Is Your Church Like Borders or Amazon?

I loved Borders Bookstores.  I loved the variety of books they had, the CD’s they carried, I loved everything about it.  I could get lost in there for hours on end, never to be found.  Sadly, Borders doesn’t exist anymore.  It went bankrupt and is no longer in business.

What happened?  Simply, Borders did not keep up with the times or adjust to the trends in how books and music were consumed.  They expanded their buildings while their competitors got smaller and offered more content in the up and coming digital formats.
A 2011 NPR article describes it this way:

“It made a pretty big bet in merchandising. [Borders] went heavy into CD music sales and DVD, just as the industry was going digital. And at that same time, Barnes & Noble was pulling back,” says Peter Wahlstrom, who tracks Barnes & Noble for the investment research firm Morningstar.
He says Barnes & Noble also invested in beefing up its online sales. Eventually, it also developed its own e-reader, the Nook.
Borders did not. Instead, it expanded its physical plant, refurbished its stores and outsourced its online sales operation to Amazon.”

Borders fundamentally misunderstood the changes taking place around them.  Books and music were being purchased and delivered  to people where they lived but Borders invested substantial resources to build and refurbish buildings as if people were going to come to them. 

As one customer put it,

“I’ll go to Borders to find a book, and then I’ll to go to Amazon to buy it, generally,”

While not a perfect parallel, there are many similarities about the downfall of Borders and the struggles of the church in America today.  Too many churches in the US are still building-centric.  If the “product” we have for people is the life-changing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, people will not necessarily come to our buildings to get the Gospel.  We have to take the gospel to them.  We not only have to take the gospel to them so they can hear it, we also have to disciple them where they are at once they receive it.  It is not realistic to go the them with the gospel and then assume they will be willing to come to church to be discipled and fed.

If it is indeed true that the fields are white unto harvest, we have to realize that the harvest will not be gathered if we stay in the farmhouse. If we are safe and comfortable and warm, the harvest never gets gathered, and we end up starving for lack of food. The church will starve for lack of the harvest being gathered in. So, churches have to decide whether we want to be more like Amazon or more like Borders. Refurbishing buildings when we fail keep up with the changing culture with an unchanging message of hope in Jesus Christ will lead to empty buildings and closing churches.


Bare Minimum

In Mark 6:33-44,  Jesus asked the disciples to go and see how much bread there was to feed the multitudes.  They came back and replied “Five, and two fishes” (Mark 6:38b, NASB).  It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t ask how many fish there were.  The disciples took the initiative and found that out on their own.  The disciples get a bum rap most of the time…they lacked faith, they denied Jesus, they lived in fear.  But here, they did more than the bare minimum, and God was able to take it and do a miracle with it.  Sadly, we can get so comfortable in our relationship with Jesus and in “being a Christian” that we end up doing the bare minimum for Him.  In essence, we go through the motions of what might be called “the Christian life”.  We read a couple chapters from His word each day, we spend some minutes in prayer, we give our 10%, we try to witness every now and then, and then we get on with life and we believe that it’s OK.  We live as if our “life” is separate from the “Christian life” we live.  Does God deserve more than the bare minimum from us?  Does a lost and dying world where billions haven’t heard the Gospel deserve more than our bare minimum?  Do the orphans, widows, hungry, thirsty, oppressed deserve more than our bare minimum?  He gave His all for us at Calvary, can we give more than just the bare minimum for Him?  If we give more than the bare minimum, God may just be able to do a miracle through it and a lost world might finally hear about Jesus!

The Gift of Time

I threw out my 2010 calendar today.  It was a nice calendar,  given as a gift last year.  As I threw it into the trash can, I wondered whether I had done the same thing with the time given to me during the year.  This year contained 31,556,926 seconds, 525,948 minutes, 8,765 hours, 365 days, 52 weeks, 12 months.  However you decide to count it, it’s gone and it is a year of time that can never be regained, recaptured, restored or re-lived.  Have I spent it well?  What have I accomplished?  Am I closer to God and living in greater obedience that I did at the start of the year?  Have I loved people around me with the love of Jesus?  Have I shared my faith and seen somebody come to Christ?

As we enter into 2011, these questions are still important to ask for the following year as well. Every day is a day we can not reclaim, and we need to live it in obedience, grace, faith, love and joy.  If we do this, we will indeed have a Happy New Year!


The apostle Paul wrote "in everything give thanks, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thess. 5:18, NASB).  

If anyone had reason to not give thanks for the circumstances in which he found himself it was Paul.  Yet, despite being in jail, he was able to write to the church at Phillipi with great joy and was able to give thanks for everything in his life, even his imprisonment and pending death sentence.  His life reflects three reasons why we find it difficult to give thanks at time.

The first reason is because "I wish".  Paul was sitting in a jail cell on trumped up charges and could have found every reason to wish that his circumstances were different.  Yet he was able to write "Now I want you to know, brethern, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel" (Phil 1:12, NASB).  The nation of Israel had a bad case of the "I wishes".  In Numbers 11 it is said that they became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the Lord.  They got upset because God was leading them toward a better future and yet they wanted to go back to Egypt where they had something to eat besides manna and were in captivity instead of heading toward freedom.  It is difficult to give thanks in everything when we continually wish that things were different now.  Some people have the gift of complaining.  When we complain we are not giving thanks to God in everything.  We are not thankful for what is happening at the moment. Paul saw God's higher purpose in his imprisonment, and was able to be thankful rather than to wish that is was different and miss the opportunity.

Dr Dale Robbins wrote, "I used to think that people complained because they had a lot of problems. But I now have come to realize that they have problems because they complain.  Complaining doesn't change anything or make situations better.  It amplifies frustration, spreads discontent and discord, and can invoke an invitation for the devil to cause havoc with our lives".  In other words, complaining makes us miserable.  We can't be thankful for the moment when we spend our lives wishing our lives were different.

The second reason is that "I Want".  In Phillipians 4:11, Paul wrote that he had "..learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am".  The truth is, unless we learn to be content, we'll never understand  how to be thankful.  Discontent leads us to look for something better, something more, something else and never really see and appreciate what we have.  True thankfulness comes when we can say with all honesty and integrity Jesus is enough!  Contentment is a matter of perspective, seeing what we have rather than what we want.  Many years ago, a cartoon pictured Charlie Brown bringing out Snoopy's dinner on Thanksgiving Day.  But it was just his usual bowl of dog food.  Snoopy took one look at the dog food and said "This isn't fair.  The rest of the world today is eating turkey with all the trimmings and all I get is dog food.  Because I'm a dog," he said, "all I get is dog food."  He stood there and stared at the dog food for a moment and said "I guess it could be worse.  I could be a turkey."  Perspective.  Contentment is being able to sing the hymn "I Am Satisfied with Jesus" with integrity.  If we can't sing that honestly, we shouldn't even venture to ask the question "Is My Master Satisfied With Me?".  He won't be satisfied with us unless we are satisfied with him.

The last reason is because "I Worry".  We can lose the ability to be thankful when we fret over tomorrow and lose sight of the provision of today.  In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus said, give us this day our daily bread.  When Israel tried to collect more than a day worth of manna at once, the excess they gathered rotted.  God was providing for them as they went, each day.  He does the same for us.  Paul wrote "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil 4:6-7, NASB).  When we worry, we are saying, in essence, that we have lost our faith and confidence in God to care and provide for us as He said He would.  Abraham believed that God would make provision for a sacrifice for Isaac, and when He did, he affirmed God's faithfulness by calling the name of that place "The Lord Will Provide" (Gen. 22:14).  When we worry for tomorrow, we don't give God thanks for the provisions of today.

It can be challenging to give thanks "in everything".  There are times when we might ask what the will of God is for our lives.    Giving thanks in everything is God's will for our lives.  Lord, grant us the faith to be thankful in all things.

Stay Thirsty

Who would have thought that a tagline from a beer commercial would describe so well the essence of the Christian life? It is sad that we can so easily lose our thirst for knowing God in all of His fullness and glory and majesty and holiness and splendor.  We get caught up in, as John writes "…everything that belongs to the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one's lifestyle…" (1 John 2:16, HCSV) and lose our desire to know God.  Oh, that our lives would reflect the heart of the Psalmist when He wrote "Whom do I have in heaven but you?  And I desire nothing on earth but you." (Ps. 73:25, HCSV).  God. help us to live in the promise "I am the bread of life.  He who come to me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst (John 6:35, NKJV).  Lord, help us stay thirsty for you!!!

Drawing or Dragging?

When Paul was trying to get his friend Philemon to do the right thing by Onesimus, the runaway slave, he had a choice…he could either try to drag Philemon by his apostolic muscle to do the right thing or he could appeal to him and draw him to the right thing out of a position of love (Philemon 9, 14).  People generally respond better when they are drawn to do the right thing rather than dragged to do it.  That's what Jesus did.  Jesus said "But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself". (John 12:32, NIV).  He didn't say He would drag all men unto Himself.  He also said that He stood at the door and knocked.  He didn't break it down with a battering ram.  Jesus never forced His way into our lives, He drew us unto Himself.  When we seek to lead people to Jesus, we can't drag them there, we must draw them with the love of Jesus.

Loving Loud…Southern Baptist Convention

I had the privilege of being at the Southern Baptist Convention a couple weeks in Orlando.  There was some great preaching, awesome music (Casting Crowns was there Wednesday night), spirited discussion about task force recommendations regarding the Great Commission, and wonderful fellowship with brothers and sisters around the country, some which I hadn't seem for nearly 20 years or more.  With any meeting like this, there is much to take away from it.  Here are some of my thoughts:

***In spite of our deep differences about how to accomplish the Great Commission, there is agreement that we desperately need for things to be different and to do something differently in order to accomplish the Great Commission in our lifetime.

***While there were 11,000 messengers at the session to discuss the task force recommendations, which included increasing funding from the Cooperative Program to the International Mission Board by 1%, there were only 1500 messengers at the Wednesday evening session to hear the International Mission Board report where we hear what the missionaries are doing with the resources we fought so desperately to increase and believe they really need.  How ironic.

***I tired quickly of nomination speeches for convention offices that paraded church size, dollar giving, accomplishments and a host of other facts.  All I wanted to hear, from just one speech, was how much somebody loved Jesus, about their walk with God, about how God was faithful in trials, and that they trusted Jesus.  That's the type of leadership we need for our convention.

***It was exciting to see people stand up and applaud the work of Jesus through our North American missionaries and the lost people that were saved that came as a fruit of their labors.  THAT is worthy of cheering for Jesus about.

***For all our flaws, there is no other body of Christ I would rather be a part of than Southern Baptists, because of our passion, our beliefs, our resources, our mission.   God, grant us some wisdom and fervor to see the Great Commission accomplished in our generation.

Lollipop Moments

I was at work the other day when a family came in to take care of some business.  One of our employees handed the little 3 year old girl that was there a lollipop.  You would have thought that we handed her a million dollars.   With great glee in her voice, she exclaimed "Mommy!  I got a lollipop!!"

When is the last time you had a "lollipop moment"?  When was the last time you got excited when you received a simple blessing?  Truth be told, we can have moments like that every day!  God provides a lot of simple blessings each day…the beauty of a sunrise and sunset, a cool breeze on a spring day, a refreshing rain, the beauty of spring as it blooms, friends and family that love us and we love them, three meals per day.  Sadly, here is often our running commentary….this sunrise is so early, the wind is messing up my hair, spring means pollen…oh my allergies, you don't know MY family, I don't like THAT brand of soup!

When did we become so ungrateful and such sour pusses!?  When did we lose the joy of each day of life and the blessings it brings?  If we try hard enough, God can help us find some lollipop moments even in the very worst of days.  God never stops providing the blessings and the joys, we just stop looking for them and seeing them.  Life can make that happen if we let it.  Losing contentment in our heart can make it happen as well.  "Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am" (Phil 4:12, NASB).

"This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it" (Ps. 118:24, NASB).  It's good to start the day looking for the blessings.  Jesus said, seek and you will find…why not look for some blessings today and have a lollipop, God's treat!

Green Light Christians

False assumptions can be a dangerous thing.  Our world is full of them.  Old is better, new is better, change is good, change is bad, bigger is better, smaller is better, all rich people are proud, all poor people are lazy.  All of these are false assumptions that can lead to actions that aren't particularly helpful.

One of the most unfortunate false assumptions that believers make is the assumption that people don't want to hear the Gospel. If we view people as closed to the Gospel or that they wont want to listen, we will act in accordance with that false assumption and we won't tell others about Jesus.  When you assume someone doesn't want to hear what you have to say, why do you bother saying it?

What would happen if we simply changed our assumption and believed that everyone wanted to hear the good news about Jesus?  I believe that Jesus and Paul were green light people.  They acted as if they believed every person that heard the Good News was going to respond so they told everyone the good news.  That is an act of faith, believing that every time the gospel gets shared, someone will respond.  The Bible says that the Word of God will not return void (Is. 55:11).  Yet we act as if it is chained when it isn't (2 Tim 2:9).

What if we committed ourselves to be "Green Light Christians"?   What if we were to assume everyone wanted to hear about Jesus until they give us a red light that they don't?  Would this change our actions, our behavior in telling others about the Lord?  We can only pray that is does, because we live in a dark world that needs us to push back the darkness with the Light of Life.  Pray that just this week we might live as "Green Light Christians" as see how it impacts those around us.

The Challenge of Grace

The last two weeks the Lord has led me to preach about grace.  On the surface, grace seems so simple…it's free, it's given by God, it's nothing we can earn, and the means through faith by which we have eternal life.  However, it seems difficult for many to grasp the reality of grace because it has so many theological potholes and it can reveal so much in our heart that isn't right.

Grace reveals all kinds of heart attitudes that come from a sense of entitlement, resentment, and a loss of joy.  In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the older son gets angry when the father throws the younger son a party upon his return.  Perhaps he was upset that because he had not been recognized for his years of being faithful and felt slighted because one who was lost was found.  As we get older, we must never let grace lead us to the point where we lose the sense of its wonder in a cloud of entitlement of seeking recognition for simply doing what God asks, which is to be faithful.  In the parable of the Vineyard Workers, the first workers that get paid get upset for about the same, because the vineyard owner decides to be gracious and offer all the workers the same wage regardless of when they started work.  Grace is really grace when it doesn't make sense and it doesn't seem fair.  "Deathbed confessions" still challenge us because it means that those that confess Jesus right before they die after living a life apart from God will enjoy all the same blessings of heaven and eternity that those  "…who bore the burden of the day and the burning heat!" (Matt. 20:12b, HCSV).  In other words, those that served the Lord for years and years and years can lose their joy at enjoying the blessings given to them by the Father and get upset when others discover it.  That is sad when it happens but is a danger that awaits.  Lord, may I never lose the wonder of your joy and love and grace and mercy.