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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Why churches die

Why do churches die?

Great question.

The great issue facing churches today is not church growth but church health.

The first question a well-established church must ask is not, "is our church growing," but "is our church healthy"? A healthy church is a growing church.

Disease can take hold of a church and snuff the life out of it.

One of the most fatal diseases is spiritual atrophy.

Atrophy is defined as "to waste way or cause to waste away."

"To fail to grow to normal size"

What is spiritual atrophy in terms of church life?

It is when churches, who have had a glorious past, I mean they have walked with god, served God, and seen great things happen, stop seeking him, serving him and reaching out in faith. Buildings are paid off, staff is present to do the work, everyone is "content".

As a result the abilities of the church, the discernment, the faith, the ability to believe God to do the impossible has lessened. The "spiritual muscles" of the people of God are tired and flabby because of a lack of use and exercise.

One writer said it this way, "Spiritual atrophy - the deteriorating of your spiritual muscles from lack of use- - is such an insidious disease and poison that it reflects virtually every Christian at one time or another. Resting on our laurels and rejoicing in victories long since fought is so winsome that entire churches have been built on this disease! They have become mausoleums to yesterday and museums to display revival long ago, rather than sacred places where men and women seek the face of God daily."

Strong stuff.

What's the first and primary way of breaking out of spiritual atrophy? Well, again, there are many reasons, but first of all, EACH PERSON IN THE CHURCH MUST TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE HEALTH OF THE CHURCH. Stop blaming.

I must take responsibility. You must take responsibility. It's my right to point fingers and share concerns and make statements like, "I really do wish our church can grow." It's another thing entirely to say, "I am going to be the person of God He has called me to be, and I am going to do the things that he desires me to do."

May we walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Knowing God

One thing is for certain. I want to know God. I want to draw closer to Him. It's so easy to be distracted by so many things.

A good example of this is found in Luke 10:40-42. Jesus had come to visit two sisters named Mary and Martha. Dr. Luke writes that Martha was distracted by all the preparations. Do any of you identify with that phrase? Martha was distracted by her many duties and tasks and became disturbed because her sister wasn't helping out.

Those who have the motivational gift of serving can become frustrated with intercessors and those who spend time with God.

Martha then marched up to Jesus and boldly declared, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me." Rebuking the son of God!

Why was she so mad? Because Mary was just sitting at the feet of Jesus.

"But the Lord answered her, Martha, Martha, you're worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better..."

Let me ask you, do you find yourself like Martha? Do duties on your to-do list distract you from becoming fully devoted to God?

Is your life so busy, that you don't have time to stop, even for a moment and figure out the purpose of life? Statisticians tell us that we will live an average of 25,550 days. Don't you think it would be wise to take one of those days to figure out what you should do with the rest of them?

Notice the phrase, Mary has chosen what is better. You know why I like that? Because it means its a choice.

You say, "I just can't get it all done." You're right, but it isn't all worth doing anyway. You don't have to do it all. A lot of things in your all are self-imposed and they're really not mandatory. You just do them, maybe out of expectations, or habit, or perhaps because you just like doing those things.

Here's what I know. You've got the time to grow spiritually. Do you want to make the time? Will you make the choice to make the time? Will you, like Mary, choose the better part?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Forgiveness and those closest to us

It's interesting to me that most of the resentment that people carry is with people they are the closet to.

If someone cuts you off on the highway, you forget about it and go on. You don't hold any resentment against that person because they are no longer a part of your life.

90% of all resentment occurs in the family.

There's the cute story of a married couple who had a quarrel and ended up giving each other the silent treatment. A week into their mute argument, the man realized he needed his wife's help. In order to catch a flight to Chicago for a business meeting, he had to get up at 5 a.m.

Not wanting to be the first to break the silence, he wrote on a piece of paper, "Please wake me at 5 a.m."

The next morning the man woke up only to discover his wife was already out of bed, it was 9 a.m., and his flight had long since departed. He was about to find his wife and demand an answer for her failings when he noticed a piece of paper by the bed.

He read, "It's 5 a.m. Wake up."

Some people carry grudges for years.

We must forgive.

Sometimes we don't forgive because we think that if we do, we are conceding that the other person is right and we are wrong.

True forgiveness is not saying that they are right and you are wrong but only that you give up your right to retaliate. You see them as more than their sins.

I like what Stormie Omartian wrote, "Forgiveness doesn't make the other person right, it makes you free."

Forgive and be free today!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The power of forgiveness

In forgiveness is power.

In forgiveness is peace.

In forgiveness is the presence of God.

The most powerful scene of forgiveness that I have ever seen was in the movie, "The Mission."

The Mission tells the story of a Jesuit priest named Gabriel who is commissioned to build a mission in South America for the Guarani Indians.

On the way, Gabriel meets Mendoza (Robert DeNiro), a mercenary who has been a slave trader. His slaves have included Guarani Indians. Mendoza is also trapped in a prison of guilt and regret for having killed his brother in a jealous rage. Gabriel attempts to persuade the guilt-stricken man to accompany him to the Guarani village where he has committed so many of his sins.

"There is a way out, Mendoza," Gabriel says.

"For me there is no redemption," Mendoza replies.

"God gave us the burden of freedom. You chose your crime; do you have the courage to choose your penance? Do you dare do that?"

"There is no penance hard enough for me."

"But do you dare try it?"

"Do I dare? Do you dare to see it fail?"

As they begin the arduous journey, the priest straps a huge sack of armor on Mendoza's back. To reach the village the men must travel over cliffs and waterfalls. The journey is nearly impossible for someone with 100 pounds of armor strapped to his back.

They finally reach their destination, and the Indians are excited to see Gabriel. But as they recognize Mendoza, it becomes a moment of truth. One of the Indian men unsheathes a knife and holds it to Mendoza's neck.

Mendoza remains calm, prepared to receive the punishment he deserves for his sins. Then, in an unexpected portrait of grace, the Indian removes his knife from Mendoza's throat and cuts the pack of armor free.

All watch as it falls from the slave trader's back and clanks down the mountainside into a ravine below. Mendoza, shocked and confused, begins to sob uncontrollably and clings to the Indian man's feet in contrition.

When you and I forgive, it opens the door for the Holy Spirit to minister to the person who has offended us - and bring about change.

May you and I forgive today.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Forgiving by feeling forgiven

One of the things I'm learning is that people who have a difficult time forgiving often have a hard time feeling forgiven, especially by God.

I mean after all, "why should I forgive you, when others or even God doesn't forgive me?"

I think we all realize that God's forgiveness is far reaching. He desires to forgive us. He backed that desire up with his action of sending Jesus to die on the cross for our sins.

Yet many struggle with guilt after God has forgiven them.

David prayed in Psalms 32:5, "....I will confess my transgression to the Lord - and you forgave the guilt of my sin."

Are you struggling with forgiving someone? Check out your own ability to receive God's forgiveness.

So many struggle with this.

Garrison Keillor shares this story:

"Larry the Sad Boy ... was saved 12 times in the Lutheran church, an all-time record. Between 1953 and 1961 he threw himself weeping and contrite on God's throne of grace on 12 separate occasions--and this in a Lutheran church that wasn't evangelical, had no altar call, no organist playing "Just as I Am Without One Plea" while a choir hummed and a guy with shiny hair took hold of your heartstrings and played you like a cheap guitar. This is the Lutheran church, not a bunch of hillbillies. These are Scandinavians, and they repent in the same way that they sin: discreetly, tastefully, at the proper time. ...

Twelve times! Even we fundamentalists got tired of him. ... God did not mean for us to feel guilt all our lives. There comes a point when you should dry your tears and join the building committee and start grappling with the problems of the church furnace and ... make church coffee and be of use, but Larry kept on repenting and repenting."

At some point and time we must accept God's forgiveness, stand up from the altar and move on.

And when we do, it will release us, truly release us to forgive others.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Forgiveness - the cement of true Christian community

I witnessed a true miracle yesterday. It was the miracle of forgiveness.

The heavens opened up and the Spirit of God fell and forgiveness flowed and......God smiled.

We are never more like God than when we forgive.

It's the cement, the glue of Christian community. Community is not possible without the willingness to forgive one another "seventy-seven times" as Jesus put it in Matthew 18.

Forgiveness is what holds us together through good and bad times, and it allows us to grow in mutual love.

In his book "What's so Amazing About Grace," Philip Yancey writes that Unforgiveness, "plays like a background static of life for families, nations, and institutions. Unforgiveness is sadly our natural human state. We nurse sores, go to elaborate lengths to rationalize our behavior, perpetuate family feuds, punish ourselves, punish others - all to avoid the most unnatural act of forgiving."

He is right.

Forgiving is a commitment not let let feelings of resentment come between us and those who have wronged us.

It's a choice - not a feeling.

On the morning of October 2, 2006, a troubled milkman named Charles Carl Roberts barricaded himself inside the West Nickel Mine Amish School, ultimately murdering five young girls and wounding six others. Roberts committed suicide when police arrived on the scene. It was a dark day for the Amish community of West Nickel Mines, but it was also a dark day for Marie Roberts—the wife of the gunman—and her two young children.

But on the following Saturday, Marie experienced something truly countercultural while attending her husband's funeral. That day, she and her children watched as Amish families—about half of the 75 mourners present—came and stood alongside them in the midst of their own blinding grief. Despite the crime the man had perpetrated, the Amish came to mourn Charles Carl Roberts—a husband and daddy.

Bruce Porter, a fire department chaplain who attended the service, described what moved him most about the gesture: "It's the love, the forgiveness, the heartfelt forgiveness they have toward the family. I broke down and cried seeing it displayed." He added that Marie Roberts was also touched. "She was absolutely, deeply moved by the love shown."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Benefit of being an empty nester

Debbie and I are now "empty-nesters."

Do we miss our children? Yes.

But are we having fun being with one another by ourselves? Yes.

I suppose there will be times of intense longing to be with our children, especially as the holidays come.

But right now, we're having a blast.

Part of that, I guess, is because our kids our doing so well in their respective jobs and universities. For that, we are grateful to the Lord.

But part of it is that Debbie and I have just this great relationship.

Oh, it has its ups and downs, every marriage has problems, but she is my best friend.

Lately I have caught myself glancing at her and feelings of love just overwhelm me.

Alright, enough of that "mushy" stuff.

How can you tell if your marriage is not going well?

I encourage you to read the article below, which lists some of the warning signs. If one or more of these points apply to your relationship with your spouse - I encourage you to talk to a friend, a pastor or a counselor. Don't delay!

"The biblical ideal for marriage is that we "become one flesh" with our spouses. If the sense of unity and fulfillment begins to erode, it doesn't usually happen as a cataclysmic event. Signs of erosion can alert us to danger.

You find yourself looking for alternatives to being with your spouse. Time demands are always barriers to oneness, but when the marital relationship slips in priority, these multiply. They may masquerade as legitimate demands—work, church and community activities, or children's needs. We generally do the things that are rewarding. If the marriage isn't providing many rewards, it will be avoided.

You feel increasingly irritated at your mate's behavior. Every couple could list pet peeves with each other. My wife, Melissa, can, and in all honesty, I can too. We ordinarily negotiate or adjust to these. When things aren't going well, however, they become magnified in our perceptions. The resulting frustration becomes expressed in criticism, humiliation, or avoidance.

You don't ask your spouse to do things for you as much as usual. A healthy marriage finds the comfortable balance of mutual dependency. (This is not "co-dependency," an unhealthy dynamic that squelches individuality.) When one or both partners are dissatisfied with the union, that dependency creates guilt or anxiety. It becomes easier to regress to independence than allow your mate to meet your needs.

You quit sharing details of your life. In the daily routines of life, information is exchanged. When the relationship is slipping, sharing even minor experiences and mundane schedules begins to feel threatening.

Your sexual interest wanes. Even with the high male drive for sexual release and the strong female need for closeness, when the magic is out of the romance, so is the sexual desire. This may manifest itself in aversion, or subtly, in increased physical complaints, arguments at bedtime, or a pattern of going to bed at different times.

You begin to want to be with a person of the opposite sex. Remember that spark you felt when your mate first came on the scene? Whatever that is—hormones, unresolved needs, the competitive urge, or a heavenly touch—lovers light up when their beloved appears. "The very thought of you, and I forget to do … " is the way one of my favorite old songs puts it. When you find yourself lighting up for some other person, look out!

You withhold financial resources. Most couples have a strong sense of financial responsibility for the marriage. It may survive long after relational oneness is gone. When marriages begin to fail, partners often begin to look out for themselves. Full disclosure about money diminishes. Separate bank accounts may be opened, often secretly. Money, like sex, is a powerful barometer for marital health, and withholding it can signal problems."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Now that all of our kids are out of the house and either in college or working in jobs, I have decided that I am now an authority on parenting.

Just kidding.

Parenting is tough.

It's tough because many times you just don't know what to do. And it's tough because when you do fail, you feel crummy, out of sorts and discouraged.

In his book Revolutionary Parenting, George Barna says there are three dominant approaches to parenting in the United States.

Parenting by default is what Barna terms the path of least resistance. This approach is influenced by cultural norms and traditions. The objective is to keep everyone as happy as possible so the parents can still enjoy the other prioritized aspects of their lives.

Trial-and-error parenting is based on the notion that every parent is an amateur at raising children. There are no absolute guidelines to follow, so the best that parents can do is experiment, observe outcomes, and improve upon their successes and failures. In this incremental approach, the goals of parenting are to continually perform better than most other parents.

Barna found that a more revolutionary approach to parenting was the least common approach. Revolutionary parenting takes God's words on life and family at face value and seeks to apply them faithfully and consistently.

Perhaps the most startling difference in these approaches to parenting has to do with the desired outcomes. "Parenting by default and trial-and-error are both approaches that enable parents to raise their children without the effort of defining their life," Barna explained.

"Revolutionary parenting, which is based on one's faith in God, makes parenting a life priority. Those who engage in revolutionary parenting define success as intentionally facilitating faith-based transformation in the lives of their children, rather than simply accepting the aging and survival of the child as a satisfactory result."

May we be the best parents we can be with God's help and direction.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Knowing what you want

What do you really want out of life?

It's an interesting question.

I'd be interested in your response.

Some say:

"I want to be happy"
"I want to have a great job with wonderful benefits"
"I want to be married"
"I want to get my masters"
"I want to have children"

Ben Stein said, "The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want." This sounds obvious, but the fact is that a lot of people can't articulate what they want, beyond the vague desire to "be happy."

When we invest time thinking about what we really want, we learn some things.

First, we learn that we don't really want what we think we want -- not enough to do something about it. We don't want to be healthy enough to give up unhealthy food; we don't want a good family life enough to give up golf; we don't want to change the world enough to sacrifice a little money.

We also learn that many of our wants are in conflict with one another.

We want financial peace but we also want to spend according to our whims; we want to be leaders but we also want to be ever popular; we want to be spiritual but we also want to hold on to our favorite sins.

David wrote, "Take delight in the Lord and he will give you your heart's desires." (Psalm 37:4)

Here's what I know:

Putting God first empowers us to prioritize our wants -- to eliminate the ones that don't belong on the list, to focus on the things that truly matter.

What do you want, really want? Is it enough to do something about it, enough to do without something else? Is it in line with the desires of God's heart? Do you know what it is?

I encourage all of us to spend some time evaluating ourselves, identifying what really are the desires of our hearts. Then bring them to God. Lay them at his feet; and then press on knowing that we are in His will.

Monday, September 10, 2007

God's Will

God's will - an interesting facet of our walk with God.

We all want to walk in God's perfect will.

Some people massage circumstances to create what they perceive is God's will for their lives.

Some of us are like the man who was on a diet and prayed as he drove to work-

"Now, Lord if it is your will for me not to have any donuts this morning You make sure there are no parking places in front of the donut shop."

And he later said, "I ate the donuts because there were two places right up front on only my 8th trip around the block."

We need to make sure we don’t play the game of making God’s guidance fit what we want rather than seeing if what we want actually fits His plans.

Others of us agonize over God's will. We want to make sure that it's his "perfect" will for our lives."

I think sometimes we all need to chill out a little bit in knowing this. Whether I choose God's plan A or plan B for my life - God can always bring plan A results out of our plan B choices.

What is God's "perfect" will for our lives? To know Him, to strive for purity, and to live with Him for eternity.

Outside of that, it's all dependent upon our leaning upon him, step by step.

So I encourage all of us today, let's don't force a round peg in a square hole, or get so uptight about the process of finding God's will that we lose our joy in the present.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The One Thing

Sometimes I am asked about sermon preparation and how I "put together" my teachings. One of my initial responses is that the hardest part of creating a presentation is picking the topic. Everything after that just seems to fall into place.

Stanely Goldsein once said, "The trick in life is to decide what's your major aim....once that's settled, you can get on with the happy, orderly process of achieving it."

I agree with that. What is your purpose? What is your goal in life? What is your aim?

Paul writes in Philippians 3:13....but one thing I do...." Paul was single-minded, focused. And everything else fell into place.

In the movie “City Slickers,” Billy Crystal plays a confused, dissatisfied thirty-something character with a vague sense that life is passing him by. Jack Palance- ancient, leathery, wise to the ways of the world (“a saddlebag with eyes”) – asks Crystal if he would like to know the secret of life.

“it’s this,” Palance says, holding up a single finger.
“The secret of life is your finger?” asks Crystal.
“It’s one thing,” Palance replies. “The secret of life is pursuing one thing.”

Somehow this resonates deeply with Billy Crystal’s character.

His life is scattered. He is torn between his obligation to his family and his desire for career advancement; between his need for security and his appetite for excitement.

He is divided somehow. His life is about many things, and so, he senses, it is about nothing.

The way to take your life from nothing to something is to figure out the "one thing" that God has called you to do - and do it. And everything else will naturally mesh with the purpose he has for your life.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Listening with our hurts

One of the great mistakes that we in the kingdom make is to talk about our own suffering when we are listening to others describe theirs.

Speaking about our own hurts is seldom helpful to someone who is in tremendous pain whether it be emotional or physical.

"Well, I remember when my Uncle Bob had the same surgery you are having and he died," I heard someone say. Real comfort, huh.

As Henri Nouwen writes, "A wounded healer is someone who can listen to a person in pain without having to speak about his or her own wounds."

Here's a suggestion. Let's use depression as an example. When you have lived through a difficult time of depression, you can listen with great attention and love to someone who is dealing with depression without mentioning your own experience.

Almost always, it is better to let someone share about their own suffering, rather than entering in and sharing our own.

Again, Nouwen writes, "We have to trust that our own bandaged wounds will allow us to listen to others with our whole being. That is healing."

Good stuff.