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.

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.

One

We vastly underestimate the power of one…the difference that one can make.  I was reminded today after receiving a nice card in the mail recently from a visit the visitation team I am a part of made.  The person wasn't home that night, but we left some CD's and a magazine and a note that we came by.  One visit made a difference to someone.

What would happen if…

We gave one percent more to the cause of Christ through the church to use to reach one more person for Jesus;

We gave up one snack food item each day and gave that one dollar to feed the hungry;

We asked God for victory over one area this coming year in which we struggle;

We made one visit or call or wrote one letter or email to someone we didn't see at church last week;

We woke up one minute earlier each day than the day before for one month and gave that time to study and prayer

God can use one…YOU…and me…to make a difference for the Kingdom!  Let's do that today!

Is It Necessary?

I came to a sad realization today.  I was cleaning out my closet because the rod in the closet decided to give way.  That was a disaster a couple years in the making as it gave way under the weight of clothing never worn.  As I sorted through clothing today, I realized…I am giving away more clothing than most people in many countries might ever own in their lifetime.

How does that happen?  How do you slowly and subtly become overrun by things you thought you needed at the time but found that you have not used in forever?

I don't see myself as a kind of person that needs a new pair of shoes every week or a new pair of slacks and a shirt for every occasion, but, sure enough, my poor closet rod collapsed under the weight of that which was not necessary.

That seems how our lives can get if we are not careful.  Paul admonishes us to make "…the most of our time…" (Eph 5:16).  With such precious little time, we must make the most of every moment, and to be sure that our lives don't collapse under the weight of that which is not needed.

Live Responsibly

Recently, I was listening to an ad on the radio for Miller Light Beer.  At the end of the ad, when the announcer is speaking a thousand miles an hour to get all the important information in, I was suprized  by the last line he spoke….live responsibly.  I am used to beer companies telling me to drink responsibly in their ads, but not to live responsibly.

It is good advice, borrowed from the apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians.  In chapter 5, he wrote:

 "Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph 5:15-21, NIV).

My desire this coming year is not to make a number of resolutions to read so many books, or save so much money, or any other numeric goal, but my desire this year is to live responsibly before the Lord.  If I make a commitment to live each day responsibly before the Lord, many positive things can and will happen.  Living responsibly means eating well, spending wisely, giving generously, investing in people and relationships that matter, praying and studying so I am intimate with God and His son Jesus.  This will be accomplished by ensuring that I am willing to ask myself the most important question there is in each situation, "Is this the wise thing to do?".  If I live my life wisely and responsibly according to God's plan, then God will be able to accomplish much in and through me this year, as He will for each of us.

Awesome Never Gets Old

I caught the tail end of a commercial for a local attraction, Atlantis Marine World.  The slogan at the end was "Awesome Never Gets Old".

Oh, if that were true and we really believed that as Christians, so much would be different.  God is awesome in so many ways each and every day, and we have relegated that awesomeness to the land of the routine and mundane.  Do we  sing the chorus "Our God Is An Awesome God" and actually believe it?

At the root of not believing God is awesome is not fearing Him anymore.  The root word in Hebrew for awesome comes from the word "to fear".  It also means to revere.  When we have such a low view of God, Him and His works become commonplace and don’t inspire anything in us anymore, let alone fear, reverence, and a sense of awesomeness.

The Psalmist had a sense of the awesomeness of God.  Psalm 8 and His description of considering the heavens and the moon and the stars, and the reminder that He is majestic.

Psalm 66, where he writes:

"Say to God, "How awesome are your deeds!" (Ps 66:3, NIV).

"Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works in man’s behalf" (Ps 66:5, NIV).

I believe that some of the revival we seek and long for will be found when we exalt God again, back to His position of majesty and awesomeness.  Much as Isaiah did when he saw God high and lifted up, when we see Him that way, we’ll fall before Him and recognize our sinfulness, and when we are cleansed, we’ll be ready to volunteer to do whatever God asks of us.

The AAA Club

This week it has been clear to me that there is a club that Christians need to resign from as members if we ever hope to be what God has called us to be.  It’s the AAA club. The AAA club represents to me seems to be the three greatest challenges that keep us from loving God and loving others as God has called us to.

Too often we believers are Angry, Anxious, and Afraid – it seems that the spirit of these three emotions saps the Spirit right out of our lives.  Scripture tells us that "…the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God" (James 1:20, NASB).  Yet, somehow, all around us, there are angry people, sadly, too many of them followers of Jesus.  We get angry over the smallest things..steaks that aren’t cooked right, traffic that doesn’t move fast enough, gas prices that soar too high, people that won’t listen or cooperate with us.  We blame others for making us angry, when in reality, the anger that is revealed has been in our hearts all along, it was just revealed by the circumstances we encountered.  Jesus said "…for out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matt. 12:34, NIV).

The same principle is true with anxiety.  Paul tells us to "be anxious for nothing…" (Phil. 4:6, NASB), yet we fret over the smallest things, and treat God as if He can’t take care of anything that we encounter.  The circumstances don’t cause the anxiety, they simply reveal the anxious heart that is there.

Jesus said  "Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" (John 14:27, NIV).  Again, Jesus identifies the issue as having its’ roots in the heart.  It seems apparent that our hearts are being held hostage by anger, anxiety, and being afraid.

If we are angry, anxious, and afraid, what is there left in us that is attractive to a lost, hurting, dying world that desperately needs Jesus?  The world already have a full supply of anger, anxiety and fear.  What they need the peace, love and joy only Jesus can offer, and if they don’t see Jesus making a difference in us, we’ll never get the chance to share Him with others.

It’s time for us to turn in our AAA cards and enter into the rest, the peace, the joy that our Lord has in store.  Life is too short to waste the precious time we have.

Living in the Moment

I received an alert of a new post today from a blog that I read regularly.  The link for the blog is on my sidebar.  The title of the entry was "I Don’t Even Know What to Say About This".  The entry was a YouTube post of singer Steven Curtis Chapman washing dishes with his youngest, adopted daughter, who he just tragically lost in an accident at home when his son accidentally ran over her with an SUV.  It shows them washing dishes, him singing a silly song about dish washing, and her swimming…in other words, making every day memories and living in the moment.

I cannot begin to imagine the pain their family is feeling at this moment, and it touched my heart deeply to remind me that in light of the fragility of life, it is so important to be living in the moment, enjoying each day we have with the people that mean the most to us.  We’ve been confronted in the news by earthquakes and typhoons overseas, tornados and train wrecks here at home, and we are reminded that no one really wakes up expecting to lose a family member or friend by the end of the day.  It sadly is too often the case that they are there one moment and then gone the next.  Many Scriptures come to mind…the admonition of the apostle Paul to redeem the time (Eph 5:16), the reminder of Peter that all flesh is like grass (1 Peter 1:24), the two dozen or so references in Scripture to "one another" and their reminder to us how important connection and relationship are to our lives.

So, some of my thoughts are:

  • keep your accounts short with others.  Make sure you forgive easily and love liberally.
  • make sure you make each day special.  "This is the day the Lord has made, We will rejoice and be glad in it (Ps 118.24)".  You only get each day one, don’t squander it.