Take Care

“So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?”
Peter said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
Jesus said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?”
Peter said to him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
Jesus said to him a third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?”
Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And Peter said to him, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

John 21:15-17

You may be familiar with this story. It’s the conversation where Jesus restores Peter after Peter denied him three times. We can make much of the different words for ‘love’ Jesus uses in the original language. We could recognize the persistence with which Jesus relentlessly pursues Peter in an attempt to break Peter’s false assumptions about himself and others. We could delight in the fact that Jesus believed in Peter (as He believes in us) even when Peter didn’t believe in himself.

But what I notice today is something else. It’s an observation a former pastor of mine used to make.

As Jesus interrogates Peter he never once asks, “Peter, do you like sheep?”

Peter was a fisherman. He had no experience or expertise caring for sheep. In times of disappointment and failure, Peter didn’t run to the open field where sheep freely roam. He ran to open water. Like the namesake of his father, Jonah, Peter ran from what should be, to the comfort of what he knew best.

Jesus’ words to Peter were more than a personal restoration. They were a direct confrontation, a loving challenge, really. “If you love Me, you will care for, more specifically, you will provide care for My people.”

That is both the challenge and encouragement of your every interaction with people today.

The encouragement?
Just like Peter, Jesus believes in you. He believes in you enough to pursue you with relentless affection. He believes that, with zero experience, and possibly little inherent interest, you are the perfect person to provide care for everyone he brings across your path today.

The challenge?
If you love Him, care for his people. Whether you’re experienced at it or not. Whether you’re good at it or not. Whether you like it (or them) or not. Why? Because one of our greatest expressions of love for God is fulfilled as we lovingly care for His people.

It might be tempting to think this kind of thing comes easy. I can assure you, this kind of care takes deliberate attention, willful interaction, and the giving of the kind of grace you’ve already received from God and others. Just like Jesus’ friendship with Peter, our interactions with one another come with both encouragement and challenge. Today, it’s likely that you will spend the majority of your day in increasing circles of influence – from friends and family, colleagues, coworkers, neighbors, to people in your community.

Do you love Him? Feed those sheep.

Budget Vision

An exciting post about church budgets…

People get nervous when preachers talk about money. These thoughts aren’t about giving, but about the stewardship of how a church uses what is given.
A church budget is a vision document. It tells the story, financially, of the dreams, priorities and expectations of a church. Every line item reflects a belief that investing or spending these resources in this way will magnify the gospel, raise disciples, meet needs, and bring to life the unique ministry God has called this local body of believers to accomplish together.

A financial gift to your church will be used in one of three ways.

PEOPLE – To employ the people who oversee, manage, equip, and work alongside others to accomplish the work of the ministry.
STUFF – To pay for the campus, resources and materials used by the church to accomplish ministry.
SUBSIDY – to assist people in need and offset the cost of ministry events to participants.

As we consider how to allocate the resources entrusted to the church we should consider several things.

The church is not a business that produces a product. It’s more like a service industry. It has similarities to a school in that many of its tasks are educational. It’s related to the hospitality industry in that it hosts people and events much like a conference center might host a convention. Because these organizations are people-centered and service oriented their budgets are personnel heavy. Even though a church is not a school or a convention center a church budget will share this similarity. Think of it this way…

STUFF makes ministry nice.
PEOPLE make ministry happen.

Purchasing more books or paying utilities on a larger facility doesn’t accomplish ministry. These are the tools that extend ministry beyond the moment or become the stadium where ministry takes place. They help and are often necessary. Whatever the expense, stuff makes ministry nice. People make ministry happen.

A church budget is also used to subsidize ministry. When someone has a financial need the church often helps meet that need. Our purpose isn’t to solve the problem of poverty, but we can do for one what we wish we could do for everyone. We can partner people who have things with people who need things while sharing the hope of Jesus Christ.

Additionally, as a church plans events designed to engage people with the gospel, employ volunteers in ministry and deepen the faith of Believers it has the opportunity to ask the question, “How much, if anything, should a participant be asked pay.”
For the core ministries of the church, like worship services and weekly small group Bible studies, the answer is nothing. We want these services to be free to all who attend. But other activities in church life are “value added”. For example, the church will accomplish its mission with or without a summer camp for students or a trip to Branson for senior adults. These activities are value added. For these kinds of activities the participant may be asked to pay to attend. In order to encourage participation a church may choose to offset that cost. For example, a church may decide camp is so important that they want to keep the cost to the participant low. They use a portion of their budget to reduce the cost to the participant. When a church does this it’s important to evaluate the purpose and effect. By creating this kind of subsidy the church is essentially saying, “This event is so important that everyone who gives to the church should pay a percentage of the cost whether or not that person receives a direct benefit from the event.” In other words, the senior adult who gives regularly is paying a small part of a students way to camp even though that senior adult won’t go to camp themselves. When we think of it this way programming budgets become easier to evaluate. We can ask the question,”Is it appropriate to ask the church to pay for a direct benefit only a small percentage of the church will receive?” The answer to this question is influenced by vision and purpose. It’s why a church might subsidize camp but tell a Small Group class they should pay for their class fellowship.

Many churches also use part of their budget to support other, like-minded ministry organizations or missionaries. This too is a people, stuff or subsidy expense. The difference is that these dollars are released from the influence of the church and entrusted into the individuals or organizations they choose to support.

When you give to a church you empower the vision of that church to employ the people who make ministry happen, purchase the stuff that makes ministry nice and subsidize the ministry that enables others to benefit from your gift.

When you attend without giving you are the beneficiary of the generosity of others.

A church budget is an expression of vision. May we be good stewards of that vision.

The Beauty of Being Right

I love a good story. Some of my favorite stories have nothing to do with the valiant hero rushing in to save the day. Sometimes leadership finds it’s fullest expression, not in the perfect prince, but in the simple beauty of being right.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle developed one such character who still influences modern story-telling today. Sherlock Holmes was the brilliant detective with the skill to deduce who-dun-it using only his powers of observation. He famously said, “Remove the impossible and whatever is left, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

In spite of his brilliance and skill as a detective he had a variety of character defects that made him, how shall we say, a challenge to work with. He was arrogant, abrupt and often rude. His interpersonal relational skills left a lot to be desired. He had a stunning lack of personal hygiene. He was addicted to opium and his hyper-intelligence kept him always just on the edge of madness.

Several characters in modern television are based on Sherlock Holmes.

  • There’s Dr. Gregory House – the genius, infectious disease doctor at Princeton Plainsboro in the TV show, House.
  • Dr. Cal Lightman, the man who specializes in deception detection, on the TV show Lie to Me.
  • On the lighter side there’s Shawn Spencer, the fake psychic-detective who uses his keen power of observation to solve crimes in a decidedly Holmesian manner on the TV show, Psyche.
  • Don’t forget Monk, the obsessive-compulsive detective, and the Mentalist also.

I’m certain there are others I’ve left out. The influence of Sherlock Holmes on our culture is undeniable. We seem to be fascinated by the highly intelligent, borderline dysfunctional people who achieve remarkable success, not through the skill of their leadership or the force of their personality, but because they are right.

It’s difficult to overstate the significance of being right. We all know that nothing builds momentum like success. It’s hard to deny that being right is a leadership force multiplier. Nothing grows success like success. In spite of all the idiosyncrasies of all these characters, regardless of the fact that they rarely hold the position of power or authority, in the end, people, often reluctantly, give in to their will and their way. Why?

Because they are right.

However you lead, whatever your position, take time to be right.

God Bless,

The Parent Trap

Recently I’ve been plagued by a question. It has to do with my kids. I have four children. My daughter is my oldest. She’s nine. The rest are boys; six, four and nearly two. They are great kids. I love being a dad. With each passing moment I’m reminded of the fact that we are drawing closer and closer to the teenage years, that lovely time of life when boundaries are tested, strings are slowly cut and children cross the threshold from being kids to being adults. I’ve seen first hand how difficult raising teenagers can be and not too long from now I will experience this beautiful mess for myself.

Some people approach this time of life like Mark Twain. He said, “When a child turns twelve you should stuff them in a barrel, seal the lid and feed them through a knot hole. When they turn 16 you should plug the hole.”

See here’s the challenge – and it leads in to my question – I’ve seen horrible parents raise incredible children and I’ve seen incredible parents raise children who relentlessly reject everything about their own heritage. So I have to ask…

Is the quality of my parenting measured by the character of my kids?

It seems like the obvious answer would be ‘yes, of course’. You always judge a business by the product they produce, so if family is your business then your children are the best barometer or your skill as a parent. Unfortunately, experience doesn’t demonstrate this to be true. Kids who grow up with great privilege make wrong choices. Others who grow up with every odd stacked against them become exceptionally successful. Our children are not a product. They are people. Therefore, our success or failure as a parent can’t be solely determined by the content of their character. Their must be something more.

So I look to Scripture. Like many things, it seems we’ve gotten our measurement of success backwards. Today we judge parents by their kids. In Scriptural times kids were judged by their parents. Consider Solomon. The Bible identifies Solomon as the wisest king Israel would ever know. During his reign the nation was unified and experienced almost universal peace. Silver was so abundant during the reign of Solomon that they stopped counting how much of it they had! Can you imagine being such a successful leader? The Bible tells us that political leaders all over the world sought out Solomon’s wisdom on everything from economics to agriculture, from political prowess to social justice. To suggest that Solomon was successful is a massive understatement. Yet when Solomon sits down to write his book of Proverbs (wise sayings), how does he start? Does he give his resume? Does he tell of all his great works? Does he mention the fact that his kingdom is greater and more successful than his father’s before him? No. As he begins his magnum opus on all things wise Solomon states simply, “The proverbs of Solomon, the son of David…” Solomon was king, the most successful king Israel would ever know, yet in his time of greatest triumph he wasn’t identified by his works. He was identified by his father.

Scripture does this a lot. The history of the Israelites after Solomon is not nearly so joyous. The kingdom splits and one king after another rises to take the throne and attempt to lead both Israel & Judah. Do you know how each king is evaluated? Either they walked in the ways of their father David or they didn’t. From one generation to the next everything was measured by the example of their father David. But there’s more here than that – it’s difficult to illustrate the number of times God looked to the leaders of Israel and said, “I will bless you…because of my servant David.” By this time, David was long gone, yet his influence remained. WHY? Because he was a great parent? NO. Because he was a godly man. The Bible calls him a man after God’s own heart.

And that’s the answer to the question.

We can’t judge the quality of our parenting by the character of our kids – it’s not an accurate measurement. Kids are not products to be produced, they are people to be led – to be influenced. If the quality of our parenting is measured by the character of our kids then God must be the worst father ever. And we know this simply is not true.

Listen to this – God wants to free you from the pressure that as a parent you are not enough. It’s true. He wants you to understand something. As a parent, YOU WILL NEVER BE ENOUGH. You can’t attend enough games or watch enough recitals. You can’t discipline enough. You can’t be gracious enough.  You can’t write enough checks to guarantee your child a successful, happy, holy life. As a parent, you will never be enough. So stop trying.

Stop trying to be a great parent. Stop trying to meet every need. Stop trying to give every gift. Stop trying to enforce enough rules. Stop trying to be cool enough, relevant enough or hip enough. You will never be enough. You simply CANNOT be God for your children.

When my daughter was first born she had some respiratory problems and spent 7 days in ICU. Once she got home we had to give her IV antibiotics through a pique line in her head. There was one evening I was holding her and considering the future I had planned for her when I was struck by this one thought – As her father I want to protect and provide for her, but there are so many things I simply will never be able to do for her. I will never be able to protect her from a broken heart. I will never be able to save her from the lies of cruel people. I won’t be able to keep her from making foolish choices. I can’t do these things for her, but I know the God who can. So I resigned myself to this one thought – I can’t guarantee my children a successful, happy or holy life, but I can give them an example to live up to. I can be like David and provide an example worth imitating. I can strive to live in such a way that when future generations look back they can hear God say, “I will bless you…because of my servant Chad.”

There’s a world of Scripture to back up this style of parenting.

  • I Corinthians 11:1 says, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”
  • Philippians 3:17 says, “Brethren join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.”
  • 2 Timothy 2:2 says, “These things you’ve heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful people who will be able to teach others also.”

It begs a follow up question – Do I have a life worth imitating and what does a life like that really look like? Scripture answers that question too:

  • Galatians 5:22 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Against such there is no law.”

Did you catch the last phrase of that verse? ‘Against such there is no law…’ In other words, you can’t get enough of these things. More than that – you can’t give enough of these things! Am I, as a father, as a man, as a leader living a life worthy of imitation? Is what I’m producing in my life and the life of others characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control?

This is the challenge of parenting:

  • Too much LAW and children REBEL.
  • Too much GRACE and children become entitled or spoiled.

How, as  parent, do I know when it’s time to lay down the law and when it’s time to give grace? There is a fine line between DISCIPLINING and COACHING.

  • Discipline is about right verses wrong.
  • Coaching is about choosing good, better or best.
  • Discipline calls for justice and judgement or grace and mercy.
  • Coaching calls for patience and self control.
  • Discipline calls for discernment.
  • Coaching call for wisdom.
  • In moments of right versus wrong we DISCIPLINE.  When correcting bad behavior we DISCIPLINE. These times are always crystal clear. My kid just lied about something. It’s time for discipline. My child was caught cheating on a test. Spanking, grounding – pick your punishment, corporal or capital, a wrong must be righted. My teenager ignored curfew. Car keys are lost. Discipline is always about teaching a child the difference between RIGHT & WRONG.
  • COACHING is always about teaching a child the difference between good, better and best. Should my child play sports or music? How should they spend their time, more on academics or building significant friendships? Choosing baseball over piano isn’t about right verses wrong. It’s about good, better or best. How is your child ‘bent’? What are their natural abilities, interests and experiences? Where do they excel and how? There’s no right or wrong here, simply good, better or best. As a parent how can you draw the best out of your child?

There is certainly more to parenting than this.

  • Luke 15 tells the story of the Prodigal Sons – I say ‘sons’, plural, because both sons in the story are far from the heart of their father. One son rejects the Father and rebels against the example he set. The other son ‘religiously’ tries to earn the love of the Father by always obeying every rule. Though, for all those years, he continued to live under the same roof as his father, he becomes bitter and as estranged from his father as his younger brother.

I’m struck by the fact, in the story of the Prodigal Sons, that never once is the parenting skill of the father questioned. Instead the father is shown as an example of patience and love; grace and mercy; justice and judgement. He is a picture of God our father. I wonder if you’re the rebellious son or the religious son? Either way you’ve become estranged from your father, not because you have a bad dad, but because of your bad belief and bad choices. Like the father of the Prodigal Sons, God stands ready to receive you by His grace into his family and will celebrate when you come.

God is a perfect father. He has shown us what to do, told us what to do and now he is saying to every parent – now go do it yourself. Stop trying to be a great parent. Start becoming a godly example for your children to follow. You can’t be God for your kids, but you can be exactly the father or mother God designed you to be.

God Bless,

BTW…Ezekiel 18 talks about this is as well. Give it a read and let me know what you think.