “deaf” overnight, and they will often tune out their parents’ advice.

But the adolescent (in their 20’s) has a strong interest in listening to another adult – a mature person who is not related to them – who will be authentic with them and help them along their path.  That person may be you – you may be the mentor that they are looking for, although it never occurred to you that you could be an influence in some young person’s life.  Take time to pray about helping someone in the next generation – you are in a position to influence their life’s trajectory and can be that resource that puts them on track.

Bill Mann

 

The Power of Physical Touch

 

 

DJ at CCC

[The following is from a blog of Michelle Cuthrell who is in our Church. She is hosting a Chinese orphan this summer as part of an adoption advocacy program, something that my daughter did over a year ago with an orphan from Eastern Europe. This is her story of the impact of our worship service on DJ, the orphan. She granted me permission to repost it on this blog. Kleenex is not provided. Her blog can be found at  goo.gl/ndOO8C]

Since we met our sweet summer superhero a week ago today, he’s been so vivacious and energetic and full of life and joy and heart-melting smiles. He’s jumped into the trampoline-jumping, boy-wrestling, clothes-hating fray and marched to the beat of Cuthrell chaos as if it’s been his whole life’s tune. He’s embraced every aspect of our crazy, boy-filled life and made himself at home in our family and our routines.

But for the last week, he’s been stiff in our arms.

Two of the three little people in our house are huggers and cuddlers and right-next-to-ers and smotherers. And my first love language is physical touch. (That was a funny joke, God, when you married me to a man who is never here to TOUCH. The pillow I snuggle with and drool on every night thanks you.) So with the exception of Superhero 1, who uses cuddle time with Mama purely for negotiation purposes (I will allow you to cuddle with me for 15 minutes if you allow me to stay up LATE for those 15 minutes) and Supersoldier (who is still in Michelle’s Hugging Bootcamp 101), we’re a bunch of on-top-of-each-other touchers in this family.

It’s how we feel love, so it’s how we SHOW love. And it was clearly strange to our summer superhero.

So for seven days, as we’ve greeted this sweet boy with morning hugs, tucked him into bed with goodnight kisses and rubbed his back and pulled him close anytime we’ve been constructing Legos or playing games or reading books or telling nighttime stories, he’s been rigid in our arms. Whether he had never experienced such affection or whether, like Superhero 1, it just wasn’t his love language or favorite thing ever, he didn’t know quite what to do with our constant cuddling and touching. And although he gave us PERMISSION to be this close, he never initiated or returned the hugs or snuggles we’ve smothered him in for seven days.

Until yesterday.

As we walked into our family’s church yesterday morning, hand in hand with our summer superhero who had no idea what “church” was or what these people who attended this church thing did, DJ was mesmerized by the families all around him. Throughout the foyer were moms holding little hands and dads lifting children in arms and family units sitting at tables eating donuts TOGETHER. Smiling. His eyes focused on these unfamiliar units, and he couldn’t take them off the MEN he saw interacting with little superheroes. With little boys.

We dropped his host brothers off in Sunday school classrooms, and DJ, who was looking back over his shoulder to take in these “families” who seemed to love each other in such different ways than he was accustomed, and I entered the sanctuary.

As he and I rose for worship at his very first church service ever, he stood beaming, mesmerized by the band playing live music right before him. His eyes sparkled as he listened to songs in English he didn’t know and watched people worship God for possibly the first time in his life.

I put my arm around him throughout the worship set, wanting to connect with him and love on him during what may have been an overwhelming experience. He just kept looking from the worship band to me, the worship band to me.

And then, in the middle of the third song, he looked up at me, just radiating, and threw two arms around my waist and squeezed.

His very first self-initiated hug.

He hung there for the most precious of moments, and I just pulled him in close, trying to savor that second with this little boy who may never have had a person in his life to offer such affection to. My eyes filled with tears as my arms held tight.

When he released, this sweet, sweet boy who has known me only for a week looked up with brilliant eyes so full of life, and he smiled.

And as the worship band began to play “The Power of Your Name,” I lost it.

Surely children weren’t made for the streets; 
 And fathers were not made to leave;
   Surely this isn’t how it should be;    
Let Your kingdom come …”

This precious little boy was not meant to be abandoned. He was not meant to be left alone at one week old, dropped anonymously at a police station in his province. To spend a decade in an orphanage waiting for SOMEONE to see his beauty. His value. His worth.

He wasn’t made for the streets. Not then. Not in three years, when he turns 14.

He was made for FAMILY.

And now he’s living in a world that’s broken. That’s not as it was meant to be. And in this place, DJ saw the love and heart of a redeeming God and church people singing and praying about loving a world that’s broken. And he saw HERE, not in our home, not in our car, not in the places we’ve taken him or the activities we’ve engaged in with him, a new kind of LOVE.

A love found in the presence of God and the body of Christ. A love that COMPELS TO ACTION. A love that OVERWHELMS. And his response to this overwhelming love in this place with people singing to a God who is a Father to the fatherless was PHYSICAL LOVE in return.

Lord, let this by my LIFE song. Let me live to carry your compassion to a world that’s broken — to be YOUR hands and feet.

To LOVE this sweet boy who is just learning how to receive and show love.

To OPEN MY EYES not to an overwhelming world crisis but to the FACES of these sweet angels who JUST NEED A MAMA TO HOLD THEM. To teach them how to receive hugs. To introduce them to a God who wraps His perfect arms around them and FILLS THEM with HIS perfect love.

To LOVE those who are CRAVING love … and might take some time to learn to show it in return. Who may NEVER learn how to show it in return but desperately need to feel and experience it.

Let my eyes be OPEN to the need. To the faces. To the hearts. To the heart of the most precious superhero-in-waiting we know … the one right before me, just waiting for a mama he can hug and hold FOREVER.

Let YOUR compassion MOVE me so that MY action on his behalf never ENDS.

In the power of YOUR NAME.

#ChangeDJsStory

[If you have a story or a reflection that you would want posted, please let me know.  You can contact me at otterpater@nc.rr.com]

Bill Mann

 

The Genuine Article

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 “You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?”  James 2:20

The picture is one of my all time favorites.  I took it when we visited Ephesus  a couple of years ago.   It was a road side stand near the place where we were dropped off to tour the city.  I still laugh when I see it.   As you can tell from the above picture, some people are up front with the fact that they are not selling something that is what it looks like – it’s not genuine.  We call them “knock-offs”, or imitations.   But it brings a greater truth – how much of what we get from “religion” is the real thing. The unaltered article – without any pretenses or fakery. Usually  the church doesn’t have a sign announcing it’s intentions.  In some churches, your Sunday experience doesn’t connect with your Monday through Friday.  For many, It is often an academic exercise.

We live in a time where “me” is more important than “we”.  It is a time where people are refusing to listen to God or refuse to see where God is leading them.  Our obsession with social media, twitter, etc. perpetuates our isolation, and give us autonomy so that we can enhance our self-indulgence.  It takes many forms and is often subtle.  For years, I observed adults in Raleigh attending bible study after bible study, sometimes repeating them over the years.  I’m not against bible studies per se because learning God’s word is essential to discipleship. Head knowledge is great, but it is not the end game. God wants you to put your faith in action.  Jesus’s method of teaching – through mentoring – introduced a lifestyle to his disciples, so that it was more than just head knowledge.  It’s not just what you know, but what you do with that knowledge.  How does it act out in your life?  Do you put it to use?   As James notes, faith without works is useless, and we often deceive ourselves thinking that being a “good” Christian by attending bible studies and church is all that we need to do.  That’s not what authentic Christianity is all about – we are called to action to use our gifts and talents for the kingdom. It is a clarion call, not just a whisper.

Possibly there are social things in your culture that you turn a blind eye to, thinking that it is someone else’s job to be compassionate to those hurting around us.  This summer, my church has done a series of messages under the banner of the “Untouchables” – these are topics that most churches shy away from yet are part of our lives.  Each of the messages – from abortion, refugees and immigrants, poverty, to sex trafficking and pornography,  reflect our cultures’ liberalized mores and often we don’t think of them as “our” problem.  Jesus was never timid about taking on the “untouchables”, and so it was refreshing to have a series on things that are often not topics for the average sermon.

This week’s message was on sex trafficking and pornography.  It was eye-opening.  Some of the statistics are mind-boggling.  There are some estimated 100,000 to 300,000 children in sex trafficking in the U.S. alone.  The message was a conversation between our pastor and a woman who grew up through her own horrors of being in an abusive relationship -– both physically and sexually.  Her life to the outside looked fine – she was a successful business woman who actually helped train professional athletes.    A friend invited her to Church and she heard a message about taking refuge in God, and she knew right then that she needed to do that to break free of her prison.  She broke off her abusive relationship but not before her  boyfriend acted in rage by kidnapping her, subjecting her to additional abuse and threatened to kill her as well.  She knew she had heard the genuine thing – about God’s redemptive grace and a place where she could seek refuge and she immediately embraced it.  From that point on, her life took a different direction – she completed her education and got several degrees, including a PhD and speaks on this topic nationally.

Her testimony of her redemption from a hidden life was riveting.  She was so ashamed of her life that it took years before she could even talk about it.  Unfortunately, her story is all too common, which some in the audience found hard to believe.  One of the songs we sang, The Power of Your Name, speaks about how we need to expand the Kingdom to untouched people.  It starts with this verse:

Surely children weren’t made for the streets                                                                                                   And   fathers were not made to leave                                                                                                              Surely this isn’t how it should be                                                                                                                          Let Your Kingdom come 

And the chorus is a battle cry for all Christians today:

And I will live                                                                                                                                                                To carry Your compassion                                                                                                                                         To love a world that’s broken                                                                                                                                   To be Your hands and feet                                                                                                                                      And I will give                                                                                                                                                           With the life that I’ve been given                                                                                                                         And go beyond religion                                                                                                                                             To see the world be changed                                                                                                                                    By the power of Your name

That’s Christianity in action.  Not a fake. Being the hands and feet of God is the genuine article.

My challenge is for you to get out of your comfort zone and be the hands and feet of Jesus:   to reach the formerly untouchables, or to consider a new ministry, or to just spend time with someone in the next generation who is searching for an authentic person to talk to.  We live in a broken world.  Not all of us are like the woman I described who had a Jesus moment and realized her life was on a path to self-destruction.  Pray for God to lead you to a ministry that might be an encouragement to others who share your experiences.  They are all around you, but you haven’t been involved.  Jesus reached the untouchables – He wants you to be involved, too.  May we follow His example.

Bill Mann

Mistaken Identity

Identity

If you ask a millennial what their purpose in life is, they often are still thinking about that question, but in often in terms that are general – kind of the “what do I want to be when I grow up?” type of question. These questions are now coming later than ever since most millennials are slower to become adults and be on their own than prior generations.   Most of them think of their life’s purpose in terms of their occupation – their job – what they will be doing.  Few, if any, think of their purpose as being related to their identity.  Who they are, not what they do.  Many have great dreams, but those dreams mostly deal with doing, not being.  They might want to be a firefighter, architect, doctor, or an Olympic medal winner, a singer or actor.

We often ask them “What do you want to be?” which they translate to “What job do you want to have?”.  This is a mistake.  What happens is that from an early age they identify who they are with what they will be doing, rather than who they are.  Most will spend their lives identifying themselves in terms of what they do.  When I retired from law practice – my chosen profession – it didn’t change who I was.  In fact, it was an opportunity for me to do things in life that I didn’t have time for – singing on a worship team, volunteering to do leadership training in an Institute or in foreign countries and even writing this blog, and having time to play with my grandchildren who are growing up fast. I figured out my identity years ago, and although part of my identity was associated with what I did, it didn’t really identify me.  When I retired from law, my identity did not change.

As the title suggests, I consider this to be mistaken identity.  If you look at how Christ chose his disciples, he didn’t look at their accomplishments in their jobs – their degrees, accomplishments or awards.  He looked at their hearts and said “Follow Me.”  The most important thing about you is who you are, not what you do.   You might believe that achieving recognition in your profession or accomplishing your goals is satisfying – well it is, to a point – but outward accomplishments won’t change who you are on the inside and what God has done to make you who you are.  Who you are is your identity, not what you do.  The recognitions that I received practicing law – peer reviews of excellence – really was more of a recognition of my competency, not of my identity.

As a late-blooming Christian who came to faith at age 38, I had to totally rethink my identity in Christ.  It was a game changer for me. Up until that moment of conversion, I was settled in my identity as a lawyer and father, but not as a spiritual leader of my family or a follower of Christ. It took me several years to come to grips that the primary purpose of a Christian is to glorify God in all that you do and say.  That comes first, not somewhere down the line, or something that you do only on Sunday.  God is concerned with what you do on Monday through Saturday, not just the worship experience on Sunday.  You don’t leave church and then check your faith life at the door, so that when you step into your office on Monday morning, it’s as though you have left that all behind.  Christianity is now beginning to turn to the concept of the integration of your faith life with your work.  Two authors recently have written good books on the topic. One is Tim Keller of Redeemer Church in New York whose book is entitled Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work with God’s Work. The second is by Tom Nelson, a pastor in the mid-west who came to the realization that his weekly messages did very little to inspire his congregation to live their work lives for God.  His book is entitled Work Matters:  Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work.  I’ve used both of these books when I speak to businessmen who are interested in a marketplace ministry.  It helps them determine their real identity in Christ – not by just what they do, but who they are.

My challenge is for you to see that your identity is not tied up in what you do, but who you are. If you can connect the dots of your faith and your work, you have come a long way to becoming the man or woman who God wants you to be.  He has planted you in a place for a reason, and He wants you to grow there for His kingdom.

Bill Mann