“What If…?”

What IfDo you remember playing the “What If” game? I actually love this game…even now. It is a great way to start conversations, break the ice, incite thought and imagination, challenge the status quo or just irritate the heck out of someone. Sounds like fun, right?

Even Paul played the “What If” game in the book of Romans. Consider these passages in Romans 3:3-4 & 9:22-24 respectively:

What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.”

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

Here’s the great thing about the “What If” game…most of the “What If” scenarios will never come to pass. The main purpose and intent of the process is to get people to think outside their little myopic, self serving, content and complacent bubble. We get comfortable in the “status quo”. Sometimes we even get comfortable in the things we want so desperately to change, but we either won’t or are unwilling to take the necessary actions to be or make the change we want to experience.

Therefore, the “What If” process is to incite a response to action. The first action is to consider the investment and sacrifice others make to insure our needs are met, our comfort is achieved, and position us with the most opportunities and possibilities for success. The second is to reflect on how we are either part of the problems or solutions; or better stated am “am I consumer or producer”? Finally, what is the proper response for each of us at an individual, team or corporate level to contribute to everything we benefit from?

The “What If” game is great to play at home with your spouse and children, at work with your employees, peers and boss, and especially at church with your congregation. Since this is a “Pastor’s Pen” article, I’ll leave the first two items for another time. For the next few moments we have left, let’s play the “What If” game, local church style.

Ever wonder who cleans the bathrooms, takes care of the grounds, prints the bulletins, cares for the children, pays the bills, vacuums the sanctuary, straightens the chairs, restocks the paper supplies, runs the sound, presentations or burns the CD’s, manages the website, sets up and tears down the fellowship hall or multi-purpose rooms, gets the pastor’s water, and the list goes on and on. In many medium to large churches, there may be some paid staff who take care of much of this; however, volunteers cover the majority. Most volunteers take time out of their evening family time, weekend time off and invest much of their own resources without ever expecting to be reimbursed. This is a very different story in smaller churches. The pastor, and maybe one other person who has been a permanent fixture in the church for a long time cover the majority of the above list.

Consider, if you will, “WHAT IF” this Sunday when you arrived at church there was no parking attendant, the parking lot was full of trash and debris, the church sign hadn’t been updated since the last major event, the windows were dirty, the chairs or pews were misaligned, cobwebs cascaded across the light fixtures, the last 2 months bulletins were stacked up in the seat trays in front of you, the bathrooms were disgusting, the fellowship hall still had food from the last fellowship on the floor, the trash in the cans were overflowing, the musicians were unprepared, there was no one to run the presentations or sound, there were no paper towels or toilet paper on the rolls, the church carpet and floors were dirty, and here’s the best one, the pastor decides he didn’t feel like coming to church and is a no show?

We often take for granted everything required to make a church function, a worship service meaningful and especially the pastor’s investment and sacrifice to lead a gathering of people. The majority of church attenders really don’t have the same level of commitment to Christ, the mission, the community or the church as the pastor does. “What If” all of this was gone this Sunday?

Maybe the better question is…”What If’ we called ourselves to action and responded to the needs of the community, the church and the pastor? “What If” instead of overlooking, passing by and waiting for someone else to respond to the needs, we responded? “What If” we committed, loved and invested to the same level our pastor does? “What If” this Sunday, the pastor showed up and absolutely everything was taken care of and all he had to do was be with his family, preach the message, greet the guest and fellowship with all the Christ followers and believers who stepped up to “BE THE CHURCH”.

“WHAT IF?”

James Miller Jr
“Missionary to a Generation”

Past, Present & Future: Jesus Changes Everything

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” ~ Philippians 3:13-14

Past Present FutureA new year presents us with a great opportunity to start fresh. For many we endeavor to bury the things of the past year, embrace the present moment and set goals for a successful future. However, without a change in our behavior this is all an exercise in futility. We attempt to put new wine in old wine skins, then stand perplexed when we fail in our efforts.

It’s human nature to resist change. We like things simple, uncomplicated, convenient, constant, comfortable and the way they’ve always been. Sadly, without change we would still be a bunch of big babies running around messing our diapers, nursing on milk and throwing temper tantrums when pushed to grow.

“The only thing that never changes is that everything changes.” ~ Louis L’Amour

No other species rejects change more than humans. Every other species is nurtured to a point of preparedness, then left to complete the process to adulthood through struggle, perseverance and a relentless will to LIVE. Even the military, law enforcement, protective and emergency service members are constantly training in preparedness, but it’s not until the moment they have to put it all of into action do they actually grow, and transition from child to adulthood (metaphorically speaking).

Resisting change is evident all around us, and especially in the church among believers. We like to keep things the way they were when we got saved, had that Holy Ghost encounter, experienced growth, sang, prayed or worshipped a certain way. The irony of this is we would never have met Christ without change.

  • Isaiah 43:18-19Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
  • Romans 12:2 – Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

In the OT, the Hebrews wanted to cling to their perversion, idolatry and slavery. We see this in Lot’s wife looking back to a wicked & perverted Sodom & Gomorrah; also, in the golden calf & Egypt while in the desert. Even being delivered from evil & oppression, they kept looking back instead of embracing the change from their deliverance to their promised land.

The Jews in the NT were no different. They fought, debated and even killed to enforce conformity to the law and traditions of men. Jesus was constantly confronted with questions pertaining to His lack of adherence to the religious leaders traditions, but not once did He come against the Law. Christ didn’t come to abolish the law, but be the absolute fulfillment of it, according to Matthew 5:17. Likewise, even believers, of the early church and our modern expression of Christianity, fight to maintain the status quo.

Churches have been split over the color of the carpet, type of seating, loudness of the music, type & style of worship, etc., etc. Most of this was never a spiritual or ecclesiastical issue, but a preference of man to resist change. We would rather cling to the past like our lives depended on it, no matter how good or bad it really was. We are content with a diluted and deceived present that overlooks new opportunities, leaving us crippled and paralyzed with our future at risk than to embrace change by trusting in the fullness of Christ.

It’s time to remember… We wouldn’t be where or who we are in Christ without change. It’s time to put our past to rest, enjoy our present and embrace the changes of our future. It’s time to remember… “Jesus changes everything…”

James Miller Jr
“Missionary to a Generation”

The Perfect Gift for Changing Times

Christ in the PresentAs a young leader, there were a handful of men who have helped shape my leadership theology in life, business and ministry. 10 years ago, we embarked on our very first church plant in San Marcos, TX. The year previously, I walked away from my dream job, a football coach, in Copperas Cove, TX, and went into the ministry full time. During this year of preparation for the next chapter, I read many books to keep my mind and emotions sharpened. The one that has stuck out and made a lasting imprint on me is “The Present” by Dr. Spencer Johnson.

I was familiar with “The One Minute Manager”, his collaboration with Ken Blanchard, and his work “Who Moved My Cheese”; both of which I still recommend as required reading for professional development of young leaders. In “The Present”, I was able to see how humans spend exhausting amounts of time, energy and resources either regretting their past or fearing their future. We even see evidence of this in the “Exodus” story.

The Hebrew children were delivered from a great oppressive empire, robbing them of their spiritual identity and enslaved them to fulfill the insatiable appetite of the Egyptian culture. They witness miracle after miracle that exposed the fallibility of each Egyptian god revealing the glory, power and authority of the ONE TRUE GOD. However, even after experiencing their miraculous deliverance, they would continue to look back to their slavery, reflecting on all that was left behind and even longing to be enslaved once again because it was familiar, constant and even comfortable. They would eventually all die in the Sinai desert and never enter into the “Promised Land”. They were paralyzed by their past.

Fast forward to this millennium and we see everyone with their eyes fixated on their future: the “American Dream”, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”. We spend years going to school to get a great job, with great benefits, paying off all that debt, so we can acquire possessions our parents only dreamed about, and then work a lifetime to save a nest egg to maintain that lifestyle well into our retirement years. We work 60-80 hours per week, make less than 15% of our family’s life events, and wonder why we are estranged, stressed, lonely, burned out, empty and unfulfilled.

This is amplified during the holiday season. We hope our family won’t repeat the horrible gifts of the past, but expect to get the next, latest and greatest, neighbor envying, techno gadget, luxury item or exotic vacation experience. Once again the past and the future converge in a cataclysmic consumer tension leaving us empty and void once it’s all over.

When did we stop living in the moment? When did “now” transform from an instance in time experiencing life around us into a microwave demand for convenience and selfishness? When did the present stop being a gift to dwell in? We pour out so much of our self into missed gifts and opportunities of our past, or in the unrealistic expectations of the gift of success to come that we miss the gift of the moment, this present moment.

Hebrews 13:8 states, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” In Revelation 1:8 Jesus says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” We are about to celebrate the birth of Christ, which is an important moment in history that we have encapsulated in an annual season. Jesus, the Son of God and the Christ, declares “HE IS THE I AM”. He is the past, present and future. He is the perfect gift, birthed out of God’s love for us.

This holiday season, don’t get lost in the failings of the past, the longings of the future, the hustle and bustle of seasonal consumerism, or even our religious “Christianese”. Instead live in the moment of the Living Savior, receive the gift of the King of kings and the Lord of lords, and seize hold of “The Present” that matters most.

The Perfect Gift for Changing Times is “CHRIST In The Present”.

James Miller Jr
“Missionary to a Generation”