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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ups and downs

Life is interesting. Exhilarating, fulfilling, yet difficult and hard at the same time.

Here's what I know: to really live life, both must be embraced and experienced to the full.

Someone once said, "neurosis is simply the avoidance of pain". That is so true. It's when we try to run from our pain, or avoid our suffering that our pain actually deepens and intensifies. We experience depression. Anxiety. Fear.

At the same time, I would suggest to you that neurosis can also be the avoidance of joy.

Some have a fear of truly experiencing the joys of life - fearful that if they do - it will be taken away from them, leaving them hanging only with the hurt and woundedness that life can offer.

All of this has really hit home to me the past 24 hours as Christie came over from Grand Rapids with my granddaughter, Georgia. She is so full of life. Constantly squirming, moving, looking around. Never still.

Last night she was looking at me and cooing. Oh man, you talk about experiencing sheer joy! She really has her grandpa's heart.

And I enjoy the look of love that Christie gives her daughter. She truly is a wonderful mother.

At the same time, I learned this morning that my grandmother, who is in the hospital (she had surgery for some kind of ulcer condition yesterday) is not doing well. She is rapidly losing blood and they are doing their best to give her blood transfusions and keep her alive.

Today will be an interesting day in her life. She is 95. 95.

When I was growing up, and especially in my college years, my Grandmother and I were really close.

I used to take the girl, that I was dating at the time, over to see her, looking for a "thumbs up" or a "thumbs down." Obviously Debbie got a big "two thumbs up".

I always felt like I could talk with her without being judged or condemned. She, still, to this day, remains a very positive and upbeat person - the epitome of a "people person".

If she does go to be with the Lord today, I am going to miss her greatly.

Ups and downs. Victories and defeats. Life and death. They all come at us with a suddenness, we never know what the future holds.

However, there is one thing I do know. That Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is always there, always loving, always caring, always aware of both our highs and our lows.

Like a loving grandfather, he looks down on us with love and compassion, longing to have relationship with us. And when we do respond, is brings Him great joy.

And like a loving grandson, He grieves when we go through pain and hurt.

So let's embrace both the joys and the pain of life - and live life to its fullest knowing that in the end - God is in control.

"Father, we thank you that you hold everything in your hands. Nothing comes our way that hasn't passed through you first. You never let us experience anything we can't ultimately handle. We trust in you - forever. Amen."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


I keep coming back to the thought that we need to keep focusing in on what we do have and not on what we don't have.

The economy is bad, let's face it. We are starting a relocation process in the midst of financial negativity.

It can be easy to throw our hands up and give up in despair. Yet that is not what God is calling us to do.

In December 1977 the Arkansas Razorbacks, coached by Lou Holtz, were preparing to play the Oklahoma Sooners in the Orange Bowl. Because of recent suspensions on the Razorback team (and the resulting dissension among players) Arkansas had become a 24 point underdog.

The negative press took its effect on the players as they prepared for the game; it was evident in the way they practiced. They were listless and unfocused, completely lacking confidence.

Holtz called the team together for a meeting. As the players sat slumped in the chairs, staring at the floor he told them: "Just because the press is writing our obituary doesn't mean that we have to die. We've read all the reasons why we can't win; I want to hear why can."

The players sat silent. Nobody offered an opinion. Holtz told them plainly, "We're not leaving this meeting until I get some answers."

Slowly the players began speaking up: Even though they had lost some key offensive players, the defense was still intact; they still had the best place-kicker in the country; they had a great quarterback, and on and on. The more the players talked about why they could win, the more their confidence soared, and the more their outlook changed.

If you're a football fan, you know what happened a few days later. The Razorbacks pulled off one of the greatest upsets in bowl history, beating Oklahoma 31-6.

Holtz said, "We won that game the moment our players focused on what we had instead of what we lacked."

Moses faced a similar situation when God called him to lead the people of Israel out of slavery. Moses' response was "What if they don't listen to me?" God's response was "What do you have?"

Then the Lord said to him, "What is that in your hand?" (Exodus 4:2)

What Moses had was a rod. But it was more than a rod; it symbolized the power of God, and it was all Moses needed. That rod taught Moses not to look at what he had lacked, but look at what he had: the power of God in his life.

What do you have? Along with your talent and your determination, you can list the power of God among your assets. And needless to say, it goes at the top of the list.

What do we have at Stone Church?

A group of people who love God.

A church family who give faithfully.

A body of believers who are wanting to "move forward by faith".

A God who is all-powerful and can work miracles.

Whatever challenges we are facing — whatever seemingly insurmountable odds — remember that the key to victory is focusing on what we have, not on what we lack.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Releasing those under our judgement

Paul writes, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." Ephesians 4:32

Here's what I know about forgiveness. Easy to know - hard to practice.

Forgiveness is releasing another person from my own personal judgement.

I refuse to judge them.

Now that doesn't mean that I agree or condone or approve of what they have done. Or what they have said. It means that I will not act as their judge. I will not pronounce a "guilty verdict" on them.

You my retort, "but they were wrong." "They hurt me".

I understand that, I have been hurt many times also, but it means they will not stand under my own personal judgement. I release them.

I let them go. I leave them in God's hands. Paul writes in Romans 12:19, "It is mine to avenge; I Will repay, says the Lord."

And because God is going to repay, I don't have to.

In God's scheme of things, when I bring someone else under my judgement, I come under His judgement.

If I forgive, I will be forgiven.

Judge not, and I will not be judged.

I am to release people from my own personal judgement.

We all, in the body of Christ, need to be assured that when we fail, others will forgive us. Otherwise, we find it tough to be open and real with one another.

Sooner or later, I will disappoint you (if I haven't already).

I will fail you.

Not intentionally, but unintentionally.

I am imperfect, I'm still under construction and I would suspect you are to.

We all must know that when we do fail one another, we will not condemn each other because our weaknesses and flaws and sins have begun to show.

It's called Grace.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

We had a great weekend with Alton Garrison, the Assistant General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

Friday evening, Alton spoke to our ministry leaders. Powerful stuff. The title of the teaching was, "Becoming The Right Team Player". He gave the five qualities of a team player and a definition of team.

He stated, "A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable."

For Pastor Garrison, Team would be:

T - Trust
E - empowerment
A - accountability
M - Mentoring

Some of his thoughts (with my paraphrase):

Character is more important than skill.

While we respect faithfulness in church life, we must look also for fruitfulness in determining the competency of a volunteer.

Chemistry is more important than we think it is in creating a valuable team.

Past performance is a predictor of future behavior.

Saturday morning, Alton conferred and taught our pastors, deacons and elders. Again, important principles in kingdom work.

The title of his teaching was, "Leading For The Future."

He mentioned something that I have taught and tried to practice over the years. The "higher up" we go in Kingdom work concerning position, the more our rights diminish and the more our responsibilities increase.

As a leader we give up our right to be unforgiving, dictatorial, disloyal, moody, a whiner, vindictive, we give up our right to be right.

Everyone who visits our church community for the first time has a lot of rights. They have a right to sit in the "pew" and listen to the great music and the biblical teaching of the word without a thought toward ministry. They have a right to receive without serving those around them.

But once I enter into Biblical community with a body of followers of Christ, I begin to lay aside my rights and pick up my responsibilities.

So true.

Also, when we lead, (in the church or any organization), we can lead by position, where people have to follow us, we can lead by permission, where people like to follow us, we can lead by production or by what we have done, we can lead by personal development or reproduction, but the highest form of leadership is by personhood or respect.

Each step must be taken to become a complete leader - IN SEQUENCE.

Sunday morning, Alton shared about hope. And what really struck me was that many times when we feel "estranged" from God or disappointed in Him, it is not our faith that begins to dissipate, but our hope.

Faith is a belief in God, a belief in the Word of God.

Hope is an emotion.

That's an encouragement to you and I as we walk through times when we wonder, "Where is God," or "Why, God, did you allow this to happen to me" and we begin to question God and question the validity of our relationship with Him.

Our questioning many times does not come from our lack of belief in God or His Word, but from our lack of hope, our disappointments in the way that He works in our lives.

Faith is a belief; hope is an emotion.

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

Thursday, February 19, 2009

No one left behind

The armed forces of the United States have a "no one left behind" axiom that they practice. No soldier is to be left behind on the battlefield.

That's one of our goals at Stone Church. That no one be "left behind" when Jesus comes to take His Church up in the rapture.

No one. Left behind.

We desire to do our best to see the non-connected, connected to Christ. We desire to see the lonely, connected to others in the body of Christ. We desire to minister to the poor, the rich, the middle class, those with families, those who are single, red, yellow, black and white.

Let me share with you a great story.

We all remember September 11, 2001 (seems like yesterday).

On that tragic morning of September 11, 2001, The Brooklyn Tabernacle Church lost four of its members. One victim was a police officer.

The officer's funeral was held at the church building, and Rudy Giuliani, then mayor of New York City, had been asked to share a few thoughts.

In his book "You Were Made for More", Jim Cymbala, pastor of The Brooklyn Tabernacle, records what the mayor shared with the audience that morning:

"You know people, I've learned something through all this. Let me see if I can express it to you. When everybody was fleeing that building, and the cops and the firefighters and the EMS people were heading up into it, do you think any of them said, 'I wonder how many blacks are up there for us to save? I wonder what percentage are whites up here? How many Jews are there? Let's see—are these people making $400,000 a year, or $24,000, or—?'

"No, when you're saving lives, they're all precious. And that's how we're supposed to live all the time. How would you want the cops to treat you if you were on the seventy-fifth floor that day? Would you want them to say, 'Excuse me, but I've got to get the bosses out first'? Not exactly.

"I confess I haven't always lived this way. But I'm convinced that God wants us to do it. He wants us to value every human life the way he does."

The words of the mayor moved everyone who had gathered that day for the funeral.

Cymbala concludes:

"I sat there thinking, My goodness, the mayor is preaching a truth that has eluded so many of our churches throughout New York and the country! He may have stood for other policies that I could not agree with, but on that day, he was right on the mark. The truth of what he said penetrated my heart.

The world you and I live in is falling apart before our eyes. We are God's only representatives on the planet and simply cannot take time to pick and choose who needs help. They all need help. They all need the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. They all need to be rescued from the horror of an eternity apart from God."

As far as I am concerned, we will not rest until we can do our best to leave, "no one left behind."

Are you with me? I know you are.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The timelessness of conversing with God

I read something a while back in a book by Philip Yancey on prayer. It's a powerful, prayer changing thought. Chew on it a while and then try to digest it.

You and I both know that God is timeless. He is beyond time. We experience time in sequence. There is a beginning a middle and an end. With God there is no sequential time. He is timeless.

Philip Yancey writes - and chew on this and let me know what you think:

"How does God's timelessness affect prayer? C.S. Lewis decided it altogether reasonable to pray at noon for a medical consultation that might have been conducted at ten o'clock as long as we do not know the final result before we pray. "The event certainly has been decided - in a sense it was decided 'before all worlds." But one of the things taken into account in deciding it, and therefore one of the things that really cause it to happen, may be this very prayer that we are not offering." Lewis notes such a notion would be less shocking to modern scientist than to non scientists."

The implications of this are incredible!

If I understand C.S. Lewis right, I can pray for something that has already taken place, and see God's hand move as long as I don't know the answer to my prayer in the present.

If I am praying about the results from a test at the doctor's, and if I don't know the test results yet, I can continue to pray that they will be positive up until the time the doctor shares the results with me.

If I go in for an interview for a job and the interview takes place, and I don't know whether I have the job or not, I can continue to pray that my resume and interview will be granted favor in the mind of the person giving the interview - again, up until I find out whether I have the job or not.

Perhaps this is part of what Jesus means by being persistent in prayer.

Why not begin to practice this today?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Religous spirits in the church

Have you ever met somebody who was "overchurched"? Instead of a relationship with God, they have a relationship with the idea of attending church, doing church, doing instead of being. In the scriptures, it's the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son.

Heavy stuff I know. Some call it a "religious spirit".

How can you tell if somebody has a religious spirit?

They value doing before being. They are constantly busy "doing" the work of God with no thought to continuing an ongoing real, vital relationship with the Lord. Prayer meetings are not a priority. Worship is something to be endured.

They value fear and intimidation. When you are around them you sense that something is not quite right. For no reason at all you feel a sense of dread and anxiety.

They value comparison. They are constantly comparing others with others and themselves with others who aren't quite "as spiritual" as they are. They are watching to see who is at what meeting, who is participating and who is not, and when someone is not there, there is an attitude of superiority.

They value God as an end and not a means. God is not first a friend but a way to continue to lifestyle that they have, many times, since they were children.

They value suspicion. They are suspicious of people's motivates and intentions, always wondering what "someone has up their sleeve." They reject the idea of taking anything at face value.

they value stopping what's wrong more than doing what's right. They are self-proclaimed watchdogs of the kingdom. Making sure that nothing is "new age" or is contrary to what their own value system.

They value the opinions of people over the opinions of man. They dialogue and talk and brainstorm and then pray and seek God's opinion rather than the other way around.

They value record keeping. In meetings, they take copious notes, not for the sake of information, but for the sake of "catching" someone later on with an inconsistency.

They value age above competence ore desires in leadership choices.

How do you break a religious spirit?

In short:

Learn to share your positive testimony. Talk about what is going right rather than what is going wrong. Focus on the positive rather than the negative. A religious spirit feeds on what is going wrong.

Learn to give thanks. Rehearsing what is going right and giving thanks regularly breaks a religious spirit.

Learn to neutralize fear by love. Reaching out and continuing to show love. Resist the temptation to avoid someone with a religious spirit but prayerfully let the spirit of love overcome a spirit of intimidation.

Learn to practice positive meetings more than corrective ones. Those with a religious spirit will bristle if they think they are being corrected.

Learn to practice generosity. A religious spirit is stingy and fearful about money. Generosity builds true spirituality.

Learn to feel empathy for people around you. Sharing stories of people who have faced the depths of life can restore or build true love and will break the hard heart of the religious spirit.

Learn to develop new eyes yourself and see what's right. Pray to see all the miraculous things God is already executing in our church.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

Last night's life group meeting was great. I brought an "icebreaker" question, "what are the 3 questions you would ask God when you go to heaven?" (We limited ourselves to one.)

Here are some of the questions:

How much faith does it take for someone to be healed?

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Why do Christians covet other people's spiritual gifts?

Why do people die in the prime of their lives?

Why do great works, done by great people, suddenly fall by the wayside?

As we were asking the questions, it occurred to me that our faith, our growth in God is not found in the answers, but in the questions that are asked - or the pilgrimage that we take as we see the answers.

It's the questions that drive us closer to God, not ultimately finding the answers. There are some questions that will never be answered in our lifetime on this planet. And that is the way it is meant to be.

There must always, by the very nature of who God is, be a mystery about God. An "unfigureoutable quality."

In the times of Jesus, his culture was very accepting and understanding of the mysteries of life. Everything to not have to be figured out.

In the midst of all of our questions, we can still "dance" before the Lord with a knowledge that because he is God, we can rejoice!

Some "heavy" thoughts, I know, for a Monday morning, but so true.

One thing you might do is to study all of the questions asked by God's people to God throughout the Bible. Interesting study.

After yesterday morning, I received several, "have you been reading my mail", type responses to my teaching. The subject? Relationships, conflict, dealing with conflict.

More than anything else - after a teaching such as I gave yesterday - it brings me back to the continual realization that on every chair in our big room are hurting people - people dealing with the wounds that life can throw at us.

Couldn't really get into the basketball all-star game this year. I'm not really sure why, perhaps it just that the players are so, how can I say it but in a crass way, so "full of themselves". And is it only me that thinks that tattoos all over a body is just a little "over the top"?

I really like Lawrence Fishburn on CSI. He's a great actor that will bring a lot to the program.

Spent Valentine's Day evening with Debbie on Thursday night. We had a great time - and I bought her flowers. It's amazing how our love for our spouse can continue to grow, especially after 28 years. Debbie, if you are reading this - I love you!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

handling criticism

No one likes to be criticized. It's human. It's natural. And, it can hurt. How many Christians are suffering form wounds inflicted by negative criticism?

Criticism can destroy a friendship. It can ruin a church. It can destroy the attitudes of children as it is given by uncaring parents.

I like what comedian Steve Martin said:

"Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, when you do criticize him, you'll be a mile away and have his shoes."

But criticism can also be healthy, if it is given in the ways that I wrote about yesterday. It can be the surgeon's knife that cuts way at a cancer in our lives and makes way for wholeness and health again whether it be in the spiritual or emotional realms.

So, let's begin by realizing: you and I will be criticized. It's a fact of life. Especially if you are trying to go forward, either in your relationship with God, or at your work, or doing something in God's kingdom.

I still, even after all of these years, struggle with this. But let me give you some tips that I try to implement in my own life.

How do we handle it?

1. Pray - Ask God how you should respond. Talk with God.

2. Beware of becoming defensive. This is very, very, very, hard. The natural reaction is to fight back with defensive tactics, explanations and excuses.

3. Let the critic finish. Don't interrupt them. Try to get the whole story. Ask questions like, "is that all?" "Is there anything else"?

4. Ask for the facts. Become a CSI detective at this point. If the facts are true, there might be a weakness in our lives that needs to be corrected, something that we didn't even know about. I've walked away from some conversations like that thinking, "why didn't somebody tell me?"

On the other hand, if the facts are not correct, than you and I have an opportunity to clarify and call their attention to the inadequacy of the criticism.

5. Ask questions of yourself. What is the Lord trying to teach me through this?

6. Let the criticism be a source of learning.

7. Determine whether the critic has needs revealed by the criticism. Hurting people hurt people. Hurting people hurt easily. Sometimes a criticism is a cry for help.

In his book Confessions of a Pastor, Craig Groeschel offers some advice on how to handle critics:

It's a fact that "hurt people hurt people." They usually dislike themselves and criticize others in a misguided effort to validate themselves. If one of these injured souls lobs a criticism grenade in your direction, defuse it with understanding.

"Part of considering the source is seeking awareness of what that person may be going through…

One time I was praying during worship, a few moments before preaching. Eyes closed, focusing on God, I felt someone slip a note into my hand. I never saw who it was, but the note was marked "Personal." I thought to myself, Someone probably wrote a nice note to encourage me before I preach. A warm, loving feeling settled over me as I unfolded the paper.

A moment later, I lost that loving feeling.

Evidently, the note was from a woman who had tried to see me on Friday, my day off. She took offense at my absence and blasted me with hateful accusations. This happened literally seconds before I was to stand up to preach. In that moment, I had a choice. I could internalize the offense and become demoralized and discouraged.

Or I could ask myself, I wonder what she's experiencing that caused her to lash out?
I chose compassion over depression. My heart hurt for her. I knew that such a disproportionate reaction must indicate deep pain, so I didn't take her note personally.

Consider the source. And consider the possibility that the jab may have come from an injured heart. Dismiss it and move on. If you don't, you may become the very thing you despise."

8. Determine why the critic has criticized.

9. Determine what the real problem is.

10. Determine carefully how to respond. Face-to-face confrontation? Telephone? Email? The best way to is meet with the face-to-face. And...share respectfully and with honor.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Giving criticism

I said something in my teaching last Sunday that came out spontaneously and really resonated, I believe, with several of our church family.

We are to, "focus in on what's right with a situation (church, family, job, country, relationship) rather than on what's wrong."

I still believe that today.

It all depends upon our perception. You can leave a relationship, job, church, for whatever reason, but I can guarantee you that, that reason will follow you wherever you go.

Attitude is everything.

Another goofy story: "A young paratrooper was learning to jump, and he was given the following instructions: First, jump when you are told; second, count to 10 and pull the ripcord; third, in the unlikely event that it doesn't open, pull the second chute open; and fourth, when you get down, a truck will take you back to base.

The plane ascended up to the proper height, the men started peeling out, and the young paratrooper jumped when told. He counted to 10 and pulled the cord, but the chute failed to open. He proceeded to the backup plan. The second chute also failed to open. "Oh boy," he said. "When I get down, I suppose the truck won't be there either."

It can be so easy to fall into a discouraged, critical spirit.

That will kill any relationship or organization.

There are no perfect people.

There are no perfect organizations.

Someone once said, "I wouldn't want to join an organization that would let ME in," meaning that it wouldn't be perfect any more.

That is so true.

Let me give us some steps in giving criticism in a positive way and tomorrow I will write about receiving it (I will be using these points in a teaching sometime).

Rules for giving criticism:

1. Pray. We vastly underestimate what the Holy Spirit can do in any relationship.

2. Go directly. Don't triangle. When I go to Bill about a problem I have with Joe, that's triangling, and triangling is of the devil. Matthew 18:15

3. Go privately. Go to the person by yourself. Criticizing a person in the presence of others prior to discussing it privately is not only rude but in violation of 1 Corinthians 13:4. To go privately takes courage.

4. Lead with positive questions. Ask sincere questions to seek first to understand and then to be understood about any given situation. Sometimes it comes down to differing perceptions or differing expectation levels.

5. Doublecheck your motives. Ask: Why am I expressing negative criticism? Has my ego been hurt and do I want to embarrass somebody? Am I upset because I wasn't consulted or the decision didn't go my way? OR IS MY CONCERN TO TRULY HELP THE PERSON AND STRENGTHEN THE - group, organization, church, family, relationship? Am I wanting to "just get something off my chest"?

6. Be honest. We must communicate our true feelings. How many times have people left a church (relationship or job) without explaining their true motivations, and they hide behind a smokescreen for excuses which do not match up with their true motives?

7. Speak the truth in love. Enough said.

8. Be objective and specific. Support your criticism with the facts. Nothing but the facts.

9. Be direct. Avoid using expressions such as "a lot of people are saying," or "I've heard this from several different people." Most of the time they are speaking for themselves and one another person.

10. End by reaffirming the relationship. Start with love, speak in love and end with affirming words that strengthen and guard the relationship.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Priorites and busyness

I was talking with a friend today about being pulled apart in all different directions and finding ourselves wondering which way to go and prioritizing our time. That's so true.

I feel that way many times. With the relocation project, the stewardship campaign, ministering to peoples needs, leadership meetings, preaching and teaching, etc. I know how it feels. I would guess you do too.

Someone once said, "there are two things that are most difficult to get people to do: to think and to do things in order of importance."

I like what John Maxwell writes, "Success can be defined as the progressive realization of a predetermined goal."

Bob Russell shares a goofy story that illustrates this:

Robert Russell tells this story:

He writes, "There is a huge rivalry in college basketball between the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky. The story is told that at one of the games between the two schools, an elderly woman was sitting alone with an empty seat next to her. Someone approached her and said, "Ma'am, I have rarely seen an empty seat in Rupp Arena, let alone at a game between these two teams. Whose seat is this?"
The woman responded that she and her late husband had been season-ticket holders for 28 years, and the seat had belonged to him.

"Well, couldn't you find a friend or relative to come to the game with you?" the observer asked.

"Are you kidding?" she replied. "They're all at my husband's funeral."


So many times we spend 80% of our time doing doing the 20% of the things that don't really count, that aren't productive - when instead we should be using 80% of our time doing 20% of our activities that produce the most results.

Managers call this ROI time - the "Return On Investment" time. IN other words, use the maximum time on those few things that get the greatest results.

As we know, good can be the enemy of the best.

How can I decide what is good and what is best?

Ask yourself these questions:

1. Is what I am doing fulfilling the overall purpose of my organization, family, or church?

2. Is what I am doing within the realm of my giftedness and calling? Why we are all called to step outside the realm of our area of expertise, we all are called to "do whatever is necessary" from time to time to fulfill, in our case, God's kingdom work.

3. Is what I am doing better done by someone else. Delegation is not dumping, but good delegation can be win-win for everyone.

4. Is what I am doing rewarding? Life is too short to not be fun.

Just some thoughts on a busy Tuesday.

Monday, February 09, 2009

thoughts from the weekend

Great weekend!

Friday evening, Debbie and I went and saw a play entitled, "The unseen" at a theater in Chicago. The venue only sat 60 people, so it was a very intimate setting. One of the actors had been on the show "Prison Break" (which I have never seen), so it was very professionally done.

The play only had three actors. Two prisoners and a guard in a setting that took place in a prison that was led by an oppressive regime in a nameless country.

The two prisoners, two men, had been in prison for 10 years, never having seen one another, constantly beaten, both of them trying to keep their sanity with word games and ploys to keep their minds sharp.

At the end of the play, the guard releases them (for no apparent reason except that the guilt of constantly torturing the prisoners was overwhelming for him) by opening up the doors of their cells and walking away.

Here's what I noticed and the reason why I bring it up. After their cell doors were opened and they were apparently free, the two men were scared to step outside their confinement space and walk away. Was it a trick? Were they really set free? Did they want to leave the bondage they were in? Had they become so used to their bondages that freedom seemed like an unwanted possibility in their lives?

I see a lot of people like that as I minister. They know that they need to be set free from their bondages, they know that ultimately they don't like living in the prison of anger, bitterness, addictions, depressions (you can fill in the blank) but they can become so habitualized and comfortable with that bondage that to even desire to be set free can be an enormous task.

That's why Jesus one time asked a man, "do you really want to be healed"? Do you really want to be made well? That's always the first step to healing....the willingness to take that step of faith outside the cells of our lives and walk in the daylight of God's grace, victory and freedom.

I've been meeting with each Life Group leader. Had a great time with Scott and Hannah Borchers. Each life group seems to be taking on a personality of its own.

Sunday mornings worship again was special. I can't tell you what a thrill it is to see people standing around the altars with hands raised in adoration of the master of our lives - Jesus Christ.

Worship times are the gas in the engine to what makes a church go. My prayer is that we continue to seek after God and draw deeper into his presence.

And then...Sunday evening. Spencer Jones was with us from his church in the inner city of Chicago. His worship choir led us into God's presence. What a wonderful time we had worshipping together, Black, white, rich and poor, we are all God's people!

Watched 10 minutes of the Lakers-Cavs game. Kobe and Lebron. Not quite Larry Bird and Magic and Micheal Jordan, but they are great players. Fun to watch.

Got home last night and channel surfed for about 30 minutes....saw part of the Grammy's off and on with Neil Diamond and Paul long are these guys going to sing? I mean I admire their tenacity, but come I the only one that thinks a 65 year old rock and roller is just plain...well....

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Always setting new goals

One of the books I am reading right now is the book entitled "Axiom" by Bill Hybels. He writes of leadership principles for the 21st century.

Even though I have been a leader for 28 years now, there is much I have to learn. I want to keep on learning, keep on growing, keep on becoming the best leader I can be until the day I leave this planet.

Perhaps God is speaking to you about this. Perhaps you have been floundering, wondering what God wants you to do next. Many times these feelings are God led, even God ordained.

Once goals are achieved, new goals must be picked up - in fact I would suggest that to be healthy spiritually and even emotionally and spiritually, we must constantly be striving, moving forward, achieving all that we can within the parameters of God's will and direction.

I was reading, today, of a man who applies for a job. His prospective employer asks about his previous work. The man says, “I was a dog catcher in a small Texas town, but they had to let me go when the position was eliminated.”

The employer asks, “Was it eliminated because of funding cuts?”

The man says, “No. It was eliminated because I caught the dog.”

So many times we can be like that dog catcher. Thinking that we have achieved all there is to achieve in life. No!

God has so much more for you.

On Sunday mornings we are studying the book of Nehemiah.

Nehemiah had a big dream: he wanted to rebuild the walls of the city of Jerusalem. Against all odds, he accomplished his goal.

We are looking at how he did that.

But what next? Already in our relocation process, some are asking "what next?" What about phase two, phase three?"

What was next for Nehemiah? Should he tear down the walls and build them again? No, the lesson for us is that he moved to a new level. He developed a new dream, bigger and more ambitious than the first: reuniting the people of Israel.

This is what he wrote: "At that time the city was large and spacious, but the population was small. And only a few houses were scattered throughout the city. So my God gave me the idea to call together all the leaders of the city, along with the ordinary citizens, for registration." (Nehemiah 7:4-5)

Instead of questioning his own usefulness, Nehemiah upgraded his goals in life; he made the transition from building walls to building people.

Not only do I want to continue to grow and follow after even greater goals in my own life, I desire to do the same for our church.

So....after the second phase and the third, we will continue to plant churches and give enormous amounts of monies to missions and then look toward buying more property and building even bigger...on and on it goes...rock and roll!

Strive to be all that you can be - at all times in your life - and your will never regret it.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Christianity as a fishbowl

I really like being a Christian. It gives me purpose, a foundation on which to base my life.

I really like gathering together with a group of believers each Sunday (and throughout the week) to share life needs and grow together in Christ. I like the "church" in the sense of the word meaning the people of God.


As a leader in the Kingdom, the past few years I have really struggled not with Christianity, but with "churchianity" or getting so wrapped up in the "business" of "doing" church that we forget that we are to "be the church" as well.

We as Christians have code words that "outsiders" can't understand. "I'm saved." Saved from what? "We really had church today". What does that mean. Does that mean that God suddenly decided to show up? Isn't God present every time we meet?
"We are here to reach the lost". Lost from what?

I would suggest that we need to keep our focus on Christ.

I don't ever want to be so focused on the business of the church that I forget Christ.

I don't ever want to be so focused on the ministry that I forget Christ.

I don't ever want to be so focused on budgets, and calendars and constitutions of the church that I forget Christ.

It's all about Christ.

Budgets, calendars and constitutions are necessary (I think) but it's all about Christ.

I was reading this week that there is a Chinese proverb that states, "never ask a goldfish what water is like."

Think about that for a moment. Let's use that as a metaphor (as Ralph Neighbour states) for the church.

He suggests that in this generation the American church is a private goldfish bowl, fully isolated from its surroundings.

He writes, "when fish stare into the glass walls of their bowl, they see only their mirrored reflection. They cannot see the world outside."

Being a "churched Christian" can be like living in a goldfish bowl if we are not careful....and....we can begin to think that our comfortable environment is the only one that is needed....and...we become blind to how really different and foreign we look to outsiders peering through the glass and murky water.

How do non-churched people really view us? And have we become so comfortable with our surroundings that we forget our true priorities?

Let's break out of our fishbowl and concern ourselves with our true mission - to love God, love people and serve others.

Just a thought

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

It's all about Christ

I've had a couple of conversations recently with Erik and he has shared with me some thoughts from Tim Keller, a pastor in New York City. The point? Our teaching and preaching must be Christ centered.

While that might sound obvious, it can be a real challenge in our needs oriented church culture that we live in.

The present premise? Preach about felt needs and you will draw a crowd.

To a certain extend that is true. There are needs in every chair (or pew) in the church. We all come each Sunday with hurts, wounds and trials we are experiencing. But perhaps what we can learn from Tim Keller is that they way to connect and meet those needs is not necessarily to explain "how to" but to draw people simply to Christ.

In the book The Art & Craft of Biblical Preaching, Tim Keller talks about the danger of preaching pragmatism -- calling people to follow Christ because it "works", i.e. it yields the best results. Keller writes:

"Today's preacher must argue against the self-serving pragmatism of postmodernity. The gospel does say that through it you find your life, but that first you must lose your life. I must say to people, "Christ will 'work' for you only if you are true to him whether he works for you or not. You must not come to him because he is fulfilling (though he is) but because he is true. If you seek to meet him in order to get your needs met, you will not meet him or get your needs met. To become a Christian is not to get help for your agenda but to take on a whole new agenda -- the will of God. You must obey him because you owe him your life, because he is your Creator and Redeemer."

This is a critical and difficult balance for the Christian preacher...Once you have drawn in people with the amazing relevance and practical wisdom of the gospel, you must confront them with the most pragmatic issue of all -- the claim of Christ to be absolute Lord of life.

My goal [is] to preach truth instead of pragmatism. Christian morality is not true because it works; it works because it's true."

Powerful words. I come to Christ not to see my agenda met, but to buy into and connect with His agenda.

Good thoughts for all of us today. "Father, may we lay down our agendas and pick up yours."

Monday, February 02, 2009

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

I know that it might be sounding like a "broken record" (but a good one) but yesterday we had another wonderful session of worship with the Father. I get excited when I see God's people seeking God. Connecting with Him. Both services were filled with people longing to "draw near unto God."

My prayer is that we continue to increase our hunger and intensity for more of His Spirit in our lives.

I also sensed a "good spirit" amongst our church family yesterday. I could feel it and sense it. Wonderful stuff.

God is beginning to do a great work.

And...of course the Super Bowl last night.

Our small group met at Gary and Joyce Arvins house last night (thanks Gary and Joyce!)for a Super Bowl party. Their Sunday morning Bible class joined us as well. Great food, wonderful sharing with others from our church family, and a great game on top of it.

We were eating well, when Dan Miroballi brought over some pizzas that he made (he is a pizza maker supreme). He even brought one over for me, personally. Am I blessed or what?

My prediction was 20-17, Steelers winning, so I wasn't far off. A lot of us were rooting for the Cardinals because of Kurt Warner, and the fact that they hadn't won a championship in 61 years.

When Fitzgerald scored the touchdown with a couple minutes left, I must confess that I thought the Cardinals had won the game. But the Cardinal's defensive line couldn't get to Roethlisberger during the last Steeler drive for the touchdown.

I thought James Harrison blew it after interception Warner's pass and scoring the touchdown by punching a player later on in the game.

Probably, the better team won, but what a game! I was hoarse afterward.

Some good things are happening with our small groups. I have contacted one of the leaders of small groups at Willow Creek. We are having him come in May to share with everyone in our church family who is currently in a small group.

He will be back in late August to share with our life group leaders and hosts. He also networked me with a group of small group pastors from the southland that meet monthly which I will be attending.

If you are reading this and not currently attending one of our life groups here at Stone, I encourage you to try one (or several) of them out. You won't regret it!

This whole thing is about people. People relating to others and helping others. Berth Von Suttner once said, "after the verb "to love," "to help" is the most beautiful verb in the world."

Jesus said it best, "we give, we receive". I read recently that, "you can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want." That is so true.

Do you enjoy helping others?

To help others I must helping others a priority. When I come into a situation, even a Kingdom situation, my first thought must be, "whom can I minister to," instead of "who can minister to me"?

I must become aware of other people's needs. All of us have needs. We are all busy. But we can't meet a need that we don't know exists. They are all around us.

People are hurting. People have needs. To help other we must find out what those needs are and care. Sometimes it comes from listening to our hearts. Other times it comes from just paying attention to what's going on around us.

I must be willing to take a risk and reach out.

Californian Thomas Weller is affectionately known as "The San Diego Highwayman." Since 1966, the former mechanic has been driving the freeways of L.A. in a heavily modified, white 1955 Ford station wagon—reminiscent of the "Ectomobile'" from the movie Ghost Busters—in an effort to help stranded motorists.

Weller doesn't make any money off of his services, though he doesn't work for free. Whenever he finishes helping someone change a tire or refill an overheated radiator, he hands the rescued motorist a business card that requests they do the same for someone else when given a chance.

Weller's efforts at a "pay it forward" system seem to be working. When he once pulled over to help a motorist, another man had beaten him to it. When Weller asked his fellow Good Samaritan why he had stopped to help the driver in distress, he told Weller that someone had done the same thing for his wife a few weeks earlier. "And by the way," the gentleman said to Weller as he smiled, "I want to thank you for that!"