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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Small groups

In their book, "making small groups work," Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend write:

"[Small groups] are not just culturally relevant for the post-modern world of reality and experienced truth. They are not just a way to be like the 'cool' churches. They are not just for the 'hurting' people. And they are not just an add-on program. They are a valid expression of what the Body of Christ is supposed to be doing on the earth. They are a structured expression of the doctrines of the Church. They are a big part of what the New Testament dictates as preaching and teaching."

For those who are looking for a blueprint of "how to do" small groups, I would suggest to you that one truth is constantly emerging from those churches who "do" small groups well.

There is no one right way to do small groups. To put it even more succinctly, "the only rule in small groups is that there are no rules."

We have oriented and programmed our churches to the extent that when something "new" comes along, we want to sit in rows and learn 10 ways of "how to do small groups."

With such thinking comes a loss of creativity, a failure to accept failure as an option and a stagnation of the life growth process in the body of Christ.

Small groups are not "just" another way of doing ministry, they are the ministry. Relationships, sharing, vulnerability are all words that you can't program.

"Well, tonight we are going to all be vulnerable." Nope, that doesn't work.

Small groups are living organism as in life. As in your family unit.

So many questions.

Yet it's like swimming. The best way to swim (or do anything for that matter) is to jump in. Learn as you go. Be willing to try.

I find that people hide in ministry to avoid relationships, true relationships in the body of Christ.

They hide in ministries, staying so busy "doing" the ministry that they don't have time for friendships.

We must stop hiding in the body of Christ and open ourselves up to ministry and being ministered to.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Jesus - small group leader

It might take you by surprise to learn that Jesus was a small group leader.

If Jesus was a small group leader, than there's something there I can learn from.

Neal McBride suggest that all you need to know about Jesus as a small group leader can be summarized in seven statements:

Jesus began His expanded earthly ministry by establishing His small group.

He said to a couple of brothers, "follow me," and then went on to gather around him 12 guys.

For the first year and a half, Jesus spent a lot of time in private with his small group. After that, his ministry exploded. People seeking after him. What a crazy wild ride for 18 months that in reality changed the world.

His small group went from creating fellowship to actual ministry to those outside their group.

Jesus, secondly, ministered to his small group, but also to individuals and collective groups. He preached to the masses and spoke to the hurting on a one-on-one basis.

Thirdly, the ministry of Jesus to large groups was usually preceded by and birthed out of the context of the small group.

The Bible gives us an interesting phrase in Mark 3:14, that Jesus brought together 12men so that "they might be with Him."

We get really jazzed about the power and authority in the next statement and sometimes overlook that being human himself, Jesus needed relationship and human love. It's true: sometimes we can be the most lonely in a crowd. I often have those feelings myself.

Fourthly, Jesus spent the majority of Hi time with His small group of disciples. If you would log the hours that Jesus ministered with the 12, you would find that he spent the majority of his time with them.


Jesus didn't teach in rows, but in relationship.

Sixth, Jesus used the informal small group to model and teach spiritual knowledge, attitudes, and behavior.

Finally, Jesus used the small group setting for leadership preparation and equipping for future ministry.

More tomorrow.....

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Reaching out to others

For the next three weeks, I am going to share about community and relationships and eventually small groups.

All of this starts, however, with an attitude of caring in our hearts. Do we care about others, really care?

Bill White shares this story:

"Recently, while inching along in traffic, I saw two men in conversation on the sidewalk. One man was seated on a box at the end of the freeway off-ramp. He was gray-haired and tired looking, and he held a cardboard sign with a message written by an unsteady hand: "Please Help." The other individual was a Latino man. They shared a brief exchange, and the Latino man walked away.

As I slowly drove by the spot where the man in need sat on his box, I caught a glimpse of the younger Latino man walking down the street. I immediately recognized his gait—it was Juan, an immigrant who attends the church where I pastor. I pulled over, rolled down the window, and asked Juan if he needed a ride.

"No, my car is right there," he said, as he pointed in its direction.

Confused, I asked what he was doing walking down the street by the freeway.

"I just stopped to pray with that man and get him some food," Juan said.

"Oh! Uh, wow," I said. Then I drove off, moved by Juan's generosity.

I found out later that day that Juan has stopped before for the old man. A member of the church choir once witnessed Juan literally take the shirt off his back—a shirt his wife had just given him for Christmas—and give it to the man."

Now that's living the life as a Christ-follower.

Let's be open to being used like that in our walk with God.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Attitude. It will make or break you. It will make or break your family, your work and your church.

I can't always tell when someone's opinion is right, but it's fairly easy to tell when someone's attitude is not right.

Attitude. Attitude is a choice. It's my choice. It's your choice. I choose my attitude in whatever situation I am in.

In whatever I am dealing with, I choose whether I am going to have a good attitude or a bad attitude.

One author put it this way:

"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on Life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think, or say or do. Attitude is more important than appearances, giftedness, or skill. Attitude will make or break a company --- a church --- a home.

The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude that we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past, we cannot change the fact that people act a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude --- I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it."

Great stuff.

A bad attitude at the beginning can be hard to detect but easy to rectify.

But listen, if it's not dealt with almost immediately it can become easy to detect but hard to rectify.

Where is your attitude today? If you have a great attitude, let's celebrate. If you have a bad attitude, ask yourself, "why do I have a bad attitude?" "What can I do to change my attitude?"

More than anything else, I hope, yes, I pray that we will continue to have good attitudes.

Not everything will go my way or your way all of the time. There are limits to life bending itself to my rules. To your rules.

Viktor Frankl, a concentration camp survivor, once wrote, "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: To choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way."

May you choose wisely this day.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Pettiness - even the word causes me to cringe.

Petty people are not very good looking people. How do I know if I am a petty person?

If I have lost my vision for the non-churched I am a petty person.
If I have turned my eyes away from what matters and focused, instead, on what doesn't matter, I am a petty person.
If I am obsessed with the insignificant - I am a petty person.

In Dwight Pentecost’s commentary on the book of Philippians he refers to an occurrence of a church split in Dallas Texas.

The church split was so bad that it involved a legal suit of one side of the church against the other over who rightfully had the right of ownership of the church property.

The case went all the way to the State Supreme Court.

The case was a dismissed on the grounds that the State Supreme Court was not going to deal with inner church issues but would have to be dealt with by the denominational church governing body.

The matter was finally settled with one side given the ownership rights to the property. During this period of time a local news paper reporter did some investigating on what was the cause of this church split. He discovered that it all started during a church dinner.

Apparently one of the church elders was offended when his portion of food given him was not as large as a young person next to him.

Yes you heard correctly. This whole church split started because someone was offended over such a petty thing. It is no wonder that the world looks at churches and never wants to have anything to do with them or Christianity.

I would trust that you are in agreement with me that it's time to rid the church of pettiness. is time that we refuse to be mugged and beat up by petty people. It's time we stop ignoring pettiness. It's time we stop pretending it doesn't matter. It does.

It's a disease, a sickness that can rob a church of its health.

Pettiness can cause division and discord.

As one author states, "Petty people are dangerous people because they appear to be only a nuisance instead of what they really are -- a health hazard."

Monday, May 19, 2008

C.S. Lewis

Debbie, Becky and I saw Prince Caspian last Friday night, the sequel to the movie from 2005, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

Good, solid movie with a lot of religious symbolism. But what also interests me is the article that I have included below. Not only is their religious symbolism in the movie but a direct tie-in to C.S. Lewis himself.

I quote:

"In Jack's Life, Douglas Gresham's book about his stepfather C. S. Lewis, Gresham comments on the great love that the young Lewis had for Lizzie Endicott, the Irish woman who helped look after Jack (as he was called) and his older brother Warnie. Gresham notes, "Jack was also fond of his nursemaid Lizzie, and she would tell him old Irish folktales and fairy stories."

In Prince Caspian, we find a comparable description: "The person whom Caspian loved best was his nurse, and though (being a prince) he had wonderful toys which would do almost anything but talk, he liked best the last hour of the day when the toys had all been put back in their cupboards and Nurse would tell him stories"—stories of the old days when dwarfs, fauns, and talking animals were abundant in Narnia.

When Prince Caspian the movie—the sequel to 2005's The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe—opens in theaters…viewers might be interested to know that there are a number of parallels between the title character and the author of the Chronicles of Narnia.

One of the first things we learn about the young Caspian is that his mother has died and that his evil uncle, King Miraz, secretly killed Caspian's father. Lewis, too, lost his mother at a young age. Lewis's father—unlike Caspian's—lived until Jack was an adult but was aloof and emotionally distant, leaving the young Lewis, like the young Caspian, largely on his own.

In his recent bestseller The Narnian, Alan Jacobs argues that Lewis was above all characterized by "a willingness to be enchanted." If we accept Jacobs's proposal, then it could be argued that of all his characters, Lewis was most like Caspian. In the profound love that both Lewis and Caspian had for fairytales, we discover what Jacobs refers to as "an openness to delight, to the sense that there's more to the world than meets the jaundiced eye." …

Caspian and his creator are alike in another way. Caspian's insatiable yearning for the old days of Narnia, a yearning that fills "nearly all his spare hours," mirrors the desire Lewis himself felt.

In the opening chapter of his autobiography Surprised by Joy, Lewis describes this powerful longing he experienced from his youth onwards. There he cautions that anyone with no interest in this kind of experience need read no further, for, as Lewis asserts, "the central story of my life is about nothing else." Lewis found this yearning hard to categorize. He finally gave his sensation of deep longing the title of joy, defining it in a special way that distinguished it from mere happiness or pleasure and putting it center stage in his title. …

Lewis and Caspian share another element—one more significant than all the others, for it changed the direction of their entire lives. The desire for another world which they both experienced as young boys did not remain unsatisfied longing. In a dramatic turnaround, [a character in the novel named] Doctor Cornelius reveals to Caspian, "All you have heard about Old Narnia is true." In a same way, through the help of J. R. R. Tolkien and their fellow Inkling, Hugo Dyson, Lewis came to see that the Christian story was not just a myth like the others which he loved, but a myth that "became fact."

When Caspian finally meets the Old Narnians, he tells them, "I want to stay with you—if you'll let me. I've been looking for people like you all my life." In a similar vein Lewis rejoiced in the discovery that his earlier longing had been "a pointer to something other and outer," that the Easter tale of the God who becomes man and dies actually happened "at a particular date, in a particular place, and was followed by definable historical consequences."

C.S. Lewis - what a guy - and what an influence on his generation and generations to come.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

What is the "sin unto death"?

Last night I was asked the question: What is the sin unto death in 1 John 5:16? Let me quote Ray Steadman to give an answer:

"Now do not let curiosity over this mortal sin (or rather, much better, "the sin unto death"), keep you from seeing the relationship of these verses to what he has just said. These two verses are an illustration of a request that is in the will of God, as contrasted with one that is not in the will of God. That is what he has just been talking about, urging us to pray only concerning that which is the will of God. He then gives us these two illustrations, one which is in the will of God, one which is not. The "sin which is not unto death" is the kind which permits a concerned brother to ask God for deliverance from that sin for an erring brother and the will of God is to grant that request. The "sin which is unto death" is the kind to which God has already determined upon a certain response and no prayer is going to change his mind. Therefore, it is useless to pray. That is why John gives this illustration.

Now let us come to the moot question, what is this sin unto death? There are three major explanations that exist of this passage and particularly of this phrase, "the sin unto death." The first view regards it as some specific sin which is so terrible as to be unforgivable, as suicide, murder, idolatry, even adultery. This view (which has been held by many through the Christian centuries) early gave rise to the Catholic distinctions between mortal and venial sins. This is, perhaps, why the RSV translates this "sin which is mortal" and "sin which is not mortal." There is absolutely no question but what that translation is wrong. It should never be translated "mortal sin" for it has nothing to do with the question of salvation. There is no warrant in Scripture whatsoever for distinguishing between mortal and venial sins; i.e., sins which can be forgiven (venial), and those sins which can never be forgiven (mortal). Scripture makes no such distinctions. As a matter of fact, this sin is not any one specific sin. The Greek makes very clear here that this is simply sin in general. It is not a sin which is unto death; it is simply sin which is unto death. Any specific sin can become sin unto death. Therefore, it is not a specific kind of sin that is in view and that interpretation simply cannot stand.

There is a second view which links this with the words of Jesus concerning the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Remember that on one occasion he warned that the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit can never be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. The death which is mentioned in this passage in First John is taken to mean spiritual death and is then associated with the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. This is, of course, a description of what we generally call apostasy; i.e., an apostate is someone who has made a profession of faith in Christ but begins to drift away and ultimately comes to the place where he actually blasphemes the name of the Lord Jesus and the things of Christian faith, denying them and turning his back upon them to go into a completely apostate state. Hebrews 6 and Hebrews10 and other passages make clear that such an apostate is in a terrible situation. He has committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, the flagrant rejection of the testimony of the Holy Spirit to Jesus Christ, and that is unpardonable.

But it is equally clear that kind of sin can never be committed by a genuine born-again Christian. It is only committed by those who have made a profession of faith but have never entered into new birth in Jesus Christ. But the word here is "if any one sees his brother committing what is not a sin unto death," and the word, brother, is reserved for other Christians. It is so defined in Chapter 5, Verse 1, of this very letter. John says that "every one who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God, and every one who loves the Father loves the child." That is, such a one is my brother; he, like me, is a member of the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, it seems likely that the sin unto death mentioned here is limited to Christians, and cannot refer to apostates.

That brings us to the third view, which I believe is the correct one, which views death here as physical death: "If any one sees his brother committing what is not a sin unto [physical] death, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not unto [physical] death. There is sin which is unto [physical] death." There is sin which a Christian can commit which will result in God taking him home in physical death. John goes on to say, "I do not say that one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not unto [physical] death."

Now there are certain examples of this "sin unto death" given in Scripture which, if one studies them through carefully, will reveal the element that turns ordinary sin into sin which is unto death. "All wrongdoing is sin," says John. All unrighteousness is sin, let us not misunderstand that, but there is sin which has a certain element about it, a certain characteristic which will result in physical death, physical judgment. Let us look at some of the instances of this in Scripture.

Moses, for instance, committed a sin unto death when he was commanded of God to speak to the rock in the wilderness and water would come forth to meet the needs of the children of Israel ( Numbers 20:8). Previously he had been commanded to strike a rock and the water would come out, and when he did the water did come out. But on a second occasion he was told to speak to the rock. This change was important because the rock was a type of Christ and to strike it was a picture of the judgment of the cross. Now the cross is the way by which the refreshing water of grace first comes into our life as Christians, but after we have become Christians we are not to strike the rock (crucify Christ again) but to speak to it. We are to simply ask of him and out of the Rock will come flowing the rivers of living water we need. But Moses broke the significance of that type when in his anger, he struck the rock twice. Though God, in grace, allowed the water to come flowing out, he said to him, "Because you have disobeyed me and not sanctified me in the eyes of the people, you will not be allowed to lead these people into the land of promise," Numbers 20:12). Later on, when they came to the borders of the land, Moses said to God in effect, "Lord, allow me to go on in. Forgive this, and let me go on in" Deuteronomy 3:24-25), and the Lord said to him, "Speak no more to me about this matter" Deuteronomy 3:26), i.e., do not pray about this (just as John said, "I do not say you should pray about that"), "but get up to the mountain and I will let you see the land, but that is as far as you can go," Deuteronomy 3:27). Moses had committed a sin unto death. In his case it did not occur right away, but it occurred prematurely and before his work was really completed.

A little further on in the book of Joshua you find that Achan commits a sin unto death. As the children of Israel crossed the Jordan and surrounded Jericho they were told that when the city became theirs they were not to touch anything in it, they were not to take any of the possessions of the inhabitants of the city, or to covet anything, for it was all cursed of God. But when the walls came tumbling down and they came into the city, one man among them, Achan, saw a beautiful garment and a wedge of gold, and he coveted these and buried them in the dirt beneath his tent. For this judgment came upon Israel. In their next battle they met with utter and complete defeat. Searching out the camp, in obedience to the Word of God, Joshua found that it was Achan who did this. He was brought out with his whole family, and by command of God they were put to death. That was a sin unto death.

In the New Testament, in the fifth chapter of Acts, Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, pretended to a devotion that they did not really possess, and wanting a reputation in the eyes of other Christians, they lied about the money they received for certain land. As a result, they were immediately put to death by God when their lie became evident. They were taken out, one by one, and buried. They, too, had committed a sin unto death.

Also remember what the Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians about their conduct, saying, "Some of you are drunken, some are selfish, pushing your way in and eating before others, showing no concern for others, and above all not discerning the meaning of this table, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause, many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep" ( 1 Corinthians 11:28-30), i.e., have died. Now what does this mean? It meant that certain ones had committed sin which was unto death.

But note that in all these examples it was not the same sin, by any means. It was simply sin which results in the judgment of physical death. What then, is the element that turns ordinary sin into this kind of sin? I think if you look at these examples together you will see what it is. It is the element of wanton, presumptuous action in the face of clear knowledge that it is wrong. It is willfulness, a willful presumption to pursue something when you know God has said it is wrong. This is sin unto death, and the result is physical judgment.

Now it does not always come suddenly. It did with Ananias and Sapphira, it did with Achan, but it did not with Moses, and it did not with the Corinthians. With them it came in stages: first it was weakness, then sickliness, and finally death. Perhaps much of the physical weakness that is apparent among Christians today may arise from this very cause. Not all physical weakness comes from this, not all premature deaths arise from this, but some very likely do. It is persistence in a determined course of action when you know that God has said it is wrong, that creates sin unto death.

Now let us look again at what John has said. "If any one sees his brother committing sin which is not unto death," i.e., sin which arises largely out of ignorance, sin where someone is simply doing something which they may have a vague idea is wrong, but they have no understanding of the implications of it, no awareness of how bad it is. This is the kind of sin we older people often see manifest among the younger. Young Christians often stumble into things they are not aware of, they do not understand what they are getting into, they do not realize the danger. Then, if you see your brother committing that kind of a sin, ask of God, and God will give life for those whose sin is not unto death. God will withhold the judgment of physical weakness and grant opportunity for the renewal of life.

You can see that in the Old Testament in the case of King Hezekiah. Remember that in a very unwise moment he allowed the King of Babylon to send visitors into his palace to investigate all that was going on, and to see the riches of the palace. The prophet Isaiah warned Hezekiah that these men only wanted to see how much money he had and whether it was worth sending an army to take it or not. He said, "You have sold yourself into the hands of the Babylonians." As a result of that, King Hezekiah received a sentence of death from God. God told him to prepare himself, to get everything ready because he was going to die. Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed, beseeching the Lord. As a result of that prayer of confession and repentance, God stopped the prophet Isaiah as he was going out the door, having delivered the sentence of death and said, "Go back to the King. I have granted him fifteen more years of life," Isaiah 38:5). As a sign that it would happen, the sun dial in the garden went backward ten degrees. That is an example of God granting life for those who do not commit a sin which is unto death. Repentance reverses the judgment. Those who willfully determine to go on in a way that is wrong commit sin which is unto death, and when they do God says do not pray for that.

Paul, writing to Titus, says something very similar. In the closing part of that little letter he says, "As for a man who is factious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is perverted and sinful; he is self-condemned," (Titus 3:10-11 RSV). Here is a brother determined to go on his way. Therefore, there is no need to pray for him. There is nothing you can do but let God's judgment wake him up. Perhaps God in grace will deal patiently with him, give him a time of sickness or weakness, and that will bring him to his senses. But if not, God will take him home.

Dr. H. A. Ironside used to illustrate this as follows: Sometimes you see children playing outside, and when quarreling breaks out the mother says, "If you don't behave yourself, you will have to come in the house." Her child says, "Don't worry, mother, I'll be good." But a little while later quarreling breaks out again, and the mother comes out and says, "Now that's enough. You've got to come in. I can't trust you outside anymore." The child begs his mother to let him stay out some more. "Oh, mother, I'll be good. I promise I will." But she says, "No, I gave you a chance. Now come on inside. I can't trust you out there any more."

That is what God sometimes says to us. Do we realize, Christian friends, that God's whole reputation is at stake in our behavior? Everything we do and say is reflecting the character and the being of God to the world around. No wonder he watches us so assiduously. No wonder he judges us so precipitously at times. If there be a willful determination to disgrace him in the eyes of others, as Moses did, God will say, "All right, that's enough. I can't trust you out there anymore. Come on home." And home we go.

Well, there it is, there is prayer. What a power prayer is! If we see a brother committing a sin which is not unto death, out of ignorance, confusion, or weakness, then let us pray for him. God will give him life and straighten out the difficulty."

Hope that helps

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Changing part 2

Let me clarify something from my blog yesterday. Change resisters are never to be viewed as adversaries but as advisers. Resisters to change are a necessary piece in the process of transforming a good idea into a great one.

I like the analogy that I read that we should view change resisters as one of those funny sounds that our car makes when it is out of tune and in need of repair. Those sounds can be our allies and not our adversaries in the process of tuning our car to make it run better. Using change resisters in a positive way it a great way to make our ideas more workable and saleable.

Change resisters help us recognize the flaws in our ideas. It's amazing how resisters have the ability to see right through the weakness of a proposal.

Change resisters help us learn and understand the hidden psychological barriers we have to overcome in a group that is dealing with change. Just because an idea is a great one doesn't mean that people are going to buy it.

Ken Olsen, the head of Digital Equipment Corporation, once said, "I can't imagine any reason for the family to have a computer in their home."

Now then, let me say this.

Change does not automatically bring growth. But to grow means that we change. I would suggest that if Christianity is about anything, its about change.

I change when I connect with Christ and old things are passed away and new things are here.

I change when I decide to be "in the world, but not of the world."

I change when Christ becomes the center of my life.

I change when I am constantly revising my priorities to keep Christ at the center of my life.

I change when I realize that there are patterns and ruts in my life that keep me not only from the abundant life in Christ but from effectively sharing my faith with others.

I have heard it taught that if we are not advancing in the faith, we are plateauing and plateauing is in effect the same as going backwards.

We always want to keep on striving, keep on moving forward, keep on "being all that we can be for God."

Change can be defined in these ways:

to make different
to make radically different
to transform
to give a different position, course or direction
to make a shift
to undergo modification
to pass from one phase to another
to undergo transformation, transition or substitution.

Change is about courage, hope, taking risk, having fun, having a cause, survival, the future, getting comfortable with the uncomfortable, making things great in our church.

The only thing constant element of our lives should be change.

Now then back to change resisters and why we resist change. I am going to use the pronoun "we" instead of "they" because there are times in my life where I resist change as well.

We resist change when we sense change will demand more energy than we are ready to give. "But it will take work," some say. Well, yeah.

We resist change when there is a steep learning curve. "But I will have to learn new stuff." Well, yeah.

We resist change when because we sense there is an increased workload. It takes more energy, more times, and greater mental concentration to go about a process of change. "But it will take more time." Well, yeah.

We resist change because we are not informed. "Are we doing the right thing?"

We resist change because it disrupts our comfort zones. I don't like to shop. Buying new clothes or new shoes is difficult for me. Wearing new shoes is never fun because they can make your feet hurt. Most people really enjoy the comfort zone they have grown used to, even if they know that a new order of things will be better for the entire group.

We resist change because we fear embarrassment. We think that by accepting change we have to acknowledge that they way things were done in the past was wrong. People will go to great lengths to "save face."

We resist change because of baggage from the past. Gripes from the past can fuel resistance to new ideas for the future.

We resist change out of a lack of trust. People buy into the leader before they buy into his vision.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Change resisters

Minor change is when it's on you, major change is when it's on me. I've been giving some thought recently to why people resist change.

Let me offer you the following:

They fear the unknown. They fear that the changes that are made will not make sense.

They fear loss. They fear losing what they are comfortable with. Being comfortable is a very seducing for any Christian. I've learned that people don't change until the pain of remaining the same is greater than the pain of changing.

They fear surprise. Nobody likes to be blindsided. Myself included. When we are blindsided there is a tendency to dig in our heels and react negatively.

They fear insecurity. It's hard for most people to see how they will be better off with the changes that are proposed. They begin to believe that they have a lot to lose and very little to gain. Some people begin to feel like they aren't needed any longer or that somehow they will be demoted in their importance or role in the group.

They fear uncertainty and confusion. They misunderstand the intentions of the leader. There's not enough information about the next step to enable them to emotionally "wrap their minds" around the proposed changes.

They fear loss of power. Here's an axiom: Change is exciting when it is done by us, but usually threatening when it is done to us. Some wonder that when the dust settles, where will they end up? Some fear losing status and others may gain status.

They fear being out of the status quo. Status quo is strong. We all get settled into our own ruts and routines. Bringing a group of people out of that takes a lot of prayer and work.

More to come tomorrow.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Sometimes a story can say more than a string of paragraphs about a subject. In a few weeks I am teaching on community and will probably share this story:

It's a story from Mark Buchanan:

A few years ago, a friend assembled a weekend work party to lay sod in his yard. The sun was shining. He had fresh coffee and cinnamon buns. And the crew he'd called together were all good friends. We liked each other immensely.

Then Al said, "Guys, do you realize something? This is it! This is it!" We stopped.

"Al, this is what?"

"This is community."

We all murmured our assent and congratulated one another. Yes. This is it.

But then I said, "Al, this is great, but I don't think this is it. I like you all too much. Add a person or two to this company who lacks social graces, who looks different, who's needy, smelly, and irritating. If we truly loved a person like that, then that would be it."

Silence. Then one of guys said, "Uh, Mark. We've accepted you, haven't we?"

We all laughed, but they granted my point.

We're always tempted to turn the church into a club. With our kind of people. With a strict decorum designed to keep up appearances and keep out the, shall we say, undesirables. But Jesus said it's no credit to us if we love those who love us—our kind of people. We don't need God to love them; natural affinities are sufficient. But you, Jesus said, are to love the least of these and the worst of these—losers, enemies. That takes God: a supernatural subversion of our own prejudices, and a heaven-borne infusion of God's prodigal love.

I preach that. I try to live that.

A year or so after our sod-laying party, Wanda arrived. Wanda was not our kind of people. She was thirsty alright, for beer, port, rum, vanilla extract, whatever. She had only one way to pay for that. I'll let you guess.

But she was desperate, and thirsty for something else. She called the church one day, wondering if she could see a pastor, and now! Two of us met with her. She told us her troubled story. I told her about the woman at the well whose life, like Wanda's, wasn't going well. But she met Jesus and he offered her living water. I explained what living water was, and asked Wanda if she'd like some.

"Oh yeah!" she said. We prayed. She confessed, repented, surrendered. Drank deep.

The other pastor said, "Now, Wanda, this Sunday will be your first time in church. Don't feel you have to fit in right away. You can sit at the back if you like, come late, leave early. Whatever is comfortable."

Wanda looked at him sideways. "Why would I do that?" she said. "I've been waiting for this all my life."

That Sunday, Wanda was the first to arrive. She sat at the front, and loudly agreed with everything I said. She was the last to leave. The next Sunday, same thing, except she brought a friend, one of her kind of people. I preached on servanthood. My main point: if you've tasted the love of Jesus, you'll want to serve. It was Communion Sunday. In those days, we called our elders The Servant Leadership Team. I asked the Servant Leaders to come and help with Communion. That day only two of our team were in church. They straggled to the front.

All Wanda heard was the word servant. And she had been listening intently to my sermon: if you've tasted the love of Jesus, you'll want to serve.

She walked straight up to serve Communion with the other two "servants."

I flinched.

Then I remembered Luke 7, Jesus' words to Simon the Pharisee as a woman, not unlike Wanda, washed Jesus' feet: "Do you see this woman?"

Do you see her?

I leaned over to Wanda and said, "Since this is your very first time doing this, do you mind if I help?"

So Wanda and I served Communion. The best part was watching the faces of the people I love and serve and pray for and preach to.

Not one flinched. They saw her.

This is it.

Thursday, May 08, 2008


Heaven. Our eternal home. Our destiny. Where we will be forever with God.

The sense that we will live forever somewhere has shaped every civilization in human history. Australian aborigines pictured Heaven as a distant island beyond the western horizon. The early Finns thought it was a distant island in the far away east. Mexicans, Peruvians, and Polynesians believed that they went to the sun or the moon after death. Native Americans believed that, in the afterlife, their spirits would hunt the spirits of buffalo.

The Gilgamesh epic, an ancient Babylonian legend, refers to a resting place of heroes and hints at a tree of life. In the pyramids of Egypt, the embalmed bodies had maps placed beside them as guides to the future world. The Romans believed that the righteous would picnic in the Elysian Fields, while their horses grazed nearby. Seneca, the Roman philosopher, said, "The day thou fearest as the last is the birthday of eternity."

Although these depictions of the afterlife differ, the unifying testimony of the human heart throughout history is belief in life after death. Anthropological evidence suggests that every culture has a God-given, innate sense of the eternal—that this world is not all there is.

C.S. Lewis writes, "If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next … Aim at Heaven and you will get earth 'thrown in': aim at earth and you will get neither."

What is heaven to you? What is your concept of heaven?

Someday you and I will be there. In one sense we long for heaven don't we?

But in another sense, shouldn't we be longing for God, not heaven?

That may sound spiritual, but is it?

The writer to the Hebrews (11:16), speaks positively about longing for a better country.

Let me say it this way. To long for heaven is a longing for God, and longing for God is longing for Heaven. If we understand what Heaven is (God's home) and who God is, then there won't be any kind of conflict between the two. Jesus uses the two words interchangeably in His sermons.

Or why talk about Heaven when we can just talk about Jesus? Well, the two again go together.

We were made for a person (Jesus Christ) and a place (Heaven). Again, there is no rivalry between the two.

Jesus said, "I'm going there to prepare a place for you." (John 14:1,2). Now think about it for a moment - God made the Heavens and the Earth in 6 days, and he's had over 2000 years to prepare a place for you and I. What a place it is going to be.

I can only imagine.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Reaching non-churched people

Reaching non-churched people is important to God and therefore important to us. I trust that is and will continue to be a distinct, important core value of our church.

We learned over the weekend that only 18% of all the people in the Chicagoland are in church on any given Sunday. 18%!

A lot of those who are not in church are people from other countries, other cultures, that speak other languages.

I don't know if you realize it or not, but we have a group of Koreans who hold a service in our church on Sunday afternoons. I am thrilled about that!

It's one of the many reasons why I like Chicago so much. It's becoming, more and more, an international city.

To become a missionary in the sense of ministering to those in other cultures does not now dictate that we get on a jet plane and fly to another country - different nationalities and cultures are coming to us!

In following through on that, let me share with you that we are starting a Spanish speaking service on Thursday, June 12th, in room 202 at Stone Church. Great stuff. Pastor Jesse and Fran Nunez will be helping us along with Jose and Maria Perez.

They will also be handing out invitations and tracts to Spanish speaking people in the surrounding area before and after the initial meeting.

Here's the deal - if you know Spanish and would like to attend, or you have Spanish speaking friends who need to connect with Christ or find a church - invite them to come!

It's a great opportunity to continue our efforts to be completely missional - a church with a missionary heart. Why? Because it's important to God and therefore important to us.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

It's never too late....

It's never too late to connect to God. It's never to late to be used by God. We all have people in our lives that we are bringing to God as we converse with Him.

We all have those "prodigals" in our lives, those whom we love, whom we desire to come to Christ and live for Him.

Pastor Steve Yeschek, Crystal Lake, Illinois, lost his sister, Judy, after a five-year battle with cancer. She was a woman who, as Pastor Yeschek described her, was a party animal—a big drinker with a self-contented lifestyle. She was someone everybody loved, because she exuded excitement and a thrill for life.

When Steve tried to share Jesus with her over the years, she would laugh it off and keep partying. But at the age of 44, her world caved in. She found out she had breast cancer. She later learned her husband had cancer, too. Adding to the devastation of these two blows, she discovered her husband was having an affair. He subsequently announced he didn't love her anymore and left her.

It was in that context that she began to ask eternal questions and soon prayed to receive Jesus as her Savior. From that time until her death, Jesus and his Word and purpose became her priority. With the same gusto she lived life as an unbeliever, she now approached her new life in Christ. Her greatest aim was winning others to Christ. She boldly shared her faith even as she was undergoing surgery after surgery, praying for a miraculous healing from the Lord.

Judy ultimately came to see that the greater miracle would be for her friends and family to come to know Christ. Even as she struggled for every breath, she talked her way out of the hospital about ten days before her death so she could be baptized and publicly proclaim Christ as the only way of salvation.

Judy invited everyone she knew to come to her baptism service. Under the Spirit's anointing, she powerfully and urgently shared her testimony. Her 84-year-old father came to faith in Christ that night and was baptized—along with her ex-husband, a number of nieces, a college roommate who was a New Age cultist, her aunt, her sister, and others.

Ten days later, Judy died. Even still, more people came to know the Savior. When Steve read the message she had prepared for her own funeral service, another 100 people prayed to receive Christ that day.

It's never too late.....

Monday, May 05, 2008

Earl Creps

Earl Creps was with us for the weekend...great time....let me share with you some thoughts that I gleaned from him.

81% of people in Chicago are not in church on a Sunday morning.

For every 100 people in church in Chicago:

52 are Catholic
19 are Baptist
13 are "other"
6 Lutheran
3 reformed
3 Covenant, Evangelical free
2 Methodist
2 Pentecostal

Churches are growing out in suburbs but that does not mean that they are "getting saved." Many are simply finding new churches to go to as they move out into new communities to live. They are "plug and play" Christians. They plug into their new spiritual environment and "play" in that they become involved in their church.

We must be willing to go out into the marketplace to share our faith.

Christianity is not an explained religion but a revealed religion.

And then...a great question...what would you be willing to sacrifice to see your children and grandchildren come to Christ?

But what really struck me was the challenge to take a chance on God, a chance on people and a chance on each other.

We must be willing to give God a chance. Let's not be fearful of the moving of God's Spirit. That doesn't mean that we need to jump or allow ourselves to fall into the pit of "goofiness" or "weirdness" but simply be willing to seek after God.

We must be willing to take a chance on people. Connecting people outside the church with God by adjusting the way we "do church" on the inside. How open are we to doing that? Are we willing to sacrifice some things that are dear and routine to us so that people who aren't connected with God might do so?

We must be willing to take a chance eon each other. We all have a part to play. We all are necessary.

I know that some wanted "10 ways to do church so that outsiders might come to Christ" but before God can change our "how to" he must change our hearts.

May it be so.

What were some of your thoughts of the weekend, specifically the seminar on Saturday?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

These things too shall pass

Yogi Berra was a hall of fame catcher with the New York Yankees. Yet he might be even more famous for some of his odd ball sayings.

Here's a sample:

A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.
It gets late early this time of year.
If you come to a fork in the road, take it.
I usually take a two hour nap, from one o’clock to four.

If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.
If I didn’t wake up, I’d still be sleeping.
It ain’t over till it’s over.

One time a reporter asked him what he was going to do about the fact that he was in the middle of a batting slump. Yogi looked at the reporter with surprise and said, "Slump? I ain't in no slump. I just ain't hitting."

Think about that for a moment. Go slowly.

There is a kind of quirky wisdom in what he is saying. Quirky but true. "Not hitting" is a game-to-game struggle; a "slump" lasts indefinitely.

It's the difference between seeing our problems as a temporary situation or a permanent condition.

Let me give you a time tested cliche that is true:


What you are facing right now is difficult, yet it is a season of difficulty. Things will get better. You can overcome, especially as a Christian.

I love Jeremiah 1:19, "They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you."

Paul made reference to this mindset in one of his letters. He said in 2 Corinthians 4:8,9, "We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed."

Paul reminds us there is a difference between being knocked down and being knocked out; there's a difference between seeing a problem as a temporary situation and a permanent condition.

Be careful of the labels you give to the challenges you face.

"It's an impossible situation." Oh really? Are you sure? The Bible says in Mark 10:27, "with God all things are possible."

Your difficult situation will not last forever, and by God's grace, it won't be long until you're hitting again - just ask Yogi.