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potter and clay

Creation Identity vs Creator Identity

This message was originally written for an intra-church outreach campaign focused around an outdoor music festival called “Common Ground”. This talk was first delivered to a small team of local evangelists who met at Maranatha Church for messages, prayer and announcements prior to beginning their work at the festival. The talk speaks to personal concerns held by the evangelists, who—over the course of the outreach—had expressed challenges they were experiencing in their own lives.

Early in my career as a web designer and Internet marketer, I took a lot of pride and identity from my work. In fact, I took so much identity from my work that when I would experience trouble with a client, it would wreck me emotionally. It took me years on an emotional roller-coaster before I learned that not all clients are a fit. For every 10 to 12 jobs I took over the course of a year, one always seemed to implode. Of course, I always tried my best to salvage any project, but sometimes things just took a turn. This was a bitter pill until I learned to not glean so much of my personal identity from my work. I also learned to communicate more and to be more selective about both my clients and the contractors I hired.

Where Do We Get Our Sense of Self?

Our identity comes from one of two places: either from the world or from God. Another way to put it: our identity comes from either the creation or our Creator. Seeing as the things of this world are temporary (family, friends, culture, media, etc.,) it’s obviously best to claim our identity from our infinite God, in whose image we were created. Still, where does this broken sense of world-driven identity come from?

Genesis 3:6-10

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

Good for food to whom? Pleasant to whose eyes? To make who wise? Adam and Eve decide against God’s will for them, and in choosing their own path, humanity falls into sin. Don’t think for a second your or I would have done any better. Adam and Eve walked with God, among His glorious, untarnished creation, and still, humanity fell within the first generation of a single family. The probability for this error would only be higher had there been more than two people in the beginning. This should show us something about ourselves and the nature of free will. Even a third of the host of heaven fell through free will. The problem isn’t with free will, but with what we do with it.

7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

8 And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.

Self-consciousness leads to self-protection; self-preservation.

9 And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?

Of course, God knows where they are, just as He knew what they would do. God calls us to conviction, confession and repentance, as modeled first here.

10 And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.

Self-centered desire leads to self-consciousness, self-focus.

Matthew 24:37-39

37 But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,

39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

Self-indulgence and self-preoccupation.

More Examples of Self-Seeking

In Genesis 20, Abraham lies about being married to Sarah so he is not killed.

Self-preservation. Self-protection.

In 2 Samuel 11, David takes Bathsheba for his own and sends her husband into battle and certain death.

Self-gratification.

The kings of Israel and Judah were primarily self-seeking and self-motivated.

Even the great prophets often sought to save their own skins. Moses, Gideon, Saul, Jonah and Jeremiah are just some examples of great men of God who were reluctant to step out for God. Consider Moses’ reluctance in accepting God’s mission for him to return to Egypt and demand the release of the Israelites:

Exodus 3:11

And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?

Exodus 4:1

And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee.

Exodus 4:10

And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.

Exodus 4:13

And he said, O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send.

NKJV

But he said, “O my Lord, please send by the hand of whomever else You may send.”

Here we see Moses—considered to be one of the greatest men of God of all time—arguing with the Infinite Creator of the Universe, desperately hoping to place his will before the Father’s. The same Moses who later leads the children of Israel out of Egypt and parts the Red Sea is nervously trying to talk his way out of his God-given mission.

In contrast, we have Jesus’ example. In self-less, self-sacrifice, He died to self and took on the will of the Father.

John 5:30

30 I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.

Called to Be Light

For me, this Common Ground mission pulls me out of self. It’s not always comfortable to hand out tracts and receive rejection after rejection. Self-confidence—if that’s what we’re running upon—takes a hit after so much rejection, but love and obedience perseveres.

Fortunately, we don’t rely upon our own self-confidence. We seek to die to self, move in the Spirit and be of Kingdom service. The mission is larger than the self.

Matthew 5:15 / Luke 8:16 / Luke 11:33

15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

Our challenge is not only for a few nights here at Common Ground. Our mission field is in the living rooms, in the offices, on our social media channels.

When circumstances and people become uncomfortable, do we shrink away in self-preservation and self-consciousness?

Or do we die to self and stand upon the rock in the storm, in love and patience and confidence—confidence not in ourselves and our own abilities, but in our Lord?

Even at the end of the night, when we may be wondering if our time invested will bear any fruit in the people we’ve touched, we must put aside any notions of self-worth and leave the expansion of our efforts to the Holy Spirit.

Don’t Expect to Be Enough

1 Corinthians 4:10-14

10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.

11 Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace;

12 And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it:

13 Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.

14 I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.

Paul’s words to the prideful church of Corinth act as a reminder. Even to say we are not good enough, strong enough, smart enough, not old enough, not young enough, not eloquent enough; these things are still pride. Self-consciousness. Self-focus. Self-loathing. Self-preservation. Through it all, our attention is to remain on Him.

Our Prayer

Father, we humble ourselves as servants and we step forward in love and faith and belief to minister to God’s children, believers and non-believers alike, under the guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit. Father, we recognize if we’re fearful and focused upon ourselves or our circumstances, we’ve taken our eyes off you and placed them upon the storm, and—like Peter—we’ll begin to sink into dark waters. So, Holy Spirit, walk with us as we commit to keeping our eyes upon you. We want only you.

I pray this, in the holy name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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youth bible study

Curriculum for Christian Youth Ministry

The Challenge

Challenge: Students aging out of 6th grade Sunday school are pressed into adult service before they may be ready.

Solution: Offer an additional class for young students to continue the faith development.

Audience: 7th to 8th grade, 9th-12th grades optional.

Format: A typical segment may include verbal instruction, video, guest speakers, breakout groups, extracurricular field trips and supplemental reading.

Focus

A proposed curriculum would target the following three approaches:

Identity

The world attempts to shape us in accordance with its shifting trends, fads and events. It drives to distract, lure and establish strongholds that last for generations. Our identity must be rooted in what the Father says about us through the life of Jesus Christ. Without this understanding, our so-called “Christian” walk will be sin-conscious, confused and void of the power and authority necessary to weather life’s storms and certainly won’t represent the glory of God’s kingdom. We know we’re told we are made in His image, but what does that really mean? Are all events, good or bad, really ordained by God? Topics may include the character of God and mankind, how the life of Jesus should affect our walk, spiritual gifts and the power of prayer.

Apologetics

Establish a strong foundation for understanding, communicating and defending the proof-claims behind the Christian worldview (1 Peter 3:15). According to a 2006 study by Barna Research, 61% of young adults who were once churched are now spiritually disengaged. As our children mature, are they ready to take on the world without being shaped by the world? Does Noah’s ark still look like a bathtub brimming with cartoon animal heads? Discussion topics may include young Earth creationism in the face of “billions” of years, global flood accounts, evolution, fine tuning of the universe, the authority of the Bible (including archeological evidence for Sodom and Gomorrah and the Red Sea crossing,) atheism, world religions, the problem of evil and the argument for God.

Culture

Whether at school or at home, our children will be confronted by varying forms of relativism. The life decisions they make in the blink of an eye will be shaped by how well-grounded they are in their faith and their moral code. If absolute truth doesn’t exist and we are simply living for ourselves, matters of morality become a personal choice. Issues such as drugs, abortion, bullying, sexuality, body image, social media, academic and peer pressures, on-screen violence, depression, morality and ethics may be covered.


SUPPLEMENTAL

The testimony of college students (from the Center for Parent & Youth Understanding – www.cpyu.org):

1) Alysia at the University of Illinois said:

My youth group was fairly useless in preparing me for college. A short course in different religions helped me, but what helped me more was attending Worldview Academy for two summers. The challenging of my faith and teaching me the apologetics, leadership, and evangelism helped the most–especially by helping me determine why I personally believed in Christianity and by giving me the tools to help share that with others…My youth group was a place where the leaders were trying everything from games to parties to entice people to come, but they wouldn’t dive deep into any theological or social topic. We were treated as intellectual babies and thus never grew to understand the importance or the relevance of the Christian faith.

2) Daniel at Erskine College said:

I wish my youth group had done more to prepare me for the academic challenges to Christianity instead of focusing on high school drama. I was fortunate to make great and knowledgeable friends, but I have known others who have turned away because of professors and students raising tough objections. I wish my youth group had taken things more seriously and done more apologetics and less of worrying about the drama of high school.

3) And Gabrielle at Chatham University said:

I was in several youth groups in high school and unfortunately found that youth group was too ?soft—we played a lot of games and had a lot of fun retreats, but rarely learned about the fundamentals of faith, why we believe what we believe, and what it is that we do believe. Now that I am in college, my faith is under constant scrutiny and always being tested by scientific concepts and the secular slant of most universities. I wish I had been equipped with a more solid justification for my faith: knowing how to answer the tough questions, how to respond to arguments, and how to stand firm in what feels like a storm against my spirituality.

We can’t let up “in here,” in the church, because they’re not letting up “out there.”

Listen to philosopher Richard Rorty, quoted in Rorty and His Critics, chapter 1 entitled “Universality and Truth” (Blackwell Publishing 2000), page 22:

…we try to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic, religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own . . . The fundamentalist parents of our fundamentalist students think that the entire ‘American liberal establishment’ is engaged in a conspiracy. The parents have a point. Their point is that we liberal teachers no more feel in a symmetrical communication situation when we talk with bigots than do kindergarten teachers talking with their students . . .

When we American college teachers encounter religious fundamentalists, we do not consider the possibility of reformulating our own practices of justification so as to give more weight to the authority of the Christian scriptures. Instead, we do our best to convince these students of the benefits of secularization….So we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable..


References

Kunkle, Brett. 2009. Who‘s Waiting for Your Kid. Stand to Reason.

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A Letter to My Church

This article was originally released on July 20, 2016 as a guest post for ChurchTechToday at http://churchtechtoday.com/2016/07/18/grow-or-shrink-an-open-letter-to-my-church/.


My church.

For too long you have wandered the desert looking for Me. Good that you reflect upon My Word, but ill that you do not believe. You reduce My Word to simple platitudes; slogans for billboards and Internet memes. You prop yourselves up by them in your times of distress instead of remaining in grace through faith.

The world slaps at you and instead of loving all the more and turning the other cheek, you retreat and pray your circumstances and oppressors will change. Your words burn My ears. Do you not see My artistry all around you? So busy are you, so caught in the flesh, you don’t dare look up for fear of losing your weak grasp on your paper lives. Your bodies are not meant to continue forever, yet you insist on consuming as if they will.

Love.

“Love,” was what He said. Love is not idolatry. Loving Me is you returning to your Source. I call you. All of you. Regardless of your world views and your sins, I am calling you. Yet you play judge and jury amongst yourselves, passing judgment upon one another from within your own flesh. So few of you even try to see as I see you. You all bear Our image. Yet you insist on drawing lines upon the maps in your minds. This one is blinded by color. That one is blinded by sex. This one is blinded by prejudice. That one is blinded by fear.

And so you fail the second Commandment to love your neighbor because you fail to see them as I see them. You fail to see them as I see them because you fail to see yourselves as I see you. My Blood has paid a high price for you. Your value to Me is endless. My love for you is endless. This alone is enough if you understand, yet you cling to one another, blindly grasping for comfort at things made of dust. If you would pray ceaselessly, My Presence would fill you more than any pastor’s sermon, child’s love or personal mission. Your business is My enemy if it’s taking your eyes off Me.

I denounce My church. I have never told you to build large buildings. My grandeur cannot be captured in rock and metal and wood so why is your focus there? I have never told you to stay in one place. He said, “Go.” Your buildings are anchors around your necks. You worry about keeping the lights on. You worry about the lawns and parking lots. You worry about paint and carpet. I have said, “Be still and know that I am.” You worry about audio and video. You model the concerns of the flesh and yet preach a story of spirit.

You believe the lies and then you spread them. You meet the world on the world’s terms. I have not changed. I have shown you the path; the narrow gate. I have preserved My Word in you, yet you choose to look away and follow the Aggressor’s lead. His songs tickle your ears as they did in the Garden. I call you back from the pit. Here is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Your world is paper. Do not be deceived by it. You are all My children. See yourselves for you who are and return to Me.

Awaken, church. You are redeemed in blood and Spirit. Recognize yourselves and each other as one people of the One True and Living God. You must be transformed in faith, from image to image, sanctified daily in My Spirit. Seek Me and you shall find Me. That joy in your heart is My gift. Now go and share it with others. Do this and discover what it means to be My church.


A Note from the Author

When Lauren of ChurchTechToday asked me to consider writing another guest post, she mentioned I might write an introduction for a short paper I produced years ago called The Top 10 Reasons Why Your Church is Shrinking. I liked the idea and agreed, but as I went back to review that work, I realized I may have missed the mark.

When I produced the piece, I was very much operating from the corporate mindset that churches should be in the business of growing. The underlying thought there is plain to see: To be growing in numbers and popularity as a church is to be advancing God’s Kingdom on Earth.

What should hopefully be equally obvious is the blatant fallacy that growth in headcount means spiritual victory. It means nothing of the sort.

It was painfully clear to me I had written the Why Your Church is Shrinking paper from a flesh-driven point of view.

For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8 KJV)

When we as a church begin to ask the question, “How do we grow?” we begin to take our eyes off the Spirit and place them squarely upon worldly metrics for what we perceive to be success. This is nonsense. When we plant a seed, the most we can do is to nurture and protect it. There is nothing we can do to force it to grow. Ever notice forests don’t seem to need humans to plant them. God does just fine with that all on His own.

Want to grow your church? Jesus gave us that example. Prayerfully receive those the Lord presents, regardless of what you see with your eyes. Disciple them in the ways of the Spirit, nurturing them from faith to faith. (This step assumes you’re walking in Spirit enough to lead others, of course.) Then send them into the world to multiply. Rinse. Repeat.

That’s it. Simple, right?

The whole process seems to take about three years if you’re already walking on water and raising the dead. If you’re not there yet, allow for extra time (just to be sure.)

Kidding aside, when I dove in and began researching for this article, I found plenty of examples on why it might be okay for church to be shrinking and even more examples trying to explain why a church might be shrinking. I didn’t find too many articles that suggested maybe institutionalizing God’s Word might be off in the bushes.

So, I prayed on it. I prayed to be emptied of me and that the words would be those of the Holy Spirit. I believed they would be and then I listened. When I received the “My church” opening, I felt my stomach drop a little. I wrote what came up anyways. Sometimes the words flowed easily. Sometimes I had to stop, close my eyes and be still for a while before more words came. It’s a lot harsher than what I would produce on my own. I don’t think it’s meant to enflame, but it sure feels to me it’s meant to purify by flame. I never felt any anger, righteousness or anything rough. I felt peace, fatherly correction and—from my side—occasionally guilt or sadness and a small dash of, “Yikes.”

If your church is shrinking, your mission is to grow in the Spirit; not to grow in the numbers. Our mission is to share the Gospel in faith; it is the Holy Spirit who converts hearts. In Luke 14, we see Jesus give a tough message that surely frustrated many who heard it:

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-27 KJV)

Does this sound like the soft gospel of tolerance being preached by many churches today? Jesus’ focus was in Spirit; not on flesh and blood. This is where our focus should be as well.

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2016 presidential election voting abstention

2016 Presidential Election: When Voting Abstention Seems the Only Option

While surfing Facebook today, I ran across a revealing post on Hillary Clinton’s inconsistent position on the hot social topics of our time:

While I had no intention of voting for her, this video brought forward my dissatisfaction with the ALL the remaining presidential candidates into full Techni-color glory. Normally, I would vote Republican, but this year I was really considering abstaining. Neither business acumen nor political chameleon superpowers are enough to make up for the gross lack of character and integrity we’re presented with this year.

However, as I mentioned in my Facebook post on this topic, “the retort to that is, ‘Many have died to so we can have the freedom to vote as we want.’ Certainly abstaining is part of that freedom, but.. is it right? A quote against abstaining from the vote would be one commonly attributed to Einstein: ‘The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.'”

Well, one of the folks who responded to that thread had probably one of the best suggestions I’ve heard. Her words: “At this point I feel my best option is to vote a write-in (namely : Ted Cruz)…still exercising my right to vote – and yet standing by my convictions. Maybe it won’t matter at this election – but who knows the influence it could have at the next if enough of us take a stand?”

I had forgotten about the write-in option. I think that will be it for me. In the meantime, may God have mercy on our country. Like Israel before us, we are being judged and are being left to our iniquity. Hang onto your seats, recommit to sharing the Gospel, and pray for forgiveness.

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Matt

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Teachers Are Our All-Stars

Where have all the teachers gone? All across the United States, the number of people interested in taking on the teaching profession has been on the decline. The state of California has been hit worst, seeing a 53 percent drop in teachers since 2008.

Absolutely share this video, folks. Why are our teachers not paid more like medical professionals? Teachers are our all-stars; not folks chasing balls across a field (sorry, athletes.. your physical prowess is great, but raising up young minds and hearts is better.) Matt

Posted by Matt Schoenherr on Friday, September 4, 2015

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employee rewards

A Carrot A Day – A dose of recognition for your employees

© By Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

The Million-Dollar Question

Is it ever too early to begin thanking your employees? Of course not. In fact, we recommend to start during the interview process.

When you are hiring a new employee, ask the person to share her most memorable work-related recognition moment-when she was honored for above-and-beyond behavior. Not only is this a great way to uncover an applicant’s strengths, but also can give you an idea of what types of rewards will be valued by this person in the future. Ask what she did to earn the reward, what she received and how it made her feel.

(Sorry, but if the potential employee says something odd, such as receiving a jug of moonshine for winning the Miss Burley, Idaho, pageant, we couldn’t begin to tell you what you do with that information.)

Next, use recognition soon after the employees starts on the job to buoy morale. Most people, after all, begin a job with a desire to succeed and achieve. Just consider the jobs you’ve had in the past. Remember your first days. Did you ever begin one of these new positions by trying to find ways to cut corners or shirk your responsibility? Of course not. Almost everyone who starts a job is pumped, hoping this will be the company to (finally) meet their needs.

But the first 90 days are critical. If the job doesn’t meet an employee’s personal needs in the first three months, morale declines sharply.

Great managers know that it’s much easier to keep motivation alive and build on it than to let it die and then try to revive it. So they determine early in a person’s employment what motivates that individual—and provide the type of recognition that person craves.

And we’ve found that one of the most effective ways to find out what motivates an employee is to … ask. We recommend meeting privately with new employees during their first weeks. You may wish to begin the discussion by saying something like, “Since you are going to be a vital part of our team, I want to be able to express my appreciation for your extra efforts. When it’s your time to be recognized, I want to provide it in the style you like best.”

Then ask a few questions such as:

What type of celebration do you prefer?

  • Private … a sincere thank you without a lot of attention from co-workers, maybe over a lunch
  • Informal … recognition from my manager at a staff meeting in front of peers
  • Formal … an award celebration with co-workers and guests

What recognition gifts do you like?

(Here are a few examples to spark the conversation)

  • Dinner for two
  • Attending a training class or seminar
  • Spa gift certificate
  • Music CDs or tapes
  • Book by favorite author
  • Tickets to a ball game
  • Tickets to the theatre, ballet, symphony
  • Opportunity to work on a high-profile project
  • Time off
  • Other: _____________________

These are just a couple of the questions we recommend (for a complete list pick up The Invisible Employee.) And of course, this meeting is just the beginning. Getting to know employees requires consistent, daily interaction. But this simple interview gives you a head start. The interview itself is a form of recognition of an employee’s potential. And the knowledge you glean will allow you to follow up with appropriate recognition during the very first months of employment.

So, remember—when in doubt—go ahead and ask. It could be worth millions in productivity.

Today’s Carrot A Day: Rewards While You Are Gone

When you travel, there are most likely people who fill in for you. One supervisor we talked with at a manufacturing company found a way to thank his only employee when he was on the road.

“I had a staff of six a few years ago. Now, since we are all doing more with less, there are only two of us left. So, it’s more important than ever to recognize,” he said. “With my employee, I understand her as an individual. For example, a simple thing, but she loves chocolate chip cookies.”

So when the supervisor went on a week-long business trip, he left her $5 and a note. The cash—the note explained—was to buy a fresh-baked cookie from the cafeteria each day as a thank you. Said the manager, “She’s stuck in the office, picking up the slack, while I’m traveling, so I want to make sure that every day some recognition is happening.”


 

Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton are the acclaimed authors of the Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek best seller “A Carrot A Day.” Their new book, “The Invisible Employee,” can be ordered on amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com today. To learn more go to carrots.com.

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