The Real Hero of Christmas-

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife~ Matthew 1:24 NIV

 I will not lie.

 I really love some of the less-than-spiritual aspects of Christmas. I love Jesus (because I am not a heathen). I also love the parties, the food, the trees, the decorations, the music, and the traditions of Christmas. I even like some of the stuff I should probably dislike. Things like Frosty, Santa Claus, elves, reindeer, and gift giving and getting. I actually enjoy  the commercial stuff that sidetracks us from what should be a simple celebration of the birth of the Savior.

 Because I am drawn to the secular side of Christmas every year I attempt to discipline myself and spend a little extra time each year focusing on the birth of Christ. This year I started in Matthew and rediscovered an often forgotten hero of the Christmas story: Joseph.

 Most of us overlook Joseph because Mary is clearly the star of the show. It’s easy to get caught up in the drama of her story. Mary’s obedient response to Gabriel’s announcement is how we should all respond to God’s call on our life. She voluntarily endured personal loss, hardship and probably even ridicule to bring the Messiah into the world.

 Everyone loves Mary.

 However, this year it was Joseph that captured my attention. I’m convinced that if we were all a little more like Joseph the world would be a better place.

 The text tells us that God saw Joseph as a righteous man. That alone was a fairly rare thing for God to say about anyone in those days. Then we are told that because of his righteousness he did not want to divorce Mary publicly. At this point in the story Mary and Joseph were legally wed, the marriage was a done deal in the eyes of the law, their religious community and their family and friends. The only thing left to do was to consummate the marriage.

 According to both Roman and Jewish law Joseph had every right to publicly divorce (and humiliate) Mary. They were married and he had what appeared to be incontrovertible proof of infidelity. Her story about the angel was, by every measurable standard, more than a little nutso. Even most “good” people would have felt justified in publicly shaming a woman who slept with another man and then told a ridiculously outlandish story to cover-up her misdeeds.

 Seriously.           

 God’s evaluation of Joseph as a “righteous man” tells me that God has a special place in His heart for those who look out for the reputations of others. God blesses those who are willing to go out of their way not to behave in a vengeful way even when they have been legitimately wronged.

 I love that Joseph was willing to ignore the opinions of people in order to gain the approval of God. Following the dream where Joseph was commanded to keep Mary as his wife, Joseph had to go back to his family and friends and tell them that he planned to go ahead with marriage to a girl most people were probably convinced was less than honorable woman.

 Joseph’s family and friends were likely convinced that Joseph was either a fool or a liar. It almost goes without saying that Joseph suffered heartache, humiliation and social disgrace for his choice to stick by Mary.

Joseph’s selflessness is a reminder that the kind of righteousness that pleases God typically involves a high level of inconvenience and self-denial.

 There is nothing wrong with the silly side of Christmas celebrations. The God we serve created fun and joy. My prayer is that in the midst of all the fun and merrymaking Joseph’s story will serve as a reminder that our response to God’s goodness and generosity should be a life of authentic righteousness and self-denial.

Why We Aren’t Connecting

 All those who had believed were together and had all things in common. They were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved~ Acts 2:44a, 46b, and 47 NIV

 Connecting people is a passion of mine.

 I served as a Connections Coordinator for a couple of years. But long before all that, I recognized that the people most likely to stick around a Church or a group in a church were those who felt deeply connected to the people in the church or church group.

 The high school kids who had friends in the Sunday school class I taught were the ones who showed up week after week regardless of what I was teaching. I learned early on that if I could help a woman make a friend in the Bible study I was leading, the chances were pretty good that woman would come back and sometimes she would bring a friend.

 Legitimate research has backed up my observations.

 Research done by Thom Ranier reveals that roughly half (49%) of all people stay in their current church because they have a deep connection to the people in the church. According to some of my own less-than-legitimate research (asking a bunch of nosy questions about why people stayed in or left their church) the number two reason people gave for leaving a church (number one was weak or shady leadership) was lack of connection to people.

 Even the most introverted among us were created to connect with one another. It’s a fundamental part of who we are and a reflection of God’s nature in us. Most adults who convert to Christianity do so within the context of friendship. Many who began attending church looking for friendships have found Jesus in the process.

 Hospitality and developing healthy relationships is a basic and often overlooked aspect of evangelism and we all bear some responsibility for the task. We build healthy groups churches by doing five simple things consistently.

 First:

 Show up-

 Sadly, many of the same people who attend services once or twice a month also grumble about not feeling a sense of belonging in their church. No one in the history of forever has ever grown spiritually, made a friend or become a functioning part of a church body without first committing to consistently attending a church service (Hebrews 10:25).

 Join a small group-

 It can be an adult Sunday school class, weekday Bible study or a small group that meets in a home. Go and do more than show-up. Show-up early, stay late, participate in the discussions and invite people in the group into your home, your heart, and your inner circle. Do your part to make that group into a family and then encourage new people to become a part of the family (1st Corinthians 12:28).

 Be real-

 God only made one you. Being authentic about who you are and what you’ve experienced (without being excessively detailed or graphic) is honoring to God and can be useful (if it’s done right) to those who are struggling on their spiritual journey (2nd Corinthians 1:3-4).

 Don’t judge others for being real-

 Just don’t. Judgment destroys community. Our role as Christians is to encourage, correct, redirect and cheer-lead (Galatians 6:1, Hebrews 3:13, 2nd Timothy 2:24-26). We must leave the judgments to God. He knows more than we ever could. However, it’s equally critical we don’t buy into the lie that correction or redirection is the same thing as judgment. Correcting sinful or spiritually dubious behavior is NOT the same as judging. Correction is biblical AND necessary in a healthy Christian community (James 1:21, James 5:20).

 Use the gifts you have-

 My fondest wish for every Christian on earth would be for them to know and use their gifts to grow their local church (Ephesians 2:10, Romans 12:6-11). Sadly, many Christians have all but stopped serving and churches are dying as a result of our disobedience. Volunteering to teach a class, hosting a group in your home, baking cookies for VBS or serving on the greeting team or in the food pantry is about more than filling a spot. It’s about bonding with other believers, building community and being the hands and feet of Jesus in a broken and hurting world (Matthew 25:44-46).  

 Don’t close your circle-

 Building connections with people is both horribly complex and enormously rewarding. Keeping our hearts open to people and finding creative ways to meet their needs is one of the most significant and basic ways we serve God (1st Peter 4:9). It’s also the only way to build a healthy Christian community.

 

 

Should Christians and Non-Christians be Friends?

 Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character~ 1st Corinthians 15:33 NIV

 I subscribe to a number of Christian leadership blogs, podcasts and websites. Most of the stuff I subscribe to is pretty good. A few are hit or miss and one or two are just kind of meh. The best ones consistently tackle issues I have never thought very deeply about, challenge my biases, and help me think more imaginatively about problem solving. The not-so-great ones tend to hit on the same dozen or so issues over and over again and never really give any answers, just raise a lot questions.

 Over the course of the last couple of years, I have noted a clear trend regarding the subject matter of many of the blogs I subscribe to. All of them have been encouraging Christians to be bolder in their pursuit of authentic and meaningful friendships with sinners (their word, not mine). A few have openly scolded other Christians for not having and pursuing more intimate friendships with non-Christians. Every article I’ve read on the subject holds Jesus up as the example we ought to follow when it comes to pursuing friendships with “sinners”.

For the record, I believe with all my heart Christians ought to pursue friendships with non-Christian people (more on that later). However, I am convinced this teaching trend has become dangerously unbalanced because it presumes without offering cautions.

 I will begin with the presumptions.

 The most common presumption is that Jesus spent most or all of His time just chilling with sinners. To hear many pastors and teachers tell it, Jesus spent every moment of His life on earth at the local bars, crack houses and brothels hugging and high-fiving the local riff-raff.  

 He didn’t.

 A careful reading of the gospels reveals that Jesus did indeed attend events and parties where “sinners” were present (a very big deal in His world). We also know that Jesus was kind and welcoming to everyone (including sinners) and He definitely wasn’t shy about interacting with sinners or building meaningful relationships with very messed-up people (Luke 19:1-9, John 4). However, that was one part of His over-all ministry. Jesus spent most of His time with the twelve disciples and others (Luke 8:1-3, Luke 10:1) who were interested in following Jesus and learning to live a holy life.

 The second assumption many make is that the culture Jesus ministered in was exactly like the culture we live in.

Its’ simply not true.

Jesus lived in and ministered to a predominately Jewish culture where even the most messed-up “sinners” understood exactly what the Bible had to say about sin (John 4, Luke 9:1-9). This meant that the pre-evangelistic work of helping folks recognize the reality that they are sinners in need of redemption was done long before they came into contact with Jesus. We live in a post-Christian/atheistic culture where few people know or care about what the Bible has to say about much of anything. Even fewer feel guilt or remorse over their behavior. This difference is subtle and may seem trivial. However, it’s a difference that dramatically affects the dynamics of interacting with non-Christians. At the very least it makes spiritually productive conversations more difficult, and relationships trickier to navigate.

 And finally:

Some are assuming we are all a heck of lot more like Jesus than we actually are. Jesus was the perfect, sinless Son of God on a mission to save the world from the bondage and consequences of sin.

We are not Jesus.

 Even in our redeemed state we are still people who possess a sin nature (1st John 1:8). We are people who have been saved by the kindness and mercy of  a seriously benevolent God and nothing else (Ephesians 2:9). We are also people who have been commanded by a holy God to live a life of purity, holiness and righteousness (1st Corinthians 1:2, Ephesians 5:3, 1st Thessalonians 4:7, 1st Peter 1:14-16, Hebrews 12:14). Our calling to holiness is sometimes made more difficult by our choice of friendships (Proverbs 13:20, Psalm 1, 1st Corinthians 15:33).

 All that being said, I still really believe Christians ought to be intentional about seeking out friendships with non-Christian people. People have to be led to Jesus and the only way that will happen in this culture will be through cultivating relationships. However, we need to initiate relationships with non-Christian people wisely and prayerfully, keeping two truths firmly in mind.

 First, the Bible warns us repeatedly concerning the dangers of spending an inappropriate amount of time around those who may tempt us to sin (Jude 22, 2nd Corinthians 6:14-15, 1st John 2:15-16). Secondly, we need to remember that we will NEVER lead anyone to Jesus if we make a habit out of sinning with them.

 

How Offense Destroys our Effectiveness-

Many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.  Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many~ Matthew 24: 10-11 NKJV

 My Mother-in-law is a wise and perceptive woman. A few years back she attempted to warn me in a very friendly way concerning the character of a person I thought at the time to be a very close friend.

 Rather than simply taking her warning to heart, or perhaps probing a bit to try and find out what exactly caused her to come the conclusion she came to about that person- I took offense. I got mad at her for telling me something I did not want to hear.

 Long story short, I continued to share way too much information that person, who turned out to be not at all trustworthy. I will not bore you with all the details of the long-term consequences of my idiocy. I will tell you that to this day I am paying a price for ignoring the wise counsel of my Mother-in-law.

 I recently found myself on the other side of a similar situation. It all started when I attempted to warn someone to some potential pitfalls I perceived in a particular situation. The person I tried to warn took obvious offense and assumed I was being critical rather than helpful. As soon as I realized I had caused offense I apologized and moved on.

 Finding myself on the receiving end of someone else’s offended-ness got me thinking about the whole issue of offense. Unless you have been living in a cave for the better part of the past decade you know that we live in a society full of people who are easily offended by pretty much everything.

 I recently read about a group of women who have decided it is a form of cultural appropriation for white women to wear hoop earrings (no lie). These women have posted some rather intriguing rants describing in vivid detail exactly how offended they are that white women wear hoop earrings.

 Seriously. Google it.

 One definition of offense is a feeling of displeasure caused by the words or actions of others. We all get offended from time-to-time, and sometimes our offense is truly justified. Some words and behaviors really are offensive and should not be tolerated. Nonetheless, living life in a perpetual state of offense will eventually wreck us because…

 Offense sets us up for deception-

 In Matthew 24 Jesus describes what life will look like prior to His second coming. Jesus predicted that as we near the end of this age people will take offense at just about everything. Offense will lead to hate and betrayal. Out of all that hate, betrayal and offense, false teachers will arise and lead people away from truth. Jesus was doing more than giving as a vision of future events in this verse. He was providing insight into the very nature of offense. Offense by its very nature causes us to become heavily focused on feelings. When feelings are running the show we become unwilling and/or unable to comprehend truth that doesn’t line up with what our feelings are telling us. As a result we become sitting ducks for false teachers who tell us what we want to hear, rather than what we need to hear (2nd Timothy 4:3).

 Offense derails us from God’s mission for our lives-

 Most people do not drop out of church or ditch ministry because of big doctrinal disagreements, insurmountable scheduling conflicts or lack of time. Those are the excuses people use to drop out of church and ministry. Most folks drop out of church, and derail God’s plan for their lives in the process due to some petty personal offense they simply refused to let go of.

 Offense produces bitterness-

 Offenses and insults that are not quickly forgiven and forgotten inevitably breed bitterness. Hebrews 12:15, teaches that bitterness is a choice, a choice that defiles and ultimately destroys those who choose that path.

 Continually picking-up offense is a sign of pride-

 Usually we become offended because someone tells us an unpleasant truth about ourselves or points out a fact we missed.  Pride was the sin that motivated my knee-jerk response to my Mother-in-law’s wise insight concerning my “friend”. I have since learned it is the height of pride to believe that we are so clever we never need to be enlightened, taught or redirected. Proverbs 16:18 tells us that pride comes before a fall. Falls nearly always occur because a warning went unheeded. 

 Because offense causes us to become dangerously self-focused, we are never more open to pride, bitterness and self-deception than when we are offended. It is impossible to live in this world without becoming offended, but it is possible to assume the best about other people’s motives and to forgive quickly when we do become offended.

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Lies We Believe about Words

Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing. Truthful words stand the test of time, but lies are soon exposed~ Proverbs 12:18-19 NLT

 Words.

 There is certainly no scarcity of the little trouble-makers in our modern age. We are literally inundated with all kinds of words. I was recently reminded that the words we speak really do make a difference. Most of the words floating around today fall into one of two classifications:

 Life giving and soul sucking:

Life giving words are instructive, helpful and motivating. They are literally like honey to the soul (Proverbs 16:24). They build others up rather than tearing them down. Life giving words remind people in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways that we are the image-bearers of God and that our existence matters to Him. A life-giving word from a friend is sometimes all it takes to begin the process of healing a hurt or restoring a wandering soul. Life giving words make people feel cared for and confident about the role they play in this world. Life-giving words motivate us to become better versions of ourselves and propel us to accomplish more than we ever dreamed possible.

 Conversely, soul-sucking words tear others down and crush the life out of people (Proverbs 12:18). Soul-sucking words can be either cruel and insensitive or deceptive and misleading. Cruel and insensitive words are spoken selfishly with little thought to how they will affect the hearer. Alas, cruel and insensitive words are sometimes the words that stick with us the longest and make the most impact on how we see ourselves. Insults, name-calling, cursing and general cattiness all fall neatly into the category of soul-sucking speech.

 Deceptive words are by definition tougher to spot; they can come in the form of outright lies, twisting truth, gossip and backstabbing. Deceptive words sometimes sound legitimately wholesome and innocuous, at least on the surface. Sometimes they even come across as wise and life giving. However, because any wisdom embedded in this type of speech is worldly (false). Deceptive words eventually lead all involved down a path of destruction.

 Christians typically place a high value on words, and for a myriad of really good reasons. God has quite a lot to say on the subject. The Bible contains hundreds of verses instructing God’s people on the correct and incorrect use of words.

 Nonetheless.

 There are some serious errors floating around Christian circles concerning the right and wrong use of words.

 Many believers have bought into some erroneous and rather absurd beliefs where speech is concerned. This flawed thinking is quickly becoming embedded in much of our Christian culture. Many are being deceived, discipleship has become compromised and, in some cases, our ability to share the gospel and communicate truth to the world has been diminished.

 The first lie says that in order for a message or word to be life giving the words communicated must be “nice”, “encouraging” or “uplifting” to the hearer or reader. Those who have bought into this lie reject out of hand any message or statement that causes the hearer of said statement to feel guilty or uncomfortable about anything at all.

 If we assume this ridiculous notion to be true then logically Christians need to get busy throwing out huge chunks of the Bible. This would include most of the Prophets, many of the Proverbs and vast portions of New Testament books. This would include parts of the Gospels, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Hebrews, James, 2nd Peter, 2nd Timothy, Jude and Revelation based on the fact that these books contain warnings that are far from “nice” ‘encouraging” and/or “uplifting” (Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:43-47, 1st Corinthians 6:9, Ephesians 5:5, Hebrews 6:4-6, 2nd Peter 2:4). 

The second lie is essentially the converse of the first lie, that it is somehow more “authentic” or “real” to say what needs to be said in the bluntest and in some cases rudest way possible. Those who have bought into this drivel confuse political correctness with respect and believe that the only honest speech is raw speech. In my experience “raw speech” or “honest speech” is frequently just a thin cover for intentionally aggressive and cruel speech.

 Truth lies somewhere in the middle and, as always, there is wisdom in striving for balance. Ephesians 4:15 is the gold standard of instruction concerning Christian speech, it instructs Christians to tell people the truth about their choices (truth can be unpleasant and hard to hear) in a loving way (which is incredibly tough to do) and that those two things are how we help people to grow into Christian maturity and the image of Jesus Christ.

Is Being Nice Really What Jesus Would Do?

Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring that all people everywhere should repent~ Acts 17:30 NASB

 My daughter has joined a gym. Her fitness goals are commendable and realistic.  She wants to gain muscle, increase her endurance and best-case scenario: drop a few pounds.

 Last night she confessed she’s run into a bit of a glitch in reaching her goals. The problem lies less with her than with the gym she belongs to. The staff is pleasant, but hands off when it comes to assisting clients.

 The staff does not help with technique or correct the wrong use of machines. There are no scales anywhere in the building. There is an enormous dish of candy at the front desk and the gym serves pizza on Fridays. If a client wishes to munch on a jelly donut while running on the treadmill, the management is perfectly fine with that. They do ask that you wipe the goo off the machine once your workout is completed.

 The goal of this organization is a noble one. The want to create a safe place for out of shape people to get into shape, without even a hint of disapproval or judgment from anyone.

 As always the only hitch is the curse of unintended consequences.  

 The employees are so wary of causing offense that the clients are not getting the help they need to make the changes they want to make. This is a legitimate problem when you consider that any gym anywhere in the world would assert that their sole purpose for existing is to help out of shape folks lose weight and get into shape.

 Her tale of woe reminded me of a blog post I read this week.

 I read quite a few blogs in a given week. Every once in a while I come across one that sticks with me and causes me to think on a deeper level.

 This was one of those.

 The writer (a Christian) shared that one afternoon while she and her husband were out shopping, they ran into a guy she had attended youth group with when she was a teenager. Except the guy wasn’t a guy anymore. He was a girl.

 Awkward.

 The writer handled herself with composure considering the delicate nature of the situation. She did not cast judgment, give disapproving looks or hurl Bible verses at him. Nor did she inform him he was headed straight for hell.

 She went out of her way to make friendly conversation and set him at ease. She asked about his family and inquired about what he had been up to in recent years. She introduced her husband, shared some of her own story, gave him a couple of big hugs and went on with her day.

 It was a nice exchange and frankly it’s probably what I would have done given the same set of circumstances. So, please don’t accuse me of judging her or anyone else, because I’m not. That said, as I pondered her story I was overcome with a deep sense of spiritual conviction and left wondering:

 Is being nice enough?

 Being nice or “showing love” to sinners is bandied about as the latest and greatest in “being like Jesus” and “loving the unsaved”. But again, I wonder is it enough? And is it really and truly “being like Jesus”?

 I am not questioning whether or not Christians ought to be kind, respectful and compassionate towards all people, including those people with obviously sinful lifestyles. Jesus was and I believe being kind is a given. If you are a Christ-follower and do not routinely treat all people with respect, you have a serious sin problem called pride and you should deal with it.

Today.

 That being said, I do wonder if simply “showing love” to people who are obviously stuck in a sin spiral is doing more harm than good from an eternal perspective. I’m not proposing we stop being nice. I am proposing we stop helping sinners to feel safe in their lost state. Our compassion and acts of kindness need to be followed up with loving, but truthful conversations about the eternal consequences of choosing a lifestyle of sin over a heart of repentance. We forget that Jesus (arguably the nicest guy ever) made it uncomfortably clear on more than one occasion that an unrepentant sinner is anything but “safe” from a spiritual standpoint (Matthew 4:17, Luke 5:32, Mark 9:47).

 I fear that we have we have traded the hard work of evangelism and making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) for the path of least resistance: being pleasant and inoffensive. In the process we have become a lot like my daughter’s gym. We are safe and welcoming to sinners, but nothing significant ever really happens and no one ever changes anything that matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Benefits of Gossip?

There’s nothing so delicious as the taste of gossip! It melts in your mouth~ Proverbs 18:8 CEV

 I have settled into a predictable morning routine. It goes something like this: I wake up, stumble to the kitchen, pour a cup of coffee and fight to appear engaged while the youngest child chatters incessantly.

Following is more coffee, more chatter, and a valiant effort on my part to ensure the lunches packed are at least somewhat healthy. I herd the girls out the door, savor the quiet, drink more coffee, read my Bible, drink more coffee and do a quick workout while I catch up on what’s going on in the world.

Yesterday, I finished the last of the coffee, climbed on the exercise bike and became so absorbed in working off my caffeine buzz that I was only marginally tuned in to the news program. That is, until a chirpy anchorwoman declared in an insanely happy tone that a recent study has determined gossip is actually good for us.

WHAT????

I will not tell a lie, for one fleeting instant I was elated. For an inquisitive person such as myself this story was without question the best news ever. All of my dreams had finally come true, I could cave to my baser instincts, listen to gossip and improve my health all at the same time. Just as I was preparing to call my best friend to tell her the good news I remembered something about the perils of buying into worldly wisdom so I decided to dig a little deeper. I found the related article and read it carefully. The author spoke glowingly of the benefits of gossip. According to the author, gossip will:

Tell you how to behave on your job

Help you to understand and improve your social standing

Inform members of a group which behaviors are socially acceptable

Possibly lead to self-improvement

Reading about the alleged benefits of a behavior God calls a sin (Romans 1:29) made me wonder what exactly God would say if we could get His unfiltered opinion of that article. I bet it would be interesting. He wasn’t available for comment, so I turned to the book of Proverbs instead. Proverbs cautions us on the more negative aspects of gossip, including:

Nobody actually likes a gossip- Proverbs 17:28, Proverbs 20:19

Everyone enjoys listening to a juicy piece of gossip, but nobody wants to be a victim of gossip. We all know intuitively that a gossipy person cannot be trusted. That’s why few gossips have many close friends. Smart people avoid a gossip like the plague once they realize anyone who will talk with you about another person will talk about you to other people.

Gossip is rarely completely true- Proverbs 26:20-22

Gossip is notoriously unreliable because most gossipers are also embellishers. It’s part of what makes gossip so insidious and interesting. The frame of the story may be true but the details are almost always made out to be more fascinating and salacious than they really are.

Gossip is the number one cause of family disunity-Proverbs 6:19, Proverbs 16:28

At the root of every unhappy family is at least one person who repeats unkind words and circulates gossip. Sometimes this person is another family member; sometimes it’s a “friend” of the family who likes to stir the pot and keep everyone at odds with each other. Beware of any “friend” who wants to know too much of your family business. They don’t have your best interests at heart.

Gossip ruins the gossiper- Proverbs 13:3, Proverbs 16:28

There is something about spreading stories and sharing personal information that eventually twists a person and destroys their character. If a person gossips for long enough they will develop an insatiable appetite for more and more information to share with others. This happens because the sharing of information makes them feel powerful and important. If there is no actual information to share, they will enhance stories that are true and even lie in order to continue feeling important.

All supposed benefits aside, there are undoubtedly less destructive ways to learn about our social standing, understand the world around us, and improve our social standing and ourselves. Consuming gossip is like eating a deep-fried Twinkie: it feels good while we do it, but the effects are ugly. Passing along gossip is like sprinkling arsenic on chocolate cupcakes. It’s a pleasant way to destroy people.

 

Do Something Small

 

Like most women of my generation, I was taught from birth that I could do anything I wanted to do and become anyone I wanted to become. Some of my earliest memories involve my parents reminding me, in almost reverent tones, that if I studied hard and did well in school I could grow up to be a doctor or a scientist or the first female President of the United States.

 To be honest you, all I really wanted to be was a princess (a queen actually). The notion of transforming the world entered my four-year-old thinking.

 Girls were not the only ones in the seventies and eighties encouraged to dream big about life; boys and girls alike were encouraged to think big about their futures. We were often reminded by parents and teachers that we could change the world if we were willing to work hard and dream big for our futures.

 The “think big, dream big” message was not limited to schoolchildren. Fondness for big thinking made its way into the church world around the same time. With the birth of the first megachurch in the 1970s and the success of evangelists like Billy Graham and Rick Warren, every church was advised to grow big and every Christian exhorted to dream big about what God wanted to do with their life.

 As a leader I have been encouraged in subtle and not-so-subtle ways to nurture every ministry I was involved in into something bigger. Bigger was, by definition, always better than anything small. I confess to totally buying into the “bigger is better” way of looking at ministry, until recently when my perspective was challenged in a big way. No pun intended. Well, okay—maybe a little bit of a pun was intended.

 I just finished The Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches and The Small Thinking that Divides Us by Karl Vaters. To be perfectly truthful, I didn’t really choose to read it. I read it because my senior Pastor bought it for me and e-mailed it to my Kindle. Because he did everything but come over to my house and read it to me I felt obligated to give it a shot. It turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever felt duty-bound to read.

 The writer does not criticize or condemn big churches. He is clear that big churches have their place and meet many legitimate needs within the body of Christ. That said, Vaters does a fantastic job of challenging the notion that bigger is always better. He argues persuasively that the never-ending quest for “butts in seats” and “bucks in the offering” in our churches and ministries has limited our effectiveness because we have been guilty of focusing on increasing our numbers to the exclusion of meeting the spiritual needs of people.

 His views opened up a whole new world of thinking for me. To be perfectly frank most of it was unpleasant and extremely convicting. I was wondered how many Christian leaders (including myself) have been responsible for causing folks to feel that small contributions to the Kingdom are insignificant or even pointless. I also wondered how many precious saints of God have given up on making a difference because they know that they will never be the next Beth Moore or Joel Osteen.

 As I pondered all this, I was struck with the insight that the people who have affected my life the most profoundly are people that most of you have never heard of. The godly men and women who invested in me were not attempting to change the world with their actions but ended up altering my life significantly simply by being obedient to God in the small things.

 It occurred to me that if we would all commit to doing some small things for God really well and really often we might just bring about the changes we have been longing for. So today, in honor of the sweet, mostly overlooked saints who have impacted my life for the better I encourage you to do something small for the Kingdom today. Following is a list of small things you can do that will make a huge difference in someone’s life.

 Babysit for a single Mom

Listen

Make a meal for someone

Forgive someone who hurt you

Visit a shut in

Pray for a stranger

Lead a Bible study

Get to know your neighbors

Share your faith

Volunteer at a school

Commit two hours each week to ministry in your local church

Buy a homeless person a really nice lunch

Invest in the life of a teenager

Initiate a friendship with someone who is different from you

 Recently I heard a quote by Martin Luther King Jr. that resounded in my spirit:

 Not everybody can be famous, but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service… You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”

  Martin Luther King Jr. understood that in God’s economy it’s the small things that make the greatest impact. It’s faithful people with hearts full of grace and souls generated by love, men and women who freely and joyfully do small things in season and out of season, who make the biggest difference and reap the greatest harvest.

 Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin~ Zechariah 4:10