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Monday, August 31, 2009

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

I went Saturday to the golf outing with the men of our church. Had a great time. It was colder than I thought so I ended up wearing a stocking cap and borrowing Hal Kaufman's windbreaker....all the while....I was wearing shorts.

Our team tied for first at 3 under par. There's hardly anything better than being with a group of guys and kidding around and acting like little kids.

I love it.

Thanks to Jon Hollowell for all the work he put into making the outing such a success.

Prices were given out afterward at the pizza parlor. Our team won tickets to a White Sox game.

Sunday morning. What can I say. It seems like each week lately, I've been sharing on Monday of what God has been doing in our services.

There was a powerful sense of God's presence!

While we need to go back to two services on Sunday morning because of the parking situation, I am going to miss the one service format of having our church family worshipping together!

I was also thrilled at having all of our life group hosts and leaders in front of our congregation. The line went from one end of the room to the other.

To me, it was a powerful visual that we as a community have really "bought in" to the concept of small groups!

Remember, I'll say it again:

We desire that everyone in our church...

- come on Sunday morning
- participate in a life group
- serve in a ministry

I am very grateful to David and Hermila Dewes for their leadership with our life groups. God is bringing us several younger couples that are bringing a passion and love for Jesus to our ministry team!

If you get a chance, stop by and look at our new property site. They continue to change the landscape, it looks like it's "all systems are go".

I have a book title in front of me here in my study entitled, "God is up to Something Great" by Tony Evans.

Truly, God is up to something great in our church!

Can I share a thought with you? Never, ever underestimate God. Even in the midst of your darkest hour, never underestimate what God can do.

Yesterday during the teaching, I shared that we are not to sin. That sin opens the door to Satanic attack and bondage in our lives.

Good advice. God doesn't want you to sin.

Yet at the same time, let me share with you that if you do fail, as you and I will, daily, God will use our failures for His glory.

Even (or should I say especially) in the midst of Satanic attack and our failures, God ALWAYS HAS THE UPPER HAND.

You see, God can take your most monstrous failures and turn them into triumphs such as you never could imagine.

Look at the Apostle Peter's failure and restoration, and he turned the world upside down for Christ.

So while we are not to fail in order to succeed, if we do fail, God will use that negative experience in our lives to facilitate or spiritual maturity and the growth of His Kingdom.

Are you as thankful as I am for that thought today?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Garbage, rats and the attacks of the enemy

I am beginning a Sunday morning series on Spiritual Warfare this Sunday.

We are at war. It's a spiritual war in the heavenly realms (in the invisible realm).

It's a hand to hand combat type war.

Here's what I know: one of Satan's favorite tactics is to attach himself to and attack areas of weakness in our lives.

He(or his demons) may not be the specific cause of what you and I are going through, but he will use that to his advantage. A lot of times, problems come our way because of the sinful world that we live in. Or they come because we make bad choices and we sin.

Again, like gang tackling in football, the enemy may not be the one to initially tackle us, but he will be there to "pile on" and make sure that we stay down.

In his book "Wounds That Heal," Stephen Seamands shares a helpful analogy regarding sin and spiritual warfare that he learned from Charles Kraft. Seamands writes:

"As significant as demonic influence may be, it is never the primary issue in someones life. It may be a deadly, destructive consequence or fruit, but it is not the root problem. Charles Kraft has a helpful analogy.

He says demons are like rats that are attracted to garbage. The problem is the garbage, consisting of things like our persistent sinful behaviors, our reactions to our emotional wounds, and sinful generational influences and patterns.

These are the issues for which we are responsible. When we deal with them, when we get rid of the garbage, then the rats won't have anything to feed on, and it's easy to make them go away."

Maybe what you and I need to do is not necessarily try to first get rid of the rats in our lives but the garbage.

That convicts me - how about you?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Teamwork in ministry

This is one of my favorite times of the year in church life. Summer is beginning to wind down, everyone is settling in after 3 months of vacations and time off.

Expectations are high as to the possibilities of what the fall will bring concerning our church. I know I am excited!

And what excites me even further is the team of ministry workers that God is putting together.

For example, David Dewes is now in place as our life group ministry leader. Mike Muchowicz has come on board as the assistant life group ministry leader. We are going from 10 groups to over 17 groups this fall.

Back in 1992, professionals were allowed to play basketball in the Olympics for the first time. It was a great team. Arguably the greatest team ever put together at one time to play sports.

God wants each church in His kingdom to have "dream teams" of ministry workers and leaders to do His work.

I know that you do to.

For those who minister in our church - grateful thanks for all that you do.

You are important to our mission of people coming on Sunday mornings, participating in a life group and serving in a ministry.

That's our common goal.

But even with a common goal - other characteristics of being a "dream team" member are cooperation and communication.

Common goals

What are the principles of being a good "dream team" member?

1. Look at the big picture as well as the whole. Sometimes as ministry workers and leaders, we can be so focused on our own ministry that we lose sight of the fact that our church is made up of many ministries, all of them important. Your ministry is important, but remember that there are other ministries in our church as well. We must all be concerned and helpful and considerate of every ministry in the church.

2. Understand what is important. What's is important is that the team wins - the "win" being people coming to Christ and growing in Him. If your ministry succeeds, great, so much the better. But what's even more important is if our whole church team wins. That is considered a "success" in the eyes of God.

Here's a principle that I want you to catch - the team member who doesn't understand the big picture as well as the whole, and doesn't understand what is important, not only fails to contribute to the team, but actually PREVENTS THE TEAM FROM ACHIEVING SUCCESS.

We become fragmented slices of the pie that offer nothing of substance to the world.

Again, what is important?

Coming on Sunday morning
Participating in a life group
Serving in a ministry.

More to come tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

life groups part 2

Our goal at Stone Church is to see everyone:

Come on Sunday mornings (to celebrate with the church family)
Attend a life group
Work in a ministry

All three are important. LIke a three legged stool, all three aspects of our vision are need both in the life of each one of us as followers of Christ, and of the church familiy corporately.

Yesterday I wrote this:

"I find myself concerned, prayerfully concerned about people in our church who are so wrapped up in a ministry that they don't have time for even a Sunday morning service. In the end, they find themselves spiritually dry.

They find themselves missing out on church family relationships. Every ministry is important, but not at the expense of relating to the body of Christ as a whole here at Stone Church."

Please do not be decieved into thinking that you do not need Sunday morning worship. It's like having the main meal of the day. You need that main meal to survive and to remain healthy.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:12, "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!"

We who have grown up in the faith and been in the church all of our lives tend to find ourselves being sloppy in this area.

Here's what I know.

I need the church.
No matter how busy I am - I need to come and participate on Sunday mornings, not just for the sake of the church, but for my sake.

Another leg of the stool is life groups.

Again, let me go back to what we learned this past weekend at our life group seminar.

We need life groups for five reasons, each with a one word description. This comes from an article from John Ortberg entitled, "No More Mr. Nice Group - Spiritual Transformation in Community."

Please take the time to read this article:

No More Mr. Nice Group-Spiritual Transformation
in Community

Five practices that take small groups beyond polite sharing to the disciplines that change lives.

"God has entrusted us with his most precious treasure—people. He asks us to
shepherd and mold them into strong disciples, with brave faith, and good character.
I would not give my life to any church that was not serious about this calling—the
transformation of human beings. God has decided, for his own good reasons, that
people are not transformed outside of community.

Years ago, while on vacation, I was going to fix something on the grill. I made a pile of charcoal, I poured a few gallons of lighter fluid over them, and I started the fire.

My son was just fascinated by fire, as most young boys are. He asked what I was
doing, and I told him.

"There's something about the way these little briquettes are constructed that when
you put them together, the fire glows and they get real hot. And if you isolate one it cools off quickly.

It loses the fire. But when they stick together, there's fire, because they feed off each other. God designed them to work that way."

This fits what Dallas Willard has said about the Christian life: "Personalities united can contain more of God and sustain the force of his greater presence better than scattered individuals."

Think about that. Personalities united—people in community—contain more of God and his transforming power than isolated individuals.

We should not be surprised that transformation requires community; it's how God designed us.

When we are alone, it's easy to think, incorrectly, that we are spiritually advanced. I can watch a Hallmark commercial alone and find myself moved to tears. I tell myself that I am a very compassionate person.

But when I spend time in community with a person who annoys me, it's amazing how quickly I experience "compassion fatigue."

In community we discover who we really are and how much transformation we still
require. This is why I am irrevocably committed to small groups. Through them we
can accomplish our God-entrusted work to transform human beings.

However, experience tells us that simply meeting with a small group does not
automatically result in spiritual growth. There are certain practices that must be
present, spiritual disciplines that must occur, to facilitate the transforming work of Christ in us.

The presence of these things is what makes the difference between all too-typical small groups, and life-transforming communities of spiritual formation.

What are these practices? I asked Dallas Willard that question once because he's
forgotten more about spiritual formation and church history than I will ever know.
His answer surprised me. He said, "I don't know."

Rather than being discouraged, I saw this as a rare opportunity to discover something Dallas Willard didn't know. I launched into a time of deeper reflection and study.

After months looking at Scripture, reading church history, talking with respected
people, and meeting with leaders of small groups, I don't think I have the definitive
answer, but I have observed five essential practices:

Confession: remove the masks

We all wear masks. We hide from each other. It's part of our fallenness. That is why
one of the most formative practices in a small group is confession. Confession is the
appropriate disclosure of my brokenness, temptations, sin, and victories for the
purpose of healing, forgiveness, and spiritual growth. Without confession we are a
community hiding from the truth.

I know what it's like to do church with people who wear masks. I've attended very
nice churches where people smiled, talked about their jobs or the weather, but never
really removed their masks and revealed themselves.

I recall one couple, pillars of the church, whose marriage fell apart when the wife ran away with another man.

The church was shocked; the couple had hid the reality of their troubled marriage for years. Another woman in the church was well liked by everyone, but one day she landed in the hospital to have her stomach pumped of the poison she had taken.

She was so miserable she felt unable to face another day.

And no one in the church knew.

I will not invest my life in a community that doesn't value truth and confession, and
neither should you. Without confession we cannot accomplish our God-given calling
to transform people.

Throughout church history, whenever God has done great things, confession has
always been present. In the church, confession must be freely offered—never
manipulated. A small group serious about transformation should be moving into ever
deeper confession—removing masks to reveal our core feelings and fears, sins we
still struggle with, and areas where we're not growing.

We need to avoid "confession killers" in our groups. These include the inappropriate
use of humor. Some people are embarrassed by deep honesty, so they may mock
the person confessing or diffuse the atmosphere with a joke. It sends a signal that
this is not a safe place to confess, and the masks go back on.

Judgmental statements also shut down confession. I recall a small group where a
man admitted his struggle with lust. That was a risk, and then someone else said, "I
can't relate to that struggle at all." I wanted to say to that guy, What kind of
hormonally challenged, repressed robot are you? His statement shut down an
opportunity for new openness in the group.

To see real transformation, small groups must begin with reality. By removing our
masks through the discipline of confession, we acknowledge the reality of who we
are and open ourselves to God's transforming work.

Application: look in the mirror

James 1:23 says, "Those who listen to the word, but do not do what it says, are like
people who look at their faces in the mirror, and after looking at themselves, go
away and immediately forget what they look like." A small group is a place for people
to look into the mirror, discover who they are, and then ask, "How do I apply God's
word to my life as it really is?"

As a teacher I am regularly astonished by people's ability to hear a sermon, nod at
it, be moved by it, write it down, and then do precisely the opposite of what they
heard. This frequent occurrence shows the extent to which people need painstaking,
patient, and careful application of Scripture to their daily lives.

We may hear biblical instructions like be gentle, be loving, be faithful—but how do I
actually apply that to my boss, spouse, or kids?

What would Jesus do if someone cut him off in traffic? Would he say, "I don't
condemn you; go and sin no more"? Or, would he roll down the window and shout,
"Woe to you, you whitewashed sepulcher, it will be better for Sodom and Gomorrah
on the day of judgment than for you"? What would Jesus do? A lot of people have
heard about Jesus, but many have not been taught how to apply Jesus' teachings to
their real lives. Small groups can address this gap.

What we desperately need are small groups to be schools of life. Imagine someone
has a problem with anger—a small group leader should ask them: "What kinds of
situations tend to get you angry, and how do you respond?" Give them some
alternatives to sinful patterns of anger. Roleplay these situations in the small group.

Then next week ask, "How did it go?" If they got it right, celebrate it. If they didn't, investigate what happened, and encourage them to do it differently next time.
If this kind of application doesn't happen in small groups, it may not happen
anywhere, and people will not be transformed.

Accountability: stand on the scale

I have made certain commitments about food and exercise in my life, but how
serious I am about those commitments is difficult to determine without measuring
my progress. A scale serves as a tool of accountability for me. Am I achieving my
goal, or am I missing it? Ultimately the scale reveals how effective I have been in
living up to my commitment.

Small groups are the place for people to get on the scale and reveal how intentional
they have been to pursue transformation into the image of Christ. William Paulson
writes, "It is unlikely that we will deepen our relationship with God in a casual or
haphazard manner." I think he understates it.

People do not drift into full devotion to Christ. People do not drift into becoming loving, joy-filled, patient, winsome, world changers. It requires intention and effort.

But the default mode of the human heart is to drift. If a person has experienced real
transformation, it's typically because someone else has cared enough to say, "I want
you to live God's way, and I want to help you know if you are serious about it."

We need to make some key decisions on our journey of transformation: what are my
commitments about prayer, about Scripture, about my use of money, about evangelism, about servanthood, about truth?

Keeping these commitments requires a community of accountability to serve as a scale revealing how we're achieving our goals or missing them.

During the spiritual revolutions of 18th century England, the Wesleyan movement
thrived on small groups. When those groups originally formed, they existed to hold
people accountable to their commitments as followers of Christ. They gathered in
little bands to ask one another how their obedience to Christ was going. History
notes, however, that over the decades the focus of the groups shifted from
accountability to vague "sharing," in the process the power of the revival was lost,
and eventually the groups died out.

Guidance: follow the map

When people need directions to a place they have never been, they use a map. Too
often when people have major life-forming decisions to make, they make them

In every church there are people facing decisions about vocations, ministry
involvement, finances, relocation, and relationships. How sad if they make these
decisions without the benefit of community. Their decisions may be impulsive,
emotional, based on too little information. The result is too many broken lives.

The small group is to be where we find guidance, where we help each other learn
how to listen to God. Small groups who rely upon God's Spirit serve as a map for us
when making important decisions. In his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard
Foster talks about guidance as a corporate discipline—something that groups should
be doing together.

In the early church, the Spirit guided believers as a community. In Acts 13, for
example, the church fasted, prayed, and listened to God. Then, in response to the
Spirit's guidance, they sent out Saul and Barnabas to minister.

In Acts 15 the church faced a major decision about the behavior of Gentiles, and
they listened to the Spirit's guidance so carefully that in the letter explaining their decision they were able to say, "It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us … "

Small groups should be places where people gather to hear God through prayer and
listening. Every small group meeting should include the question, "Is anybody facing
a significant decision this week?" And in community the group should seek the
Spirit's voice for the person facing the decision.

Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C., practices this discipline by what they term
"sounding the call." When someone has a significant decision to make, the
community enters a time of prayer and listening to God. They speak openly with
each other about their sense of what God is saying. They take seriously the leading
of the Spirit while avoiding any sense of superiority or control.

Encouragement: embrace each other

A hug is a gesture of love and encouragement. An embrace represents what we all
need from a community of transformation. We need to know that someone is
committed to us and loves us. That cannot happen when we are alone, and it cannot
happen in a large gathering. It's going to happen through smaller communities.

Today small groups have the privilege of loving and accepting human beings for
whom Christ gave his life. In these groups we can supply the love, encouragement,
and embrace people need to continue their journey of transformation.

A long time ago I decided I wanted to talk to someone honestly about my
temptations, where I had messed up. I wanted to practice the discipline of
confession. So I asked my friend Rick if we could meet. By that time, I had known
him for about ten years.

When we sat down together, I told him everything there was to tell about me—all of
the darkest stuff and everything I felt the most embarrassed about.

When I got to the end my confession, I could barely look up at him. When I finally
did, Rick looked me in the eyes and said, "John, I have never loved you more than I
love you right now."

Those words were so powerful; they felt so good that I wanted to make up more bad
stuff to tell him. To have someone know everything about me and still love me was
truly life giving.

That kind of love is what we ultimately need in small groups to transform lives. We
can make small groups so complex and difficult, we can build the perfect small group
strategy, but if we do not have the love of Christ present, we are not really engaged
in transforming people into his likeness.

Spiritual formation in community is mostly about loving people, and that is
something we can do."

Great stuff.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

Wonderful, powerful weekend.

Yesterday morning was exciting as we baptized 9 people in water. They were of different ages, different backgrounds, even different ethnic backgrounds.

I was pleased as the "pillars" of our church were sitting during the service, eyes filled with excitement (in some cases - tears) hands raised in praise and adoration to God. We all clapped for those who had come to Christ in the last few months.

Then - four people came forward to "accept Christ", or to connect with Christ by saying a prayer of forgiveness and then be prayed for.

It was a Sunday that we will look back as a continuation of the momentum that we are feeling here at our church.

It was a Sunday that you wish everyone was there - to experience God and see what God is doing in our midst.

Last Friday, I have the privilege of leading and speaking at the funeral of Luz Perez. She died of cancer last week at the age of 47. As her friends and family shared and sang, we all laughed and cried.

I spoke and asked people to accept Christ. Many raised their hands, saying "I would like to give my life to Christ."

What's ironic is that Luz died last Monday. Her granddaughter was born the next day, on a Tuesday.

As people passed by the casket at the end of the service, I held little Julianna in my arms. People had a visual that, "the Lord gives and the Lord takes away."

There has to be something significant about the timing of Luz passing and the birth of Julianna - I don't know what it is - but God knows.

I shared, "the Lord gives and the Lord takes away - but at the end of the day we say: Blessed be the name of the Lord."

I don't know if I have ever met two people so solidly grounded in their faith as Luz mom and dad: Jose and Maria (they are members of our church). Throughout the whole process, their faith in God has remained strong.

It's encouraging to me to see Christians living out their faith and trust in God.

Then, Friday evening, and Saturday morning, we had our life group leadership seminar.

What was cool was that I have read and functioned in ministry in small groups - but learned a lot this weekend.

Let me give you some of what we shared (we are now going from 10 life groups to around 17 or 18 life groups in our church this fall).

Dave Treat (our speaker) asked, "How much of New testament life can you do ONLY in a small group?" We found out that most of what we experience in Christ can only be done in community - in communities such as in a small group.

Dave shared that he had grown up in the church, under the model of receiving teaching during Sunday School, Sunday morning service, Sunday evening service and Wednesday evening Bible Study.

Two challenging aspects to this model:

You find yourself running on four different tracts concerning your walk with Christ.

You don't have time to live out your faith.

That is so true. Under the previous model, we take in, we take in, we take in, we accumulate all this knowledge, but we ever find ourselves in situations to where we can live out that faith, especially as it relates to those around us.

A busy Christian is not necessarily a growing Christian.

That is so true. I find myself concerned, prayerfully concerned about people in our church who are so wrapped up in a ministry that they don't have time for even a Sunday morning service. In the end, they find themselves spiritually dry.

They find themselves missing out on church family relationships. Every ministry is important, but not at the expense of relating to the body of Christ as a whole here at Stone Church.

Paul writes in Galatians 6:2, "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will full the law of Christ." How can I "carry your burden" if I am looking at the back of your head four times a week?

The basis of small groups is to know and be known, to serve and be served, to love and be loved, to celebrate and be celebrated.

This takes time. This takes relationship. It's hard to understand someones pain, even in the prayer circles we have on a Sunday morning.


More to come tomorrow.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Smuggling Bibles

Would you smuggle Bibles?

It's a hard question.

In his book The Jesus Revolution, pastor and author Leith Anderson shares a story about the tension that sometimes comes between obeying God and obeying the law of the land.

A number of years ago, he and three others were traveling to a Communist country where Christians were regularly being persecuted. They did not have a direct flight to their destination, so they had to stay in a neighboring country for one evening.

That night, while having dinner with a few fellow Christians in that country, Anderson and his companions were approached about smuggling in some Bibles for the underground church. Anderson immediately refused to do so, pointing out that it was illegal.

The Christians in that country would not take no for an answer, though. They told Anderson they would return in the morning with the Bibles and that Anderson's group should "ask God what they should do." Anderson writes about the tough decisions that would follow:

Overnight, I made a decision. A Bible or two might be risky, but not impossible. However, I wasn't prepared for the following morning's delivery. It was a small library of Bibles, books about Christianity, study tools, and videos.

I truly can't explain why we did what we did. We divided up the Bibles, books, and videos among the four of us and loaded up every available space in our suitcases, carry-on bags, and purses. It was not a comfortable experience.

When nearing our destination, the flight attendants distributed customs forms representing our names, passport numbers, and the answers to pointed questions. Were we bringing guns, narcotics, or literature into the country? The four of us sat paralyzed over what to write. If we said we were not bringing literature, we were lying. If we checked that we were bringing books and Bibles, we were in serious trouble.

It was one of those moments when the Holy Spirit gave a simple solution that we would not have thought about ourselves. We didn't answer the question. We left it blank. I can't say that we were confident in our choice, but that's what we did.

As we passed through immigration surrounded by armed guards and immigration officers, our forms were carefully scrutinized and all four of us were waved through.
What I next remember is the secret night meeting when we turned over the Bibles and literature to Christians from the underground church. Their faces still remain with me all my life.

You may want to criticize my lack of courage or condemn my actions as dishonest. For me, I was suddenly in the sandals of Peter and John who said, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard."

Well, what would you have done?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Value systems and growing up in the church

Why is it that two youngsters can be raised in the same home, basically in the same way, and one serves God and the other chooses another path?

It's hard to figure. Not a lot of easy answers.

I'm not sure I have a real handle on it.

Perhaps it's personality. Maybe it's life events that come their way. Most certainly it is the individual choice of the child (teenager) (young adult) themselves.

You take for instance, Brad Pitt. I have really like a couple of his movies (Legends of the Fall, A River Runs through it). He is a superstar in the midst of movie stars. Known around the world. Married to Angelina Jolie, making them the most famous of all couples at this time on this planet.

Yet he is not serving God.

His brother is.
His family is.

In fact, it is my understanding that they attend James River Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri.

Strong Christians. Givers to missions.

Yet, recently, Brad Pitt came out and said that he couldn't run for mayor of New Orleans because his platform would be: No religion, legalization of gay-marriage and marijuana.

I heard an interview with him last night and he is strongly opposed to "religion" under the guise that Christians that he meets are trying to tell others what to do as far as their sexual preferences and lifestyle.

Yet, I believe he misses the point. The issue is not me telling you how to live, but me living and abiding by a value system and absolute that is based on the Word of God.

Would it not seem logical that having no value system or absolute basis on which to base your life would be a value system an absolute as much as any other.

"What is your value system" "I don't have one." "
"On what do you base your life." "On me and what I choose to believe in"

I don't know if would feel comfortable with a value system that is based on me and what I think is right or wrong. I'm too imperfect to do that.

Back to the original thought. Why one serving God and the other choosing not to?

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Making heaven

Luz Perez passed away last night at 10:00 P.M. I saw her last week, prayed with her and her mom and pop. In her thirties, a single mom, she has been fighting cancer for quite a few months now.

She's now with Jesus. No more suffering or pain.

In one sense there is a lot of sorrow, in another sense the family feel a sense of celebration, for Luz is in heaven.

This is something Jose and Maria and their family deeply believe. Their faith is strong. Their sorrow is deep, they miss Luz terribly, but they know that ultimately, we will all (as followers of Christ) be in heaven together someday.

Luz had made that decision to follow Christ.

You see, entry into heaven is not automatic. Not just anyone can get there in the sense that the only way to spend eternity in heaven is through Jesus Christ who said, "I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:6

Growing up in the church will not gain heaven for me, nor will a lot of money, living a good life or who I know.

The only way to get to heaven is to connect with Jesus Christ and make a decision to live for Him.

On one hand it is easy to walk through the "gates of heaven," on the other hand it's hard because we must be willing to give our lives over to Christ.

I read this today:

"Some doors, like the front gate of the White House, are tough to walk through. The White House has one phalanx of security after another, and you simply don't get in unless you are wanted, unless you have clearance, unless you have an appointment.

Some people do get into the White House based on who they are. Some get in based on who they know.

On Sunday July 26, 2009, one of the biggest and most famous men in the world—NBA star Shaquille O'Neil—tried to get into the White House without an appointment. At 7-1 and 325 pounds, with a winning smile, and NBA championship rings on his fingers from years of playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, Shaq has what it takes to walk into most places he wants to go. Doors open for Shaq.

And so, Shaq decided to put his celebrity, and President Obama's love of basketball, to the test. He was on a D.C. sports radio show on Friday July 24th, and he put this question to the listeners: "Check this out, I got on a nice suit, I'm in D.C. paying a visit, I jump out of a cab in front of the White House, I don't use none of my political or law enforcement connections. If I go to the gate and say, 'Hey, I'm in town, I would like to see the President,' do I get in, or do I not get in?"

Two days later, Shaq gave it a try, and just as Shaq has rejected those who would drive past him to the hoop, so the security guards at the White House gate rejected him.

Later that day, Shaq tweeted, "The White House wouldn't let me in, whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy."

Why not connect with Christ today and experience eternal life?

"For God so loved the world (you and me) that He gave His only Son (Jesus) so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life." John 3:16

Monday, August 17, 2009

thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend....

As I mentioned yesterday morning in our Sunday Morning Worship Service, I was at the Chicago Cub game on Friday. They broke a five game losing skid by winning 17-2. In some respects (unless you are a die hard cub fan) it was a boring game. At one point, the Cubs scored 10 runs in the second inning alone.

The Blue Angels were flying overhead, beautiful day, full ballpark, Wrigley Field. Nothing better. I do love Wrigley Field.

NOTICE TO ALL CUB FANS: If you need your team to break a five game losing skid, send me to Wrigley and I will (because of my servant's heart) go and help your team out. Don't you think they won because I was there?

I also came "out" as a White Sox fan, for the following reasons.

White Sox fans tend to take baseball seriously.
Debbie and I live on the South Side.
I like the uniforms and white verses blue and whatever.
I am an American League guy.

Saturday, some great friends from Battle Creek came over. We had a wonderful time catching up - and went out to our church's new property and showed them how the earth movers have been moving the dirt.

If you get a chance, drive by there and see what is happening. It is so EXCITING!

Sunday morning's worship experience - well what adjectives can I bring up? Powerful, anointed, spiritually uplifting. What a wonderful thing it is to see God's people in worship to the living God.

And...yesterday afternoon we have our third barbecue of the summer. Larry and Melissa Watson made hamburgers and hot dogs, Ruben and his wife brought some smoked brisket which they cooked for 25 hours. Incredible food.

We had a great time of fellowship. It is so cool to see what God is doing. Bringing in young couples who are on fire for Jesus Christ.

Great weekend!

Thursday, August 13, 2009


I like to be around people who are enthusiastic. It's my role to minister to everybody, positive people, negative people, happy people, sad people. It's what God has called me to do.

I take up the task with relish, knowing that God has called me.

However, it's different story when it comes to people I like to hang out with. On my free time.

Again, enthusiastic people are those whom I like to be with. Enthusiasm is contagious. It is one element that can make or break not only our individual lives but the life of a corporation, company or church.

Max Lucado writes, "I discovered the importance of healthy counsel in a half-Ironman triathlon. After the 1.2 mile swim and the 56 mile bike ride, I didn't have much energy left for the 13.1 mile run. Neither did the fellow jogging next to me. I asked him how he was doing and soon regretted posing the question.

"This stinks. This race is the dumbest decision I've ever made." He had more complaints than a taxpayer at the IRS. My response to him? "Goodbye." I know if I listened too long, I'd start agreeing with him.

I caught up with a 66-year-old grandmother. Her tone was just the opposite. "You'll finish this," she encouraged. "It's hot, but at least it's not raining. One step at a time…don't forget to hydrate…stay in there." I ran next to her until my heart was lifted and my legs were aching. I finally had to slow down. "No problem." She waved and kept going."

I ask you, which person would you rather hang around?

I was reading today of FedEx CEO and founder Fred Smith who first developed the idea for an innovative air-freight company while he was a student at Yale University.

His professor was less than impressed; the paper Smith submitted outlining the concept earned him a "C". Thirty years later, FedEx is the world's largest express transportation company, with 128,000 employees and more than $7 billion in capital.

This short-sighted professor didn't take a few things into consideration.

One was Smith's persistence—he simply refused to give up. Another was his resourcefulness — when plan 'A' doesn't work, there is always a plan 'B' to put in motion.

Most important, however, was Smith's ability to recruit others to his vision. People want to be part of what he is involved in—even to the point of sacrifice. In the early days, for example, his pilots often refueled company jets with their own money. Sometimes they sat on paychecks for months to help keep the company afloat.

How does he do it? How does he command such devotion from his employees?

As I read today, and as I suggest to you, Fred Smith's greatest asset is his enthusiastic determination to get the job done. It sounds like a cliché, but he believes in what he is doing. As a result, he inspires loyalty.

The Christians in Philippi offered Paul this same kind of loyalty. They supported him through prayer, hard work, and sacrificial giving. Why? Maybe they were inspired by the enthusiasm they observed in Paul when their church was first founded.

You remember the story: After being beaten in the town square, Paul and Silas were thrown in jail. They were singing hymns late into the night when an earthquake came and shook the foundations of their jail cell, freeing them from their chains.

Paul could have escaped. He could have left Philippi and never come back, but instead he stayed, and took the opportunity to lead the jailer to Christ.

Paul believed in what he was doing, and his enthusiastic determination to spread the gospel encouraged the Philippian believers. [Acts 16]

Your enthusiasm has a profound effect on others.

When you approach anything with an upbeat commitment to get the job done, people begin to take notice. When they see that you believe in what you are doing, they become willing to join in the process.

The secret, then, is to pour your life into something that captures your heart, and give it all you've got.

Solomon said, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might." (Ecclesiastes 9:10)

You will find that your zeal is contagious, and it will spread to the people around you.

This week, why not pray about coming to our Sunday morning worship service, full of sincere enthusiasm for what God is doing?

Let the Spirit of God light your fire once again. Be grateful, not for what you don't have but for what you do have - which is the presence of God - and life itself.

Just some thoughts.....

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

There can't be just one true religion

Over the years, I have come across this idea repeatedly: "Each religion sees part of spiritual truth, but none can see the whole truth."

Tim Keller in his book, "The Reason For God," writes:

"Sometimes this point is illustrated with the story of the blind men and the elephant. Several blind men were walking along and came upon an elephant that allowed them to touch and feel it.

"This creature is long and flexible like a snake" said the first blind man, holding the elephant's trunk.

"Not at all - it is thick and round like a tree trunk," said the second blind man, feeling the elephant's leg. "no, it is large and flat," said the third blind man, touching the elephant's side.

Each blind man could feel only part of the elephant - none could envision the entire elephant.

In the same way, it is argued, the religions of the world each have a grasp on part of the truth about spiritual reality, but none can see the whole elephant or claim to have a comprehensive vision of the truth."

But then Keller goes on with some very powerful thoughts:

"This illustration backfires on its users. The story is told form the point of view of someone who is not blind. How could you know that each blind man only sees part of the elephant UNLESS YOU CLAIM TO BE ABLE TO SEE THE WHOLE ELEPHANT!"

In other words, he concludes, "How could you possibly know that no religion can see the whole truth unless you yourself have the superior, comprehensive knowledge of spiritual reality you just claimed that none of the religions have?"

Good stuff.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Perfection (or a lack thereof)

First of all let me say that no one is perfect, least of all me. As I grow older I become more comfortable with my weaknesses and accepting of the fact that I do fail, I do make mistakes, I am not perfect.

Now before you throw a mental wrench in your mind, let me say that I still do work on them, I do desire to overcome them, it's just that I'm okay with not being perfect.

Only Jesus was perfect. Only Jesus is perfect.

It's rare to find someone who comes close to being perfect (for those of you who think you are - that's a sure sign that you are not).

A few weeks ago, Mark Buerhle, the White Sox pitcher, threw a perfect game. My friend, Mickey Insalaco was there. I was happy that he was there, but jealous at the same time - but that's another story, a great illustration of jealousy.

That game moved the White Sox into a tie for first place (they have since fallen back into second place).

Please understand how rare a perfect game is in baseball.

For those of you who are not familiar with a "perfect game" in baseball, that means that a pitcher not only must prevent all 27 hitters from getting a hit, he also cannot allow a single walk, and his team cannot commit any errors!

And here's the deal - despite the thousands of Major League baseball games played every year and the tens of thousands of games that have been played over the history of baseball (the Major Leagues began in 1871), Mark Buerhle's perfect game was only the 18th ever pitched.

And Buerhle didn't stop there. His very next start he pitched another perfect game for the first five and two thirds innings. He set the record for consecutive batters retired over a several-game stretch—45 batters up and down—but then, as it inevitably does, human imperfection came into play.

In the sixth inning, with two outs, Buerhle walked a batter. Hits followed. He got out of that inning, but in the seventh he gave up more hits and was pulled from the game. He had given up five runs on five hits, and the White Sox lost the game 5 to 3.

Here's the deal. We may have a season where we do really well in our walk with God and with others. But inevitably, we will fail. We are human beings. We are not infallible. We are not perfect.

And maybe, just maybe, as we shouldn't be so hard on ourselves, we shouldn't be hard on others.

I am going to let you down. You are going to let me down. And when those moments come, let's show each other grace and love and continue to go on - hand in hand.

Just a thought.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Challenging stories

Having just returned from General Council, one of the things that touched me the most was a sermon given by a pastor from Iraq.

This pastor was held in a jail cell that was 6 by 8, with 6 men for a period of time. Their cell was totally dark. A photo was shown of a Christian woman who was martyred.

Her blood split all over a white car. Heart wrenching.

He is going back. They are buying property to build a church there before the American troops pull out.

That story causes me to pause. And be thankful. Grateful not for what I don't have but for what I do have. Liberty. Freedom. The ability to worship God without harm.

And then today.....I was reading of Human rights groups in South Korea which say that North Korea has stepped up executions of Christians, where, according to the US Government, just owning a Bible may be a cause for torture and disappearance.

One example is the case of a woman who was arrested last month for distributing Bibles. Not surprisingly, charges also including spying for the US and South Korea. She was reported executed in public. Her parents, husband, and children were sent to a prison camp.

All religions are outlawed in North Korea; only the founder of the country, Kim Il-sung, and his son, Kim Jong-il, may be worshipped. Despite the persecutions, it is believed that up to 30,000 North Koreans practice Christianity secretly in their homes.

Again may we be thankful for our freedom to worship. And may we be willing to sacrifice all the more for our faith - in giving, in service and in love and compassion for the rest of the world.