Are you living on the right side of Easter?

Are you living on the right side of Easter?

Easter changes everything. Like no other part of the Christian faith, the story of Easter is at the heart of what makes our faith unique and life-changing. Death is overcome by life. Not even the grave is immune to the life-giving power of Jesus Christ. Those simple statements have profound implications. Across the centuries, this triumph of life over death has proven to be the spark that has inspired individual believers and the church. No obstacle has been too large, no challenge too intimidating. Men and women have found hope in the midst of oppression, loss, and excruciating pain. Faith communities have leaned into challenges that seemed overwhelming with conviction, grit and confidence in victory. Living on the right side of Easter makes all the difference in the world. There really are two sides of Easter, aren’t there? One is the side of Easter that the disciples experienced during the dark hours following the crucifixion. It is the side marked by discouragement, loss and despair. There is also the side of Easter those same men and women experienced when they discovered the tomb was empty and Jesus had been resurrected. This is life marked by confidence and hope. Why, then, do so many of us, and so many of our churches seemingly live on the wrong side of Easter? Think about the difference in a church that finds itself mired in a “pre-Easter” mindset versus a church that lives out of it’s “post-Easter” mindset. Here are four key contrasts between the two. A pre-Easter church believes only in what they can see. Thus, they work very hard and are...
Our Specialty Is…

Our Specialty Is…

One of my favorite restaurant chains is Rosa Mexicano. It is not one of the order-by-number kind of Mexican restaurants, but a fancier kind of Mexican restaurant; the “bring around the cart and make the guacamole at your table” kind of place. At Rosa Mexicano, when the waitress/waiter comes to your table, they ask if you are familiar with their menu and then always, and I do mean always, say, “We are known for a few specialties I will point out for you. Our drink specialty is our pomegranate margarita and our appetizer specialty is our guacamole which is made table-side to your preferences.” Part of this is just smart business. If you order both of the specialties, you have already added around $25 to your food bill! I am not sure how they decided these would be their “specialties” but by drawing attention to them, everyone who comes in knows immediately what they consider to be the best they have to offer. Scientists tell us that in an eco-system where resources have become scarce, all living things become more specialized. Herds with many common traits all begin to live and feed in areas best suited for their uniqueness. There are not enough resources, so their tastes change in the foods they eat. This keeps too many from one species from competing for one food or water source. It becomes their specialty, the difference that allows them to continue living. It is called the “competitive exclusion principle”, which states “no two species of similar requirements can long occupy the same niche (coexist).” A study was done with a group...

Guardian or Gardener?

Many years ago, in the days when the Czar ruled over Russia, the leader was walking in his palace garden one day. In the far corner of the garden he found a soldier who was stationed as a sentry to guard that particular place. The Czar was confused as to why a soldier would be assigned to such a location in his garden. He asked the man why he was there, but the soldier merely stated that he was ordered by his superior officer to be in this spot. The Czar began to follow the chain of command up through the ranks to find out why this guardian was stationed in that place in the garden. No one seemed to know anything other than orders had come down from above. Finally, the Czar discovered that over one hundred years earlier, when Catherine the Great ruled over Russia, she had planted a rose bush in that place in the garden. To protect her rose bush she stationed a soldier to stand guard over that place in the garden. Ever since a guardian had stood tall and strong protecting that corner of the garden. The only problem was that the rose bush had long since died! What Catherine the Great needed was not a guardian standing tall and strong to protect a rose bush, but a gardener, bending and stooping and working in the soil to nurture the plant as it grew. Guardian or Gardener? These two images provide a wonderful way for us to think about the church. Is your church more like a guardian or a gardener? During Holy...

Making Sense of Change

Everywhere I look, I see transitions underway as we close out 2013. Whether it be friends in the news business, local congregations, ministers in transition, my own employment situation, or significant family transitions, everyone is undergoing some sort of change. For several decades, I have watched a parade of change march through my life and the lives of people I care about.  Some days we handle those transitions well, other days we are convinced the end of our world is near. In my head, I know that change and transition is a gift from God. Without change, our lives would become stale and unbearably boring. However, too much change leaves us bewildered and disillusioned. Finding a healthy balance is one of the key predictors of success for individuals, churches and organizations. One of the most helpful books I have ever read is William Bridges’ Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes.  Every time a major transition is called for in my life, I revisit the principles he suggests and find myself nodding in agreement. Since our lives are lived in the constant churning of change, the effect of that environment is to deaden us to what transitions do to us. When that happens, we miss a critical opportunity for learning and growth. Bridges suggests that every beginning in our life is actually preceded by an ending, and that often we have endings without clarity about what our new beginning will be. He calls the time between endings and beginnings the transition time. Endings, whether gradual or sudden, are those moments when our world is changed whether we like it or...

A Pivotal Question

Tom Ehrich, one of my favorite thinkers about church in the 21st century, recently told me he is down to one pivotal question for the congregations he works with. That question is: “Is your primary orientation inward or outward?”  His contention is that, until we get this right, our internally focused planning and programming obscures the most important task we have been given. I think he is right. Many would agree to those words, but fail to full appreciate the implications of such a shift in our orientation. To ask this question is to embark on a fundamental and often uncomfortable shift for many congregations. We have been trained to provide services for our constituents (read: members) and to work hard at meeting their expectations. Clergy and lay leaders spend untold amounts of energy seeking to provide just the right kind of food, environment, worship format, program, facility, etc. for those who attend our church. We have spawned what my colleague Nelson Grenade termed “the concierge minister”. Such ministers are expected to provide whatever the congregation wants, even if it conflicts with his or her core convictions about the church. Inwardly focused, self-absorbed congregations produce highly anxious leaders who live in fear of offending a constituent and with a nagging sense of building a church that Jesus would not attend. While we may talk about “outreach” to the community, often what we actually mean is some form of “in-drag”. The only way we know to help people is to pull them into our facilities and then try to fix whatever ails them. We have a gnawing sense that our...

What’s on your menu?

Let’s start with a disclaimer. I know that congregations and restaurants are not in the same business. I understand that thinking like a restaurant can lead to embracing the consumer culture of the day. I know all too well that catering to expectations has been the death knell of many a faithful church when they forsake their divine mandate for a people-pleasing one. However, a recent restaurant experience has reminded me that there are significant lessons for God’s people to learn from multiple sources. We were in Texas and hungry for some authentic TexMex cuisine. Upon the recommendation of a friend, we took a group to a large restaurant, and upon being seated, looked around for a menu. “We do not have a menu”, our waiter informed us. “We serve two things: fajitas and enchiladas. Which would you like?” Playing devil’s advocate, I inquired, “I’d like a fish taco, can I get one?” With a genial smile, he replied, “There is another restaurant down the street that serves excellent tacos. I recommend it highly. Now, would you like fajitas or enchiladas?” Properly instructed, I ordered and enjoyed a superb meal of chicken fajitas. Around the table, we marveled at the clarity and focus of this restaurant, and began to make some simple applications to the life of the local church.  The most obvious is the gift that clarity of mission gives to any organization. Although all restaurants are in the food business, no restaurant can serve every type or every style of food. None would dare try. Instead, they focus on a specific genre and set out to do...