The Problem With Pleasure

Pleasure.  Even the word is rather… pleasurable.  We love pleasure.  We enjoy that delight, that state of gratification we find ourselves in when something really pleases us.  We are, after all, pleasure seeking creatures and we’ll go to great lengths to experience it.

From sex to sunsets, chocolate to sea cruises, we spend most of our lives (and a great deal of money) on sensual satisfaction.  Even when our lives are over, our coffins are made to be soft, comfy, and cozy so that our corpses have a nice pleasant little box to decay in.  I know that’s rather morbid, but we really do live and die for pleasure.

My pleasure?  I have a penchant for sweets.  Anyone who knows me well can tell you I know the Nestle’s Toll House cookie recipe by heart.  I love to snack on the dough while I’m making those delicious chocolate chip cookies and often use the excuse “They’re only fresh once!” to eat two or three extra while trying to make my glass of milk last.  And don’t even get me started on warm, gooey brownies (no nuts please)!

Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” I love the picture this paints.  We can take pleasure in knowing Jesus.  I’ve found from experience that this is true.  As I spend time with Him, I find it really enjoyable.  I experience peace in the middle of stressful circumstances, focus when I’m distracted, and joy when I’m mentally and emotionally maxed out.

One interesting thing about pleasure is that it can be learned.  For example, I detested my first cup of coffee.  It tasted way too much like, well, coffee.  After a while, though, I learned to like it and, eventually, really enjoy it.  I like the aroma it gives, the richness of flavor, and the pick me up I get from the caffeine.  I can hardly pass Caribou without wanting to grab a tall drink!

The other interesting thing about pleasure is that it can be unlearned as well.  If I go for a few weeks without sweets, I actually stop craving them.  If I starve that part of my brain that craves chocolate, hot fudge, or Swedish Fish, I can easily pass them up without feeling the need to indulge.  I can even reach a point where I know longer receive pleasure from the things I love.

Which brings us back to Psalm 34:8.  Over the years, I’ve had the extreme displeasure of seeing some very good friends walk away from Jesus.  It’s massively heartbreaking to see them fall away.  I wonder how someone could possibly choose temporal pleasures over eternity with Jesus.

About a year ago, a dear friend walked away from Christ, his wife, and children because he found pleasure in the arms of a younger woman.  He explained to me how this younger woman made him feel so good and that he just wanted to be happy.  I used to challenge this man to spend time in prayer, to “taste and see” every day how wonderful Jesus is.  He could never bring himself to cultivate a devotional life because he took so much pleasure in reading the morning paper while watching the sun rise from his back porch.  He had starved that part of himself that longs for Christ until it became too easy pass Him by without a glance.

I think that’s why many people walk away from Jesus.  They’ve neglected “tasting and seeing” until their appetite for Him has simply withered away.  They’ve found pleasure in so many other things until there’s no more room at the table for Him.

I think we all need to do a little more “tasting”.  We all need to feed our craving for Christ.  It’s easy for days to turn into weeks, and weeks into months without prayer.  We need to starve off some pleasures to make room for the Ultimate Pleasure because nothing else compares!

“You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.” ~Psalm 16:11

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A Common Leadership Thread

“Have you ever read this book?” I asked with way too much enthusiasm.  He just looked at me with an expression that said, “Yeah, right.”  He was a youth pastor that already knew all the answers.  His youth ministry was slightly above average in size and he was very comfortable in his position.  Normally something like that wouldn’t phase me but, at the time, I’d always been around leaders who loved to read.  It was unthinkable to me that someone in church leadership would frown on books (other than the Bible).  He was fired a few months later.  His pastor’s threshold for arrogant leadership found its limit.

In sharp contrast, I had a conversation once that went like this: “Can you recommend any good books?”  I began to list some of my favorites on leadership and ministry.  “Where can I get those?”  I listed a couple of my favorite places to get books cheap.  I had the pleasure of watching this guy take his ministry to great places.

I know, you’re thinking, “Thanks for the cheesy replay of your mentoring conversation Lee.”  But it really is that simpleThe one common thread I’ve found among leaders that make a sustainable difference, who know how to lead and inspire, who can stick it out for the long haul is a continued commitment to keep learning.  They never stop reading, studying, or growing.  They don’t rest on what they learned back in the day or what worked for them 10 years ago.  In fact, they don’t rest on what they learned only 3 years ago.

This tends to be an even greater problem for someone who has been in the ministry for many years.  They believe that tenure equals wisdom, but just because you’ve been doing a mediocre job for the last 20 years doesn’t mean you know a whole lot.  In my opinion experience is highly overrated unless you’re learning from it and should never be a substitute for continuing your education as a leader.

So that’s the common thread I find among great leaders.  They keep learning.  Like an old friend of mine used to say, “Leaders are readers and readers lead.”

What are some other threads you find in good leadership?

On Drinking and Relevance

I’ve debated for a while about sharing my opinion on this subject.  The reason is that there seems to be two very established camps on it.  One says, “Never touch alcohol!  It’s devil pee!”  (I exaggerate.)  The other says, “Hey, Jesus drank wine.  It’s OK as long as you don’t get drunk.” as they stagger to the fridge to finish off that six-pack.  (Again, exaggerating.)

I’m not writing this to say that believers who drink are sinning, or Christians who don’t drink should loosen up.  My issue is with relevance.

There seems to be a misunderstanding about what it means to be relevant.  Webster’s dictionary describes relevance as relating to the matter at hand, practical and social applicability, and the ability to retrieve material that satisfies the needs of the user.  Somehow the meaning has changed in church culture.  We’ve turned relevance into a subcultural fashion.  It’s become about what we wear, what kind of music we listen to, and a “whatever” attitude about “old fashioned” values.  If I listen to bands you’ve never heard of, read authors who only bash the church, get fresh ink every quarter, and drink socially then I must be relevant.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but those things don’t make you relevant.  (And yes, I know what an old codger I sound like.)

That brings me back to drinking.  There’s a popular belief (even by people I highly respect) that refusing an alcoholic beverage from a seeker is a huge turn-off.  That having a beer together communicates how accepting we are and may even open a door for us to lead them to Christ.  That by not having a drink, we’re irrelevant.  I strongly disagree with that.

For one thing, not all unbelievers are drinkers.  When they refuse a beer, I’m sure their friends aren’t thinking, “What a jerk!  He thinks he’s better than us.”

Many people just don’t drink and there’s no religious reason behind it (myself included).  There are plenty of reasons why I don’t drink.  Here are a few…

1. I don’t like the taste.  Seriously, like furniture polish.

2. It’s too dang expensive.  $9.49 for a six-pack of Samuel Adams?  What the heck?  $24.99 for a bottle of Bailey’s?  I can think of hundreds of things I’d rather spend my money on.

3. I find it difficult to associate with a product that can be so destructive.  I’ve seen it destroy homes, wreck healthy bodies, and take lives.  (I know, food can do that too, but no one has ever been killed by a full driver.)

Secondly, I’ve heard many great stories of how people came to Christ and not once was it mentioned how meaningful it was when believers shared a drink with them.  In fact, I’ve had the great honor of leading many people to Jesus without ever sharing a beer with them.

What I want to say is this: If you don’t drink, it’s OK! You’re not irrelevant.  You’re not turning people off (and if you are, maybe you should evaluate your overall attitude).  It’s alright if abstinence is a value to you.  There’s nothing wrong with you.  You’re not “old fashioned”, legalistic, or a pharisee.

Be free NOT to drink!

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A Gated Community Known as Church

Next month I’m putting on a free workshop for pastors and ministry leaders on how to use social networking in ministry.  I believe that Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, etc. can be great free resources for churches wanting to strengthen community and communications.  I’m so excited about this workshop that I even spent a few bucks on print materials that I can hand out to pastors when I invite them.

Last Monday I decided to drive around town and personally invite pastors to the event.  You know, hand them a flier, shake their hand, meet some of our community’s spiritual leaders.  It sounded like fun and my son, Hudson, decided to get dressed up and go with me.  It was going to be a great father and son time and we were both looking forward to it.  However, the afternoon ended up quite a disappointment.

I have to admit how surprised I was by how nay churches were totally inaccessible.  Some were empty and lifeless.  Empty parking lots, lights off, nobody home.  Even worse, some had cars and lights but all the doors were locked!  No bell and no answer to knocks on the door.  As bad as that was, there was a far worse scenario.

We walked up to one large church in a fine part of town.  Hudson had his shoulder bag of invitations and I was looking forward to meeting this pastor because I had driven past his church so many times.  The first door was unlocked, great!  The second door, however, was locked.  I had to push a button to get someone’s attention.  One of the office staff peered out at us through bullet-proof glass and asked why we were there.  I told her we wanted to invite their pastor to a free workshop.  She buzzed us in and we stepped into an area where there was another window and more bullet-proof glass.  There was an office area and multiple staff were working diligently behind the safety of the glass.

I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt that uncomfortable.  They looked at us like we had lobsters coming out of our ears! It was obvious that unfamiliar faces weren’t welcome there outside the context of church services.  The woman opened a small part of the window so I could slide her an invitation, then immediately closed it back up again.  She had no interest in what I had to say and couldn’t even spare a smile for Hudson.  If they treated us that way, I don’t even want to think about how a homeless person or a refugee would be treated.

The hardest part of our outing?  When my six-year-old son asked me why no pastors would talk to us.  When he asked why the ladies weren’t very nice, and why all the doors were locked.  Even a child knows that a church should be a warm place.  It should be a place where people are welcomed and accepted.  It should be that way every day, not just Sunday!  And now I found myself in the position of explaining that the church really is good and does mean well.  Not an easy task when I had the same taste in my mouth that he did.

Unfortunately, many churches have become more like gated communities than churches.  Security is in place to keep out the undesirables, the needy, the solicitors, and the just plain unfamiliar.  Suspicious of unknown faces, they’re treated with a cold reception and a short response.  Heaven forbid someone should come in and interrupt the pastor’s sermon preparation or keep the secretary from getting the bulletin together.  Am I wrong to believe that the church is about people everyday (not just Sunday)?

Defined core values have been a big part of church leadership these days.  Often times, they’re posted on web sites and printed in bulletins.  Statements like “Prayer, Evangelism, God’s Word, and Worship are our core values” are made.  I’ve got a suggestion because I’ve yet to see this as a posted core value.  How about “People”? How about “People are important to us because they bare the image of God, because they are dearly loved by God, and because Jesus didn’t die for a building, a sermon, a program, or a ministry.  He died for people.  Not just people who attend our church or share our beliefs, but all people.  Because “People” is one of Jesus’ core values, then “People” will be one of our core values too.  Even on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.

I know it feels like a risk, but let’s get rid of the gated community mentality and be the church every day.  Open the doors.  Welcome the stranger.  See love spread.

Not Welcomed

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