Monday, March 16, 2009
As a little boy, I practically idolized Superman. I mean, who didn’t? Who wouldn’t want to be Superman? He was and is an American cultural icon which has literally fascinated scholars and critics alike as they explore the character’s impact in the United States and the rest of the world. And when I was a kid, my Saturday mornings were booked--you got it!—right in my living room in front of the television set living my life and my dreams of glory through cartoon after cartoon. Superman was one of my favorites.
One memorable Saturday, I had an epiphany—I could BE Superman! I ran to my room and donned my Superman cape which I was sure possessed superpowers. Come on, admit it! I bet you had one too! I then climbed to the highest point of our living room couch, ready to make my debut. I was going to fly like Superman! With knees trembling in fear, I trusted my powers and heroically jumped! Up and away! Okay, so I wasn’t always the brightest crayon in the box! But in mid-air, I realized my Superman cape was no contest for gravity. In a blink of an eye, I was facedown on the floor in terrible pain! The cartoon echoed in the background, “He’s a bird! He’s a plane! He’s SUPERMAN!” and I realized was none of those! Hours later when I admitted to my parents how bad I was hurt, we discovered I had a broken collarbone. I learned a hard lesson that day: There was only one Superman, and I wasn’t him! I simply needed to be who I was supposed to be and not someone else.
Sadly enough, this is the same reality for many church leaders. We read, we observe, and we research what is fueling other leaders and their churches—why they grow. Then we try to mass produce the formula that worked for them. We become generic plastic clones of someone else’s convictions and inspirations. It took me a while but I finally realized that there is only one Billy Graham and I wasn’t him. There is only one Martin Luther King, Jr. and I’m obviously not him either. I am and only can be Chad Mitchell but I wasn’t becoming the Chad Mitchell Christ created me to be. Please don’t misunderstand me, I wholeheartedly believe that every Christian should have role models to inspire and encourage—that “cloud of witnesses” spoken about in Hebrews. But if all I do is copycat another person or idea, I myself will become purposeless—empty and burned out.
As I’ve studied spiritual growth both individually and within the church over the years, one very glaring and apparent theme proves itself time and time again. The model for spiritual growth is not universal. One single formula does not hold true for all people or all churches. We are uniquely designed. Churches grow and thrive according to all kinds of methods and formulas but only according to their specific needs and goals. When I first became a pastor, I would read everything I could concerning church growth: the new worship trends, failsafe outreach methods, and all the megachurch/superpastor success stories. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if there was a guaranteed method to make our churches grow? Wouldn’t we all want our church to be like Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston? Or do we really? Over time, I finally realized that there is no single growth prescription that works in all cases and cultures. I was quickly becoming so consumed with modeling other pastors and churches, I began to mold into someone who was not genuine—a cheap imitation of who God intended. He gave me only one model to follow that doesn’t really have anything to do with worship style, church building, or the clothes we wear. There is truly only one true way to be Christian. That is to live out the name and to be like Jesus Christ. I don’t need a secret recipe; I just have to commit to love and to live as He did—an extraordinary life. Let’s go beyond His story to the ends of the earth. Journey with us as we lead to follow…
About The Book
As you read, you will find that ministry and faith often takes us out of our comfort zone. No ministry should be a copycat of another ministry or church. Sadly enough, we try to mass-produce ourselves as the perfect Christian leader so that we all walk alike, talk alike, and look alike—generic clones of someone else’s convictions and inspirations. It took me quite some time to realize that I’m not Billy Graham or Martin Luther King Jr. I am just Chad Mitchell and I need to be the best Chad Mitchell God uniquely created me to be.
Our prayer is that each one of us makes a commitment to live beyond average, beyond the stagnant norm—so that as we journey we lead to follow.
Through my eleven years of ministry in Abilene, I have witnessed all too often the devastating and life-altering effects of violent crime against victims, families, friends, as well as on those who actually commit violent acts. We see and hear about violent crime so often on local and national news that many of us have become accustomed and almost numb to senseless acts of hatred, vengeance, prejudice, and assault. My friend Eric McMahon was the victim of violent crime. He was just a 48-year old homeless man but his body was found severely beaten and thrown into a trash dumpster in the early morning hours of October 27, 2007. I will never forget my friend who was killed most recently a year ago on May 26. Albert Cadena, a 28-year-old husband and father was found murdered in a north Abilene alley. We are all horrified and grieved by hidden violent acts of domestic violence and abuse perpetrated behind closed doors on the very people abusers say they love the most. Geana Mac lived to share her terrifying experience when she fought for her life after her ex-boyfriend poured a gallon jug of gasoline on her and ignited her in front of her own six year old son. Gang violence is no respector of persons. Janie de la Paz, a precious little four year old girl attended Mission Abilene until January 21, 2007, the night she was shot while sleeping in her bed—the target of a drive-by shooting.
We hear story after heartbreaking story as the list of violent crimes in our city continues to grow--gang violence and drive-by shootings, domestic violence and abuse, random disputes gone awry, and malevolent intentional harm. We hear it on the news all the time unaffected as long it doesn’t touch people we know personally. If a crime doesn’t actually interfere in our own lives, we remain unchanged, unaware that in reality, one single act of violence touches so many more lives than just the one taken. The traumatized living victims remain nameless and faceless to us and we are ignorant of the long-term consequences they face. It’s none of our concern. We shake our heads in pity and compassions but, in all honesty, our lives remain unaffected by the painful suffering of others…until violence touches our own lives and we or someone we love becomes a victim. Suddenly, the chaos on the news becomes our own personal stories.
As I reach out to the homeless and rejected of our society, the gang members, the poor and disadvantaged, and even the prisoners and convicts, I continually see the horrible effect of violence up close. Because of all that I have seen and experienced, I ask you to join Mission Abilene and our partnering sponsors in awareness and intent to make a difference at our annual “Stop the Violence, Start the Love” event on May 31, 2009 at the Civic Center in Abilene. The event will host live entertainment, food vendors, speakers, and merchandise. Local agencies and organizations in our community will provide needed information, education, and resources to the residents of Abilene and the surrounding communities. A city-wide memorial service will be held to honor those who have been killed by violence with a concert following the service.
Proceeds from the event will benefit the Regional Crime Victims Crisis Center in Abilene, a nonprofit agency that strives to meet needs and provide resources to victims and their families. I ask you to join us in the fight to take back our streets and neighborhoods through your donations, sponsorship, and participation in the event. To become a sponsor or to receive more information, please contact me at Mission Abilene by phone at (325) 232-8258 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Together, we can and will make a difference.
Live to Love,
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Renovate-give new life to; revive.
Everyone has a different reason for wanting to renovate. Sometimes it's the simple need for a change. Other times, the motivation is more practical. If you wake up one day with a puddle in the basement and a water-stained ceiling, you know it is time to renovate. Research supports changing lifestyles are often at the heart of renovation projects. As our circumstances change, many people find that their living requirements also change. The birth of a second or third child may call for an additional bedroom in the short-term and, in later years, an extra bathroom. Or, the long-term care of an aging parent moving into your home might require for you to add-on a bedroom, there are so many different reasons why one decides to renovate. When dealing with the renovation of a home the worst part about it is if you don’t plan on doing it yourself you have to pay someone to do it for you. Have you ever thought “it is time I renovate my heart?” The beautiful part about renovating our heart is we do not have to pay for it. We have a contractor that does it completely free. The moment we repent of our sins, and trust Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, He steps in and begins to renovate us. He not only begins to renovate our heart, but he begins the process of renovating our minds, the words we speak, the way we act, our attitudes, the way we treat people, and so much more. One of the greatest things that we must realize is when we let Jesus renovate us it is a process that last a lifetime.
BARSTOOL THEOLOGY 101
During my younger years, it was not uncommon to find me "chillin'" on a stool in one of the local bars with a drink in hand. Though many would say that I flushed away my youth in a haze of alcohol and hangovers, those years actually cultivated a vision for my life, my ministry, and my church. Keep in mind that a little manure fertilizes and produces the most abundant crops so what is waste to one person is pure possibility to another. In light of that, one night with a little bit of liquor—okay, a LOT of liquor—in my system, I remember asking myself, "Why do people go to the bars?" Of course this type of a question is usually rhetorical and only asked by dedicated teetotalers. But as a result of being on the heavy side up after ingesting a substantial amount of alcohol, I sometimes sought out the deeper questions and the meaning of life. "Why do people go to bars?" What a question! I have no defense for the wanderings of my inebriated mind—I was drunk! Maybe the answer wouldn't shake the world on its axis but my rhetorical sarcasm gradually became a real and illuminating pursuit of truth even after I sobered up.
Now before you commit me to an asylum or throw your hands up and call me a hopeless heretic, hear me out. The church can learn a thing or two from the local bar. Sometimes we, the church, think that we have life and ministry all figured out but as long as there are still lost and lonely people in the community outside of the church, we still have a lot to learn about reaching them. As the body of Christ, we should turn our focus to the needs of those who swear to never enter our doors. In order to do that, we should meet people right where they are and take a good hard look at what draws them in relationship with others.
So let's take the perspective of one sitting on the corner barstool in a local tavern. Why DO people go to bars? A few of the obvious reasons are to drink, to listen to the music, to socialize with friends, and to dance. Now let's dig a little deeper. What causes a person to be a "regular" at a particular bar? Why would YOU be a regular customer? The first motivation is that it's the local "hot spot" where your friends or people just like you hang out. The music is good, the atmosphere is relaxed, and you don't have to dress up to feel welcomed. You can be yourself. Is there anything honestly wrong with any one of those motivators? Barstool lesson number one was only the beginning as we broke down the barriers that keep the lost outside the doors of my church. We must create an atmosphere that is relaxed for the average stranger. The church should not only be accessible to those who have the proper clothes or the proper "Christian" look. The church community must invite people to come just as they are. You shouldn't have to fluff up, puff up, or make up just to get inside. We should welcome people just as they are, naked of all facades and pretenses.
Barstool lesson number two is that the church must purposefully get to know each other and every person that walks through the doors. One of the biggest myths about bars is that customers go there every night to meet new people. They may not know anyone the first time they go but they keep coming back because they find friends. Most of us have often seen the reruns of the old sitcom "Cheers." Can't you hear the theme song now? ...Where everybody knows your name… Several interesting and colorful people made the ..:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />
Barstool lesson number three is the mark of any successful bar and should be a strong influence for the church. A successful bar opens its doors to all people. No matter where you come from, what race you are, how much or how little money is in your pocket, it's all useless information in the your friendly neighborhood bar. My own church has made this our mission statement. We strive to be "a church open to all people." Regardless of fame, wealth, or status quo, each individual needs to know he is accepted and loved. As the body of Christ, we must make greater efforts to truly accept others as Christ accepts them and love as He loves.
The final and maybe most vital barstool lesson for the church community to embrace is that we must share with one another. For those lined up on the barstools, it isn't unusual to hear people sharing their struggles, heartaches, misfortunes, losses and defeats with one another while chasing down a few suds. Oh, what a beautiful portrayal of Christ's love if our church communities were overflowing with dialogues of pain and struggle and the freedom to expose our individual weaknesses. In the midst of those priceless and precious exposures, the purest essence of the redemption story is unveiled. This is the body of Christ…
"Now the body is not made up of one part but of many…Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." -- 1 Corinthians 12:14, 22-27
COME AS YOU ARE…LEAVE DIFFERENT!
Over two thousand years ago in a remote section of the Roman Empire, one man’s revolutionary philosophy and teachings sparked a radical movement that collided with society’s traditional beliefs, customs, and way of life. Jesus Christ Himself broke the mold of religiosity in which people vainly strive to be “good enough” to be called Christian. He unfolded a new and simple plan that would destroy ideologies and models of power imposed on humanity throughout the ages. Jesus lived a life that ignored limitations and boundaries and confronted society’s perspective on clean and unclean, male and female, and even Jew and Gentile. He loved ALL people without prejudice and without limit. Jesus was far beyond ordinary!
He was one single Man yet He chose to live differently from all the rest and to love each person uniquely, unashamed and unafraid to fulfill God’s master plan of redemption. He was ridiculed, mocked, beaten, wrongfully condemned, and even crucified for His convictions. For our sakes, He gave up His own sinless life to suffer the shame and agony of the vilest criminal’s execution. Regardless of the cost, He remained adamant even on the Cross that there was a better way to live and to love: to meet each and every person at his/her own individual and unique need. His way was and still is GRACE.
Then came the resurrection and it shattered the idea that Christians can be mass produced on an assembly line according to a particular formula or set of pre-packaged rules. He won the victory over death and salvation became a one on one, heart to heart relationship with Christ. Even today, the power of Jesus’ message conveys the truth that a lasting commitment of our hearts and minds begins at the foundation of all that we believe. We can’t earn salvation or get it any other way than individually surrendering our own lives His will as we allow Him to remake us. When we confess Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives, we become one in Him and Him alone—created by Him and designed by Him for a single unique purpose unlike any other person in the universe. He had so much more than ordinary in mind.
Jesus, a simple carpenter from Nazareth, broke every mold. He toppled the walls of hatred, hypocrisy, and religious traditionalism. He took faith and salvation off the assembly line, putting His own life on that line in fact! No more cheap imitations or clones. His love and His plan for me is unique as it is for you and He wants each one of us to live beyond “good enough”—beyond ordinary. He gave us extraordinary grace so that we could be extraordinary works of art, created to live and to love through His extraordinary grace.
Have you every recognized that the majority of us live beyond our means—beyond our finances, beyond our physical talents and abilities, and even beyond the time we have with our “fast food, drive through” mentality? In all of those things, we will risk anything to move beyond the norm but when it comes to our faith, we won't dare to move beyond what we know or can see. We choose to be limited by formulas and conviction. Our faith and testimony becomes a cheap plastic imitation of what someone thinks we all should.
As you turn the pages of this book, I challenge you to make a commitment to live beyond average—beyond the stagnant norm. You can be more than a generic mundane ho-hum Christian! Dive in headfirst in pursuit of becoming who you are supposed to be in Christ. Surrender all your preconceived ideas and all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Break the mold of your own plastic Christianity and become an extraordinary living, breathing, and loving testimony of His extraordinary grace!
God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.
- Ephesians 2:8-10 NLT -
This book can touch all levels of the Christian faith: the unsaved seeker, the newly saved, the veteran Christian leader, and even the cynic. Our prayer is that from the moment of salvation to the moment of death, each one will deepen their intimacy with the Savior and our faith as each one of us fulfills our calling and God’s individual purpose. We pray this project challenges individuals to become all that God intended them to be no matter where they stand in their faith at this moment. We hope to compel readers to seek God’s will and purpose as they look deep within themselves at their own spiritual condition, allowing Christ to work in them and through them. We pray that each and every reader may become a unique reflection His glory and life-changing power.