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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Some thoughts for tonights teaching

This evening I will be teaching out of 1 Corinthians 3, which speaks of what has been called, "carnal Christians."

One of the principles we are learning is that there are three types of people. There is the "natural man" (which includes women as well), the "spiritual man" and the "carnal man".

All three of them exist in our world.

The natural man (or to use the word that Paul uses - the "soul man" - Greek psyche) is a man who is unable to understand spiritual matters. He goes by his feelings, his ability to think and make decision. His spirit is empty, dead to God, for it is filled with only the things of this world. The "flesh". He desire that which is material, physical, and sensual.

He is a man controlled by the flesh. As the Blues Brothers used to sing, "I'm a soul man," they live by their instincts.

Debbie and I used to have a cocker spaniel, Mickey. If Mickey wanted to get up and eat, he got up and ate. If he wanted to sleep, he would plop down and sleep. He lived by his soul.

Then there is the spiritual man or that person who has the mind and attitude of Jesus Christ. He looks at life, not from a temporary perspective but from an eternal perspective. He walks according to the spirit, specifically the fruit of the spirit. While he may operate in the gifts of the Spirit, his main focus are the fruit, love, joy, peace, etc.

He walks in the spirit which implies a moving forward, a moving of one step at a time and a moving in a definite direction. There is intentional forward motion. He is not floundering, or stagnant, but filled with God's Spirit.

Sin and Satan are still around, they are appealing but by virtue of the crucifixion of the old self at conversion and on a daily basis, sin's power over him is broken.

He is capable of discernment, of being able to budget all things. That is not to say that he knows all things but is able to discern all things, specifically things pertaining to spiritual, moral and ethical issues.

Then there is the carnal man. They are Christians, but they walk in the flesh. Their minds are full of carnal, negative thoughts. They look like a Christian, but they act and talk and think like a non believer.

A carnal man insists on his own way. He is like a baby crying out for someone to meet his needs and meet them immediately.

A baby is cute, even beautiful, but very demanding. A baby drinks milk. It's cute. But a baby sucking on a bottle is cute at 6 months but is kind creepy if seen of a 40year old man!

Carnal Christian should be eating steak and potatoes but they are still sucking on a milk bottle.

A baby constantly needs its diaper changed.

With a carnal Christian the flesh is calling the shots or self.

Here are some of the characteristics of a carnal Christian:

They stubbornly hold on to their opinions. They never give in.
They live by fear.
They are obsessed with control
They are bitter, resentful
They are distrustful of people
They show up late
They are cliquish
They are unable to spend personal time with God
They occasionally acts and speak indecently
They are unwilling to give away money for God's purposes
They walk in the gifts but not the fruit
They are easily influenced by the opinions of others
They are combative
They are apathetic

The flesh can be like a ball and chain that we carry around with us on a daily basis. Paul says it this way, "that which I do, I don't want to do, that which I don't want to do, I do."

A carnal Christian doesn't hate God, they just ignore God. They are insensitive to spiritual matters. Sin bothers them less and less.

They are hard to please. Nothing ever satisfies them.

If that describes you today....and we all fall into some of those categories, let's be realistic and real about are four steps you can take.

1. Realize your need. That you are walking in the flesh (I Cor. 13:11)
2. Repent of your ways (Revelation 2:5)
3. Release your rights (Romans 12:1,2)
4. Receive God's power (Acts 1:8)

Hope that helps......

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Team, team, team and the Carl Sandburg Eagles

I went and watched the Carl Sandburg High School Eagles Volleyball team yesterday. David Vales is the coach.

I could tell David is a good coach for this reason: Sure his players are good, but what really stuck out to me is that they played together as a team. They congratulated one another when there was a good play and encouraged one another when there was a bad one.

And while there were a couple of players who stood out, they all blended together like one well-oiled machine.

And they won. The other team might have had better athletes(that is debatable), but the Sandburg Eagles played as one unit.

I've rarely seen teams win with one or even two superstars. It takes a team.

Let's apply that to our lives.

A lot of people in life are "stand aside and let me do it," type people.

Do you know someone like that?

They're convinced no one will do the job quite as good as them. Why delegate when others are bound to make mistakes? Why delegate when you can do it all yourself?

We forget--for those of you who are task oriented--that finishing the job isn't the point. Not completely. Especially in ministry. God's idea is that in the process of doing his work we will build community. He wants us to learn to work together. He wants us to be a team.

Look at the areas where you work or lead. Are you trying to play all six positions at once? If you are, your teammates may wonder why they're even on the team. And they're probably wondering when you're taking your vacation--so that they can get finally a chance to make a play.

Here's an idea. Let your players play their position. Don't try to cover the whole court. They might make a mistake or two, but they'll also surprise you with some good plays.

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body...Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:12, 27)

Just a thought for a Tuesday.....

Monday, April 28, 2008

Finishing some thoughts from Sunday

During my teaching yesterday morning, I read out of John 21. It's the fascinating story of Peter's restoration as a disciple and apostle of Jesus Christ.

A couple of interesting things happened that needed further explanation and we didn't have the time to do that. I was asked several times to give that explanation so I thought that I would put it on my blog.

The two questions were:

1. Why did Peter put on his clothes before he jumped into the water?
2. Why were the number of fish (153) specifically mentioned?

Here is the passage and then some possible theories.

John 21:

7Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, "It is the Lord," he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.

8The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.[b]

9When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

10Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you have just caught."

11Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.

Why did Peter put on his clothes before he jumped into the water?

Peter put on his fisher's coat (in the Greek ependuten) before jumping in the water. This is the only place this word appears in the New Testament, and there is some discussion as to what is involved. Some believe the ependuten was a lined blouse, and others identify it as a heavier outer garment. Regardless of what it was, it would certainly have made it more difficult for Peter to swim to shore. Why then did Peter put on this additional garment?

Three interpretations:

1. According to Jewish custom, to offer a greeting to someone was a religious act, and to carry out any religious act a man had to be fully clothed. That Peter reached for his coat before jumping into the water clearly shows his intent to be the first to greet the Lord.

2. Some think Peter might have again tried to walk on the water. However, the word ebalen (cast) implies diving into the sea not stepping out onto the water.

3. Psychological reason. Peter was impetuous, and there were many other occasions when Peter acted without thinking; this was another one of those occasions.

Let's go on to the next question: why 153 fish?

There are at least four explanations as to why the number 153 appears. Cyril of Alexander saw the number as representing God and the church. According to this early church leader, one hundred was the number of the fullness of the Gentiles (Matthew 18:12), fifty represented the remnant of Israel, and three signified the Trinity to whose glory all things were done.

In a somewhat more creative vein, Augustine interpreted this number in light of ten, the number of the law, and seven, the number of grace. Ten plus seven equals seventeen, and the sum of all the numbers from one through seventeen inclusive totals 153. Therefore, argued Augustine, 153 stands for all who by law or grace have been moved to come to Jesus.

Jermone and other early church leaders saw the significance of this number in the ancient belief that there were 153 basic kinds of fish in the sea. They argued, therefore, that the miraculous catch included every kind of fish.

Someday, all men of all nations will be gathered together to Christ.

A fourth suggestion is that 153 appears in the text because that happened to be the exact number of fish caught in the net at that time. Other than being an accurate count, there is no hidden spiritual meaning in the number.

Hope that helps everyone. Thanks for asking. God's Word is good, isn't it!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Awesome worship

"You're awesome." "That movie was awesome." "The book I read was awesome." "That was an awesome meal."

And then - "God is awesome."

Nothing wrong with using the word awesome, it's just that when we use it in the context of God it pales in comparison.

What's more important - that we experience "awesome worship" or that we worship an "awesome God"?

The Bible says in Job 25:2, "Dominion and awe belong to God."

We sing about honor and praise and glory and power belonging to God. What about awe?

The bible says in Psalms 89:7, "The highest angelic powers stand in awe of god. He is far more awesome than than those who surround his throne."

In the early church, one of the bullet points to their power was the fact that "everyone was filled with awe" (Acts 2:43).

The first followers of Christ walked in the awe of God.

They had the big picture. God was big enough in their eyes that they were willing to risk their lives for Him.

We need that kind of encounter with God at Stone Church. We need an encounter with God that fills us with awe and reverence. There's a stirring in my spirit that fills me with a holy urgency to delve deeper into the wonder of who He is.

Do you long for that same sense of intimacy? Do you long for that same sense of connection with God?

May it be so.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Worship and respect

Worship. Wonder. The two words are interlinked. I would suggest that for worship to be worship, it must have an element of the wonder of God.

We must not fall into the temptation of reducing God into manageable terms. There will always be an element of mystery to God. That's what makes Him God.

We do our best to try to wrap our finite minds around an infinite God. It isn't going to happen.

Whatever style we sing - we must always ask ourselves the question: Is the glory and presence and wonder of God a part of our worship?

God will not be diluted, dumbed down or patronized. In Psalms 50:21 God says, "you thought I was altogether like you." No one who knows God intimately can ever be flippant in His presence. By that I mean that we must be worshippers who come prepared to worship.

I watch as some come in late, talking, conversing with one another as they come into the presence of God. Running for the back seats or seats in the balcony. It concerns me, for I long for our church family to be involved intimately with God.

I long for respect levels to be raised in God's presence. That has nothing to do with the style of songs that we sing but the attitude of our hearts.

Are we trivializing God so much that we think that coming to a morning worship service is like going to a ball game or a show at the movie theater? To be entertained?

Do we want God to like one of us?

But God is not one of us. he is God. We can't compare God, completely define God or even describe Him as much as we want to - outside of the Word of God.

That's why we must not fall into the trap of thinking that God owes us anything. Something goes wrong - we think God owes us to explain why. That kind of thinking destroys faith and insults the sovereignty of God. Some of the hard questions we ask in life will never be answered this side of heaven.

Yet even in those dark times we must accept that God is God.

One writer put it this way, "God is His own interpreter." You and I can't work Him out like a math equation or force Him to fit into our way of thinking.

Let us draw near to God and He will draw near to us.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Facedown worship

There's one thing I have noticed recently in the Bible: the Bible is full of facedown worshippers. People who are on their faces before God.

I would suggest to you that to worship facedown before God is the ultimate outward sign of inner reverence before God.

Matt Redman writes, "Every posture in worship says something of both the worshipper and the One being gloried in. The raising of hands tells of a soul stretched out high in praise and the worth of the One being exalted. Joyful dancing interprets a grateful heart and points in adoration to the source of that joy. When it comes to expressing our worship, what we do on the outside is a key reflection of what's taking place on the inside. Out of the overflow of our heart we speak and sing, we dance, and we bow. God reveals, and we respond. God shines and we reflect. In the very same way, facedown worship is the overflow of a heart humbled and amazed by the glory of God. FACEDOWN WORSHIP ALWAYS BEGINS AS A POSTURE OF THE HEART."

Wow. Great stuff.

The book of Revelation tells us that "all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They FELL DOWN ON THEIR FACES before the throne and worshipped God. (Revelation 7:11)

After the teaching in the second service, we had a great time in the presence of the Lord. This is an area that we want to continue to grow in as a church family. To continue to spend time in God's presence on a consistent basis.

To wait upon him

To realize his "otherness".

To dwell in his presence.

The more we plunge into the otherness of God, the more we begin to understand that worship is quite simply "all about God".

"Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory" Isaiah 43:7

"The people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise." Isaiah 43:21

"I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake." Isaiah 43:25

"I have refined you....for my own sake, for my own sake, I do this." Isaiah 48:10-11

The key barometer of successful worship is not, "how much did I get out of my worship experience," but "how well do I do as a worshipper in jumping into the 'otherness' of God?"

Worship is not to be a spectator thing but a participation thing.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Hope. It's so important in our lives. We need hope. For many, hope is what keeps them alive.

Henri Nouwen has written in his book, "The Wounded Healer," "A man can keep his sanity and stay alive as long as there is at least one person who is waiting for him. The mind of man can indeed rule his body even when there is little health left. A dying mother can stay alive to see her son before she gives up the struggle, a soldier can prevent his mental and physical disintegration when he knows that his wife and children are waiting for him. But when "nothing and nobody" is waiting, there is no chance to survive in the struggle for life."

What are you placing your hope in today? Where is your hope?

As the old hymn says, "My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus blood and righteousness."

Our hope must be continually in God. Other will fail us. We will fail others. But God will never fail us. He's consistent.

Hope is:


Hold on today - don't let go.

Pray, but pray expecting God to move.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Disappointment and discouragement

Disappointment can lead to discouragement.

A lot of circumstances and people can disappoint us. I am disappointed by _______ (and you can fill in the blank).

I'm getting better at handling disappointment, but still struggle with it.

Job 5:7 says, "People are born for trouble as predictably as sparks fly upward from a fire." Troubles are part of life. There’s no end to the troubles you will probably face.

Let me give you some examples.

A fierce gust of wind blew 45-year old Vittorio Luise's car into a river near Naples, Italy in 1983. He managed to break out a window, climb out, and swim to shore where a tree blew over and killed him.

Mike Stewart, 31, of Dallas was filming a public service movie in 1983 on "The Dangers of Low-Level Bridges" when the truck he was standing on passed under a low-level bridge killing him.

Walter Hallas, a 26-year old store clerk in Leeds, England was so afraid of dentists that in 1979 he asked a fellow worker to try to cure his toothache by punching him in the jaw. The punch caused Hallas to fall down, hitting his head, and he died of a fractured skull.

Surprised while burgling a house in Antwerp, Belgium, a thief fled out the back door, clambered over a nine foot wall, dropped down, and found himself in the city prison. And you thought that you were having a bad day!

Have you had, or do you have problems. Sure. We all have problems.

It's hard to imagine anyone having more problems than David, the man who wrote Psalm 103. You name it, he experienced it. He was the least in his family - the runt of the litter. King Saul tried to kill him. He had to run for his life for years. One of his sons raped his half-sister and was later murdered. His other son plotted against him to take away his throne, and slept with his own wives in public view. David's life was one of turmoil.

David was brutally honest with God about how he felt. He let God know whenever he was experiencing a time of trouble. And time after time, David found that God was able to rescue him from discouragement.

In Psalm 103, he writes: "He heals all my diseases; He ransoms me from death." (Psalm 103:3-4)

It's possible that David was talking about literal diseases and literal death. But it's more likely that David is talking about the problems and adversities we all face - things that we all experience. Can God handle our problems?


You might be extremely discouraged today. God can handle your discouragement. God can provide healing from whatever it is that is dragging you down.

This past week I read a testimony from a man in a wheelchair. His mother was killed when he was a kid. His father never knew how to show him love. He dived into a river and became paralyzed. He became enslaved to drugs and alcohol. It takes him an hour to get out of bed. He couldn't feed himself or go to the washroom by himself. Can God handle his problems?

Two years ago he gave his life to Jesus Christ. He has exchanged his bitterness and his hurt for God's love. He has adopted 11 children and has 4 foster children. It still takes him an hour to get out of bed. He can now make his own sandwich.

But perhaps more importantly, he has found that God is bigger than his problems.

God’s promise is that whenever his people are in need, he will help. That’s how God heals us from discouragement. He promises to come to our rescue. David said in Psalm 18 that when we cry out to God, he hears us from his sanctuary and comes to our aid.

God can handle whatever discouragement we are facing with his help - at least that is what I am learning.

"Father we give you our disappointments today. Help us to realize once again that you are in control and that everything is in the palm of your hands. Amen."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Driving to work and dealing with the flesh

Speaking of the "flesh" which I blogged about yesterday, my commute to Stone Church each morning has been interesting. I try to use that as one of my prayer times, however am interrupted on a frequent basis.

Since I have begun my 20 minute jaunt from my house to the church I have been cut off, nearly run over, given the "one way" sign, seen an accident in which an apparently inebriated man ran into a truck in front of him without stopping, and beaten off the "starting gate" from a stop light from an apparently mild mannered soccer mom (until she gunned it and tore off into the distance).

I would surmise that your commute is much the same. Our vehicles have become the last frontier of the "wild west". Within a 20 minute trip is enough drama to fill up an entire week much less the day.

How do you handle such frivolity? I guess at this point I should say that I don't let it bother me and that I pray for the people who aren't very polite, but that isn't always the case. Sometimes I have to repent as I am walking through the door of my office. But I am trying.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Soaring with eagles

Paul said it this way in Romans 7:15, "that which I don't want to do I do and I do that which I don't want to do."

Everyone of us struggles with the flesh. We want to do good, we want to live righteously, but the flesh like a ball and chain constantly weighs us down.

Carl Sandburg really summarized the struggle well.

He wrote, "There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud."

He may not have known it, but he was describing the life of every believer in Jesus Christ. It's our dual nature, as Paul described in Romans 7:22-23.

Paul writes, "I love God's law with all my heart. But there is another law at work in me that is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me."

Everyday you and I have to choose: Will we live according to the new nature or the old? Will we soar with the eagles or wallow in the mud?

Our decision determines everything -- how we start our day, what we think about, how we talk to (or talk about) our co-workers, how we spend our spare change, and how we spend our spare time.

Every day, and every moment of every day, you and I have the power to choose our environment: the clear blue sky (being an eagle) or the local hippo hangout (wallowing in the mud). We've got a key to both places, and access is unrestricted --it just depends on where we prefer to be.

And remember: part of the process is who you hang around. It's hard to soar with the eagles when you are flying with turkeys (to continue the metaphor here).

Choose wisely.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Characteristics of a healthy church - Part 10

Well, we end our series today on the 10 characteristics of a healthy church. In order to grow, a church must be healthy.

The last characteristic of a healthy church goes along with what I have been teaching the last two Sunday mornings.

A healthy church teaches its family that they are stewards of their God-given resources and challenges them to sacrificial generosity in sharing with others.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:6, "Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously."

Let me say here that I am grateful for all of the faithful volunteers that we have at Stone Church. Many give of their time and efforts to keep our church ministering as it does.

A church is only as strong as its volunteer ministers.

I say to all of you who are reading this and ministering at Stone church - Thank You! Well done!

We've been talking about stewardship of our money the past couple of weeks, but stewardship goes beyond that. Stewardship is a lifestyle that states that everything is God's, I am simply a steward of what He has given me. That includes not only my money, but my time, my talents and my efforts.

Let me ask you this question:

Who is in control of your resources - God or you?

Who is in control of your soul? People magazine or the Word? (not saying its wrong to read People magazine, just that it must be lower on the totem pole next to God's Word).

Who's in control of your resources? Are you open to opening up your checkbook to a "Holy Spirit audit?"

Who's in control of your relationships? Are you trying to cling to them and manipulate them, or is God's guiding you to be loving, giving, and forgiving to all?

Who's in control of your job and your career? Are you living out your life purpose (to serve God with all of your heart, soul and mind) in the workplace, neighborhood and community as God has called you to serve, or are you in the driver's seat?

Life is not about me; life is about God.

Michael Quillen writes, "I met my wife, Julia, at a Bible study where 30 to 40 people gathered every Friday night to sing, break into small groups, and then come together for fellowship afterwards.

I became one of the regular musicians in the group. I played an old guitar and was beginning to think about a new one. A friend of mine in the Bible study had two nice guitars, and he lent me one. It was the nicest guitar I had ever played; I cherished it as if it were a newborn child (I was single, after all). I was careful not to bang it into things. I gently wiped down the strings and body after playing. I tenderly placed the guitar in its velvet-lined case. I worried about things such as the humidity of the room where the guitar was kept.

I borrowed this guitar for months and was thinking of buying it. Meanwhile, Julia and I became engaged. One day, as our wedding approached, Julia said, "The guitar is yours. I bought it for you weeks ago as an early wedding present."

My first reaction was ecstasy. The most beautiful guitar I had ever played was mine. My second reaction was relief. Since the guitar was mine, I could stop babying the thing. I didn't have to treat it so gently or clean it so carefully.

Then she got me. "Isn't it really God's?" she asked. "Shouldn't you take good care of it like you did when it was yours, but you didn't think it was?" What I had been doing without knowing it was stewardship. Stewardship is taking care of what we have as if it is on loan from someone else, because everything is on loan to us—from God."

Healthy churches are filled with people who take their stewardship seriously and will live out a rule of life that is universally true that tell us that to the one who has, more will be given; and the one who has not will lose even what they have.

Use it or lose it (reference to the parable of the Talents; Matthew 25).

Using what we have it meaningful not only to a healthy church but to Jesus himself.

If you agree with this, I encourage you to pray something like this:

"Father, I give you permission today to conduct an audit of my life. My books are open for review by You. I want to be a faithful steward of the time, talents and treasures given to me for my care.

I long to be a generous person who gives out of a heart that is willing to sacrifice for the needs of others, rather than continue to give out of my surplus, as if my giving were merely a part of paying my bills instead of an act of worship.

Help me not to look over my shoulder to see how others are giving for kingdom proposes; but instead, may I shut my eyes and focus on what you would have of me in this life-shaping matter.

I offer myself to you with open, outstretched hands that are willing and ready to receive from you and in turn offer all of who I am back to you. I love you Lord. Amen."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Characteristics of a healthy church - Part 9

The 9th characteristic of a healthy church might surprise you (or it may not). A healthy church reaches out to others in the body of Christ to minister together, share resources, learning opportunities and participates together in celebrations of worship.

Here's what I know. God is not exclusively the God of the Assemblies of God, or the Baptist, or the Methodists or the Catholics or non-denominational churches. We all serve the same God.

While each church and each denomination serves its own purpose and has its own direction from God, we are all called to work together as a unified family.

Territorialism must be abandoned.

Unity must be strived for.

Working together is the order of the day.

Could it be that we must focus in on what we do agree on instead of what we don't agree on?

What are some of the bullet points that we all agree on:

We agree that cultural pluralism is bad news for the church.
We agree that Christianity is not to be reduced to the level of a "me only" faith.
We agree that all religions are not the same.
We agree that tolerance and endorsement are not the same.
We agree that connecting with Christ is at the heart of the Christian faith.

Our unity is not only in relationship (and that is a huge step in and of itself) and common beliefs and practices, but in a mutual commitment to take a stand against the rising tide of pluralism in our culture.

What are some ways that we can accomplish this?

We can pray together.
We can pray for one another.
We can share resources.

As Jesus said, "May they (the church) be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." John 17:23

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Characteristics of a healthy church - Part 8

Administration can be a difficult word for Christians to wrap their mind around. Yet good administration can keep a church from unneeded conflict.

A healthy church utilizes their facilities, equipment and methods of serving to give maximum support for the growth and development of ministries.

Part of good administration is setting vision. Creating a vision statement. A vision statement can be described as "what your yes see your ears hear."

It is a specific view of what the future holds, given by the Holy Spirit. It's being led by God's Spirit as to what He desires us to be and do.

Let me ask you this question: Where do you see Stone Church in 5 years spiritually, physically and in ministry?

Vision is not an option. If you don't know where you are going - it's hard to get there. No one goes to the airport and buys and ticket to just "anywhere." (no mentally healthy person) Each person has a destination.

Vision is to be God directed, God inspired and for the glory and purpose of the Father.

Our role is to implement it the best we can.

What are our goals to reach that vision? How can we go about actually and specifically implementing that which God has given us to do?

Again, good administration helps.

To know where you are going - it helps to know where you and are where you have been. Ongoing assessment and evaluation is needed.

What are we doing well and what can we do better?

Again, let me know what you think.

What have been and what are the major accomplishment of our church in the past 5 years?

Finally, good administration brings about healthy change. Change is hard and difficult for everyone. Minor change is when it's on you - major change is when it's on me.] I love this joke: "How many people does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: Four. One to change the bulb and three to reminisce about how good the old light bulb was."

Change means traveling in uncharted waters, and this causes our insecurities to rise. Therefore, many people are more comfortable with old problems than with new solutions.

They are like the congregation that desperately needed a new building but were afraid to venture out. During a service some plaster fell from the ceiling and hit the chairman of the board. Immediately a meeting was called and the following decisions were made.

One: We will build a new church.

Two: We will build a new church on the same site as the old one.

Three: We will use the materials of the old church to build the new one.

Four: We will worship in the old church until the new church is built.

Some people are open to change as long as it doesn't inconvenience them or cost anything.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Characteristics of a healthy church - Part 7

Before I forget it, let me share with you that being healthy is a continual process. We don't become a healthy church in a point of time and then stand back and pat ourselves on the back because we have "worked out" and now are back in shape.

It's a day-by-day, week-by-week, process of working toward and keeping ourselves spiritually and relationally healthy.

Part of that process is looking outside of ourselves and resisting the temptation to only focus on our needs, our wants, our desires to a planet that needs God as well.

Jesus said it this way in Luke 19:10, "for the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."

Here's what I know. The people I come across on a daily basis are divine appointments orchestrated by God.

So the question becomes, "how receivable am I to the people God places in my life?" "Is my life marked by the love of Christ that overflows into the hearts and lives of others who don't follow Christ around me?"

I'm not really connected to the word "evangelism." To me it connotates the idea of dropping a thousand pounds of tracts off of a plane at 10,000 feet in order to "bring the pagans to God." Or someone standing on a street corner with a cross yelling out, "you're going to hell."

Let's reframe our thinking and our terminology and begin to think in terms of a word I would like to add to the mix: OVERFLOW.

You and I should be and can be so full of joy about our relationship with Jesus that it overflows into the lives of others in the same way a bathtub overflows with water if not turned off.

It's a spontaneous kind of thing.

Paul reminds the Christians at Thessalonia that "our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with (Plarophoria) much confident overflow." I Thessalonians 1:5

If we as a collective church family would spontaneously and corporately take advantages of divine appointments that God sends our way with sharing the overflow of our inner walk with God I would suspect that our church would look much different that it does today.

One formula that I recently read about puts it like this:

We take followers of Christ who desire to make a different, plus being open to the divine appointments that God sends our way, plus a clear, sane communication of the gospel message, mix that all together and what you have is an impact in the lives of those who don't follow Christ.

Again, it comes back to the fact that I can't give what I don't have. How can the joy of the Lord overflow in my life if I am not full of His joy in the first place?

Here are some quick tools in sharing your faith:

1. Rely upon the Holy Spirit
2. Soak yourself and the situation in prayer
3. Understand the process of sharing your faith
4. Share your personal story. Nothing is more powerful than your own personal story.
5. Find your own personal style of sharing your faith. Don't be somebody you are not.

We must continue to be aggressively connective with the world around us!

Lord, make us instruments of your peace!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Characteristics of a healthy church - Part 6

Being a servant in today's world is counter-cultural to what you and I live in on a daily basis. It's one of the paradoxes of Jesus. It's by lowering ourselves that we are ultimately exalted. It's by giving ourselves away that we gain the most fulfillment.

A healthy church finds and develops people that God has called into leadership and challenges them and disciples them to become servant-leaders.

You might say, "I'm not a leader." Let's narrow it down to say this - everyone is a leader. Leadership is influence and we all have influence in relationships in our lives. The question is not - are you a leader, but what kind of leader are you?

Jesus was a servant leader. John 13 shows us that at a crucial time in his ministry, he washed the feet of the disciples as symbolism of the fact that the very son of God came to this planet to show the way through giving of himself.

Every freshman in Bible School learns (or used to learn) Mark 10:45, "for the son of man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."

What if everyone of us picked up this characteristic at Stone Church? Paul writes in Ephesians 4:16, "from him the whole body, joined and held together by ever supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."

Pediatrician David Cerqueira shares a story of how a dying girl showed his church the honor of serving God:

One Sunday my wife had prepared a lesson on being useful. She taught the children that everyone can be useful—that usefulness is serving God, and that doing so is worthy of honor. The kids quietly soaked up my wife's words, and as the lesson ended, there was a short moment of silence. [A little girl named] Sarah spoke up. "Teacher, what can I do? I don't know how do to many useful things."

Not anticipating that kind of response, my wife quickly looked around and spotted an empty flower vase on the windowsill. "Sarah, you can bring in a flower and put it in the vase. That would be a useful thing."

Sarah frowned. "But that's not important."

"It is," replied my wife, "if you are helping someone."

Sure enough, the next Sunday Sarah brought in a dandelion and placed it in the vase. In fact, she continued to do so each week. Without reminders or help, she made sure the vase was filled with a bright yellow flower, Sunday after Sunday. When my wife told our pastor about Sarah's faithfulness, he placed the vase upstairs in the main sanctuary next to the pulpit. That Sunday he gave a sermon on the honor of serving others, using Sarah's vase as an example. The congregation was touched by the message, and the week started on a good note. …

During that same week I got a call from Sarah's mother. She worried that Sarah seemed to have less energy than usual and that she didn't have an appetite. Offering her some reassurances, I made room in my schedule to see Sarah the following day. After Sarah had a battery of tests and days of examinations, I sat numbly in my office, Sarah's paperwork on my lap. The results were tragic. [She had leukemia.]

On the way home, I stopped to see Sarah's parents so that I could personally give them the sad news. Sarah's genetics and the leukemia that was attacking her small body were a horrible mix. Sitting at their kitchen table, I did my best to explain to Sarah's parents that nothing could be done to save her life. I don't think I have ever had a more difficult conversation than the one that night. …
Time pressed on. Sarah became confined to bed and to the visits that many people gave her. She lost her smile. She lost most of her weight. And then it came: another telephone call. Sarah's mother asked me to come see her. I dropped everything and ran to the house. There she was, a small bundle that barely moved. After a short examination, I knew that Sarah would soon be leaving this world. I urged her parents to spend as much time as possible with her.

That was a Friday afternoon. On Sunday morning church started as usual. The singing, the sermon—it all seemed meaningless when I thought of Sarah. I felt enveloped in sadness. At the end of the sermon, the pastor suddenly stopped speaking. His eyes wide, he stared at the back of the church with utter amazement. Everyone turned to see what he was looking at. It was Sarah! Her parents had brought her for one last visit. She was bundled in a blanket, a dandelion in one little hand.

She didn't sit in the back row. Instead she slowly walked to the front of the church where her vase still perched by the pulpit. She put her flower in the vase and a piece of paper beside it. Then she returned to her parents. Seeing little Sarah place her flower in the vase for the last time moved everyone. At the end of the service, people gathered around Sarah and her parents, trying to offer as much love and support as possible. I could hardly bear to watch.

Four days later, Sarah died. …

I wasn't expecting it, but our pastor asked to see me after the funeral. We stood at the cemetery near our cars as people walked past us. In a low voice he said, "Dave, I've got something you ought to see." He pulled out of his pocket the piece of paper that Sarah had left by the vase. Holding it out to me, he said, "You'd better keep this; it may help you in your line of work."

I opened the folded paper to read, in pink crayon, what Sarah had written:

Dear God,
This vase has been the biggest honor of my life.

Sarah's note and her vase have helped me to understand. I now realize in a new way that life is an opportunity to serve God by serving people. And, as Sarah put it, that is the biggest honor of all.

Henri Nouwen, in his book "In the Name of Jesus," writes, "....Jesus sends us out to be shepherds, and Jesus promises a life in which we increasingly have to stretch out our hands and be led to places where we would rather not go. He asks us to move from a concern for relevance to a life of prayer, from worries about popularity to communal and mutual ministry, and from a leadership built on power to a leadership in which we critically discern where God is leading us and our people. Be a leader with outstretched hands, who chooses a life of servanthood. It is contained in the image of the praying leader, the vulnerable leader, and the trusting leader."

There is power in service. There is power in humility.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Characteristics of a healthy church - Part 5

We are in a series of blogs entitled, "characteristics of a healthy church." Number 5is especially important.

A healthy church is intentional in its desire and abilities to create and build loving, caring relationships.

John the apostle said it this way in 1 John 3:16, "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers."

I have heard it said, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." So true.

How much do we care? How much are we willing to reach out of our own comfort zones to the lonely and hurting around us?

I read a story this week about Dave Davila, age 24, who took a job in Chicago and had to leave his close-knit family in East Moline, Illinois. But family gatherings just weren't the same without Dave. So his mother took a digital photo of him and had it blown up to his actual height—5 foot 8 inches—and mounted on heavy cardboard from a neighbor's new stove box.

So there's Dave, standing casually, hands in pockets, a blue button-down shirt hanging untucked over his khaki shorts. They all call him Flat Dave.

At first, Flat Dave just showed up and stood quietly by at family gatherings. Then word spread throughout the community, and he became something of a celebrity in East Moline. "Complete strangers want to pose with him," said his brother Dan. He also said, "I think Flat Dave's actually better looking."

Sometimes things get somewhat awkward for the real Dave—the one the family now calls Thick Dave. "I'm in Chicago talking to my mom on the phone, and she says, 'Hold on, I've got to load you into the van.' It's a little weird."

That is weird, in fact, kind of creepy.

Yet I wonder how many times do we think of those around us in our church community as "flat dave's." Just a body to fill the pew. Someone to "meet and greet". "God forbid", as Paul writes.

Almost everyone I meet longs to belong. To be accepted by others. To be approved by others. In spite of the fact that we have more tools to communicate with one another than ever before, we are a lonely society.

I am just now beginning to learn the culture of the south side of Chicago (outside of the church). Here's what I have observed (and if my observations need to be amended - please let me know).

Southsiders tend to value tradition. They tend to be Roman Catholic. They can have a secular mind-set, be self-reliant, favor insiders and resist change. They tend to "speak their mind".

Help me with this. Agree or disagree? What's your "take" on the culture that we live and minister in?

Here's what I know.

A healthy church builds loving, caring relationships. We must continue to strive to create an atmosphere of love, acceptance and forgiveness.

A healthy church encourages authenticity, transparency, honesty and integrity. It encourages its family members to be real, open and truthful, as well as trustworthy.

Most, if not all of us long for something that's real. Real church for real people as our bulletin cover says.

We must love each other enough to be honest with one another and expect the same from others. I'm not saying that we "tell it like it is" with no care as to the feelings of those around us. I am suggesting that we do, however, express our thought and feelings in loving ways that show how we really feel and think.

A healthy church exhibits grace, mercy and forgiveness.

Micah 6:8 tell us: "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

A healthy church communicates and resolves conflicts. We talked about this at our Bible Study last night.

A healthy church bears each other's burdens.

A healthy church WELCOMES diversity. I long for our church to be inter generational, intercultural and interracial.

I would suggest that we strive to be intentionally relational. Loving one another as Christ loved us.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Characteristics of a healthy church - Part 4

Community is a buzz word in Christian circles today and rightly so. We are a community of followers of Jesus Christ.

A healthy church is a church that learns and grows in community. Together. When I was young, we sang a song that said, "Tell it to Jesus alone." I understand that thought, not trying to dispute it, but sometimes we need, as the cute story says, "someone with skin on".

We need someone to listen. Someone to give us a hug. We need to know that someone, somewhere cares.

Paul writes in Romans 14:19, "Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification."

What are some of the hindrances to community?

Our fast paced lives. We never seem to have enough time to get done every thing we
Need to see accomplished and so something has to give. That "something" many times are relationships. Our interactions with people.

Another community blocker is the countless causes that we as Christians will throw ourselves into. Now before you thrown me under the bus, I'm not against causes. We as Christians should be involved; we should make a difference in the world. But if a local church went after every cause that is out there, it would leave little time to build actual community.

Different needs are another. Young children often have vastly different needs from single adults and older people have different needs from teenagers which often polarizes our times of community together.

What are some other hindrances to community?

A lack of transparency and shallowness in relationships.
Addiction to the internet

10 Signs Your Life Is Getting out of Control

1. You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of three.
2. You call your son's beeper to let him know it's time to eat. He e-mails you back from his bedroom, "What's for dinner?"
3. Your daughter sells Girl Scout Cookies via her web site.
4. You chat several times a day with a stranger from South Africa, but you haven't spoken with your next door neighbor yet this year.
5. Your grandmother clogs up your e-mail inbox asking you to send her a JPEG file of your newborn so she can create a screen saver.
6. Your reason for not staying in touch with family is they do not have e-mail addresses.
7. You consider second-day air delivery painfully slow.
8. You hear most of your jokes via e-mail instead of in person.
9. You're reading this.
10. Even worse, you're going to forward it to someone else.
Compulsions to overwork and underplay

Could it be that we need to simplify our lives? Could it be that we need to simplify our church? What would our church look like if after a season of reflection, we decided to suspend certain programs that are no longer relevant?

Now that's radical, I know. But do we need to hop off the treadmill of our highly active - program based ministry oriented church for a time to reflect on who we are and who we've become and what are we trying to accomplish together?


True effectiveness in Kingdom terms is always based and birthed and maintained through relationships.

Two solutions (out of many) present themselves at this point.

First of all, we must continually strive to further the intentionality of the spiritual formation of our church.

Secondly, we must continually strive for ways that we can be together in smaller settings where true relationship can take place.

As we grow and become larger in numbers, we must become smaller. In other words we must provide ways where each one of us can connect that goes beyond the "meet and greet" of Sunday mornings.

Healthy churches promote community.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Characteristics of a healthy church - Part 3

Part of being a healthy church are the spiritual disciplines that we utilize on both a personal and corporate basis.

I would suggest that a healthy church is a church that provides training, models, and resources for every church family member, of all ages, to develop their daily spiritual disciplines.

While bible studies for bible knowledge are part of the piece of the puzzle, they are not the end game. Our goal is to assimilate bible knowledge in order to become stronger followers of Christ.

"Becoming" is just as important as "doing". In reality, we can't place one over the other, or we will find ourselves taking a step backwards in both the short term and the long term.

They are like two oars in a row boat. Both are needed. You can't have "one without the other," as in love and marriage.

In "being" we find ourselves drawing closer to Christ. It comes from a daily discipline of being still before God. Reading the Word. Communicating with the father. It means being "obedient."

Did you know that the Latin root for the word obedience means "to listen"?

Only after we take the time to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit are we able to fully respond to his love and Word.

We must listen for his voice. Psalms 46:10 tells us, "Be still, and know that I am God."

This is so important, for when I walk in my spiritual disciplines, my "doing" becomes an exercise in love rather than duty. I walk and talk and serve and love and live for him out of relationship.

Here's a great principle: WE CANNOT GIVE WHAT WE DO NOT HAVE.

That's where the philosophy of simple comes in. The simple church. Simple does not mean lazy or complacent or less active. It means that we are working and ministering out of love for Christ in areas that are the most effective for God's kingdom. Again, many of us equate busyness at the church with personal and corporate spiritual growth. Is it possible that every ministry in the church needs to be evaluated on a consistent basis as to its effectiveness?

Here are some tips for a great spiritual discipline time:

1. Mediate on and contemplate a passage of Scripture
2. Journal - which helps you reflect on what God is doing in your life
3. Spiritual reading of devotional writers like Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster and Brennan Manning
4. Silent retreat, where the hunger for being alone with God is satisfied on a regular basis.

A healthy church is made up individuals who love God and are strong in their spiritual disciplines.