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TO BE OR NOT TO BE... A BLOG

Friday
Jul082016

Talking Points for the White Pastor 

“But pastor, I’m not a racist.  I have never used the “N” word and certainly have never owned slaves.  I’m not sure there is a problem, since the civil rights movement has long past, but if there is one, its certainly not my problem!  After all, don’t all lives matter?  Again pastor, I’m not a racist, therefore I’m not sure what this has to do with me.” 

If you are a white pastor and have not heard this already this week, you very likely will this Sunday.  Some pastors will be tempted not to discuss this week’s tragic events at all from the stage, but it is my personal opinion that would be a huge miss.

I have found that well meaning pastors have a difficult time finding the right language for such times as this.  While by no means comprehensive, below is a quick guide to help ensure healthy conversation during this season.

Talking Points for the White Pastor +

Racist VS Racialist* - One of the biggest missteps amongst the white community is a misunderstanding of what is being communicated.  Often the same words are being used, but without the realization that two different languages are being spoken.  When a white person talks about racism, most often what he or she is saying is, “I don’t personally harbor any negative feelings, therefore I don’t see the problem.”  When an African American is talking about racism, most often he or she is referring to what is sometimes called Racialist.  Here, racism is referring to less about an individual emotions and opinions, but rather a systemic issue.  The system at large is poised against minorities, a reality that is a constant tension in their day to day lives.  For example, if my son were to be pulled over for a routine traffic violation, the last thought that comes to my mind is about law enforcements guns being drawn on him.  To my African American friends, it is a reality all too common, regardless of their economic status.  I have an African American friend who lives in a predominately Anglo community who takes her sons to the local police station about twice a year to introduce them around.  Even though these young men are very polite and well educated, this mother lives with the constant fear that they will be falsely accused of trespassing when simply walking home from school.  Another example is what happened in Baltimore last year.  I was familiar with the neighborhoods that the riots broke out in.  These neighborhoods were filled with generational poverty. The young men initiating the riots grew up with fathers who could not break out of the economic poverty system, and they themselves seeing no hope of breaking out of the economic and educational barriers they grew up in.  This hopelessness was a major fuel that had been burning within for years, long before the death of Freddie Gray.  What Anglos see on the news from time to time is the heavy weight that African American fathers and mothers carry over fear for their children everyday.  Even if, as an Anglo, you determine that you don’t really understand this, compassion demands, as followers of Christ, to seek to understand, rather than channeling our energy over defensiveness because it is not understandable to him or her.

Historical Context VS Isolated Context – Anglos have a tendency to look at each incident as an isolated event.  African Americans see each event as evidence of a long term systemic problem that shows very minimal progress.  What happened in Minnesota, for example, is not a shooting that just randomly happened to a black male by a white police officer. Rather, for the African American community, it is an actualization of their daily fears for their friends and family.

Black Lives Matter VS Blue Lives Matter – In every movement there are extremists.  If you agree not to equate me with Westboro Baptist Church as an Anglo Baptist pastor, I need to agree not to hold anyone else to the beliefs of the extremists that look like them.  Black lives and Blue lives have been devalued and feel violated.  Each are simply validating that their lives matter as well.  One is not mutually exclusive of the other.  Of course it is true that all lives matter.  The irony is that this truth is often used to demean the outcry of our brothers and sisters when we get defensive and cry out, “Oh no, not just black lives!  All lives matter!”.  Instead, how about we empathize with them and say, “I hear you, your life matters to me.”

Responding VS Reaction – Dr. Phil Philips, a Haitian American pastor in Ft Myers FL, recently challenged that all races need to think towards responding over reaction. Let’s not be obsessed over our rights, but rather have compassion over the pain felt by our brothers and sisters.  Let’s not take to social media with our nose in the air.  Hear the cries of others and let them know you care.

Silence VS Violence VS Solution – Anglo churches have a long history of remaining silent until there is minimal controversy to do so.  Yes, violence is wrong.  Riots are not of God.  Let’s at least acknowledge and confess that silence is just as evil. Dr. Michael Henderson, an African American pastor in Charlotte NC, challenged a multi cultural Converge pastors group that we should work together towards a solution.

Seek to understand VS Thinking it is understood. – Regardless of the color of your skin, diversity is not about losing our culture or identity, but rather celebrating our uniqueness, all the while seeking to understand and appreciate those who are different than us.  It is incredibly arrogant to make broad statements, particularly disparaging ones, because we think our own cultural perspectives is the norm. 

Folks, as President Scott Ridout of Converge is known to say frequently, “We are better together.”  We are the body of Christ.  Let’s not take the position that the rest of the world is quick to take.  Instead, lets take the job description the apostle Paul gave us in 2 Corinthians 5 very seriously.  Because we have been reconciled in Christ, we are called to the ministry of reconciliation. 

 

+ Before posting, this article was reviewed by Dr. Michael Henderson, a prominent megachurch African American pastor in Charlotte NC, as well as VP of National Ministries of Converge.

* Term coined by Michael Emerson

Monday
May092016

THE BUSY SLOTH!

 

Around 300 A.D. the Desert Fathers began coming up with a list that we now call The Seven Deadly Sins: pride, envy, sloth, greed, anger, lust, and gluttony.  All of us wrestle with at least two or more of these at a time, sometimes all seven!

If there is one, though, that we tend to feel the freest in is sloth!  Who has time to be lazy!  Our modern technology has not made our life easier, instead it has raised the expectation to accomplish more in less time.  In todays modern world, for all of our vices, we can breathe a sigh of relief when it comes to sloth, right?  In fact, it is the most insulting of them all, call me lustful, call me prideful and even call me greedy, but I will be extra offended if you call me a sloth!  I am a busy man, I’m always working, always checking my email, so the last thing you can call any of us is a sloth, right?

 

SLOTH: the failure to take full responsibility of my life.   

When I fail to take proper rest, I am a sloth.  When I fail to take care of my body, I am a sloth.  When I procrastinate important things, I am a sloth.  When I offer excuses and explanations, I am a sloth.  When I fall into self-pity, I am a sloth.  When I ignore the needs of my neighbor even though I could do something, I am a sloth.  When I choose my will over God’s will, I am a sloth.  When I am too busy to incorporate spiritual disciplines in my life, I am a sloth.  When I am apathetic, I am a sloth. When I allow my busyness of today keep me from incorporating habits that will better prepare me tomorrow, I am a sloth.

Being a sloth is simply not taking seriously the things we should take more seriously in life.  Those who live under the tyranny of the urgent are often the guiltiest of sloth.

So I ask again, is being a sloth a problem for you?

 

 

Sunday
Jan032016

2016 YEAR OF: OVERFLOW

Every year, I pick a word for the year to focus on.  I have done this for years.  It will be a word that I ask the Lord to give me that reflects upon the work He wants to do in my life.  This allows me to not only pray over the word, but to participate with the Holy Spirit by being intentional about working on what He wants me to work on that year.  Every year, I invite others to join me in picking their own word.  This year, my entire immediate family, as well as many of my extended family, have joined in by picking their special word.

I find that the more I work through the word, the deeper the layers are.  There seems to be no limit in what God will do with me in the area focus of the word; the only limitation is how much I am willing to spiritually engage on the area God desires to grow in my life. I also have learned that surrounding myself with brothers and sisters to hold me accountable to the word is critical.

 

This year’s word: OVERFLOW

Theme Verse:  John 10:10 ­­‑­ The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly (Overflow).  

Concept: To purse a holistically heathy life, which growth overflows to the point that it blesses others.

 

I find myself working through Mathew 13, The Parable of the Sower, to gain greater clarity on this word.  There is a farmer that spreads a generous amount of seeds over four types of soil: the hard path, rocky soil, soil that is full of thorn bushes, and deep rich soil.

There are two constants in this story: the farmer and the seed.  The farmer represents our generous God.  The farmer is not incompetent; he knows how to properly spread seed. He simply wants no soil to lack opportunity.  As for the seed, there was never a problem of “bad seed”. Instead, it’s a picture of God’s desire for everyone to have all that He has to offer. 

The only variable is the soil.  The soil represents souls.

Some soils are a hard path. They represent a resistant soul, never allowing the seed a chance to take root. In the story the seed becomes fair game so the birds snatch it up.  After all, why let a blessing go to waste. I have had seasons of my life where I just did not want to listen to God.  I am not proud of this, and I know I missed out on cool blessings from God.

Now some soils were shallow, with rock beneath.  This soul can get fired up after a good worship service, but is so resistant to change that no real transformation takes place. I have had seasons in my life where I knew how to get a spiritual high, but soon after, the reality of life scorched it away, because of the lack of depth to be able to endure hardship. I would soon find myself empty within.

There were also some soils that were filled with unhealthy thorny things. Here the soul plays a “Christian game” by pursuing God (God will never fail to bless pursuit of Him), but wants to also pursue the things of the world.  These are inwardly miserable people because the thorns always choke out the harvest. Jesus once taught that the soul can not have both God and the world.  Unfortunately, I have had seasons where I too played this game.

The good soil was rich in nutrients and deep enough for the roots to last.  Some of the soil produced 30 times, some produced 60 times and other soil produced 100 times the amount of seed that was originally spread by the farmer.  This really pleases God; these are souls that not only enjoy the blessing of being a Christ follower, but allow the blessing to grow to the point that it overflows with abundance.  How much it overflows is in direct correlation to the level that the soul allows God to be at work in their life. 

I believe that the difference from the hard path to soil that produces 100 times is the level to which souls practice spiritual disciplines in their lives.

While the end result of rich deep soil is always “joyful effectiveness” (a phrase lifted from my friend Steve Welling), the actual process of spiritual discipline has various phases.  Sometimes it is quite blissful, or is a hard discipline. It may involve risky change, or the need to endure hardship. There may be times of mundane consistency, or perhaps a need for endless patience or radical generosity. This is a list that could go on and on.

I am praying for, and agreeing to partner with God in, growing holistic overflow this year.  I realize that my health is not where it should and could be, so I will be changing some of my habits. I realize that while my spiritual life is technically fine, I should still pursue a deeper and richer spiritual life. While I have tools already to coach pastors and churches, I want an abundance that allows leaders to draw exactly what they need. While my emotional capacity is likely larger than some, I want to expand that capacity by knowing when to unplug and when to engage, allowing me to minister more effectively than ever.

I am praying for, and partnering with God on, a year of OVERFLOW 

While I have lots of things to blog about, I will post a thread of blogs that talk about my journey into overflow.  My prayer that even telling tails of my journey will be a source of blessing for others.

 

Friday
Sep252015

What Makes a Healthy Church?

 

This is a football. “ Green Bay Packer’s coach Vince Lombardi said this to his players after they experienced a devastating defeat to a team they should have never lost. It’s belittling because he is talking to a group of men who know offensive and defensive plays better than their children’s names. It would be like standing in front of a group of librarians and saying, “This is a book!” Yet in a world where razzle-dazzle, crowd-pleasing, risk-taking plays would fill a stadium, and high-tech gadgets will fill a library, it is also a surefire way to lose one’s identity, purpose and final objective.

It is no surprise to anyone that the American church is having a bit of an identity crisis right now. People want to be entertained, and they have a long list of expected religious goods and services. Pastors can find themselves caught up in having to come up with “cool plays” or throwing Hail Mary's, hoping for the best –only to receive emails from Monday-morning quarterbacks on how they could be doing church better.  I watch so many pastors and church leaders fight hard for the kingdom cause, yet they find themselves being pushed further and further back from the battle lines they started on.

It is time to regroup.  It is time get reoriented. Just as Lombardi had to periodically remind his players of getting back to the basics, I think it is time to say, “Leaders, this is a church.”

If we are going to strengthen churches, we must go back and ask, what is a healthy church? 

Below are characteristics I believe make a healthy church. By all means this is not an exhaustive list. It is a common-ground list of best practices I have noticed among heathy churches. I plan in the future to expand on each of the topics. In fact, once areas of weakness are identified, there are lots of tools we can then pull out of the toolbox to rebuild, reboot or reimagine what church health can look like.

  • Clarity of Vision - Most churches have vision and mission statements, but many are so generic that they prove useless. Why has God placed this church with this pastor in this part of this city at this time?
  • Passionate Service - Most churches treat tasks that need to be done as chores. Whether inside the church, the local community or internationally, service should set a fire of excitement as believers can participate in the kingdom cause.
  • Systems that flow - I once had a plumber explain to me that my pool pump kept burning out because the pipes had too many twist and turns. It was requiring 10 times the force to push the water through. If both hired leaders and lay leaders don’t love their ministry, it is a sure fire sign they are burning out over unnecessary structures. 
  • Humble leadership - Leaders that lead well ask not only tough questions of the organization, but tough questions of themselves. Additionally, these leaders not only love the vision God has called them to, they love the people God has given them even more.
  • Guest Services - It can be rather shocking to discover how many churches loose perspective of what it must be like for an unchurched person to walk on their campus.  Every church thinks they are a nice people, but in truth many are not friendly to newcomers.  From clarity of signage, to greeters from the parking lot on in, to the welcome desk folks being well informed, to a facility that does not look worn, to a worship service that is not filled with cringe factors, to a well run children’s area - the list goes on and on.  Churches that don’t have a high ratio of returning guest, probably need to do a healthy self analysis. 
  • Inspirational Worship - While church is far more than just Sunday morning, it is the catalyst for the rest of the church. From the parking lot to guest services, to music, to the message and leading all the way back to their car, an attendee should encounter the presence of Jesus.
  • Authentic Community - The Old Testament put great emphasis on the necessity of community. Jesus put great emphasis on loving one another. The Apostle Paul put great emphasis on relationships being healthy and functional. Healthy human relationships matter to God.
  • Spiritual Transformation - We live in a culture that is rich with options. People not only have tons of alternative options during worship services, they have tons of options throughout the week that they may need recovery time for. If holistic spiritual transformation is not happening, the option of church is no longer compelling enough to bring them through your doors. 
  • Relational Evangelism - Helping people encounter a life-changing God should be deeply ingrained in the culture of a church. Healthy disciples reproduce disciples. If you are not motivated to want your neighbor to want what you have, you either don’t love your neighbor or you don’t have anything worth giving away.
  • Truth and Grace - Growing healthy church leaders have the tough conversations they should be having. They won’t allow fear of the potential negative kickback to keep them from being courageous. At the same time, this bold courage has to be born out of deep love and compassion. Healthy leaders don’t have a need to be liked or a need to be viewed as right. They just long for people to be healthy.
  • Generous Living – Healthy, growing churches are generous in serving in ways unlikely to result in an immediate ROI (return on investment). Just as they teach to tithe, to give one’s first fruits, these churches show the same level of faith with their budgets. God has called all of us to tithe as an act of trust in his providence. Growing, healthy churches take the same risk of faith in giving away 10 percent or more of their time, energy and resources. These churches are planting churches, feeding the poor, supporting missions and other acts or selfless service, which may appear to have a negative effect on the budget or next Sunday’s attendance. On the contrary, these churches would argue that in God’s economy they are blessed beyond what they could have ever obtained on their own. 

 

In the future I will discuss tools and pathways for churches to become healthy. Right now, I think we just need to be reminded what a football is.

Friday
Sep112015

To be used by God– Insights from Scriptures  

I was reading Luke 10 and it was interesting to see how it is that God often works.  Most followers of God claim they want His will for their lives, just simply don’t know what it is.  The only thing that is complicated about finding God’s will is how we complicate things.  God really does not want us to be confused in this. 

 

Below is about the time when God sent out 72 people to be used by Him.

 

Making way for God to work, is really your only job description – Far too often, with our control issues, we try to play God and fix people. (even though we are broken ourselves)  Good news, I don’t have to play Holy Spirit, my job is only to point them to how cool God is.  Our job is simply to go where God is at work.

If you haven’t gotten your hands dirty today, it was kind of a wasted day – Remember back in school when the teacher would assign a “group project” yet that really meant that one person did 95% of the work while the entire group got 100% credit?  I think Jesus must feel like that a lot.  He says that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. To spend day after day in “meaningful discussion” as to why you are not sure what God’s will is while God is crying out for help, probably means you have avoidance issues.

It will be confusing at times, it will be scary at times – Often at the first sign of difficulty we throw up our hands and say, see I told you God will is not easy to figure out.  In our modern world we have come to believe that God will fit into our box, it will be easy, it will quickly yield high results and it will be complete before our favorite sitcom starts tonight.  Yet Jesus taught that he is sending out like sheep amongst wolves.  He knows that the world is harsh and He Knows the Heavenly Father’s ways are mysterious.   Don’t be surprised about how reliant upon God you will have to be.

You already have everything you need – These 72 were not the people that have been deeply schooled by Jesus.  And if they did not feel inadequate enough, Jesus adds, “Do not take a purse or bag or sandals”.  Do not allow your insecurity to bog you down by holding onto lots of stuff, God really will provide for you along the way.

Avoid distractions, stay focused – Jesus instructed them, “and do not greet anyone on the road.”  Jesus is not calling them to be anti-social.  He just knows our tendency to do “good” things to avoid doing what really important. 

Seek people of peace – God has tons of open people in your path.  As you journey simply pray, “God show me a person of peace who is open for you to work in her life”.

No wasting time on negative people – There are people out there that would be more than happy for you to make their toxic mess your full time job.  Do you know what will happen if you fully devote your full time towards their toxic mess? Barring a miracle, in a year from now you will still be standing in a pool of their negativity.  Don’t get me wrong, Jesus came for the broken.  But if they are not ready (or unwilling) to be healed, your efforts will effect little gain.  Jesus simply instructed for us to dust off our feet and move on.

Ways God wants to use you are beyond your wildest imagination – These 72 were likely more inadequate than you, and may have seen in one week more than some of you have seen in a life time.  Were they simply the right people at the right place at the right time?  I don’t believe so.  We live in a world that God wants to heal, and he still wants to use a bunch of knuckleheads like us.

Tuesday
Sep082015

Relationally Engaged – Insights from Scriptures 

When Jesus was as one of his most emotionally challenging times in his life, He asked his disciples to “Stay here and keep watch with me”. Jesus was about to be crucified and He knew it.  He was spending the night up praying and He wanted his closest friends to be there with Him, engaged with Him and to be in sync with Him.

It is curious that Jesus does not ask us to watch for him or simply just to stand on the sidelines and watch Him.  Instead we are asked to watch “with” Him.  Most people want to keep Jesus simply within their range of sight.  They can call on Him when they need him and use Him for their purposes.  They will even do some things “for” Him. At the same time, keep enough margin that they can be as independent from Him to do their own thing

The cool thing about Jesus is that He wants us to be relationally engaged.  The hard thing about Jesus is that He wants us to be relationally engaged.  Jesus has called us to “watch with Him”, to do life “with” Him, to look at what He sees and join Him, in engaging where He engages.

Do you have an arms length relationship with Jesus?  One that keeps Him close but still emotionally disengaged enough that allows you to operate independently from Him when you want to?  Jesus longs for us to do life “with” Him.

Take honest inventory of your life.  How much are you doing “for” Him, at a distance of Him or even in despite of Him and how much are you doing “with” Him?

Wednesday
Sep022015

Final Reflections… The Traveling Vagabond  

 

Today we will end our era of being vagabonds, as we will arrive in Orlando Florida to a furnished apartment to begin a new life.  Tomorrow I will start as the National Director of Church Strengthening at Converge, and Terri will start looking for our new home.  Levi will start online school and in the near future he will check out School of Rock of Orlando.

As short as two weeks ago we had no idea where we were going to spend the rest of our lives.  32 days ago we left our Vegas home being absolutely clueless as to where God was taking us.  60 days ago I was training my replacement, tearfully saying goodbye to The Crossing Staff, all of which I have grown to love dearly and deeply.  90 days ago I stood on the stage of Fuller with great excitement receiving my diploma for my doctorate, yet a bit anxious as I had no idea where life was taking me. Nine months ago, I sent out my first resume.

What a wild and crazy ride.

I would like to close this era with some reflections I picked up on the way.  It is not all inclusive, rather a handful of things that come to mind:

  • God is good, even if I was still a traveling vagabond – I am at a different place in my life now.  In the past I would have said that God was good all the time, but in truth my identity was deeply tied into my work, ministry and success.  If things were not going well I found myself mad at God.  Truly putting your identity in Christ changes that.
  • Embrace every moment – In my younger years, I would have squandered a season like this by being tied up in knots with worry and anxiety.  Truly embracing Matthew 6 “Do not worry about tomorrow” was a freedom I have learned to take to a higher level.  This new found freedom of saying no to fear, turned what could have been miserable season into one of the best times in my life.  Each day was a new adventure and turned out to be better than any vacation in the past I spent months planning for!
  • Remain consistently faithful – Integrity is the only way to go.  I remained faithful to my previous ministry, faithful to my search, faithful to my family, faithful to growing in my self identity, faithful in friendships and of course faithful to God.  There were many times that the temptation was raging to take an opposite course. It might have felt good in the moment to allow negative emotions boil up and out, but I have learned that it would be a miserable existence.  It is important to note, I am not talking about bottling up negative emotions and putting on a brave face.  God does not call us to that and besides, it never works.  Instead I mean, truly believe God is in control and He has got all of the twist and turns figured out.  If I truly believe that, then it becomes easy to be faithful in the moment. 
  • ·      Ask God to orchestrate the desires of your heart – From Psalms 37:4 I have a new prayer that I am praying every day: Lord orchestrate the desires of my heart, and then give me the desires of my heart.  I had another job opportunity this month that would have fit perfectly to my goals.  The location, the pay, the specific role – it would have been great in that it was everything I wanted.  As I began to pray Psalms 37:4, God began showing me that what I thought I wanted, was not what I really wanted.  This happened to me over and over again.  He gave me every desire of my heart, thus I am so happy. Ironically though, it was not what I set out for, as I did not know at first to desire these things. 
  • Friendships and family are really important – Fear drives a person to isolation. Pride makes a man think he has to handle something on his own.  To counter fear and pride, I learned to love and lean upon my friends and family in a much deeper way.  During this season that should have been divisive: my marriage is stronger, my sons and I are closer, I have deepened friendships and I have reunited with many older friendships. 
  • Be an encourager along the way – As a time that naturally leads one to be needy (I was a vagabond after all!) God led me to speak into the lives of other people.  Some I have known for years, some I met along the journey who became new friends.  Some I met as a divine appointment and may never meet again.  By taking the focus off myself I not only got to continue in ministry, but the back draft is that I too become encouraged.
  • God has a lot of cool tricks up His sleeve – Yes, the most obvious is giving me a dream job that I did not even know could exist.  That, though, is only one example.  When you look for God along the way you really discover that He is at work in every twist and turn.  It has been so energizing to see God do cool little miracles all along the way.  I pray that I always walk with my eyes wide open.

 

This ends the Traveling Vagabond blogs, but it does not end my era of blogging.

I am thinking of focusing on three areas: Key principles from books I have been reading, insights from scripture, and wisdom I have gained from doing ministry – what do you think? 

Tuesday
Aug182015

The Traveling Vagabond Gets a Job!!!

I know I took a break from posting, but trust me when I say God has been up to a whole lot with the Hopler fam!

It is with great honor that I announce that Terri, Levi and I will be moving to Orlando, Florida as I serve as the National Director of Church Strengthening for the Converge Network!!!

Converge has 1254 churches across the nation.  They are a forward thinking movement whose vision statement is: Starting and Strengthening churches together worldwide.  My position will be focusing on the strengthening part of the vision.

I will have the privilege of serving district leaders and churches in coaching, helping to rethink strategy, to journey with those who are stuck in ministry, encouraging, setting up national and regional seminars and pastoring pastors.   In short, this is a dream ministry for me.

We will live in Orlando Florida, close to Disney and the beach.  Yes we will have a guest room :-)  

This season has been crazy to be certain, but it has been good.  The Crossing has been quite good to us during our 3 ½ years serving as well as the transition.  As I blogged earlier, we have deeply held onto Jesus' words for the last few months of Matthew 6, ““That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life… Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need”  and Psalms 37 “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart… Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him”

Even if we did not get this dream position, God will still have been good.  It is just cool to be a part of His Kingdom plan

Thanks for all of your prayers and support!