Are You a Spiritual Giant?

Disclaimer/Warning: If you are prone to take things personally and get defensive, this blog is probably not the place for you! When I write, I am simply sharing my thoughts and ideas. I do not write with certain people or congregations in mind. This site is simply an outlet for reflection. Okay, you’ve been warned!

Earlier this year, Carey Nieuwhof blogged about “5 Signs of Spiritual Maturity…That Actually Show You Lack It.“After reading the article, I found myself thinking about the various ways I discern whether or not a person truly is a spiritual giant.

As a pastor, I’m often told who the “spiritual giants” are in a given congregation or community. At every church I have served (as lay staff and under pastoral appointment), I have been told as soon as I get my feet on the ground, “You should meet ______. He/she is a real ‘spiritual giant’.” Referring to one as a “spiritual giant” is another way of talking about spiritual maturity.

Too often, I believe we define “spiritual giants” as those who have a great deal of Biblical knowledge. These are folks who study the Scriptures, read books about the Bible, attend multiple Bible studies throughout the week, pray before every meal, and probably lead a small group of some sort.

Sometimes we define a “spiritual giant” as the person who gives a great deal of time to a particular ministry or mission of the church or within the community. This person doesn’t necessarily attend a lot of church events or small groups. He/she doesn’t necessarily have a lot of Biblical knowledge, but they are actively involved in missional service.

I’m not necessarily opposed to these definitions of “spiritual giants”. I think each contain glimpses of what it means to be a “spiritual giant”.

Throughout my years in ministry, I have found a few ways to discover whether an individual is spiritually mature. Here is my three-step process:

1. Do they live out their commitment to the church? In the United Methodist church, our members commit to upholding our church through their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. So, a “spiritual giant” will be committed to these practices.

2. For a quick discovery of whether or not one is a “spiritual giant”, one can examine the persons financial giving. I know, I know…pastors are all about the money, aren’t they? But, let’s be honest…how we use our finances says a lot about our commitment to Jesus and the church. I’m pretty sure Jesus said something about our hearts and our treasures, but I could be wrong.

There are many times I’ve encountered “spiritual giants” who know a lot about the Bible. However, their giving habits would indicate that they don’t really understand much about the Bible. Sometimes our giving habits indicated that we are not as committed to the church as we believe ourselves to be.

3. Do they practice Biblical conflict resolution? In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus gives us a pretty solid example of how to practice Biblical conflict resolution.  So, when it comes to “spiritual giants”, do they talk to the person they disagree with or do they talk about the person they disagree with? Do they follow Jesus’ pattern for handling conflict?

In previous appointments, I served as an associate pastor. Associate pastors, much like pastors spouses, are often “used” to “get at” the senior pastor. People lobby their complaints about or suggestions for the pastor to the associate pastor (or pastors spouse) in hopes that the associate (or pastors spouse) will relay the message.

When people would come to me with complaints or “constructive criticism” for the senior pastor, I would stop them and ask this simple question, “Have you talked about this with the senior pastor?”

9 times out of ten the answer was “no”. When they would answer “no”, I would tell them that before I would entertain any more of their conversation, they would need to talk with the senior pastor. More often than not, the person would not go talk to the senior pastor and stopped coming to me with their “helpful insights”.

Unfortunately, they would often find another person to entertain their complaints and criticism.

If the person had talked with the senior pastor and the issue had not been resolved, I would invite them to set up an appointment for the three of us to meet together. In all of my years as an associate pastor, I think it actually made it this point one time.

Many times, if the person had talked with the senior pastor, the issue truly had been resolved. They just didn’t like the outcome. So, they would come to the associate pastor in hopes to sway the pastor to see things their way. If a resolution had been reached, I would take the simple step of supporting the senior pastor!

So, an easy way for you to determine whether or not you are a “spiritual giant” is to ask this question: When someone begins to complain about another, do I entertain the conversation or do I stop them and ask them if they have talked with the offending party?

That’s a great way to find out if someone truly is a “spiritual giant”. If a person is unwilling to practice Biblical conflict resolution, they probably aren’t the spiritual giant we believe them to be (or that they desire us to believe). If we start, spread, or entertain gossip, we probably aren’t “spiritual giants”.

My guess is that a “spiritual giant” probably doesn’t have much time to gossip or entertain gossip because they are too busy getting the plank out of their own eye!

Now, I want to warn those who desire to be spiritually mature (spiritual giants)! When you begin to practice Biblical conflict resolution, there is a good chance you will be referred to as a troublemaker.

When I think about spiritual giants, I think back to a gentleman who was often labeled as a troublemaker. He drove people crazy! And, I think it’s because he took the Bible and the words of Jesus seriously. If he had a problem, a suggestion, or a question, he actually went directly to the other person. Crazy, right? He didn’t beat around the bush. He didn’t gossip. He didn’t get others worked up. He just addressed issues head on. And, I loved him for it!

The real troublemakers are those “spiritual giants” who start, entertain, and spread gossip. The real troublemakers are those who fail to practice Biblical conflict resolution.

So, where are you? Are you spiritually mature? Are you giving the impression of being spiritually mature? Are you striving towards spiritual maturity?

The “Just Friendly” Church

*Disclaimer- When I refer to “just friendly” churches, I do not have any particular churches in mind. I am simply sharing my thoughts spurred on by a random conversation.

This morning, I stopped off at a coffee shop on my way to a district meeting. I had some extra time, so I decided to sit down to enjoy my coffee and do some reading. While I was reading, a gentleman about my age started up a conversation. In our small talk, I learned that he was only in the area for a few days. He is in the area helping his parents move.

He said, “My parents are moving to Indianapolis in an effort to find their place in a community. They moved to this area in retirement hoping to connect with others and get actively involved. When they were searching places to retire, this seemed like a friendly area. They’ve been here for just over five years. They continually talk about how people are friendly, but they have yet to make any friends. It’s been difficult for them to find their place and make friends in this tightly knit, well-established community. They are moving in the hopes that in a larger and more transient community, people will be more inviting and welcoming.”

As I drove to my meeting, I found myself wondering if the Church is “just friendly” or a place where people develop lasting friendships and community? Is the Church “just friendly” or are we actively seeking to help others find their place in our community while they develop meaningful relationships with God and others? Is the Church a “just friendly” place that people can exist in for a number of years and still not feel as if they have developed meaningful relationships?

It simply isn’t enough for the Church to be “just friendly”.

This is why the practice of radical hospitality is crucial. The Church should be a place where all people, regardless of age, race, gender, socio-economic status, sexual preference, education level, political affiliation are openly invited, welcomed, accepted, wanted, connected, cared for, supported, encouraged, and have a clear path for involvement. Again, it simply isn’t enough for a church to be “just friendly.”

If a church is “just friendly”, new people who happen to visit the church will have a “nice” experience. However, they will not necessarily feel warmly welcomed, accepted, wanted or find connections with caring, supportive, encouraging friends that desire to involve all people in the life and ministry of the church. People will stick around “just friendly” churches for a while. However, if they don’t get connected to the church community in meaningful ways, they will move on in search of something “more”.

So, tell me about your church…Is it a church that practices radical hospitality and is developing Christian community? Or is it “just friendly”?

All You Need is Love

This message was shared at Centerville United Methodist Church in Centerville, IN on Sunday, April 19, 2015. 1 John 3:16-24 served as the launching pad for this message. 

1 John 3:18- “Let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth.”

The passage of Scripture we heard from 1 John 3 is a powerful reminder of Jesus’ love and our call to now embody and live out that same kind of love. The kind of love Jesus demonstrated was sacrificial and unconditional.

John encourages us not to get so caught up with words or speech, but to be more consumed with demonstrating our love by our actions. In some ways, John is revealing to us that our knowledge and relationship with Christ is best proved by the way we live. In other words, it doesn’t really matter how much Scripture people can quote from heart. If it doesn’t translate into action…well, in the words of Duke Ellington and Irving Mills, “it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”

There is a difference between Scripture memorization, Scriptural knowledge, and Scriptural understanding. I know people who can quote Scripture right and left, but they don’t bother to share their time, talents, or treasures…which would indicate that their head knowledge has not transformed into heart knowledge. If we truly understand Scripture, it will transform our entire lives.

Some of us are so convinced that we are “right” when it comes to our understanding of God, Jesus, and the Bible, that we never pause to humbly consider the fact that “we could be wrong.” And, a quick examination of some of the stereotypes non-Church folk have about church folk would reveal that not only could we be wrong, often times we are…Too often, we confuse our political agendas with our religious traditions and doctrine. Many times, our attitudes and actions communicate conflicting messages. For example, if you look at what we rally against and protest, we often present messages like:

  • Drinking is wrong, but gluttony is okay
  • Abortion is wrong, but war and capital punishment are okay
  • Gay marriage is wrong, but divorce and adultery are okay
  • Working on Sunday is wrong, but we love going out to eat after church
  • Swearing is wrong, but gossip is okay
  • Being overly involved in sports is wrong, but slothfulness/laziness is okay

Now, most of us know better and would protest “that’s not what we believe.” Many of us understand the reality that, within the church, within this church, there are several people with different thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs on all of those issues. And, guess what? That’s okay! Because sometimes our debates about these issues are really just adventures in missing the point! Too often we spend more time trying to be “right” and convince others we are “right” than we do trying to love one another in action and truth!

Therefore, when someone offers up an alternative understanding to what we believe to be “right”, we often get defensive.  Many times, when we get defensive we also become judgmental of those with different viewpoints. When we get defensive and judgmental, we often begin to gossip. Then, we justify our defensiveness, judgment, and gossip by saying we’re just trying to love people into a right relationship with God. And by right, we mean what we are convinced is “right”. If we are going to love God and love others, we need to spend less time being defensive and judgmental and more time humbly listening and faithfully serving.

So, as Christians, our call is to follow in the way of Christ. Submitting to the authority of Christ by obeying his commandments leads us to love in truth and actions, laying down our lives for one another.

What is it that Jesus commands? (Read Matthew 22:34-40). Love God and love one another. If we can do these two things, the rest of the law and prophets, the rest of the Scripture naturally takes care of itself.

Jesus gives us some insight as to what it looks like to love God and love one another.  (Read Matthew 25:31-40). Meeting the basic needs of those around us is the evidence of our faith. It’s the tangible proof of love in action. It’s the effect of head knowledge transforming into heart knowledge.

1 John 3:17 says that if we have the means to help a brother and sister in need and fail to help, it is difficult for the love of God to remain in us. In other words, we can say that we believe the right things, but if we don’t do the right things, do we truly believe the right things?

The love of Jesus is unconditional and sacrificial. So, what about our love? Is it unconditional and sacrificial? Or do we set certain criteria people have to meet in order to deserve and receive our love.

One of the biggest pieces of evidence that our head knowledge has transformed into heart knowledge is the sharing of our faith. (Read Matthew 28:18-20) In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus tells us to get the word out! We are called to spread his love to everyone, everywhere. Sharing our faith, telling others about Jesus, inviting people to join us on this journey is tangible proof that God’s love is within us! Many times, we best share our faith when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned.

There is great power in love. And, as our friends, The Beatles put it, “All You Need is Love”

Love, God’s love can unite what is currently divided.

Love, God’s love provides the motivation to serve God by serving others.

Love, God’s love is what makes it possible to love and serve our neighbors.

Love, God’s love is what makes it possible to love and serve, even our enemies.

Love, God’s love is demonstrated in how we love and serve one another.

Love, God’s love  has the power to overcome our sins and failure.

Love, God’s love has the power to defeat evil and even death.

How many of you have ever heard of the Starbucks Love Project? Now, I’m going to be totally honest, I’m about to say something nice about Starbucks. And, that’s a pretty incredible thing because I can’t stand Starbucks. Starbucks, to me, is the corporate representation of the devil. Starbucks represents everything that is wrong and evil in the coffee industry. They have made their mark by removing the artistry of coffee. They make coffee for people who don’t really like coffee. A person who really likes coffee would never drink a Caramel Macchiato or a Frappuccino. And, what they call a caramel macchiato isn’t a macchiato, it’s a latte! They over-roast their beans, but with their advertising, they convince you that is what good coffee is supposed to taste like. However, Starbucks pulled off an amazingly awesome project that demonstrates love in action. In December of 2009, Starbucks pulled off an amazing feat to raise awareness (and funds) of AIDS in Africa. Here is the result. This is a great reminder that love can unite us…check this out…

In the United Methodist Church, when we become members, we make vows to put our love into action by making a commitment to uphold our church through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. We put our love into action when we pray,(for our church, community, nation, world), when we are present (being at church, showing up when our brothers and sisters are in need), when we share our gifts (sharing our time, talents, treasures and practicing extravagant generosity), when we serve (1 John 3:17; John Wesley “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”), and when we witness (proclaiming the love of Jesus in word and deed).

Some of us are at different stages in life and what it looks like to uphold our church through prayer, presence, gifts, service, and witness will look different at various stages. However, each of us has a vitally important role to fill.

We have opportunities to put our love into action through the ministries of our church…We all can be involved in all of these:

  • VBS- reaching families in our community (pray, give, go)
  • Bulldog Buddies & Crossing Guards – reaching into our schools (pray, give, go)
  • Mission Guatemala- reaching into our world (pray, give, go)
  • Faith promises- supporting ministries that are reaching our locally, nationally, internationally (pray, give, go)
  • Fellowship Friends (visiting nursing homes & shut-ins)- pray, give, go
  • Hospital Visitation (when we have folks in for extended stays/surgery)- pray, give, go
  • Ministry teams (pray, give, go)
  • Sunday school – reaching inwardly and growing so we will be inspired and encouraged to put our love into action. (pray, give, go)

Is there something on your heart? Just do it.

Want to know more? Come see me, drop me an email or text or call

Romans 14:19 calls on us to “strive for the things that bring peace and the things that build each other up.” All we need to bring peace and build each other up is love…for God and one another.

What will you do this week to demonstrate your love for God and love for others?

It Don’t Mean a Thing…

While working on the message for Sunday mornings worship gathering at Centerville UMC, this song keeps popping into my head!

The text that will serve as the launching pad for the message comes from 1 John 3:16-24. Verse 18 really stands out to me…”Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” This verse has inspired the connection to the Ellington/Mills chart.

“It don’t mean a thing, if you ain’t got that swing.”

Our love, for God and others, should be more than words…it should inspire and result in tangible action.

However, too often, it does not…It’s like those who can quote every verse in the Bible, but the “head knowledge” has never translated into “heart knowledge”. In other words, we know a lot about the Bible, we know a lot about God, but it has not resulted in a transformed life. Our knowledge of God has not translated into loving service of/for God. We know a lot of Scripture, but it has not changed the way we live out our faith.

John challenges his audience and poses the question, “How can we say we love God and ignore the needs of our brothers and sisters?”

“It don’t mean a thing, if you ain’t got that swing.”

Maundy Thursday Musings…

On this Maundy Thursday, I find myself reading, re-reading, and meditating upon the Gospel reading from the Lectionary (John 13:1-17, 31-35).

Two extremely important things happen in this text…

1. Jesus demonstrates the importance of humble service when he takes on the role of a servant and washes the disciples feet. After washing the disciples feet, he instructs them to do the same. Now, most would read into the text that Jesus isn’t simply calling his followers to wash each others feet, but is calling on his followers to humbly serve.

2. Jesus gives a new commandment: Love one another! “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

In the cultural context of Indiana, in the midst of the great debacle known as RFRA, the Gospel reading could not be more appropriate.

No matter one’s views on issues of sexuality, marriage equality, etc…we are called to serve and to love.

Jesus did not practice discrimination. He was known as a “friend of sinners”. The religious folks didn’t like him because he associated with “notorious sinners”. He broke down barriers and showed grace, mercy, love, and compassion to “the least of these”. If he was hard on anyone, it wasn’t the “known sinners”…it was the pious religious types!

It seems like Jesus, the same guy who for his first miracle turned water into wine…not just a little bit of wine either, would not refuse to serve or love anyone. Jesus would bake a cake for anyone. Jesus would bake a pizza for anyone. Jesus would provide a flower arrangement for anyone. Jesus would love and serve anyone.

As followers of Jesus, our call is the same…to love and serve anyone.

So, on this Maundy Thursday, I’m thankful for the example of Jesus. I’m thankful for his obvious demonstration of humble service. I’m thankful and challenged by his call to love one another.