It's a new word. But it's not a new thing.

I just got back from delivering pizzas to all of the adults at the school. It was something we came up with to show them that they are loved and appreciated in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting (Despite being posted for the first time today, I wrote this a while back). With the pizzas were a letter, expressing our love for them. And a prayer for them. Who said that there can't be prayer in school? Total cost to provide pizzas to the kitchen staff, administration, teachers, and maintenance crew: $210.

For the last few falls, we have given away school supplies to any kid in our community who is in need. All they have to do is call us and sign up, or just show up. We work with the school to find out what supplies kids need. Other organizations, including other churches and the teachers at the school, give us money to buy the school supplies. And we bless the community with them. Cost to us this year after outside donations: $350.

Our town goes nuts for Halloween. Really nuts. So we tried to figure out how to be part of it without endorsing the elements we think are inappropriate. We set up a booth in the middle of the main strip and give away hot dogs, coffee, and hot chocolate. This last year we gave away over four hundred hot dogs. Cost to us: $160.

Three years ago, we transformed one of our classrooms into the Kid's Clothes Closet. People bring us kid's clothes for us to give away to those who need them. Some come in and get clothes for their children. While others use the closet to pick up clothes to give to someone they know who is in need. We encourage people to do this and be a blessing to their friends and neighbors. The school has done a clothes drive for us. Cost to us: Free except for the use of a room.

Each one of these benevolomarketing events do different things. The pizzas were delivered with a letter telling everyone at the school that we appreciate their service to our community. It was followed up by a Facebook post from the pizza shop. It wasn't done to open people up to our church, but that is the inevitable response. I received a text from one of the kitchen workers who goes to our church that all of the kitchen ladies were in tears after reading the letter of appreciation brought with the pizzas. God can do great things through pizzas. The school supply project gets our name out in the community a lot as we have to promote it every way possible. The Halloween project is just an annual event that spreads our name there. The Kid's Clothes Closet gives us regular coverage in the paper. The most important thing in all of these benevolomarketing events is that we are loving our community. The recognition just helps to get the message of Jesus out there.

Now, you might be thinking that a church shouldn't love people to get recognized. That's true. We shouldn't love people to get recognized. If we're just trying to get recognized, that's marketing. But let's look at the way we market ourselves and whether it is having the impact we want. We spent more money on a mailer that we sent out to everyone in our community than we did on all of the ministries I have mentioned up to this point. However, that mailing wasn't as nearly as effective as any of the benevolomarketing outreaches that we have done. What I'm proposing is that churches shift their limited marketing money away from straightforward marketing and toward loving actions. Think benevolomarketing. We love people to get God recognized.

This is biblical. Jesus taught, "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven" (Matt 5:14-16).

Despite popular thinking in the other direction, Jesus taught that we are to do our good works so that others may see them. There isn't any secret meaning to that teaching. No hidden message. It flat out states that our good works are supposed to be seen by others. So if you have been using "do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing" to not do loving actions, I think you are sadly mistaken. Our churches are reaping the consequences for this bad theology. Or should I say that the lost people in our communities are reaping the consequences for this bad theology?

So what was Jesus saying? How do we let our good works be seen by others to give God glory if we are supposed to keep our right hand from knowing what our left hand is doing? The idea seems very consistent with the Old Testament prophets. Religious acts like prayer, fasting, and tithing are not to be done for show because God is not glorified by other people seeing how religious someone else is. It brings no attention to God, just attention to the doer. So if you are a great tither, or a powerful person of prayer, or an incredible and diligent faster, keep it up but keep it to yourself. It doesn't bring God any glory for you to share your spiritual prowess.

However, good works, by their very nature, involve other people. They can't be done without another person being involved. But here is the key. The passage ends with the reason of why we do good works: "So that they may see your good works and give glory to God." We live a life of love so that God may be glorified. If we do loving actions so that the attention is drawn to us, then I would say the principle of not letting your right hand know what your left hand is doing applies. We're aren't participating in benevolomarketing, we're just participating in chest thumping. Loving actions always involves others, so we need to make sure that our hearts are in the right place. The principle of benevolomarketing is to love others so that God will be glorified.

Getting hung up on doing loving actions in secret is often an excuse to not love and a hindrance to us loving effectively. Instead of the church being a place of rescue for the emotionally, spiritually, physically, and mentally wounded, the church just becomes a place for pious, religious people. God wants to transform the world through the church. Your church and my church. But this won't happen until we take seriously the call to be known by our love.

At Riverside, we're a small, growing church in a small rural town, yet we have doubled in the last two years with a new attitude and a focus on His mission. I am hesitant to share this because it seems like bragging, but I share it so that you know this approach works. We're still small. We grew from small to not as small, but we're growing. We're limited, like most churches are, by our funds; however, we serve a God whose power is unlimited. He wants to do great things through every church scattered across America. Why isn't His will being done? He's not the weak link; we are.

So I want to challenge all of the churches out there to dream of ways to bless those in your community. Your ministries probably won't look like our ministries, but keep praying and keep your eyes open. God will provide opportunities for you to shower the community He has called you to minister to with His love. God is waiting for His people to love others. When we do that, He will continue the process of knocking on their hearts. And some of them, as a result of our faithful service, will open the door and join us in the process of being the kingdom of God. Glory to God.

Benevolomarketing. Try it out.

Learning To Live For Something Better

In a world that teaches pride in the guise of self-esteem, it's a difficult teaching to say that we aren't the most special person alive. But none of us are. Even more importantly, nobody is special enough or good enough to be right with God through their own strength, looks, money, or intelligence.

But what you are is loved. With all your faults. With all your problems. In the midst of your brokenness, you are loved.

In Japan, they have a practice called kintsugi:
"It's the art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer resin dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. As a philosophy it speaks to breakage and repair becoming part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise."

"It is the embracing of the flawed or imperfect. Japanese culture values marks of wear by the use of an object over time. This can be seen both as a rationale for keeping an object around even after it has broken, and as a justification of kintsugi itself, highlighting the cracks and repairs as simply an event in the life of an object rather than allowing its service to end at the time of its damage or breakage."
Your brokenness makes you uniquely you. Despite the flaws being things that we may wish that never happened, they are what makes us who we are. God is a lot like the Japanese mindset that values an object that is broken and fixed. He loves us despite us being broken. And He fixes us. 

Here's the thing with God's unconditional love. Being loved by God doesn't just apply to me. I'm not super special being the only one that is loved by God. Everyone is loved by God.

This is the heart of the gospel message. God loves you despite you being broken. He knew you would be broken and He still paid the price for you to be right with God. Yet He did the same for your neighbor. And He wants you to love your neighbor despite them being broken just like He loves you despite your brokenness. He knew we would all be unfaithful, yet He still came down to earth to show us how to live. This wasn't because of our greatness; this was because of His great love. This is the message we need to share with the world through both our words and action, all in love.

I find myself playing out of tune with God at times. I get distracted. Lose focus. Start worrying about things of this world rather than things of God, yet I am called, as are all of us, to be primarily spreaders of the love of God to others. That is our primary occupation whether we receive a paycheck through any other full-time occupation. No matter what our paying occupation may be, our primary occupation, if we claim to be Christians, is to spread God's love and bring about His will here on earth as it is in heaven.

The problem with the church today and the world around us is that many just claim to follow Jesus, yet they don't make following Jesus their life. This is ridiculous because we can't fool God. He knows whether we have given him our lives or not. He sees our heart.

After David had his affair with Bathsheba, he wrote a song. This is the David who God loved because David was a man chasing after God's heart. Yet David wasn't perfect. He made some serious mistakes. And having an affair with Bathsheba and having her husband killed was one of the worst. Yet this is what he said to God after facing the seriousness of his mistake.
You would not be pleased with sacrifices, or I would bring them.
If I brought you a burnt offering, you would not accept it.
The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit.
A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:16-17 (NLT)

David knew what God wanted. God wanted his heart. All of him. His passion. His focus. His goals.

He wants the same from us. Yet we get distracted.

I get focused on this or that. I stop trying to love others, and I become self-absorbed. Maybe you find yourself doing that at times too. When we fail, we need to be like David. He turned right around and gave God his heart.

We start to forget that we are all broken vessels who have been put back together by God for use by Him. We begin, once again, to think that it is all about us. We deserve what we have. We deserve to be selfish with our blessings.

But it's never about us.

We can't forget that.

It's never about us.

Everything gets messed up when we start to think things are about us.

Our society teaches us to look out for ourselves first -- that our needs and wants are the most important things to be met. And we all know that in following Jesus and getting right with God, our lives will have to be surrendered from loving ourselves to loving God and loving others. Our life will no longer be about us. It will be about Jesus.

The most baffling thing is that at the end of the day, loving God and loving others is actually the most loving thing we can do for ourselves. In giving ourselves up, we will find true purpose. In emptying ourselves for others and allowing God to refill us, we will find true contentment. In denying ourselves and living for God's higher vision, we will find true meaning. If you don't believe me, try it this week. Take twenty dollars and spend it on someone that you would never spend it on. They may think you're weird, but they will appreciate the gift. And you will also appreciate the giving. And in that, you may just find God.

Tumbling From The Mountaintop

I'm not a spiritual rock star.

I just came back from an amazing conference, heard my favorite writers speak, found some new favorites, experienced the best sermon I have ever heard, felt the presence of the Holy Spirit, and heard some amazing testimonies. And I realized that I am not a spiritual rock star.

I fail. A lot. I struggle with loving people. I don't get invited to pagan parties despite drinking. I don't always say "yes" to God. I don't have random encounters with people responding to them by giving their life to Jesus. I don't always know what to say and sometimes I don't even care. I don't....

And then I wonder, "Am I being faithful?" How can a life like mine be described as being faithful when there are these spiritual rock stars?

I'm sure you have asked if you are being faithful unless you are a sociopath Christian - and let me tell you, those are the worse. A little self-reflection should culminate in the realization of how great Jesus is and how far we pale in comparison. This experience is necessary, especially in a world that tries to tell us that we are perfect just the way we are or that our lives will be made better just by purchasing this or that consumer good.

So here I am ministering in a small town with a relatively insignificant church in the world's eyes. Despite this, I think that I am where God wants me. I walk the streets and know people. I regularly encounter people who I pray for even if they don't know I'm praying for them. God things are happening. Not as many as I want nor do they look like the exciting ones that I heard from the stage.

Oh, I could be a rock star. Or at least I could try. But that wouldn't be me being the me that I think God wants me to be. I have six kids, with probably more in the future. We aren't the type of people that get invited to parties because we fill up the whole room. I don't think I'm the type of person that makes you feel super special just from talking with me. I like those people, although I always feel that I have been lied to immediately after the interaction. I don't have happy thoughts all the time. I would much rather have a frustrating inconclusive theological conversation trying to figure out something than a simple, encouraging one. I don't....

But here is what I do. I try to follow Jesus within the context of a spiritual family, the church, a best as I possibly can. I study the word, bathe my thoughts with prayer, and share what is laid on my heart to the best of my abilities. I try to let the Spirit lead. I love and serve Jesus. And I fail. And I'm not like others. And I am not as contagious as I want to be. There are a lot of thing that I am not. But I am faithful, most of the time.

I'm more of a spiritual folk singer. You won't see a flawless show, yet you're welcome to sing along with me. And some of the songs I am figuring out along the way. But I think I would much rather play a song and hear you play one too. We're folk singers after all, giving a new twist to an age old song.